Do Ghost Hunters Really Find Ghosts?

It’s that time of year when leaves turn golden, the air gets nippy, and ghosts and goblins make their Halloween appearances. For the last month, several older hotels here in Colorado have been hosting ghost-hunting parties and spooky tours. Silly fun...or are these hotels truly haunted?

I Think My House Is Haunted, Can You Help Me?

Over the years a few people have called our agency, asking if we could investigate ghosts they believe are haunting their homes. We’ll decline, explaining that we are not paranormal investigators, and we try to steer them to paranormal investigation sources that sincerely want to help people and not take advantage of their fears.

What Is a Paranormal Investigator?

ghost image on staircase Wikipedia pubdomain.jpg

Most paranormal investigators are people who are certified in parapsychology or who have studied paranormal investigations. Their goal is to help people in need, and often paranormal investigators do not accept money for their services (although they may accept donations for travel, lodging and expenses). Some paranormal investigators make money through writing books, conducting “ghost tours,” giving workshops, or even starring in TV reality shows about ghost hunters.

Tips for Hiring a Paranormal Investigator

We used to recommend people contact the National and International ParaHaunt Paranormal Family Network that gave referrals to paranormal investigators throughout the U.S.and the world, but it appears the organization no longer exists.  

However, you can check the background of the paranormal organization or investigator before you retain their services. Contact the Better Business Bureau, research the organization/person on the Internet for news stories and client referrals, review their website and contact any former clients for recommendations, or hire a private investigator to double-check the paranormal investigator’s background (especially if you’re inviting this person into your home).

 Photograph of floating spirit & spirit "orb" by William Hope, early 1900s

Photograph of floating spirit & spirit "orb" by William Hope, early 1900s

Ghost Hunting at Three Colorado Haunted Hotels

More than once I have visited the Stanley Hotel and taken its Ghost Tour. The “Stanley” is known for its Room #217, where Stephen King first began writing The Shining, later made into a movie starring Jack Nicholson.

My Digital Photos Caught “Orbs”

I took photos during these ghost tours with my digital camera, and others in the group (including the tour guide) would tell me I had captured orbs, which supposedly indicated the presence of spirits. The Paranormal Encyclopedia says that “both skeptics, and many ghost hunters, agree that photographic orbs are most often, if not always, caused by natural elements such as dust, pollen, or water vapor.” I don’t know what caused the orbs, but if I’d seen, oh, a spectral figure hovering in the photo…well, then I’d believe I’d captured evidence of a ghost.

Claims of Ghosts, But When I Visited…

I’ve visited other reported haunted hotels and buildings around Denver, Colorado, starting with the “Brown.”

 Brown Palace Hotel, Denver Colorado, 1898

Brown Palace Hotel, Denver Colorado, 1898

The Brown Palace Hotel

I’ve taken the ghost tour three times at the Brown Palace Hotel, built in 1892. Each time, the guide told us fantastic stories about ghosts and ghouls who haunt the hotel, from a long-dead string quartet that still practices their music to a ghost-like train conductor who walks through walls. I would have loved to have seen or heard one of these apparitions, but I never did. Neither did anyone else on those tours.

Although one of the tour guides swore that late one night she saw a “black mass” of vapor swirl up to the ceiling and disappear. Hmmm. 

House of Mirrors

Seven or so years ago, I was writing a novel that featured a ghost character who'd lived during the late nineteenth-century silver-boom days of Colorado. During this era, there was a famous madam, Mattie Silks, whom people claim still haunts her old living quarters in Denver (which was called the House of Mirrors).

 Mattie Silks, Denver madam, 1845-1929

Mattie Silks, Denver madam, 1845-1929

One spring afternoon, I visited the House of Mirrors, which had morphed into a bar/restaurant. The business was closed, but a friendly bartender let me in to walk around and look at spots where the madam’s ghost had been seen and heard (several people claimed to have even heard her whispering on a certain staircase). Did I see or hear any ghostly goings-on?

No, but the bartender had…

He claimed there had been plenty of spooky goings-on in the old building. He said late at night, when he's alone cleaning up, sometimes the elevator will suddenly start working, its doors opening…and no one is inside. And then there was the night when an entire shelf, along with bottles and glasses, suddenly crashed to the floor.

And another time he heard whispering and giggling on the stairs. He checked out the staircase, but no one was there.

I got goosebumps listening to his stories. He invited me to come back after the place closes one night, and to bring my co-investigator, and we were welcome to document any unexplained noises, sounds, etc.

Y’know, I think I’ll leave that one to a certified paranormal investigator…

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority from the author.

In Honor of Book Lovers Day: Keith Richards, Rock-n-Roll Librarian

  Keith Richards, Rolling Stones Voodoo Loungue World Tour, Rio de Janeiro, 1995 (photo is in public domain, courtesy of Machocarioca)

Keith Richards, Rolling Stones Voodoo Loungue World Tour, Rio de Janeiro, 1995 (photo is in public domain, courtesy of Machocarioca)

When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equalizer.
— Keith Richards

The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards: Rocker outlaw...guitar god...book lover

This will either surprise you or make you jealous: Keith Richards has extensive personal libraries in both of his Sussex and Connecticut homes. In fact, he has so many books that he once considered "professional training" to better manage his vast collection. Yes, dear reader, rock-n-roll bad-boy Keith Richards dreamed of becoming a librarian.

Keith and the Dewey Decimal System

Once upon a time, Keith was painstakingly arranging copies of rare books about the history of early American rock and World WarII. He was applying the standard Dewey Decimal classification system (possibly fortified with a glass of vino or a little ganja -- although he no longer does "the hard stuff" Keith is quoted as saying he's still fond of wine and weed). Whatever he might have been imbibing, he nevertheless felt overwhelmed with his massive book classification project, at which point he seriously considered becoming a librarian.

Can you imagine being shushed by Keith Richards? Or what it would be like going to the reference desk...and there's Keith Richards?

He'd probably be very cool about books turned in late; after all he once owed libraries 50 years worth of fines.

The Saga of Keith and the Overdue Library Books

Keith Richards Owes '50 Years' of Library Fines (Huffington Post)

Library offers to waive Keith Richards' £3000 fine if he drops in for visit (Mirror)

 

Rock on. Read on.

World Book Day: Humphrey Bogart, Movie Star & Avid Reader

 Humphrey Bogart in the 1934 film trailer for  Petrified Forest  (image is in public domain)

Humphrey Bogart in the 1934 film trailer for Petrified Forest (image is in public domain)

Bogie And Books

Did you know Humphrey Bogart loved to read? Although he was a poor student, and was eventually expelled from the prestigious Phillips Academy, he had a lifelong love of reading, and could quote Plato, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Shakespeare.

Some of his best friends were screenwriters, such as Nunnally Johnson and John Huston. I've always admired Huston for his directing, even his acting, but did you know he also wrote over 20 screenplays, including the adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon

 Humphrey Bogart in movie trailer for  Casablanca  (image is in the public domain)

Humphrey Bogart in movie trailer for Casablanca (image is in the public domain)

By the way, here's a wonderful write-up about John Huston and his writing and directing of the The Maltese Falcon (via Word&Film): John Huston and the Making of the Maltese Falcon.

 

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"A must-have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff."

~Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

Free Private Investigation Articles: Copyright-Free Image Sites to Investigating Crime Scenes

At my "sister site" Guns, Gams & Gumshoes, we (being my former PI-partner & current criminal lawyer husband & yours truly) have been blogging about private investigations since 2009. At the end of each year, we tally up readers' top 10 favorite articles. For 2015, the articles ranged from conducting trash hits to the history of private eyes to investigating crime scenes. Handy information for crime fiction writers, fans of legal films and books, armchair legal eagles, and those curious about the world of real-life PIs.

 The Thin Man movie trailer with William Powell & Myrna Loy (image is in public domain)

The Thin Man movie trailer with William Powell & Myrna Loy (image is in public domain)

  James Garner (R) as Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files (image is in public domain)

James Garner (R) as Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files (image is in public domain)

 Figure Behind Crime Scene Tape (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Figure Behind Crime Scene Tape (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

2. How to Conduct a Trash Hit: A Private Investigator's Dumpster Secrets

1. Investigating Crime Scenes: Police vs. Private Investigators

Have a great week, Colleen

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy or distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. However, any images noted as being in the public domain are yours to freely use.

Christmas Day Fun for Homebodies, from Mel Brooks Movies to Decadent Desserts

What are you doing for Christmas? My husband and I plan to be homebodies and take it easy. Watch movies. Read. Eat Christmas Eve leftovers (that's our big holiday blow-out meal). I have a book due February 1, so I'll probably spend a few hours writing, too.

For any fellow homebodies, below are some fun things to watch/read/bake on Christmas Day

Mel Brooks Movie Marathon

TCM is throwing a Mel Brooks movie party on Christmas evening and will be showing five of his movies in a row, starting with High Anxiety (1977), which starred Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman. Check out the movies at the below link:

Mel Brooks movie schedule

Ever Wonder Who First Realized that No Two Snowflakes are Alike?

The GIF on the right side of this screen is comprised of hundreds of snowflakes that were photographed by a self-educated farmer named Wilson Bentley who combined his camera with a microscope to take the first picture of a snowflake in 1885.

Ever hear the comment that no two snowflakes are alike? That stems from a report by Bentley who noted that "Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost." Scientists of his time didn't take Bentley seriously, and his father thought his study of snowflakes was silly, but today he is recognized as breaking new ground in meteorology and microscopic photography.

Story link: The Snowflake Man of Vermont

Radio Detective Story Hour

This old-time radio show podcast is the Christmas-themed "Broadway Is My Beat."  Click here to download the podcast.

Pecan Pie Bread Pudding

Christmas is a time for festive meals...and decadent, delicious desserts. The creator of this dessert, Ashton, is the owner/author of Something Swanky Desserts and Designs, and swears that this recipe is phenomenal (italics are hers). Check it out here: Pecan Pie Bread Pudding.

Sarah Millican Hosts Twitter #joinin on Xmas Day

For the fourth year, writer/comedian Sarah Millican is hosting an all-day drop-in chat-a-thon on Christmas for those in need of company. She was tweeting and retweeting so many messages last year at her #joinin, that Twitter blocked her account (they thought it was some kind of spam, but this year they're aware that she's hosting a Christmas Twitter party,and are wholeheartedly supporting it). Click here to read an article about how she started #joinin.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Colleen



I love this GIF, which I call "Deadline Dog." Lillie Le Dorre, who hails from Wellington, New Zealand, created the GIF from a 1919 postcard. 

Female Private Eyes in Literature

Introduction

A few months back, the editor of the online magazine Festivale asked if I'd like to write an article about female private investigators in fiction, going back to such early women detectives as Miss Felicity Lemon, the efficient secretary for Mr. Parker Pyne in Agatha Christie's set of short stories Parker Pyne Investigates (1934). This kind of article is "my thing." Besides being a female PI, I've written female private detectives in novels and three nonfiction books on private investigations, as well as judged novels and short stories for the Private Eye Writers of America.

Below is an excerpt with a link to the full article. Enjoy!

Female Private Eyes in Fiction:

From Lady Detectives to Hard-Boiled Dames

© 2014 Colleen Collins, All Rights Reserved

“I thought it was time for a tough, smart, likeable female private investigator, and that’s how V.I. came to life.” ~ Author Sara Paretsky about her PI character V.I. Warshawski

Ask people to name one of the first fictional female private eyes, and they might mention Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone or Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, both of whom hit the fiction scene in the early 1980s. Actually, the first female private detective appeared in a story over a hundred years earlier.

Before we step back in time, let’s first define a private eye, AKA private investigator (PI) or private detective.

Private Versus Public Detectives

The private eye genre features a private investigator, or PI, protagonist who is a citizen paid to investigate a crime (however, there are times in stories where private eyes work a case for free—for example, the PI feels compelled to solve a good friend’s murder).  Private investigators are not government employees who work in the public sector, such as police detectives, coroner’s office investigators and federal special agents. However, it is not uncommon, in both real life and stories, that retired government investigators start second careers as PIs.

A few examples of private investigators: Those who work in solo practices or as employees for a PI agency, reporters, insurance company investigators, and even lawyers in private practice. 

Amateur sleuths, however, are not classified as private eye genre as they are not paid for their professional investigative services.

This article categorizes female private detectives into different stylistic eras: Victorian, the Golden Age of Detectives, Hard-Boiled and Contemporary. 

Victorian Era Lady Detectives

 Possible drawing of the first real-life female PI, Kate Warne, whose history is similar to the fictional Miss Loveday Brooke

Possible drawing of the first real-life female PI, Kate Warne, whose history is similar to the fictional Miss Loveday Brooke

The Victorians loved crime fiction, which typically reflected their world of dynamic men in society and passive women who stayed at home. However, a few authors challenged those roles in detective fiction.

Many view Mrs. Paschal as the first female private detective in literature. In 1864, Paschal appeared in The Revelations of a Lady Detective, written by W. S. Hayward, a British male writer. Although Mrs. Paschal occasionally worked with the police force, she also conducted private investigations for payment.

In 1894, private detective Miss Loveday Brooke appeared in a collection of stories by Catherine Louisa Pirkis, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective. The thirtyish Brooke worked for Ebenezer Dyer, head of a private detective agency in London, after being “thrown upon the world penniless and all but friendless.” Cut off from the world she once knew, she is a competent investigator who conducts convincing impersonations, traits that are reminiscent of the first real-life woman PI in the US, Kate Warne, who talked her way into being hired as a private detective by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in1856.

Golden Age of Detectives: Snobbery with Violence

The Golden Age of Detectives is generally acknowledged as spanning the years 1920 to 1939, although some contain it to the 1920s only. Stories from this era emphasized plot, English settings, and detectives who displayed ingenuity in solving the crimes.

During the early1920s, Hulbert Footner wrote a series of detective stories featuring Madame Rosika Storey, Private Investigator, whose tales were published in the US, United Kingdom and other countries.

In 1928, writer Patricia Wentworth introduced Miss Maud Silver as a minor character in Grey Mask. In 1937, Silver starred as a professional private detective, although she preferred to be called a private enquiry agent, in The Case Is Closed. Mystery novelist D. L. Browne, AKA Diana Killian, calls Miss Silver “a professional investigator and a stand-up woman, a true forerunner of all future female private eyes.”

Private detective Miss Felicity Lemon made her entrance in 1934 as the efficient secretary for Mr. Parker Pyne in Parker Pyne Investigates, a set of short stories by Agatha Christie. Later, Agatha Christie’s iconic private detective Hercule Poirot hires Miss Lemon to be his secretary.

Trixie Meehan, created by Thomas Theodore Flynn, worked at the Blaine Private Detective Agency with her partner Mike Harris in stories published in Detective Fiction Weekly: “The Deadly Orchid” (1933) and The Letters and the Law (1936).

If crime fiction were compared to eggs, this golden era of detectives would be soft-boiled, differentiating it from the hard-boiled private eyes that were starting to emerge in American literature.

Hard-Boiled Lady Dicks

The hard-boiled genre and its detective - AKA shamus, private dick, snoop, gumshoe - took its first steps in the 1920s and hit its stride in the 1930s up through the 1950s. These hard-drinking, wisecracking private eyes walked the mean streets in an urban jungle filled with violence and bloodshed.

Alongside iconic hardboiled private eyes like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe were their female counterparts in pulp fiction (named for the cheap "pulp" paper on which these stories were printed). A subset of these female private eyes appeared in the "screwball comedy" genre, which included elements of farce, romance and humor. Below is a sampling of these detective dames, their authors and example works:

To read the full article, click here.

Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private Eye

 Secrets of a Real-Life Female Private EyeTopics include the history of the first US female private eye, investigative tips, real-life case stories, links to other PI/cold-case/private-eye-genre blogs and sites, an overview of several popular female private eyes on TV and more.

Audiences: Fans of the private eye genre, writers, armchair detectives, and those simply curious about the real-world of PIs.

To Order: Click here or on book cover image to the left.

As an experienced private detective and a skilled storyteller, Colleen Collins is the perfect person to offer a glimpse into the lives of real female P.I.s
— Kim Green, managing editor of Pursuit Magazine: The Magazine of Professional Investigators
The stories were interesting and I’ve always wanted to read a book like this. This is also very helpful for creating a PI character and coming up with ideas for scenes, plot twists, and small side cases. It’s well written and enjoyable.
— M. Morris, Amazon reviewer

 

 

Who Would I Most Dislike to Be On a Spaceship With?

Ali Kahn, the editor of the Australian online magazine Festivale, interviewed me for its "Usual Questions" series, a column that started in 1999 when Kahn kicked off these Q&As at a conference with authors such as Lawrence Block, Janet Evanovich and others.

One fun question is who would the writer most dislike to be on a spaceship with? Oh, I definitely had an answer for that.

Below is an excerpt from the interview...

Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins

Colleen Collins Answers the Usual Questions

Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman co-write the blog Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, which has been recognized by Ellery Queen magazine as being one of the top three true-crime blogs. Guns, Gams and Gumshoes has also twice been tapped by the American Library Association's Booklist site as being a "Web Crush of the Week" during its annual Mystery Month (2012 and 2014).

Has your interaction with fans, for example, at conventions, affected your work?

More that our interaction with clients for Shaun's law practice, or clients for our former private investigations agency, have affected this book. In A Lawyer's Primer For Writers, we include some case studies with these clients, although we have changed their names.

Is there any particular incident (a letter, a meeting, a comment) that stands out?

Many, actually! In the book, we have a chapter on private investigators, and there's a section where I discuss why I no longer serve legal papers after 1 - a person sic'd a pit bull on my husband and 2 - a woman tried to hit me with a frying pan. Those are a few of the true stories in the book.

Do you have a favourite author or book (or writer or film or series) that has influenced you or that you return to?

A Lawyer's Primer For Writers is, of course, a nonfiction book, so I'll switch hats and mention several fiction writers who have influenced my fiction writing (I've published over two dozen novels since 1997). Some favorite crime fiction authors: Robert Crais, Walter Mosley, Ken Bruen, Ann Holt, George Pelecanos, Michael Wiley. And a shout-out to Australian romance writer Sarah Mayberry.

Who is the person you would most like to be trapped in a lift with? or a spaceship?

My husband. He's funny, smart and not bad on the eyes :)

Who is the person you would most DISlike to be trapped in a lift with? Or a spaceship?

My former agent.

What would you pack for space? (Is there a food, beverage, book, teddy bear, etc that you couldn't do without?)

My iPad that's filled with dozens of ebooks.

What is the most important thing you would like to get/achieve from your work?

A sense of accomplishment. Oh, and money.

To read the full interview, click here.