Museum of Mystery

Museum of Mystery Our collection consists of various artifacts and periodicals from the bygone era. All of our items a
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UFO?
12/03/2021

UFO?

UFO caught LIVE on camera during Buffalo weathercast with Andy Parker

What place in WNY or elsewhere do you consider to be the most haunted.
10/20/2021

What place in WNY or elsewhere do you consider to be the most haunted.

Have you or anyone you know had a ghostly experience at the Richardson Complex?
02/20/2021

Have you or anyone you know had a ghostly experience at the Richardson Complex?

The Fairy RingFairy rings have other names. Elf Circles. Sorcerers’ or Witches’ Rings. The folklore surrounding these st...
11/02/2020

The Fairy Ring

Fairy rings have other names. Elf Circles. Sorcerers’ or Witches’ Rings. The folklore surrounding these strange circles can be found in many cultures, each with slightly different variations.

For example, in German folklore, these rings are thought to be the spots where witches dance on Walpurgis Night, a spring festival that lies exactly six months from All Hallows’ Eve.

In Celtic folklore, on the other hand, fairy rings are said to be caused by dancing faeries (hence the name), or burned into the ground by dancing elves and left to appear in the morning after a moonlit night.

Whatever the case, they say you should never enter a fairy ring, or else you’ll be cursed by their otherworldly protectors. You may even find yourself whisked away into the fairyland, or perhaps even driven mad.

The Ear Inn at 326 Spring Street, New York, NYOne of the oldest (and most haunted) watering holes in New York City, the ...
06/07/2020

The Ear Inn at 326 Spring Street, New York, NY

One of the oldest (and most haunted) watering holes in New York City, the Ear Inn opened in 1817, and has maintained its status as a legendary neighborhood haunt for the living and the dead alike ever since.

The bar’s building itself, the James Brown House, is a designated historic landmark. It was built around 1770 for James Brown. Brown was an African-American ex-slave and aide to George Washington in the Revolutionary War. Brown sought to retire in a quiet townhouse, and reportedly became a to***co farmer. Little else is known of Brown, as detailed records of free slaves were not commonly kept.

After Brown’s death, in the mid-1800s, the James Brown House began to transform into a waterfront drinking establishment, slinging homebrewed beer and whiskey to sailors coming in droves from the then-nearby (as in, five feet away) Hudson River. The sailors were also fed, for free, as long as they bought drinks, making the destination that much more appealing to the hungry, thirsty men.

By the next century, the establishment changed into a restaurant, but still maintained its boozy history. Not even Prohibition curbed the sale of alcohol, as the restaurant acted as a speakeasy. In the same building, the upstairs apartment has served as a smuggler’s den, brothel, doctor’s office, and boarding house, but the main level has unwaveringly been a hot spot for dining and drinking.

Post-Prohibition, the still-unnamed pub reopened to the general public. The bar enjoyed successful business due to its notorious, word-of-mouth reputation as a lawless land where sailors could drink, eat, gamble, and otherwise fraternize freely. Sailors journeyed to the infamous bar from across the globe to experience a taste of its revelry and ribaldry. The bar’s devoted fanbase dubbed it “The Green Door,” for its, well, green door, which remains to this day. The motto of “The Green Door” was: “known from coast to coast.”

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the “Door” finally became the Ear Inn. Current owners Martin Sheridan and Richard “Rip” Hayman cleverly altered the neon in the existing “BAR” signage to simply read “EAR.” The pair made this on-the-fly change, one of the precious few changes made to the New York City landmark since 1770, to avoid having to wait through bureaucratic red tape by the Landmark Commission to approve a formal change of signage.

They also made this change in homage to the name of their music magazine, EAR, then produced upstairs in the same building. This quirky, defiant touch befits the legacy of the bar as a place for sailors, creatives, and travelers… of all planes of mortality.

Once dubbed the “defining institution” of its neighborhood by Doug Cooper from The New York Times, no bar this idiosyncratic earns that reputation without a few ghost stories, and the Ear Inn doesn’t have just a few rumors of sightings, but at least one proper ghostly regular.

One of the most established regulars, known as Mickey the Sailor, was a regular in his life, having spent the vast majority of his time and money at the bar when he wasn’t away at sea. He loved being at the Inn so much, it’s said, that he used to sometimes plead with bar staff to keep the place open after they’d shut down shop for the night.

There is no clear answer on how Mickey sailed his last mortal voyage. One leading theory is that Mickey, after a long trip at sea, craved alcohol. After disembarking his ship, he dashed from port into the bar in a deranged froth, desperate for a drink of hard liquor. He got what he wanted, and more, as he drank, and drank, and drank until it poisoned him. It is believed, per this theory, that he died on the very place he sat, his bar stool, and that his spirit, undeterred by his cause-of-death, has been an ongoing patron ever since.

The other leading theory on Mickey’s death states that Mickey wasn’t away at sea, but right at his home-away-from-home, the Ear Inn, in 1920. He had a normal night, per his habits, of heavy drinking, but then decided to go to his real home. As he drunkenly sauntered out of the bar, his walk was cut short. He was struck by a car in the midst of crossing the street, and shortly died from his injuries. Given this account, it is possible that his spirit took perpetual refuge in the bar, as it was the last safe place his mortal form knew before his sudden death.

After his death, Mickey’s love of the Ear Inn is as strong as ever, albeit even more debauched, as if he’s been emboldened by crossing over. As a ghost, he’s developed a preference for a particular style of supernatural teasing and torment. He doesn’t wail and spook bar patrons like the average ghoul, or seek to drive visitors into spirals of shock and fear with grotesque projections.

Instead, he prods at waitresses, making them squirm and shriek all the same from his literally cold, presumptuous advances. Female guests who’ve dared to stay upstairs overnight have also complained that Mickey has cheekily snuck into bed with them, seeking to cozy up with the warmth from the (feminine) living.

In addition to his lustful pursuits, Mickey also has, in stereotypical sailor fashion, a penchant for casually stealing swigs from patrons’ drinks. All too commonly, one moment, a bargoer orders a drink, brings it from the bar, and sets their drink down at their table. The next moment, their drink is mysteriously quaffed, leaving them with both a dry glass and deep, deep confusion.

Because of Mickey’s meddling, arguments tend to break out among bar visitors, as they believe one of their friends must’ve downed the drink when they weren’t looking, or that the bartenders are playing some sort of trick or illusion on them. For years, the ownership has remained firm that, no, their employees are not magicians or pranksters; that’s simply Mickey being Mickey.

The Conference HouseLocated on Staten Island, the Conference House (sometimes known as the Billop House) was built somet...
06/06/2020

The Conference House

Located on Staten Island, the Conference House (sometimes known as the Billop House) was built sometime during the late 1600s and became known as the Conference House after the 1776 Staten Island Peace Conference that was an attempt to end hostilities during the American Revolution.

The house is built upon a large Lenope burial ground dubbed Burial Ridge that proved to be one of the largest burial sites on the East Coast before European interference.

The architecture of the structure particularly embodies the classic Georgian style of the Enlightenment, featuring the balance of either side with matching chimney placement and an equal number of openings on the two floors. Many manor houses that were built during this time (particularly in Pennsylvania) were built with this method of architectural construction. The house also features escape tunnels which were not uncommon during the war for loyalists to escape on-coming rebel armies.

The story behind the hauntings might as well be out of a story book. It is told that Christopher Billop, who owned the house during the Revolution, found his maid signaling to the Americans through an upstairs window with a candle and subsequently punished her treason to the Crown by stabbing her and tossing her down the manor’s stairwell. It is said that on certain nights, it is possible to see her candle light in one of the windows from the outside. Apparitions are reported including that of the maid, a mysterious woman, Billop himself, and redcoats from the English army strolling about on patrol.

The Conference House is located in Conference Park and paranormal investigations have not been allowed by the current owners.

One of the most researched and best documented cases of multiple alien abduction occurred in August, 1976, in the state ...
11/13/2019

One of the most researched and best documented cases of multiple alien abduction occurred in August, 1976, in the state of Maine. The Allagash Waterway Abduction is a integral piece of the alien abduction puzzle. This case gained world-wide attention when it was dramatized in an episode of television's "Unsolved Mysteries." Twin brothers Jack and Jim Weiner, along with their friends Chuck Rak and Charlie Foltz, would be participants in an event involving a UFO sighting, missing time, and medical procedures performed by beings unknown.

Just a Fishing Trip: Not only were the four men fishing buddies, but they were all art students, having met at the Massachusetts College of Art. They set out for what should have been an uneventful, relaxing fishing trip. It was not to be. After being on the waterway for a time, the four fishermen had canoed to Eagle Lake. They had no luck there, and returned to the bank. As they were beginning to get low on provisions, they decided to do a little fishing at night. To be on the safe side, they built a roaring fire on the bank to use as a landmark in case they became turned around on the lake.

Brighter Than a Star: After a short period of time, all four of the men's attention was drawn to a large, bright light in the sky over the lake. It was much more brilliant than a star. Only a couple of hundred yards away, the UFO was hovering over a group of trees. The object began to move, and change colors, from red to green, then to a whitish yellow. The men were watching the object in awe, wondering what it might be. At this time, they estimated it to be about 80 feet in diameter. Charlie Foltz decided to signal to it with his flashlight. At once, the UFO began to move toward them. They were being watched.

Rowing for the Bank: The object silently made its way toward the men. They began a dash to the shore, paddling as fast as they could. A light from the object beamed down and engulfed the men and their canoe. The next thing they knew, they were back on the bank. Foltz again signaled the UFO with his flashlight-but this time it rose upward, and departed from their view. Then they noticed that the large fire they had started only a short time ago, was already burned to ashes, which should have taken several hours. What had happened to them?

Missing Time: It was obvious to the four buddies that they were missing several hours of time. Little was said between them at this time. They packed up their belongs, and headed back home. As time went by, the events of that terrible night on Allagash would begin to have an effect on their lives. The first man to suffer was Jack Weiner. He began to have awful nightmares of strange beings with long necks, and large heads. He could see himself being examined, while the other three men sat idly by.

Haunting Nightmares: The strange humanoid beings in Jack's nightmares were described as having metallic-like, glowing eyes with no lids. Their hands were like an insect's with only four fingers. See more on strange alien beings described in the Pascagoula abductions, and also the Betty Andreasson abduction. The other three men also were having dreams of a similar nature. Finally, in 1988, Jim Weiner decided to visit a UFO conference, which was hosted by author Raymond Fowler. When the conference ended, he talked to Fowler, and related his remarkable encounter on the Allagash Waterway.

Regressive Hypnosis: Fowler was very experienced in dealing with the exact problem that Jim, his brother and the two other fishermen were facing. He suggested to Jim that all four of the men undergo regressive hypnosis, a type of hypnosis that recovers lost memories. After the four men completed their sessions, it was determined that all of them had been abducted by strange beings from the UFO that engulfed them and their canoe on the Allagash Waterway. Part of the abduction involved very sensitive personal issues of the taking of fluid (semen) samples, and other humiliating medical tests.

Men Were Not Lying: The men all recalled the abduction procedure-some would recall one part of it, and some another part, but when combined, they showed a complete picture of a typical alien abduction. Since the men were all artists, they were able to draw striking depictions of the examination room, the instruments used, and the aliens. This information would be invaluable to those who study the phenomena of alien abduction. The four friends would also take lie-detector tests, which they all passed, further verifying their encounter.

02/05/2018

Unidentified Flying Objects.

02/01/2018

The First of a daily video series on this page. The first is of a child being handled by an unseen force. Please be aware images in this video are disturbing.

06/03/2017

In one of the most terrifying cases of recent times, a New England family was surprised, disturbed and ultimately horrified by a series of apparitions that seemed to have one objective – to drive them from their home. The strange, horrifying events that took place in a New England home in the late 1970s and early 1980s have been documented and investigated, but never fully explained. They began as a series of benign if remarkable hauntings and escalated into one of the most astonishing cases of ghostly, paranormal activity in recent American history.

The real name of the family involved has been kept secret to protect their privacy, but the investigators for the Psychical Research Foundation provided them with the pseudonym of Berini. First names have also been changed.

The Serena Ghost

The Berini’s unsettling clash with the paranormal started after the father, Joe Berini, moved the family into his ancestral home located in a New England town. The house had been in the family for many years: Joe’s father grew up there, and several family members had died in the house. All seemed normal, at first. Joe settled in with his wife Rosa, and her two children from a previous marriage, John and Daisy. It was one night in May, 1979 that Rose began to hear a disembodied voice. It sounded like that of a little girl, Rose said, and the first time she heard it, it said, “Mama, mama, this is Serena.”

No one knew who Serena was or what the voice might mean. It wasn’t until a later investigation into family history that Joe learned that his father had a sister named Serena who died in the house at the age of five more than 50 years previous. But what was Serena’s message trying to convey? It turned out that Serena’s voice would be a forewarning of family danger – on more than one occasion. The very next day after Rose first heard Serena’s voice, Daisy was taken for a scheduled appointment to have her tonsils taken out. Something went wrong during the surgery, however. Daisy’s heart failed and she nearly died.

The girl’s voice was heard on several more occasions, once on a June night before Joe’s grandmother suffered a stroke, and again in November just before the old woman passed away. A fourth time, Joe was awakened by Serena’s voice to find Rose choking in her sleep. Upon being roused from sleep by Joe, Rose said she had been dreaming that her ex-husband was strangling her.

The Boy in White Ghost

Then, as mysteriously as Serena’s warnings came to the Berinis, they ceased. Through the end of 1979 to March, 1981, the family encountered nothing more out of the ordinary. But in that spring of 1981, a new series of haunting phenomena began when Rose was startled by the apparition of a small boy, dressed completely in white, walking along the upstairs hallway in the dead of night. “It was almost like looking through a milk bottle,” Rose later told researchers. “It was a very peaceful experience. It stayed for about two hours on and off, coming and going.” The boy’s spirit appeared again a week and a half later, and this time spoke to Rose, innocently asking, “Where do all the lonely people go?”

The boy in white also appeared before Joe, who says he saw the spirit go to each of the bedrooms and then kneel in the hallway, as if looking for something that lay hidden beneath the carpet. More than curious, Joe later took up the carpet and the floorboards at that spot and found a medallion of the Virgin Mary with a broken chain. Joe recalled that another child had died in that house – his father’s younger brother, Giorgio, at the age of eight. Again checking family history with other relatives, Joe was told that Giorgio was buried in his all-white First Communion suit.

Violent Poltergeist Activity Begins

Giorgio began to appear frequently to Joe and Rose over the next few months. The spirit would respond to questions, but seemed distressed. It would mention family members that Joe had not thought of for ages. Finally, as the apparition vanished for the last time, the telephone next to Joe and Rose’s bed was thrown off the night table by unseen hands. This was the beginning of the poltergeist activity that would terrorize the Berinis in the weeks and months to come.

More than a dozen times, Joe and Rose’s bedroom phone was thrown violently off their night table. Joe took this, along with Giorgio’s last message, as a sign that he should call his parents and warn them that the little boy’s spirit might be paying them a visit. He did so, but each time Joe uttered Giorgio’s name, the phone line went dead.

Help Sought

The Berinis had had enough. They sought the advice of a local priest who said they should merely ignore the spirit if it should appear again. Not good advice, as it turned out. The next time the boy in white appeared to Rose, she did as she was advised and paid it no attention. Immediately, a closet door began to slam open and shut repeatedly. On subsequent days, unexplained running was heard in the house, and box of macaroni was yanked from Rose’s hands and dashed to the floor. Again taking their plight to the Church, the Berinis invited two priests to visit the house, where they blessed it and said mass.

Giorgio’s spirit finally seemed to give up its mission, whatever it was, and appeared no more. But the Berini’s paranormal troubles were far from over. Giorgio’s disappearance only seemed to make room for another entity to enter their home and their lives – one that was not so innocent or benign.

The Sinister Hunchack Ghost Appears

In June, 1981, the Berinis began to see a sinister hunchbacked male figure clad in a black cape. Throughout that summer, the hunchback, which the Berinis described as having large feet and a gruff voice, appeared regularly in the house. The Berinis tried to get the entity to identify itself, but it only told them it was “a minister of God.”

The dark figure hardly acted like a denizen of Heaven. It frequently made its presence known, for example, when Rose was praying with her rosary, trying to distract her with various obscenities. The poltergeist-like activity increased in frequency and intensity. Joe, Rose and 15-year-old John reported that they had been struck by thrown objects. The bedroom telephone continued to fly off the table. A bedside lamp “fell,” striking Rose on the head. Furniture in several rooms were on occasion found overturned or moved: Daisy’s bedroom desk was somehow transported down the stairs. The retractable attic stairs were open and shut repeatedly and with such violence that it cracked the hall ceiling. Several religious objects were removed from walls or broken.

Rose, it seemed, was in particular the object of the entity’s violence. The door of the freezer was swung open, hitting her in the head. During an evening meal, her arm was twisted behind her back and her head pulled to one side with such force that she began to choke. On more than one occasion, Joe testified, he saw Rose pulled out of bed at night, levitated into the air and then dropped to the floor. After one of these attacks, bruises were found on her arms and legs, as if from a powerful grip.

Two months after it first appeared, the dark, hunchbacked entity became its most violent. Not long after Joe left the house to work the night shift at his factory job, a loud banging shook the bedroom walls. “The bed was raising off the floor,” Rose said. “I tried to scream and the door slammed so I could not get out of the room. The dog was growling and the door opened.” Rose struggled to get to the children’s bedrooms, but their doors slammed shut and she was dragged by the unseen force back into her room. Invisible hands began to choke and scratch her. She managed to call Joe. He rushed home and ran upstairs to the bedroom where he saw the bed jumping as high as two feet into the air, and found Rose crouching in a corner clutching a crucifix.

The Berinis Flee at Last

Remarkably, the Berinis still refused to abandon their home. Their minds changed, however, when one morning they awoke to find a heavy carving knife stabbed into the kitchen table.

Fearing that their lives could truly be in danger, the Berinis moved out of the house for a month, putting most of their belongings into storage. Once again, they sought help from a priest, who went to the house and performed a kind of exorcism. When the Berinis returned to their home, the evil seemed to have been vanquished. They no longer saw apparitions of any kind or suffered any more poltergeist activity.

Ironically, it was only after the haunting activity stopped that Joe Berini invited an investigation by the Psychical Research Foundation, based in Durham, North Carolina. (The organization is now the American Institute of Parapsychology, based in Gainesville, Florida.) The investigators were able to corroborate some of the Berini’s claims through friends, neighbors and their priest, all of whom testified that they witnessed poltergeist phenomena in the Berini home.

05/02/2017

There are very few graveyards around the world that could compete with the level of paranormal activity happening behind the gothic walls of London’s Highgate Cemetery. The 177 year old resting place has been at the center of some of the world’s most spine-tingling legends, but some of them are even stranger than tales of ghosts. Some of them involve real vampires..

During Victorian-era London, if you were of high-society, there was a no more sought-after final resting place than Highgate Cemetery. The graveyard became so popular that by the 20th century, tens of thousands of London’s richest and most well-to-do had been buried behind the ornate walls of the graveyard, each family attempting to out-do the other with their beautiful headstones. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t always be that way.

By WWII, the 20-acre cemetery had fallen into a period of neglect. Ruin and decay had started taking its toll on the once-beautiful mausoleums, headstones, and crypts, leaving them in a state of disrepair. In fact, by the early 1960s, the entire cemetery had become completely abandoned, and stories of the strange goings-on happening behind Highgate’s vine-covered walls began to spread.

Tales of a strange group of men in dark robes were whispered by locals. Eye-witnesses claimed that these mysterious men would frequent the isolated burial ground in order to conduct their dark rituals in secret.

But robed visitors weren’t the only thing people started experiencing in the strange cemetery. Those brave enough to explore the alleyways at night reported run-ins with otherworldly ghouls. In fact, the local newspapers were bombarded with first-hand accounts of red-eyed demons, terrifying ghosts, and most famously, blood-thirsty vampires.

Though Highgate Cemetery had long been a paranormal hotspot, it wasn’t until the mid 60s that the much-publicized stories surrounding the Highgate Vampire created a panic within the local community. Often described as a very tall, dark figure who glides as if his feet never touch the ground, the vampire’s face was reported as a terrifying, twisted nightmare straight out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Many visitors became obsessed with the legends, even going so far as to spend the night alone inside the cemetery. During that time eyewitnesses spotted the vampire for themselves, describing the undead creature as having a hypnotic stare and a bone-chilling effect on anyone who had the misfortune of crossing paths with the monster.

It didn’t take long for this fantastical story to hit the newspapers, where it proceeded to whip the general public into a mass-panic. The result? Hundreds of concerned locals flooded the cemetery to help “hunt” for the legendary vampire. As you might have expected, nothing was found.

While tales of vampire hunting might be a bit hard to swallow, not all of the stories that surround the cemetery are quite so hard to believe. There have been numerous credible witnesses to the spirits said to haunt Highgate Cemetery.

Many people have seen the “Mad Old Woman”, the spirit of an old lady often spotted running wildly among the graves as if she is searching for the children she’s said to have murdered. There’s also the “Shrouded Figure”, a morose phantom commonly seen quietly staring up into the sky. If you approach her too quickly she will vanish, only to reappear a few yards away in the same eerie position.

The “Devil Ghoul” is one of the rarer sights in Highgate Cemetery, but those who’ve run into the ghost describe it as having a set of piercing red eyes, and a habit of disappearing completely when in direct light.

Add to these encounters the countless reports of spectral faces that manifest out of nowhere, the mad wailing of a banshee, and a number of individuals who claim they’ve been personally assaulted by the dark forces in the graveyard, and it’s easy to see why Highgate Cemetery has earned its haunting reputation.
By the early 1980s, an organization called Friends Of Highgate Cemetery was formed, with the aim of “…promoting the conservation of the cemetery, its monuments and buildings, flora and fauna, for the benefit of the public as an environmental amenity.” Since that time, a massive restoration has been underway to return the beautiful, gothic graveyard back to the glory days of elaborate funerals and burial sites.

Europe is home to many of the world’s most fantastic haunted locations, but Highgate Cemetery is one of the most legendary. Where else are you going to find spooky tales of ghosts, devils, ghouls, and vampires, all in one place? Thanks to the ongoing renovations, we’ll be able to enjoy this beautiful old cemetery, and her wonderful legends, for many years to come. If you visit, just keep an eye out for vampires..

By Dana Matthews

05/01/2017

You're about to go to "heaven" and live to tell about it. And your story will become the subject of scientific research.
It's the perfect day. You're strolling down a sidewalk, listening to an ensemble of bird songs, soaking up a balmy breeze fragranced with fresh spring flowers, and gazing up at a cloudless sky of pure azure.
Pleasantly distracted, you step off the sidewalk into the street. Brakes screech; horns blare; people shriek in horror. You snap back to reality ... just as the truck hits you.
You fly for yards like a rag doll; you land hard. You're numb all over and fading fast. It's all over; you know it. Your life flashes before you like an epic movie. The End.
You leave your body and look down at it. People are bending over it. Someone is sobbing uncontrollably. As the ambulance rushes up, a blinding light surges above you. It beckons you softly.
You follow it through a tunnel to a place much more vividly real and spectacular than the banner Sunday afternoon you just left behind. You are sure you have arrived in the hereafter.
Weeks later, you wake up to the steady beeps of an EKG monitor next to your hospital bed.
Secrets spilled in life's final minutes
The scientific journey begins
If your hospital is in Belgium, Dr. Steven Laureys may pay you a visit, interested to hear what you remember from your NDE, or near-death experience.
He tells you that many people have gone down this road before you and that you can trust him with your experience.
"Patients in intensive care are scared to tell their stories," he said. They are afraid people won't take them seriously, especially doctors and scientists.
Laureys heads the Coma Science Group at the university hospital in the city of Liege. He and his colleagues published a scientific study on NDEs late last month.
People who go on these fantastic journeys are often forever changed. Many seem to come back happier and no longer fear death, he said. The experience becomes a cornerstone of their lives.
NDEs feel "even more real than real," Laureys said. It's this sparkling clarity and living color of the experience, which many have when they lose consciousness, that he and his team have researched.
Results of a psychological test reveal memories of Near Death Experiences to be more vivid than any other memory
Results of a psychological test reveal memories of Near Death Experiences to be more vivid than any other memory
But he doesn't think it comes from a spirit world. Laureys is a scientist, he emphasizes. He prefers not to mix that with religion.
His hypothesis is that near-death experiences originate in human physiology. "It is this dysfunctional brain that produces these phenomena," he said.
Laureys and his staff are interested in how the brain creates the mind and its perception of reality. "Our main focus is consciousness research in comatose patients," he said. His team hopes to raise the quality of their comfort and care.
The same story, again and again
Over the years, many patients have awakened from comas to tell Laureys about trips to the hereafter.
Their stories all have elements that are the same or very similar.
"After being close to death, some people will report having had an out-of-body experience, having seen a bright light or being passed through a tunnel; all well-known elements of the famous Near-Death Experience," according to the study by Laureys and his team of six scientists.
Raymond and Nadine, both from Belgium, had heart attacks. When oxygen was cut off from their brains, they had out-of-body sensations, Laureys said.
"I felt as if I were sucked out of my body at one point," said Raymond. "I was going through a completely black tunnel, very, very quickly, a speed you cannot express, because you just don't experience it."
When Nadine's heart attack came on, she could see herself from outside her body. "It's as if you are on a cloud, even if it's not really that," she said.
It eluded her control, and that frightened her. She went into a dark hole. "You wonder if you will really return to your body," she said.
A light appeared at the end of Raymond's tunnel. He, too, was at first afraid and resisted. The light was female, and she "communicated" with him.
He surrendered to her. "I realized that I shouldn't struggle, and I let myself go. It was at that moment that the experience took place."
Psychological test
Scientific research on people having NDEs is tough, because the exact instant that they occur is unknown, making them nearly impossible to observe, Laureys said.
It would also be cruel to run brain scans on someone who was possibly facing the moment of death.
So, Laureys and his team studied the near-death memories of people who survived -- in particular those of coma patients -- with the help of a psychological examination.
The Memory Characteristics Questionnaire tests for sensory and emotional details of recollections and how people relive them in space and time. In other words, it gauges how present, intense and real a memory is.
They compared NDEs with other memories of intense real-life events like marriages and births, but also with memories of dreams and thoughts -- things that did not occur in physical reality.
The researchers paralleled new memories with old ones. And they compared the patients who had NDEs with groups of others who didn't.
Memories of important real-life events are more intense than those of dreams or thoughts, Laureys said.
"If you use this questionnaire ... if the memory is real, it's richer, and if the memory is recent, it's richer," he said.
The coma scientists weren't expecting what the tests revealed.
"To our surprise, NDEs were much richer than any imagined event or any real event of these coma survivors," Laureys reported.
The memories of these experiences beat all other memories, hands down, for their vivid sense of reality. "The difference was so vast," he said with a sense of astonishment.
Even if the patient had the experience a long time ago, its memory was as rich "as though it was yesterday," Laureys said.
"Sometimes, it is hard for them (the patients) to find words to explain it."
True believers
The questionnaire asks people about their level of certainty that a remembered experience was a real event and not imagined or dreamed. "They (the patients) are very convinced that it is real," Laureys said.
A simple Internet search reveals hundreds of accounts of near-death experiences -- some real, some perhaps invented. Many people are convinced they are proof positive that an afterlife exists outside of the physical realm -- and that it is wondrous.
There are reports of religious images appearing at times in NDEs, but they are not limited to one single religion, and they don't always appear. Sometimes Buddha, Jesus or Mohammed appear, but usually they don't, Laureys said.
Nevertheless, an NDE can make a convert of a skeptic. Dr. Eben Alexander is a well-known case of an agnostic scientist who became convinced of the existence of the spiritual.
He has often shared his story in television interviews with journalists and expressed his views in lectures and in books and video presentations, which he sells on his website.
Alexander, a neurosurgeon, according to his autobiography, has described his experience in the same terms as the Belgian researchers: "hyper-reality," "too real to be real."
In the beginning, he tried to interpret his experience as a brain function, he wrote on his website, but he became increasingly spiritual. He has come to the conclusion that people are reincarnated.
Alexander says his experience could not have been a hallucination, because the parts of the brain necessary to produce his experiences were basically dead when he had them.
It's your brain, Laureys tells you
Laureys strongly disagrees. "There is no evidence there can be conscious experience without brain activity," he said.
Lying in your hospital bed, you have become a true believer, and you are happier for it.
But your brain never died, the doctor tells you. You were in a coma. Perhaps your heart stopped for a while; maybe it didn't. But that's not even necessary to have an out-of-body experience.
"Many individuals having had NDEs were not physically in danger of death suggesting that the perception, on its own, of the risk of death seems to be important in eliciting NDEs," the study said.
It's enough just to think you're dying to have one.
Mapping the brain, exploring its secrets
The American Psychological Association concurs. It defines near-death experiences as "profound psychological events with transcendental and mystical elements, typically occurring to individuals close to death or in situations of intense physical or emotional danger."
In the case of coma patients, the brain producing the NDE may be functioning minimally, but it is still alive, Laureys hypothesized. He said one can stimulate certain parts of the brain to produce single elements of the experience.
It's a vivid hallucination, Laureys' report surmises. "It was a normal brain activity that produced their extraordinary perceptions."
Needs more research
Though the results of his studies were marked and consistent, the Belgian research team has tested only a small number of patients so far.
And it has not been able to scan brain images of patients having NDEs to get hard data on the hypothesis of the physiological nature of the experience.
Laureys' research alone is not enough. He wants to see more scientists get involved. As a doctor, he feels it's the compassionate thing for them to do.
Too many people have the experience for serious researchers to ignore it, he said, and a lot of people are afraid that their consciousness will linger long after they pass away, making them witnesses to whatever happens to their bodies.
"The public is historically afraid to be buried alive," Laureys said. "People are afraid to sign up as organ donors." They are scared they may have to watch them being extracted from their bodies.
There are more than enough spiritual models for NDEs, he said -- and superstitious ones. "There are a lot of crazy explanations out there."
It's high time for more hard science, Laureys said. A high percentage of his coma patients report having had NDEs, and he believes many of us go through these "afterlife" experiences when we die.
Laureys doesn't want to speculate on the existence of heaven or hell, but he does say that only a small minority of near-death experiences are horrifying. Most of them are pleasant and uplifting.
From his accounts, it sounds like more people go to "heaven" than to "hell."

By Ben Brumfield

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