April 26, 2006
Greenport Ghostbusters Explore . . . The Spirits Among Us
When Lisette Coly was only 12 years old, she had a dream that a telegram had arrived, telling her that her grandfather had died. She woke up, terrified, only to hear the ringing of the telephone, bringing the tragic news that her beloved grandfather was, indeed, dead.
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Coincidence? Or was it something more? How many of us have experienced the unexplained? Smelled the scent of perfume worn by a loved one long gone, wafting through a room? Sensed a feeling of danger in a room moments before tragedy ensued? Seen the face of a loved one appear before us, coming to say farewell?
Lisette Coly and her mother, Eileen, are officers of the Parapsychology Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit organization founded by Coly's grandmother, Eileen J. Garrett, in 1951 as a professional partner for the scientific and academic communities involved in the study of parapsychology and a source of information for the public.
And now, just in time to celebrate the organization's 55th anniversary, the Colys have moved the Eileen J. Garrett Library, one of the top three in the world devoted to the study of parapsychology, to Greenport. A private opening will be held on Saturday, with the library opening its doors to the public for the very first time on Sunday.
With over 12,000 books dedicated to the study of parapsychology, the library is a haven for those searching for answers.
So many, said Coly, have questions about what, exactly, parapsychology is. Simply put, parapsychology is the systematic study of psychic or paranormal phenomena. Extra-sensory perception is divided into three categories: Clairvoyance, which is the ability to obtain information directly from the environment; telepathy, the direct mind-to-mind, person to person contact; and precognition, the capacity to have foreknowledge of future events. Psychokinesis is the alleged ability to directly influence, without recourse to normal motor skills, physical events — sometimes called "mind over matter."
At the library, rare books, some dating as far back as 1562, as well as an audiovisual room are available for those who are serious about the study of parapsychology. "I don't put any old book on parapsychology on the shelves," said Lisette. "There's such schlock out there."
Instead, the books offer insights from multiple disciplines and sciences. "These books give you the background so you can make the jump."
The move to Greenport seemed a natural one after the Foundation's original brownstone in Manhattan was sold, said Lisette. "I was walking around the village and saw the 'For Rent' sign. I'm paying the same for rent as I would be to put the books in storage."
While the Foundation will still offer lectures and seminars in New York, the library in Greenport "will be the jewel of the crown of the Foundation."
Growing up in Ireland, Eileen Garrett, the foundation's founder, had visions. "She was called a little liar and the Devil's spawn," said her daughter.
Realizing that psychical research was disregarded by a large segment of the academic community, Garrett devoted her life to supporting academicians and researchers in psychical research.
Today, Garrett's daughter and granddaughter are continuing her crusade. But the study is not about overblown images depicted by the media and in films such as Poltergeist. "We spend a lot of time explaining what parapsychology is not," said Lisette. "A real poltergeist is a noisy spirit," not some "alien" that causes houses to fly or sink into a pit.
There is growing evidence, exemplified by a recent Gallup poll as well as the wild popularity of psychics such as John Edwards, that indicates that the public is searching for deeper meaning.
"Especially now, because of the fragility of life after 9/11," said Lisette. "Most people feel that there may be something to this. The idea of the foundation is to get quality information out there and clear up the misconceptions."
Psychic phenomena has been experienced across the board, by CEOs and Harvard professors, lab researchers, and women at coffee klatches. "This field encompasses all demographics," said Lisette.
Lisette has been touched by other psychic experiences, such as when visiting a friend whose husband had died. "He came to say good-bye.
I wasn't frightened; he seemed very real. I had such a sense of the total essence of him. It wasn't until he said good-bye and walked through the wall that I ran like a scared little kid down the hall."
Lisette warns individuals to take heed against "charlatans," especially when seeking answers after the loss of a loved one. "That's when charlatans prey on those who are vulnerable. It's heartbreaking, what they do," said Eileen.
Instead of seeking answers from a psychic, the best advice is to "look to yourself," said Lisette. "Be your own best psychic."
To that end, Ouija boards and crystal balls are "focusing tools," used to center the senses. But, she adds, "Don't open doors you're not prepared to walk through."
Lisette said that a dose of skepticism doesn't hurt. "The foundation seeks to deal with a middle ground. Most people fall in the middle. You may or may not believe, but just want to study the phenomena. As dangerous as a true believer is a rabid skeptic."
The goal is to educate the public on what parapsychology really is, creating the foundation for good discussion of something Lisette says is "part and parcel of the human condition."And there is reason to delve for answers.
"So many normal people, with no axe to grind, have reported these experiences. How can you walk away from that?"
The Eileen J. Garrett Library and the Parapsychology Foundation, Inc. is located at 308 Front Street in Greenport. For more information, call 477-2560.