Saturday, August 25, 2018

Morphing into Bridey Murphy
by Robert A. Waters

On February 9, 1956, nineteen-year-old William Dean Swink shot himself to death.  His stated reason was to test the theory of reincarnation.  Swink’s suicide note read: “They say curiosity kills the cat.  Well, I’m a cat and I’m very curious.  I am curious about the Bridey Murphy story, so I’m going to test this theory in person.”

A month earlier, amateur hypnotist Morey Bernstein had published a book entitled, The Search for Bridey Murphy.  It became a sensation, selling 200,000 copies within a few months.  Later that year, a successful movie brought the story to the big screen.

The tale began in 1952 at a party in Pueblo, Colorado.  Bernstein asked for volunteers who wished to be hypnotized and housewife Virginia Tighe stepped forward.  What started as a lark soon became the backdrop for controversy.  Under hypnosis, Tighe (called Ruth Simmons in the book) claimed she had lived a past life in Ireland.

For the next few months, with Tighe’s husband always present, Bernstein conducted a series of hypnoses.  While under hypnotic regression, Tighe allegedly traveled back in time to 1806 in Cork, Ireland where her name was Bridgett “Bridey” Murphy.  According to the story, at 17, Murphy married a barrister and moved to Belfast.

The Long Beach Independent Press Telegram reported that “she told of falling down a flight of stairs, of dying, of living in a spirit world for fifty years, where she never ate, never slept.  In 1923, she was reborn in the U.S.A.”  During the hypnotic sessions, Tighe “became” Bridey, even speaking with an authentic-sounding Irish accent.

With the wild popularity of The Search for Bridey Murphy, reporters flew to Ireland in an attempt to check the facts of the story.  It turned out there was no record of the birth or death of Bridey Murphy.  (There was, however, an Irish immigrant named Bridey Murphy Corkell who lived across the street from Tighe’s childhood home in Chicago.)  While some details of Murphy’s tale were accurate, most reporters did not believe the story.

True believers in reincarnation, however, were unfazed.

To others, the story was ripe for laughs.  “Come as you were” parties became popular.  New parents would sometimes joke about reincarnation, telling their newborn infants, “Welcome back.”

Virginia Tighe, now Virginia Mae Morrow, died in 1995.  She never tried to cash in on her fame, and, in fact, said, “If I had known what was going to happen, I would never have lain down on that couch.”

As for Morey Bernstein, he managed a business founded by his grandfather, father, and uncle.  A generous man, Bernstein gave millions to organizations and universities in the Pueblo area.  The former hypnotist died in 1999.

William Dean Swink never came back in a different body—or at least, no one ever knew it if he did.  His grieving family buried him, and he became a footnote in history.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Dead Souls at Windover Bog
by Robert A. Waters

It’s five thousand years before the birth of Christ.  A small band of men, women, and children subsist in a hard land of scrub pines, saw palmettoes, and hickory trees.  Each year, the group arrives in the Fall and moves on in the Spring.  While here, they breed and live and die.

They bury their dead in a small peat-filled pond.

The forests and swamps surrounding the pond are unforgiving.  It's sizzling hot, humid, and crawling with killer insects, bugs, and spiders.  Poisonous snakes, bears, alligators, panthers, and bobcats hunt in these forests, feeding on prey such as deer, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, and turtles—or humans.

Fast-forward seven thousand years.  In 1982, a Titusville, Florida backhoe operator named Steve Vanderjagt digs a trench through the mucky soil of Windover Bog.  After a few scoops, he notices what he thinks is a stone in the bucket.  Inspecting it, he sees two hollow eyes staring back at him.  A few more scoops, and he unearths more human skulls.  Could this be the graveyard of a serial killer?  Vanderjagt knows he needs help.  He contacts his employer, developer Jim Swann.

Thus begins a saga unlike any known in Florida.

Cops quickly determine this is not the gravesite of a serial killer.

Archaeologists are called to the scene and are stunned when they learn that the Windover Bog contains 167 skeletons from the Archaic Age.  Many are in excellent condition, even their brains are preserved.  This is unheard of in Florida, or for that matter, in most of the world.  With financial backing from Swann and the state of Florida, archaeologists begin to peel layer after layer from the mystery of the Bog People, offering intriguing glimpses into the state’s past.

According to archeologist and author Rachel K. Wentz, the group had no metal tools or weapons, no modern medicine, no transportation (except their feet), yet the group and their descendants survived for about a thousand years.  They were peaceful, with almost no deaths from interpersonal violence.  They died of illnesses not unlike those we face today.  Most adults suffered from arthritis.  Some had broken bones, tooth abscesses and gumline erosion, internal parasites, and other maladies.  At least one had cancer.  They had a life-span of about 40 years.

They valued each member of their group, even infants who died shortly after childbirth.  We know this because they buried their dead in the bog facing west toward the setting sun.

Wentz writes that “bodies were carried into the shallow margins of the pond, beyond the thick tangle of tree roots.  Once the body was pushed into the soft soils of the pond, a small tipi-like construction of branches was erected over the body.  The wood used for these shelters was primarily ash.  Ash does not naturally occur near the pond and appears to have been chosen specifically for this purpose.  Perhaps this type of wood held ceremonial significance.  Singular wooden stakes possibly marked the location of individual graves or family units.”

Tools, weapons, toys, fabric, ropes, food, and other items were often buried with a corpse.

As in life, care was taken in death.  A teenage boy with spina bifida had been buried in a loving manner.  The boy couldn’t have cared for himself.  With one deformed ankle and another missing foot, he couldn’t walk, much less work.  Yet someone carried him from place to place for 14-18 years, providing food and water.  The group, or at least someone in the group, loved this crippled child enough to help him through his challenging life.  Like the others, he was buried facing west.

In another instance, a middle-aged woman was afflicted with fused spinal disks and severe arthritis, making it unlikely that she could work.  But she lived for a decade or more with these conditions, meaning that the group must have helped her.

In yet another case, a two-year-old girl was buried with a bone toy in her hand and a tortoise shell bowl beside her.

Seven thousand years ago, in the hard wilderness of Florida, the human species developed compassion, empathy, kindness, and mercy.  When the group died off, did those traits die with them?

NOTE: Much of this information came from the excellent book, Life and Death at Windover: Excavations of a 7,000-Year-Old Pond Cemetery, by Rachel K. Wentz.  If you’re interested in this subject, I recommend this book.  I also recommend that you purchase books directly from the author, cutting out the profiteers at Amazon and eBay.  You can contact Wentz at