Book Blog: Holy Ghosts by Gary Jansen

When you die, where do you go?

Some people say we’re just put in the ground and that’s that. Others are taught that there’s a celestial “waiting room” for you to stay in, just for a bit. And while most religions promise a Heaven for the good-hearted and a Hell for the bad guys, we can’t, unfortunately, go check things out first.

But what if the deceased had the option to hang around awhile? Author Gary Jansen’s church taught that there was no such possibility, but in his new book “Holy Ghosts”, he tells how he learned otherwise.

Growing up in his mother’s Catholic faith, Gary Jansen says he “always felt drawn to God”. He faithfully attended Mass and briefly considered the priesthood. But his was not your usual Catholic Kid childhood.

When Jansen was small, the family moved into a crumbling fixer-upper in a Rockville Centre, Long Island, neighborhood, conveniently close to a Catholic Church and two Catholic schools. The house was ancient, and it creaked and banged. Jansen remembers the thump of footsteps in the attic and the tinkle of breaking glass, but they were only sounds. His father always maintained that the house was “settling”, but Jansen’s mother quietly told her son one morning that she’d seen a ghost.

The story stuck with Jansen as he grew up, married, became a father, and bought his childhood home in which to raise his own family. The thumps never went away. The footsteps continued. Glass broke where there was no glass. And then, the electric sensations began to plague Jansen, and his three-year-old son became scared of his own bedroom.

Was there such a thing as ghosts? Jansen, an editor of religious books, began to look into his faith for answers. Though the “official” tenet of the Church is that the only spirit is the Holy Spirit and that ghosts don’t exist, Jansen found several learned Catholic scholars who believed differently.

As the weirdness escalated, a colleague threw Jansen a lifeline: a woman in Ohio, a real-life inspiration for a national TV show, claimed the ability to see ghosts and could, via telephone, help usher them “beyond”. But she didn’t like what she saw when Jansen called.

Because, indeed, Jansen’s house was haunted.

Think Halloween is for heathens? Not so, as you’ll see in this thoughtful, heavily researched, and definitely spooky little memoir.

Author Gary Jansen seems to be trying hard to maintain his skepticism in the telling of this tale. It’s easy to imagine him whistling in the dark and clinging to his bravado by his fingernails during the whole ordeal, but I never got the impression that he was trying to scare me with his book. Instead, he merely presents his story and while he, himself, appears convinced (I won’t tell you which way), he lets his readers dangle a little in the end.

If you’re looking for a grown-up, slightly-shivery story that takes you from Bible to banshee, “Holy Ghosts” is your book. For sure, this will get you into the Halloween spirit.