Center for Inquiry’s Skepticism and the Old Spaghetti Factory
Recently, while updating the Ghosts of Vancouver website, I came across a blog article entitled, Vancouver’s Haunted Old Spaghetti Factory. This was posted by Dr. Joe Nickell on his Center for Inquiry website on June 17, 2016. Based in Amherst, New York, Dr. Nickell is a hard-line skeptic of all things paranormal. I’ve visited his site before and respect his secular, science-based approach.
From his post, it’s apparent that Dr. Nickell visited Vancouver and its Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant in the spring of 2016.
Dr. Nickell draws from my article about the restaurant, and uses it and other online articles it inspired to base an attack on the notion that the location is haunted. I’m compelled to comment.
Near the beginning of his blog entry, Dr. Nickell repackages material from my article, in which I discuss and disprove conjecture that’s been published elsewhere about the restaurant and its ghosts. Understandably, Dr. Nickell concludes that the conjecture and conflicting information are symptomatic of folklore at work. He makes a valid point, and raises an important issue about supposedly true ghost stories. This is the fact that it’s often very difficult to separate fact from fiction when researching and discussing the paranormal.
In my own research for the Ghosts of Vancouver website, I’ve encountered many articles that contain misinformation about haunted locations. This typically includes false details about a building, its history or its ghostly inhabitants. I came across a local newspaper article, for example, that reported that the ghost of a young man seen in Gabriola House is one of the original owner’s sons, who supposedly committed suicide there. This is simply untrue. As Dr. Nickell would say, folklore was at work. Local legend also says that Gabriola House has an underground tunnel connecting it to another building several blocks away. Again, this is folklore.
I disagree with Dr. Nickell, however, in his sweeping implication that when a report about a haunted location contains false information or has folklore attached to it, the existence of the ghost(s) is therefore false. Such inaccuracies do not negate the fact that some people see apparitions or experience strange occurrences in certain locations.
At the Old Spaghetti Factory, for example, despite some false or exaggerated aspects of stories attached to the trolley car inside the restaurant, certain staff members and customers have actually seen an apparition or have had strange experiences in the car and throughout the restaurant. I have spoken with some staff members who’ve had experiences, and they’re perfectly forthright and truthful when they talk about their encounters. Folklore does not play a part in what they witness first-hand.
In his blog entry Dr. Nickell also writes, “…others conclude the ghost must have somehow arrived with the tram car when it was installed in 1969 (“Ghosts” 2016; “Haunted Tales” 2016). But then where was the ghost before it showed up in 1969—possibly for half a century or more?”
Here he questions speculation about where the ghost may have come from. (Incidentally, I first raised this in my article, which the other articles he cites borrow heavily from.) But all this does is poke holes in my speculation, which was never presented as fact. And as for where the ghost may have been before 1969, how is this relevant to disproving its existence? It’s not as if an answer to that question would prove or disprove anything.
Dr. Nickell then writes, “The spirit—what some believe a form of life energy—appears “in full uniform,” although such clothing and accouterments would have been entirely inanimate objects. But Ghosts—being expressions of the imagination—can be any way people want, and ghosts are typically attired and equipped as appropriate to the mental imagery and the storytelling drama (Nickell 2012, 25–30).”
Here Dr. Nickell asserts that ghosts are “an expression of the imagination.” This generalization doesn’t do the subject justice, however. While I agree that many, many ghost sightings can be debunked as misinterpretations, hallucinations, tricks of the eye or imagination, fraudulent statements and so forth, some cases and supporting photographic evidence exist that cannot be so easily dismissed. In my opinion, it’s absurd to proclaim that all sightings of ghosts, of which there are many thousands documented, are all expressions of the imagination. But by referring to his own concept of mental imagery and storytelling drama (Nickell 2012, 25–30), Dr. Nickell seems to have made up his mind.
One of the classic arguments against the existence of ghosts is, if ghosts are indeed real phenomena how is it that most are seen wearing clothing? It’s a good question. Unlike Dr. Nickell, however, I don’t claim to have a definitive answer.
An alternative theory to explain why ghosts are seen in clothes is that some ghosts are created by slips in space-time. That is, scenes from the past occasionally replay themselves in certain locations and can be observed in current time. This may seem unbelievable, but it’s not outside the mind-blowing realm of quantum physics for such phenomena to happen.
Another theory suggests that some ghosts are disembodied human consciousnesses in energy form. As such, they’re able to project themselves as they were in life—fully clothed and of certain ages. I know this theory is seen by hard-core skeptics as preposterous. It does, after all, require a stretch of the imagination. But nobody can disprove or prove this theory. And it’s no more preposterous than claiming that all encounters with ghosts are simply products of the imagination. Furthermore, it’s worth briefly mentioning that some scientists are grappling with the possibility that human consciousness may not all be localized in the brain, which goes against long-held scientific paradigm.
Dr. Nickell also sets his arguments up for a fall when he implies that the Old Spaghetti Factory can’t be haunted, because he didn’t see or experience anything unusual during his visit, nor had anyone with whom he spoke. This is like declaring that bears don’t live in the forests near Vancouver, because he didn’t see one when he hiked there, and neither had anyone on the trail with him. But ghosts, like bears in the woods, don’t appear on cue, and many people don’t encounter them on an average journey into the forest.
I don’t wish to be too hard on Dr. Nickell, because I too am a skeptic. But just as he holds reports of ghosts up for scrutiny, his arguments must stand up to similar review.
I respectfully challenge Dr. Nickell and hard-core skeptics like him to have a more open mind. While it’s essential to be on guard against false reports or misinformation about ghosts and the supernatural, there are far too many reports to simply dismiss them all as being in the observers’ imaginations.
By eliminating falsehoods and isolating truly mysterious cases, we can hopefully get to some truth. But hardline skeptics throw the baby out with the bath water – they disregard the small number of cases that cannot be explained away, because their minds are already made up. They do themselves and others a disfavour by not keeping their minds open to the possibility that there might be more to the universe than is in their rigid world views. After all, modern science has only scratched the sub-surface in an attempt to explain the makeup of life, the universe and everything.
Nobody has all the answers. Meanwhile, ghost sightings persist.
Vancouver’s “Haunted” Old Spaghetti Factory. 2016. http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/vancouvers_haunted_old_spaghetti_factory/ (accessed January 10, 2017).