Sometimes I think the universe and all its many dimensions likes to have fun with us. Perhaps even weird us out occasionally to keep us either questioning or in complete awe—like seeing one’s dead dog on a recently shot film after it had been dead for years.
I have some very dear and well-known friends who see dead people and professionally communicate with spirits all the time. But back in 1982 I didn’t know them, and what happened to me even had some psychic research experts scratching their heads.
For some reason, I found my detailed notes on the experience this past week, hidden away in a forgotten book. The story was just begging to be retold.
Back in January 1982, I was living in Kansas with my then psychologist boyfriend. A few weeks earlier, I had returned from spending the Christmas holidays in Chicago where I had shot footage on my Super 8mm movie camera of my family snowmobiling. Earlier that day I had picked up the processed film from the local Photomat and when I got home wasted no time threading it onto my projector to see what I had.
Immediately I saw a chest of drawers, which shouldn’t have been there. I had the split second thought this must be someone else’s film. Then what I saw next sent me into a state of semi-shock. Running across the screen, as clear as could be, was my schnauzer dog, Winnie, who had died seven years earlier in 1976, a long time before I even owned a movie camera. No movie film of her existed.
It was one of those “OH.MY.GOD.” moments, where your brain can formulate no other words. My screaming brought my boyfriend running, thinking I had encountered a dead rat. Together we re-played the film several times and tried to make sequential sense of what we were seeing.
The film opened on a lopsided shot from the floor tilting up, showing a chest of drawers that I recognized as being in my little brother’s old bedroom. Next was a short black blip on the film which, upon closer examination using a light box, looked like a woman’s face in the shadows whose identity was unrecognizable. She was wearing a white sweater and what was either a dark-colored head scarf or shoulder length brown hair. I had no idea who she was.
Immediately the film returned to the bedroom chest of drawers where Winnie ran across the screen with the camera going in for a close-up of the dog’s face so there would be no mistaking the animal’s identity. Winnie looked like she had just been given a haircut, which she had just prior to her death, and her ears were unclipped, just like we had left them. I kept asking myself—just who is operating this camera?
The scene on the film suddenly shifted to my parent’s Chicago living room where Christmas decorations, stockings and our holiday tree were all missing. This was not December time. Placement of certain objects and furniture in the room told me it had to have been during a time when Winnie was still alive. Some of the objects were no longer there in 1982. The phantom camera operator panned the living room back and forth, with no other apparent reason than to show things clearly. Suddenly the film went to WHITE and then the film returned to 1982 and my family snowmobiling scenes that should have taken up the entire film.
I distinctly recalled that when I started shooting the snowmobiling, I had to unwrap new film and load the camera. The opening shots of the frozen lake were gone, now replaced with the strange Winnie footage. At the time I shot the film it was very cold outside and I recall looking at my footage meter and noticing that the indicator was not moving as accurately as normal. I attributed it to the cold temperatures and nothing else. One has to wonder when the transference took place. Was it already impressed upon the film before I started shooting, or after? I had purchased the new film roll and others only a few weeks earlier.
To make things even stranger, that Christmas my mother had given me the paperback book, Voices on the Tapes, not knowing I had just bought a book at the airport, titled, Phone Calls from the Dead. Coincidence? I think not. As Albert Einstein said, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” I was being set up for another unexplainable experience, like others I would continue to have in my life.
My psychologist boyfriend referred the strange experience to the The Menninger Institute, a psychiatric institution in Topeka, Kansas, where they were studying altered brain states as well as psychic phenomenon (among other things). Dr. Elmer Green, the Director of Menninger’s, contacted psychiatrists Dr. Stuart Twemlow, MD and Dr. Glen Gabbard, MD to meet with me and discuss the film.
Both doctors were interested in how intent, during altered states of awareness, might affect physical matter. They were curious to see if I could consciously affect film to bring about strange manifestations. They hooked me up to a deep focus state audiotape and let my movie camera run.
While I found it an interesting experiment, I’m sure they were sadly disappointed to find the results extremely boring. Not surprising for me, the film showed nothing. I never thought it was me influencing it, but rather a random message of awe from the universe.
On the other hand, Twemlow and Gabbard had expressed interest in the possibility of officially documenting the case and perhaps presenting the unusual phenomena at the American Society for Psychical Research in New York City. I guess somethings happen only once—at least in my case. Thankfully, I was not destined to be a psychic guinea pig.
The footnote to this story is that my “Winnie” film was authenticated by Kodak Labs, where it was sent to verify it had not been tampered with through editing. Along the side of the film are sequential symbols marking frames and the year the film roll was manufactured. What they found stamped on my “Winnie” film roll was the code symbol for the year 1976. I submitted another film roll to the lab which I had purchased at the same time. The code symbol for this roll showed 1981. While this made events even more bizarre, it immediately made my film undocumentable. Someone could always claim I had saved film I shot from that year when the dog was still alive—even though neither my parents or I ever owned a Super 8 camera back then. So this strange story just remains another strange story without explanation. Life is often like that.
I have no idea where the Winnie film is today. It might be packed away somewhere in a box or I might have accidentally tossed it years ago when I sold my old equipment and went to digital.
Today, things are different—not even as shockingly strange as years ago. Due to the Internet, we DO hear of cases where people consistently pick up other-worldly images on film. For some people, it doesn’t matter whose camera they are using. The results are always the same, as seen in this interesting 8-minute video below. It will forever leave you wondering…
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