Chasing Ghosts & Weird Old Books

Courtesy of Marc Hartzman

Dreams and Ghosts (1897) by Andrew Lang.

It’s October! Time to check in with “Weird Historian” (and book collector) Marc Hartzman.

Last time we spoke, Hartzman had just written a book about Mars, published by Quirk Books, and also reprinted some late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century titles on specters and Spiritualism under his own Curious Publications imprint. Now he has a new book out, Chasing Ghosts: A Tour of Our Fascination with Spirits and the Supernatural (Quirk, $22.99).

Courtesy of Marc Hartzman

RRB: This book looks super cool! Tell us about it.

MH: Thank you! This book took me on an incredible journey. Over the past few years I've gone from Mars to beyond the veil. As the title suggests, Chasing Ghosts covers spirits from the earliest of civilizations and cultures to the ghost hunters of today. In between I include medieval ghosts, Victorian-era Spiritualism, haunted places, poltergeist cases, and ways in which technology has been used to either capture evidence of ghosts or explain paranormal experiences. Regarding the latter, for example, is the story of Vic Tandy's experiments with infrasound beginning in the late 1970s. He realized this 18.9 hz frequency—undetectable to us–affects us in ways that might lead us to think the paranormal is happening. It makes people feel fear and see shadowy figures. And it happens to occur in cellars and narrow hallways—two places known for having a presence of ghosts.
Research took me to various places, including Lily Dale Assembly in Western New York, Eastern State Penitentiary, Gettysburg, and the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in West Virginia. I also loved speaking with various parapsychologists, paranormal investigators, and even friends and co-workers who've experienced ghosts. So the book is full of incredible stories and theories, plus a lot of incredible photos and newspaper clippings. Just in time for Halloween!

Courtesy of Marc Hartzman

RRB: I see you’ve also kept up your Curious Publications — what’s the latest? (I spy Arthur Conan Doyle & Houdini.)

MH: Earlier in the year we released Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The History of Spiritualism, Vols. 1 & 2 (combined in one book). The originals are rare and expensive, but for those interested in the material, this is an affordable option that's beautifully put together. And yes, we just re-published Houdini's Miracle Mongers and Their Methods. It's a wondrous collection of strange performers from Houdini's era and earlier—each of whom he describes from personal experiences or through accounts of others. As for the methods Houdini offers, we don't suggest anyone try them at home.
We also put out our smallest book ever, The Life and Adventures of Toby The Sapient Pig, written by Himself. To my knowledge, it's the only (and thereby greatest) book ever written by a pig and we're thrilled to make it available to readers once again.

Courtesy of Marc Hartzman

I'm especially excited about an upcoming book that reprints the scrapbook from a 1930s' sideshow performer known as Agnes the Rubber Skin Lady. It's filled with her personal photos of show life (including fellow performers), souvenir photos, and newspaper clippings. The book also includes brief bios of many of the performers seen within the pages. We plan to print a limited number of copies. This is something I've personally been wanting to do for about ten years, since her niece first contacted me about the scrapbook. So that's coming soon!
RRB: Have you purchased any related antiquarian books of late?

MH: Yes, it's hard to not buy antiquarian books. Though recently they're not too antiquarian—more like 1950s, because they're from the UFO craze of that decade. They're research, for my new book (mentioned below), but I also love just having them. The cover art and stories within are wonderful. I still buy early Spiritualism books as well. A recent favorite is Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang (1897). The cover is one of my favorites. I also bought a first edition of Houdini's Miracle Mongers and Their Methods (1920), in nice condition. I've been wanting that for a while, and since it helped with the reproduction, I had a good excuse to buy it.

RRB: What’s on the horizon — as a writer, a publisher, and/or a collector?

MH: I’m currently working on a new book with Quirk. This one will be about UFOs, which I'm quite excited about. The research is fascinating and I'm just beginning to interview people. Next month I head to Roswell, so that should be a fun adventure. I mentioned the sideshow scrapbook above, but Curious is also releasing a 1950 UFO book from Donald Keyhoe, Flying Saucers Are Real. That should be out by the end of the year. And we're slowly putting together a book of weird books, which includes many images of weird, old books from my personal collection and images from other collectors. Many of these are based on Spiritualism, sideshow, and medicine. But then, there are also odd books like The History of Hen Fever and Sermons By The Devil. (If you've got a weird old book with beautiful cover art, let me know!)