As was revealed in the previous article, the late Dr. Hans Holzer, famed pioneer of psychical research, helped put Port Monmouth’s Spy House on the paranormal map. The historic property, now a waterfront museum officially known as the “Seabrook-Wilson House,” is widely known as the state’s allegedly most haunted location. Rich in history and unrivaled in aesthetic charm, the Spy House is an irreplaceable and iconic structure at the Raritan Bayshore; that the building has spent decades at the center of supernatural scrutiny is but one of a multitude of reasons for its uniqueness and memorability.
And yet, though the Spy House’s supposed otherworldly residents captivated the public’s imagination, Dr. Holzer’s specific investigation has been largely drowned out amidst the chatter of urban legend, his findings assimilated into the expansive local lore. This is not uncommon in the age of the internet, where tales of spooky encounters and ghostly happenings are exchanged at a moment’s notice. Thus, while the Spy House’s fame has reached new heights on the world wide web, the specifics of Dr. Holzer’s oft-cited investigation are rarely mentioned.
Readers may be shocked to learn that, though the image of camera-equipped ghost hunters running around under the cover of moonlight is pervasive in the public conscience, such an approach shared little with the “Holzer Method,” a technique characterized by detective-like investigations coupled with the use of trance mediums. For the unfamiliar, these are individuals who can allegedly channel spirits by using their own bodies as vessels; they were famously utilized in all Dr. Holzer’s high-profile cases, but have since become highly controversial. At the time, however, this was the most popular means of seeking out what went bump in the night.
Though such methods have since been eclipsed by the gadgetry popularized on reality television, not all have abandoned the “Holzer Method.” There are still those familiar with its principles, and the late doctor’s daughter, Alexandra, still believes in its effectiveness, having kept the familial tradition alive. It is through her expertise and familiarity with her father’s work that one can garner a strong understanding of exactly how the investigation at the Spy House (and other New Jersey locations) would have been conducted.
“He [Hans Holzer] pulled out mediumship, which is metaphysical, and science, which was his part of skepticism, and combined the two on all his cases, and that became the ‘Holzer Method,’” Alexandra said. “What’s brilliant about that is he didn’t go one way or the other; he took all the ways that came before him…the reason being, when you have the combination of the two, you are going to have a more rounded basis for information as to what the haunting is.”
Such confirms the description provided in Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2004), where the elder Holzer reported that medium Ingrid Beckman was present to contact the entities in Port Monmouth. The apparitions she described, mostly spirits from Revolutionary War times, had a lasting influence in the local psyche. They may not know it, but many of the ghost stories whispered by students in the halls of local high schools, or told around the beach-side bonfire during the summer nights, are directly the result of Dr. Holzer’s visit to the Seabrook-Wilson House.
Of course, Dr. Holzer’s advocacy of trance mediumship will likely draw the ire of some observers, as has been the case over the years. Even within paranormal investigative circles, there are those who dismiss such protocol as unscientific or unreliable. Alexandra made it clear, however, that use of the “Holzer Method” is not indicative of any hostility towards the technologically savvy or their role in such research. All areas of expertise need to be used in unison to conduct a comprehensive investigation:
“All of it is necessary,” Alexandra clarified. “I think you need a good medium…you need recordings, visual, audio, technicians, historians; you might even need psychologists to make sure the person isn’t crazy…This is a really full-blown team of experts and people you work with on cases. That’s the way to really do it as a whole, the other way is just called being a hobbyist.”
It is important to remember that Dr. Holzer was not a hobbyist. Paranormal research was more than just a passion for the Austrian-born author; it was his life, the focus of a sixty-plus year-career that took him to all corners of the globe. Now, with ghost hunting once again all the rage, television shows, documentaries, and fictionalized accounts of “true” stories are routinely sensationalized and adapted to the big screen. It is a trend that likely started with the release of The Exorcist in the 1970s, and though there have been great ebbs and flows in the genre’s popularity, it has remained a constant feature of horror culture.
Given that such media has largely shaped public opinion regarding the supernatural, one must wonder: what did the world’s premier ghost hunter think of such outlets, particularly given that he himself had worked alongside Hollywood on multiple occasions (having starred in a television series and had a book adapted into a major motion picture)? Has the rise of paranormal pop culture helped or hindered the field? While much of the mainstream may only have taken notice of ghost hunting in recent years, for Alexandra, none of this is new, nor is the attention it has brought surprising.
“There were parapsychology groups my father was part of that would meet in Manhattan in the 70s and 80s,” Alexandra said. “They’d all meet, so there were always teams, there were always groups, but they did it in session. Then what happened was, with the TV shows, it became…you run around, do this in the dark, and act scared. That was very insulting to [Dr. Holzer]. It really was. What it did was it took a name that really was for him, and kind of ran with it and said, ‘this is what people like him do.’ He thought it was nonsense. He knew it was going to become this big pop culture upsurge again, and he didn’t want anything to do with it. Any interview he did, he chose wisely, and would never want to be a part of any of those shows that came out.”
Alexandra herself, however, has a much more complex view of pop culture, recognizing its pros and cons:
“My take on it is it is entertainment,” she said. “Its good for certain things and other things it takes away and detracts the meaning, especially in this field of psychical research, which is really the correct term, versus saying ‘paranormal,’ but that’s what’s popular. I feel there really isn’t anything out there that is serious. I think you can do both, my father was quite entraining and was always on TV, but I think it’s a bunch of poppycock that people think this is how it is supposed to be, so I am really quite torn on the subject.”
Like her father, Alexandra believes in ghosts. Being raised surrounded by the supernatural, as would be expected given her father’s total submersion into such research, she doesn’t hesitate to profess belief in the otherworldly, and to that end, wrote a book, Growing Up Haunted: A Ghostly Memoir. Now a high-profile figure in her own right, she continues to tour the country, conducting investigations and giving lectures (future appearances can be found at http://www.alexandraholzer.com). Alexandra has kept her father’s methods alive beyond his own passing; however, perhaps she will someday return to his old haunts in New Jersey, to once again visit and document the spirits that the late Doctor so enthusiastically encountered decades ago?
“Not only do I plan on going back to New Jersey to revisit father’s old ghostly stomping grounds, but I’ve slowly begun that revisiting process,” she said. “His cases are part of my work to retrace a legacy’s footsteps.”
Alexandra hopes to document these excursions via video.
“But in all my years of ghost hunting, I have never been afraid. After all, a ghost is only a fellow human being in trouble.” -Dr. Hans Holzer