Northport Journal; The Very Determined Meet the Dearly Departed
By KATHERINE E. FINKELSTEIN
By Ernest Van Den Bossche's count, 18,000 guests have visited his
Temple Heights Spiritual Camp this summer. The lodge is empty and the
parking lot barren, however, because most of the guests are dead.
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Van Den Bossche, Temple Heights's genial
president, stood on its porch overlooking Penobscot Bay and explained
his estimate: since June, 3,000 people have come to the camp, in this
town near Bangor, to consult the spiritual mediums in residence, and
an average of five or six souls have been summoned per reading.
Though a camp for conversing with spirits may seem an unlikely
feature of the rugged backwoods, on a per-capita basis Maine is
actually a leading state in the number of organizations for mediums,
according to the National Spiritualist Association of Churches. The
two-building Temple Heights Spiritual Camp, more than a century old,
may help to explain this: it attracts spirit-seekers from as far away
as England and New Zealand, and mediums from Canada, Indiana and
Despite the crush of souls, a few members of the volunteer staff
relaxed in deck chairs the other day while Mr. Van Den Bossche
expounded on the calm.
''All spirits are available to be tapped into,'' he said, ''if
they're in the realm where they can make contact with the earth plane,
or if they're not off on important business in other parts of the
universe. But it works through the vibration of being asked. I am not
in contact with all these spirits all the time, because otherwise I'd
be out of my tree.''
This ability to compartmentalize, a favorite coping mechanism on
earth, is essential at this tidy camp, which Mr. Van Den Bossche walks
with crutches because of polio. Before readings, the living must
explicitly consent to having their spirits explored. Reading people's
energy without consent -- ''psychic snooping'' -- is strictly
Modern spiritualism, the belief that human souls live on to relay
God's messages, began in 1848 in upstate Hydesville, N.Y., where a
pair of teen-age sisters, Margaret and Kate Fox, claimed to be
communicating with unseen forces through rappings on the walls.
This camp was founded in 1882 by Dr. Benjamin Colson, a spiritual
healer and herbalist who received the $4,000 and 100 acres to get it
started from Maine's Governor, Frederick Robie, whose ailing daughter
Dr. Colson had cured through homeopathic methods.
Today the camp offers private readings ($25 each), group ''message
circles'' and spiritualist services in a modest chapel. Sunflowers --
the emblem of spiritualism because they turn toward the sun, the way a
spiritualist claims to turn toward the light of truth, revelation and
the spirit -- are placed throughout the low-ceilinged rooms.
A visiting reporter submitted to a reading, held in a pleasant room
overlooking the bay, at a table covered by a lace doily. Malcolm
Spears, a medium with a Santa Claus physique and a red beard, closed
his eyes. Charms and crystals hung from his neck by a cord. After
saying a prayer, and having the visitor speak her name three times to
insure consent, Mr. Spears jumped in.
There were freedom issues. Some claustrophobia. Guilt coming
through the family and a recent revisiting of priorities, including
how to balance friends and work.
When the visitor crossed her arms impatiently, wanting specifics,
Mr. Spears, who works part time as a shipper for a pharmaceutical
company, said promptly, ''I ask you not to do that, because it cuts me
Mr. Spears, who reads the energy of objects, a study called
psychometry, then asked the visitor to hand over her rings. Closing
his eyes more tightly, he weighed the rings in his meaty palm. They
held loss and betrayal, he said, and produced images of people turning
their backs. There was a kitchen where someone who should have been
there was missing.
The spirits, it seemed, were queuing up. The strongest presence was
that of an older man, who had either a mustache or dentures, knew the
visitor when she was 9 and wanted to give advice, Mr. Spears said.
''Does that ring a bell?'' he asked.
It rang no bells. A total stranger, it seemed, had traipsed into
But Shirley Carroll found absolute proof of the continuity of life.
Her husband died in January, and so the 67-year-old Mrs. Carroll had
come over from North Jay, Me., to find out what he had been doing
since he ''passed over.''
And she got answers. Mr. Van Den Bossche did her reading and,
without prompting, found her husband in Korea, ''helping out,'' Mrs.
Carroll recalled later. Astonished, she said that her husband had been
a prisoner of war in Korea and that she had never told anyone about
In addition, Mr. Van Den Bossche said that he saw this man having
trouble with his tractor. Mrs. Carroll said that her husband had often
had to clean mice from his tractor and that it had frequently broken
''He knew about it,'' Mrs. Carroll said, reveling in Mr. Van Den
Bossche's omniscience. ''He knew it. He told about it, the tractor, so
I would know who it was who was coming through to him. It was my