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So…about a month ago, I attended Phenom 2020 in 2021…finally! Only more than a year after the original was scheduled, but we finally managed it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do a write-up until now because immediately prior to the event, my husband and I closed on a new home in NC; and immediately after the event, I began the process of an interstate move. I am writing to you now from the limbo in between when the movers pick your stuff up and the time they deliver it. I’m camping out in an empty house drinking instant coffee and trying to get this written. Pray for me, LOL!
Anyway…my enthusiasm for how awesome that event was has not diminished over the last couple of weeks, so let’s get to the meat of things.
I purchased a VIP ticket, which was basically all inclusive for the entire three days of the event, but didn’t include a ghost investigation. I’m not an investigator or much of a night owl, so that was fine with me. The VIP ticket included all lectures, early access to the vendor room, a private meet and greet with the special guests and celebrities, and a party on the last night.
I rolled up to the Eisenhower Hotel and Conference Center—site of where it all began for me so many years ago—and checked in. The hotel looks nice after its recent renovations. They still have some things to do, but it is much brighter and nicer inside than it ever has been.
Getting checked in was an adventure, because the hotel was short-staffed, but I have to commend absolutely everybody who worked that weekend. A small staff of people busted their butts all weekend to make sure this event, which I believe sold out the hotel, ran smoothly.
It was so good to see so many dear friends again! Hugs abounded, and some tears shed for those who were no longer with us. More about that later.
The first night featured conference check-in with Dana and the NEPI team to get our conference packets (and there was a stack of free books for participants to take if they wished: The Yoga of Ghost Hunting by Richard Salva, which is about protection during investigations), and they opened the vendor room early for VIP tickets. It was a low-key affair and nice to see people again without a ton of crowds.
That evening, there was a paranormal TV roundtable discussion with the folks pictured below. Topics covered included things like whether or not to use a psychic medium during an investigation, how women are perceived and portrayed in paranormal TV shows, whether or not an investigator could bring something IN to an investigation (as opposed to taking something away with them), whether or not a psychic/medium can also be skeptical, clearing spaces, and more. It was a lively discussion!
|Roundtable discussion with (L-R): Tim Dennis (who moderated questions), |
Dave Schrader, Jeff Belanger, Aaron Sagers, John Zaffis, Shari DeBenedetti,
Jason Hawes, Carmen Reed, and Chris Fleming
After the discussion concluded, people continued to shop in the vendor room and then eventually toddled off to the bar, as is the way.
Breakfast at the Lincoln Diner (tradition!) and feeling perky and ready for the day!
Friday was jam-packed with lectures. Here was the schedule:
I appreciate that there was a QR code you could point your phone’s camera at and bring up the updated schedule on the website at any time. Unfortunately, Tess Hughes of the Mountain Gypsies was unable to speak (she sounded a little hoarse when I saw her the day before), so Jeff Belanger stepped in on the fly to present in her place. Speaking of Jeff:
|This is what happens when you hand |
Jeff Belanger your phone.
Each of the lectures was both fascinating and entertaining. All the the guests are REALLY good at what they do: not only researching and investigating, but presenting their topics in an engaging way. I wasn't able to attend every lecture, unfortunately, but below are a few noteworthy moments.
Aaron Galloway's lecture, "Bias in the Paranormal," used a series of exercises that showed how people can become primed to accept something as evidence that may really not be. For instance, in one exercise, he said a series of words, then asked folks to wait thirty seconds, then write those words down. In one example, he primed people to believe he'd said the word "sleep," but what he'd really said was "slumber." He discussed how the brain sees patterns and tries to fill in the gaps and discussed several types of bias, including Status Quo bias, the Bandwagon Effect, Overconfidence bias, and Anchoring bias. It was an eye-opening talk! Look those up if you'd like to know more.
Aaron Sagers's lecture turned into more of an extended Q&A, and some interesting nuggets were to be had there. Discussions included some paranormal pop culture topics, gothic literature, how a simple white sheet came to represent ghosts in popular culture, how the Civil War changed how we deal with our dead, and he even opened up about an experience he had as a child.
Eric Altman gave a fascinating talk about some cryptid investigations he's done in SW PA and then detailed an experience he had in the woods while investigating that is a real head-scratcher. I don't want to say too much in case you ever get a chance to hear it from him, but it involved something really weird that he just couldn't find an explanation for.
Jeff Belanger's lecture was about the true-life story behind the movie The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. He went into quite a lot of detail about the only court case in US history to have the defense argument that a possessed person is not responsible for the crime he commits. The judge threw that defense out, so a precedent has not been set. If you want to see more about Arne Johnson and his murder trial from the eighties, check out the documentary on Discovery+, Shock Docs: The Devil Made Me Do It.
Andrea Perron gave an impassioned talk about an incredible experience she had at her home in Florida a few years ago. I don't want to speak out of turn, though, as she had said she hadn't spoken of it in public, before. Let's just say it was frightening; a warning, if you will, about how the world is going and what we need to do if we want to turn things around. She segued into her experiences with the Galactic Family, as she refers to them—which you can read about in her book, A Wonder to Behold. I am about halfway through this book, now, and it's full of hope and lifts my spirits every time I open the book.
|Seen in this collage: Shane Pittman, Dave Schrader, Aaron Sagers, |
Michelle Taylor, Tim Dennis, Gloria Saloky, Jason Hawes, Shari DeBenedetti
Saturday, it was back to the Lincoln Diner for breakfast, and I wandered around Gettysburg’s pride fest for a while. They had a nice event going on, with face painting, street musicians, balloons, festival food, and all kinds of things!
Back to the hotel I went for the day’s lectures. Here was the lineup:
|With the always lovely Andrea Perron, known for her account of |
growing up in the house that inspired The Conjuring series of movies.
Read her trilogy about the experience, House of Darkness, House of Light.
I spent a lot of time in the vendor room or catching up with friends, and not so much on lectures, but here are a couple of lecture highlights:
Tim Dennis gave an excellent talk on conspiracy theories and how to think critically through any issue you are faced with in the news or social media. He gave sensible advice for how to ascertain if what you're hearing/seeing is true or not, how to vet your sources, and other helpful tips.
Andrea Perron gave a talk on a different topic from the night before. This one was more about spirit and growing up at the farm. She highlighted some of the differences between the real-life haunting her family experienced versus what was portrayed in The Conjuring. One example: her mother was never possessed, and no exorcism was performed in the home. I linked to her trilogy of books in the photo above—check out the real story, sometime!
Around 5:00 pm, my friends Gloria and Michelle and I went to dinner at the same place we went the first time we met! This restaurant has become our go-to for Saturday night dinner every time since. It's a lovely Japanese restaurant called Full Moon in Hanover, PA. It's a bit of a drive, but worth it, especially that extra time in the car with friends catching up on our lives. The food is delicious, too!
The party on the last night was fantastic! The theme was haunted 20s. I was kind of thinking you could interpret that to mean 2020s, but most people took it in the traditional sense and dressed up in flapper and gangster outfits. It was great fun! There was karaoke and dancing. I got a little liquid courage and sang a Eurythmics song. There was even a bit of a “who wore it better” contest as seen in the top right photo in the collage below.
|Seen in this collage of party selfies: Michelle Taylor, Julia Wingerd, Randy Hammons, Brooke Haramija, Matt Myers, Chris Fleming, Aaron Sagers, Loren DePinto, Jeff Johnson, Meghan Talbert, Sabrina Pasquariello, and Dana Wingerd.|
Though there was a lot of fun at the party, as I mentioned earlier in this piece, many of us lost friends during the pandemic. Brooke Haramija of Brooke's Nook held a toast for one of them who touched many people there: Cathy Young of the Mountain Gypsies, who sadly died of complications from cancer and COVID earlier in the year. Brooke spearheaded a fundraiser for Cat's family by selling a beautiful set consisting of a drinking flask and a photo of Cat donated by Ali Cotton that featured some of the phrases Cat was known for saying. I think there are a few left if you would like to help the family. [Updated 8/16: Click here to learn more from Brooke herself and see the sets.]
I know this was a really long post, but the entire weekend was a blast! I so wish everyone out there with an interest in paranormal and related topics could have an opportunity to attend a Phenom event. Dana Wingerd and the NEPI folks who run it do an amazing job every time I've gone. There are always quality speakers, great vendors, and friendships new and old to be found there.