PSICAN - Paranormal Studies and Inquiry Canada

Book & Resource Reviews

Phone Calls From The Dead

Do ghosts not do digital?
I look forward to your corrections on this matter...


This is a review of a book... and some notes that occurred whilst reading it... because like everything in life, sometimes one piece of material neatly lends itself to more fodder for thought and information on others...

I finally (properly) re-read "Phone Calls from the Dead" (1979 - Prentice Hall) written by The Late D. Scott Rogo and Raymond Bayless who were both prolific writers and ardent investigators of paranormal phenomena... and, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I've read, learned from, and enjoyed quite a bit of their work...

The book is on a fascinating topic... which is people who seem to have received phone calls from people who have "passed on". I sheepishly admit to not having read the book thoroughly "back in the day" (I skimmed, I admit it,) but upon a closer inspection at the recommendation of many of my contemporaries, I understand why it was important to give it a more thorough going over. It really does give a history of EVP (electronic voice phenomena) that many of my contemporary enthusiasts (and others) do not know.

Another admission I have to make is that when I "skimmed" the book way back when, I'd been alerted as to which chapters to read about the mechanics of paranormal recordings and whatnot, so it was almost with a heavy heart that I read the first eighty-odd pages of the hardcover volume and wondered if the two gentlemen in question were able to walk properly after their completion... their legs not in horrendous pains from so many leaps to conclusions... but I was equally happy to discover that indeed, another thing I missed reading in my "skim" was the last bit... an "Appendix" to acknowledged the criticisms they faced and indeed, I felt much better about things... especially the sound admission (agreement really) that it was not a "scientific" tome, nor was it only a regurgitation of cases laced with hypothesis and research... but a wee combination of those ideas. (One note though, and a pet-peeve... there IS a difference between a "theory" and an "untested hypothesis"!!!)

It was nice to see that many of the concepts of causation of these things which are still bandied about today (for everything from apparitions to EVP,) were covered... including nods to Hugh Everett and Erwin Schrödinger all the way over to James Hyslop and J.B. Rhine... It also teaches us that indeed, you can cite sources and even say that "something" you've written about was not an original idea of your own and you WON'T be considered lacking, dumb, or somehow unworthy of looking at, but nevermind that kids, let's get back to the meat of this book and my thoughts...

Basically, as a book, it really should be "required reading" for any reasonable ghost investigator/researcher and doubly-so for anyone suggesting they are seriously studying EVP... Like I said, there were times reading the first few chapters where I wanted to yell, "C'mon now! You're making an awfully big leap here!", but from Chapter 6 on, where the discussion looks more into "causation" than speculation, that really anyone in this field should read and know about... well, if you're serious about this phenomena.

As I said, though, the book's main theme... those phone calls that are reported to be indeed, "from the dead"... were a hot topic in the 1970's when, even as a wee lad, I remember reading about them and hearing about them through newspapers doing "interest" pieces, Halloween timed documentaries, and radio programs about the "unexplained" that I eagerly listened to late at night... usually while being driven home from the cottage in my family's ever-present station wagon with vinyl seats and an old AM/FM/8-Track deck... granted, as I've oft admitted, I was more interested in aliens and UFOs, but I still listened and read with some interest... especially as there is a wee overlap on the topic of "mysterious phone calls" and some reports of Ufological interest. (Google "High Strangeness" as it's too much for me to go into here!) This said, two of the creepier episodes of The Twilight Zone featured this sort of phenomena...

"Night Call" - written by Richard Matheson and originally aired on February 7, 1964 featured an elderly woman consistently bothered by strange and somewhat terrifying phone calls at night which her phone company traces to a fallen line in a cemetery... Terrified, when the calls continue, she shrieks that the caller must "LEAVE HER ALONE!" and the calls end... Her housekeeper does some reconnoitering and finds the headstone the lines rest on belongs to her long dead fiancé... who she then tries to contact (her lost love,) but when she does, his voice reluctantly informs her that she told him to leave her alone and he hangs up... The story is left with her crying alone. (Richard Matheson also wrote one of my favourite fictional "ghost" movies, The Legend of Hell House, amongst many other classic sci-fi and horror stories...)

Then there's "Long Distance Call", first shown on March 31, 1961 and written by Charles Beaumont and William Idelson which features a young Billy Mumy receiving phone calls from his deceased grandmother on a toy telephone. The grandmother tries to "claim"(?) the young lad by seemingly sending him off to drown, but when the mother picks up the toy phone and pleads with the grandmother to give him a chance at life, the paramedics are able to revive him.

Did these television programs (amongst other stories and the like,) stimulate these experiences? Did they "feed" either some imaginations or even somehow fuel PK phenomena? These possibilities exist... and are delved into... but to be frank, the reports of this phenomena outdate Rod Serling's televised efforts by some years.

Regardless, the question I now have, after reading this book, is why don't I hear of this happening as often now? Especially in a world dominated by telephones literally around us 24/7?

Being an investigator, the obvious question is "What changed?" What's different between phone lines in the 1930's through the 1970's (the key dates for most of the cases in the book,) and the mid-1990's through current day... when I've been truly nose-to-the-grindstone in reading/looking into cases whenever and wherever I can.

Oh, please DON'T send me e-mails telling me how it DOES still happen "all the time", because Torontoghosts (since 1996) and all the groups up to PSICAN literally have thousands of reports... and only three feature a phone call that MIGHT be considered "perhaps paranormal"... or, to be honest, without seemingly decent explanation... well, save one of the three that was voice-mail related, but we can "replicate" the message and how it would have been sent and received... and the case did lend itself to possible "hoaxery", not on the part of the witness, but on a third party trying to "prank" the witness... so three... maybe only two... in thousands.

This is hardly a "trend"... at least with our numbers as a reference... and pretty much most of the news items I've found via Coast to Coast, The Anomalist, more Facebook sources then you can shake a stick at, and many other sources... and countless web pages... and... you get the idea. (YES, I'm making a generalization based on casual glances, but I'm pretty confident in it standing up to statistical scrutiny.)

Also, as stated, why no mobile/cell phones? Are they impervious?

There is a BIG and GLARING answer... and it is eluded to in the sub-title of this note... "Digital" vs. "Analogue".

Through the 1980's and 90's, most of the old ceramic and copper phone switches were eliminated in most places around the world in favour of digital switching... then, in the 1990's and 2000's, most of the old cable was replaced with fibre cables... and don't neglect the rise in use of telecommunication satellites over the old long-distance cables... Heck, by the late 1970's and early 1980's, Canada was spanned by microwave transmission towers and not reliant on old cabling... it possible that "Ghost Don't Do Digital" then?

Considering Bayless and Rogo went on at length (rightfully so) about the way a telephone works and how voice recording in general is accomplished... and although certain principles remain the same, Voice/Sound Vibrates Air which in turn Vibrate Film or Element on Microphone, after this, all bets are off! Voice and data communications (the transference of your voice from one telephone to another,) has taken some radical advances over the last thirty years... Could this explain the "drop off" of these calls?

Honestly, you'd have to tell me... because I don't have the data to make an informed hypothesis...

Realistically, if one accepts that somehow, either a "spirit of the dead", a "lost soul", and/or a "thought form" can transmit a voice call from one phone to another with SOME level of ease up to the early 1980's... but not after that... then it's the most likely answer that indeed, ghosts don't do digital...

...or they neglected to pay their phone bills.

Although the book is out of print, for those wishing to find it, I know it was fairly easy to find via The Toronto Public try your local if interested... or you can purchase a used copy from Amazon.

Addendum: In the light of the next day after publishing this...

Of course, only AFTER posting this up and having a good nights sleep thinking on the subject matter and the book, I remembered that one concept covered by Bayless and Rogo was the idea that these things happen because, somehow, the consciousness survives and retains "habitual abilities/memories" and as such, if it/he/she wants to make a phone call as they did countless times in life, it just happens and the mechanics just fall into place...

This actually feeds nicely into many apparitions who "repeat history" one reads about or other phenomena that seems to move through "life" unaware that the entity "it" once was has passed on...

If we accept this hypothesis at face value, how long will it be before we have text messages from the dead? Tweets from the dead? Facebook status updates from the dead?

...and if so, what I.P. will register with these items? (Heck, on that question, have "phone calls from the dead" been curtailed to avoid tracing back with a utility most of us have... Caller I.D.?)

Part of the immediate notice above is tongue in cheek... but realistically, one has to accept that if phone calls from the dead "just happen", then it's a distinct possibility this could be next.

I will now avoid making jokes about the traced origin of IPs "from the dead" who are considered to be "damned" or in the other place that isn't "Heaven"... and what locations those would REALLY trace back to... like... well, best not to gain the ire of certain towns and cities... no matter how much I want to make fun of the North Hastings area of Ontario.



Matthew J Didier