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Ghostwriting Polaroid Pictures


Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT, "Spooked V: Innocence Lost." I need you to stay close, keep the lights turned on because today we're taking you on a semi-guided tour of the dark side. Our next story comes to us from the city of fake ghosts - Los Angeles. But hold on, don't worry, you're about to meet a real one.

JOHN HUCKERT: I had gotten a camera from my father for Christmas and - I don't know. I took some pictures with it, and it was cool to have a Polaroid camera. But I didn't really think about it. And then I was sitting in the house one afternoon. It was just an average day. And the bathroom door opened, and no one was home. So I sensed that the door was opening by itself. I took the camera, and I took a picture. Nothing showed up in the picture, and of course I felt kind of silly at the time. And I just went back to working.

And then I remember sensing something, and I looked up. And the bathroom door opened in front of me, and it seemed so demonstrative. So I got up, and I was actually nervous because something just felt like it was there. Something was in the air. Something was in the room with me, tingling kind of sensation. And I started shaking, and I picked up the camera to take a picture. And I actually took a picture of - like, I was shaking so bad, I took a picture of, like, the top of the television set or something. And then I was like, OK, OK, calm down, calm down (laughter). And then I took another picture, and that's when I got the first photograph of this experience.

They're Polaroid photographs, so you basically sit and watch them develop. And as it was developing, I just saw this - almost this stereotypical version of a ghost. It looked so, you know - the eyes - the big eyes and the screaming mouth and the sort of weird, wispy, you know, quality of it floating in the air. It's like going boo or something at you. And I remember, like, being really nervous about it, and then suddenly I thought, you know, this is - my dad messed with the camera or something. That's what this was about. And then I took another picture.

It was almost like a similar image, but it was like the thing in the first photograph had moved closer to me. And it was more like - it was larger. And then I started getting, like, nervous again (laughter). You know, I just kept going back and forth between incredulous and denial. And then when Matkowsky got home, I said, I have something I want to show you. What do you think about this? And I showed him the pictures.

JOHN MATKOWSKY: So he shows me these photos, and I'm like, wow, these are really cool. How did you do this? He goes, I just took these pictures. I didn't do it. It just was. No, you made this up. He says, here, take a picture.

HUCKERT: And I went over and stood in the - in what is now known as the vortex, but it's the area right in front of the bathroom. And he took the picture of me, and over top of me was this similar-type shape. But it was, like, larger and more strange. I felt out of control, like I didn't know what was happening. And I didn't know where to put it in my mind. Then we ran out of film.

After, like, a month of just sort of sitting with these photographs, we decided to go out and get some more film. We just thought, OK, well, here's the moment we find out whether this is real or not.

We try to take pictures when we'd sense something or feel something. We kind of describe it as, like, when you have, like, goose bumps or, like, a little bit of a sunburn. You kind of sense this tingly thing, and then that's when you take the picture. Half the time, we wouldn't get anything, but sometimes we would. And that encouraged us to keep getting more film. This was - what? - three or four months of this. It was too strange, and we were afraid people would think we were nuts. But then it just got to be too much to not tell anybody about it.

MATKOWSKY: I mean, how do you share this? Why would you - you know, people would think we're insane.

HUCKERT: Finally, we decided to invite a bunch of friends over and show them the photographs. We said we have something to tell you guys, and it's a little strange. But we want to share it with you. So we started showing them the pictures, and they're asking, you know, a thousand questions a mile a minute.

MATKOWSKY: One of our friends, he asked if he's here now - if whatever it was, was here now. And he says, well, let's take a picture.


HUCKERT: Snapped a picture, and they were all watching it. Someone said, oh, my God. I think this is a word.

MATKOWSKY: You can see the word, yes, and that was the beginning of the communication.

HUCKERT: It's one thing to get, like, you know, ectoplasmic, fluffy, white things, and it's another to get communication, like an answer to our question. And then someone grabbed a camera and went, are you a - what was it? - are you a friend or...

MATKOWSKY: Are you a good ghost or a bad ghost?

HUCKERT: That's what it was.

MATKOWSKY: The photo came out - a single word in the middle of the room. It said friend. It was clear, not on the photo, in the photo.

HUCKERT: In the photo, yeah.

MATKOWSKY: They're actually in the photograph.

HUCKERT: They're, like, in the room, but it's like written in light and clouds kind of...

MATKOWSKY: Clear letters you could easily read. Like, when you asked him his name, you can clearly see it says Wright. W-R-I-G-H-T.

HUCKERT: So we asked, where do you go when you're not here? And we took a picture, and the photograph said flux. So we thought, oh, I guess he's in the flux, whatever that is.

>>MATKOWSKY There's one really interesting Polaroid. The question was, are you a ghost or spirit? Show us what you look like. And his answer was - he says in the Polaroid, not ready. So that was pretty interesting.

HUCKERT: When that happened, I was thinking, is he not ready, or does he think that we're not ready?

MATKOWSKY: With all the people there, it kind of validated us because we weren't insane, and this was happening in front of other people. We're not manipulating the camera or the film in any way. It was just...

HUCKERT: I think it changed a lot of people on a profound level, permanently. I remember for like a week just kind of walking around in a daze going, OK, what is this again? How do I fit this into the way I thought the world worked? We really had never intended to, I guess, go public with it. It was nothing we really thought about. And there was a new show on TV called "Sightings," and John was watching it. And they had this ghost thing on there, and they had a picture of some stuff. And John goes, that's not a ghost picture. This is a ghost picture. So he sent a copy in to the "Sightings" people. They called us up, and next thing you know, they want to do an hour-long satellite live show from the house.

After we did the "Sightings" episode, it seemed like suddenly we had offers to do quite a few different shows. They took the camera. They examined the camera. They took it to Polaroid. They examined it. They examined all the photographs. Yeah, through the years, there's been so many theories on how it's being done, how we do it, how we create the ghost images.

One of my favorite theories, someone said that how the photographs are done is that there's a little person in the basement and what happens is - is when you ask a question to the air, they type in in a computer, and it's projected out through lasers in the house that writes on the photograph instantly. When you start going on about, like, you know, like, well, they - it's real easy to just take a pen and write on the back of the Polaroid and it will come through. Has anybody ever tried that? 'Cause if you do - 'cause we tried it, we actually tried it. We took a pen, and it leaves marks. And it doesn't look like anything. It looks like someone took a pen and wrote on a Polaroid. I don't know what - how that theory has gone around and round and round.

I appreciated all the things the scientists and the FBI agent and everybody did - and the photographic expert - to try to disprove it. They even did, like, voice analysis of us to find out if we were, like - it was sort of a lie detector test kind of thing. He's here for us. He's not here to, like, exploit.

MATKOWSKY: We're not out to make anybody believe anything. This is what's happening to us.

HUCKERT: Pretty much we stopped all the interviews, especially 'cause there's always backlash to it.

MATKOWSKY: How we're charlatans and how it can be done and all this other stuff, that we're just - just trying to make a buck off this thing. And really, none of that's true. We're not making any money off this thing. It's a personal thing that we just happened to want to share a little bit off.

HUCKERT: There have been people who say, well, you know, we'll give you a hundred bucks if you let us come take a picture at your house. And that's something we would never do 'cause it's not about that.

MATKOWSKY: One of the most meaningful things for me and John, we're struggling writers. And we would get messages that tell us to persevere, to keep going and just continue what we're doing and something good will happen.

HUCKERT: As creative people, we faced a lot of self-doubt, and it can be crippling. At some point, we ask Wright, should we keep pursuing what we love even if it's hard? And he came back with a photograph. He said, dreams and destiny merge. And we thought, you know, it's not about, like, being successful at the moment. It's about dreaming things and allowing your destiny to present itself. It changed our perspective. The house has a way of letting you know that it's OK to be insecure, but to not ever give up.

MATKOWSKY: There's something - something special happening in my house. And it just makes you feel, like, small and just insignificant when it comes the whole world. You know, there's something bigger, something better, something grander.

WASHINGTON: Big thanks to John Huckert and John Matkowsky for sharing their story. Check out our website snapjudgment.org to see the actual Polaroid ghost photos and link to more information about the Polaroid ghost. Even find out with John and John are up to now. You're going to want to see this, snapjudgment.org. That story was produced by Anna Sussman with sound design by Pat Mesiti-Miller.

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One of the most fascinating cases I’ve read and studied was about the “polaroid writing entity” in a quaint, cozy home in the outskirts of Downtown Los Angeles.Mt. Washington is a district in the northeast of Los Angeles. About a 10-15 minute drive from where I currently reside in downtown Los Angeles.

For John Matkowsky, this was a perfect suburb of L.A. to live. He acquired a modest home on a hill side in 1985. After moving in, John would claim to have heard noises around his house that would raise an eyebrow.A friend of John, John Huckert, had recently acquired a polaroid camera. Taking snapshots around the house, they both soon started seeing anomalies in the instant photos. At first it came as odd, spectral images but soon they became words. Odd as it may seem, whatever was in his house, was able to communicate.All of John’s friends that would visit the house would describe an eerie feeling. A feeling of a presence about the rooms. John Matkowsky said that at times, he felt a strange tingling around his arms or neck.

The house was built around 1906, so chances that the house could harbor energy or spirits was great. As it seems like older homes, resonate images and feelings of the past.When both Johns learned that by snapping polaroids around the house, you could capture feather like spectral energy all over; they quickly set out to debunk it.Suspecting that the film was damaged, they bought new film and tested it. To their surprise, the images came up on the new film. A friend of theirs was in their home for a party they had thrown. When John shows his friend, Ross harpold, the images they had captured, Ross laughed and dismissed it as a joke. Unconvinced that these pictures were not doctored, Ross picked up the polaroid and asked “Are you here?” and took a snapshot. When the picture was ejected from the polaroid camera, in front of the 3 men that were standing over it, the word “YES” appeared.  When John Matkowsy asked “what is your name” and then proceeded to snap a picture, as the polaroid started to develop in front of him the name “Wright” appeared. They were hesitant about the authenticity of what they were experiencing. So they started asking Wright more questions like “Are you a good ghost?” “Are you a bad ghost?”. Wright would answer “Friend”.
Within the next few months, John Matkowsky and John Huckert were taking pictures daily and capturing what seemed like a prophetically and well versed ghost.Some of the questions they asked Wright were: “Where do you go when you are not here?”  Wright’s answer: ” FLUX”

Another question they asked Wright, was who was he. The respond still sends chills down my spine: ” Et alia corpus delicti””Among other things, A murder victim” John Matkowsky was so intrigued by this entity that he wanted further answers as to what or who it really was. Around that time in the early 90s, there was a popular show called “Sightings” that was produced and broadcasted by FOX television. Sightings was a show about the unexplained and the supernatural. Being that John could not get an explanation as to what was causing this, he decided to contact the show’s correspondent and ask if they would be interested in investigating this phenomenon. John was not really feeling like this was the best move on his part, since it would bring in unwanted attention. Sightings put together a team of researchers and it’s production staff and headed for the small home in the hills. Kerry Gaynor was among the research team. Mr. Gaynor had previously investigated the famous “Entity” case in Culver City, CA.

Upon their arrival at the house, they setup a controlled testing experiment, were they had brought their own cameras and film that was tagged and logged to prevent tampering. After several hours, no evidence was captured. It seemed like Wright was either shy or reluctant to create a circus attraction of itself. Several hours into the investigation, Marty Elcan, a friend of John Matkowsky attempted to get some evidence. He asked Wright: “Are most spirits good spirits or bad spirits?” SNAP! a picture was taken. As the polaroid developed, in plain sight of all the researches and the TV crew a message appeared: “There are numerous remedial lemurs.” Not knowing if Wright was playing a joke on them about monkeys from Madagascar, John Huckert looked up lemur in a Latin dictionary. The definition of a lemur in Roman mythology was that they are the night-walking spirits of the dead.

The excitement in the room was palpable. Nervous laughter masked the tension. Kerry Gaynor was impressed, but wanted further controls. “You have to establish a chain of evidence. You have to be able to observe the phenomenon from the beginning to the end. So, we have to load the film from a sealed pack, show that it’s our camera. We have to fire it. We have to control the film as it comes out.” Following Kerry’s suggestions, Sightings trained one of its video cameras on a new Polaroid brought to the house by photographic expert Edson Williams. A sealed film package was opened and a new cartridge was inserted directly into the Polaroid. A member of the Sightings team posed the question “Are you here for John or for the house ?” A picture was taken. It was placed on a table in full view. After thirty seconds, a message appeared. “Genius loci.” Kerry Gaynor looked up the word in the Latin dictionary. The exact translation of genius loci is “the guardian spirit of a man or a place.” More pictures were taken in the same manner. The messages alternated between English (“Time travel,” “Anything is possible,” “John relax and learn”) and Latin (“Ad litteram”). Edson Williams had never seen anything like it in his twenty years as a photo analyst. “I actually watched them eject out of the Polaroid. There was a moment where I thought, Oh, my God, and I was in one of the Polaroids, which made it even spookier. It made me feel that there could be something in the house.” Near the conclusion of the night-long investigation, Marty Elcan asked, “Wright, will you be with them for a long time?” The Ghost Writer replied, “Sed haec prius fuere.” Translated, the phrase means “All this is over now.”

It was the last message the Ghost Writer would send. After the field investigation, Edson Williams brought many of the photographs back to the Brooks Institute for analysis. Using a digital scanner, he was able to move in on the ghost writing and noticed that there appeared to be individual fibers in the text. He concluded that the writing might have been created using pulled strands of cotton. In his laboratory, Williams attempted to duplicate the ghost writing. “The initial step was to shoot pulled cotton with a 4 x 5 camera using E-6 film. The next step was to preexpose the Polaroid film. I removed the cover sheet of the Polaroid pack, inserted the transparency, and exposed the Polaroid to the text. I then removed the transparency, reinserted the cover sheet, and loaded the film normally.” Using this method, Edson Williams was able to duplicate the ghost writing; however, his method took over an hour to complete and required manipulation of the film, which would have been impossible to hide. Howard Worzel, a photographic analyst at Polaroid’s corporate headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts, was also at a loss to offer a scientific explanation for the ghost writing. “We have never encountered this phenomenon and we’ve been selling film for fifty years now to billions of customers,” Worzel noted. Parapsychologist Kerry Gaynor concurred. “I personally have never come across anything like this in the twenty years that I’ve been doing research. I’m quite familiar with the literature, and Eve never seen anything like this in the literature either.” While the scientific investigation continued, Sightings contacted world-renowned psychic Peter James and asked him to visit the house and give his psychic impressions of the site. Peter has a long history of exploring and documenting cases of hauntings that are not understood by science, but he also has been involved in cases he has exposed as obvious frauds. At first, Peter was also skeptical about the Ghost Writer. “In all my years of delving into the paranormal world, I’ve never seen an entity present itself in this fashion, but I will say that all things are possible,” Peter remarked before entering the house. Once inside, however, the feeling that he was not alone was instantaneous. His legs began to shake. He felt a vibration throughout his body that Peter claims to feel when he is in the presence of spirits. He also began to receive several names telepathically. “I received the name of Gilbert. There is a Robert. Amelia is throughout. I am getting an essence of all three of those names vibrationally,” Peter told the assembled group.

The two Johns were awestruck. They had already researched the names of the home’s previous owners. They had not showed this list to anyone, especially Peter James, and yet Peter had correctly named Gilbert, Robert, and Amelia — three of the names on the list. Peter did not think that any of these three people were the Ghost Writer. As he walked around the house, Peter stopped in one spot he called a “spiritual vortex,” a kind of doorway through which he felt spirits were entering the house. “I feel a very strong vibration. Something is definitely coming up from the floor,” he reported. “I get a tingling sensation. It’s also very cold here. My legs are trembling. It feels like something is coming from below and it’s going through my entire body.” John Matkowsky snapped several pictures of Peter James standing in the vortex. Strange ghostly images appeared to surround him. Peter felt two distinct spirits at this time. One he described as the spirit of an Indian tribe that had once used the land surrounding the house as a kiva, or ceremonial center. The other spirit he described was that of man who had been murdered and could be buried under the house. After Peter James’s psychic reading, John Matkowsky and John Huckert decided to investigate Peter’s theories.

They began to dig small test holes through their hillside property. In one of these holes they made an amazing discovery — shards of pottery that appeared to be Native American in origin. An archaeologist from the nearby Southwest Museum examined the site and found the artifacts significant enough to warrant a larger dig on the site. It was proof to Matkowsky and Huckert that Peter James had been right about the kiva. As for the body under the house, the men have no doubt that it is there, but digging for it would be impossible without moving the house. And perhaps it is for the best. Years of living with Wright have made the two Johns philosophical. They know that when the Ghost Writer feels the time is right, he will appear again. Ghost photographs have a long and dubious history in the world of paranormal investigation. In the late 1800s understanding of camera technology was rudimentary, and something as simple as a double exposure could easily fool the general public. The first known “ghost” photograph is the famous Lincoln photograph, in which the shadowy form of Abraham Lincoln is apparently standing behind his widow, Mary Todd Lincoln. It was ruled a hoax in the early 1900s. Today, with advanced technology and computer scanners, legitimate ghost photographs are extremely rare. After the Sightings investigation, Michael Weber, one of the best close-up magicians in the world, claimed that he could duplicate the ghost-writing phenomenon. In a closed studio in the presence of Sightings host Tim White and a camera crew, Weber was able to produce a photo with the words “We are here” printed across the front. However, Weber was quick to point out that his ability to duplicate the ghost writing did not disprove that it could have been caused by supernatural forces. It only proved that the same phenomenon could be reproduced under similar conditions. Weber reviewed the videotapes shot inside the house and said he did not notice any of the trademark movements — called “tells” — that would have indicated that either Matkowsky or Huckert was a professional magician.

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