As a child, Vera Van Slyke (1868-1941) had a fascination for ghost stories — and then for ghosts alleged to be authentic. As an adult, her investigations into haunted places and supernatural phenomena convinced her that phantoms really do lurk among us.
Paradoxically, Vera was a staunch skeptic when it came to séances and Spiritualism. She was a newspaper reporter, a professional sister of Nelly Bly and Ida Tarbell, and defrauding psychic mediums was her special crusade. When asked about this seeming contradiction, Vera replied: “Ghosts are like cats. They’re real, but they hardly come when called.”
Vera’s crusade led her to a woman of many names. Ludmila Prášilová immigrated to the U.S. in 1887. Her pet name was Lida, but she began to introduce herself as Lucille Parsell about the time she became a Spiritualist medium. In 1899, conducting a high-profile séance, Lida was debunked by Vera!
Despite their rough introduction, within a year, Lida was serving as Vera’s personal assistant. They grew to be dear friends, too, as they solved ghostly mysteries together — delving into local histories, guilty secrets, even the curious physics that permits ghosts to return to the corporeal realm. An avid reader, Lida decided to chronicle Vera’s supernatural investigations, much as Dr. Watson recorded the cases of Sherlock Holmes for the reading public. However, Lida’s stories were never published in her lifetime.
Instead, they came to me, Tim Prasil. You see, Ludmila “Lida” Prášilová, a.k.a. Lucille Parsell, was my great-grandaunt. Upon inheriting her manuscripts, I edited them and found the perfect publisher, Emby Press. The book is titled Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries (1899-1909).
I’ve written a timeline that covers what I know of Vera’s life and the history underlying the hauntings she investigated. It’s a good place to get a sense of what’s in Help for the Haunted.
There’s a review of the book at Multo (Ghosts) and another one at The Writerly Reader. You can read an interview I did about it at the Mysterious Heartland website or listen to one at The Big Séance Podcast with Patrick Keller .