Monday, September 29, 2014

Richmond Magazine: Paranormal Activity

I'll be honest: Some feature stories can be very hard to write, while some just seem to write themselves.

Perhaps I was channeling some otherworldly entity lingering in the ether when I penned my latest Richmond Magazine feature, or maybe the long and strange story of the Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) at the University of Virginia -- the only full-service paranormal laboratory affiliated with a major U.S. academic institution -- was so interesting in and of itself that even I couldn't screw it up. From start to finish, I felt guided by an unseen hand (of course, that could have been the spirit of my helpful editor, Jack Cooksey, who became just as enthralled in the subject as I was).

Yes, as hard as it may be to believe, UVa is home to a privately-funded research lab that takes a serious, scientific look at such things as reincarnation, deathbed visions, psychic phenomena and near-death experiences. My article, "Paranormal Activity," introduces you to the staff of DOPS and the uncommon work that they've been doing for 47 years in Charlottesville.

The story begins:
Dr. Jim Tucker admits that he encounters things in his daily research that he just can’t explain.
Take, for example, the case of James Leininger, a boy from Lafayette, Louisiana, fascinated with airplanes, who began having nightmares when he was 2 years old. “Airplane crash on fire,” James would cry out, an atypical comment for his age. Over the coming months, he would inform his parents, Bruce and Andrea, that he’d been a pilot, also named James, who flew planes off a boat and his plane had been shot down. When Bruce asked him who shot his plane, the boy, a bit exasperated, said, “the Japanese.”
A few weeks later, he revealed that he had flown a Corsair plane, and remembered the name of the boat: “Natoma.” Shown a map, the youngster pointed to the waters surrounding Iwo Jima and stated that this was where he died. He added that “Jack Larsen” was there.
James’ father, a conservative Christian who struggled with the idea of reincarnation, was a little spooked. He did some research and discovered that there was indeed a USS Natoma Bay involved at the battle of Iwo Jima, and one of its Corsair pilots was lost in the mission, a man named James Huston. In the violence of the larger war, the crash was a nondescript event not widely reported or remembered.
“Huston’s plane had crashed in exactly the way it had been described by the boy,” says Tucker, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS). “It got hit in the engine, burst into flames, crashed in the water and quickly sank. The pilot of the plane next to his was named Jack Larsen.”
Creative Director Steve Hedberg has done a great job illustrating the article, so you'll want to grab the October edition of Richmond Magazine, on newsstands now. But to read the online version of "Paranormal Activity," click right here.

To find out more about the Division of Perceptual Studies, and to watch videos of test cases that DOPS researchers have looked into, go to

Photo by the mighty Adam Ewing!

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