WEBSTER COUNTY, KY (10/31/12) - Most people in Webster County have never heard of Robert A. Baker, but he was one of America’s pre-eminent ghost busters. And he was from right here in Webster County.
Robert Allen Baker Jr. was born June 27, 1921, in Blackford, Ky.
His family later moved to the Hopkinsville area, where he graduated from Hopkinsville High School. He served in the Army Air Forces during World War II as a cryptographer, and at that time began reading about human psychology.
Baker graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1948 and later returned to receive a masters degree in psychology. He then received his doctorate in psychology from Stanford University in 1951.
Dr. Baker was a skeptic, and from the start of any investigation could not simply assume that anything paranormal or other worldly was involved. In many articles and books he argued that such phenomena could be explained as mental states, dreams or hallucinations that occurred in the moments between being fully asleep or fully awake.
For years Dr. Baker worked closely with Joe Nickell, the country and possibly world’s only full time paranormal investigator.
“He was my best friend,” Nickell said. “We started working together while I was a grad student at UK, and he was a professor. Both of us were already well known in the field of paranormal.”
The pair, who for years would meet every Thursday at Ryan Steakhouse to compare case notes, were once called the “Original Ghost Busters.
“We didn’t set out to debunk something, we set out to explain it,” Nickell added. “If you explain it, it gets debunked.”
Nickell said that paranormal “debunkers” miss the point. They want to get rid of any stories about the supernatural because they aren’t real, even at the expense of the person seeing the ghost.
“We wanted to know why we want to believe,” he explained. Instead of simply trying to disprove the existence of ghosts, they attempted to find the explanation for ghosts.
One of Dr. Baker’s most famous investigations was that of a young Kentucky woman who had been seeing the ghostly apparition of a three-year-old girl.
“After talking with her and her husband,” he wrote, according to his Washington Post obituary by Adam Bernstein, “I quickly learned that she was the only one who ever saw or heard the child. Moreover, I learned that she and her spouse wanted children desperately but had no luck. I urged them both to consider adoption, and as soon as they took these steps, the 3-year-old spirit disappeared forever.”
“He carefully changed the subject from ghosts and hauntings to their desire to have a child,” Nickell said.
This was the sort of case that drew Dr. Baker’s attention. He became a counselor to those who believed they were haunted by paranormal forces, volunteering his time to help those in need.
Although a skeptic, Dr. Baker was sympathetic to the plight of those he helped. He was known for saying “there are no haunted places, only haunted people.”
“We were at an Indiana farmhouse, where the wife was frantic with a haunting situation in the house,” Nickell said. “She had all of the kids sleeping downstairs on cots.”
Nickell said that they were interviewing each of the family members separately, when one of the children admitted to being behind the “haunting”. The child then asked, “You’re not going to tell on me are you?”
Instead of turning the hoaxer in, Baker let the mother see him sprinkling powder on the windowsills of the house, and then told her it was the powdered bones of saints from the Vatican, sure to keep spirits away.
“He was just a very very human guy,” Nickell said of the situation.
Baker recorded the events of one investigation in an article titled “The Case of the Missing Poltergeist”, available from The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, where he served as a Fellow.
“The case began with a phone call from Mrs. S., a sixty-two-year-old housewife and mother who, both hesitant and apologetic, informed me that some very strange things had been happening in her house over the past few months,” Dr. Baker wrote. “Mrs. S. told me of flying telephones, appliances that start by themselves, doors that slam mysteriously, and ghostly pool games.”
Dr. Baker investigated these and other reports in the household. In the end he found reasonable explanations for every one of the eight phenomena on Mrs. S’s list that included voices in the pool room and a self starting vacuum cleaner.
“Careful interrogation revealed that the only one who reported hearing “voices” in the pool room was Mrs. S.’s 86-year-old mother who was, admittedly, hard of hearing,” Baker wrote. “Moreover on other occasions the grandmother had - as elderly, semi-deaf people frequently do - mistaken street and other noises for human voices.”
The vacuum had a faulty switch. When set a certain way the vacuum would turn itself back on.
Baker and Nickell didn’t only investigate ghosts, they also studied UFOs and UFO abductions.
One case brought the pair to Louisville, where a police helicopter reported being buzzed by a small UFO that shot fireballs at them. They investigated many possibilities, including ball lightening which they dismissed after talking with the weather service.
“A grad student came forward,” Nickell said. “He told us that he had set off a hot air balloon powered by candles. Then he heard the helicopter.”
Baker and Nickell had the man build them a balloon as proof of his claims.
“We worked together right up to his death,” said Nickell. “Even when he was sick and housebound.”
Even though Baker died in 2005, Nickell says he feels his friends presence every day. Not as a ghost, but as a very fond memory.
J-E News Editor
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