Thursday, June 13, 2013

Elvis, Leadbelly, Ghosts And How The TAPS Team Failed


With a lifelong interest in things supernatural and paranormal, I watch a lot of the ghost investigations on television.  Most are lame but a few stand out with team members who take things seriously and who research facts.  I seldom watch Ghost Hunters on Syfy any longer but last night when I noticed in the listings, they were at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium, I decided to tune in and watch the show.

Now I wish I hadn’t because their malarkey has eroded the last shreds of respect I might have had for Jason Hawes and the TAPS team.  You see, I’ve been to the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium more than once including a private tour for my family a decade ago.  One of my long-term projects is a biography of singer Johnny Horton who was a longtime member of The Louisiana Hayride, a well-known radio program broadcast on KWKH.  In its’ heyday it aired nationwide and rocketed many singers to fame.  Among them, in addition to Johnny Horton, the cast included greats like Hank Williams, Jim Reeves, Kitty Wells, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce, George Jones, Merle Kilgore and even Elvis Presley. That’s what the Hayride was also known as “The Cradle of the Stars.”

Don’t get me wrong – I like Elvis and I’m a huge fan but Elvis isn’t what made the Hayride great.  Elvis played the Hayride in his early years but some of the movers and shakers behind the event didn’t think he had much of a future…until later.  The folks who filled the seats from Louisiana and nearby East Texas came to see The Singing Fisherman, Johnny Horton, who lived in Shreveport and Webb Pierce who worked at Sears downtown.  They packed the place to the rafters and cheered all the performers, not just Elvis.  My husband’s family hails from Louisiana and my late father-in-law had the privilege of being in the audience the night Hank Williams played his final Hayride show and moved on to Nashville.

Yes, there’s a statue of Elvis out front and the street in front of the auditorium was renamed Elvis Presley Boulevard but to real Hayride fans, Elvis is just one of many and not the focus.  But every paranormal investigator wants The King.  A few years ago the Kling Brothers from Everyday Paranormal did an investigation but I’ll give them credit. Although they mentioned Elvis, they also tried to get some kind of spiritual affirmation from some of the other cast members.  But TAPS didn’t.  They focused on Elvis and primarily Elvis. 

As they walked through the building, TAPS members called out to Elvis and also focused on the cemetery nearby.  Long before some of the members headed over to the graveyard, I remarked to my husband and son the graves there long pre-date the auditorium.  And TAPS found that out after they were there.

Another well known musician with a Shreveport connection is Leadbelly – or Huddie Ledbetter.  His statue is on Texas Street downtown and he played in the bars and bordellos of Shreveport.  Although he never played the Hayride – due to both his style of music and his skin color – he had some commonality with some of the show’s stars.  Both Johnny Horton and his buddy Johnny Cash both recorded “Rock Island Line” one of the songs Leadbelly is known for singing.  Interestingly enough, Horton and Cash along with another good friend Merle Kilgore, also dabbled into spiritualism.  They communicated with the dead, held séances, and shared my own fascination with the subject.

The TAPS team didn’t get anything to prove Elvis hangs around and their EVPs were interesting but they missed the point.  They captured one female voice but the words were unintelligible.  A male voice they picked up was deep and the one EVP you could understand said, in answer to a question if they were talking with Elvis, “Who is that?”

TAPS disappointed because they focused on Elvis and all the “witnesses” who came forward with their “claims” seemed to be prompted for the show.  Like I said, I’ve visited the place and spent a lot of time down in Shreveport and have never heard any of these particular stories.  None of the team talked about the other stars, their interest in the spirit world, or Johnny Horton’s eerie death (he had a premonition which came true).  

I’m tired of hearing paranormal investigators who whine about being scared or creeped out.  If you’re going to seek out ghosts and hauntings, get tough and expect a little chill factor.  And do your research, people.

My personal take is that the EVPs were Leadbelly.  He’s from Mooringsport, not far north from Shreveport and buried there too.  He had a deep voice and the kind of wit which would be prone to answering a question about Elvis with “Who’s that?” as a joke. 

Why do I have a strong opinion? Well, I was born with a few fey ways as my grandmother’s aunt left this left (we came in and went out at the same moment) and was given a name one scant syllable shy of my grandmother’s dead daughter – something my mother didn’t realize until I was nine years old.  I’ve always been tuned into the spirit world like many of my ancestors who shared my abilities.  And I grew up in a haunted house.

If I’m going to watch shows about the paranormal, I’ll stick to The Dead Files where the combination of Amy’s psychic gifts with Steve’s meticulous research doesn’t disappoint or John Zaffis in The Haunted Collector.  After all, he’s the nephew of pioneers in the field Ed and Lorraine Warren practically founded.

As for the rest, I actually got to know Merle Kilgore.  I know a great deal about Johnny Horton and I’ve talked with many friends and relatives including the old Hayride announcer, Mr. Frank Page of KWKH. 

So TAPS…farewell.  I’m finished.  If your research skills are so shallow and your focus already pre-formed before you begin an investigation, I don’t have time or interest to watch your antics any longer.

Get real and let the real paranormal investigators do their work.  Oh, and here’s an irony – first time I ever saw Ghost Hunters was on a visit to Louisiana sitting over in Bossier City, the sister city to Shreveport across the Red River.  In their early days, they caught some impressive footage but they’ve gone over to the commercial long since and it’s become entertainment for the big bucks and nothing more.

That’s all.

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