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Late to the Game(s): Considering a podcast – Revisiting the Olive Hill poltergeist

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

I’ve been weighing the possibility of starting a podcast recently. I’ve been a guest on several – and I’m scheduled to be on the Haunted Hollers podcast in the coming months, discussing Olive Hill’s famous Callihan poltergeist – and it’s always been fun. 

Of course, all I’ve had to do is run my mouth. I’ve not had to edit the show, stich clips together, balance in a soundtrack underneath it all, and do all the myriad other things I can’t even think of right now because I’ve never produced a podcast before. 

Despite all that, I can’t help but think it might be a lot of fun. 

Of course, the obvious choice would be a local news podcast. It would complement the newspaper. I could use audio I record during interviews already to build the show. I would have a steady supply of content in the form of local government meetings, community events, and local business news.

But what I’d really like to do is a podcast on local legends and folklore – with deep dives into the subject matter and its roots. 

The thing is, that’s a saturated market and while a lot of those podcasts are bad (but not Haunted Hollers or any I’ve been on before) it seems like it might be easy to get lost in that sea of offerings even if you’re offering something well-documented and well researched.

And it would take a lot of time to research it properly. Even though I’ve spent a lot of time studying and reading many books on modern phenomenon like UFOs, Mothman, Bigfoot and Chupacabras, and can put them into the proper folkloric context, I’m not a trained folklorist. I’m a journalist. I’ve researched and interviewed a lot of witnesses. But I’d need to find extra time to do this research, which is difficult even if I’d love it. 

For my upcoming appearance on Haunted Hollers, for instance, I’m not only looking back over my notes on previous stories I’ve written on the poltergeist, I’m going to need to look at other resources. 

Specifically, I’m going to want to revisit William G. Roll’s classic 1972 treatise on the subject, The Poltergeist

Roll, who worked as project director of the Psychical Research Foundation in Durham, North Carolina, studied many such cases. He dedicates an entire chapter in the book – “A Demon in Olive Hill, Kentucky” – to the case. 

Though he alludes to the family’s religious beliefs in the title of his chapter, Roll himself didn’t believe there was anything ghostly or demonic about the activity in Carter County. Instead, he was interested in a phenomenon related to psychokinesis, or the potential ability to move objects with the power of the mind. He coined the term recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK) to describe the phenomenon. Though nearly as hard to accept as ghosts, demons, or bogarts, the idea behind RSPK is that some individuals, particularly children and young adults, can cause items to move, break, even teleport. They aren’t necessarily doing these things intentionally, or even consciously. (That’s the “spontaneous” part of RSPK.) But they are doing them repeatedly. (Recurrently.) 

The Callihan family’s poltergeist activity, which only subsided after the family moved away from Olive Hill, was the subject of Haunted Hollers’ very first podcast episode. They referred to Roll’s chapter on the incident, but there are deeper connections in the book to Roll’s RSPK theories that add context to the story. I’d like to revisit the entire book, if possible, before the podcast. Or, at the very least, the chapters on theory and – of course – the Olive Hill chapter. But, once again, there is the time issue. 

One of the things the hosts at Haunted Hollers did touch on, that hadn’t struck me before, were the spectres seen by Ora Callihan, Roger’s grandmother. While the poltergeist activity centered mostly around Roger, Ora had claimed to see the spirit of their home’s previous resident – a man she knew to be dead, but who had also been known as one who could raise “knocking spirits” or spirits that communicate through noisy knocks and bangs, not unlike the loud noises sometimes associated with poltergeists, a word that translates literally to “noisy ghost.” 

In addition to this past resident who purportedly had a way with noisy spirits, Ora mentioned seeing a white woman she described as “like a large, white Catholic nurse.” 

The hosts at Haunted Hollers, noting that John and Ora’s son and his family were Jehovah’s Witnesses (the Witnesses would later hold an unsuccessful exorcism of Roger that involved burning his clothing) wondered why the Callihans would see a Catholic ghost. Or, for that matter, why there would be a ghostly nun in Olive Hill, which doesn’t have an overwhelming Catholic population or tradition. 

But, what they failed to grasp was that the incident occurred in 1968. The St. Claire Hospital in neighboring Morehead, operated by the Sisters of Notre Dame, had only opened their doors five years earlier, in 1963. For some rural folks at the western end of the county, this would have been the closest hospital. So, relating an ethereal figure to a Catholic nurse might have had more to do with the nurse aspect than the Catholic. 

Now, whether it was an actual spirit, Catholic or otherwise, or some manifestation of Ora’s subconscious or imagination we can’t say; especially with more than 50 years of history between us. Regardless of where it came from, there was a possible basis for its appearance. 

And this is just one of the aspects of the case that I’m looking forward to picking apart, and placing in a larger cultural context. 

I’m excited. But the amount of work I want to put in on this, for a podcast where someone else is doing all the hard work and I just have to flap my gums, already has me second-guessing putting together one of my own, before I’ve really done more than consider it. 

But… If I did, would you be interested in yet another podcast looking into our local myths and lore? Regardless, be sure to look for me in an upcoming episode of Haunted Hollers, and be sure to check out all of their locally sourced podcasts, including the most recent on Ashland’s Paramount Theatre ghost, Paramount Joe. (Who is apparently quite the fan of Billy Ray Cyrus.) 

You can find them on Google, iTunes, and wherever you stream or download your podcasts. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com 



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