THE ACKERMAN ENIGMA: The Strange Case of Forrest J. Ackerman by Paul Davids
Monday, October 25, 2010
NOTE: The following article is an updated and revised version of an article Davids wrote that appears in the Sept.-Oct. 2010 issue of FATE magazine
Forrest J. Ackerman was best known as the original editor of "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine, which burst onto the scene in 1958 and rallied a generation of adolescent boys to appreciate movie monsters of all breeds, from vampires to mummies, from werewolves to giant apes like King Kong. He collected so much fantasy and science-fiction memorabilia that Forry Ackerman (or FJA or ACK, as he was known to his legion of fans) housed it in all in the 18-rooms of his Los Angeles house that he called the Ackermansion. People came from all over the world to visit him and study the collection.
Forry Ackerman passed away Dec. 4th, 2008 at two minutes to midnight at the age of 92. A painting of Forry that I own, created by an artist named L. Dopp and painted about four years before Forry's death, shows the clock behind him at two minutes before the witching hour, predicting the exact moment of his passing.
However, despite his love of science-fiction, FJA was also a skeptic to the end. In fact, he described himself as an atheist. He promoted tales of zombies and the undead, usually with hysterically funny photo captions, but he did not believe in life after death.
His closest friends pressed him as to whether he would contact them from the Other Side if it turned out that he was wrong. He conceded that, if he was in error and a spirit world actually does exist, then when his death arrived, he would try to arrange a few reunions on the Other Side with departed pals such as Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, and then he might get around to dropping a line to some close associates who were still among the living. He said it jokingly, but it seems a joke no more.
Four people who were very close to him (including me) have had no choice but to seriously consider that FJA has made contact with all of us since his passing at age 92. This all happened within 10 days of a huge memorial tribute that was held for him at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. This is a case that is a very serious challenge to skeptics that has had legitimate scientific testing of evidence by prominent chemists.
I want to make clear how much I have always cherished my nearly lifelong friendship with Forry Ackerman. I met him when I was a boy of twelve who was obsessed with movie creatures, and I read every word of his "Famous Monsters" magazine, including all the ads for monster masks and makeup kits and model kits and related toys. I began making short little films with the family 8mm movie camera, because I was inspired by the creativity of cinema special effects as FJA revealed those secrets in every issue--secrets that were then carefully guarded by many cinema makeup artists, animators and monster makers. I was hardly alone in that pursuit, because some members of my generation who grew up to become the greatest directors and special effects artists of our times were at that time also doing exactly the same thing, in the days before video when home movies were all silent three-minute films. Those fans included Steven Spielberg, Rick Baker, Dennis Muren, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Joe Dante, Stephen King, John Landis, Bill Malone and others.
I have now, for several decades, been a producer and director, beginning as production coordinator for "The Transformers" original animated TV series, then producing and co-writing the Showtime film "Roswell," and then I produced and directed one of the best known tribute documentaries to FJA, called "The Sci-Fi Boys," which won a Saturn Award in 2007 as the Best DVD of the previous year, given by the Academy of Science-Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. Another major documentary on Forry Ackerman came out of Canada from filmmakers Mike MacDonald and Ian Johnston, called "Famous Monster: The Forrest J. Ackerman Story."
Now I am currently completing a new feature documentary, called "The Life After Death Project," which meticulously documents the paranormal experiences of a small group after Uncle Forry's passing, which as I indicated happened at around the time of his tribute. The tribute, arranged by his loyal and dedicated assistant, Joe Moe from Hawaii, was held at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on March 7th, 2009. Over 1000 fans and friends of "Uncle Forry" showed up, filling even the balcony of the historic theater, and close to a dozen speakers (of which I was one), tried to convey the contributions, personality and essence of the unforgettable Mr. Ackerman. To many, Forry Ackerman was "Mr. Sci-Fi."-- In fact he invented the very term, "Sci-Fi." To others he was one of the Founding Fathers of imaginative cinema, through his tireless promotion of such films in his magazine and other writings.
The Canadian documentary by Ian Johnston and Mike MacDonald was shown the night of the Ackerman tribute in Hollywood. As I said, within the next ten days, four of us were either convinced that FJA had contacted us, or we were so baffled by strange events that we seriously entertained the idea that this really happened.
In my case, the apparent visit from my mentor Forry Ackerman involved physical evidence that could be tested by chemists in laboratories. I spent nearly a year involved with chemists at Indiana University (where tests were conducted on the "apparent written message" I inexplicably received) and then at New Jersey University. Dr. Jay Siegel, Chairman of the Chemistry Department of Indiana University, called Dr. Allison of New Jersey University in on the case when the results Dr. Siegel obtained were confusing and unexpected. He had anticipated finding all the answers quickly. He was an expert in dealing with solvent-based inks and pigmented inks, and he had testified in many trials where testimony on chemistry was needed. Dr. Siegel is on record as reporting that "the whole thing is still a mystery," and he has also listed quite a number of anomalous things that happened to the scientists who were investigating the case.
When I say "apparent written message," what I mean is this: When I was alone in my vacation home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the evening of March 18th, 2009, I had printed out a 24-page document of phone calls and business meetings, a sort of log for tax purposes. The document was completely ordinary when I tossed it onto my bed and went into the bathroom for about five minutes. I know that for a fact. When I came out of the bathroom, intending to climb into bed and to begin reviewing the document, I saw that it had been inexplicably altered. There was very moist dark ink of some kind blacking out four words on one line. The "obliteration," as the chemists later came to call it, was very neat and precise. Furthermore, there were two intensities of blackout. The words blacked out were: "Spoke to Joe Amodei." Of those four words, "Spoke to" could still faintly be made out beneath the slowly drying wet ink (or whatever substance had been used). However, the name "Joe Amodei" was entirely blacked out, and as the ink dried (with a little of it leaching through the top page), the precision of the blacking out of that name could be appreciated. There were no leaky pens or ceiling leaks that could explain any liquid near my document, and besides, the obliteration was so perfectly shaped, it was impossible to conclude it was some sort of coincidental accident.
*I was spellbound, mystified, shocked and afraid when this happened. I knew I was alone in the house, which is like a 3,200 square foot fortress. Yet the change in the document obviously seemed to be deliberate and targeted. There was no human being present who could have done it. And for any who may wonder whether I had anything to do with it myself, I have repeatedly said that as God is my witness, I did not have anything to do with it at all. And I clearly saw, before it happened, that my document was perfect. There had been no flaw from the printer. I was totally awestruck when it happened, and due to the moisture of the substance, it must have happened during the few minutes I was in the bathroom.
Yet the name "Joe Amodei," which I confirmed from my computer file of the document, meant little to me. He was a man I had spoken to only once, about a business deal that never took place. Why would a spirit (if that?s what it was) go to so much trouble to find me and change words on a page for me if the message was so obscure it was lost on me?
I called Molly Whitehorse, a psychic who lived near Santa Fe, the night this occurred. Why a psychic? There were no credentialed scientists that I knew in the neighborhood, and Molly had astonished me in January of 2007 when, on the first day she met me, she made some predictions about me that came true a few months later. Without knowing anything about me, she predicted that I would soon win a "round" award and that a deceased person named George, who was jovial and who always had a twinkle in his eye, and who cared about me, was going to help me win the award. Strange enough. I immediately dismissed her prediction because I knew of no "round" award apart from the Emmy, and that wasn't a possibility. But she did make me think of the late great producer George Pal (who had been a close friend of Forrest J. Ackerman), who was, like Forry, a mentor for me in the film business, and he had always been good humored with a twinkle in his eye.
Just weeks after her prediction, my film "The Sci-Fi Boys," a tribute to both Forry Ackerman and George Pal, was nominated for the Saturn Award from the Academy of Science-Fiction, Fantasy and Horror as the Best DVD of 2006. The Award is basically round, modeled after the planet Saturn, and in fact my film won. Then a short time after that, the film also won the "Rondo" Award as Best Independent Film in the Sci-Fi / Horror genre--and the word "Rondo" even sounded like "round." You can understand why I thought to contact Molly when the "invisible ink man" (whoever he might have been) blacked out four words in my document while I was alone in the house.
The next day, Molly came over with equipment to check electro-magnetic fields in the house. Her search led her to an object of art in my living room, an African mask from Zimbabwe that had once been danced in a native ceremony but was now encased in plastic and on display. The mask was just outside the bedroom where the document was altered. The electro-magnetic field from the mask went to the top of the scale of her measuring device, which beeped (as though frantically) and blinked red dramatically. Then, while a camera was rolling to document the investigation, the electro-magnetic field seemed to move inside me, as the device gave the same response when held up to my very brain. Again, I was afraid. Did something happen to me then? What was causing what we were observing?
I had the mask moved out of the house. Yes, I was frightened. It did occur to me, however, that of all the items in my house, the mask would have been the artifact most near and dear to Forry Ackerman, who had in his collection dozens of masks of all varieties. It was exactly the sort of wild, unusual, weird and dark item which he himself cherished and had collected.
To further understand my uncertainties, and why I kept sensing a Forry Ackerman involvement in the seemingly paranormal event, you have to understand that about ten days previously, I had heard from Ian Johnston and Mike MacDonald that some very weird and inexplicable things had happened to them the weekend of the Forrest J. Ackerman memorial tribute. They had visited Forry's crypt and playfully knocked on it and called out to ask if anyone was home. They would have never done this at just any crypt, but they knew Forry was a prankster with an ever-present sense of humor, and they were confident he would have found it amusing--just like the fact that his resting place was at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale shared Forrest's first name, although spelled differently.
When Ian and Mike returned to the room they shared for the weekend in Hollywood, their computers caused what can only be described as insane hi jinx. The computers were side by side on a bureau. Mike?s computer popped up with a security code for him to type in as he was trying to post a blog about the cemetery visit on Facebook. The security code was: Ackerman 000
They had both had hundreds of security codes previously from Facebook. Neither had ever seen the name Ackerman. And the "A" was even capitalized.
As if that wasn't enough of a shock, as soon as they reacted to the astonishing "coincidence," Ian Johnston's computer, which they thought was in sleep mode at the time, burst out with a voice that said: "Oh my God, no way!" It turned out, they later discovered, that there is a round, yellow animated character on YouTube who does say "Oh my God, no way!" in the same childlike voice they heard. But Ian's computer was not linked to YouTube at that time and the home screen was dark. And he had never visited the site with the "Oh my God, no way!" animated character before. Oddly, his computer had a photo of young Forrest Ackerman on the home page which Ian had placed when working on their documentary. The picture showed Forry at about age four and a half, so the childlike voice that blurted out "Oh my God, no way!" was very appropriate to the boyish Forry pictured home page.
I had heard from Ian and Mike about these bizarre incidents when I hosted them at the Magic Castle in Hollywood on March 8, 2009, exactly ten days before the weird incident that happened to me. Thus, when my document was changed very mysteriously, I was aware that the Canadian filmmakers thought they had heard from ACK, the late Forrest Ackerman.
The fact that my document could have a connection to this was not apparent to me for several days, as I stewed over the meaning of the blacked-out Joe Amodei name. Knowing that Forry had been an editor, I wondered if his departed spirit could have been involved, so I looked for examples of his editorial notations which could be found in a book that Joe Moe had published about him for one of Forry's well-attended birthday. When I called Joe to discuss this with him, Joe asked me what the blacked out words were, and at that instant, it hit me like a bolt of lightning. Joe Moe's name was contained within the name "Joe Amodei," which contained the letters "M-O-E" in that order. Joe later said that my reaction sounded as though I had just stuck my hand on a hot stove. Forry had been a world-famous punster who was an expert at word-play. His magazine had been filled with puns that used a "word within a word" or twists of words to create humorous effects. Suddenly this incident seemed like his calling card. It seemed completely in character that he would have blacked out a name that had another name contained within it. I should have realized it before, but it now seemed to me that the intended message was "Spoke to Joe Moe."
To further accent why this struck me as Forry's "calling card," I can cite dozens of examples in "Famous Monsters" magazine where Forry (or "ACK") has accented a word or name that falls right in the middle of another word. On the cover of Famous Monsters #200 it announces that the magazine contains SPECT-ACK-ULAR stories. There was the word "Spectacular" modified to emphasize ACK's nickname right in the middle of it.
At that moment in our conversation, Joe Moe explained that in the week after the tribute, he had a lucid dream, an overpoweringly real dream-vision, in which Forry came and spoke to him. As a matter of fact, in Joe's lucid dream, which occurred just before waking, Forry praised the tribute Joe had arranged, calling it "The 9th Wonder of the World." It's just what the real-life Forry would have done. He would never have called it "The 8th Wonder of the World," because King Kong had always been the 8th Wonder of the World for monster-lover Forry. And so it seemed to me that I had a possible solution to the mystery: The spirit of Forrest J. Ackerman had actually contacted Joe Moe in his dream, and then, to confirm it, stopped by my house to leave me the message: Spoke to Joe Moe.
Human brains are wired to see patterns everywhere in the universe, but often those patterns or connections do not really exist anywhere outside the brain of the person doing the perceiving. In other words, some of the patterns and connections we perceive are false conclusions, because they only exist in the mind of the behold. Was that the case here?
I have had some unusual experiences in my life and also many synchronicities, but I have never ever experienced anything so strange as this, with testable evidence left behind. And so I decided to go to extraordinary lengths to have the evidence (the chemistry of the ink) tested.
As my forthcoming film, "The Life After Death Project," (slated for DVD release in 2011) will show, extensive testing of the ink of my document was done at two laboratories. It took nearly a year before both Dr. Jay Siegel and Dr. John Allison reported to me that in spite of hundreds of hours of testing, the obliteration was still a mystery to both of them. They had learned much, but what they learned could not explain how the obliteration happened or even how it was possible.
The summary is that the chemistry of the blacked out four words was, with two exceptions, the same as the chemistry of the printer ink. Some unknown solvent had neatly and precisely spread the ink of those four words in a way that it completely blacked out two of the four words and partially blacked out the other two. However there was far too much of the ink covering the name "Joe Amodei" to be explained by ink that was on the page. There wasn't enough ink in the printed words themselves to account for the total and very smooth and even blackout. There were far too many molecules of the printer ink covering those words--where did they all come from? It seemed miraculous, like the Biblical tale of Jesus turning water into wine or multiplying the numbers of fish. Furthermore, there was a significant amount of silver present in the blacked out words which was not present in the printer ink at all, as well as a barium compound which could not be found in the ink either. Where did that element and that compound come from?
Try as they had, the scientists and their assistants (which eventually included an entire class of chemistry students at New Jersey University) could not duplicate the obliteration, and as Dr. John Allison stated for the record, they tried everything "from spit to turpentine."
Other things happened too, that I perceived as part of the continuing pattern. For instance, chemist Dr. John Allison experienced something very odd while investigating my document. He had created about a dozen pages of attempts to duplicate the ink obliteration, unable to do it using all sorts of inks, paints, markers and solvents. In the early morning, he put those pages on a chair in his dining room, tucked under his briefcase, and he left the room to shower and get ready to pick me up at my hotel to take me to his lab for the mass spectrometry experiments. When he came back into the room, the dozen pages were scattered across the dining room floor. He could not understand it. There were no pets, no sources of drafts, nothing that could explain how the pages got scattered on the floor. (He had been out of the room, in the bathroom, just like happened in my case when the "invisible ink man" first showed up and tampered with my document.)
Months later, I visited the house that had been the old Ackermansion. It had been remodeled and had no sign or evidence of its former glory in the days when it contained the astonishing sci-fi collection. There were two tenants living there, and both insisted that the house was haunted. In fact, the tenant who was a singer told me that many times when she put her music papers on the music stand and left the room for just a few moments, when she returned she found the papers scattered on the floor. She was baffled because there was no source of a draft, and no pets had access to that room. It happened repeatedly. It was exactly what happened to Dr. John Allison.
Several other experiences bear upon the high strangeness of these events. First, while holding a dinner party at my Los Angeles home, in plain sight of several witnesses (including famous singer Rebekah Del Rio), another mask--this one made out of small beads from Mexico--popped off the wall behind me, leaping over a lampshade and landing at my feet. It happened at the moment a particularly funny joke had been cracked. No one who saw it could imagine any force that would have caused the mask to leap by natural means.
Then one day before another trip to New Mexico, I printed out a letter on corporate stationery and put it on the dining room table. I then went to find an envelope. When I re- entered the dining room, I found only a blank sheet of stationery--not my letter. It was extremely bizarre, but I concluded I must have accidentally put down a blank sheet and perhaps accidentally filed the letter in a file cabinet with some other papers. I went to print the letter again. When I returned to the dining room, the letter WAS there. There was no blank sheet of stationery. I was flabbergasted. I was not willing to conclude that I was losing my mind, so I decided it may have been more hi jinx from "The invisible ink man." This sort of thing was beginning to seem like his "signature."
The next weirdness was that I located by accident an old issue of "Famous Monsters" (issue #20) and discovered that Forry had signed it for me in an unusual way. On the table of contents page, he signed "Hoo-Ray for Harryhausen and Paul Davids." Ray is Harryhausen's first name, and there was an article in the issue about Ray Harryhausen. So Forry had once again found the "name within the word"-- "Hooray"--and highlighted it (as in the name Moe being in the name Amodei). Later, to my total shock, someone pointed out to me that the first entry in the table of contents of that magazine, right below the signature, said: THE INVISIBLE INK MEN STRIKE AGAIN!
I was astonished. The autograph had been signed there about two years before FJA had died. How could there have been a coincidence so unlikely? And neither of us could have known, at that moment, that the concept of an "Invisible Ink Man" would later literally haunt me. That is not a phrase that appears anywhere else in any other issue of "Famous Monsters" that I have ever seen, and I have read them all. If that was coincidence, we must be talking about a trillion-to- one odds
There is one more mystery that just struck this week. Beginning on page 17 of the "Fate" magazine with the original version of this article, there is a very bizarre misprint on the first page of my article: A paragraph about the L. J. Dopp painting that predicted the exact minute of Forry's passing is suddenly interrupted by garbled text. An email to me from David Godwin, an editor of "Fate," says, "I apologize for the massive screwup. I have no idea how it happened. It went through two proofreaders, too, in addition to at least two editors." So what did cause that very noticeable printing mistake that calls attention to the incident that started me on this investigation? And how did it escape the attention of two proofreaders and two editors?
The experiences I've described here, beginning with the document obliteration, led me to seek out many people who felt they had visits from departed spirits, all of which is documented in my forthcoming documentary, "The Life After Death Project." The focus of the new film is squarely on the question of evidence for life after death--specifically, cases of apparent communication from deceased persons. Anne Strieber is the Executive Producer of "The Life After Death Project," along with Hollace Davids. Anne brought many other people into the project who could shed light on these kinds of anomalies, and so I filmed interviews with people such as Dannion Brinkley (author of "Saved by the Light"), scientist Dr. Gary Schwartz, psychic Glennys MacKay, Dr. John Lerma and noted author Richard Matheson ("What Dreams May Come," "I Am Legend"). The film is now in post- production.
I also include a skeptic in the forthcoming film, a science- minded friend named Mark Von Hanau, who, when it comes to apparent paranormal activities, will have none of it. Mark insists that if someone deceased were really to send a message to a still-living friend, it would be entirely unambiguous. "Why didn't he prove that he was sending you a message from beyond?" he asks me. "Why didn't he write down that it was Forrest J. Ackerman contacting you from the Other Side and then put down his social security number? Why is it that these stories are always ambiguous? Why, why, why?"