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For those pondering the possibility of life after death, an important question arises: If spirits of the dead exist, is there a way to communicate with them? To answer this, many have looked to technology. And, strangely enough, there are reports of technology – in particular telephone calls – supposedly being used from beyond the grave.
In some reports, phantom phone calls are associated with the number 000-000-0000. People have described receiving calls from this unusual number at or around the time of funerals, only to answer the call and hear static. Unable to explain the source of the call, they have been left wondering if it was their deceased loved one, trying to speak with them one last time. 1
“A day before my cousin’s funeral I received a call showing 0000000000. I was scared, so I told my cousin to answer. All she heard was static and after saying, ‘Hello’ two times the phone hung up.” – Michelle 2
In other cases, however, actual messages are delivered, with many believing that they are speaking with a living person – and not someone who has passed away.
Perhaps surprisingly, telephone calls from the dead are a hot topic of research for some scientists, including psychologist Dr. Callum Cooper of the University of Northampton. According to him, the phenomenon of phantom phone calls is “starting to get more and more complex with all the new technology we’re creating.”
“If you go back to the earlier stuff, you’ve got landline telephone, but now we’ve got mobile phones, we’ve got text messages, we’ve got emails.” – Dr. Callum Cooper 3
Early cases of phone calls from the dead
David Wilson’s Morse code messages
One of the earliest reports of phantom phone calls dates back to the early twentieth century, when a London solicitor, David Wilson, received bizarre messages on a machine he had made himself from a wireless telegraph. Devised to use the Morse code system, Wilson’s communication machine first received strange messages in 1913 when used by his friend. The signals were delivered in Morse as audible beeps. Astonishingly, the device continued to relay messages even after the receiving wire had been disconnected. 4
With the help of a second witness, Wilson translated each message as they came through.
The telephonic messages the machine received appeared to be meaningful. In January 1915, this was received:
“Great difficulty, await message, five days, six evening.”
Similar instructional phrases like, “wait until next Tuesday”, also came through.5 However, despite waiting, nothing ever happened that illuminated on the messages’ meanings. Confused as to why he was receiving such messages without any input, the solicitor invited researchers to inspect his machine and try to explain the source of the Morse code. No explanation, and no source of the signal, could be found.
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After publishing his experiments, David Wilson and his Morse communications disappeared from the records. 6
The case of David Wilson inspired others to ponder on the possibility of electronic communications being delivered from beyond the grave. Some took the idea further, purposefully constructing machines to aid in interdimensional communication.
Francis Grierson’s “psycho-phone”
From 1920 to 1921, the English-born psychic medium and composer Francis Grierson (who gave demonstrations under his stage name, Jesse Shepard) claimed to have had detailed conversations with spirits on the other side by means of a “psycho-phone”. Far from speaking with any old ordinary Joe, Grierson published transcripts of conversations with Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin. The conversations were extensive and intelligent, and – by deviating from contemporary popular opinions – seemed to suggest insight and opinion unconstrained by the time in which they were received. 7
“The psycho-phonic waves, by which the messages were imparted, are as definite as those received by wireless methods.” – Francis Grierson8
As unbelievable as Grierson’s reports may seem, he was far from alone in his claims. Telephonic communication experiments were something of a trend in the 1920s.
F.R. Melton’s “psychic telephone”
With the help of his eldest son, British psychical researcher F.R. Melton designed and built a psychic telephone in an attempt to converse with the dead. He even published a pamphlet in 1921, titled A Psychic Telephone: Its Construction, the Laws and Conditions that Govern Its Use, which described, in detail, the different components of the machine. As well as containing expected elements, including a transmitter, receiver and a battery, Melton’s design included a balloon at the centre which was filled with the breath of a psychic medium. 9
Thomas Edison’s spirit phone
In 1920, during an interview for Scientific American, inventor Thomas Edison discussed his plans to construct a similar machine.
“I do claim that it is possible to construct an apparatus which will be so delicate that if there are personalities in another existence or sphere who wish to get in touch with us in this existence or sphere, this apparatus will at least give them a better opportunity to express themselves than tilting tables and raps and Ouija boards and mediums and other crude methods now purported to be the only means of communication.”10
When Edison died in 1931, the fate of this invention was unknown. Some records suggest that he did indeed build a spirit phone, but that it had failed to produce results. Whatever the case may be, no blueprints for any such apparatus designed by Edison are known to exist. 11
In modern times, one can see the use of so-called Ghost Boxes, EVP recorders, and other electronic communication based “ghost hunting” devices, as a continuation of the ideas proposed by inventors like Melton and Edison.
Spontaneous cases of phone calls from the dead
For all of the effort expended by those actively seeking telephonic conversation with the other side, it seems that some of the most compelling cases of phone calls from the dead have happened spontaneously, often involving people who do not realise that the person who they believe they are speaking with is dead.
Madeleine White and her friend Edie
In 1981, parapsychologists E.E. McAdams and Raymond Bayless published just such a case which dated back to 1978. The report described how Madeleine White had returned home from work one evening to be told by her son, John, that an old friend of hers had called. Madeleine stated that she hadn’t seen or spoken to her friend, Edie, or her husband in several years. Regardless, the following day her son told her that Edie had called again. When Madeleine asked if she had left a number, John told her that she hadn’t, but that she had said that she would call back.
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The next day, Edie called again. When John asked for her phone number, so that his mother could phone her back, Edie simply said, “It doesn’t matter.” Later, concerned, Madeleine phoned a mutual friend who gave her Edie’s number. Upon phoning, Edie’s husband answered. When Madeleine asked to speak with Edie, she was met with silence. Edie’s husband told her that Edie had died three days ago of a cerebral haemorrhage.
After that, Madeleine never received another phone call from anyone named Edie. The calls stopped the day that she was buried. 12
The intended recipient of a call being unaware that the caller is dead has been reported by others.
Lizzie Partlett’s doubly impossible call
Another remarkable phantom phone call was described to a psychical researcher in the 1970s.
The submitter explained how, some years ago, he and his grandmother would often walk together into town, and back, always leaving her doors open. When his grandmother’s phone bill came out to be much higher than usual, she put in a request to have her phone line disconnected, believing that someone had been taking advantage of her doors being open, and sneaking in to use her phone. However, early one night, she received a phone call from her friend, Lizzie Partlett, in West Virginia. Her friend had told her that “she was going away but that everything was all right and that she could only say a few words”, but that she would hear about it in a few days time.
Understandably, the grandmother was confused as to why she had received the call when it was supposed to be disconnected. When she and her grandson contacted the operator, he reassured them that it was indeed disconnected. The lineman even came out the following evening, climbed the pole, and pointed out that the wire was not connected. Inside the house, the wire was also disconnected, meaning the connection was broken in two places.
Three days afterwards, the grandmother received a letter from the Partlett family, explaining that her friend, Lizzie, had died “in the early night of the day before the letter was written”.13
In all respects, the phone call was impossible. It appeared to have come from beyond the grave and received on a disconnected line. Other than branding the report as a hoax, it is extremely difficult to explain this case in terms other than the paranormal.
There seems to be an endless well of anecdotal evidence of phone calls from the dead. Yet, such reports are problematic. Not only do they rely on the truthfulness of those reporting them, but also their ability to perceive and accurately judge their own experiences. Regardless of these inherent issues, it is important to stress that anecdotal evidence of strange happenings should not be ignored altogether. There is still value in personal experience – especially when similar accounts are reported over and over again.
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As Dr. Callum Cooper has stated:
“Something seems to be going on, I can’t deny the fact that people have experiences, I can’t deny that some of the stuff does actually seem quite incredible and beyond rational explanation […] but what are the processes involved? That is something we are still trying to understand.” 14
A phantom voicemail message
Whilst spontaneous cases, by their very nature of being unexpected, are rarely ever recorded in real time, that is not to say that it has never happened.
On the 12th April 2011, a video was uploaded to YouTube which alledges to contain the audio of a peculiar voicemail message received two weeks before. According to the accompanying description, the uploader’s landline phone went to voicemail after only one ring. When she checked the voicemail message, she heard a lot of static, and then, a whispering voice.
The uploader believes that it says “grand-pa”.
Their grandfather had passed away just a few months earlier, on December 23rd, 2010, aged 101. 15
It seems that, as technology advances – bringing us voicemail, mobile phones, text messages, instant messaging and emails – so does the phenomenon of anomalous telephonic messages.
Paranormal text messages
Researcher Dr. John G. Combs claims to have received a series of paranormal text messages in 2009. Whilst working in his office, an old mobile phone, which had been abandoned in a office drawer, unused, for several years, turned itself on and received a text. The message read, “remember the anniversary”. On another occasion it did the same thing. This time the text message read, “remember the birthday”.
The first message had been received the day before the anniversary of his son’s passing. The second, the day before the anniversary of his mother’s death.
With no sender information, there was no explanation as to where the text messages had been sent from, or indeed how the phone – drained of power for several years – had turned on by itself. Strangely, the old phone did not even contain a SIM card, meaning that it should not have been able to send or receive information.16
When considering the possibility of a text message being received with the sender details withheld, or missing, some network providers have stated that this is impossible. 17
Is it the case that, as technology advances, spirits of the dead are provided with a wider range of mediums through which to send messages to the living? Some cases even suggest that phone calls from the dead have delivered meaningful messages, even when no words were exchanged.
Charles E. Peck’s final goodbye
On 12th September 2008, a Metrolink commuter train in Los Angeles crashed with a freight train. At least twenty-five people perished in the collision. More than 100 were injured. One of the passengers on the train was Charles E. Peck.
For eleven hours afterward the accident, a number of his family members received phone calls from Peck’s phone. His fiancée, his stepmother, his brother, his sister and his son all reported receiving calls. However, when they answered, all they heard was static. Returning the calls only went to voicemail. At total of thirty-five calls were made from Peck’s phone to his family after the crash. 18
The phone calls excited the rescue teams, who thought that Charles Peck might still be alive, and was simply too injured to speak when his family members answered his calls.
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An hour after the last call was made, rescuers found Peck. He had died upon impact.
“We gave [the rescuers] a description, and they spent the next couple of hours looking for him. They did end up finding him, and they said that he died immediately on impact and there was no way he could have been calling us.” – Andrea Katz, Peck’s fiancée
After examining the body, the coroner was unable to find signs that Peck had survived for any amount of time after the crash. The final call from Peck’s phone came at 3:28 am. His time of death was 4:22 pm the previous day. When the calls were made, he was already dead. Peck’s phone was never found. 19
“We were yelling in the phone, ‘Hang in there baby. We’re gonna get you out. You’re gonna be okay,'” – Andrea Katz, Peck’s fiancée20
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