Spoken Word: Grady Hendrix’s “Summerland Lost: A Ghost Story in Progress” – 2016 Fantasia Film Festival

[Ed. Note: Grady Hendrix and the author were among the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival in 2001 and continue to serve together on the festival’s Board of Directors.]

Author Grady Hendrix (Horrorstör, My Best Friend’s Exorcism) is an entertaining writer, a charismatic speaker and a wonderfully engaging storyteller. Among his latest creations is a spoken word piece called “Summerland Lost: A Ghost Story in Progress,” detailing the history of Spiritualism in the U.S., starting with 15-year-old Maggie Fox and her 11-year-old sister, Kate.  In 1848, the sisters’ ability to communicate with the dead via “spirit rapping” (spirits would respond to their questions via a sequence of unseen, but clearly heard, knocks) not only popularized Spiritualism, but also led to​ the empowerment of women​;​​ ​public challenges against racist, sexist and patriarchal thinking​; ​a rather significant transfer of wealth from​ men ​to women, and – oh yeah – shaved cats.

While inspiring many – primarily women – to follow in their footsteps, the sisters also angered disbelievers – primarily men – whose ranks included men of science and/or exulted position like Louis Agassiz, who famously expressed revulsion upon meeting a black man for the first time, believing them to belong to a lesser species than himself. This, he argued, was provable science, not dangerous poppycock the likes of which he judged the Fox sisters guilty of.

After expressing remorse over the relentless drive ​of many ​to discredit the Fox sisters who – falling out of favor – would die in poverty, Hendrix turns out the lights. Illuminated by only a candle, Hendrix gets personal. He speaks of a beloved pet. He speaks of death. And touchingly, he speaks of the beauty of belief, however implausible, during one’s final hour.

“Summerland Lost: A Ghost Story in Progress” was performed at the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival on Monday, July 25.