Getting into the spirit of the paranormal

BELLEVILLE –

How do you get 130+ high school students to sit in absolute silence, listening with rapt attention to a guest speaker for  2 1/2 hours? It’s easy if that speaker is Kearny psychic Karl Petry, who worked his magic at Belleville High School last Friday afternoon (Jan. 13).

Petry has been presenting programs to Belleville juniors and seniors for more than a half-dozen years, at the invitation of English teacher Karen McLean, who had developed a course in Paranormal Literature. In introducing Petry on Friday, she told the young audience in the Connie Francis Auditorium: “This is probably the most exciting day you will have in your high school career.”

The best way to explain that is to quote from the cover notes of Petry’s recently published book, “Absent Witness”: “Karl Petry was born with an unusual ability to see and communicate with the dead, see into the past, and touch the troubled hearts of the living.  Throughout his life, he has helped people reconnect with loved ones who have passed and resolve their grief. He has also given a voice to the dead who wish to be heard and who have urgent messages and stories to tell.”

In his program, he covered all of that, and more. One of the fascinating stories involves the ghost of a woman who had been haunting a home in Kearny. Petry had used his skills to identify her by name, uncover the personal history of her life — which was basically defined by loneliness, cruelty and heartache — and eventually to personally witness her spirit finally “cross over” to the afterlife. Petry was even able to locate her grave in Kearny’s Arlington Cemetery — after she directed him to it.

(Speaking of cemeteries, through conversations with Petry we have learned that contrary to popular belief, they are usually not haunted. “Why would a ghost want to hang around a cemetery?” he noted. Think about it.)

What the psychic sometimes does see when he visits cemeteries are images of mourners attending some long-ago funeral. These are not ghosts, but ”imprints” — psychic remnants of the past.

Imprinting also explains certain “hauntings.” An entity seen in someone’s home or some old building may not be a ghost at all but simply the image of an individual who had once occupied the premises. For whatever reason — an emotional crisis or just the person’s habitual habitation — their energy was imprinted on the location and exists there long after he or she has left this world.

Not all imprints involve humans. Petry told of visiting Gettysburg and, accompanied by park rangers, was taken to a remote area of the battlefield that visitors rarely see. What Petry (and only Petry) saw there were thousands of horses in a field. The rangers confirmed that it had been the staging ground for the Union cavalry. The horses were not ghosts, but imprints.

In “Absent Witness,” Petry recalls sitting in the Dunkin’ Donuts on Washington Ave. in Nutley, when suddenly the sounds in the store faded into complete silence and what Petry saw out the window was the avenue “as it looked in the late 1920s or early 1930s … two Model A cars passing each other on this cobblestone street” and countless wires “suspended from poles, running in all directions.”

He writes that the imprint lasted only about five seconds, then everything returned to the present.

The most frightening experience he recounted on Friday involved something called a “time slip,” which is when a person actually travels into the past. Petry’s occurred in a cemetery when, as had sometimes happened, he could see mourners from a long-past funeral. But this time, something was different. “The people at the gravesite were looking at me,” he said. “I was interacting with people from 200 years ago.”

His reaction? “I was terrified.”  He thought, “What happens if I’m stuck here? What happens if I can’t get back? I was never so scared in my life.” Luckily, “then things started to fade.” He was back in the present. But it took him 14 years before he visited that particular graveyard again. Petry added, “I’ve been in one time slip and I never want another one.”

Petry has had his psychic abilities since he was a child growing up in Down Neck Newark, but, for obvious reasons, it took him years to talk about them.  As an adult, he was introduced to the Parapsychology Foundation in Manhattan, where he finally encountered kindred spirits (no pun intended) and began using his psychic talents to help others. And unlike some “professional mediums,” he does not charge for his services.

Petry ended the HS program (which, by the way, included multitudinous other paranormal topics) by donning dark glasses — the better not to see the facial reactions of the students — walking around the auditorium and “reading” the thoughts of those that came through most strongly. And he specifically asked that no one react with a, “That’s me!”

But afterward, students who wished could speak with him one-on-one. We did not cover that since it might involve personal matters, but there must have been a lot of curious teens, since that session lasted at least another hour.

If you are interested in learning more about Petry and the paranormal, we recommend “Absent Witness” (which McLean co-edited). You can find it on Amazon. There is also an “Absent Witness” Facebook page focusing on the book-based TV show now in production.

Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent