The Polaroid Phantom
GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT, "Spooked V: Innocence Lost." I need you to stay close, keep the lights turned on because today we're taking you on a semi-guided tour of the dark side. Our next story comes to us from the city of fake ghosts - Los Angeles. But hold on, don't worry, you're about to meet a real one.
JOHN HUCKERT: I had gotten a camera from my father for Christmas and - I don't know. I took some pictures with it, and it was cool to have a Polaroid camera. But I didn't really think about it. And then I was sitting in the house one afternoon. It was just an average day. And the bathroom door opened, and no one was home. So I sensed that the door was opening by itself. I took the camera, and I took a picture. Nothing showed up in the picture, and of course I felt kind of silly at the time. And I just went back to working.
And then I remember sensing something, and I looked up. And the bathroom door opened in front of me, and it seemed so demonstrative. So I got up, and I was actually nervous because something just felt like it was there. Something was in the air. Something was in the room with me, tingling kind of sensation. And I started shaking, and I picked up the camera to take a picture. And I actually took a picture of - like, I was shaking so bad, I took a picture of, like, the top of the television set or something. And then I was like, OK, OK, calm down, calm down (laughter). And then I took another picture, and that's when I got the first photograph of this experience.
They're Polaroid photographs, so you basically sit and watch them develop. And as it was developing, I just saw this - almost this stereotypical version of a ghost. It looked so, you know - the eyes - the big eyes and the screaming mouth and the sort of weird, wispy, you know, quality of it floating in the air. It's like going boo or something at you. And I remember, like, being really nervous about it, and then suddenly I thought, you know, this is - my dad messed with the camera or something. That's what this was about. And then I took another picture.
It was almost like a similar image, but it was like the thing in the first photograph had moved closer to me. And it was more like - it was larger. And then I started getting, like, nervous again (laughter). You know, I just kept going back and forth between incredulous and denial. And then when Matkowsky got home, I said, I have something I want to show you. What do you think about this? And I showed him the pictures.
JOHN MATKOWSKY: So he shows me these photos, and I'm like, wow, these are really cool. How did you do this? He goes, I just took these pictures. I didn't do it. It just was. No, you made this up. He says, here, take a picture.
HUCKERT: And I went over and stood in the - in what is now known as the vortex, but it's the area right in front of the bathroom. And he took the picture of me, and over top of me was this similar-type shape. But it was, like, larger and more strange. I felt out of control, like I didn't know what was happening. And I didn't know where to put it in my mind. Then we ran out of film.
After, like, a month of just sort of sitting with these photographs, we decided to go out and get some more film. We just thought, OK, well, here's the moment we find out whether this is real or not.
We try to take pictures when we'd sense something or feel something. We kind of describe it as, like, when you have, like, goose bumps or, like, a little bit of a sunburn. You kind of sense this tingly thing, and then that's when you take the picture. Half the time, we wouldn't get anything, but sometimes we would. And that encouraged us to keep getting more film. This was - what? - three or four months of this. It was too strange, and we were afraid people would think we were nuts. But then it just got to be too much to not tell anybody about it.
MATKOWSKY: I mean, how do you share this? Why would you - you know, people would think we're insane.
HUCKERT: Finally, we decided to invite a bunch of friends over and show them the photographs. We said we have something to tell you guys, and it's a little strange. But we want to share it with you. So we started showing them the pictures, and they're asking, you know, a thousand questions a mile a minute.
MATKOWSKY: One of our friends, he asked if he's here now - if whatever it was, was here now. And he says, well, let's take a picture.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMERA FLASH)
HUCKERT: Snapped a picture, and they were all watching it. Someone said, oh, my God. I think this is a word.
MATKOWSKY: You can see the word, yes, and that was the beginning of the communication.
HUCKERT: It's one thing to get, like, you know, ectoplasmic, fluffy, white things, and it's another to get communication, like an answer to our question. And then someone grabbed a camera and went, are you a - what was it? - are you a friend or...
MATKOWSKY: Are you a good ghost or a bad ghost?
HUCKERT: That's what it was.
MATKOWSKY: The photo came out - a single word in the middle of the room. It said friend. It was clear, not on the photo, in the photo.
HUCKERT: In the photo, yeah.
MATKOWSKY: They're actually in the photograph.
HUCKERT: They're, like, in the room, but it's like written in light and clouds kind of...
MATKOWSKY: Clear letters you could easily read. Like, when you asked him his name, you can clearly see it says Wright. W-R-I-G-H-T.
HUCKERT: So we asked, where do you go when you're not here? And we took a picture, and the photograph said flux. So we thought, oh, I guess he's in the flux, whatever that is.
>>MATKOWSKY There's one really interesting Polaroid. The question was, are you a ghost or spirit? Show us what you look like. And his answer was - he says in the Polaroid, not ready. So that was pretty interesting.
HUCKERT: When that happened, I was thinking, is he not ready, or does he think that we're not ready?
MATKOWSKY: With all the people there, it kind of validated us because we weren't insane, and this was happening in front of other people. We're not manipulating the camera or the film in any way. It was just...
HUCKERT: I think it changed a lot of people on a profound level, permanently. I remember for like a week just kind of walking around in a daze going, OK, what is this again? How do I fit this into the way I thought the world worked? We really had never intended to, I guess, go public with it. It was nothing we really thought about. And there was a new show on TV called "Sightings," and John was watching it. And they had this ghost thing on there, and they had a picture of some stuff. And John goes, that's not a ghost picture. This is a ghost picture. So he sent a copy in to the "Sightings" people. They called us up, and next thing you know, they want to do an hour-long satellite live show from the house.
After we did the "Sightings" episode, it seemed like suddenly we had offers to do quite a few different shows. They took the camera. They examined the camera. They took it to Polaroid. They examined it. They examined all the photographs. Yeah, through the years, there's been so many theories on how it's being done, how we do it, how we create the ghost images.
One of my favorite theories, someone said that how the photographs are done is that there's a little person in the basement and what happens is - is when you ask a question to the air, they type in in a computer, and it's projected out through lasers in the house that writes on the photograph instantly. When you start going on about, like, you know, like, well, they - it's real easy to just take a pen and write on the back of the Polaroid and it will come through. Has anybody ever tried that? 'Cause if you do - 'cause we tried it, we actually tried it. We took a pen, and it leaves marks. And it doesn't look like anything. It looks like someone took a pen and wrote on a Polaroid. I don't know what - how that theory has gone around and round and round.
I appreciated all the things the scientists and the FBI agent and everybody did - and the photographic expert - to try to disprove it. They even did, like, voice analysis of us to find out if we were, like - it was sort of a lie detector test kind of thing. He's here for us. He's not here to, like, exploit.
MATKOWSKY: We're not out to make anybody believe anything. This is what's happening to us.
HUCKERT: Pretty much we stopped all the interviews, especially 'cause there's always backlash to it.
MATKOWSKY: How we're charlatans and how it can be done and all this other stuff, that we're just - just trying to make a buck off this thing. And really, none of that's true. We're not making any money off this thing. It's a personal thing that we just happened to want to share a little bit off.
HUCKERT: There have been people who say, well, you know, we'll give you a hundred bucks if you let us come take a picture at your house. And that's something we would never do 'cause it's not about that.
MATKOWSKY: One of the most meaningful things for me and John, we're struggling writers. And we would get messages that tell us to persevere, to keep going and just continue what we're doing and something good will happen.
HUCKERT: As creative people, we faced a lot of self-doubt, and it can be crippling. At some point, we ask Wright, should we keep pursuing what we love even if it's hard? And he came back with a photograph. He said, dreams and destiny merge. And we thought, you know, it's not about, like, being successful at the moment. It's about dreaming things and allowing your destiny to present itself. It changed our perspective. The house has a way of letting you know that it's OK to be insecure, but to not ever give up.
MATKOWSKY: There's something - something special happening in my house. And it just makes you feel, like, small and just insignificant when it comes the whole world. You know, there's something bigger, something better, something grander.
WASHINGTON: Big thanks to John Huckert and John Matkowsky for sharing their story. Check out our website snapjudgment.org to see the actual Polaroid ghost photos and link to more information about the Polaroid ghost. Even find out with John and John are up to now. You're going to want to see this, snapjudgment.org. That story was produced by Anna Sussman with sound design by Pat Mesiti-Miller.
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