When my husband, Mason, was visiting his dad in Central City during Christmas one year, he awoke to his mother’s voice, calling him downstairs for breakfast as she had done every day of his childhood. The only difference was she had passed away years earlier.
Hard to explain.
But Mason swore his mother had spoken to him.
If that wasn’t odd enough, our oldest daughter, Ruby, woke up crying one night when she was a toddler. When we checked on her, she explained she was OK, that her grandma had read her “The Little Red Hen.”
Ruby retold the story, punctuating the “I’ll do it myself, said the little red hen, and she did,” just like Mason remembers his mom enacting it for him.
However, Alma died before Ruby was even born, yet Ruby accurately described her as the tall, blonde grandma, not the short dark-haired one.
Perhaps you’ve experienced your own paranormal or supernatural encounters.
Seen a ghost.
Communed with a spirit.
Witnessed a miracle.
Spotted a UFO.
Something that science can’t entirely explain.
You’re not alone.
Artists around the country have been influenced by otherworldly contacts, hauntings and healings, along with alien activity on Earth. These encounters are reflected in their work, some of which is on display at The Speed Museum in Louisville.
With our own experiences, and a profound interest in cryptids, monsters and aliens, Mason and I were drawn to the exhibit like Mothman to a flame.
There are 200 objects in the show, “Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art,” which was five years in the making.
It’s the largest display The Speed has undertaken, and they’ve done an amazing job, organizing it into four sections: America as a Haunted Place, Apparitions, Channeling Spirits/Rituals and Plural Universes.
It’s no mystery why America is a haunted place.
Lingering spirits can’t resolve the troubling issues that traumatized them. Things like fighting in wars. Plus societal injustices like slavery, genocide, witch trials and Manifest Destiny, which forced Native Americans off their land.
I found two pieces that, to me, truly represented the angst of spirits trapped by horrific circumstances.
“The Night Before the Battle,” was painted in 1865 by Union soldier James Henry Beard, an eyewitness to the personal devastation of war on those fighting the battles. The painting portrays two armies from the same side—one living, the other dead.
The living soldiers are trying to rest before engaging the enemy the next day. But they realize they could be killed in a matter of hours, so they’ve pinned their names to their clothes so their bodies can be identified. A skeleton soldier stands near a cannon, ready to light the fuse and begin the battle which will claim so many lives.
The Winchester House, in San Jose, Calif., also depicts the depth of someone’s grief over the countless deaths caused by the Winchester repeating rifle.
The founder’s widow, Sara, was haunted by the senseless violence the guns caused, and the lives lost. She tried to make amends by communicating with the victims’ spirits through séances, and by supervising some bizarre additions to her 160-room home, including 40 stairways—some leading nowhere, and 2,000 doors—some which open onto walls, not rooms.
Mrs. Winchester was among those who believed in “Spiritualism,” where no one actually dies, they just transcend to a different realm once they leave this life. And, some of those who have passed are willing to communicate with the living—in different ways.
The Speed exhibit has artwork where spirits allegedly did the actual painting, using the artist as their instrument. The artist might work in a trance-like state while the spirit controls their hands and creates the piece.
Quite a collaborative effort.
Apparitions are another story altogether.
The exhibit raises the questions: Are they hallucinations? Or, an energy aura of someone from a different realm who shed their physical body and jetted off to places they couldn’t reach while encumbered by flesh and bones?
Artists displayed in the “Plural Universes” section believe they’ve had personal experiences with UFOs or the spirit realm. This could be anything from an alien encounter or contact with a spirit moving back-and-forth between realms, popping in for a quick visit.
At the end of the exhibit, guests are invited to leave a note about their own supernatural experiences.
One writer mentioned talking to another person through mirrors—someone they consider a friend and protector. Another warns us that “The paranormal is normal. It is there, everybody, all around you.” This is punctuated by a childish drawing of a ghost.
My favorite was from someone who believes in the supernatural because, “I’m a ghost.”
If you want to see The Speed exhibit, do it before it closes Jan. 2 or be haunted by the fact you missed a spirited opportunity for a supernatural experience.