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Battlefield Phantoms: Ghosts of War

An interview with Jeff Belanger on the spirits of world battles


Ghosts of War

Ghosts of War

Photo: New Page Books
We need good paranormal researchers. Thankfully, Jeff Belanger has entered the field. As the founder of GhostVillage.com and the author of such terrific books as The World’s Most Haunted Places, Communicating with the Dead, Encyclopedia of Haunted Places, and Our Haunted Lives, Jeff is quickly becoming a respected investigator, journalist, spokesperson and advocate for explaining the unexplained. His upcoming, ambitious Ghost World Conference is the beginning of an attempt to unite the paranormal community toward common goals. One of his most recent books is Ghosts of War: Restless Spirits of Soldiers, Spies, and Saboteurs, about which I interviewed him.

Q: You’ve been investigating ghosts and hauntings for a number of years. What got you interested in war-related ghosts in particular?

A: There’s definitely a pattern with haunted places. Locales that have seen tragedy, deaths, suicide, and other emotional and physical traumas seem to have more ghostly activity than more mundane locations. We can speculate as to the reason for this — perhaps the living witnesses are more attuned in these places, perhaps some kind of indelible supernatural mark was left on the very land, or maybe those who were involved in the profound event are still hanging around for some reason. Likely, it’s some combination of two or more of those reasons.

If places where tragedy took place are more likely to be haunted, then it would seem battlefields should be rife with ghosts. Battlefields are places where history left its mark, or scar, if you will. It’s hallowed ground. Sacred. These are powerful locations that have an effect on visitors who know and appreciate the history. I know they’ve had an effect on me.

Over the years I’ve received many e-mails from people who have had ghost encounters at various battlefields. Considering my love of history and of ghosts, it was natural for me to head toward battle sites. Plus, I come from a military family. Both my grandfathers served in World War II, and my father served in Vietnam.

Q: What’s the oldest war-related ghost you came across?

A: In Japan there is a seacoast town called Dan-no-Ura that was the site of the final battle between the Heike and Genji clans during the Gempei War back in 1185. During this epic battle, warships from both sides clashed off the shores of Dan-no-Ura. Outnumbered, the Heike clan saw their demise was imminent, so instead of facing capture, the young child emperor was scooped up by his grandmother and the two went overboard to drown.

The war and its final battle have spawned a wonderful legend that has been told through the ages by the biwa hoshi or “lute priests” (kind of a traveling minstrel). Around 1371, The Tale of the Heike was written down. The ghostly legend involves a blind biwa hoshi named Hoichi who was acclaimed for performing/telling The Tale of the Heike. Hoichi was summoned on three separate evenings to perform the tale for the ghosts of the Heike who died in battle. There is rich folklore involved in the details, and many generations of Japanese have heard the tale to the point where it’s simply understood that the shores of Dan-no-Ura are haunted.

Next page: Gettysburg and Famous Ghosts

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