Ghostly Beings

Spirits of the dead

According to the "USA Snapshots" feature in the April 20, 1998, issue of USA Today, 52 percent of adult Americans believe that encounters with the dead are possible. In his 1994 analysis of a national sociological survey, Jeffrey S. Levin, an associate professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School, found that twothirds of Americans claimed to have had at least one mystical experience. Of that remarkably high number, 39.9 percent said that they had an encounter with a ghost or had achieved contact with the spirit of a deceased person. According to a survey published in the December 1997 issue of Self, 85 percent of its readers believed in the reality of communication with the spirit world.

The more that is learned of the remarkable powers of the human psyche, the more difficult it is to prove that one has actually made contact with a spirit of a deceased person, rather than experienced some facet of extrasensory perception, such as clairvoyance or telepathy. In order for psychical researchers to consider accounts of alleged communication with the dead to be authentic, they must first of all be veridical; that is, they must relate to an actual event that was occurring, had occurred, or would occur. In addition, these cases must each contain an independent witness who could further testify to the truth and import of the experience. The account of James Chaffin's will is a case that truly seems suggestive of survival of the human personality after death.

On September 7, 1921, James Chaffin of Davie County, North Carolina, died as the result of a fall. A farmer, Chaffin was survived by his widow and four sons, but the will that he had had duly attested by two witnesses on November 16, 1905, left all of his property to the third son, Marshall.

One night in the latter part of June 1925, four years after James Chaffin's death, James Pinkney Chaffin, the farmer's second son, saw the spirit figure of the deceased standing at his bedside and heard the specter tell of another will. According to the son, his father had appeared dressed as he often had in life. "You will find the will in my overcoat pocket," the spirit figure said, taking hold of the garment and pulling it back.

The next morning James Pinkney Chaffin arose convinced he had seen and heard his father and that the spirit had visited him for the purpose of correcting some error. His father's black overcoat had been passed on to John Chaffin, so James traveled to Yadkin County to examine the pocket to which the spirit had made reference. The two brothers found that the lining of the inside pocket had been sewn together, and when they cut the stitches, they found a roll of paper that bore the message: "Read the 27th chapter of Genesis in my daddie's [sic] Old Bible."

James P. Chaffin was then convinced that the specter had spoken truthfully, and he brought witnesses with him to the home of his mother where, after some search, they located the dilapidated old Bible in the top drawer of a dresser in an upstairs room. One of the witnesses found the will in a pocket that had been formed by folding two of the Bible's pages together.

The new will had been made by James Chaffin on January 16, 1919, 14 years after the first will. In this testament, the farmer stated that he desired his property to be divided equally among his four sons with the admonition that they provide for their mother as long as she lived.

Although the second will had not been attested, it would, under North Carolina law, be considered valid because it had been written throughout in James Chaffin's own handwriting. All that remained was to present sufficient evidence that the hand that had written the second will was, without doubt, that of the deceased.

Marshall Chaffin, the sole beneficiary under the conditions of the old will, had passed away within a year of his father, nearly four years before the spirit of James Chaffin had appeared to his second son, James Pinkney Chaffin. Marshall's widow and son prepared to contest the validity of the second will, and the residents of the county began to look forward to a long and bitter court battle between members of the Chaffin family. The scandal mongers were immensely disappointed when 10 witnesses arrived in the courtroom prepared to give evidence that the second will was in James Chaffin's handwriting. After seeing the will, Marshall Chaffin's wife and son immediately withdrew their opposition. It seemed evident that they, too, believed the will had been written in the hand of the testator.

James Pinkney Chaffin later told an investigator for the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research that his father had appeared to him before the trial and told him that the lawsuit would be terminated in such a manner. "Many of my friends do not believe it is possible for the living to hold communication with the dead," James Pinkney Chaffin said, "but I am convinced that my father actually appeared to me on these several occasions and I shall believe it to the day of my death."

It seems strange that James Chaffin should have kept the second will secret, especially in view of the subsequent claim that his disturbed spirit came back from beyond the grave to right the wrong that had been done to his

Joel Grey and Patrick Stewart in the television production of "The Christmas Carol." (THE KOBAL COLLECTION)
Joel Grey and Patrick Stewart in the television production of "The Christmas Carol." (
widow and three disinherited sons. Perhaps the farmer had intended some sort of deathbed revelation and had these plans go unrealized when his life was cut short by accident.

Society for Psychical Research investigators were unable to establish any kind of case for a subconscious knowledge of the will in the old Bible or of the message in the coat pocket. Fraud must be ruled out because of the ease in which 10 reliable witnesses, well-acquainted with James Chaffin's handwriting, could be summoned to testify to the authenticity of the handwriting in the will. Charges of a fake will would seem to be further negated by the immediate withdrawal from the contest of Marshall Chaffin's widow and son once they were allowed to examine the document. Evidently they, too, recognized the handwriting of the elder Chaffin.

The Journal's summation of the strange case of James Chaffin's will stated the difficulty in attempting to explain the case along normal lines. For those willing to accept a supernormal explanation of the event, it should be noted that the Chaffin case is of a comparatively infrequent type, in which more than one of the witness's senses is affected by the spirit. J. P. Chaffin both "saw" his father's spirit and "heard" him speak. The auditory information provided by the spirit was not strictly accurate, for what was in the overcoat pocket was not the second will, but a clue to its whereabouts. But the practical result was the same.

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