Previously: Is “Dear David” Real? (Part 1)
Somewhat unexpectedly, the “Dear David” ghost story unfolding on Twitter is not only still going, but also still captivating the general public in some pretty astonishing ways. There have been a number of developments since the last time we took a look at the tale on TGIMM, so for anyone still wondering, “Is Dear David real?”, here’s the latest.
To recap: Illustrator and writer Adam Ellis, who lives in New York, has been tweeting an ongoing story since Aug. 7 purporting to document an alleged haunting going on in his apartment. He believes the ghost is called “Dear David” — and that it’s malicious. I’ve been covering the story elsewhere as well as here at TGIMM, so for a complete summary of what’s occurred so far, try here and here; you can also follow along on the Storify Ellis created to keep track of things (although note that as of this writing, it hasn’t been updated with anything beyond Aug. 15), or just head on over to Ellis’ Twitter page.
For anyone who’s been concerned about Ellis, good news: As of Aug. 31, he’s still alive and well, if a little shaken:
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at what might be behind all of the things that have happened to him since my last post. Again, I’m not saying that the story is necessarily a hoax; nor are any of the below theories meant to be a be-all, end-all debunking of the whole thing. They’re just a handful of possible explanations (among many, many others).
[Like what you read? Check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available from Chronicle Books now!]
I tend to approach weird phenomena from a perspective of trying to see if there are earthly ways to explain it before I start to rely too heavily on the possibility of it being supernatural; if you do, too, here are a few ideas:
(EDIT 9/25: Head here for Part 3!)
(EDIT 11/13: Part 4 is here!)
(EDIT 1/8/18: And head here for Part 5!)
(EDIT 3/19: Part 6 is here!)
(EDIT 6/6: A “Dear David” movie has been announced.)
The Polaroid Videos
I almost included this point in my last post, but ended up cutting it; the more I thought about it, though, the more I started to feel like maybe I should address it, so here we go. The point is this: As a few of you have pointed out, yes, we do see Ellis take two of the Polaroids, one of which develops normally and one of which develops black; he posted two videos on Aug. 14 showing this process. Here’s the first one:
And here’s the second:
The first one is the one that develops into an actual picture, while the second is the one that just ends up looking like a giant black void. However, I still think my point about possibly being able to exploit something with the Instax camera’s brightness settings is a viable explanation for the difference between the photos — and the reason why is the fact that we see the photos being taken over two videos, not just one.
If what the videos show had been posted as a single, solitary clip, I’d be more likely to believe the photos aren’t the result of a purposeful manipulation; it’d be a lot harder to carry that kind of deception off. But since we’re looking at two videos, consider this: As viewers, we assume that the second video follows directly after the first one; maybe the reason for posting them both separately had to do with length, or file size, or Twitter’s limitations, or all of the above. However, we don’t necessarily know that they directly follow one another; there’s a gap between them during which any number of things could have been done to make the second photo come out black. Indeed, where the second video picks up isn’t even immediately after where the last one leaves off — Ellis has moved to a position by his front door. I can’t help but wonder what we didn’t see during that gap between the end of video one and the beginning of video two.
This is all just a theory, of course; if I owned an Instax, I’d do some experimenting to see if I could recreate what I think might be happening, but alas, I do not have one, and I do not feel the need to drop $60 on a toy I probably won’t use very much. (If any of you have one and feel compelled to play around with it a bit, though, Gentle Readers, do let me know what you find.)
The Pet Cam Videos
Ellis is going on vacation in a few weeks, so, according to his posts from Aug. 28, he got a pet cam so he can keep an eye on his cats while he’s gone. Of course, though, when he tested out the camera for the first time, it recorded some… unusual occurrences.
The camera system pings Ellis’ phone when it detects sound and movement — and two of the notifications he got during the test showed a chair moving on its own:
And a turtle shell falling off the wall, also seemingly of its own accord:
(Note, too, that the chair is the green rocking chair in which Dear David first appeared; Ellis tweeted at the start of the pet cam thread that he’d moved it out of his bedroom. He also said that he thinks he should probably get rid of it, but he’s not sure whether doing so would actually accomplish anything.)
Personally, though, I’m rarely convinced by poltergeist-style videos, because this stuff is really, really easy to fake. It can be done low-budget, with string and maybe some editing to hide your tracks; or, it can be done with a higher budget, using remote controlled devices to trigger the “ghost activity.”
Want some examples? Happy to oblige. Duck of Truth on YouTube has a ton of great debunking videos; this one tackles a particularly complex kitchen “haunting” and explains how it can all be done with wires and editing. Meanwhile, this video from YouTuber pyroshnid instructs users on how to build a remote gate release device for a haunted house. It’s easy to see how the techniques in either or both of these videos might be employed to make a chair move seemingly on its own or knock a shell off the wall.
Again, I’m not saying that the Dear David story is necessarily fake — but my point is that everything we’ve seen in it could be easily manufactured by human means. Remember, too, that we’re seeing it all unfold within a narrative framework — a well-constructed narrative framework, yes (I mean, heck, this is a riveting story), but a narrative framework nonetheless. The argument for it being a piece of experimental storytelling is pretty strong, I think.
The Blue Chair
There’s one more thing to discuss about the pet cam videos, though: The blue chair. Some followers on Twitter compared the two videos and thought that they saw a blue chair present in the first video vanish in the second. Here’s what Ellis posted when folks brought this possibility to his attention:
But when he took that opportunity to see if the chair was actually still in his apartment at that very minute, he found that it was:
And then other folks pointed out that the chair actually was present in both videos; the lighting just changed between them such that it made the chair look like it had disappeared:
And indeed, that last set of followers is correct. If you take the two screenshots Ellis initially posted and run the second one through a photo editing program, you can brighten it up considerably — and doing so reveals that the chair is still there. I did it myself:
And so did some other Twitter users:
(You don’t need to be proficient in Photoshop to try this yourself, by the way; since this wasn’t a huge edit, I actually just opted for Picmonkey. Picmonkey takes a less time than Photoshop does, so it’s my tool of choice for quick-and-dirty photo manipulation. Once you load up the photo, just scroll down to “Exposure” and dial the brightness way up. You can sharpen up the contrast by playing around with the other “Exposure” settings, as well.)
As such, I’m confident that the “disappearing” chair is just a fluke.
The Warehouse Dream, The Repair Depot, And The Phone Calls
I’m not going to dwell too much on these details for one reason and one reason only: There isn’t really any hard evidence to analyze. That narrative framework I mentioned in the section on the pet cam videos? That’s what’s primarily at play here: Other than a couple of images adding a little spice to the tale, all we have when it comes to the dream about Dear David pulling Ellis through a warehouse, the visit to the actual warehouse, and the weird phone calls Ellis has been receiving is what he says happened. We don’t have audio recordings of the phone calls; we just have pictures of an empty warehouse, a photo of a bruise (which, as Ellis himself pointed out, could be explained by a lot of things — maybe he just wacked his arm on something during the day and didn’t realize it until later; maybe it’s FX makeup; and so on and so forth), and an image that looks like a screenshot (but which could very easily be manufactured by other means). These aren’t concrete enough for us to draw any conclusions from; they just help bolster the story from a purely narrative perspective.
For what it’s worth, I’m fairly certain I know where in town the warehouse is located — alas, though, since I don’t live in New York anymore, I can’t go check it out myself. If I did, you’d better believe I’d have already hit the pavement over the weekend in an attempt to find it.
Other Photographic Anomalies
I’ve already pointed out that I think it’s likely the weird stuff people have been spotting in Ellis’ photos are a result of pareidolia, but for the sake of completeness, here are a couple of other things folks think they’ve found since the last time we talked about it.
Twitter user Craig Donaghy (in, alas, a now-deleted tweet once located here) used a photo editing program to brighten up the photo of the green chair in the warehouse and thinks he might have found some orbs in it. Whether or not this development is convincing depends on how you feel about orbs: If you believe that they’re evidence of spirit activity, then you’ll probably find the argument convincing. If you think they’re pretty much always just dust or moisture or something, then you probably won’t. I fall in the latter category, but that’s just me.
A couple of Twitter users zoomed in on a section of the Polaroid Ellis posted of his bedroom and found what they think is possibly a demon lurking in the closet. I think it’s likely just light reflecting oddly.
A Figure In The Doorway:
Now this one is cool: A ton of followers did some experimenting with the Polaroid of Ellis’ living room in which the doorway is completely black and found what looks kind of like a shadowy figure lurking in it. Of all of the weird photo anomalies, this one is my favorite; even though I can think of a variety of non-paranormal explanations for it, it’s eerie and weird and I love it.
Where We Are Now
My opinion still hasn’t changed; I don’t think we’re looking at an honest-to-goodness haunting here (or at the appearance of a demon, or anything else supernatural). I do, however, think we’re looking at a masterful piece of storytelling in the digital age — and I love it. It’s a terrific example of how to harness the technology we have available to us now in order to truly bring a story to life; the way it involves its audience is magnificent. Longtime readers will probably remember that my background is in theatre; really good storytelling will always be my first love, and I think Dear David is just fantastic.
Keep following along at Ellis’ Twitter page and Storify.
Follow The Ghost In My Machine on Twitter @GhostMachine13 and on Facebook @TheGhostInMyMachine. And don’t forget to check out Dangerous Games To Play In The Dark, available now from Chronicle Books!
[Photos via HypnoArt/Pixabay; Screenshot/Twitter, remixed by Lucia Peters]