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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

March 20, 1994|DICK RORABACK

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF GHOSTS AND SPIRITS by John and Anne Spencer (Trafalgar Square: $39.95; 416 pp.) President Coolidge's wife saw Abraham Lincoln in the Oval Office. So did visiting Queen Wilhelmina. His funeral train annually passes through Albany, the local newspaper reports. Goethe saw himself eight years in the future. Dylan Thomas throws stones at the Old Boat House in Wales. An entire Paris street scene appears regularly in Haiti. A motorist killed in a tunnel collapse in Italy's South Tyrol still tools about in his gray Audi. A poltergeist pours water on a just-completed tax form. (Try that on the IRS.)

Some of the above are authenticated; most are not. It's the not that draws you into the book. The somewhat stodgy tone, the skepticism, the disclaimers of John and Anne Spencer lend credence to what they have found to be valid. One report on ghosts is "good drama but far too neatly tied up." In another it is "difficult to separate reality and legend." An entire chapter is "likely to contain no genuine ghosts." As a matter of fact, they write, 98% of reports of "haunting" can be attributed to "something quite mundane."

Ah, but the 2%!

Whatever your prepossession, the encyclopedia is a compelling guide to dopplegangers and vardogers, presences and poltergeists, "omens of death" and "time slips" (who is out of time? us or the ghosts?) and even provides a list of ghost-hunting equipment. Don't forget batteries! In at least one instance, a revenant agreed to be photographed. Alas, "The spirit was willing but the flash was weak."

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