A Pittsburgh native writes about his family's ghost story. | Books | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


A Pittsburgh native writes about his family's ghost story.


Journalists are supposed to be skeptics. They look for the provable details of actions and the reasons behind them. They want only those things that can be referenced, cited and repeated. For 15 years, this is what Steve Volk did. As a freelance journalist and on staff at publications such as In Pittsburgh Newsweekly and Philadelphia Weekly, the Pittsburgh native covered everything from music to city politics to education. But all along, there was something he was itching to write about; in his past, there was a ghost story. When he was 6 years old, his family's house began to thump. 

The sound would wake his entire family at night, and no one could agree on its origin. It wasn't the pipes; the house wasn't settling. Eventually his parents had the house blessed by a Catholic priest. The thumping continued. (In a phone interview, Volk declined to name the Pittsburgh neighborhood in question out of courtesy to the house's current resident.)

"The problem isn't that a story like that is odd," Volk says in the video trailer for his first book, Fringe-ology. "Lots of people report paranormal experiences, or at least experiences they take to be paranormal. The problem is [that] a story like that, for a reporter, is unacceptable." It fit into none of the handy boxes that we create, one labeled "Real" and another "Imaginary." Years after the fact, Volk and his considerable reporting skills still could not find a way to dismiss or explain away the story. He was there. How could he discount what he had witnessed?

Fringe-ology, released on June 7, is an effort to bridge this gap. And in working on his personal story, his paradigm expanded to larger swaths of the paranormal. His research took him into the world of spoon-benders, UFOs, telepaths, and more. What he discovered was that the fringe wasn't really all that abnormal. "There's a huge amount of people who feel these things," says Volk by phone from Philadelphia, where he's now a staffer for Philadelphia Magazine. But the people who speak up about such things are stigmatized for it. We block out the possibility of the unknown instead of embracing it.

Publisher Harper-Collins describes Fringe-ology as a "strange and unsettling trip into the heart of the paranormal." It's a place where, according to Volk, the believers can find some solid ground, and the skeptics can accrue a little faith.  

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