Meeting the Man with the Camera Brain: The Curious Case of Ted Serios

By Campbell, Calvin | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Meeting the Man with the Camera Brain: The Curious Case of Ted Serios


Campbell, Calvin, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


WHILE I DIDN'T EXACTLY SOAR EFFORTLESSLY through my teens and twenties, seizing the day and welcoming every sunrise and whatnot, life still unraveled mysteriously and with a charming lack of purpose. And then, at thirty, I wandered into a spiritual wilderness. Where a certain spontaneity had once been a fun if sometimes fickle guide, gray reason now usurped my ideals, and I became mired in a state of solipsistic glumness that was like teenage sorrow without the redeeming passion. With mortality now an increasingly real if distant reality, many in similar straits turn to religion, raising a family, or other similar time-honored sources of succor. That is, people grow up. But for some of us, there lingers a spark of hope that we have not been entirely abandoned by that more innocent, childish age. And so we enter into a race with that old devil Time--a frenzied determination to find something to believe in again before the clock turns out.

In the early 1960s in Denver, CO, psychiatrist Jule Eisenbud was wrestling similar demons. A firm believer in the untapped potential of the human mind, Eisenbud's frequent forays into the paranormal had nevertheless produced nothing in the way of concrete results. As long as empirical evidence was lacking, he said, no amount of anecdotal evidence could ever budge the stubborn fact that parapsychology would forever remain "the stepchild of science." Shortly after reaching this gloomy conclusion, he got wind of Ted Serios, an ex-bellhop from Chicago who claimed to possess the remarkable ability to imprint his thoughts onto Polaroid film using only the powers of his mind. The psychiatrist and the psychic met one evening in room 1320-W at Chicago's ritzy Palmer House hotel. Between double-orders of Scotch ("for my cold," said Serios), the impish psychic clutched a Polaroid Land type 100 camera, pointed the lens directly into his own face, clicked the shutter and restored the doctor's faith. Ted's thoughts seemed to bleed miraculously onto the film. Photograph after photograph slowly came to uncanny life, rendering the impossible in black and white: the Chicago Water Tower, a hotel that had burned down years before, haunting suggestions of other unknown structures. Eisenbud emerged from the meeting convinced that Serios could somehow seize a fleeting thought and materialize it for all to see.

Now it was the late 1990s, and for my old friend Dennis and me, merely contemplating the existence of a character like Serios was a salve for our shared spiritual dread. A self-described bum whose humble goals consisted of drinking, womanizing, and (without forsaking the first two goals) obtaining the occasional psychic photograph, Serios was the embodiment of hedonistic surrender. And yet, whether through some fluke of fate or a strange sense of duty, he was also man enough to take on the very laws of nature. And as far as we knew, no one in the thirty-odd years since he first made his mark had anyone successfully debunked his claims. Was Ted Serios living proof that one could stagger through life, stumble on a great discovery and find fame, all without losing one's seat at the bar? Was Serios the guardian of a metaphysical miracle that would turn science on its head? With fingers crossed and possibly while inebriated--we decided to contact Dr. Eisenbud.

"As far as your interviewing Ted, he's never cared for interviews." Jule Eisenbud's ancient voice crackled over the line. He relinquished Ted's phone number, but balked at surrendering his location. "He doesn't want to be disclosed. He has a bad police record." A new layer of intrigue arose. For a man on the lain, Ted was recklessly eager to jump back into the spotlight. In a series of lengthy, often rambling telephone conversations, he reassured Dennis and me that his powers, dormant for nearly thirty years, could erupt again at any time. And he wanted us to bear witness. With an old Polaroid camera and as much film as we could afford, we hit the highway, determined to resurrect the reputation of the man whom science had so cruelly neglected. …

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