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HANS HOLZER renowned parapsychologist, ghost hunter and occult author has written over one hundred books. In fact, he has been known to say, “one hundred thirty-eight and still coming.” Last year a few staff members were fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with Hans in his home. He entertained our questions, reminisced aloud on life well lived, and generally delighted us with an unguarded openness and a dry sense of humor. Although we can’t reproduce the twinkle in his eye, his ready smile or his soft Austrian accent on these pages, we can provide you with the lion’s share of our conversation.
Hans, we know you’re a native of Austria. What are the circumstances surrounding your immigration to America?
My father came here in 1903 and he lived here for many years. But then his father became ill and he asked my father to come home. So my father went back. That’s how I came to be born in Vienna.
I was born in Vienna in 1920 and I came to the U.S.A. in 19358. I became a naturalized citizen shortly after I arrived — I think it was 1941 — and I lived in this apartment since 1962.
Hans leans forward conspiratorially and whispers two word precious to many New Yorkers, “rent control.”
My grandmother had two brothers who came over here in the nineteenth century and that was my contact. They owned a garage in the Bronx. My father had relatives here, too.
So you became a citizen of the United States in the heat of the Second World War. Did you serve in World War II?
No. I did go to the draft board. They examined me, they asked me questions and it turns out I have an anxiety problem when I’m in a closed room. So they said, no, we don’t want you.
The Office of Strategic Services offered me a position with very good pay. My brother was already overseas. I took care of my parents. Besides, I was at Columbia University. So I didn’t go into the O.S.S. The O.S.S…. it was commonly called “Oh So Secret.” This became the CIA. I the end I became a foreign correspondent accredited to the US Army.
How many years were you a foreign correspondent?
It was in the forties; from the day that the shooting stopped for about four or five years, something like that.
I loved travelling — all over Europe: Ital, France, Germany. I was working, writing, reporting. While I was in Europe I saw all the damage that had been done by the war. I don’t like violence or war of any kind and it was terrible. But you know, today everything’s repaird.
Hans currently share his home with a female cat called Isis. She strolled into the room to inspect the Almanac staff and receive her homage as any respectable cat would. Isis purred loudly as Hans stroked her head and back.
She likes to be petted, and that’s why we call them pets.
I had two cats before. One was called Silvy and the other was called Stripes. I wrote a book about Stripes — with photographs and drawings. It was called Confessions of a House Cat as Told by Hans Holzer.
I love cats. I’m not a dog man, I am a cat man.
Hans, have you been to Asia?
No. I’ve been all over Europe, but I’ve never been to Asia or Africa. Or Australia. The nearest thing I ever got to Australia — I was engaged to an Australian girl, but I didn’t marry her.
We know that eventually you did marry. Would you mind sharing some details about your personal life? Your family?
It was a different world. I was engage three times — all very old fashioned. Then I met Catherine. Catherine comes from an old Baltic family. She is the Countess of Buxhoeveden, a sixth generation of Catherine the Great. You know, we were part of the Kit Kat Club; we had meetings, committees, and so on. That was years ago.
I was married to Catherine form 1962 to 1986. We had two daughters, Nadine and Alexandra and now there are five grandchildren.
I had twenty-four good years with Catherine. We’re still friendly. I’m not complaining. It’s not a big deal. I love my grandchildren, my daughters. Everything is as it should be.
Has, we can recite your resume. We know that you studied ancient history and archeology at the University of Vienna and Japanese at Columbia University in New York. Finally you earned a Master in comparative religion and a Ph.D. in parapsychology at the London College of Applied Science. Can you tell us what came first, your interest in ghosts and the paranormal, or your interest in research and writing?
Actually, I started looking for ghosts talking about them, when I was in kindergarten. I talked about them at home and I told ghost stories at school. The kids loved it. The trouble was they told their parents at home. And next thing, the parents were calling to say, what kind of kindergarten are you running here, he’s talking about ghosts? So I had to stop it.
But you know, it was an interesting life. My father had to go to the Ministry of Education for permission to put me in public school a year ahead because they couldn’t manage me anymore. I was in public school at age five.
My first book was published when I was eight years old. My Uncle Henry had been collecting my poetry — TERRIBLE poetry! On my eighth birthday he surprised me with it: a printed book
Then when I was fourteen I got my first newspaper assignment. When I was young, I did alot of things.
I attended public school from the ages of give through nine. At seventeen I graduated from gymnasium, high school. Then I went to university. I was always a hear ahead.
When I was registering in ancient history and archeology at the University of Vienna they asked, well, how’s your Latin?
I said, oh, my Latin’s fine.
Then they asked, well, do you know Greek?
I said no.
Well, you’ve got until the fall to learn Greek.
So I got a teacher and I learned Greek; form March to September. And today I still know Greek — Ancient Greek.
I studied music in Europe for several years — composition. Then at Julliard in New York, I studied conducting.
I’m sure we looked surprised at that. Hans added in a very matter of fact tone:
Well, you know, you never know when you can use it. I conducted musical comedies because I’ve written musical comedies. And I’ve written many, many songs. Many were recorded. But you can’t make a living doing that. Then along came the first book. I made an all-right living with that.
What was your first book as a professional writer?
The first book was called Ghost Hunter. It did very well. And then they wanted another one. And then another one… I’ve written fiction and non-fiction, but I never wrote a book unless somebody wanted it.
Can you talk a bit about your process: How long does it take? What steps do you follow?
I mean look, there’s technical progress. I have a computer and I don’t know how to use it. People offered to teach me the thing and I haven’t done it. I use a typewriter — still. It’s a good typewriter. I’ve written one hundred twenty books with it. I don’t see any reason to change.
Most of my books, I actually dictated. I sent the tapes home, and when I arrived bac, I’d have it all typed up.
And then you get into the editing process?
I don’t edit. I write it correctly the first time. I know there are a lot of people who write, and then rewrite, and the rewrite again. I don’t do that. If there’s something I’ve written that doesn’t work, out it goes right then and there and I replace it. That seems to me the practical way.
Would you tell us about your work with Alex Sanders?
I heard from Alex Sanders, King of the Witches he called himself, and I did some interviews with him there in England. I published them.
You know, Alex was a priest at the time. He’s the one who brought me into this. I was brought into the Craft, I took part of his rituals, and we even filmed some of it.
What about your involvement in the Craft?
I’ve spoken about Witchcraft all over Europe. When I was travelling I had invitations form a number of universities to come in and talk. I talked about Wicca. I explained that witches don’t fly through the sky on broomsticks, they jumped. They jumped high because that’s how high they wanted the corn to grow — it’s a well-known fact.
The truth of the matter is that I have met and known many, many people in the Craft. I’ve spoken to them, sometimes I lectured them. And as you know, there were four books about witchcraft.
Hans, what’s your favorite book?
That’s a very interesting question. They’re all my favorites, because you see, when I’m working on a book at that time, it’s always my favorite book.
One that was recently published The Amityville Curse: Fact and Fiction I live very much. It’s actually three Amityville books; two are fiction and one is non-fiction. They’ve edited it so well and brought all three books together in one place so that people get much more out of it. So that’s nice.
The book that’s doing very well is called Ghosts. In fact, it has done very well year after year. It is a fat, heavy book and if you drop it on your foot you could become a ghost yourself.