Does the Ghost of Jimmie Sutton Still Haunt Annapolis?

An Image from Ghost Hunters that is also the Cover of A Soul on Trial.

Well, maybe. Apparently several people think so according to a Pilgrim Studios, SyFy Channel one-hour episode of the popular cable reality show “Ghost Hunters” that aired on April 18, 2012.* I first heard about “A Ghost of a Marine” two days before the airdate; a colleague noticed that the promos contain several images that appear in A Soul on Trial and in the gallery  created for the book on this website.

Producers Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson (who still work as Roto-Rooter plumbers–though now part-time– in their day jobs) founded The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) in 1990. But to the dismay of his many fans, Grant is about to leave “Ghost Hunters.” It’s one of many paranormal-themed programs that have become big hits over the last decade. (For an interesting perspective see “Consigning Reality to Ghosts” by Mike Hale. New York Times 12/13/2009.)

What drew Grant and Jason to Annapolis is the claim of some residents that sightings of Sutton’s ghost may have occurred in or near Beach Hall, home to the U.S.Naval Institute. Beach Hall has been rebuilt on the ground where the Naval Academy Hospital once was. For almost a week after his controversial death on October 13, 1907, Sutton’s rigid body lay in the hospital basement covered by a sheet while his sister, Rose Sutton Parker, made her way by train across the United States from Portland, Oregon. (That’s Rose Sutton Hicks to those of you who have been following our Salome to Hollywood Blog.)

Of course I was curious and contacted Pilgrim Studios in North Hollywood.  A helpful assistant was quick to inform me that e-mail addresses are never given out at Pilgrim. On 4/16 I sent a friendly fax to President and CEO Craig Piligian, one of the show’s Executive Producers. I mentioned that the program was about my great-uncle and that I had written the only book about the Sutton case. I thought viewers might be interested in learning more about the story and seeing the gallery of images for A Soul on Trial.

No response as of yet (4/23). That’s ok, these are busy people. But I was in for a surprise.  Right up on the screen as the program aired, I saw the same photo that is in my book (and web gallery) of Jimmie in his Naval Academy uniform; a few minutes later, there was our family photo of Rosa Sutton. It plays an essential part in the narrative of “A Ghost of a Marine.” And at one point the Tech Manager Steve Gonsalves holds up a copy as they try to lure Jimmie’s ghost out of hiding. (See image below.)

Viewers also see the drawings of the bullet’s trajectory as it penetrated Jimmie’s skull that I unearthed after months of research. This composite image was created and photographed just for the book. “A Ghost of a Marine” even features the 1908 photo of the Naval Academy that is on the cover. Wow! That’s great publicity for the story except that no one contacted Rowman & Littlefield or me about these images. (I had to pay usage fees for many  images in the book and give credit to archives, historical associations and newspapers for every one.) Plus we took original photographs of  images such as the one of Rosa and the skull drawings specifically for A Soul on Trial and the web gallery.

But this entertaining “reality show” is on a science fiction channel. It’s not a PBS program or a documentary funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Accuracy matters a lot in Public Broadcasting and in NEH-funded programs that have support “from viewers like you.” Their producers pay to license images and acknowledge every source.

So does it matter if the “Ghost Hunters” TAPS team members refer to Rosa as “Rose”? Or that TAPS’ Investigator Amy Bruni, while doing her computer research onscreen from “Command Central” during the show, calls out that Jimmie had a brother named “Dan.” (It was Don.) And why flash on an image of a soldier in World War II clothing as if that’s Jimmie’s ghost? Or say that “three men got in a fight over a young lady” that precipitated Sutton’s death? These are not major errors but the docu-style format implies that the team is telling the truth.

Sutton Family Archive Photo of Rosa Sutton c A Soul on Trial

Four experienced Executive Producers plus an Executive in Charge of Production, Leigh Purinton, are responsible for this show. With all this talent perhaps someone should be checking for accuracy. Some viewers might appreciate that even when they watch commercial television for the theatrics and they are not covering the costs.

* The program aired on the 25th anniversary of Jane Hall’s death. If there are ghosts, her beloved gram, Rosa Sutton, and her Uncle Jimmie may have a lot to say about “A Ghost of a Marine.” After all, they know the real story.