hckr.fyi // thoughts

The Very Beginning of Madness

by Michael Szul on

When I first dove into the Internet I had started an ecommerce site during a time when you had to type "online bookstore" into Altavista in order to find Amazon on the web. People often laugh when I recollect being 16-17 years old and mailing cash to Amazon for books. For the first few years I even received free Christmas gifts from them for being a frequent shopper.

My ecommerce site was originally called Playpen, and I overpaid some marketing company for a one-page web site. Eventually I changed the name to The Lion's Den. It was a hobby-focused web site that took advantage of the rise of Magic: The Gathering and other collectible card games (CCGs) to carve out an early online business. I used a combination of the web and eBay to generate sales at a time when people still didn't know what to do with the Internet.

The Lion's Den was hobby focused, but was also a hobby in itself. I never really took it too seriously beyond generating spending cash, and eventually I needed to abandon the project and get a real job. That didn't deter my love for the online universe, and as an avid fan of the occult, horror movies, and the paranormal, I started to think of ways in which I could express myself in this new medium.

The Midknight Club was that first step, and as you can tell by the spelling, I thought I was pretty crafty. Around this same time, the team from Blair Witch developmented the television show FreakyLinks—about a team of cryptid/paranormal investigators that posted everything on the Internet, and FreakyLinks pretty much became the blueprint for how everything was done. The Midknight Club hosted several research articles and real-world ghost investigations, and even served as a vanity publisher for a time. Later I decided to downgrade the professionalism and wanted the site to be more personal, prompting a name change to The Mad Ghoul.

The Mad Ghoul was my early life magnum opus. I took the name from an obscure Universal Studios film and even used Flash for the logo. It went through several restructures over the course of a few short years, but had a blog during a time when blogging was new and fresh; it had a featured article section for research; and long before the Travel Channel decided that it could only stay afloat with ghost hunter programs, it was one of the first web sites detailing paranormal investigations. I had several investigations on my own, and several more in partnership with New Jersey Paranormal Investigations (NJPI). Again, paranormal investigation combined with an online presence was so new at the time, it was easy to find the original NJPI. Today, unfortunately, an Internet search will yield multiple, unrelated groups with the same name and same ideas.

With The Mad Ghoul (usually simply stylized in all lower case as the mad ghoul), my writing took on a more personal and narrative construction, and in addition to research, investigations, and blogging, I started to interview key luminaries in the occult, counterculture, and paranormal spaces (e.g., Loren Coleman, Richard Metzger, Donal Michael Kraig, Michelle Belanger, Peter Carroll, Douglas Rushkoff). To promote my work, a lot of it went out to Digg, Reddit, and a counterculture Digg clone: The Disinformation Company. At one time, my posts were circulating enough that I was even interviewed by Alice Cooper for his radio show. From this growing notoriety, eventually Key 23 was born. Many of my original articles and interviews from mad ghoul were ported over to Key 23, and my attention was concentrated over there instead of on my own site. Although mad ghoul latest longer than Key 23, it remained stale for a significant number of years before I finally shut it down.

You won't find much of the writing from mad ghoul here—although some of my earlier personal writing that I've consolidated did appear there for a time, they were originally essays from college or other personal writings. There is a very short, very bland dictionary entry for Quantum Immortality, but honestly, that was mostly included because I felt like I had to include something.

I went through mad ghoul with a fine comb, but decided against reproducing many of the articles. Many were just terribly written (I was fresh out of high school for a lot of them). Most of the research posts were only cobbled together from a few sources and their conclusions would be extremely dated today. Although the interviews were nice (and could be salvaged), they would be out of place. I will say that I spent a significant amount of time on the Internet Archive looking at older blog posts (mostly thoughts, and not featured articles), falling into a memory hole of what life was like back then, and what events I went through. The Internet Archive has a significant archive of my life and thoughts sitting out there in cyberspace.

As far as my writings on ghost hunting and paranormal events, I do have future plans for those narratives—a semi-hagiography maybe‚Ķ