A Life Stranger than Ghosts: An Interview with John E.L. Tenney

A Life Stranger than Ghosts: An Interview with John E.L. Tenney

John E.L. Tenney’s columns have been printed in magazines and newspapers world-wide, and he has lectured to numerous public and private schools, universities, organizations and clubs. It is estimated that, over the past 20 years, more than 40,000 people have attended one of John’s signature “Weird Lectures.”  Mr. Tenney has also been interviewed extensively on radio and television about all things unexplained.

John has been actively involved in the field of anomalistic/conspiratorial research for well-over two decades. The Great Lakes Ghost Society and the Michigan Anomalous Information Network were groups founded in 1995 by Mr.Tenney in order to provide an open forum of ideas for individuals seeking information about paranormal/anomalistic phenomena, both organizations stopped functioning as active groups in 2006, but John continues to investigate and research by client request.

In 2011 Mr. Tenney created a bi-weekly podcast “Realm of the Weird” which Real Detroit Weekly recently awarded “Detroit’s Best Podcast” Aside from his lectures and due to his extended time involved in anomalistic research he has acted as a consult for numerous companies including, but not limited to, Fox, SyFy, The Detroit Free Press and Hour Detroit Magazine. Mr. Tenney also starred in the A&E show Paranormal State: The New Class which aired from November 2010 to May 2011.


Recently, in between his busy schedule, I was able to pin down John Tenny to talk about blood orgies, alien invasions, audio anal probes, and multidimensional gnomes.


A Keller: I am fascinated by your rich and varied experiences. For instance, you ran for mayor of your hometown, Royal Oak, Michigan, in 2001 – what inspired you to do so?

John Tenney: I originally ran for Mayor when I was 18 and I did it just to “shake up” the system but the city council changed the age requirement for candidates after I turned in the needed signatures which would have put me on the ballot. A few years went by and in 2001 I decided to run again. My motivations for running had changed as I had matured but I felt that as someone who was born and raised in the city, had gone to school and worked for the schools, had worked at local businesses as well as owned one of my own I had a unique opportunity to be a Mayor who understood many and differing aspects of the community. I felt as though the Mayors over the last 50 or 60 years had all been part of an “old boys” network and so it was time for something different. People, didn’t agree and I lost.

A Keller: That was clearly their loss. So I stumbled upon your name on IMDb, and lo and behold I see acting under your belt, as well.  With your research for shows such as “Unsolved Mysteries” (1994-1996), “Real Scary Stories” (2000-2001), and “Sightings” (1992), it seems that your foray into the weird and unusual has been a long time affair. Can you tell me your earliest memory of a strange experience? Would you do research for another television show if you were approached?

John Tenney: My earliest strange memories are the ones that all children have, imaginary friends, flying, monsters under the bed but, I feel they are not in any way related to paranormal phenomena. Unfortunately, I also feel, far too many people now apply later belief systems to childhood experiences in order to validate their current beliefs.  The first time I ever “saw” anything which may or may not have been “paranormal” was in 1986 during one of my first investigations of a private residence. Thinking back now it seems that I saw a total body apparition, again unfortunately, so much time has passed and I’ve told the story so many times I no longer can accurately and honestly tell you what I really saw and what actually happened. Like any human, my memory only gets worse over time. I would work for any show that wants to honestly advance open conversation about “weird” experiences and phenomena.

A Keller: Fair enough. On IMDb, “special thanks” was given to you for a movie titled, “Blood Orgy at Beaver Lake”. Orgies. Blood. Beaver. So many possibilities. Apart from that being one helluva title, my mind wonders about just what kind of “thanks” you are getting and just why… Do tell, sir.

John Tenney: Ha! A friend of mine specializes in making terribly low-budgeted films and I think I gave him about $20 so somehow or another that warrants a “Thanks” in the film.

A Keller: Mmm hmm. Moving right along because frankly I need to get the visual of that movie out of my head. Your interests have you going from writing children’s books and starring in a pilot for a new television reality series all the way to directing, producing, editing and writing a television show. With such diverse and creative interests, I want to know what is the one thing you really want to do, if you had your druthers?

John Tenney: I love doing whatever it is I am doing. Writing and story-telling is what, I think, I am best at so I am doing what I really want to do. I’ve had a diverse “work” history because when I get tired of doing something, I stop doing it.

A Keller: You have performed many lectures over the years. What is the most important thing you want others to take from your teachings?

John Tenney: My lectures are first and foremost more discussions more than lectures. I encourage communication, and open dialog during my presentations. All I’ve ever really wanted to accomplish with doing “lectures” is to create a more well-informed, honest and deep-thinking environment for everyone. It’s only through the construction of new ideas that we can stop stagnated thoughts. Stagnation of ideas is one of the only concepts that I find truly repellent.

A Keller: I think the theory of anti-stagnation applies in the event of a zombie apocalypse, too. Random tie-in. I saw on your website that you have also been involved in advertising for over 20 years. Would this be considered the ol’ day job? Would you rather be John E.L. Tenney, resident weird one, instead of the corporate ball and chain?

John Tenney: I have been involved in the advertising industry almost as long as the “paranormal” community, but I only return to it when I desire to do it and actually make some money. Research, lectures and investigations is what I do full-time even if it is sometimes supplemented by working for small agencies. I haven’t worked for a corporation since 1996. I don’t do well in a corporate environment.

A Keller: I couldn’t imagine why. Was there a moment, a defining moment if you will, when you knew that researching and finding out as much information as possible about the unknown was going to be such a big part of your life?

John Tenney: I always knew I would be involved with exchanging information with people I just never knew what information would be exchanged. In the late ‘80’s when I started lecturing on political assassinations of the 1960’s and ‘70’s I probably began to realize that talking to people about “weird” and “alternative” ideas was going to be what I did for the rest of my life. Seems I was right.

A Keller: Oh yeah, before I forget, Greg Newkirk slipped me a fifty to take everything you say out of context and do a terrible piece on you. I’m sure I could be persuaded to say something nice, though. * cough *

John Tenney: I have nothing nice to say about Who Forted or anyone involved. They are the worst people I have ever run into and I have made it my goal in life to wipe their existence from the collective memories of humanity. Secretly, I love everyone involved with Who Forted and I feel as though there is a shadowy alliance which has been built between us.

A Keller: We love you, too, John. Openly. We have no shame. I hear that you are interested in aliens, and that you would welcome a public landing and introduction (I listened to the Into the Dark Media podcast interview with you). Let me ask you this – what would you do when they step out of their ship and look and act like the aliens in “Mars Attacks!”, screaming “ackackack” and all? What would you say to the aliens if you were the spokesperson for America?

John Tenney
: Firstly, I don’t think they will ever land and introduce themselves to us. I feel like any civilization so far-advanced that they are able to transverse space and time to find us in the vastness of the cosmos would consider us less than we consider chickens and  there aren’t many humans which drive hundreds of miles to explain mathematics to chickens. If they did, by some insane reason, land I would invite them to remove me from this planet immediately.

A Keller: This leads perfectly into my next pressing question. What are your thoughts on anal probes? Do the aliens really do them and why? Are they necessary? Enjoyable?

John Tenney: I wouldn’t know why they would be necessary or why aliens would want to do them but then again I don’t understand why humans like Nikki Minage, who I consider a audible anal probe.

A Keller: This year marks the 35th anniversary of the detection of the ‘Wow’ signal. Give me your thoughts on what you make of it. Did you participate in the great Twitter shoutout to the aliens? Me, I am a little worried about just what will be sent out into the ether considering what I see on my timeline occasionally. This may not be the best representation of our society.

John Tenney: Ehman’s WOW signal is always fun to discuss but like most of our modern mythologies has, over the years, built itself into a compelling and folkloric-like tale. I would be shocked if advanced civilizations, if they exist, would even remember what a narrowband radio signal is. I’m pretty sure that if aliens are monitoring our Twitter accounts we would have been blasted into oblivion by now. I’m not all that worried about it.

A Keller: I like to envision the aliens sitting back with a cocktail having a laugh at our shoutout. I know that you are a fan of Rod Serling’s 1960s television series, The Twilight Zone. Talk about a show that capitalized on the weird and unusual. That’s pretty perfect for you. What was your favorite episode? Also, if you watched the X-Files, same question. And wasn’t Scully hot? Or Mulder, for that matter. I mean, really. You can tell me.

John Tenney: My favorite episode of the Twilight Zone is “Walking Distance,” with Gig Young. It involves a time slip and is mostly a nostalgic look at the human experience. There is just something simple, weird and wonderful about it.  My favorite episode of the X-Files was the last episode since the show had become so stupid and nonsensical I was really excited for it to finally be over. I saw Gillian Anderson perform at open mike poetry sessions back in the 80’s. She was so not punk.

A Keller: Open mic Scully. Now that’s an experience! I’ve gotta ask, in another reference to a podcast interview with you where you mention someone that contacted you about a multi-dimensional gnome that was in their attic, how did it turn out? Since it had tentacles, who’s to say that it wasn’t a Cthulhuian creature, or some form of Lovecraft himself? Or a really hungry opossum wearing tin foil. Hey, you never know.

John Tenney: The mutli-dimensional gnome was a way that I could show people that my life is far stranger than just researching “ghosts.” I never know what my day is going to be filled with and sometimes it is multi-dimensional gnomes.  The couple who were experiencing the creature and contacted me about it are very well-known, to me, and are totally shithouse crazy.

A Keller: Now that made me laugh! Something tells me that you probably handled that better than most others if they were presented with that… issue. I know you don’t really do investigations as much anymore, but when you do perform a paranormal investigation, what is your preferred method to employ (i.e. EVP, video, etc.)?

John Tenney: I am a historical researcher by design so when I do perform an investigation my preferred methods are long and laborious with copious amounts of paperwork. I don’t feel the need to use “equipment” designed for home improvement to search for data which many think is evidence of an afterworld.

A Keller: So you’re telling me my stud finder is ineffective? And just when I thought I was making progress. Now I’m going to ask you a quick succession of very important questions. Rapid fire style. Ready? Here we go. How many shirts do you own that have the word ‘weird’ on them?

John Tenney:  I have only ever had one shirt for my podcast Realm of the Weird, which said “weird” on it and they were limited edition and are now sold out. I have one of them in my garage which I use as an oil rag.

A Keller: If you were dropped on a deserted island and could take just one item with you, what would it be?

John Tenney: A radio or phone so I could contact someone to come and get me.

A Keller: What’s your drink of choice?

John Tenney: Coffee in the morning. Vodka and Ginger Ale for the rest of the day and night.

A Keller: Are you a Beatles guy or an Elvis guy?

John Tenney: I’m a jazz guy so the answer is Bill Evans. (which is almost an anagram of Beatles and Elvis)

A Keller: And just how can a five ounce sparrow carry a one pound coconut? Is it really a matter of weight ratio? Discuss.

John Tenney: I try and stay away from Monty Python references due to pending litigation with the Ministry of Silly Walks.

A Keller: Well, that about does it. Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything you are doing next, a book, a show, a convention or lecture that you would like to tell us about? In other words, where can we see Mr. Tenney next?

John Tenney: I always assume people can find out where I’m at and what I’m doing by going to my websites:

johneltenney.com & weirdlectures.com

The whole point of having my own websites is so that people can find things out, but most people can’t read beyond a headline.

I assume most people didn’t make it to the end of this interview. If someone is still reading this then I hope they email me at [email protected] with the subject line “I Made it” and I’ll send them something nice.


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