From his home in a tony North Elizabeth Street neighborhood, Morey Bernstein, a successful businessman and amateur hypnotist, inadvertently put Pueblo front and center in the burgeoning, mysterious world of the paranormal and the occult.
It was in 1952 that Bernstein introduced the world to “Bridey Murphy” — a soft-spoken hard-luck lass born in Cork, Ireland in, get this, 1798 — who just has happened to be reincarnated in the form of an everyday Pueblo housewife named Virginia “Ginni” Tighe.
Or so goes the legend, an indelible part of Pueblo history that continues to fascinate and intrigue.
Using a fledgling technique now known as hypnotic transgression, Bernstein was able to draw from the 29-year-old Tighe, the wife of a friend, aspects of the life of Bridey Murphy, the proud but humble daughter of Duncan Murphy, a barrister, and his wife, Kathleen.
In a voice that eventually took on an Irish brogue, and with Bernstein recording the sessions — later released on vinyl, of course — Tighe recounted the often hardscrabble life of Murphy, who died at age 66 after falling down a set of stairs.
Through Bernstein’s probing, Tighe/Murphy alluded to being a spectral spectator at her own funeral and also encountering the spirit of her late infant brother in an ethereal afterlife. Equally fantastic, the entranced woman said she had lived in a place called New Amsterdam prior to begin “reborn” in Ireland.
And eventually, in Pueblo: in the form of Virginia Mae Reese (aka Tighe), who entered — or reentered, depending on your level of skepticism — the world in 1923.
To little surprise, the tale of Bridey Murphy — which appeared, at least on the surface, to confirm the validity of reincarnation — set off a firestorm in world weary of war and, in the aftermath of the Roswell UFO incident of 1947 and the sightings that followed, primed for the unusual and unexplained.
“Bridey Murphy puts nation in a hypnotizzy,” boasted a Life magazine headline that accompanied a photo spread and story.
First told in a series of articles published in the Denver Post in 1954, the story truly gained its legs in 1956, when Doubleday released the Bernstein-penned “The Search for Bridey Murphy.” In a tome that eventually went on to sell millions after being published in nearly 35 languages, Tighe was referred to as “Ruth Mills Simmons.”
The success of the book opened the doors to Hollywood, with a film of the same name starring Teresa Wright as Tighe and Louis Hayward as Bernstein released in 1956.
It also ushered in the era of modern skepticism.
Prior to the publication of Bernstein’s book, the biographical details of Bridey Murphy’s life, as described by Tighe, were not thoroughly fact-checked. That changed, however, once the book and movie became worldwide sensations, and reporters and investigators flocked to Ireland to retrace the life of this reportedly reincarnated soul.
The findings were a mixed bag.
Under hypnosis, Tighe said Murphy was born on Dec. 20, 1798 and died in 1864, but no record to back up either claim was ever located. Although Tighe claimed Bridey attended a St. Theresa’s Church, it was not built until 1911, years after Bridey’s reported passing.
And while Murphy’s husband, Sean, was said to be a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, that college was nonexistent during the couple’s lifetime.
Other details, however, checked out, including accurate descriptions of the Antrim coastline and a descriptive account of a journey from Belfast to Cork. As a child, Murphy was said to have traded with a grocer named Farr, who actually did exist.
In the years that followed, Bernstein’s credibility came under scrutiny, with Tighe the frequent brunt of snickering and, more painfully, mockery and accusations of sacrilege.
Although Bernstein steadfastly maintained that what transpired was in no way the result of fakery, Tighe remained ambivalent to the concept of reincarnation.
So what really happened in those candle-induced hypnosis sessions?
One conclusion suggests that what transpired was the result of cryptomnesia: the return of a forgotten memory without being recognized as such by the subject.
Although Bernstein correctly noted that Tighe was raised by a Norwegian uncle and his German-Scottish-Irish wife, there was no mention that her birth parents were both part Irish, and that she had lived with them until the age of three. Also not brought to light was that an Irish immigrant named, peculiarly enough, Bridie Murphy Corkell, lived across the street from Tighe’s childhood home in Chicago.
From Bernstein’s 1999 obituary that appeared in the New York Times: “Although Bridey believers concede that the various investigations failed to prove that she had lived as she had been described, they also insist that the investigations failed to prove she had not.”
Around the time of Bernstein’s death, local businessman Bret Bezona moved into the North Elizabeth Street residence that is “The Bernstein Home.”
Without having much of an initial interest in the whole Bridey Murphy affair.
“I’ve just always admired this type of architecture,” he said.
Before long, though, the rich history that emanated from the home — at least a couple of the hypnosis sessions took place in the spacious living room — quickly captivated Bezona, who not only began collecting Bridey Murphy memorabilia but went on to become a certified hypnotherapist.
“But I’m not really a believer in reincarnation,” Bezona said. “The jury is still out. Is there any hardcore evidence? Well, there will be, as soon as someone comes back from the dead and tells you what happens. But people like to presuppose that since I collect all this, that I am a reincarnation believer.
“To me, the most interesting aspect of Bridey Murphy to me was the hypnosis: It was the most famous case of hypnosis in the world. There is something to hypnosis; it’s a hyper placebo. And if you’re a good subject, you can garner some real good results.”
Bezona’s collection includes books, vinyl records, magazines and comics books, photographs, movie posters and, exclusively, an old Royal typewriter that Bernstein used to create “The Search for Bridey Murphy,” and as well one of his reel-to-reel tape recording units.
In Bezona’s eyes, that Bridey Murphy was a stranger in her “hometown,” so to speak, is an intriguing aspect of the entire episode.
“It was huge, just huge, around the world, but Pueblo never embraced Bridey Murphy,” he said. “Remember, this was 1952 and it was a different culture. Pueblo is a strong Catholic town and reincarnation is not going to bode well here. Plus, I learned there was some anti-Semitism involved.
“Pueblo just never embraced it.”
And both Bernstein and Tighe paid a heavy price in the aftermath.
“I think it ruined both their lives,” Bezona said. “A couple of priests out of Chicago showed up at Tighe’s house and wanted to perform an exorcism. Her kids were getting harangued at school. So she moved to Denver and ended up getting a divorce.
“And Morey turned into a total recluse. He essentially didn’t come out of the Abriendo Arms for years, maybe 17. He was seen as Pueblo’s ‘Howard Hughes.’ And I think it all stemmed from Bridey Murphy.”