BY JOEY SWEENEY
When I was a boy, I believed, for a time, that the U.S. Custom House at 2nd and Chestnut was in fact the site of the major action in Ghostbusters. This seems to be not the case, but the Internet comforts me that I was not alone in this; other people think it’s the Drake, at 15th and Spruce, which isn’t true, either. Maybe it’s some still-living deference to that old, wrong thought, or maybe it's even the sentimental reality of the matter, but Ghostbusters has always felt like a secret Philly movie to me.
Here’s another reason why: They actually mention Philly in one of the key scenes, early in the movie, with the very first ghosts they encounter in the New York Public Library.
“Ray: Symmetrical book stacking. Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947.
Peter: You’re right, no human being would stack books like this.”
Re-watching the movie recently, when this scene came up, I spoke my truths. One: Peter Venkman hasn’t seen my office. Two: Oh, how I want the Philadelphia Mass Turbulence of 1947 to be a real thing that happened.
And then, after years of meaning to, I finally went looking for just what, exactly, the Philadelphia Mass Turbulence of 1947 was last night. The Ghostbusters Wikia page only indicates its scene in the film with no clue as to where it’s from, but it does define what we might be looking for:
“The Philadelphia Mass Turbulence of 1947 was an event of high psychokinetic activity. Not much is known of the event except it was one of the most impressive forms of Symmetrical Stacking to date.”
What it refers to, essentially, is a type of paranormal encounter with a kind of library ghost. If you love books, the very phrase “library ghost” is a catnip at least as strong, if not stronger, than the phrase “symmetrical book stacking.” And indeed, haunted libraries are a thing. But is SBS a thing, too? And did it happen at the Philadelphia Mass Turbulence of 1947? In short (and to quote another movie I’ve spent plenty of time living inside): Well, dude, we just don’t know.
First, there is confusion about the term itself: What some hear as “mass,” others hear as “manse.” One messageboard poster sees it as a kind of referential portmanteau: “It might be an Ackroyd mixup between the 1947 Roswell incident and 1943 Philadelphia experiment.” Finally, a library scholar sees great allegory in the library ghost, and only winds up completely bumming me out:
“Perhaps we could call the “library ghost” the film’s allegory of para-library science -- the library’s new wholesale faith in the digital necromancy of the print era. Even Robert Darnton has figured himself as this kind of re-animator, first in The Case for Books, but also with the Digital Public Library of America, which like most new basic search functions, does not distinguish between print and other forms of “text.” The effect in Ghostbusters is to dis-authenticate all relations to print. Only electronic devices and mass-mediated gazes can be trusted. And only ghosts display relations to print as reliable repositories of knowledge, relations the film constantly reminds us to regard as fickle and dubious.”
That doesn't feel wrong, but wow. In the end, though, dig as I may, I can still find no proof — or even solid lore, which frankly, I’d take gladly — that in 1947, here in Philadelphia, any mass or mance was turbulized. But I haven’t given up. If anyone does know, it may be Dan Ackroyd himself — Ackroyd penned the script with the late, great Harold Ramis. Ackroyd is an expert in the paranormal, apparently, having penned his own scholarly works on the subject and, I would hesitate to add, he has not seen my office.