'I see dead people'
Mary Ann Winkowski’s earliest recollection of the spirit world was at the age of 7, but her grandmother knew she had a special gift at the age of 2.
Her grandmother noticed her talking to someone unseen one day. She asked her granddaughter to question the spirit. The answers Winkowski provided were complex for her age.
Winkowski’s grandmother already had a gift. Living in an Italian neighborhood in America, she told her neighbors when a relative died in Italy before they received the news.
“When I was 4 she started taking me to funerals. I was grandma’s special grandchild that could talk to the dead person and answer questions for the family members,” Winkowski said.
In grade school, Winkowski realized that she was different.
“I was 7 when I realized no one else could do it. None of the other kids ever talked about it,” she said.
When Winkowski told a nun about seeing a spirit on the playground, she was told it was likely a guardian angel.
“I went home and talked to my grandmother and she said, ‘You can’t do this. You’re going to get into trouble. You can’t talk to anybody about this,’” Winkowski recalled.
Winkowski was married for two years before she told her husband about her gift.
“I didn’t want him to think he was married to a nut,” she said.
Over the years, news of Winkowski’s gift grew.
Today, she has six phone lines at her home where she returns calls to people who want to know if they have spirits in their homes.
She still attends some funeral consultations and services people invite her to, charging a fee for travel expenses.
There the deceased relay messages to loved ones, such as who gets the coin collection.
At the consultations, the deceased relay their funeral wishes.
“It just blows my mind how many people are married for 40 years and don’t know what their loved one wants after they die,” Winkowski said.
After people die, Winkowski said they look the same as when they were alive and have the same personality. When she speaks with them, it is like having a normal conversation except they talk with their minds.
Despite the fact that Winkowski said she sees spirits all the time, she has never been afraid because it is normal to her.
“If I showed any fear, that would give them more energy. That’s what they need to keep going. I don’t have any problem sleeping at night. It’s a job. This is normal for me. I don’t know what it would be like not to see them,” she said.
On Thursday night alone, she said she saw 15 spirits between 6 to 9 p.m. at public places.
“If I was sitting in my house and did not go out I wouldn’t have seen any. There are no spirits in my house,” she said.
When a person dies, Winkowski said they have about 80 hours to go to the white light. The longer they wait, the smaller the light gets.
“When I go to a house, I can create the white light and they will go to it,” Winkowski said, adding that her grandmother taught her how to create the light as a young girl through visualization.
However, getting spirits to go to the light has not always worked.
“I can’t grab them and throw them. ... You have free will after you die and if they don’t want to go, they don’t go,” Winkowski said.
As she has gained experience, Winkowski said she is better able to get spirits to cross over.
For those earthbound spirits who are stuck here, or for those who want to take some advice into the afterlife, Winkowski offers some.
“If you’re stuck and you lose your white light, all you have to do is go to a funeral service ... that white light is not an individual light, it is universal,” she said.
For the living who need to get rid of a spirit temporarily, Winkowski said a Native American tradition called smudging (the burning of sage or sweet grass) can be done.
“It only bothers earthbound spirits. Another thing you can do is have an ordained priest come in and bless your house. Just don’t get your hands in Holy water and throw it around. They don’t like it.
Doing one or both of those things will make the spirit lethargic, but it doesn’t last forever, she said. A blessing will last for six to eight weeks, she added.
Naturally, Halloween is a busy time for Winkowski, although she deals with spirits all year round.
“It’s like I’m the Halloween queen. This goes on all year but people really think about it at this time of year,” she said.
Her publisher plans her book releases and signings around Halloween. Her books include: “When Ghosts Speak: Understanding the World of Earthbound Spirits,” “The Book of Illumination: A Novel from the Ghost Files,” and the latest, “The Ice Cradle: A Novel from the Ghost Files.”
James Van Praagh, a popular medium in California read one of Winkowski’s books and contacted her. She appeared on his show and the two became friends.
While Winkowski visited Van Praagh, she met some other Hollywood types.
“They said, ‘This would make a great television series, have you ever thought about it? I said, ‘I live in Ohio. Are you crazy?’”
Then the popular hit TV series “Medium” aired starring Patricia Arquette. A short time later, Winkowski was contacted about her cases for a new television series called “Ghost Whisperer.” Winkowski served as a consultant for the show.
“Of course they were Hollywoodized. Maybe three or four sentences were true. I just don’t think it’s that exciting. I think it’s pretty boring,” she said of her real-life experiences.
For the first three years, Winkowski went to California a lot and spent time on the set. She always hoped to meet the spirit of Elvis, but never had the opportunity. She did meet Jennifer Love Hewitt, the star of the show, who still calls her twice a week.
“The nice thing about it was I got a book agent that was actually able to get my book published for me in New York,” she said.
Writing books, doing workshops, answering phone calls, attending funerals and visiting homes keeps Winkowski quite busy.
As if this is not enough, she also works with local law enforcement, but did not divulge details.
“I am used as much as I am because we don’t publicize it,” she said. “The only thing I will say as far as law enforcement goes, if they are bringing me in and the family has to understand it too, if the spirit is in the house, then that person is definitely dead. A lot of people want hope that (the missing person is) not dead.”
Winkowski stressed that she is not a psychic; she has to talk with spirits to find out what happened.
Still, some remain skeptical.
“I don’t call people. They call me. They must think they have some kind of issue. I believe in God. I’m Catholic. I’ve never seen him but I believe in him. I breathe the air but I’ve never seen it. It’s called faith. You either believe it or you don’t. Skeptics keep me on my toes. This is not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s OK,” Winkowski said.
Over the years, Winkowski said people are becoming more open to the idea of ghosts. Before, if people mentioned ghosts, others thought they were crazy. Winkowski said now “everybody talks about ghosts in their house.”
People will be talking about this particular topic at an upcoming hands-on workshop in Peoria Oct. 2. From 1 to 5 p.m. Winkowski will talk to people about spirits. Reservations are required and seating is limited. For more information, visit www.maryannwinkowski.com.