Go into the Light

Take a ride on the spirit train with an old séance-leading sharpie named Edward "Red" Duke

Duke encouraged her in her spiritual forays. "I didn't know what I was talking about," Rohr says, "but he told me to continue. From that point on, I was kind of like a guinea pig."

Duke says that different spirits inhabit him, switching personalities like surfing through television programs. He himself has ten channels, and he claims to have no control over which entity transmits through him or when.

"We give 'em permission to use mind, body, and spirit as long as they don't embarrass us," he says. "You ever put on a nice, warm sock? That's how the spirit feels when it enters the body, nice and comfortable. And when the spirit's inside, it's in charge." A big yawn usually signifies that Duke is changing channels. His voice lowers by an octave, and he says, "just focusing on a different frequency vibration now."

A full-moon ceremony with the Rev. Red Duke
Michael McElroy
A full-moon ceremony with the Rev. Red Duke
Duke atop his bed
Colby Katz
Duke atop his bed

When that happens, "Even if the house was on fire, I couldn't raise my voice," Duke explains.

Professional debunkers, naturally, have a field day with Duke and others who claim intimate knowledge of the spirit world. After taking a glance at the reverend's web page, James Randi -- whose James Randi Educational Foundation office is about a mile east of the Haven on Davie Boulevard -- invites Duke to participate in his "James Randi Paranormal Challenge." It offers a chance to win "a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power."

He peruses the reverend's literature. "The Amazing Randi," who has used scientific methods to discount paranormal claims for more than 40 years, pronounces himself unafraid of losing his money. There's nothing new with Duke. "If this miracle worker wants to earn a million dollars to spend in Las Vegas, buy replacement chakras for old folks, or donate to the Home for the Terminally Gullible, all he has to do is apply for the JREF prize -- and win it," he says. "That, he can easily do -- if any of his claims are legitimate. I won't sit by the phone waiting for his call, though."


As a young boy, Duke became quickly aware just how different he was. Born November 28, 1927, Edward Duke was the oldest son of a Scots-Irishman and his Cherokee Indian wife. "All my life, I saw weird shadows and heard weird voices," he says. "I thought it was normal." By the time he learned he could move objects with his mind and so forth, he was already thought of as an odd duck.

Over soup and sandwiches served atop a wobbly table in a corner booth of an old diner on State Road 7 in Plantation, Duke still stands out as odd -- teeteringly tall and no-butt skinny, with jeans, sneakers, flannel shirt, and oversized shades making him look like a retired crop-dusting pilot. His once-brick-red, shoulder-length mane is dulling to gray, but the waitresses flock to him. They darken his iced tea with refills, and he supplies good-natured taunts.

"I was the weird one, considered different," he recounts. "My father mistreated me so badly and loved my younger brother so much, 'cause they were alike. I took after my mother."

The family lived in Fort Myers, on poverty-stricken streets in the black neighborhoods where his dad -- a part-time barber and full-time alcoholic -- would beat his mom. When he went to school, while other kids would spend lunchtime eating and socializing, Duke would slink off to sit alone among the carcasses of cars in the junkyard of a nearby Chevy dealership.

"I didn't have no food, and I didn't want no one to know it," he drawls. At some point, this asceticism pointed to a spiritual awakening: "I loved religions, but I didn't know what I was," he says with a smile.

And what he saw was curious enough. Tables and chairs that moved of their own accord. Once, he says, as a boy he was walking back home from a day in the orchards and farms outside Fort Myers. Spotting a single coal car on a railroad track, he wished -- or willed -- it to move. "And it did!" Duke says, with a shocked expression that sends his bushy eyebrows northward. "It scared me so much, I run like the devil to get away from there." (Such powers are unveiled rarely these days, since it saps his energy, Duke says. In fact, this morning, he took a nasty spill in his backyard, scraping his arm and cutting his hand.)

By the time he was a young teenager, Duke wanted to join the armed forces. The Navy seemed the most obvious choice. "I could swim by the time I was old enough to walk," he says. "All my life, I'd been on the water."

Underage but tall and big enough to look the part, he still got turned down the first time he applied. "No hair under my arms," he laughs, blaming his mother's Native American ancestry. Duke was finally accepted as a Navy seaman at the height of World War II. In place of his father's domestic cruelty, Duke got the firm discipline of military training. In July 1946, his fleet ended up in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific, where a secret series of atomic bomb tests -- "Operation Crossroads" -- centered on tiny Bikini atoll.

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