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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Believers Spot Virgin Mary, Jesus in Hospital Window

Aired June 13, 2003 - 20:44   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, believers say God moves in mysterious ways, but when images of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus show up on a second floor hospital in window in Milton, Massachusetts, some say that is what they see.
Watch this report from Stephanie Layden of CNN affiliate of WLVI, and you be the judge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE LAYDEN, WLVI CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They take pictures and leave flowers, photos, even handwritten notes. And of course, they offer prayers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have to be a part of this. You know, I'm already feeling, I know I'm feeling like I want to touch the wall. I want the feeling to go through me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wall they touch is ordinary brick, but in the window above, something extraordinary. I think it looks exactly like the Virgin Mary and a little baby there.

LAYDEN: For two days now, a steady stream of people have flooded the Milton Hospital parking lot to get a look at the ethereal image in this third floor window. Some say it can be easily explained, condensation trapped between two window panes. Others believe its source is more mysterious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I feel that it is very unusual and I do believe it's her. I don't know what the message imparts. I have no idea, but there's something there.

LAYDEN: Something that's prompting people to take a closer look, to capture on their cameras, to hope is a sign from heaven.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love the blessed mother, and just kind of wonder what she's doing here, but it's great.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, judge for yourself. Did you see the Virgin Mary? We're going to talk tonight to both a believer and to someone who needs a little more proof. Joining me right now, someone who believes and knows what she saw and what she felt afterwards. Deborah Ann Mason is in Watertown, Massachusetts. Deborah, thanks very much for being with us. I know you were describing yourself as skeptical when you first went with a friend of yours to see it. What did you see and what did you feel?

DEBORAH ANNE MASON, SAW VIRGIN MARY IMAGE: I saw the blessed virgin. I saw an outline, an image of her standing there, cradling what to me, in my interpretation would be the baby Jesus.

COOPER: Did you - but -- and you said you were skeptical before you went. What was it -- did you feel something when you were there or was it purely just okay that's what I see?

MASON: I don't really recall if I said that I was skeptical because I really wasn't skeptical when I went there. I wasn't thinking one way or another. I didn't know what to expect. Initially, I didn't see anything. And when I went around the back of the building and looked at the window and right away saw what I believed to be an outline of the blessed virgin, I felt a little more -- I don't know, comfortable, at ease. And I decided I wanted to approach the building, I wanted to touch it, and I wanted to say a prayer.

And when I went and said a prayer, and I had a cross and some rosary beads that are special to me in my hand, I -- the sun actually came out for 10 seconds, believe it or not on this cloudy, rainy day in Boston, yesterday. And I did feel different. I felt light-headed. I felt good. I felt very happy.

COOPER: Why do you think these sightings occur?

MASON: I have no idea why they occur. I couldn't begin to even try to answer that question. I think some things, for me and my religious background, are a mystery and are to remain a mystery until someone else deigns to clarify them for us.

COOPER: All right. Debra Ann Mason, I appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

MASON: Thank you.

COOPER: All right.

Well, some people, understandably skeptical about images revealing themselves in 21st Century America. Also with us tonight, someone whose skepticism is based on professional and academic credentials. Joining me now from Rochester, New York, Joe Nickell. He's a columnist for "Skeptical Inquirer Magazine and a senior research fellow at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.

Thanks for being with us. I know you have probably heard a lot about these kind of cases in the past. What do you think is behind them?

JOE NICKELL, "SKEPTICAL INQUIRER": Anderson, I've looked at these for 30 years. And we have a good fix on them. They're just the human ability -- it's called paradolia, the human ability to see shapes or to make pictures out of randomness. And we know that we can all look at a cloud and see maybe a picture of a ship, or something. Or we look at ink blots, and someone sees a demon, and someone else sees something else. We call these images simulapra. That is, they are similar to something familiar to us and they look something like the pictures or we wouldn't be showing them on TV.

COOPER: But I mean...

NICKELL: People wouldn't be lining up.

COOPER: Someone who, you know, is skeptical of your claims will say well how do you know that for a fact?

NICKELL: Well, we just looked at lots of these. And they're in the most unlikely places. And we just, you know, people who study how the brain works know that people have this capacity. That's why we have these (unintelligible) ink block tests. And when we look at these, I mean they're in the most unlikely places.

COOPER: I know -- sorry, I know there was - and this hospital, some of the hospitals say it's condensation in the window, which is causing this. That's I believe that's what the window company says.

I know you sort of...

NICKELL: Right, a leaking seal.

COOPER: Right. And I know you recently were down I guess in Peru. And you - or not recently but in the past, you've been down to Peru. And there were these sort of crop circle-like images. And that you came up with a reason for it. Tell us about that?

NICKELL: Well, I actually wasn't in Peru, but I did duplicate the giant Nasca drawings that are in Peru using simple sticks and string. These are giant images that are in the book "Chariots of the Gods" and some of the more of the mystically oriented books that claim that the extraterrestrials must have visited the planet Earth in ancient times, and that the savages couldn't have made them. And I showed as a simple matter using sticks and string. And I duplicated the giant condor, which is 440 feet long.

COOPER: So what do you say to people who, you know, see these images and believe they see what they say they see? I mean, are you out to debunk them? Or do you just say, all right?

NICKELL: I decry debunking as much as I do too much credulity. I think we should investigate them. But they're just wishful thinking. When we looked at them, we see that they're in the most unlikely places. You can find images of all sorts. It's the religious ones that get selected and that people become so emotional over.

COOPER: All right, Joe Nickell, appreciate you coming in, adding your thoughts to this. Thanks very much.

NICKELL: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, moving on, we haven't heard from those Bush twins in a while. Coming up, we'll fish for the latest buzz on Barbara and Jenna and how they plan to spend their summer vacation. Stay with us.

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