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Cryptic Readings: Miami's Occult Fascination Comes to Life at UM

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Perhaps one of the creepiest things about scary movies is when they are based on real events. There's nothing more frightening than seeing a horror flick and realizing that art, indeed, imitates life.

As a culture, we've always been fascinated with all things supernatural. Heck, even the word itself sounds more fun to be "super" than just plain "natural."

"I think Miamians are quite open-minded about the possibilities of 'other worlds,'" says Cristina Favretto, director of the Special Collections Department at the University of Miami. "We are so culturally diverse that we're able to entertain the notion that people have very diverse beliefs and a wide variety of views on the afterlife, the spirit realm, etc."

See also: The Four Most Haunted Places in Miami

Favretto is in charge of special collections at the university, which she says houses some unique "treasures." The collection contains papers from the founding families of Coconut Grove, more than 50,000 rare books, and a large collection of countercultural literature, she says. Part of her duties include planning special events, such as Reanimating Spectral Collections: Cryptic Readings From the Jackie Gleason Collection and Beyond.

Wednesday night's presentation, inspired of course by Halloween, will feature select readings from Jackie Gleason's personal collection on the occult and supernatural acted out by students from UM's drama department.

"The students will be reading and creatively interpreting small portions from a variety of books in the Gleason Collection," Favretto explains. There will be some audience interaction, and expect to be approached by some ghosts, "including some very charming canine spirits."

Without giving too much away, Favretto shares what types of stories one can expect to hear and see performed. "There will be a nice little conversation between a son and his spirit mom, some local scary stories about the Biltmore and other famous South Florida locales, and some very sincere -- but totally absurd -- conspiracy theory tales."

All the readings from the evening will come directly from Gleason's collection, which the professor says was donated to the university by the actor's family after he died. The collection consists of "approximately 1,700 volumes of books, journals, pamphlets, and other types of publications in the field of parapsychology, spiritualism, the occult, witchcraft, ghosts, demons, and much more."

Favretto hopes guests will leave not only wanting to know more about Gleason and his mysterious collection but also being properly introduced to the Special Collections Library, "which is truly one of the undiscovered cultural treasures of Miami."

Cryptic Readings from the Jackie Gleason Collection and Beyond takes place Wednesday, October 29, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Otto G. Richter Library (300 Memorial Dr., Coral Gables). Admission is free, but RSVP is required. Call 305-284-3247 or email cfavretto@miami.edu. Refreshments will be served. The Special Collections Library is also open to the general public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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