mlive.com - The assertion "I see dead people" -- from M. Night Shyamalan's 1999 thriller "The Sixth Sense" -- has become an oft-referenced pop-culture staple, but when Mary Ann Winkowski says it, she means it.
Yet aside from their abilities to see and talk to dead people, the similarities between Winkowski -- a full-time paranormal investigator and author -- and actor Haley Joel Osment's fictional character are slim.
"You don't walk through a ghost, you can't sit on a ghost, a ghost is not bloody-gory, ghosts don't puke, ghosts don't bleed," Winkowski said from her home in North Royalton, Ohio. "The ones that I see, I see identically as if I was looking at you -- hair color, eye color, the clothes you have on. The only difference is, if I squinted, I could probably see through them."
Winkowski, who also is a consultant to and the inspiration for CBS's "Ghost Whisperer" television series starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, will share her experiences this weekend during a book signing and discussion presented by the Michigan paranormal group Michigan Paranormal Encounters. It begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Regent Theatre, 211 Trowbridge St. in Allegan.
Born in Cleveland in 1948, Winkowski said her grandmother noticed her gift when she was only 2 years old, though she told her not to tell anyone.
"My grandmother was from Italy, and if you are Italian you're like related to everybody," Winkowski said. "And so she would drag me to funerals to talk to the person that just died. And then, when I was about 7, she started actually taking me to relatives' houses to clear their houses, and I just did it whenever my grandmother needed me to do it until after I was married."
As Winkowski began helping people clear their homes of ``earthbound spirits'' -- those who chose not to cross over to the other side after their death -- word spread about her abilities, and in the mid-1990s Winkowski was able to conduct her paranormal work full time.
"Ghost Whisperer" begins its fifth season at the end of this month. Her work on the show led to the release of her book, "When Ghosts Speak: Understanding the World of Earthbound Spirits" (Grand Central Publishing, 2007), a nonfictional account of her experiences with spirits, of which she said there are many.
"Mediums like John Edward, James Van Praagh, they talk to spirits that have gone into the light, spirits that have crossed over. That's where anybody that's died and crosses over and goes where they're supposed to are at," Winkowski said. ``That's where angels are, that's where saints are.
"I don't see those kinds of spirits. I see the spirits that made the choice not to go to the light."