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April 14, 2015
by Alicia Meade, MA, LCSW

Reincarnated Children: Overactive Imagination or the Real Deal?

April 14, 2015 07:55 by Alicia Meade, MA, LCSW   [About the Author]

Recently The Today Show spent a segment of its programming on the topic of reincarnation.  It reported the case of a boy named Ryan who, starting at the age of 4 years old, began to have nightmares and vivid recollections of being a 1930s Hollywood agent and movie extra by the name of Marty Martyn.

What's All the Fuss About?

America’s fascination with reincarnation is a relatively new trend since the 1960s when the Beatles blurred the cultural separations between East and West and visited India to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi. Prior to that, reincarnation was something not typically brought up in casual conversation within American society. Whereas the Hindu faith holds one of its basic beliefs to be the notion that a person cycles through multiple lives as a method of attaining enlightenment, Christians and Jews believe in the concept of one life: an individual is born into existence and eventually dies; then is sent to the afterlife for the rest of eternity.

Ryan's Story

But in March of 2015 on national television, via one of America’s most popular morning television shows on a major network, viewers witnessed the story of Ryan who at a very young age told his mother that he once drove a Rolls-Royce through Hollywood, got punched in the mouth by one of Marilyn Monroe’s body guards, and felt homesick to return to the Hollywood Hills (Whitman and McFadden, 2015). 

At first blush, Ryan’s story might easily be explained due to an over-active imagination.  However, Ryan told his mother stories of a past life that were extremely detailed as well as hard to pull off the internet. He said he’d lived on a street with “rock” in the title. He claimed to have worked at an agency where people changed their names. He’d traveled overseas to Paris, hobnobbed with the likes of Mae West and Rita Hayworth, and had two sisters. While attempting to help her son cope with these nightmares, Ryan’s mother went to her local library and checked out books on Hollywood.  From there things took a fascinating turn when she came upon a photo in one of the books, a publicity shot taken from a 1932 movie called “Night After Night.” A nameless movie extra stood in the photo and when Ryan saw the man’s face, he pointed to it and told his mother that the man was him. A documentary film crew helped the mom track down the name of the mysterious man in the photo; she was told that his name was “Marty Martyn” — a movie extra and powerful Hollywood agent who’d once lived on North Roxbury Dr. in Beverly Hills and died in 1964. 

Helping to Explain

Ryan’s story is one of many profiled in the book “Return to Life” (Nye, 2013).  The book was written by Dr. James Tucker, professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia who has traveled the country to hear these incredible stories and investigate their claims down to the very detail. Dr. Tucker has spent more than a decade studying children, most often between the ages of 2 and 6, who report the ability to spontaneously remember another life without adult prompting.  Some theorists believe that young children have the ability to remember “past lives” because the identity from the present life has yet to take foothold and become primary, which also explains why many of these children also lose the ability to vividly describe a past life as they age. However in the case of Ryan, he was able to meet Marty Martyn’s daughter who confirmed 55 details of her father that Ryan described to her during their meeting. In addition, Ryan spoke of having two sisters despite Martyn’s daughter only knowing about one of them.  When this was fact checked later, Dr. Tucker discovered that Marty Martyn had indeed had two sisters.  Ryan also claimed to have died at age 61. Initially this statement was considered proof of inaccuracy since Martyn’s death certificate listed his age as 59.  However upon further investigation, census records showed that his birth had been in 1903 and not 1905, making Ryan’s claim accurate

Another case in Dr. Tucker’s book involved a little boy named James Leininger who told his parents that he’d been a fighter pilot in the Pacific during the Battle of Iwo Jima and had gotten shot down there after sustaining a direct hit (Nye, 2013).   Details of such began when he was two years old; he and his father were looking through a book on Iwo Jima and when they came upon a picture of Mount Suribachi, James pointed to the picture and said, “That’s where my plane was shot down.” Later on James would wake up in the middle of the night, screaming and saying “Airplane Crash on Fire! Little man can’t get out!”  He reported things that are too advanced for any small child such as knowing what a “drop tank” was and where it was located on an airplane. Eventually he told his parents that he flew from a carrier called the “USS Natoma” and that his name was James. When his baffled father who labels himself “staunchly Christian” attended a reunion for USS Natoma Bay veterans under the guise of writing a book, he discovered that the only pilot killed during the Iwo Jima mission was a 21 year old name James Huston. When the young boy attended another USS Natoma reunion himself, he was stopped by a gentleman and asked: “Do you know who I am?”  The boy said, “You are Bob Greenwalt”, later telling his father that he could simply tell because he remembered the sound of the man’s voice. 

Stories such as these may cause society to eventually rework the psychological notion of a “sense of self”.  Dr. Tucker has found some answers within quantum physics. According to Tucker, the person’s brain, rather than being a container or storage for information, may act more like a conduit, while consciousness is something that can move within space and time rather than being fixed (Nye, 2013).


Whitman, Jake and McFadden, Cynthia (2015) Return to Life: How Some Children have Memories of Reincarnation Retrieved from

Nye, James (2013) New Book Reveals the Children Who Believe They Have Been Reincarnated Retrieved from

About the Author

Alicia Meade Alicia Meade, MA, LCSW

I've helped individuals find solutions to their problems for over 30 years and am skilled in working with children, adolescents and families. I have worked in many different systems throughout the years: mental health centers, inpatient hospital settings, alternative schools, the legal system and managed care. As a therapist I am solution-focused and use aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). My approach is interactive and nonjudgmental.

Office Location:
1010 Lake St, Suite 620
Oak Park, Illinois
United States
Phone: 630-747-1312
Contact Alicia Meade

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