Poltergeists are a great source of debate within the paranormal community.
As discussed in Volume 2 of Dr Hawthorn’s Ghost Guide, one must be wary of hauntings consisting entirely of supposed poltergeist activity, as it is particularly easy to manipulate.
However, there are still a handful of cases that can not be written off so dismissively, be it due to a variety of eyewitnesses or a flurry of additional activity.
Let’s explore some of the most famous incidents of pesky poltergeist phenomena, and decide for ourselves whether it’s a case of paranormal fact or fiction.
The Enfield Poltergeist
We could not discuss poltergeists without exploring the happenings of 284, Green Street in Enfield, London during the late 70s.
The Enfield Poltergeist, as it came to be known, began its ghastly shenanigans in August 1977, when Peggy Hodgson called the police, claiming a heavy chest of draws had slid across the floor of her children’s room. On attempting to right it, it was pushed again. This was the culmination of several nights of strangeness, which included the children complaining that their bed was shaking, the sound of shuffling footsteps and noisy banging of the pipes in the wall.
Having argued with the furniture long enough, Peggy Hodgson gathered her three children and fled to the neighbours house to call the police, believing, at the time, that trickery was afoot.
When they arrived, they explored the house to find nothing amiss, but witnessed lights turning on and off, and with the entire household present, watched a chair in the living room rocking slightly, before being hurled across the floor by unseen hands, landing 3-4 feet away from it’s original location.
Being unable to arrest a naughty chair, the police could do nothing but suggest the family call a priest. Unbeknownst to all present, this was far from the end of the activity, which went on to be witnessed by neighbours, journalists and paranormal investigators alike.
Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair are the investigators most closely involved with this case. Unlike the dramatised events in The Conjuring 2 would have you believe, Ed and Lorrain Warren were said to have shown up at the house uninvited, and stay for less than an afternoon before claiming the events genuinely ‘demonic’ and going on their merry way once more.
Grosse investigated the family for months, producing audio and video recordings and photographs of what he truly seemed to believe was paranormal in nature. He claimed the phenomena was focused around the two girls of the house, 13 year old Margaret and 11 year old Janet.
These included a series of infamous photographs supposedly showing Janet ‘levitating’ from her bed, although it’s fairly clear these show the girl mid-jump. In addition to this relatively flimsy evidence, Janet began to ‘channel’ the voice of the supposed poltergeist, named ‘Bill’ in a collection of audio recordings.
Although it is not beyond the wit of a clever school girl to engage in some form of ventriloquism, ‘Bill’ went on to describe how he lived and died in the house of a brain haemorrhage – in the armchair in the living room corner, no less.
The house’s previous tenant, William ‘Bill’ Wilkins, did in fact die in the arm chair in the living room, but of coronary thrombosis. Unfortunately, we can’t prove if this information was known to Janet prior to the supposed ‘hauntings’.
The Enfield Poltergeist deserves an investigation of its own, but to summarise, there were of course those who felt the girls were responsible for the activity, as a result of their unhappy home life. Their father had just abandoned the family in favour of a young lover, leaving a hefty amount of recent trauma for all involved and faking a haunting is a bizarre, but sure way to get attention from a whole lot of people.
Grosse, for his part seemed overly eager to write off the little inconsistencies of the case, but in subsequent years, Janet and Margaret have admitted to faking a portion of the haunting, but remain steadfast in their claim that the majority of the events were real.
The events of the Enfield Poltergeist, were an essential influence on the infamous BBC Halloween special, Ghostwatch, the impact of which also deserves its own study.
Great Amherst Mystery
Almost 100 years before the events in Enfield, another poltergeist was causing trouble in Amherst, Nova Scotia and centred around 18 year old, Esther Cox.
Esther began to experience strange occurrences after an attempted assault by a male friend, which, quite naturally, left her distressed. This trauma seemed to spark poltergeist-like phenomena, including peculiar knocks and bangs at night, which worsened after Esther began to suffer seizures. Household objects then began to move and fly about the house.
The strange events continued during a visit from the family’s doctor, and culminated in the words, “Esther Cox, you are mine to kill” appearing above Esther’s bed. Even after administering sedatives, objects continued to fly across the house.
By this time, the events drew local visitors, who all claimed to experience the flying objects and strange noises, when Esther was asleep or being closely watched. By that December, however, Esther developed diphtheria and the strange events came to a stop during her illness and recuperation at a family member’s home.
Upon her return, the events began anew, and included the setting of small fires around the home. Esther had by now reported to see the ‘ghost’ that haunted her and said that it threatened to burn the house down unless she left.
Fearing for the safety of her family, Esther now moved between local households, many of which witnessed the strange phenomena that followed her. This had escalated to attacks on Esther herself, by way of slapping, pinching and poking, and in one frightening incident, included a stab in the back with a clasp knife.
Esther’s troubles had caught the attention of scientists and spiritualists, one of which encouraged her to embark on a speaking tour with him. This didn’t last long, however, as Esther was met with hostility when phenomena disturbed the events, in one instance being heckled off stage completely.
Esther returned to Amherst and attempted employment under a man named Arthur Davison, however she was convicted of arson when his barn burnt down, serving one month of a four month prison sentence. This seemed to be the spirit’s last great hurrah, as following her incarceration, all activity ceased and Esther went on to live a relatively normal life.
While those in the paranormal community often consider poltergeists to be a manifestation of latent energy from a living person, rather than an outside ghostly influence, it seems that many at the time thought Esther to be haunted by various spirits.
These included, a shoemaker named Bob Nickle, a relative of Esther’s named Peter Cox and a handful of ladies naming themselves Mary or Maggie Fisher, Eliza McNeal and Jane Nickle – possibly the wife of Ol’ Bob. Those around Esther communicated with these troublesome ghosts via spiritualist means, which was itself, fraught with hoaxes.
Spiritualism was at the hight of its popularity during the events in Amherst, and that is likely to have influenced the reports of her case and embellished them, however, The American Society for Psychical Research seemed to believe the events were caused by Esther’s unconscious trickery whilst in a dissociative state. This could explain why the events decreased when she was ill, however, if this is the case, how could the events continue during her sedation by the family doctor?
Unfortunately, the passage of time has muddied the waters around The Great Amherst Mystery, and it is likely to leave us with questions unanswered.
The Rosenheim Poltergeist
In 1960s Bavaria, parapsychologist Hans Bender, was called to investigate strange activity in the offices of lawyer, Sigmund Adam.
The strange activity seemed to occur during office hours only and included light fixtures swaying and at times, exploding, moving office furniture and a leaking photocopier.
Bender also alleged that phenomena included a large number of bizarre outgoing phone calls, not made by any staff member, and malfunctions due to electrical surges, as reported by the office’s power supplier.
After studying the occurrences and comparing them to the work rota, Bender allegedly singled out the cause: a nineteen year old secretary named Annemarie Schaberl.
Bender alleged that Schaberl was in a state of emotional turmoil, distressed over a break up with her former fiancé and frustrated with her job. Wether or not that frustration was due, in part, to being accused of supernatural activity in the work place, Annemarie left, and the activity supposedly ceased.
Journalists criticised Bender’s claims due to his lack of environmental and natural considerations, as well as conveniently omitting the claim that Annemarie Schaberl was under investigation due to some kind of alleged fraud.
Authors Albin Neumann, Herbert Schiff and Gert Gunther Kramer allegedly visited the office in question to discover “nylon threads attached to office fixtures” for the apparent purpose of hoaxing a haunting.
Being a lawyer, Sigmund Adam filed an injunction against the trio to prevent the book they were writing, Falsche Geister, echte Schwindler? (False Spirits, Real Swindlers?), being published.
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