3 Famous Poltergeist Cases That Will Creep You Out
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Chairs move about by themselves. Walls shake from loud, unexplained banging. Water drips from a ceiling. Hairbrushes disappear for days, only to reappear in their place on the dresser. These are some of the classic symptoms of a poltergeist haunting. From the German for "noisy ghost," a poltergeist refers to phenomena usually credited to mischievous spirits or ghosts and are characterized by psychokinesis or other physical manifestations. Although ghosts may sometimes be involved, most poltergeist incidents are a kind of psychic phenomena , usually centered around a living "agent."
Cases have been cited almost since the beginning of recorded history. Three famous cases have taken place in the 20th century, gaining notoriety, perhaps, because they have been extensively investigated, reported, and in some cases even photographed and videotaped.
The Thorton Health Poltergeist
In the 1970s, in Thornton Heath, England, a family was tormented by poltergeist phenomena that started one August night when they were woken in the middle of the night by a blaring bedside radio that had somehow turned itself on — tuned to a foreign-language station. This was the beginning of a string of events that lasted nearly four years.
A lampshade repeatedly was knocked to the floor by unaided hands. During the Christmas season of 1972, an ornament was hurled across the room, smashing into the husband's forehead. "As he flopped into an armchair," reports Haunted Croydon, "the Christmas tree began to shake violently. Come the New Year and there were footsteps in the bedroom when there was no one there, and one night the couple's son awoke to find a man in old fashioned dress staring threateningly at him. The family's fear grew when, as they entertained friends one night, there was a loud knocking at the front door, the living room door was then flung open and all the house's lights came on."
Having the house blessed failed to rid the house of the phenomena. "Objects flew through the air, loud noises were heard and the family would sometimes hear a noise which suggested some large piece of furniture... had crashed to the floor. When they went to investigate, nothing would be disturbed."
A medium who was consulted told the family that the house was haunted by a farmer of the name Chatterton, who considered the family trespassers on his property. An investigation bore out the fact that Chatterton had indeed lived in the house in the mid-18th century. "Chatterton's wife now joined in causing mayhem, and often the tenant's wife would be followed up the stairs at night by an elderly gray-haired woman wearing a pinafore and with her hair tied back in a bun. If looked at, she would disappear back into the shadows. The family even reported seeing the farmer appear on their television screens, wearing a black jacket with wide, pointed lapels, high-necked shirt, and black cravat."
After the family moved out of the house, the poltergeist activity ceased, and none have been reported by subsequent residents.
The Enfield Poltergeist Case
Another English ghost — this one in Enfield in North London — made headlines in 1977. The strange activity seemed to center around the daughter of Peggy Harper, a divorcee in her mid-40s. Again, it started on an August night. "Late at night," An Urban Ghost Story relates, "Janet, aged 11 and her brother Pete, aged 10, complained that their beds were 'jolting up and down and going all funny.' As soon as Mrs. Harper got to the room, the movements had stopped — as far as she was concerned her kids were making it all up."
But things got progressively more bizarre from there. Shuffling noises and knocks on the wall were followed by a heavy chest of drawers sliding by itself across the floor. Mrs. Harper promptly got her children out of the house and sought the assistance of a neighbor. "The neighbors searched the house and garden but found no one. Soon they also heard the knocks on the walls which continued at spaced out intervals. At 11 p.m. they called the police, who heard the knocks, one officer even saw a chair inexplicably move across the floor, and later signed a written statement to confirm the events."
Several people were witness to the events that occurred in the following days: Lego bricks and marbles were thrown around the house and were often hot to the touch. In September of that year, Maurice Grosse of the Society for Psychical Research came to investigate. "Grosse claims that he experienced the strange happenings — first a marble was thrown at him from an unseen hand, he saw doors open and close by themselves, and claimed to feel a sudden breeze that seemed to move up from his feet to his head."
Grosse was later joined in the investigation by writer Guy Lyon Playfair, and together they studied the case for two years. "The knocking on walls and floors became an almost nightly occurrence, furniture slid across the floor and was thrown down the stairs, drawers were wrenched out of dressing tables. Toys and other objects would fly across the room, bedclothes would be pulled off, water was found in mysterious puddles on the floors, there were outbreaks of fire followed by their inexplicable extinguishing."
The case became decidedly unnerving when the spirits revealed themselves — through Janet. Speaking in a deep, gravely voice, the spirit announced that his name was Bill and had died in the house — a fact that has been verified. The voices and the phenomenon have been recorded on tape and film, and Playfair has written a book about the case called This House is Haunted .
Despite the documentation, however, much controversy surrounds the case. Skeptics claim that the case is nothing more than the work of a very clever and mischievous girl — Janet. The poltergeist activity always stopped when she was watched closely, and when she was taken to a hospital for several days to be tested for physical or mental abnormality, the phenomena ceased in the house. Some researchers believe that Janet taught herself to speak in the strange male voice and that photos of her levitating in her bedroom merely caught her jumping off her bed. Was this poltergeist case just the result of an attention-seeking 11-year-old?
The Danny Poltergeist Case
In 1998, Jane Fishman, a reporter for the Savannah Morning News , began a series of articles about a possibly haunted antique bed in the home of Al Cobb of Savannah, Georgia. Cobb bought the vintage late-1800s bed at an auction as a Christmas present for his 14-year-old son, Jason — a purchase he later regretted.
"Three nights later," Fishman reported, "Jason told his parents he felt as if someone had planted elbows on his pillow and was watching him and breathing cold air down the back of his neck. He felt sick. The next night he noticed the photo of his deceased grandparents on his wicker nightstand flipped down. So he righted it. The next day, the photo was facing down again.
Later that morning, after leaving his room for breakfast, he returned and found in the middle of his bed two Beanie Babies — the zebra and the tiger — next to a conch shell, a dinosaur made of shells and a plaster toucan bird. That got his parents' — and his twin brother, Lee's — attention. Trying to make sense of the irrational, Al called out, 'Do we have a Casper here? Tell me your name and how old you are.' Then he left some lined composition paper and crayons and, with his family, walked out of the room. In 15 minutes they returned and found written vertically in large block childlike letters, 'Danny, 7.'"
With his family out of the house, Al Cobb decided to continue trying to communicate with the spirit of Danny. With the same kind of notes, Danny indicated that his mother had died in that bed in 1899 and that he wanted to stay with the bed. He also made it clear that he didn't want anyone else sleeping in it. "The same day they found a note reading, 'No one sleep in bed,' Jason, who had moved out of the room, decided to stretch out and pretend to take a nap. That, says Al, was a mistake. 'I doubled back in the room to pick up my clothes,' remembers Jason, 'when this terra cotta head that had been hanging on the wall came flying through the room, just missing me before it smashed on the closet door.'"
"No one really knows," Fishman writes in her second installment, "who — or what — is leaving the copious notes, moving the furniture, opening the kitchen drawers, setting the dining room table, flipping over the chairs, lighting the candles, arranging the posters to spell out a person's name, Jill, then hanging the finished product on a bedroom wall. Jason also spoke of other spirits: 'Uncle Sam,' who had come to reclaim his daughter he said was buried under the house; 'Gracie,' a young girl whose sculpture sits in Bonaventure Cemetery; and 'Jill,' a young woman who left a number of handwritten messages, among them one inviting the Cobbs to a party in their living room."
Parapsychologist Andrew Nichols, head of the Florida Society for Parapsychological Research, investigated the case. "What happened at the Cobbs," he told Fishman, "more specifically to Jason — would have happened without 'Danny,' or the bed. It was the electromagnetic energy of the wall — that Jason started sleeping next to when they moved the bed there — that charged a psychic ability that the boy already had."
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Eight things you need to know about poltergeists – just in time for Halloween
Reader in Applied Cognitive Psychology, Manchester Metropolitan University
Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Cognitive and Parapsychology, Manchester Metropolitan University
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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Halloween is the time of year when interest in the paranormal peaks and people celebrate all things supernatural. Of particular fascination are stories and tales of ghosts and ghouls and poltergists .
The term poltergeist comes from the combining of two German words : poltern (crash) and geist (spirit or ghost). So in other words, a noisy or unruly ghost or spirit. Although less common than traditional hauntings, reports of poltergeist activity dates back to the first century. In modern times the phenomenon has generated several major films and television programmes .
So with this in mind, here are the eight most important things you should know about poltergeists.
1. Parapsychologists can’t agree on what they are
Some parapsychologists view poltergeists as a type of ghost or supernatural entity which are responsible for psychological and physical disturbance. Others believe that such activity originates from “unknown energy” associated with a living person or a location. Sceptics, on the other hand, prefer mundane explanations such as attention seeking, pranks and trickery.
2. Poltergeists tend to prefer women to men
A person-focused poltergeist tends to (but not always) involve a female adolescent who is suffering from emotional turmoil when the activity begins . That said however, not all so called “focal agents” are teenagers. Indeed, William G. Roll , a pioneer in poltergeist research, found the age of people reporting experiences of poltergeist activity ranged from eight to 78 years.
3. Some of the best poltergeists are thought to be fakes
In 1967, at a lawyer’s office in Rosenheim, Germany strange things started to happen in the presence of the 19 year-old secretary Annemarie Schaberl. Paintings and overhead light fittings started swinging, while fluorescent tubes unscrewed themselves and massive spikes in electrical activity occurred. The speaking clock was also called multiple times per minute and furniture was moved. The police, utility company officials, physicists and parapsychologist Hans Bender investigated without explanation. But many believe it was a fake – all due to hidden nylon threads – especially given that the incidents stopped when Schaberl left the firm in early 1968.
4. Poltergeists like to mess with your stuff
Poltergeist activity typically starts with minor isolated incidents . This could include unexplained sounds or familiar objects such as your keys or your phone moving from their usual place. But while poltergeist activity is typically short-lived – manifestations typically lasting around five months – some cases have persisted for several years.
The Chilliwack poltergeist in Canada, for example was active for only two months between 1951 to 1952. During this time the Poltergeist produced loud and violent hammerings on walls accompanied by occasional flying objects. The Brother Doli Case, on the other hand, included a range of phenomena – stains, carvings of images and Welsh words, generally of a religious nature – and these persisted for several years.
5. Experts are still undecided about the Enfield poltergeist
One of the most famous poltergeist cases to happen in the UK involved the Hodgson Family , and their newly occupied council house in Enfield, North London. Between 1977 and 1979 it was the scene of demonic voices, objects moving without explanation, levitation and strange noises. Events focused on the two teenage daughters Margaret and Janet.
Several reliable witnesses observed phenomena – these witnesses included a police constable, a press photographer and investigators from the Society for Psychical. While investigators did discover some evidence of pranks and fakery , it was believed that many of the poltergeist incidents were genuine.
6. Some believe that emotional stress can cause activity
Some ghost hunters and paranormals propose that poltergeists are actually the emotions of troubled individuals – built up during times of stress. This theory, known as Spontaneous Recurring Psychokinesis suggests that this built-up stress then unconsciously projects outwards in the form of mental energy, which effects the physical environment and produces the phenomena attributed to poltergeists. But there is little evidence to support this notion.
7. Others believe they are spirits of the dead
Many people believe that spirits of the dead are responsible for poltergeist activity. This is said to be because people who experience them perceive an underlying intelligence and meaningful communication with an otherworldly being. This view proposes that a disembodied consciousness – or soul – survives bodily death . But again, there also isn’t any compelling scientific evidence to support this view either.
8. But sceptics put a lot of it down to misinterpretation
Misinterpretation is most likely to occur when people believe a place is haunted and they are looking for evidence to confirm this. In this way, a lot of poltergeist activity can actually be attributed to inaccurate perception of natural phenomenon. Take the case of the women haunted by a ticking clock, it was actually discovered that the noise was created by a tiny insect . Other cases such as “ the curse of the spinning Egyptian ” – an Egyptian statue in a Manchester museum appeared to turn itself during the day – have equally been explained by physical factors such as minor seismic activity, underground streams and even rainfall patterns.