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Poltergeists






Poltergeist is the term assigned to those apparently meaningless noises
and movements of objects of which we from time to time hear accounts. The
word is, of course, German, and may be translated "boisterous ghost." A
poltergeist is seldom or never seen, but contents itself by moving
furniture and other objects about in an extraordinary manner, often
contrary to the laws of gravitation; sometimes footsteps are heard, but
nothing is visible, while at other times vigorous rappings will be heard
either on the walls or floor of a room, and in the manner in which the
raps are given a poltergeist has often showed itself as having a close
connection with the physical phenomena of spiritualism, for cases have
occurred in which a poltergeist has given the exact number of raps
mentally asked for by some person present. Another point that is worthy
of note is the fact that the hauntings of a poltergeist are generally
attached to a certain individual in a certain spot, and thus differ from
the operations of an ordinary ghost.

The two following incidents related in this chapter are taken from a
paper read by Professor Barrett, F.R.S., before the Society for Psychical
Research.[6] In the case of the first anecdote he made every possible
inquiry into the facts set forth, short of actually being an eye-witness
of the phenomena. In the case of the second he made personal
investigation, and himself saw the whole of the incidents related. There
is therefore very little room to doubt the genuineness of either story.

[Footnote 6: _Proceedings_, August 1911, pp. 377-95.]

In the year 1910, in a certain house in Court Street, Enniscorthy, there
lived a labouring man named Redmond. His wife took in boarders to
supplement her husband's wages, and at the time to which we refer there
were three men boarding with her, who slept in one room above the
kitchen. The house consisted of five rooms--two on the ground-floor, of
which one was a shop and the other the kitchen. The two other rooms
upstairs were occupied by the Redmonds and their servant respectively.
The bedroom in which the boarders slept was large, and contained two
beds, one at each end of the room, two men sleeping in one of them; John
Randall and George Sinnott were the names of two, but the name of the
third lodger is not known--he seems to have left the Redmonds very
shortly after the disturbances commenced.

It was on July 4, 1910, that John Randall, who is a carpenter by trade,
went to live at Enniscorthy, and took rooms with the Redmonds. In a
signed statement, now in possession of Professor Barrett, he tells a
graphic tale of what occurred each night during the three weeks he lodged
in the house, and as a result of the poltergeist's attentions he lost
three-quarters of a stone in weight. It was on the night of Thursday,
July 7, that the first incident occurred, when the bedclothes were gently
pulled off his bed. Of course he naturally thought it was a joke, and
shouted to his companions to stop. As no one could explain what was
happening, a match was struck, and the bedclothes were found to be at the
window, from which the other bed (a large piece of furniture which
ordinarily took two people to move) had been rolled just when the clothes
had been taken off Randall's bed. Things were put straight and the light
blown out, "but," Randall's account goes on to say, "it wasn't long until
we heard some hammering in the room--tap-tap-tap-like. This lasted for a
few minutes, getting quicker and quicker. When it got very quick, their
bed started to move out across the room.... We then struck a match and
got the lamp. We searched the room thoroughly, and could find nobody.
Nobody had come in the door. We called the man of the house (Redmond); he
came into the room, saw the bed, and told us to push it back and get into
bed (he thought all the time one of us was playing the trick on the
other). I said I wouldn't stay in the other bed by myself, so I got in
with the others; we put out the light again, and it had only been a
couple of minutes out when the bed ran out on the floor with the three of

us. Richard struck a match again, and this time we all got up and put on
our clothes; we had got a terrible fright and couldn't stick it any
longer. We told the man of the house we would sit up in the room till
daylight. During the time we were sitting in the room we could hear
footsteps leaving the kitchen and coming up the stairs; it would stop on
the landing outside the door, and wouldn't come into the room. The
footsteps and noises continued through the house until daybreak."

The next night the footsteps and noises were continued, but the
unfortunate men did not experience any other annoyance. On the following
day the men went home, and it is to be hoped they were able to make up
for all the sleep they had lost on the two previous nights. They returned
on the Sunday, and from that night till they finally left the house the
men were disturbed practically every night. On Monday, 11th July the bed
was continually running out from the wall with its three occupants. They
kept the lamp alight, and a chair was seen to dance gaily out into the
middle of the floor. On the following Thursday we read of the same
happenings, with the addition that one of the boarders was lifted out
of the bed, though he felt no hand near him. It seems strange that they
should have gone through such a bad night exactly a week from the night
the poltergeist started its operations. So the account goes on; every
night that they slept in the room the hauntings continued, some nights
being worse than others. On Friday, 29th July, "the bed turned up on one
side and threw us out on the floor, and before we were thrown out, the
pillow was taken from under my head three times. When the bed rose up, it
fell back without making any noise. This bed was so heavy, it took both
the woman and the girl to pull it out from the wall without anybody in
it, and there were only three castors on it." The poltergeist must have
been an insistent fellow, for when the unfortunate men took refuge in the
other bed, they had not been long in it before it began to rise, but
could not get out of the recess it was in unless it was taken to pieces.

"It kept very bad," we read, "for the next few nights. So Mr. Murphy,
from the _Guardian_ office, and another man named Devereux, came and
stopped in the room one night."

The experiences of Murphy and Devereux on this night are contained in a
further statement, signed by Murphy and corroborated by Devereux. They
seem to have gone to work in a business-like manner, as before taking
their positions for the night they made a complete investigation of the
bedroom and house, so as to eliminate all chance of trickery or fraud. By
this time, it should be noted, one of Mrs. Redmond's lodgers had
evidently suffered enough from the poltergeist, as only two men are
mentioned in Murphy's statement, one sleeping in each bed. The two
investigators took up their position against the wall midway between the
two beds, so that they had a full view of the room and the occupants of
the beds. "The night," says Murphy, "was a clear, starlight night. No
blind obstructed the view from outside, and one could see the outlines of
the beds and their occupants clearly. At about 11.30 a tapping was heard
close at the foot of Randall's bed. My companion remarked that it
appeared to be like the noise of a rat eating at timber.

"Sinnott replied, 'You'll soon see the rat it is.' The tapping went on
slowly at first ... then the speed gradually increased to about a hundred
or a hundred and twenty per minute, the noise growing louder. This
continued for about five minutes, when it stopped suddenly. Randall then
spoke. He said: 'The clothes are slipping off my bed: look at them
sliding off. Good God, they are going off me.' Mr. Devereux immediately
struck a match, which he had ready in his hand. The bedclothes had partly
left the boy's bed, having gone diagonally towards the foot, going out at
the left corner, and not alone did they seem to be drawn off the bed, but
they appeared to be actually going back under the bed, much in the same
position one would expect bedclothes to be if a strong breeze were
blowing through the room at the time. But then everything was perfectly
calm."

A search was then made for wires or strings, but nothing of the sort
could be found. The bedclothes were put back and the light extinguished.
For ten minutes silence reigned, only to be broken by more rapping which
was followed by shouts from Randall. He was told to hold on to the
clothes, which were sliding off again. But this was of little use, for he
was heard to cry, "I'm going, I'm going, I'm gone," and when a light was
struck he was seen to slide from the bed and all the bedclothes with him.
Randall, who, with Sinnott, had shown considerable strength of mind by
staying in the house under such trying circumstances, had evidently had
enough of ghostly hauntings, for as he lay on the floor, trembling in
every limb and bathed in perspiration, he exclaimed: "Oh, isn't this
dreadful? I can't stand it; I can't stay here any longer." He was
eventually persuaded to get back to bed. Later on more rapping occurred
in a different part of the room, but it soon stopped, and the rest of the
night passed away in peace.

Randall and Sinnott went to their homes the next day, and Mr. Murphy
spent from eleven till long past midnight in their vacated room, but
heard and saw nothing unusual. He states in conclusion that "Randall
could not reach that part of the floor from which the rapping came on any
occasion without attracting my attention and that of my comrade."

The next case related by Professor Barrett occurred in County Fermanagh,
at a spot eleven miles from Enniskillen and about two miles from the
hamlet of Derrygonelly, where there dwelt a farmer and his family of four
girls and a boy, of whom the eldest was a girl of about twenty years of
age named Maggie. His cottage consisted of three rooms, the kitchen, or
dwelling-room, being in the centre, with a room on each side used as
bedrooms. In one of these two rooms Maggie slept with her sisters, and it
was here that the disturbances occurred, generally after they had all
gone to bed, when rappings and scratchings were heard which often lasted
all night. Rats were first blamed, but when things were moved by some
unseen agent, and boots and candles thrown out of the house, it was seen
that something more than the ordinary rat was at work. The old farmer,
who was a Methodist, sought advice from his class leader, and by his
directions laid an open Bible on the bed in the haunted room, placing a
big stone on the book. But the stone was lifted off by an unseen hand,
the Bible moved out of the room, and seventeen pages torn out of it. They
could not keep a lamp or candle in the house, so they went to their
neighbours for help, and, to quote the old farmer's words to Professor
Barrett, "Jack Flanigan came and lent us a lamp, saying the devil himself
would not steal it, as he had got the priest to sprinkle it with holy
water." "But that," the old man said, "did us no good either, for the
next day it took away that lamp also."

Professor Barrett, at the invitation of Mr. Thomas Plunkett of
Enniskillen, went to investigate. He got a full account from the farmer
of the freakish tricks which were continually being played in the house,
and gives a graphic account of what he himself observed: "After the
children, except the boy, had gone to bed, Maggie lay down on the bed
without undressing, so that her hands and feet could be observed. The
rest of us sat round the kitchen fire, when faint raps, rapidly
increasing in loudness, were heard coming apparently from the walls,
the ceiling, and various parts of the inner room, the door of which was
open. On entering the bedroom with a light the noises at first ceased,
but recommenced when I put the light on the window-sill in the kitchen. I
had the boy and his father by my side, and asked Mr. Plunkett to look
round the house outside. Standing in the doorway leading to the bedroom,
the noises recommenced, the light was gradually brought nearer, and after
much patience I was able to bring the light into the bedroom whilst the
disturbances were still loudly going on. At last I was able to go up to
the side of the bed, with the lighted candle in my hand, and closely
observed each of the occupants lying on the bed. The younger children
were apparently asleep, and Maggie was motionless; nevertheless, knocks
were going on everywhere around; on the chairs, the bedstead, the walls
and ceiling. The closest scrutiny failed to detect any movement on the
part of those present that could account for the noises, which were
accompanied by a scratching or tearing sound. Suddenly a large pebble
fell in my presence on to the bed; no one had moved to dislodge it, even
if it had been placed for the purpose. When I replaced the candle on the
window-sill in the kitchen, the knocks became still louder, like those
made by a heavy carpenter's hammer driving nails into flooring."

A couple of days afterwards, the Rev. Maxwell Close, M.A., a well-known
member of the S.P.R., joined Professor Barrett and Mr. Plunkett, and
together the party of three paid visits on two consecutive nights to the
haunted farm-house, and the noises were repeated. Complete search was
made, both inside and outside of the house, but no cause could be found.
When the party were leaving, the old farmer was much perturbed that they
had not "laid the ghost." When questioned he said he thought it was
fairies. He was asked if it had answered to questions by raps and he said
he had; "but it tells lies as often as truth, and oftener, I think. We
tried it, and it only knocked at L M N when we said the alphabet over."
Professor Barrett then tested it by asking mentally for a certain number
of raps, and immediately the actual number was heard. He repeated this
four times with a different number each time, and with the same result.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this particular case is at the end
of Professor Barrett's account, when, at the request of the old farmer,
Mr. Maxwell Close read some passages from Scripture, followed by the
Lord's Prayer, to an accompaniment of knockings and scratches, which were
at first so loud that the solemn words could hardly be heard, but which
gradually ceased as they all knelt in prayer. And since that night no
further disturbance occurred.

Another similar story comes from the north of Ireland. In the year 1866
(as recorded in the _Larne Reporter_ of March 31 in that year), two
families residing at Upper Ballygowan, near Larne, suffered a series of
annoyances from having stones thrown into their houses both by night and
by day. Their neighbours came in great numbers to sympathise with them in
their affliction, and on one occasion, after a volley of stones had been
poured into the house through the window, a young man who was present
fired a musket in the direction of the mysterious assailants. The reply
was a loud peal of satanic laughter, followed by a volley of stones and
turf. On another occasion a heap of potatoes, which was in an inner
apartment of one of the houses, was seen to be in commotion, and shortly
afterwards its contents were hurled into the kitchen, where the inmates
of the house, with some of their neighbours, were assembled.

The explanation given by some people of this mysterious affair was as
mysterious as the affair itself. It was said that many years before the
occurrences which we have now related took place, the farmer who then
occupied the premises in which they happened was greatly annoyed by
mischievous tricks which were played upon him by a company of fairies who
had a habit of holding their rendezvous in his house. The consequence was
that this man had to leave the house, which for a long time stood a
roofless ruin. After the lapse of many years, and when the story about
the dilapidated fabric having been haunted had probably been forgotten,
the people who then occupied the adjoining lands unfortunately took some
of the stones of the old deserted mansion to repair their own buildings.
At this the fairies, or "good people," were much incensed; and they
vented their displeasure on the offender in the way we have described.

A correspondent from County Wexford, who desires to have his name
suppressed, writes as follows: "Less than ten miles from the town
of ----, Co. Wexford, lives a small farmer named M----, who by dint of
thrift and industry has reared a large family decently and comfortably.

"Some twenty years ago Mr. M----, through the death of a relative, fell
in for a legacy of about a hundred pounds. As he was already in rather
prosperous circumstances, and as his old thatched dwelling-house was not
large enough to accommodate his increasing family, he resolved to spend
the money in building a new one.

"Not long afterwards building operations commenced, and in about a year
he had a fine slated cottage, or small farm-house, erected and ready for
occupation: so far very well; but it is little our friend M----
anticipated the troubles which were still ahead of him. He purchased some
new furniture at the nearest town, and on a certain day he removed all
the furniture which the old house contained into the new one; and in the
evening the family found themselves installed in the latter for good, as
they thought. They all retired to rest at their usual hour; scarcely were
they snugly settled in bed when they heard peculiar noises inside the
house. As time passed the din became terrible--there was shuffling of
feet, slamming of doors, pulling about of furniture, and so forth. The
man of the house got up to explore, but could see nothing, neither was
anything disturbed. The door was securely locked as he had left it. After
a thorough investigation, in which his wife assisted, he had to own he
could find no clue to the cause of the disturbance. The couple went to
bed again, and almost immediately the racket recommenced, and continued
more or less till dawn.

"The inmates were puzzled and frightened, but determined to try whether
the noise would be repeated the next night before telling their
neighbours what had happened. But the pandemonium experienced the first
night of their occupation was as nothing compared with what they had
to endure the second night and for several succeeding nights. Sleep was
impossible, and finally Mr. M---- and family in terror abandoned their
new home, and retook possession of their old one.

"That is the state of things to this day. The old house has been repaired
and is tenanted. The new house, a few perches off, facing the public
road, is used as a storehouse. The writer has seen it scores of times,
and its story is well known all over the country-side. Mr. M---- is
disinclined to discuss the matter or to answer questions; but it is said
he made several subsequent attempts to occupy the house, but always
failed to stand his ground when night came with its usual rowdy
disturbances.

"It is said that when building operations were about to begin, a little
man of bizarre appearance accosted Mr. M---- and exhorted him to build on
a different site; otherwise the consequences would be unpleasant for him
and his; while the local peasantry allege that the house was built across
a fairy pathway between two _raths_, and that this was the cause of the
trouble. It is quite true that there are two large _raths_ in the
vicinity, and the haunted house is directly in a bee-line between them.
For myself I offer no explanation; but I guarantee the substantial
accuracy of what I have stated above."

Professor Barrett, in the paper to which we have already referred, draws
certain conclusions from his study of this subject; one of the chief of
these is that "the widespread belief in fairies, pixies, gnomes,
brownies, etc., probably rests on the varied manifestations of
poltergeists." The popular explanation of the above story bears out this
conclusion, and it is further emphasized by the following, which comes
from Portarlington: A man near that town had saved five hundred pounds,
and determined to build a house with the money. He fixed on a certain
spot, and began to build, very much against the advice of his friends,
who said it was on a fairy path, and would bring him ill-luck. Soon the
house was finished, and the owner moved in; but the very first night his
troubles began, for some unseen hand threw the furniture about and broke
it, while the man himself was injured. Being unwilling to lose the value
of his money, he tried to make the best of things. But night after night
the disturbances continued, and life in the house was impossible; the
owner chose the better part of valour and left. No tenant has been found
since, and the house stands empty, a silent testimony to the power of the
poltergeist.

Poltergeistic phenomena from their very nature lend themselves to
spurious reproduction and imitation, as witness the famous case of Cock
Lane and many other similar stories. At least one well-known case
occurred in Ireland, and is interesting as showing that where fraud is at
work, close investigation will discover it. It is related that an old
Royal Irish Constabulary pensioner, who obtained a post as emergency man
during the land troubles, and who in 1892 was in charge of an evicted
farm in the Passage East district, was being continually disturbed by
furniture and crockery being thrown about in a mysterious manner. Reports
were brought to the police, and they investigated the matter; but nothing
was heard or seen beyond knocking on an inside wall of a bedroom in which
one of the sons was sleeping; this knocking ceased when the police were
in the bedroom, and no search was made in the boy's bed to see if he had
a stick. The police therefore could find no explanation, the noises
continued night after night, and eventually the family left and went to
live in Waterford. A great furore was raised when it was learnt that the
hauntings had followed them, and again investigation was made, but it
seems to have been more careful this time: an eye was kept on the
movements of the young son, and at least two independent witnesses saw
him throwing things about--fireirons and jam-pots--when he thought his
father was not looking. It seems to have been a plot between the mother
and son owing to the former's dislike to her husband's occupation, which
entailed great unpopularity and considerable personal risk. Fearing for
her own and her family's safety, the wife conceived of this plan to force
her husband to give up his post. Her efforts were successful, as the man
soon resigned his position and went to live elsewhere.[7]

[Footnote 7: _Proceedings_, S.P.R.]





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