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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