This House is Haunted: Famous Poltergeist Cases
Poltergeist cases have always enthralled and bewildered modern scholars of the supernatural. Their utterly random nature and unpredictability presents challenges to any and all who would study them. And those who have to live through them learn the true meaning of terror - especially those on the direct receiving end of the poltergeist's attentions...
Of course, through Wraith: the Oblivion we have our own, in-game explanation as to what happens when objects break or start to fly across the room. However, it's always fun to look at things from the other side of the equation: what might a mortal investigator of the paranormal with absolutely nothing in Wraith Lore fall back on when things start to go crazy? He has no idea about "Haunters" or "Pandemonium," but he does have an utterly immense library of psychic phenomenon to pour over for an answer.
So, for those Storytellers who enjoy some "realism," we proudly present a quick look at Poltergeists and a well-known event from each of the more recent Wraith eras (Victorian Age, The Great War, and the Modern Day). This would be a great resource for Storytellers who want to run a Quick and the Dead-style game with poorly-informed characters, look at Orpheus from the perspective of someone outside the Orpheus Group, or else portray a modern-day Psychic Researcher who has no bloody idea what he's stumbled onto.
Poltergeists in General:
Most psychic researchers consider Poltergeists not to be ghosts at all, but something entirely different. In traditional hauntings, the presence felt or seen can be tied back to an individual or an occurrence: the cold drafts come from the room where Aunt Agnes died, the blood stains appear where the traveling salesman was murdered in 1865, etc. However, with poltergeist cases, the effects literally come from nowhere, and often disappear right back into it just as unexpectedly.
Poltergeist cases tend to center around one unlucky person, known as the "Agent." They are often children or teenagers, and tend to be going through tough times at the time the events start. Sometimes the activity ends if the poor situation changes for the better, and sometimes the events end without any such prompting.
Some researchers of the paranormal are of the thought that the unusual activity may be caused by the agents, themselves, rather than an outside entity. In short, the Agent unconsciously causes the activity as a result of the anger and inner turmoil that he feels. This is known as the theory of Repressed Psychokinetic Energy - RPE, for short.
The RPE theory came into being around the early part of the 20th century, courtesy of the psychic research that had come out of the Spiritualist craze of the previous age. Prior to that, Agents were thought to be possessed by demons or attacked by ghosts.
The Amherst Haunting (Victorian Age Wraith)
A rather spectacular case of 19th century poltergeist activity was the "Amherst Haunting." It took place in Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1878, and is one of the few poltergeist cases in which the entity claimed a name for itself: "Bob." The case is also unusual because the agent was well past puberty.
Esther Cox, a 19-year-old who had recently been the victim of an attempted rape at gunpoint, was living in a cramped, two-story cottage with her extended family. One night, Esther started to feel ill, and went to bed early. She then awoke the entire house with her cries that she was dying. Her eyes went bloodshot, her hair stood on end, and her body puffed up to twice its normal size. As she cried in pain, the house was shaken by booming rolls of thunder, though there were no clouds in the sky.
The swellings continued after a few nights, and her bedclothes were ripped off of her and tossed into a corner. Those who attempted to hold her down were struck by flying pillows. A doctor came in the next day to examine her, and was hit by a flying bolster; As he recuperated, words a foot high were scratched on the wall - "Esther Cox! You are mine to kill." He also heard thunder, and saw plaster fall from the ceiling and whirl about in the room.
On subsequent trips to the house, the doctor heard raps on the roof. When he went outside to investigate, he could see no one on top of the cottage, but the family insisted that the noise had continued while he was outside.
These poundings would eventually last throughout the day, becoming so loud that passersby could hear them. The strange noises were reported in various Canadian newspapers. After that, the case started to attract a lot of attention. Crowds, excited over the publicity, camped outside the cottage to satisfy their curiosity.
Esther left the cottage to stay with a restaurant owner for a time, and the disturbances stopped at the cottage. However, the restaurant's furniture was tossed around. When she came back, the disturbances continued, only now the spirit was communicating: Esther could hear a voice threatening to burn down the house. It dropped lit matches from the ceiling as proof, and ignited one of Esther's dresses as well.
The fires continued, and the spirit expanded its range of operation. Esther was sent to stay with a neighbor, and fires erupted in the cottage, even without her presence. It undressed Esther's brother three times in public on a single day. Even the cat wasn't immune: one day "Bob" levitated the poor kitty five feet into the air and brought it down on Esther's shoulders.
After some time, the landlord decided he'd had enough of his property being damaged, and asked Esther to leave. She suffered at least one more attack by the poltergeist: he followed her into a barn and set it afire, leading to her being charged with arson. Fortunately, she managed to escape jail time. After Esther was married, "Bob" troubled her no more.
One of the theories at the time, put forward by the clergy that investigated the matter, was that electricity was to blame. At least once, during the early stages of the activity, Esther complained that she felt as though electricity was going through her body. Reverend Dr. Edwin Clay, a well-known Baptist, believed that Esther had received an electric shock, and had become a living battery of sorts. He theorized that she was giving off small bolts of lightning, and the noises were thunder.
As preposterous as this idea sounds today, we should remember that electricity had just recently become commercialized, and was quite in vogue as a wonder of the age. Rev. Clay gave several lectures on the subject of Esther's electricity, and defended her virtue from those who claimed she was faking the whole thing.
As for "Bob" being a ghost: there was at least one attempt to exorcise him, but it failed. The officiating Reverend tried to get the poltergeist to answer questions, and "Bob" replied with loud trumpet playing. The Reverend called the thing off and ran from the house, but "Bob" kept playing, anyway, dropping lit matches during the finale.
The Devil Girl (Wraith: the Great War)
After investigating the case of a man who was having coffee urns appear in his arms, noted psychic researcher Harry Price went to Vienna in 1926 to encounter Eleanore Zugun: the so-called "Devil Girl." She was convinced that she was being targeted by the Devil, whom she referred to by the Romanian word "Dracu." Eleanore's case makes for an almost-textbook example of RPE, though the ferocity of the poltergeist activity is of particular note to researchers.
Until the activity began, Eleanore seemed to have had a normal childhood in her Romanian village of Talpa. Her mother died when she was young, but she seems to have been living in a stable home environment, and in reasonably good health. "Dracu" started attacking her in 1925, when she was 12 years old, following an ill-fated visit to her grandmother in a nearby village.
On the way to her grandmother's, Eleanore came across some money on the side of the road. She spent it all on candy, and got into an argument with a cousin over what she'd done. Her grandmother, overhearing the argument, told Eleanore that the money had probably been left by the Devil: by spending it on candy, she'd eaten the Devil, and would never be free of him.
Whether this wisdom was meant as a homespun punishment or genuine warning isn't known. However, the next morning, her grandmother's house was bombarded with stones, and small objects near Eleanore started flitting into the air. Eleanore's Grandmother decided the Devil had come after her granddaughter, and sent her back to Talpa.
The "Devil" followed. Three days later, Eleanore's house started being pounded by stones. A priest tried to intervene, but no no avail. She was sent to a neighbor's house for her own safety, but the phenomenon occurred there as well, and she was beaten and threatened with being locked up in an asylum by the frightened neighbors.
Nothing her family tried to do worked. An exorcism resulted in burst pots and shattered windows, and a special mass and pilgrimage failed to fix matters. The family sent her to a convent for a while, but the Devil wasn't put off by his holy surroundings: tables levitated, and the nun's habits were teleported from one room to another - right through stone walls and locked doors. After more failed exorcisms, hypnosis, psychologists, and other forms of intercession, Eleanore was declared insane and placed in an asylum.
By this time, the haunting had begun to attract the attention of the press, and a German psychical researcher by the name of Fritz Grunewald took an interest in the case. He managed to get Eleanore's father to release her from the asylum and into his care. After seeing the effects of "Dracu" first-hand, he went back to Germany to find accommodations for the girl. Unfortunately, Eleanore's rotten luck held true, and her benefactor expired due to a heart attack before he could finalize matters.
Eleanore was able to find new hope in another benefactor. Romanian Countess Zoe Wassilko-Serecki, a psychical researcher living in Vienna, adopted Eleanore and took her back to Vienna for observation. Throughout the next year, the Countess would be a witness to over 900 incidents of poltergeist behavior: objects levitating, breaking, disappearing, materializing, filling with water and the like.
About two months into Eleanore's stay with the Countess, the woundings began. Bite-marks, scratches and pinpricks would appear on Eleanore's arms, face, chest and hands. While the scratches and welts left by these attacks were consistent with what her nails or teeth might have made, Eleanore's hands were held, and she closely watched, for most of the incidents. Most observers were convinced that she wasn't injuring herself.
In April of 1926, Harry Price went to Vienna to make Eleanore's acquaintance. He was not disappointed by what he witnessed, and asked the Countess and her ward to visit his National Laboratory for Psychical Research, back in London. There, under Price's observation, the attacks continued; They were witnessed not only by Price, but by reporters and other scientists as well.
Price noticed that Eleanore was very convinced that she was being attacked by an alien entity: she would leave "peace offerings" around the room for "Dracu" in the hopes that he would harm her less. He also discovered that her heart rate went from 75 to 95 BPM right after an attack, which, to him, indicated that there was a physiological connection between her and "Dracu."
Price's observations led him to determine that "Dracu" had been created by Eleanore, herself. Her fear over what her grandmother had told her had created a psychological disorder, which was manifesting through the extreme poltergeist activity.
When Eleanore reached puberty, "Dracu"
disappeared. Eleanore and her mentor went back to the continent,
where she received a degree in hairdressing and set up shop in
Czernowitz. If "Dracu" ever returned, there is no record
On the other hand, it's interesting to see that the Countess' nurturing and guiding presence in Eleanore's life may have played a large part in setting her mind at ease. The girl lost her mother at an early age, and while that might not have traumatized her any more than it normally would, was there not a chance she was subconsciously looking for a mentoring, mother figure? If so, finding one in the Countess may have given her the psychological boost she needed to "outgrow" the Devil.
We should also note that besides being around 105, Eleanore's grandmother was supposed to have been a witch. Did she have an unfriendly spirit hanging around her house that decided to have some "fun" with her granddaughter?
The Enfield Poltergeist (Modern Era Wraith)
The Enfield case, which elicited a great deal of media attention, remains a source of controversy. Though later investigations by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) would turn up trickery, early events which occurred before third party witnesses cannot be so easily explained. The case is also interesting because the true Poltergeist activity may have been caused by overall tension in the house, rather than the mental and/or physical state of one agent in particular.
Peggy Harper was a divorced woman living with her four children in a townhouse in Enfield, North London. On August 30th, 1977, two of her children had their beds start jumping up and down. When Peggy got to the room, the beds were no longer behaving strangely.
That ended the matter for that night, but things began to go seriously awry the next. Shuffling noises were heard in the bedroom whenever the lights were turned off. While Peggy was in the room, with the lights off, there were four loud knocks from the wall they shared with the neighboring house. And then, with the lights on, a large chest of drawers slid a full foot and a half across the floor, away from the wall; whenever it was pushed back, it would slide to its new position once more, and eventually refused to budge from it.
That was the last straw: Peggy bundled her four children up and marched over to their neighbors' house. The neighbors looked over the house, but couldn't explain the noises, and neither could the police they called in. While inside the house, a policewoman saw a chair levitate, move to the side and then return to where it started. Obviously the police couldn't arrest a ghost, so they promised to keep an eye on things.
The next day the children's toys were flying about in the air. With the police unable to do anything more than stare, Mrs. Harper called the press. The Daily Mirror sent over a photographer, who was struck with a lego brick while taking a picture. The impact was severe enough to leave a serious bruise.
When the photographer developed the photograph, he saw a hole in the negative, no trace of the brick, and that the two people in the photo could not have thrown it. After that, the Daily Mirror called the SPR, who sent Maurice Grosse over to keep their reporters company. His presence seemed to calm things down in the house, but before long the poltergeist was throwing chairs about in the children's room. One the photographers managed to get a picture of this.
Writer Guy Lyon Playfair, who would later document the case in This House is Haunted, came over to join Grosse. Over the next two years, the two men would investigate the goings-on at the house, which were rarely dull. Messages began appearing on the walls, drawers would open and shut, and more knocking and drumming sounds could be heard. One time, a curtain wrapped itself around the neck of one of the girls, and Peggy had to forcibly pull it away.
The poltergeist activity came to an end in 1979. One of the girls' entering puberty may have had something to do with the cessation, but it's also been theorized that Peggy had an effect as well. She realized that she never put her feelings about her divorce in order, and, once she did, the poltergeist activity came to an end in short order.
A short time later, however, the incidents started up again. This time, a different pair of SPR investigators came to look into the matters, and discovered nothing but easily-detectable fraud. The "incidents" took place around the two girls, who were caught pretending to appear in a locked bedroom, and making rude noises from under sheets. They even caught one girl on camera: she was seen to be bending spoons and jumping up and down on the bed.
The girls were most likely just doing it for
attention, and it left the impression that the SPR, press and
other researchers had been taken for a two-year ride. But, although
the case clearly took a turn for the fraudulent, we're still
left with what went on in the early stages.