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The Poltergeist Files

Part 1. Do You Believe in Poltergeists?

    The word "poltergeist" is German for "knocking" or "rattling ghost". According to ghost hunters, specialists in the occult, and some witnesses, poltergeists are noisy, irritating, and bothersome spirits.

    Most reports of poltergeist activity begin with an unseen force throwing things in the witnesses' home. The thrown items often include stones, dirt, plates, vases, and other small household objects. Poltergeists have also been reported to move large pieces of furniture, make loud sounds like shrieks and moans or bangs and thumps, and they sometimes produce vile smells. They have also, on rare occasions, been accused of pinching, hitting, and even biting people.

    The belief in poltergeists goes back a long time. In fact, the first recorded poltergeist activity happened way back in 355 A.D. A household in Germany was in turmoil because some invisible force was throwing stones at the people who lived there, rapping and knocking on the walls at all hours of the day and night, and tipping beds over dumping their sleeping occupants onto the floor. (Although any ghost hunter of today would consider this typical poltergeist behavior, at the time it was blamed on "invisible demons".)

    One characteristic that separates the poltergeist from all other ghosts and haunts is that the poltergeist is never seen. It remains invisible as it does its damage, makes noise, and moves or throws objects.

    Have you ever encountered a poltergeist? Tell me about it!

Part 2. More Poltergiest Fun

    Poltergeist activity has been recorded throughout history. This is a sampling of documented cases.

    Remy, a noted demonologist and witch-hunter of medieval times, described a poltergeist case he investigated. The servants of a wealthy merchant complained that they were constantly being harassed by an invisible force. The demon, they claimed, was constantly throwing stones at them. These attacks occurred whether they were indoors or outdoors, whether it was daytime or nighttime. Finally the servants became so tired of this threatment that they threw stones back! Shortly after that the entire house burned to the ground. Remy suggested the invisible spirit was to blame for the blaze.

    1877 - Derrygonnelly, Ireland
    Sir William Barrett, a respected physicist, investigated reports of poltergeist activity on a small farm where a widower lived with his five children. The family claimed they were hearing knocking sounds at all hours and saw objects seem to move by themselves. There was, of course, the possibility that someone was playing a prank, but during his investigation Barrett performed one test that couldn’t be faked: he asked the spirit to knock the number he was thinking of. It did so. Barrett tried this test a number of times--he was the only one who knew the number--and the being knocked out the correct answer every time.

    1883 - Nottinghamshire, England
    A police constable and the family doctor came to the home of Joseph White in response to reports of odd goings-on. White and his family described the poltergeist activity that they were witnessing. Naturally, the constable and the doctor were doubtful about what they were hearing. But when they were left alone for a moment in the parlor, the Constable and the doctor saw a ceramic bowl rise by itself in the middle of the room. The bowl rose all the way to the ceiling, then fell to the floor, smashing into a bits.

    1894 - Durweston, England
    A Mr. Newman came at the calls of his neighbor, Mrs. Best, who claimed she had heard scraping sounds and seen flying objects. Mrs. Best, in a panic, pointed to a boot which she claimed had flown toward the back door. Nearly hysterical, she threw the boot out into the garden. Mr. Newman, trying to calm his neighbor, walked out into the garden and put his foot on the boot, saying, “I defy anything to move this boot.” He lifted his foot--and the boot suddenly flew up into the air and kicked his hat off his head.

Part 3. 20th Century Poltergiests

    All the poltergeist reports you've read on this page so far have been hundreds of years old. But reports of poltergeist activity didn't end with the dawn of the technological era and the space age. Here's a small sample of reports from the 20th century.

    1952 Neudorf, Germany
    The mayor of the city of Neudorf was the victim of poltergeist activity in his house. Witnesses saw objects float near the ceiling then fall to the floor. One person saw a clothespin climb, all by itself, up a door and then fly off. Other people watched as things shot into a room through a wall--without leaving a hole in the wall. When these objects were picked up, they were warm.

    1960 - Sauchie, Scotland
    Usually a potergeist stays in one place. But a poltergeist who had been moving furniture at the home of an eleven year old girl, Virginia Campbell, followed her to school one day. Virginia's teacher reported that the top of the girl's desk rose by itself while no one was near it. Then the teacher’s own desk began to rotate while she was seated at it but no one was touching it.

    1967 and 1968, West Germany
    A law office seems the last place a poltergeist would strike--but it happened in Germany. Light fixtures on the office ceiling constantly swung back and forth, and light bulbs exploded. Building inspectors and electricians were called in, but no explanation was found. The telephones also misbehaved,with all the phones ringing at once when no one was calling in.

    1967 - Miami, Florida
    A warehouse full of glass items--glasses, ashtrays, plates, and the like--was attacked by a poltergeist, who caused thousands of dollars worth of damage. Over 200 incidents occured that could not be explained through any normal means. Police, magicians and others were called in, but were unable to come up with an explanation.

    Many scientists and foundations have studied poltergeist activity, including the Psychical Research Foundation in Durham, North Carolina, and Duke University's Foundation for Research on the nature of Man. In the mid-1970s, one organization conducted a computer study of poltergeist reports, and found the following patterns:

      64% involved moving small objects
      58% most active at night
      48% included raps and banging on walls
      36% movement of large objects
      24% continued for more than one year
      16% involved communication between the residents and the poltergeist
      12% included opening and shutting of doors and windows

Part 4. Dangerous Poltergeists

    Many poltergeists reportedly engage in behavior that is irritating. Other poltergeists are said to engage in activities that can be considered scary. But few poltergeists have been reported to be actually dangerous or harmful. There are, however, exceptions. Here are a handful of reports in which the poltergeist seems intent on causing actual physical harm.

    In 1890, a policeman in England who came to a home to investigate a poltergeist claimed he was attacked by his own billy club. A priest who was called in to exorcise the house was struck about the face and neck by his own Bible!

    In Romania in 1925 a young girl had her face scratched, her arms bitten and her hair pulled by a poltergeist.

    In 1962, in Indianapolis, Indiana, a family claimed they were attacked by a poltergeist in their home who scratched and bit them. An investigator at the house witnessed the grandmother being attacked. The old woman cried out to the ghost to stop biting her. The investigator then found fresh wounds on the woman's chest and arms.

    In the incident at the law office in Germany in 1967, which was described here last week, a team of investigators arrived on the scene. As the lead investigator discussed his theories with other members of his team, things turned nasty at the office: objects began falling off shelves, and paintings hanging on the walls began swinging wildly. Drawers opened by themselves and some flew all the way out of their cabinets. One large filing cabinet weighing over 400 pounds began to bounce away from the wall.

    So what are poltergeists? Ghosts? Angry spirits? Or something else entirely?

Part 5. Poltergeist Theories

    In ancient times, people believed invisible demons were responsible for poltergeist activity. And for the past several hundred years, poltergeists were assumed to be ghosts.

    But more recently, starting in the 1950s, parapsychologists (people who investigate ghosts and other supernatural or extraordinary phenomena) noticed that the poltergeist activity usually occurs when a teenager is present. They also noticed that poltergeists tend to do the same kinds of things a young child having a tantrum might want to do. This has led some parapyschologists to speculate that there isn't really a ghost involved at all.

    In most cases the young person, who lives or works in the home or office where the poltergeist activity is taking place, is under a lot of stress. Often there is a lot of tension revolving around the teen. In some cases the teen is having an emotional trauma that he or she cannot talk about. This frustration and anger can’t be released physically, so it comes out as psychokinesis, or PK--the ability to move objects just by thinking about them. In the case of poltergeist activity, it seems to be completely subconscious--the person causing the activity doesn’t know they’re doing it.

    In the case at the home of the mayor of Neudorf, Germany, in 1952 (described in a previous installment), Hans Bender, a professor at a German University and a specialist in poltergeist cases, came to investigate. He noticed that the incidents only occurred when the Mayor’s 13 year old son was present. Bender spoke to the boy and found out that he was filled with conflicted, confused, and highly charged feelings of anger, anxiety, and fear. Bender speculated that these feelings were somehow touching off the events they were seeing.

    Bender also investigated the 1967 German law office case (described previously). Bender realized the incidents only occurred whenever Annemarie, a 19 year old part-time employee, was in the office. Bender spoke to Annemarie, and found she was very insecure and had difficulty handling frustration. As soon as she left the premises, all unusual movement and noise stopped.

    And in the 1967 Miami warehouse case (also described previously), a 19 year old male worker was present during the poltergeist-caused destruction of glassware. The teen was under observation during the incidents, and could not have physically caused the damage himself. Under psychological counselling, however, it was discovered that he had a great deal of hostitiity that he couldn't express openly. Parapyschologists believed his mental energy could have caused the poltergeist activity.

    So what do you think? Do you think poltergiests are ghosts, demons, or PK? Or do you think it's all a load of hooey, and that there's no such thing as poltergeists? Have you ever been in a house with a poltergeist, or had any similar spooky experience? Let me know!

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