What Poltergeists Are
“Did that butter churn just move? ‘Cause if it did…” – Homer Simpson
Poltergeist derives its name from two German words. Poltern, which means to create a disturbance, and Geist, or ghost. This corroborates Merriam-Webster’s definition:
: a ghost that makes strange noises and causes objects to move.
But if your knowledge ends with the titular film, prepare for a mind blow. Ghosts may have nothing to do with poltergeist! Paranormal Psychoanalyst Dr. Nandor Fodor believed poltergeists were a psychokinetic outburst. In simple English, humans project energy which moves inanimate objects. The culprits are typically distressed individuals, such as those going through puberty.
So which is it – teen angst or ghost?
The truth may lie in the middle. Each tale we’ve selected features elements from both explanations. We leave it to the reader to decide
Years active: 1878-1879
Esther Cox narrowly escaped the treacherous rapist Bob MacNeal. She would endure another sinister force.
Paranormal events followed the incident. Cox, whom lived peaceably with in-laws, noticed subtle disturbances in the home. It began with a shape moving underneath her bed sheets. Then, strange sounds coming from a box of fabric strands underneath her bed. When Cox and her sister went to investigate, the box sprang onto its side. The duo righted the box, which jumped a second time! Had a mouse made its nest? Her search revealed nothing.
The poltergeist was only getting started with Cox. On the third night after the ‘mouse’ incident, Cox leapt from her bed in agony! Her sister awoke in fright and shone a lamp. Esther Cox has turned deep red! Her eyes and skinned bulged as if it jumping off her body. She experienced severe pain
and was hot to the touch. As her remaining relatives rushed in to investigate, thunderous booms shook the room and Esther’s symptoms disappeared.
Objects continued to move day after day and her afflictions mounted.
Doctor Carritte was summoned to provide a natural explanation. Instead, he bore witness to spontaneous fires, levitating knives, moving furniture, and finger marks appearing on Esther’s face. Most disturbingly, Carritte saw the phrase ESTHER COX YOU ARE MINE TO KILL etch itself into the wall above her bed. He remarked to a friend years later, “Honestly skeptical persons were on all occasions soon convinced that there was no fraud or deception in the case. Were I to publish the case in the medical journals, as you suggest, I doubt if it would be believed by physicians generally. I am certain I could not have believed such apparent miracles had I not witnessed them.”
Relocating did not make her tormentor relent. The phenomena drowned out a Baptist minister’s sermon and Esther was banned from neighboring homes. It culminated with the poltergeist burning a nearby farmers barn to the ground. Esther was convicted on arson charges and served a month sentence in prison. The haunting ceased soon afterward
Years active: Early 1800`s
The Bell Witch phenomena allegedly piqued President Andrew Jackson’s curiosity. We think that makes it a worthy entry.
Then General Jackson heard stunning reports about a disturbance on his former subordinates’ farm land. John Bell, patriarch of the family, came across a rabbit-dog hybrid in his corn fields. The chimera fled but returned at night to rap on his log home. Despite being fleet of foot, the Bell family could never apprehend the culprit. Bell’s offspring were tormented by an invisible force shortly afterwards. Gnawing, as if by rats, woke them mid sleep. Bed ornaments were strewn about their rooms by the entity.
Betsy Bell, the youngest daughter, had her hail pulled and was slapped around. The entity became chattier with time and was said to quote scripture and hold intelligent conversation. Andrew Jackson decided to pay John Bell’s boys a visit and investigate. Jackson, several men, their valiant steeds, and his wagon approached Bell’s property. At once the party was stopped in its tracks! Try as they might, Jackson’s men could not prod the horses along. Jackson could only proceed when he acknowledged the ‘Bell Witch.’
One among Jackson’s entourage proclaimed himself a witch tamer. He boasted that a gun loaded with silver bullets could kill any evil being. At that moment, the tamer was brutalized and hauled out the door. Jackson and his men fled Bell’s colony for Nashville the next morning.
The Bell Witch was not yet finished with Betsy. When she became engaged to neighbor Joshua Gardner the entity voiced its displeasure. Wherever they went, the Bell Witch followed. Betsy could stand its taunting no longer and broke off the engagement. The disturbance abated.
Bell senior, however, was dogged until his grave. The witch would mock his feeble, aging constitution. When he did pass, a vial was left near his bed. Bell Junior fed it to the household cat, which died immediately! It is said the Bell Witch cackled wildly at John’s funeral until the last attendee left.
Years active: 1977-1979
We’ll return to North America but now it’s time to hop across the pond.
Recently separated Peggy Hodgson was putting her two daughters, and two sons to bed when it happened.
Based upon our previous entries, wouldn’t you say they all do? Knock. Knock. Knock – the Poltergeists?
“Stop mucking about!” she yelled at her daughter in the room above. The poltergeist would have to up the ante! The next evening, more of the same occurred. This time Peggy was barred from the room when a chest drawer blocked the door. “Pack it in!” Peggy commanded.
Undeterred, the poltergeist persisted with strange noises. Miss Hodgson called the police to investigate but England’s finest could not find the source. One officer signed an affidavit stating that a large armchair had moved apparently unassisted. Media photographer Graham Morris recalls objects flying about and the Hodgson’s in disarray. Even BBC reporters were plagued by inconvenient equipment failure. Other witnesses stated toys, apparel, and furniture moved by itself.
Most disturbingly, Peggy’s daughter Janet was a mouthpiece for a deceased tenant. She described how a Bill Wilkins passed:
“Just before I died, I went blind, and then I had a hemorrhage and I fell asleep and I died in the chair in the corner downstairs.”
This corroborated Bill Wilkins son’s account of how his father died.
Janet was at other times possessed by an entity named Stuart, whom had a fondness for knock-knock jokes. Archived photos demonstrate the possessor’s ability to cause Janet to levitate.
After (finally) leaving their home, the poltergeist ceased to terrorize the Hodgsons. New lodgers have themselves experienced an uncomfortable presence. In June, 2016, Warner Bros. released a film adapted from the Enfield Poltergeist story titled, The Conjuring 2
Tina Resch had all the making of a poltergeist invasion. Her formative years may have been lost were it not for her adoptive parents. But Tina was part and parcel with another sinister addition. Claims of an unseen visitor moving household objects reached Mike Harden at the Columbus Dispatch. After observing Tina for hours, the Dispatch photographer got the shot of his career. A phone receiver pulled itself across Tina’s lap whilst she raised her hands in shock.
The Resch family entrusted William Roll with chronicling events. He observed appliances turn on and off, glass objects spontaneously shatter, and other utensils fly about. Roll’s claims naturally attracted gawkers and critics alike. The poltergeist turned Tina’s life in to a media hell! Though more than 40 people allegedly witnessed paranormal activity, it waned in time. Perhaps aware that audiences were losing interest, Tina forged one last phenomenon. Cameras caught Tina pushing a lamp over.
So, is the Columbus Poltergeist fact or fiction? Tomfoolery aside, investigators recall movements which were physically improbable. One reporter had been interviewing Tina when the kitchen chairs spread out in three directions. Roll remained convinced until his death in 2012.
Wanet McNeill is an ideal candidate for Nandor’s theory. After experiencing her parent’s bitter separation, the 14-year-old and her pa moved to her uncle’s farm. The situation was tense. Negative emotion bubbled to the top and manifested itself as fire. Within weeks, Wanet lit random fires all over the family farm. But not with matches – no – with psychokinetic energy. Wanet’s troubled mind caused flammable material to combust. Her poltergeist had an affinity for wallpaper.
Cinders would appear on the household wallpaper and erupt immediately afterwards. The family, friends, and neighbors stood ready to douse them. Macomb’s Fire Chief instructed them to strip wallpaper from every inch of the house. It was to no avail! The plaster caught fire and flames began spreading on the ceiling. Rather than halting, the spot fires merely changed course. The porch, curtains, and furniture went up in smoke. Underwriters Laboratories, a firm with over a century in safety solutions, examined the building material. No flammable compound was identified.
Over 200 fires broke out before consuming the farm house. Then the two barns, milk house, and chicken coop. Enough was enough! Macomb’s authorities had to find a scapegoat quick. Paranormal historians believe that scapegoat took the form of Wanet McNeill. Though Wanet confessed to being an arsonist, witnesses were incredulous. What of the fires that had started when Wanet was not present? This author is simply amazed that any insurance company would pay the farm owner out!
If there is one thing poltergeists don’t like, it’s sleeping in their bed. In fact, poltergeists seem generally attracted to beds. Al Cobb found out the hard way when he purchased an antique bed for his teenage son. Jason Cobb, 14, complained that he was being watched in his sleep. It felt as though elbows were planted adjacent his head whilst someone breathed down his neck. Jason awoke one morning to see his grandparents’ photos knocked over. He adjusted it but woke next day to the same.
Shortly after eating breakfast, Jason returned to his room and found stuffed toys arranged neatly on his bed. The Cobb’s were alarmed! Al spoke out, “Do we have a Casper here? Tell me your name and how old you are.” He laid out paper and crayons for their guest. The Cobbs returned 15 minutes later to find a crudely written, ‘Danny, 7.’ Al attempted to communicate with Danny once more. In terse sentences, Danny explained his mother had died in that bed. He wanted to remain with it, though disproved of others sleeping in it. Jason goaded Danny into action.
Jason mock slept on the bed to see what Danny would do. While gathering his clothing, a terra cotta took aim at Danny and flew off the wall. And in true poltergeist fashion, furniture moved, drawers opened, cutlery was set, and posters were arranged to spell names. Al Cobb communicated with other entities. Uncle Sam demanded the Cobb’s return his daughter buried beneath their house. Jill invited the Cobb’s to a party in their living room.
Parapsychologists assert the house’s electromagnetism supercharged Jason’s latent physic ability. This, not Danny, caused the poltergeist.
Who was right? What Poltergeists Are
Here is what we know about the six stories. Young, impressionable, men and women star in all of them. Excluding the final entry, those individuals underwent great stress. On the surface it appears that poltergeist occurrences are the same as hauntings. In 4 of the 6 stories, the poltergeists are more than noisy ghosts – they communicate with victims. We hypothesize that poltergeists prefer to hang around teenagers. And beds.
Make some noise in the comment section!
Poltergeists aren’t necessarily fun if you’ve experienced them but we’d love to hear your encounters. Or share your poltergeist theories in the comment section below.