The Black Death: Folklore and the Plague

It killed more than 20 million Europeans, almost one-third of the continent’s population, but arrived silently aboard 12 Genoese trading ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina in 1347. Onlookers who had come to welcome the ships were met with a terrible sight: many of the sailors had died at sea and the remaining crew on board these ships were severely ill. With the pain of illness, many of the sailors had become insane and were covered in oozing black boils. By the time any action was taken to make the ships leave, the affliction that had struck down the sailors had already jumped ship. By the time the sickness had run its course, it had cut down 75 million people, though this is only an estimate, worldwide. I’m speaking, of course, of The Black Plague.

Plague may take three forms (

1. Bubonic plague

In this form of the infection, bacteria infiltrate the lymph nodes, causing enlarged, painful, tender lymph nodes called buboes. Accompanying symptoms are fever, chills, headaches, and weakness. If not treated, the infection can spread to other areas of the body. This is the most common form seen in the few U.S. infections.

2. Septicemic plague

This form of plague is a result of plague bacteria entering the bloodstream. It can occur on its own or it may develop from bubonic plague. Symptoms include fever, chills, weakness, abdominal pain, and shock. There can be bleeding and tissue death, especially of the fingers and toes. These dying tissues may appear black, hence the name Black Death.

3. Pneumonic plague

In the pneumonic form of the illness, symptoms of other types of plague can be present, but the characteristic clinical picture of pneumonia is present. The plague bacteria spread to the lungs or infect the lungs directly when infected droplets in the air are inhaled. This is the only form of plague that can be transmitted from person to person. Shortness of breath, chest pain, fever, and cough with watery or bloody mucus production are symptoms of pneumonic plague.

According to, many early Europeans believed the plague was a punishment from God itself.

“Because they did not understand the biology of the disease, many people believed that the Black Death was a kind of divine punishment–retribution for sins against God such as greed, blasphemy, heresy, fornication, and worldliness. By this logic, the only way to overcome the plague was to win God’s forgiveness. Some people believed that the way to do this was to purge their communities of heretics and other troublemakers–so, for example, many thousands of Jews were massacred in 1348 and 1349. (Thousands more fled to the sparsely populated regions of Eastern Europe, where they could be relatively safe from the rampaging mobs in the cities.)

Some people coped with the terror and uncertainty of the Black Death epidemic by lashing out at their neighbors; others coped by turning inward and fretting about the condition of their own souls. Some upper-class men joined processions of flagellants that traveled from town to town and engaged in public displays of penance and punishment: They would beat themselves and one another with heavy leather straps studded with sharp pieces of metal while the townspeople looked on.”

I think it’s safe to say that everyone went a little mad. Their friends, neighbors and family members were dying all around them and it seemed as if the world they knew was disintegrating before their eyes. Their livestock died, the loss of so many sheep actually led to a wool shortage across Europe. It was a culture of insanity. I guess that’s why many people in Norway, both those suffering from plague symptoms and those looking on, believed that their afflictions had something to do with a creature from Norwegian folklore: Pesta.



Pesta, the Plague Hag


In Norwegian folk legend, Pesta is an old woman who carries both a rake and a broom.  It is also said that Pesta, the plague hag, carries pestilence with her. If Pesta brings her rake, some may survive the plague and pass through the teeth, but if she’s carrying her broom, there will be no survivors.

It’s no small wonder that the name Pesta is located on a list of popular baby names at number 71,580. If you hate your kid, name them Pesta.
As I was searching Google, I happened upon a list of baby names. Pesta sits around the 71k mark (predictable.) I scroll down and see there is no “meaning” for this particular baby name. There is, however, a little button you can push to suggest one. Guess what I wrote?

Plague Hag.

I’m sure that whoever checks that email will be stupefied.


The WordPress site Myths and Microbes states that Pesta arrives by a ghost ship filled with rats (I’ll tackle that in a little bit). The personification of an unseen force is a common theme in many folklore tales. For example, The Hag (of Newfoundland folklore) is a four-legged creature that sits upon your chest and freezes you to the spot. You’re unable to move or scream as it stares down at you with black eyes, its long, stringy hair brushing your face. Today, we know that this strange feeling some of us experience between sleep and wakefulness is actually something called sleep paralysis, but before there was a clinical diagnosis available to explain away fears there were a lot of people who slept with boards with nails in them (supposedly the Hag would get stabbed by the nails and run away, proof that folklore in no way has to be logical) across their chests at night.


According to Myths and Microbes, “This type of personification of death and disease is common during the late medieval period. It represents an attempt to explain a horrifying experience. The folklore of the black plague developed through observation of events that must have seemed inexplicable to the people living through them. We can, however, learn something about how the events unfolded through a careful examination of the folklore of Pesta. Folklorists argue that folklore can be true and can be the results of individuals “rationally perceiving a real situation.”  Through the story of Pesta and her path across Norway, we see an attempt to explain the spread of a disease based on actual observations. While the entity of Pesta is not a literal being, we can imagine her as a representation of the microbe that we know today.”

Pesta: The Personification of the Black Plague in Norway

The plague, known also by its Latin name Yersinia Pestis (pestilence), traveled from port to port by ship so it is no wonder that Pesta (personification of the plague itself) also used that mode of transportation. The folk legend states that Pesta traveled on a ghost ship filled with rats. But not only was Pesta the harbinger of grotesque suffering, those sailors that traveled by that same means were carriers of the plague and victims of Pesta.

Rats were said to be carriers of the plague during the first outbreaks. The plague bacteria is actually transmitted by fleas on the animals, not the rats themselves, but people had no way of knowing this. They simply associated the rats with the illness and certain folk legends in certain parts of the world perpetuated this belief.

Early Forms of Treatment

From The History Learning Site (

Vinegar and water treatment If a person gets the disease, they must be put to bed. They should be washed with vinegar and rose water

Lancing the buboes
The swellings associated with the Black Death should be cut open to allow the disease to leave the body. A mixture of tree resin, roots of white lilies and dried human excrement should be applied to the places where the body has been cut open.


The disease must be in the blood. The veins leading to the heart should be cut open. This will allow the disease to leave the body. An ointment made of clay and violets should be applied to the place where the cuts have been made.
Diet We should not eat food that goes off easily and smells badly such as meat, cheese and fish. Instead we should eat bread, fruit and vegetables


The streets should be cleaned of all human and animal waste. It should be taken by a cart to a field outside of the village and burnt. All bodies should be buried in deep pits outside of the village and their clothes should also be burnt.

Pestilence medicine

Roast the shells of newly laid eggs. Ground the roasted shells into a powder. Chop up the leaves and petals of  marigold flowers. Put the egg shells and marigolds into a pot of good ale. Add treacle and warm over a fire. The patient should drink this mixture every morning and night.

Place a live hen next to the swelling to draw out the pestilence from the body. To aid recovery you should drink a glass of your own urine twice a day.

Face of the Plague

Plague doctors were often hired to treat entire communities and paid a salary by said communities. The dominant theory around the 17th century was that miasma (“bad air”) was to blame for the spread of plague. This is why, on their faces, doctors wore masks with long “beaks.” The beak would be packed full of sweet-smelling mixes of herbs and flowers and the eyes of the mask would be covered with glass, “sealing” in the “good air” and forcing out the bad. Wikipedia states, “Medical historians have attributed the invention of the “beak doctor” costume to Charles de Lorme, who adopted in 1619 the idea of a full head-to-toe protective garment, modeled after a soldier’s armor. This consisted of a bird-like mask with spectacles, and a long leather (Moroccan or Levantine) or waxed-canvas gown which went from the neck to the ankle. The over-clothing garment, as well as leggings, gloves, boots, and a hat, were made of waxed leather. The garment was impregnated with similar fragrant items as the beak mask.”



“Dr. Schnabel”


Many people believe that the beaked mask, large hat, and long waxed robe were worn during the original outbreaks of plague. This is not the case as the miasma theory didn’t come along until much later.

Doctors would travel from town to town, often held for quarantine themselves due to their proximity to the afflicted, and treated sufferers as best they could. They carried a long staff so that they would have as little contact with the patient as possible. They would use it to point to various parts of the body, keep a safe distance from people who insisted on walking too close to them, or to help a patient remove his clothing. Maintaining a safe distance and wearing a garb that was covered in a waxy substance actually helped the doctor avoid getting sick. The wax on the leather would not allow liquid to permeate the outfit and with all of those people coughing bloody sputum everywhere, it likely saved many doctor’s lives. As for the miasma, that was a bit of a miss medically speaking although I’m sure all of the rotting corpses being thrown into the street and picked up in wagons to be burned didn’t smell too appealing.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,


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S2 Ep 8: Yo Ho Ho & a Dead Man’s Toe

Janine regales us with the classic folk legend of The Maniac in the Back Seat and Mimi takes us to Pioneer’s Rest Cemetery (also known as Bantley’s Rest) in Canton, WI, a place with a rather sordid past (supposedly.) 😉

This episode contains the bones of a child, a bleeding headstone, a maniac killer, and a peek into the facts surrounding a popular urban legend.

Thanks to Fox & Branch for our intro/outro music!

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Knife-Wielding Killer: The Maniac in the Back Seat (and the one tucked into our psyches.)

It’s been a lovely evening. A young woman walks out of a popular restaurant and heads to her car, popping the door open and sliding in. Without another thought, she jams the key into the ignition and heads home. It isn’t long after she’s left the lot that she notices a car behind her. It’s approaching fast and the driver is flashing his high beams. The woman is at first annoyed. The lights are distracting and making it hard for her to see the road. She adjusts her rear view mirror so that the light isn’t shining directly into her eyes and continues driving. That’s when the honking starts.

The car behind her is accelerating, the driver is laying on his horn, flashing his lights, and driving recklessly. Now, the woman can feel fear clawing its way up the back of her throat. The fine hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. This guy is crazy and he’s following her. She realizes that she’s close to home and it seems as if this individual isn’t going to leave her alone. In desperation, she allows the car to follow her back home, throwing the driver’s side door open before she’s barely put the car in park. The woman scrambles up the drive, yelling for her husband to call the police. As she enters the house, she looks back into the driveway and sees the driver of the other car pulling a figure from her back seat and subduing him.

An ax-wielding maniac had recently escaped from a nearby lunatic asylum and slipped into the back of her car while she was in the restaurant. Each time the maniac would rise up in the back seat to murder the young woman, the car behind her would flash its lights and honk its horn. The potential killer would then duck down out of view. The young woman was lucky to be alive.

The moral of the story? ALWAYS check your back seat!

Good Advice

I’m guilty, too. Whenever I leave a mall, a coffee shop, a gas station, or a fast food restaurant, I always glance over my shoulder. I’ve done it for so long it just makes too much sense not to do it. But where did this fear originate? Where did I first hear about random strangers hiding in the back seats of cars? Did I imagine it one day as I walked to my car in the dark, allowing my mind to wander off where it shouldn’t have gone? Is my paranoia blame? Turns out, the answer is no.

According to Wikipedia, “The Killer in the Backseat (also known as High Beams) is a common, car-crime urban legend well known mostly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It was first noted by folklorist Carlos Drake in 1968 in texts collected by Indiana University students.”  It’s always the same, a lone woman in a risky situation. She’s leaving the gas station or a mall and suddenly she’s in grave danger. It takes a random stranger (always male) to save her. I’m not a fan of what I like to call the princess complex by urban legends, but for some reason or another, that’s just how they’re told. Here’s how this one plays out.

“The legend involves a woman who is driving and being followed by a strange car or truck. The mysterious pursuer flashes his high beams, tailgates her, and sometimes even rams her vehicle. When she finally makes it home, she realizes that the driver was trying to warn her that there was a man (a murderer, rapist, or escaped mental patient) hiding in her back seat. Each time the man sat up to attack her, the driver behind had used his high beams to scare the killer, in which he ducks down.

In some versions, the woman stops for gas, and the attendant asks her to come inside to sort out a problem with her credit card. Inside the station, he asks if she knows there’s a man in her back seat. (An example of this rendition can be seen in the 1998 episode of Millennium, “The Pest House”.) In another, she sees a doll on the road in the moors, stops, and then the man gets in the back.”

Let’s not forget the KITBS tale that played out in the opening of the 1998 film Urban Legend (one of my personal favorites.)

Jan Harold Brunvand, the author of the Encyclopedia of Urban Legends, Volume 1, has this to say about this famous urban legend.


According to Brunvand, the tale was given a boost of popularity in the 1980’s when it was featured in Ann Landers’ advice column. An individual from California wrote Landers in 1982, opening the letter with, “I tell this story to everyone I meet but I hope that by telling you, others will get the message.” The story ran concurrently in several newspapers but received little response from Landers. The writer ended with the moral, “always check the back seat” and encouraged Landers to spread the word. Landers simply replied, “Consider it spread–and thanks for the tip.” The story also found its way into crime prevention brochures. In 1983, a widely reprinted New York Times article spoke of a woman who was a karate expert and gives courses on anti-abduction techniques. The story the “expert” used as an example was the urban legend of The Killer in the Back Seat, choosing the gas station version to drive her point home.


It seems that there are two classic versions of this particular urban legend. In the first telling, the woman is on her way home from a night with the girls, she’s leaving a restaurant or a bar. In the second version, the woman stops at a gas station to refuel. The woman is told over the intercom by a gas station attendant that there is an issue with her credit card (or that she has to come in and sign the slip) and she will have to come into the service station to resolve it. The setting of a gas station at night is a familiar one. You might remember, a few years ago, a tale about a predator that would hide under cars while they were refueling and slice women’s ankles with a razor or piano wire. This version had something to do with a gang initiation and was circulated as a chain letter through email.

A friend stopped at a pay-at-the-pump gas station to get gas. Once she filled her gas tank and after paying at the pump and starting to leave, the voice of the attendant inside came over the speaker. He told her that something happened with her card and that she needed to come inside to pay. The lady was confused because the transaction showed complete and approved. She relayed that to him and was getting ready to leave but the attendant, once again, urged her to come in to pay or there’d be trouble. She proceeded to go inside and started arguing with the attendant about his threat. He told her to calm down and listen carefully:

He said that while she was pumping gas, a guy slipped into the back seat of her car on the other side and the attendant had already called the police.She became frightened and looked out in time to see her car door open and the guy slips out. The report is that the new gang initiation thing is to bring back a woman and/or her car. One way they are doing this is crawling under women’s cars while they’re pumping gas or at grocery stores in the nighttime. The other way is slipping into unattended cars and kidnapping the women.Please pass this on to other women, young and old alike. Be extra careful going to and from your car at night.

If at all possible, don’t go alone! This is real!!

The message:

1. ALWAYS lock your car doors, even if you’re gone for just a second!

2. Check underneath your car when approaching it for reentry, and check in the back before getting in.

3. Always be aware of your surroundings and of other individuals in your general vicinity, particularly at night!

Send this to everyone so your friends can take precaution.


Barbara Baker, Secretary Directorate of Training U.S. Army Military Police School

So what do we make of all this KITBS mumbo jumbo? It’s certainly never happened in real life, right? Actually, that’s not entirely true. It did actually happen, to a male police officer in 1964. Apparently, the cop found an escaped murderer in the back seat of his cruiser. The killer was subdued and subsequently arrested, but is this instance still fueling the paranoia of female motorists?

Across the Pond

It’s entirely possible that at some point in the past, a woman was in danger of being murdered by an assailant hiding in her back seat, but this Urban Legend isn’t as popular in Europe as it is in the United States. Although the KITBS story also ran in some European newspapers, it just never caught on. What does that say about American culture? Are Americans more apt to believe that random strangers are out to kill them? Perhaps. In all honesty, checking the back seat prior to getting into your car isn’t a terrible idea. You never know who might be lurking…

Your Fellow Haunt Head,


Tweet us @hauntheadscast

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S2 Ep. 7: Dissin’ Dustin OR Sarah’s Shinanigans

S2 Ep. 7: Dissin’ Dustin OR Sarah’s Shenanigans
Mimi talks about the house that Sarah Built, otherwise known as the Winchester Mystery House, and Janine discusses safety coffins and the very Victorian fear of being buried alive!
This episode contains Netflix and podcast recommendations, high school horrors, Dustin Diamond, and stairs to nowhere.
Janine’s piece gets a little gross here and there, but we don’t think it’s anything you can’t handle. 😉
Intro/Outro music by the very talented Fox and Branch! Find more of their tunes at
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Ring My Bell: Safety Coffins and Death in the Victorian Era

I think it’s safe to say that those who lived during the Victorian era had an obsession with death. They crafted small portraits made from the hair of deceased family members that could be placed in brooches and worn, wore lachrymatory bottles (often mistaken for perfume bottles) on chains around their necks in order to catch the tears they wept for a departed loved one, and erected lavish monuments at grave sites. They even purchased new sets of mourning clothes each time someone passed on because keeping such clothing afterward and reusing it was considered bad luck. In fact, stores existed that catered only to those in mourning and sold every item an individual might need to properly mourn a loss. Mourning times ranged from four weeks (first cousins) to two whole years (for a spouse.) We wear black (or dark) clothing to funerals now, so that’s not too terribly odd, but we’ve since moved away from the regular practice of purchasing a special coffin for grandma, fully equipped with a bell, feeding/breathing tube, and spare set of crypt keys, just in case she was mistaken for dead.

Welcome to the wonderous (and often crazy) world of safety coffins.

Taphophobia, the fear of being buried alive, was quite common in the Victorian era, mainly because it was often difficult for doctors at the time to say for sure whether or not someone was sincerely dead. I’m currently flashing back to the scene in The Wizard of Oz where the Munchkin Coroner proclaims the Wicked Witch, “Most sincerely dead.”


On a completely unrelated note, I visited the National Musem of Funeral History in Houston, TX in March of last year and saw the costume worn by Meinhardt Raabe in the film. Anyway, I digress…

Stop Blowing Smoke…

Bodies would often be kept in Waiting Mortuaries or “Apparent Dead Houses” (as they were called in the Netherlands) for a period of time prior to being buried. The bodies in these mortuaries were cared for by a staff of nurses and were not buried until they showed signs of putrification. Flowers were placed by each bedside (to mask the odor or decay) and mirrors or feathers were held under the nose or by the mouths of the deceased in order to check for breath. In Europe, tobacco smoke enemas were often employed. Administered using a bellows, (they were originally done using a pipette and the smoke was blown into the rectum from the mouth of whoever was doing the check) the sensation of the smoke supposedly would wake those falsely proclaimed deceased. There were cases in which people did actually wake up. Of course, these cases then served as proof that the practice was viable. Of course, probes and needles were also used to poke and prod the body. Likely to give the poor bastard stuck with the smoke-blowing job a break. That’s a shitty end to the practice of drawing straws…excuse the pun.

Saved By the Bell

The first safety coffin was designed by Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick around 1790. His model included an air/feeding tube, a window to allow light, and a spare set of keys for the coffin itself and the tomb in which it was housed. By the 19th century, the Germans had created a whole line of safety coffins (around thirty or so) that included elaborate bell and pulley systems. Unfortunately, the human body tends to bloat when decomposing, causing the corpse to shift. Using a bell to detect accidental death is about as realistic as Dustin Diamond resurrecting his career at this point, but many mortuaries and cemeteries employed the bell as a tool to detect mistaken burial.

A Peek At the Afterlife

If you’ve ever gone wandering through Evergreen Cemetery in Vermont, you might have come across the grave of Dr. Timothy Clark Smith whose “window to the world,” is likely the creepiest physical manifestation of Taphophobia. The “window” is actually more of a tube that has a cap on both ends, allowing visitors to look down the tube and into the face of the sleeping Dr. Smith. At least it used to.

I’m pretty sure all anyone can see at this point is condensation and darkness, but people claimed to have been able to see Smith’s rotting corpse staring up at them, a hammer and chisel nearby to aid his escape. Of course, when Smith died, he was most definitely dead. Others weren’t so lucky.

In a report that dates back to the fourteenth century, whether entirely truthful or not, it is said that the philosopher John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) was buried alive. Upon exhumation, Scotus was reportedly found outside his coffin with his hands and fingertips torn and bloody.

In Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear, author Jan Bondeson writes,


According to Wikipedia,

Newspapers have reported cases of exhumed corpses which appear to have been accidentally buried alive. On February 21, 1885, The New York Times gave a disturbing account of such a case. The victim was a man from Buncombe County whose name was given as “Jenkins.” His body was found turned over onto its front inside the coffin, with much of his hair pulled out. Scratch marks were also visible on all sides of the coffin’s interior. His family was reportedly “distressed beyond measure at the criminal carelessness” associated with the case. Another similar story was reported in The Times on January 18, 1886, the victim of this case is described simply as a “girl” named “Collins” from Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. Her body was described as being found with the knees tucked up under the body, and her burial shroud “torn into shreds.””

Live burial may seem like a thing of the past, but even the best doctors can make mistakes. The article continues,

“In 2005, a body bag was delivered to the Matarese Funeral home in Ashland, Massachusetts with a live occupant. Funeral director John Matarese discovered this, called paramedics, and avoided live embalming or premature burial.

In 2014 in Peraia, Thessaloniki, in Macedonia, Greece, the police discovered that a 45-year-old woman was buried alive and died of asphyxia after being declared clinically dead by a private hospital; she was discovered just shortly after being buried by children playing near the cemetery who heard screams from inside the earth and afterwards her family was reported as considering suing the private hospital.  In 2015 it was reported that in 2014 again in Peraia, Thessaloniki, in Macedonia, Greece, police investigation concluded that a 49-year-old woman was buried alive after being declared dead due to cancer; her family reported that they could hear her scream from inside the earth at the cemetery shortly after burial and the investigation revealed that she died of heart failure inside the coffin and found out that it was the medicines given to her by her doctors for her cancer that caused her to be declared clinically dead and buried alive.”

What are your thoughts on safety coffins, the Victorian view of death and bereavement, and the practice of housing the dead in Waiting Mortuaries? I’d love to read your comments!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,


Tweet us @hauntheadscast

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S2 Ep 6: Ghosts and (Polter)geists!

New Episode of Haunt Heads!
S2 Ep 6: Ghosts and (Polter)Geists
It’s a new year and a new episode of Haunt Heads! This week, Mimi and Janine bring you tales of ghosts and geists! Janine weaves the tale of the Enfield Poltergeist and Mimi takes us on a tour of the Lemp Mansion in Saint Louis, MO.
This episode contains a peeping tom ghost, a haunted bar, marbles and Lego’s learning to fly, and a spirit named Bill.
Music: Our intro/outro has been generously supplied by Fox and Branch. To hear more of their music, visit them at
If you haven’t already, please take a moment to leave us a review on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. =)
Find this new episode on or wherever you listen to podcasts!

S2 Ep 6: Ghosts and (Polter)geists

It’s a new year and a new episode of Haunt Heads! This week, Mimi and Janine bring you tales of ghosts and geists! Janine weaves the tale of the Enfield Poltergeist and Mimi takes us on a tour of the Lemp Mansion in Saint Louis, MO. 

This episode contains a peeping tom ghost, a haunted bar, marbles and Lego’s learning to fly, and a spirit named Bill.

Music: Our intro/outro has been generously supplied by Fox and Branch. To hear more of their music, visit them at

If you haven’t already, please take a moment to leave us a review on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. =)

Call and Answer: The Enfield Poltergeist

Happy New Year and welcome back! I hope you’ve managed to maintain your resolutions up to this point and wish you all the luck and generally wonderful things that 2018 might bring. Haunt Heads returns with more podcast episodes on Monday, January 15, but until then, I bring you a haunted tale on par with the Amityville Horror and A Haunting in Connecticut.

This week’s post brings another “haunting” to the forefront. I use quotations because, as was the case with the Fox sisters and Stratford Knockings, children are involved. For many reasons, children fabricate imaginary friends and phenomena, be it for attention or to make life a little more exciting, and (in my personal opinion) I am far less likely to believe the tales of hauntings that involve them. Perhaps there are cases of hauntings where kids are actually in danger and being tormented but, as the saying goes, a few bad apples have spoiled the bunch.

In the case of the Enfield Poltergeist, my feelings don’t really change. The events that follow occurred at 284, Green Street, a council house in Brimsdown, Enfield, England from 1977 to 1979. It involves two sisters, ages 11 (Margaret) and 14 (Janet) and two brothers aged 10 (Johnny) and 7 (Billy) years old. In August of 1977, Peggy Hodgson, a single mother, contacted the authorities regarding some strange incidents occurring in her home. Hodgson claimed that marbles and Lego bricks would come flying across the room at tremendous speed, seemingly appearing out of thin air. Pieces of furniture would move across the room or be thrown aside and knocks and voices could be heard within the walls of the home. Some of those voices seemingly emanated from Hodgson’s eldest daughter, Janet. She also claimed that the children would often be thrown from their beds or levitate. The police, of course, had no way to handle this issue, even though a female officer on the scene had seen a chair move of its own accord, and were at a loss.

Before we go any further, let’s discuss what a poltergeist actually is. Wikipedia defines a poltergeist as follows.

“In folklore and parapsychology, a Poltergeist (German for “noisy ghost” or “noisy spirit”) is a type of ghost or other supernatural entity that is responsible for physical disturbances, such as loud noises and objects being moved or destroyed. They are purportedly capable of pinching, biting, hitting, and tripping people. Most accounts of poltergeists describe the movement or levitation of objects such as furniture and cutlery, or noises such as knocking on doors.

They have traditionally been described as troublesome spirits who haunt a particular person instead of a specific location. Such alleged poltergeist manifestations have been reported in many cultures and countries including the United States, India‚ Japan, Brazil, Australia, and most European nations. Early accounts date back to the 1st century.”

Enter Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair, two paranormal investigators and members of the Society for Psychical Research. Gross and Playfair would come to the Hodgson residence and spend countless hours speaking with the spirits in the home, requesting affirmation of their existence and asking them questions. Grosse recorded these sessions, many of them are available online (a YouTube video is available and features 22 recordings from Grosse’s investigation. It can be found HERE.), and his questions received a high level of response. For every yes or no question that was asked, a response was received. Both Grosse and Playfair reported that many of the strange noises and whistling sounds, voices, barks, and growls came from Janet’s general direction. Playfair asserted that the haunting was genuine, even writing a book about it entitled This House is Haunted: The True Story of a Poltergeist (1980). However, Playfair did admit that he did not believe all of the claims of supposed supernatural occurrences around the home. Playfair doubted the children’s stories in many respects, but both Grosse and Playfair believed that there were also other forces at work in the home. Of course, news outlets like The Daily Mirror had a field day with the story and the Hodgson family’s ordeal was often front page fare.


The Hodgson children were terrorized by an unseen force according to investigators Playfair and Grosse. Janet, far left, was the primary focus of the attacks and activity.

One of the creepiest parts of the haunting as a whole has got to be the voice of Bill Wilkins (a man who supposedly died in a chair given to the Hodgsons by their neighbors the Nottingham’s) speaking through Janet. It was discovered by Grosse that Janet was not actually using her vocal chords to create the voice. Rather, she was using a part of the throat that only gets used when someone is suffering from laryngitis. The resulting sound is grating and uneven, leaving the listener with a serious chill.

Grosse was surprised by Janet’s ability to speak in this way for long periods of time, stating that Bill Wilkins would often speak through Janet for three or more hours at a time. When I was a kid, I often made scary voices to try and freak out my friends while playing spotlight in the woods surrounding my childhood home. I wasn’t nearly the accomplished ventriloquist that Janet was, but many have cast doubt on Janet’s ability to communicate with the other side siting similar childhood pranks they had performed to creep people out.


In 2016, Chris French, a professor at the University of London’s Anomalistic psychology research unit, discussed 5 reasons why the Enfield Haunting was a hoax. He appears regularly in the media and is an expert on testing paranormal claims. Timeout London released an article in June of 2016 outlining French’s ideas.

French states:

1. The two sisters at the centre of the case admitted to hoaxing some of the ‘poltergeist’ activity 

Chris French: ‘The girls admitted they faked stuff. Of course, people who believe them say: “Well, they might have faked some of it, but some of it must be real.” Believers tend to think: We’re too clever to be hoaxed by schoolgirls. But just because you didn’t figure out how something was done doesn’t mean it was impossible to do. Conjurers have been doing it for centuries.’

2. A classic photo of 11-year-old Janet levitating above her bed could easily be Janet jumping

‘There is lots of evidence to suggest she’s not hovering in mid-air. People have reproduced that image at home, jumping up and down on a bed. This case isn’t strong, but it’s a good story.’

3. The spirit of an old man, Bill, who possessed Janet, was obsessed with periods

‘When Janet was supposedly possessed by the spirit of an old man, he took a lot of interest in menstruation. That’s not something you expect an old man to be interested in. But a young girl? Well yes. There are so many question marks hanging over the case.’

4. Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. Witnesses in the Enfield Poltergeist case included a policewoman who swore she saw a chair move across a room

‘We’ve researched the unreliability of eyewitnesses. We’ve been able to show the power of suggestion in experiments in controlled conditions. To give you one example, we carried out a study where we showed people a video of an alleged psychic (he was a conjurer) doing a spot of psycho-kinetic metal bending – the stuff that made Uri Geller famous. After bending the key by sleight of hand, he puts the key back on the desk and says: “If you look closely you see it’s still bending.” Typically, 40 percent of people report that it carries on bending. Conjurers have known about this stuff for centuries. Psychologists are coming to it a bit late in the day.’

5. It wouldn’t be the first case of a schoolgirl prank that got out of hand

‘I strongly suspect it was Janet and her sister behind it. There are other cases where schoolgirl pranks have got out of hand. What essentially starts as a trick grows and grows. Outside people get involved and it’s very difficult to backtrack. So my money would be on the girls. There were investigations by people who were convinced that the girls were doing all these things themselves, that it was attention-seeking behaviour.’



CONJURING 2 (2016) Plot Synopsis (Spoilers Ahead!)


  • Amityville, Long Island, New York, 1975

    Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are sitting with the Lutz family in the infamous Amityville home. A year earlier, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. murdered his family with a shotgun, and the Lutz family claims to have been experiencing paranormal phenomena. The Warrens conduct a seance, in which Lorraine has a vision where she sees herself in Ronald’s position on the night of the murders. She watches herself committing the acts, first with Ronald’s parents, and then his three siblings. Lorraine then encounters a demonic creature taking the form of a nun, followed by a man dying. Lorraine screams, and Ed pulls her out of the vision and comforts her.

    Three years later in Enfield, England.

    Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) is sitting outside the school with her friend Camilla (Emily Tasker) as Camilla smokes a cigarette. She passes it to Janet right before a teacher walks outside and scolds the girls for smoking. She confiscates the cigarette and takes a puff.

    Janet lives with her older sister Margaret (Lauren Esposito), younger brothers Johnny (Patrick McAuley) and Billy (Benjamin Haigh), and their mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor). The Hodgsons are struggling financially, the children’s father left them for a neighbor woman, and Billy has a speech impediment that gets him bullied at school. Peggy has self-doubts as a single parent.

    At night, Janet and Margaret are sleeping in their room, when Janet begins to feel a disturbing presence. It sounds as though she’s speaking to herself, but then she begins responding with a growling, raspy voice that claims “This is my house!” Margaret thinks Janet is fooling around until she stands by Margaret’s bed, and the voice of an older man behind Margaret repeating the statement. Margaret turns the light on and finds nobody behind her. She decides to sleep with the light on.

    Back in the States, the Warrens are on a talk show to discuss the Amityville case. The other guest on the show dismisses the case as a hoax before criticizing Lorraine’s supposed clairvoyance. This enrages Ed, leading to him arguing with the other man. Lorraine calms him down backstage.

    Janet and Billy play with a turntable based on the tune of “There Was a Crooked Man”. As the children go to bed, Janet ties her arm to the bed. She ends up on the floor of the living room with no idea as to how she got down there. Billy walks around the house when he sees a toy firetruck on the floor. He rolls it into a tent in the hallway, but moments later, the truck rolls into Billy’s room. He goes back outside and rolls it into the tent, at which point a booming groan is heard. Billy runs to his mother’s room while Margaret hears a pounding at her door. She opens it and sees no one outside until Janet returns, denying that she was pounding on the door.

    The next day, Janet is watching TV, and the channels start changing on their own. The remote has also vanished. Janet goes looking for it and finds it on the chair behind her. A ghostly figure emerges from the corner and growls, “MY HOUSE!” Janet runs back to the couch screaming.

    That evening, Janet ends up on the floor of her room as though she was thrown. She tells Margaret that there is someone in the house. Before Margaret can dismiss that, their beds start shaking. They scream and run to Peggy’s room. She goes to the girls’ room and thinks they’re playing around until the girls’ dresser is shoved hard against their door.

    The Hodgson’s head over across the street to the home of their neighbors, the Nottingham’s. Peggy calls the police to inspect her house. The police find nothing, but they then see a chair sliding across the room on its own, leaving them spooked.

    At the Warren house, Ed is painting a picture of something he claims to have seen in a dream. It’s the same demonic nun that Lorraine saw in her vision. Later, while she sits in the living room with their daughter Judy (Sterling Jerins), a noise is heard in the hallway. Judy goes outside to look. Lorraine finds her staring in horror at the demon nun. Lorraine follows it into the office. She thinks she sees the nun in the darkness, but it’s just the painting. However, the demon is still in the room, and it walks up to the painting and makes it come to life. It growls as it runs toward Lorraine, causing her to see the same vision as before, only this time, we see the man who dies – it’s Ed, simply saying, “I’m sorry, Lorraine” before a large wooden spike impales him. Lorraine starts screaming and scribbling into her bible before Judy snaps her out of it.

    People in Enfield become aware of the Hodgson’s haunting. Several paranormal researchers get involved, including Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) and Anita Gregory (Franka Potente), the latter claiming there is a lack of evidence to suggest the phenomena is truly paranormal. Maurice and a news crew gather in the Hodgson home to interview Janet and Margaret. During the interview, Janet looks uncomfortable, and she begins to speak with the voice of a raspy old man. The entity says its name is Bill Wilkins, who is 72 years old, and demands that everyone leave his home.

    At the Nottingham home, the children sleep in the living room. While everyone else is asleep, Billy walks through the house and encounters a creature that takes the form of The Crooked Man, reciting the nursery rhyme monstrously and chasing Billy. When he runs to tell his mom and the others, Janet emerges with the creepy voice saying the rhyme. She then lets out a horrifying sound that shatters the glass in the room. She passes out and starts foaming at the mouth.

    A priest goes to the Warren home and plays an audio recording of the interview for Ed and Lorraine to listen to. The priest asks them to help in this case. Lorraine is hesitant as she explains to Ed the vision she saw of his death. He thinks it’s a sign that maybe she is meant to prevent it. They decide to head over to England.

    The Warrens arrive in Enfield and meet the Hodgson’s. Peggy shows Ed the bedroom that is now trashed, and the walls are covered in crosses. They proceed to lock the room with a chain. Lorraine meets Janet outside her house, sitting on the swingset. Janet expresses her sadness that people are avoiding her over the supposed haunting. Lorraine comforts her in saying that maybe one person can help change things like Ed has for her. Janet says the voice she hears says it wants to hurt Lorraine.

    The Warrens, along with Maurice and other crew members, gather in the Hodgson living room to try and communicate with the spirit. Janet sits in the chair and starts speaking with the voice of Bill Wilkins once the adults turn their backs to her. Ed pulls out his cross necklace and puts it in front of Janet’s face, making Bill sound distressed. He yells something unintelligible before everything seems to calm down.

    The Warrens talk to the other investigators with the evidence they have. Anita is the most skeptic, thinking Janet is playing some kind of game. Ed also appears to have doubts himself.

    The Warrens stay with the Hodgson’s for the night. Janet finds herself in the bedroom with the crosses. They all start to turn upside down before Janet is attacked by Bill’s ghost. Her screams alert the adults, who rush to unlock the door to get Janet out.

    On another occasion, Peggy brings Ed downstairs to the basement to inspect her water problem that left the basement flooded. Peggy thinks she sees someone behind Ed, but the ghostly vision of Bill is in the water and grabs Peggy. Ed helps her break free.

    The children take a liking to the Warrens as they maintain their stay. After Peggy notes that her ex-husband took the music from the house, Ed buys an Elvis record for the kids to listen to. Unfortunately, the record player stopped working. Undeterred, Ed picks up a guitar and starts playing “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”. He also convinces the kids to never let bullies get them down.

    Lorraine speaks with Maurice privately. He says they are about to be part of history. Lorraine is uncertain with his comment, but he adds that he lost his daughter years ago and has been hoping to communicate with her in some way if it were possible.

    On another night, the kids hear noises coming from the kitchen. Johnny decides to investigate to fight this “bully”. Margaret then screams as Janet disappears. She pops up in the kitchen with a knife and the door lock. The adults try to get into the kitchen as things are being thrown around. They find chairs and dishware broken all over the kitchen, but Johnny and Janet are nowhere to be found. They eventually do find Johnny, and Janet is stuck inside an electrical box, speaking another unintelligible message before getting pulled out.

    Anita shows the Warrens video evidence of Janet herself throwing things in the kitchen to give the appearance of a haunting, making it look more obvious that she was faking. Peggy sends everyone out of the house. Later, as the kids also believe Janet was faking, she tells them that “it” was going to hurt her family if she didn’t do what was told of her.

    The Warrens board the train to head home, even as Lorraine continues to express uncertainty over how it just appeared Janet was faking when a camera was pointed at her. Ed then plays the recordings of Bill’s voice, which he realizes are connected. Played together, the messages come out to “Help me! It won’t let me go!” Lorraine is then pulled into another vision. She sees the real Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian) sitting in his chair, no longer threatening. He speaks in a riddle to Lorraine before the demon nun appears behind Bill and takes him away. This leads Lorraine to realize that Bill is just a pawn, and this demon is the true threat. They rush back to the Hodgson home while trying to decipher the riddle. Ed figures that Bill meant to say they need to find the demon’s name in order to have power over it.

    The Warrens return to find the family locked outside the house in the pouring rain. Ed tries to break in through the back. Lightning strikes the tree in front of the house, leaving a sharpened stem that Lorraine recognizes as the thing that kills Ed in her vision. She tries to figure out the demon’s name before realizing she already DOES know it. She looks into her bible and sees from her scribbling that the demon’s name is Valak. She rushes into the house to go after Ed.

    Ed is partially blinded when a pipe bursts and sprays steam in his face. He stumbles and is attacked by The Crooked Man before coming across the room where Janet is. She stands by the window as it shatters, leaving her an opening to jump onto the stem. Ed rushes to grab her, just catching her as he holds onto the curtains that are ripping. Lorraine reaches the room and tries to save Ed, but Valak emerges and holds Lorraine back. Lorraine utters the demon’s name and condemns it back to Hell. Lorraine runs to save Ed and Janet in the nick of time. Janet is just fine.

    In the morning, everything has calmed down. Peggy and Janet thank the Warrens for helping them. A brief text is followed that states that the Enfield haunting became one of the most notorious cases in history. Peggy Hodgson continued living in the house for 40 years until she died in the same chair as Bill Wilkins.

    The Warrens return home. Ed takes the Crooked Man turntable and puts it in his museum (right across from Annabelle, no less). He then hears music playing from upstairs. Lorraine put on “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”. The two of them then share a dance.


So what can we take from the Enfield haunting? I’m a firm believer that the Hodgson family were victims of a ruse. Janet played them all for fools, I suppose in an attempt to make herself more visible. With three other siblings, all younger than she, I would imagine it was quite hard to get her mother’s attention. Janet did this in the only way she knew how. They lived in an old house and had just gotten a chair a man had died in. She fabricated Bill Wilkins and a few other “spirits” to further add interest to the haunted happenings in the home. In my opinion, there are no video recordings to support poltergeist activity. It seems to me that, every time something happens within the home, the camera is looking the other way or is jerking one way or another, blurring the image. In the case of the Fox sisters and the Amityville Horror, the motivation was money. The Hodgsons received no money in exchange for their story (at least that’s what the world has been told), but something tells me that 14-year-old Janet never even considered monetary gain when it came to gaining the attention of her mother.

What do you think about the Enfield Poltergeist? Let us know in the comments!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,


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Winter Hiatus

Haunt Heads will return with a new podcast episode in January 2018 (either the 14th or the 15th.) New blog posts will be available on January 9.

We’ve got some great stuff coming in the new year. Stay tuned and STAY SPOOKY!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,


S2 Ep. 5: The Banff Diggity or Blood Marmalade

This week, Mimi and Janine recall some of their favorite past episodes and topics and discuss shuffling off their mortal coils (a discussion of life insurance.) Janine discusses corpse medicine and Mimi takes us to Banff, Alberta, Canada, and into the Banff Springs Hotel. 

This episode contains nostalgia, mummies used as a cure-all, blood marmalade, a ghostly bellhop, and a hidden room.

DISCLAIMER: This episode contains descriptions of cannibalism and the use of human remains as medicine. It might gross you out if you’re a sensitive sort. Listener discretion advised!