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.
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.
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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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,
A new intro, but the same old dance from us!
S2 Ep. 4: Burrito Ghosts
Janine explores the practice of Spiritualism and tells the tale of the Stratford Knockings and the Fox Sisters. Mimi again takes us across the pond to the Thirsk Museum in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, UK, for a sit and a cuppa. Whatever you do, don’t sit in Busby’s Chair!
This episode contains turkey talk and traditions, a (potentially) dropped burrito, an entity named “Mr. Splitfoot,” and a little healthy raggin’ on Bagans.
St. James Infirmary, is generously provided by Fox and Branch and is used with their permission. For more info about them and additional samples of their music, visit their website HERE. You can also purchase digital and physical copies of their CD’s, which is something we’re sure they’d love. =)
Everyone loves a good ghost story. There’s something about the use of narrative to relay a spooky tale that gets the blood pumping and the fine hairs on the back of ones neck standing at attention. Every story has its own twist, its own flavor, and the tale of the Fox Sisters and the Stratford Knockings have a flavor all their own.
The Fox Sisters
Around 1850, many individuals claimed to be able to communicate with the other side. There had been a rise in Spiritualism, a system of religious practice or belief that communication with the dead is possible through a medium. Supposed mediums began popping up everywhere, all claiming that they had a direct line to the afterlife. The cause of this rise (or rather, explosion) can be traced to three sisters, Leah, Kate, and Margaret, but they are more widely known as The Fox Sisters.
Kate (age 12) and Leah (age 15) lived with their parents in a modest house in Hydesville, New York. Although Hydesville no longer exists, it was located just outside Newark. In March of 1848, the girls began to report knocking sounds. At times, it sounded like furniture being moved around. The house was rumored to be haunted, but until this point there was no verification of this.
Kate would often ask the noisemaker, an entity the girls began to call Mr. Splitfoot, a nickname for the devil, to communicate. She would snap her fingers and ask for the entity to repeat the pattern. It would. When she requested it to knock as a response and she would get it. Eventually, the girls created a code in order to communicate with Mr. Splitfoot using a series of knocks that corresponded to the letters of the alphabet. Think along the lines Stranger Things when Joyce hangs Christmas lights and draws the alphabet on the wall to communicate with Will in the Upside Down, but with only knocks. I knew I’d manage to fit a Stranger Things reference in here somewhere. ;).
After some time, the entity identified itself as one Charles B. Rosna, a peddler. According to the spirit, his remains were buried in the cellar following his murder five years prior. No peddler by that name could ever be identified, but a skeleton was found buried in one of the cellar walls in 1904. A manhunt followed and a man named Bell was eventually accused of the crime, having been the previous owner of the house, but was never convicted of murder. Bell would be ostracized from the community for the rest of his life as a suspected murderer.
During all of the excitement at home, Kate and Margaret resided in nearby Rochester. Kate with her sister Leah and Margaret with her brother David. The strange occurrences followed them. Long time friends of the Fox family (and radical Quakers), Amy and Isaac Post, invited the girls to visit them in their Rochester home and began to tell all of their radical Quaker friends about the girls and their supernatural abilities.
In the first ever public exhibition of Spiritualistic practice in 1850, the sisters, Margaret and Kate, performed seances for a large audience at Corinthian Hall in Rochester. The girls asked questions of the spirits they claimed were present and received definitive answers. Onlookers were enthralled by the spectacle and the sisters became quite popular. That is until the investigations began.
Scientists and doctors at the time believed that the sounds emanated from the girls themselves, saying that clicking joints were the cause of the “rapping.” E. P. Longworthy, a physician, noted that the noises always seemed to come from under the girl’s dresses and never from an outside source. He explained that cracking toe joints, hips, and knees could produce such a sound and, in fact, the sounds the girls created were so loud that they could be heard plainly throughout a large hall.
Many more in the scientific community came forward to cast doubt upon the public seances and, in time, the crowds at the Fox Sister’s events and their popularity dwindled. Margaret attempted to return to the practice later in her life due to financial need. Although she had confessed to a major newspaper that the rappings were a farce, she tried to recant her statement but to no avail. At the time of their death, the women were penniless and were interred in pauper’s graves in Brooklyn, NY.
Margaret had this to say about their ruse.
- “Mrs. Underhill, my eldest sister, took Katie and me to Rochester. There it was that we discovered a new way to make the raps. My sister Katie was the first to observe that by swishing her fingers she could produce certain noises with her knuckles and joints, and that the same effect could be made with the toes. Finding that we could make raps with our feet – first with one foot and then with both – we practiced until we could do this easily when the room was dark. Like most perplexing things when made clear, it is astonishing how easily it is done. The rapping are simply the result of a perfect control of the muscles of the leg below the knee, which govern the tendons of the foot and allow action of the toe and ankle bones that is not commonly known. Such perfect control is only possible when the child is taken at an early age and carefully and continually taught to practice the muscles, which grow stiffer in later years. … This, then, is the simple explanation of the whole method of the knocks and raps.”
She also wrote:
- “A great many people when they hear the rapping imagine at once that the spirits are touching them. It is a very common delusion. Some very wealthy people came to see me some years ago when I lived in Forty-second Street and I did some rappings for them. I made the spirit rap on the chair and one of the ladies cried out: “I feel the spirit tapping me on the shoulder.” Of course that was pure imagination.”
Harry Houdini was devoted to debunking Spiritualist activities and had this to say about the practice of Spiritualism.
- “As to the delusion of sound. Sound waves are deflected just as light waves are reflected by the intervention of a proper medium and under certain conditions it is a difficult thing to locate their source. Stuart Cumberland (an English mentalist-added) told me that an interesting test to prove the inability of a blindfolded person to trace sound to its source. It is exceedingly simple; merely clicking two coins over the head of the blindfolded person.”
Eliakim Phelps was a Congregational minister in Stratford, Connecticut in the 1850’s. He and his wife, a much younger woman who had been widowed as he had, and their blended family, lived in a beautiful home. It had been built by Matthias Nicoll for his daughter Elizah and her husband Captain George Dowdall in 1826. Dowdall worked in the China trade and the top floor of the home had been modeled to look like the deck of a ship, but when Dowdall died in China several years following the house being built, it was put up for sale. Phelps saw the property as the perfect place for his family and purchased it, using it seasonally and living the rest of the time in Philadelphia. It is at this point that things begin to get a little strange.
One day, the family, Phelps, his wife, the children (from their previous marriages), and the 3 year old daughter they shared, returned from church to find the house in a shambles. Their belongings were strewn about, clothing and trinkets lay everywhere, and the mirrors in the home had been draped in black funeral crepe. Naturally, the family was taken aback. Who would have done this? Phelps told his family to wait as he explored the house to ensure nobody was hiding inside. Upon inspection, he found no one and realized that nothing had been taken. Assuming it was the work of vandals, he gave the rest of the family the all clear and they proceeded about the task of cleaning up. When Phelps entered the master bedroom, he found a dress laid out on the bed. The arms were crossed over the chest in funeral pose. The dress had belonged to his previous wife, now deceased.
The scene made Phelps uneasy, but he simply brushed it off as a prank. In the weeks and months that followed, there were more strange occurrences. Books, tools for the fireplace, and a potato would appear in random locations in the house. Items thought to have been under lock and key appeared in plain sight. Items would fall from their places and windows would be smashed. At one point, Phelps send the remainder of the family on to Philadelphia to see if the activity would continue. Something tells me he believed it was the work of one of the children. The activity was less frequent, but continued.
When the whole family was back in the house, they found that the spirit(s) most often communicated with 11 year old Henry. He would ask questions and the spirit(s) would rap out answers. Sound familiar? Friendly spirits would help the family locate lost or misplaced items while “evil” spirits would set fires and break windows.
Newspapers had a field day with the Phelps story. There was much speculation as to the validity of the claims the family made and many wondered if they were simply telling tall tales. A few news outlets stated that they believed the rapping and lost objects were the doing of Phelps’ wife and children. Others claimed he was in on the ruse. The events would start and stop according to the time Henry spent in the house, so the sounds and damage were largely blamed on him.
Phelps eventually sold the home to the publisher of the New York Sun and the family moved away in 1852. There were no further reports of ghostly happenings on the property. The house has long since been demolished, but the story lives on in spooky Connecticut history.
What do you think of Spiritualism? Drop us an email and tell us about your tarot/star readings or experiences with psychics. We’d love to read them. =)
Your Fellow Haunt Head,
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NEW EPISODE AVAILABLE 11/13/2017!
This week, Mimi returns with the tale of Poveglia Island in Venice, Italy, and Janine mesmerizes us with the story of Franz Freidrich Anton Mesmer, the father of Mesmerism.
This episode contains memories from Halloween past, talk of witches and The Craft, being recognized, and shitty people.
*Note: If you’re not a fan of chit chat, we’d suggest you begin listening at about 20 minutes in.
I’m a Halloweenie. I just can’t help it. There’s something about the cooler evenings of Fall that bring out the goblin in me and cause me to ransack the basement in search of fake spiderwebs and inflatables. Maybe it’s the change in the weather, the fact that I can wear my regular wardrobe (seriously, I’m addicted to hooded sweatshirts), or the fact that there’s pumpkin spice EVERYTHING. I don’t know. All I know is, the mere sight of the Halloween section in a store, no matter how minuscule, makes my heart flutter and instantly transports me to a time when my dad and I would ransack the neighborhood for candy treats in one of the many homemade costumes he had designed and crafted for me. But that was a long time ago.
Since the days of trick or treating with my dad, I’ve moved from Newfoundland, Canada, to Milwaukee, WI. I’ve also aged 22 years. I’ve gotten married and purchased a house. In the purchase of my home came a new conundrum. Trick or Treat. There isn’t one. Well, let me clarify, it’s terrible. We get MAYBE four kids a year and apparently, because we’re on a main street, that’s a banner number. I’ve tried reaching out to my neighborhood group to gain some insight into the issue, but I generally get the runaround. That’s why I’m looking for other ways to celebrate my favorite season. That’s why, on October 29th, I attended a play.
The Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove, WI, put on a production in which they read through a handful of the works of Edgar Allen Poe. My dear Edgar had such a whimsical way of looking at madness and mayhem that I thought would be most appropriate given the season. I attended and sat in silence as they read through classics like The Raven and The Black Cat. They even did Hopfrog, a piece that sometimes gets overlooked for its macabre qualities. Although I was disappointed with the attire of the actors, one wore a dress that appeared to have been made out of sweatshirt material and there wasn’t a cravat in sight, their delivery of Poe’s work was very well done. As a cherry on the evening (in my opinion), they did a read through of The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, a story that offers a very interesting look into the practice of mesmerism.
Valdemar is mesmerized at the point of death in an experimental effort to separate Valdemar’s mind from his body to see exactly how long his death could be postponed. Mesmerizing the patient essentially involves the narrator in the story motioning with his hands, supposedly pushing and pulling some unseen energy into and out of the half-alive Valdemar. The narrator inquires into Valdemar’s well being throughout the procedure of being mesmerized, asking repeatedly if he is “asleep.” Valdemar responds over and over to the narrator’s questions, stating that he is indeed still asleep, but bade’s the narrator to let him “die so.”
The story as a whole is very interesting, but it is more than just a mere story. You see, Poe didn’t just make up a story (or two or three) about mesmerism. He was crafting a commentary on the very real practice of mesmerization, one that could be seen repeated by many a practitioner during Poe’s time.
Franz Freidrich Anton Mesmer was born in Germany in 1734 and became a physician with a noted interest in astronomy. Mesmer had a theory that there was some sort of natural transference of energy between inanimate and animated objects which he called animal magnetism, later referred to as mesmerism. It was a popular theory between around 1780 and 1850 and held sway over a great many people who believed that Mesmer was actually able to control this energy.
Mesmer grew up in the village of Iznang, on the shore of Lake Constance in Swabia and attended a couple of Jesuit universities before eventually taking up the practice of medicine at the University of Vienna in 1759. The doctoral dissertation he wrote in 1766 entitled De planetarum influxu in corpus humanum (On the Influence of the Planets on the Human Body). The work basically expounded upon Isaac Newton’s theory of the tides, stating certain tides in the human body might be accounted for by the movements of the celestial bodies within the solar system. It has been suggested that Mesmer plagiarized a part of his dissertation from a work by Richard Mead, English physician and a close friend of Newton. Luckily for Mesmer, during this particular time period, it didn’t matter whether or not the work was plagiarized. In 1768, he married a wealthy widow named Anna Maria von Posch and worked on establishing himself as a physician in Vienna.
In 1774, Mesmer produced his first reaction within a patient using his theory of animal magnetism. He referred to it as creating an “artificial tide” within his patient, Francisca Osterlin, who suffered from hysteria (just as a footnote, some believed that hysteria was caused by the occasional tendency of a woman’s uterus to wander around inside her body, causing madness). Mesmer had Osterlin swallow a concoction containing iron filings, then proceeded to attach magnets to various parts of her body. The patient reported a sensation of streams of “mysterious fluid” running all through her body and felt relief of the symptoms she’d reported for several hours afterward. Mesmer was a humble sort and did not believe the magnets had anything to do with curing Osterlin. He believed that his own animal magnetism had been transferred to her and that he, himself, was the cure. I think perhaps Osterlin mistook the power of suggestion for mezmerism.
Mesmer continued to treat his patients using his technique and even offered group sessions. For individuals, he would sit directly in front of the patient and press his knees against his patients knees. He would then press his thumbs into the backs of the patients hands and look into his patients eyes. Mesmer would then move his hands from the patients shoulders, down his arms, and concluded the treatment by pressing his fingers on the area just below the diaphragm. Many patients reported feeling “peculiar” or convulsed afterward. Mesmer regarded these as “crises” leaving the body and that they would bring about relief of his patients symptoms. These treatments were often followed by some sort of musical interlude. It was all very theatrical. As Mesmer brought his patients deeper into a trance, many would swoon or make noise. Mesmer, draped in a flowing gown, would wave his hands over each of the patient’s bodies, transferring his healing energy to them.
For group sessions, Mesmer would prepare a “baquet” for his patients. The process was described by an English physician who witnessed one such treatment (around 1780.)
In the middle of the room is placed a vessel of about a foot and a half high which is called here a “baquet”. It is so large that twenty people can easily sit round it; near the edge of the lid which covers it, there are holes pierced corresponding to the number of persons who are to surround it; into these holes are introduced iron rods, bent at right angles outwards, and of different heights, so as to answer to the part of the body to which they are to be applied. Besides these rods, there is a rope which communicates between the baquet and one of the patients, and from him is carried to another, and so on the whole round. The most sensible effects are produced on the approach of Mesmer, who is said to convey the fluid by certain motions of his hands or eyes, without touching the person. I have talked with several who have witnessed these effects, who have convulsions occasioned and removed by a movement of the hand…
Not surprisingly, Mesmer’s “treatment” didn’t always work. In 1777, when Mesmer’s cure all failed to treat the blindness of an 18-year-old musician, Maria Theresia Paradis, Mesmer was ridiculed and left Vienna, eventually settling in Paris. He set up a practice in the most affluent part of the city and began accepting patients. The city was split on Mesmer. Some believed he was a charlatan while others believed that he had made some miraculous discovery.
A physician of high acclaim at the time, a Dr. Charles d’Eslon, appreciated the fact that Mesmer understood health as the free flow of the process of life through thousands of different channels. Overcoming obstacles (illness) that inhibited the flow through these channels produced “crises” which restored health to the patient. Often, a patient might not be able to accomplish this on their own, calling into employ someone like Mesmer ( a conductor of animal magnetism) who could safely accelerate the process. In some instances, curing insanity might call for causing a fit of madness. Achieving a cure in a safe environment was beneficial for all involved.
A Doctor or A Fool?
In 1784, to Mesmer’s chagrin I’m sure, King Louis XVI called together four members of the Faculty of Medicine to investigate the process of Mesmerization. They examined whether or not Mesmer had discovered a new physical fluid, not necessarily whether or not his process worked, but at the end of their investigation three of the four commissioners decided there was no evidence to prove such a fluid was in existence. The final commissioner, a botanist, took exception to the official final report. Antoine Laurent de Jussieu declared Mesmer’s theory credible and worthy of further investigation, but it is likely that opinion was largely ignored. After this point, Mesmer faded from the limelight. He was driven into exile soon after the investigations concluded and was ridiculed for his practices.
According to Abbé Faria, an Indo-Portuguese monk in Paris and a contemporary of Mesmer, said “nothing comes from the magnetizer; everything comes from the subject and takes place in his imagination, i.e. autosuggestion generated from within the mind.”
Have you ever been mesmerized or hypnotized? What were your experiences? I’d love to read them. =)
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It’s named for the color of its aluminum paint and carries travelers over the Ohio River on U.S. Route 35, connecting Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio. I’m speaking, of course, of the Silver Bridge, the bridge that collapsed in December of 1967 around Christmastime. After some investigation, a faulty eye bar in the suspension chain was said to be to blame for the collapse, the bridge was almost always carrying a higher load than it should and was poorly maintained, but some residents of Point Pleasant believe that something more sinister lies at the heart of the disaster that claimed the lives of 46 people (2 bodies were never recovered). Some of those residents claim a creature that has wound its way into the history of Point Pleasant, and popular culture in general, was the culprit. That creature was a being called Mothman.
Prior to the collapse of the Silver Bridge, several residents of Point Pleasant had communicated to their friends, neighbors, and the authorities, that they had seen a strange creature in the skies above the small city. It was large and birdlike, but the most memorable and often repeated feature were the creatures glowing red eyes.
The first appearance of Mothman can be traced to Clendin, West Virginia, when a group of men digging a grave observed a strange creature circling above them (Nov. 1966). They said it was human-like and remained high over their heads for a short time before disappearing over the treetops and out of sight.
Just a few days later, (Nov. 15) in Point Pleasant, two couples reported seeing a white-winged creature with glowing eyes with the beams of their car headlights. Two witnesses, one of them Steve Mallette, one of the individuals in one of the cars, said “it was like a man with wings. It wasn’t anything like you’d seen on TV or in a monster movie.” The Point Pleasant Register reported, “Couples See Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something.” Mallette and his wife had been driving near the McClintie Wildlife Reserve on West Virginia Route 62 at the time.
The other witness, Roger Scarberry, gave very specific information about the creature’s eyes, stating that they were about 2″ in diameter and 6″ apart. Scarberry stated that he might not have said anything if there hadn’t been so many people who reported seeing it. He might have dismissed it as a trick of his eyes and gone about his business, but the fact that 3 other people saw what he did, he felt compelled to relate his story. Scarberry and his wife were also driving near the McClintie Wildlife Reserve at the time of their sighting. Scarberry stated that their vehicle came to a hill and, as they crested it, they saw the creature with their headlights. They claimed it was 7′ tall and had a 10′ wingspan. Scarberry swerved to avoid hitting the figure, but mere seconds later, the creature was back in front of their car. It kept pace with their car as they sped back toward town, sometimes reaching speeds of 100 mph. At times, it would soar to almost 50′ above them, only to return moments later in front of them. The couple were forced to stop and observed the creature seemingly laying on the road in a lump. Too afraid to investigate, they turned their car around and headed back to town. They returned later that evening with a Sheriff’s Deputy, but the creature was gone. However, they did find a strange pile of dust where the creature had been.
Many reported seeing Mothman both in the Wildlife Reserve and on their private property. Reports flooded the local paper. Residents stated they’d heard noises outside at night and, when they went to investigate, they came upon the creature with the beam of their flashlights. Others claim Mothman is responsible for eating their beloved family pets. A farmer told the Point Pleasant Register that his German shepherd disappeared after he’d seen a creature with large, glowing red eyes.
Sightings of the Mothman continued and came to a head in 1967 with the collapse of the Silver Bridge, leading many to believe that Mothman was a harbinger of doom and that his presence in Point Pleasant either brought about or predicted the disaster. Others are firm in their belief that Mothman predicted the tragedies and appeared as a warning to the tragedy. John Keel, writer of the book The Mothman Prophecies (the book was made into a movie in 2002), claims that residents of Point Pleasant were experiencing premonitions of the bridge collapse and tried to voice their concerns to others who brushed it off as superstition.
Wildlife experts believe that a large bird, perhaps a sandhill crane or a barred owl, is to blame for the sightings. This doesn’t explain the missing pets (sandhill cranes just wouldn’t find a schnauzer appetizing and a German shepherd is far too large for either bird to contend with), but many accepted this explanation. Other residents and experts feel that Mothman falls into the realm of cryptozoological phenomena, to be categorized with the likes of Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster. Some have even claimed that Mothman has been seen prior to other catastrophic events around the globe including 9-11.
Shows like Monster Quest have tried debunking the Mothman legends, claiming that those who have supposedly seen the creature are simply mistaken. MQ created wood cutouts of various sizes of the creature with red reflectors attached in hopes of figuring out whether the size and shape descriptions of the creature are entirely accurate. They claim there are many ways in which fear can influence memory and distort it, leading them to believe that a 3′ figure is actually 7-10′ tall. Apparently, people who view horrific things are highly confident in what they have seen or are seeing and they exaggerate certain features. Perhaps those who have seen Mothman exaggerated the glowing red eyes of the creature and are now so confident in what they have seen that it has become fact?
In September each year, the residents of Point Pleasant hold a festival for Mothman (https://www.mothmanfestival.com/) commemorating the original, 1966 sighting of the creature. The town is now home to a Mothman Museum, featuring witness sketches and accounts, newspaper articles, and merchandise, and a large statue of Mothman with a plaque outlining the first sighting. Attendance to the festival, featuring bands, guest speakers, and various merch vendors, is a must for anyone who wishes to learn more about Point Pleasant’s cryptozoological wonder and, if you’re brave, take a trip out to the Wildlife Reserve to perhaps see the creature himself. Linda Scarberry says she can still hear the sound of the creature’s wings above their car and she still has trouble sleeping. Just keep that in mind as you venture forth into the dark unknown.
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It’s a quiet night in a quaint, suburban neighborhood and an elderly lady and her dog have just settled down for an evening of reading and relaxation. She’s got a cup of tea and a blanket and, before she realizes it, she’s drifting off into peaceful slumber, petting her dog.
Shortly after midnight, the woman awakes to a strange noise. It sounds as if a tap somewhere in the house is dripping. She rises from bed and heads downstairs to the kitchen to check the faucet. She ensures that both taps are off and makes her way back to bed. As she slides beneath the covers, she reaches her hand down the side of the bed to check on her faithful dog. The dog licks her hand and the woman falls back to sleep once more.
A short time later, the woman awakes again to the same dripping sound. This time, she checks the upstairs bathroom. She inspects the faucet, but it’s not dripping. She turns to check the shower and, upon pulling back the shower curtain she is horrified to find her faithful dog, hanging by its neck, its intestines hanging out. Blood is dripping from the entrails into the drain. On the wall, there is a message in blood.
“Human’s can lick, too!”
The woman turns to look into the face of the murderer.
According to Snopes.com(http://www.snopes.com/horrors/madmen/lighton.asp), even the legends circulating today have roots that run deep. The “licked hand” shows up in a diary entry penned in England in August of 1871 by a man named Dearman Birchall. Birchall writes,
“Croquet party . . . [One of the guests] told of a clergyman who was aroused in the middle of the night by his wife who said ‘John, dear, I am sure there is a robber under the bed, I hear him moving. Do get up and see.’ John replied, ‘Oh its only the Newfoundland dog. I just put my hand out and he licked it’. Next morning all the jewellery and many other effects had disappeared.”
This urban legend also dates back to 1919. In a story titled, “The Diary of Mr. Poynter” by M. R. James, a young man reclines while reading and absently strokes (what he believes to be) his dog. Spoiler: his dog is already dead.
In some incarnations, the elderly woman is replaced by a nubile young girl. In some instances, she’s a co-ed. The story is often told to those in college, particularly freshmen. In others, she’s a preteen. The appearance of the message scrawled in blood varies as well. The text is found on the floor in the bathroom or on the mirror above the sink. The woman then sees the image of her soon-to-be murderer reflected behind her. The fate of the dog also changes. Sometimes it’s just hanged, occasionally the dog is found completely skinned, as is the case in the above incarnation of this tale, the dog is completely disemboweled. Depending on the storyteller, there are cases in which the woman does not even leave her bed the first time as she is frightened by the strange noise. She simply reaches her hand down to be comforted by the dog who, at this point in the tale, is already dead.
The story of the licking madman can also be traced to a chain letter that circulated on the internet several years ago. The story is basically the same, but with a few variations. According to the chain letter version, the story is set in a town called Farmersburg. The name conjures an image you might find on the front of a butter tub, bright sunshine, lush green fields, and quiet, tight knit neighborhoods. The setting is also a perfect storm. People feel safe in their routines, in familiar surroundings and, as the chain letter illustrates, that sense of safety is not realistic.
A young girl is left at home while her parents head out for an overnight trip. She is told to lock every window and door, and does so with the exception of a window in the basement that will close, but won’t lock. She locks the basement door to be safe, and snuggles up with the dog to go to sleep. At some point during the night, the girl wakes with a start. It sounds like a tap somewhere in the house is dripping, so she ignores it and tries to go back to sleep, reaching for her dog on the floor. When the dog licks her hand, she feels safe and drifts back to sleep. In the morning, the girl awakes to find the dog missing. She heads to the kitchen to check the tap and sees her parents pulling down the driveway through the window. She heads upstairs to the bathroom to take a shower and finds the family dog skinned and hanging from the shower rod. The dog’s blood is dripping into a growing puddle on the floor. The girl quickly runs to her bedroom in search of a weapon, just in case the culprit is still in the house, but she comes upon a message scrawled on a piece of paper on the floor by her bed. It’s written in blood. “Humans can lick too, beautiful.”
Whether you’ve heard the story around a campfire or you received the chain letter in your email, it’s likely that you’re already familiar with this urban legend. It’s quite popular and often used to strike fear into the hearts of children who insist on being mature enough to be left alone at home. As the story illustrates, bad things happen to those who ignore their personal safety and lull themselves into a false sense of security. Often, the darkest things happen to those who live in the “safest” places.
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New episodes of Haunt Heads will be available at hauntheads.podbean.com (or wherever you listen to podcasts) on Oct. 12. The blog and podcast will offer new content on a biweekly schedule beginning at that time. Stay tuned! We’ve got a lot of new, interesting stuff coming down the pike. =)
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