- Harry Price -
ACTUALLY NO such people as Poltergeist mediums are known to investigators, but some psychics do produce phenomena comparable with those witnessed during Poltergeist disturbances. In fact, one girl was known, and is known to this day, as the 'Poltergeist girl' on account of the fact that phenomena, indistinguishable from true Poltergeist movements, occurred spontaneously in her presence.
Of course, many mediums, under good conditions, have been able paranormally to displace objects at séances, usually when in trance. The brilliant exception to this general rule was the late Frau Maria Silbert, whom I tested at Graz, Austria, and in London. Maria did not go into a trance, and sat usually in a good light - often the ordinary illumination of a well-lit room. But, alas! the phenomena occurred - or at least originated - under a heavy table at which she sat, and which was part of the séance technique. So, if she actually sat in the light, the manifestations occurred in what amounted to darkness. This was unsatisfactory. But with her 'raps' it was different.
Frau Silbert's phenomena consisted of brilliant lights, most of which appeared to come from her finger-tips; innumerable raps, which appeared to emanate from the séance-table chairs and sometimes from behind the medium; the apparent spontaneous transit of objects from below the séance-table to some point above it, finally resting in the medium's hands; the billowing of the cabinet curtains; the spontaneous engraving of metallic objects (placed under the table for that purpose) with the word 'Nell' (her alleged 'spirit control') and similar manifestations.
There were some good phenomena seen at the London séances with Frau Silbert. My heavy penknife (weight 3½ ounces), which I placed on the floor under centre of the table, was, a few moments later, instantly precipitated into her right hand, which was above the table. All this occurred in the ordinary electric lighting of the room. I sat next to her, and helped to control her. The phenomena were impressive and interesting - and very puzzling. I will remark in parentheses that at a later London séance. Clive Maskelyne, of the famous conjuring family, was present in order to discover the modus operandi of the 'tricks'. He completely failed(1). By the way, the spontaneous paranormal displacements of objects at séances given by physical mediums are known as telekinetic phenomena - though Poltergeists produce the same effects. Other movements I saw at this particular London séance included the flight of a small bell, many raps in various parts of the room - and our own raps, of varying number and intensity, were instantly duplicated, at request, on pieces of furniture, etc.
(1) 'Evoe', in Punch (Jan. 27, 1926), had some amusing verses about this.
I had often wondered what Maria's phenomena would be like in her own house, if they were so good in a foreign country, and among strangers. The opportunity to visit her home occurred in 1925. I journeyed thither with some friends and in her cosy flat in Waltendorf, a suburb of Graz, we saw more 'miracles'. But curiously, the phenomena were not so impressive as those I had seen in London, notwithstanding the fact that she was in her own home and surrounded by her family. But we saw the spontaneous flight of a number of objects: my own gilt petrol lighter (which was also inscribed with the word 'Nell'), a gold cigarette case, and one of the sitters even risked his gold watch and fob! And the heavy table was levitated and dropped to the floor with a terrific bang. This effect might have been due to trickery. But what was not due to trickery were the magnificent succession of raps that occurred all over the room, in various selected places on the walls and furniture to order, and at command. The raps were almost continuous throughout the séance, which was lighted by a 20-watt electric bulb over the centre of the table.
We held another séance on the following evening (November 4) and similar phenomena occurred. But on this occasion, by calling over the alphabet, the 'entity' rapping at certain letters, we managed to get intelligent messages (in German) that informed us that we were leaving for London on the following morning (a fact known to the medium), etc. All very interesting, but not very enlightening. I paid a second visit to Graz in the summer of 1931 as the guest of Professor Haslinger of Graz University, who arranged a séance with Maria at his flat. The medium was ill but, under a brilliant electric light, she produced raps in profusion all over the room and furniture. Any kind of rap called for was given, at the place requested. Our own raps were imitated and altogether it was a most convincing demonstration of some sort of power that the medium possessed(2).
(2) Frederica Hauffe, the 'Seeress of Prevorst', when in the 'magnetic sleep', could rap at a distance. See Die Seherin von Prevorst, by Justinus Kerner, Stuttgart, 1832.
Other mediums have produced displacements of objects by paranormal means. The Austrian boys, Willi and Rudi Schneider, have some brilliant examples of 'telekinesis' to their credit. I have tested these lads in Munich, Vienna, Braunau-am-Inn (their birthplace, and that of Hitler) and London, always with the same result - the most convincing telekinetic phenomena, in addition to the most varied manifestations, from materialisations to 'pseudopods'. And they convinced practically every scientist who sat with them.
Miss Stella C., the young English medium, produced 'Poltergeist phenomena' under perfect conditions of control, including movements of objects in a locked and sealed cage. And I could name other psychics who have been equally successful. For example, another young woman, Mlle Stanislawa Tomczyk (now Mrs. Everard Feilding), a Polish medium, was tested by Dr. Julien Ochorowicz, in 1908-09 at Wisla, Poland, with positive results. She was controlled by an 'entity' known as 'Little Stasia' which probably emanated from her subconscious mind. It was claimed that she could produce movements of objects at a distance; stop the pendulum of a clock in a glass case (as Anna Rasmussen has been proved to do); control the spinning of a roulette wheel, so that certain numbers turned up more frequently than chance would account for, and similar telekinetic movements. Dr. Ochorowicz concluded that certain rays emanating from her fingers acted as rigid rods.
And, of course, some mediums have been able to move themselves! I mean paranormally. Did not D. D. Home on Sunday, December 13, 1868, 'float' out of a third-floor window of Ashley House, Victoria Street, hover in the air for some seconds, and then float back into the same suite of rooms through another window, none the worse for his aerial adventure? It is true that this alleged levitation occurred almost in total darkness. But it was witnessed by some credible (and credulous?) observers, including Lord Adare, afterwards the Earl of Dunraven; the Master of Lindsay, and others. D. D. Home produced many Poltergeist effects, which were ascribed to the spirits. See The Heydey of a Wizard, by Jean Burton (New York, 1944). It is a biography of Home.
But the greatest feat, of the Poltergeist order, connected with any medium, was that of Mrs. Samuel Guppy who, in 1871, was instantly precipitated from her home at Highbury to a house in Lamb's Conduit Street, some three miles away, where she came down bump right in the middle of a séance. Of course the whole thing was a swindle; but this modern 'transit of Venus' (who was wearing only her underclothes and weighed seventeen stone) was never proved to be a swindle.
But I am not concerned in this volume with mediums who are levitated, or with those who float over London in deshabille. I am trying to link up the telekinetic or 'displacement' phenomena of some mediums with typical Poltergeist manifestations. And, for my argument, I can cite two outstanding examples with whom I have experimented. They are Anna Rasmussen, a Danish private medium (who has been tested in London), and Eleonore Zugun, a young Rumanian peasant whom I brought to London in 1929. She actually became known as the 'Poltergeist Girl'. It will come as a shock to those uninformed critics who declare that physical phenomena occur only in the dark, to learn that both Anna and Eleonore never sat in the dark, and that their phenomena occurred often in brilliant sunlight or under the glare of 500-watt electric lamps.
I first heard of Anna Rasmussen through my friend Professor Christian Winther of Copenhagen University, who had been experimenting with her for many years. As I had arranged to give a talk at the University during my second Scandinavian lecture tour, the Professor invited me to two séances with Anna. The first was held in one of the University's laboratories, the other in Professor Winther's own home on the outskirts of the Danish capital. This was in June, 1927. Anna was then twenty-nine years old.
At 2.45 p.m. we seated ourselves round the heavy, oblong, plain oak laboratory table, weighing eighty pounds. The sun was streaming through the windows. The sitters, whose chairs were well away from the table, included the Professor, his wife, the medium, her boy friend named Melloni, and another lady. All the sitters joined hands in light contact.
On top of the séance-table was a tabourette or stool, 27½ inches high, of plain wood, with four legs with supporting struts some third of the distance from the bottom. On the under side of the stool-top were screwed two hooks, 90 min. apart. From these hooks were suspended (by means of threads) two steel balls such as are used for ball-bearings in machinery. The weight of the balls was about one ounce each, though the weights were not identical. They reached nearly to the table-top. To exclude draughts or conscious or unconscious blowing by the medium or sitters, sheets of plate glass were firmly clamped to the four sides of the tabourette - thus forming it into a glass chamber containing two pendulums of dissimilar weights.
Like most mediums, Anna has a 'control' or trance personality named 'Dr. Lasaruz', who appears to direct the proceedings either by raps on the table or tabourette, or by inspiring the medium, who goes into a very light trance, to write automatic messages on pieces of paper, telling us what he wants done, the order of the sitters, etc. By these means, 'he' suggested where we should sit, and stated what phenomena would occur.
Up to this point the psychic had been quite normal; that is, so far as I could judge from the demeanour of a person whom I had met for the first time. But Anna now underwent some subtle change. She did not go into trance or appear sleepy, but her manner altered and she seemed 'different'. Her right wrist began to swell slightly - always a sure sign that she is about to produce some automatic script. Her respiration also grew more rapid. Dr. Winther told me that in a fairly deep trance the respiration rate increases to 244 to the minute.
3.03 p.m. A series of quick raps from the table demanded our attention, and we ascertained by question and answer that I was to change places with Melloni. This was done and I now sat on Anna's right hand, helping Mrs. Winther to control the medium. We now suggested to the 'doctor' that he should try to swing one of the pendulums in the enclosed tabourette. Frau Rasmussen picked up the pencil and in a listless manner (suggestive of the early stages of the trance state) wrote on a piece of paper a message that purported to come from the control. It read: 'I do not know what you mean by "the pendulum." (Signed) Dr. Lasaruz.' At which we all laughed heartily, this being a favourite joke of the 'doctor's.' We then asked the control whether he would swing the right pendulum. Three knocks from the table indicated that he would not, at which we expressed our disappointment. Immediately two quick raps from the table informed us that the control had changed his mind and would oblige us - for which we thanked him.
3.14. Anna now picked up the pencil and in mirror writing produced a message, signed by 'Lasaruz', to the effect that we should sing. This we did somewhat inharmoniously, and afterwards I suggested to the control that after such an exhibition of our vocal powers he should produce some good phenomena. 'No!' was at once rapped out on the table. Dr. Winther remarked that 'Lasaruz' would have his joke! Immediately after, the right pendulum quivered slightly and in two minutes commenced swinging. About a minute later the left pendulum began to swing, at the same time as the right bobbin was damped down. The right bobbin then increased its arc, and almost - but not quite - touched one of the glass sides. The total swing was about eight inches. For three or four minutes the arc described by the right pendulum (the heavier of the two) never varied, and we sat fascinated by the swing of the steel ball which we imagined must hit the glass next time - but which did not actually do so. I remember thinking that Galileo must have been fascinated in a similar manner, when watching that famous swinging lamp in the church at Pisa, whose oscillations are said to have suggested to him the isochronism or 'equal-timeness' of the pendulum.
In nine minutes the right pendulum was tapping regularly on one of the glass sides of the tabourette. It then slackened somewhat, for no apparent reason. Dr. Winther then called out the letters of the alphabet and at certain letters the right bobbin tapped the glass. In this manner we obtained messages and directions. We asked whether conditions were now good, and 'Yes' was given in reply. During the whole of this activity on the part of the right pendulum, its fellow bobbin was swinging very slowly, describing an arc of about half an inch.
3.30 to 3.45. For fifteen minutes the right-hand ball was swinging steadily, the left bobbin merely oscillating slightly. Occasionally Professor Winther would request 'Dr. Lasaruz' to damp the right pendulum or to increase its arc. This was always done, very gradually, but the change was at once noticeable. Once it practically ceased moving, and Dr. Winther then asked that the bobbin should be swung at right angles to its previous motion. This was done at once.
In my notes I have a query' to the effect whether any magnetic emanation from the medium would affect the balls. But as the emanation would have to be intermittent (in order to allow for the return swing of the balls) and controllable, this theory will not stand much analysis. And any magnetic or electrical emanations would affect both balls equally. This also applies to any secreted powerful that might be employed for moving the balls normally; both or neither of the steel bobbins would react to any extraneous magnetic influence.
4.03. Dr. Winther says: 'Bankibord', a catch-phrase which means that 'Dr. Lasaruz' is requested to 'bang the table'. This was done two or three times by the control. The following are the verbatim notes that I made of the latter part of the séance:
4.08. Left pendulum swings at request of Dr. Winther.
4.10. Medium complains of headache. This is regarded as a sign of good phenomena.
4.12. Left-hand ball changes course at suggestion of Dr. Winther. Arc: 2½ inches. Right ball stationary.
4.17. Anna now writing (mirror writing). 'Dr. Lasaruz' says, 'Be patient and you will have good phenomena in the evening.'
4.19. Left-hand ball swinging. Arc: 4 inches. Right ball still motionless.
4.23. Arc of left pendulum now extended to 4¾ inches. A lady remarks that she feels very cold. The medium, too, is obviously cold; her hands extremely cold, as I confirm. The hand I am controlling is very cold. Left bobbin now slowing down and almost stationary. We had no means of measuring the temperature, as it was purely a demonstration séance for my benefit. But it certainly felt cooler. Professor Winther has repeated my Rudi Schneider and Stella C. thermometric experiments with Anna Rasmussen and appears to have definitely confirmed the fact - first instrumentally demonstrated by me - that at the moment of telekinetic action the normal rise of the temperature in the medium's immediate vicinity appears to be checked, or that the temperature apparently falls. He is convinced 'that the production of telekinetic energy is accompanied by a drop in the room temperature.'
4.27. Arc made by left pendulum now increased to 5 inches. Right bobbin stationary.
4.30. Swing of left pendulum now 6 inches. The medium's hand which I am holding becomes moist and clammy, but still cold. Left bobbin is being damped rapidly, and becomes quite stationary. Right bobbin now moving.
4.33. Right pendulum swinging steadily. Arc described: 8 inches. Has appearance of being 'pulled.' [This remark in my notes accurately describes the impression I received at the time. It was a different swing from that of the left ball - or appeared different. It seemed more jerky, with less regular phase. Other sitters noticed it.]
4.34. Right pendulum gradually increases its swing to 9 inches.
4.36. Right ball rapidly increasing its arc, and touches glass. At request it gives twenty-two taps on the glass side of stool; then slows down for half a minute; then strikes four on the glass.
4.41. Right pendulum slowing down. Left pendulum suddenly comes into action.
4.43. Both pendulums swinging. Arcs: Right, 3 inches; left, 5 inches. Both balls swinging very steadily.
4.46. Right pendulum is damped and stops. Left pendulum increases its swing to 8 inches.
4.53. Left pendulum slowing down (to 2-inch arc). Right pendulum again starts swinging. When both balls swinging 2 inches, Dr. Winther asks that their movements be reversed. Without actually coming to rest, both balls then commence to swing at right angles to their previous motions. This continues for some minutes.
5.01. A number of raps on the table attract our attention and we ascertain that 'Dr. Lasartiz' wishes the Professor to bring the pendulums to rest. Dr. Winther removes one of the glass panels and damps the balls.
5.06. Anna Rasmussen picks up pencil and automatically writes 'We have to prepare for this evening, but now this will take too long for now. Goodbye, Dr. Lasaruz.' A series of rapid raps on table denote end of séance. (The message itself appeared very ambiguous, but its meaning was quite clear.) The medium, or her control - or both - required a rest before the evening sitting. I was not then aware of the fact that Frau Rasmussen knew we were having another séance, but it afterwards transpired that she did.
At the next séance a much more elaborate set-up was used. In his own home, Professor Winther was able to make the conditions of the séance, and the control of the medium, even more scientific. The sitters included members of the Professor's family, a Dr. P. Borberg, Melloni, and myself.
The set-up used at the evening séance was a very different proposition from the one we used in Professor Winther's laboratory. As much of the experimental work had been carried out in his own home, Dr. Winther had had constructed a most elaborate form of table, quite vibration-proof, with apparatus for photographically recording the oscillation periods of the pendulums by means of a tiny pencil of light emitted by the special bobbins.
I will not describe in detail this special set-up, beyond saying that it is an oblong, rectangular table, supported on, and bolted to a concrete pillar, the whole clamped to a concrete floor. Firmly fixed to the tabletop is a form of tabourette, the lower portion enclosed by red glass, like a dark-room lamp. From the top of the enclosed upper portion of tabourette are hung bobbins of various weights and sizes suspended by means of thin electrical flex, which is connected to pea-lights contained in the bobbins. A tiny lens in each bobbin traces, by means of a pencil of light, its pendulatory motion on to an electrically-rotated strip of bromide paper. When developed, the path of the pendulum is clearly shown on the sensitised emulsion and makes a permanent record. I need only add that in my opinion the table is entirely fraud- and vibration-proof.
I will not detail the phenomena we witnessed that evening, as they were very similar to those we had seen in the afternoon. But they were produced under perfect conditions of control. And the paranormal movements of the bobbins were photographically recorded by means of the pea-lights and travelling bromide strip. Professor Winther has published a very full, illustrated monograph on his experiments, in the Journal of the American S.P.R., New York, January-March, 1928.
At supper-time we were entertained to some striking phenomena of true Poltergeist character. At request, 'Dr. Lasaruz' gave us excellent imitations of the sounds made by 'sawing', 'weaving', 'running water', 'bouncing of a ball', etc. Just before nine o'clock, we asked the 'doctor' whether he would bang the underside of the table when the clock struck the hour, keeping time with the strokes. By means of raps somewhere in the table, the doctor said he would. And he did! But he gave only five bangs, synchronising with the last five strikes of the clock, instead of nine.
These supper-table phenomena were very impressive and convincing. They occurred in a brilliant light, and frequently I looked under the table during the progress of the manifestations, and could see the sitters' feet. Their hands were on the table during the whole of the demonstration, which could not have been produced normally by any person present.
In Eleonore Zugun we have a girl whose psychic life-story is known almost from her cradle to the present day. This is very unusual in the case of a medium, and her history is a curious one. She was born at Talpa, Rumania, on May 24, 1913. Talpa is a village and her parents are peasants. At the age of twelve she went to live with her grandparents at a village named Buhai. A few days after Eleonore's arrival a shower of stones entered their cottage, smashing several windows. Then in full sunlight a big stone, a piece of porcelain, and half a brick also entered the house, breaking more windows. No one was seen to throw the missiles, which invariably fell at the child's feet. Then observers saw an iron ring fall from a stove and that, too, fell near Eleonore. Then a small mug fell off the dresser - all these phenomena being reminiscent of the Stockwell manifestations. The simple peasants thought that the girl was 'bewitched', or possessed by the Devil, and sent her back home(3).
(3) For the early history of Eleonore, and account of the phenomena, see Der Spuk von Talpa, by Countess Wassilko, Munich, 1926.
Home once more, the Zugun family were having a meal in their kitchen when a stone from outside came crashing through the window pane. The stone was wet(4) and round - similar to those found in the river Seret, a few yards from their cottage. A priest was called. He marked the stone with a cross, and threw it back into the river. Then he returned to the house. A little later, the same stone, recognised by the priest's mark, was flung into the house again.
(4) An identical phenomenon heralded the outbreak of hostilities in the 'Mill on the Eden', p. 206.
Then her parents became frightened and sent the child to a neighbour's house. The villagers were more and more convinced that Dracu, the Devil, was the cause of all the trouble, especially as the manifestations followed the girl from place to place. They threatened to put her in an asylum. Frightened, the child returned to her parents, and, immediately following her home-coming, large potatoes came from under the bed and fell violently upon her father's shoulders. Her father then resolved to take the child to a priest, and next morning he, together with fourteen other peasants, conducted Eleonore to the old priest of Zamostea, named Macarescu, a bedridden old man of about eighty. Soon after Eleonore had entered his room, an iron vessel, which had before been placed on a stand, suddenly burst into many pieces. Immediately afterwards, an earthen vessel which had been on the hearth, also burst. The splinters were thrown into the court. Scarcely had the people recovered from the shock, when both inner windows broke, and one of the splinters fell into the room. The outside windows remained intact. During these events the old priest, his son, and the school teacher, Teodorescu, were all present. All, startled, ran out of the room. The teacher looking through the window, alone saw a big chest, which stood against the wall, move backwards and forwards, as well as from side to side, of its own volition. Only one young man, Joan Ostafi, had remained in the room. When he saw the chest moving, he stopped it, saying: 'Wait, devil, I see you cannot do it alone, I will help you.' At this very moment, a plank, hidden in a corner, sprang upon the young man and injured him. Then all again entered the room and one of them proposed going on a pilgrimage to St. Johannes at the Convent of Suczava. The name of the saint being pronounced, a stone was thrown against a picture of him that hung on the wall, destroyed the picture, and remained lodged in the wall. Only the teacher was sufficiently courageous to remain in the room. He sat opposite a bench on which was a can of water. Suddenly this can of water was levitated eighteen inches, described a half circle, and came down on the other end of the bench without spilling a single drop of water. The peasants begged the priest to hold a mass, in order to cast out the 'devil' that was supposed to be in possession of Eleonore - as the villagers believed. This ritual was without success, and the pilgrimage was accordingly performed, also without any success; on the contrary, the phenomena grew more and more violent and frequent.
As the pilgrimage was not successful, the girl was sent to the Convent of Gorovei, near Talpa. The most amazing phenomena happened - or were alleged to happen, at Gorovei. The priests said masses for her; she was exorcised; she was examined by psychiatrists; she was experimented with - and on - and she was hypnotised. But the phenomena still occurred. Then the University of Czernowitz became interested, but failed to do anything. Finally the case got into the Press - as was inevitable.
It was various articles in the Czernowitzer Morgenblatt and the Allegemeine Zeitung that attracted the notice of my friend, the late Fritz Grunewald, the well-known Berlin engineer and psychical researcher. He was interested not only in the girl, but in the controversy that was raging in the Press. Certain papers declared that the whole thing was a swindle; others were convinced that Eleonore was mad; while those newspapers which had investigated for themselves, said the phenomena were genuine. However, the girl was declared insane, and was incarcerated in the local asylum - where she was confined, alone, in a dark room - treatment comparable with the witchcraft persecutions of the seventeenth century.
It was at this juncture that Grunewald came on the scene. In the true spirit of investigation, he visited every place where Eleonore had stayed; interviewed hundreds of people; saw many phenomena for himself; and was convinced that a thorough and scientific investigation was necessary. He persuaded Eleonore's father to withdraw her from the asylum. Having obtained possession of the girl, he returned her to the Convent of Gorovei, where he observed her for three weeks. All the major phenomena were confirmed. He returned to Berlin to make arrangements for the reception of the girl in the family of some friends of his - and then suddenly dropped dead. He lived by himself, and the body lay in the hall of his flat in the Spandauerstrasse for twelve days before it was discovered(5).
(5) Curiously, I had an appointment in Berlin with Grunewald, who was going to write a preface to a German edition of one of my books. I called at his flat early in July, 1925, and because I could get no answer, hammered at his door. I little knew that his body lay a few inches from me, on the other side of the door.
With the death of Grunewald, Eleonore was again left to the tender mercies of the superstitious villagers of Talpa, and the Countess Wassilko-Serecki(6), a Rumanian lady living in Vienna, decided to rescue her. She, too, was interested in psychical research.
(6) See her 'Early History and Phenomena of Eleonore Zugun', British Journal of Psychical Research, Jan-Feb., 1927.
Eleonore arrived in Vienna in September, 1925, and at once puzzled the Austrian scientists, especially the physicists. Her phenomena grew stronger and more spectacular. My friend, Professor Hans Thirring, the distinguished physicist of Vienna University, was especially interested and wrote to me about the girl. I had already received Grunewald's report(7), so was acquainted with the case. Dr. Thirring invited me to investigate the girl, and arranged for me to give a talk on psychical research at his University.
(7) Psychische Studien, Munich, July, 1925.
I arrived in Vienna on April 30, 1926, and began my observational periods next day. I found Eleonore installed in the Countess's charming flat in the Josefstadterstrasse and I at once set about arranging a test. I decided to utilise the Countess's bedroom-study for my experiments. This room was divided longitudinally by a matchboard partition, about six feet high, with an opening at one end for communication between the two divisions. A pair of French windows, leading to a balcony overlooking a quiet wooded garden, provided ample illumination for both study and bedroom.
I have already intimated that the apartment was divided into a study and bedroom and these I minutely examined after I had carefully fastened both doors and windows. A bed, toilet table, chairs, etc. comprised the bedroom furniture; and a low bookcase, filled with books, a couch, a writing table, chairs, etc. were placed in conventional positions. in the study portion of the room.
Having completed my examination of the room, I now turned my attention to Eleonore and the Countess who, not without amusement, were watching my precautionary measures. I had already met the Countess on a previous visit to Vienna.
I found Eleonore to be an intelligent, well-developed, bright girl with a sunny disposition. She was then nearly thirteen years old. Though physically strong and healthy, she was 'young' mentally. In many ways, she was more like a girl of eight: her shyness; her extreme fondness for simple toys; her simple games and childish ways. But she could read and write well and was even something of an artist. She was five feet tall and weighed 123 pounds. The Countess and I seated ourselves on the couch and watched Eleonore playing with a toy that fascinated her: a spring gun that projected a celluloid ping-pong ball, which was caught in a sort of conical wire basket that was attached to the gun. Suddenly, as we watched, the ball came to pieces, its component halves falling at our feet. The girl ran to the Countess and asked her to mend it. She jumped up, and so did I. As I watched my hostess examining the join, a steel stiletto with handle, used for opening letters, the whole about ten inches long, shot across the room from behind me and fell against the closed door. I instantly turned round and a minute investigation revealed nothing - and no one - that could have projected the stiletto, which was normally kept on the writing table behind us, against the wall farthest from where we stood.
Let me say at once that no one in that room, and certainly not Eleonore, could have thrown the paper-knife. We were at least ten feet from the table; I had both Eleonore and the Countess in full view. Eleonore had one half of the ball in her right hand, and the gun in her left; the Countess had the other half of the ball in her hand, and I was actually watching both my hostess and the child; the stiletto came from behind and to the right of us, and I was between the missile and the door. It was a brilliant introductory phenomenon.
I will not describe the many other manifestations I witnessed during the days I spent in Vienna, as they have been detailed elsewhere(8). But the phenomena included the precipitation of a small mirror over the partition from the bedroom side, while we three were in the study portion. Then a metal cap followed the mirror. A large black cloth dog, that Eleonore used to cuddle, shot from the study side of the room, over the partition, and fell on to the coal-scuttle near the bed. No one was nearer to the dog (which was lying on a chair near the French windows) than ten feet, and Eleonore, at the moment of the flight, was pushing a table against a wall, using both her hands. Then I saw a cushion on one of the chairs begin to move. As I watched, it slid slowly off the chair and fell to the floor. No one was near it. After each of these phenomena, and many others, I examined the room, the furniture, etc. but everything was normal. I reiterate that there were no wires, threads, spring releases, rubber bands, compressed air tubes, springs released by the gradual expansion of a viscous substance, or similar contrivances: things difficult to hide and easy to find in this sunlit room. We also witnessed another type of phenomenon - stigmata - but a description of these I am leaving for another chapter.
(8) Leaves from a Psychist's Case-Book, by Harry Price, London, 1933.
Well, I was much impressed with what I had seen. So impressed in fact, that I decided to import both the 'Poltergeist girl' and her benefactress - and, I hoped, the phenomena - to London in an attempt to witness again the wonders I had seen in Vienna. The girl and the Countess accepted my invitation with joy.
Countess Wassilko and Eleonore arrived in London on September 30, 1926. A number of phenomena, I was told, had been witnessed on the long journey from Vienna. They were delighted to be in London. Eleonore looked even more robust than when I saw her in the previous spring; and, although she was now turned thirteen years of age, there was no sign of the menses.
The first alleged phenomenon that occurred was that a silver fingerring, suddenly missed from Eleonore's dressing-table on the first night of their arrival, tumbled from nowhere as the girl was playing with a Cairn terrier that used to visit my Kensington laboratory.
Soon after the ring incident, two or three Press representatives came to see me. One of them, Mr. E. Clephan Palmer, had brought Eleonore a large package of toys, including a wonderful clockwork black cat, with eyes that spat fire, if not brimstone; a fit plaything for Dracu. It was a pleasure to watch the child's face as she undid the parcel. When she came to the clockwork toy her eyes sparkled almost as much as the cat's. She at once wound up the cat and placed it on the floor. We were all watching with amusement the glee with which she was handling the toy, and were interested to see how the thing would work. Eleonore wound it up, stooped down, and placed the cat on the floor-at the same instant as something fell upon her head and dropped to the floor. I immediately picked up the object and saw that it was an L-shaped piece of metal (size 14 x 11.5 mm., weight 24 grains), enamelled white. I at once thought it was a part of one of the toys which Mr. Palmer had brought for the girl, but upon closer inspection it was quite obvious that the object was a small metallic sign such as is used for affixing to notice-boards. I then remembered that I had seen a notice-board in the hall on the ground floor on which were a number of similar letters which are magnetic, thus easily attaching themselves to the metal surface of the board. We naturally thought that the L had come from the board and that its absence would at once be noticed. We accordingly rang through by means of the house 'phone in order to confirm our assumption. To our astonishment, the young lady typist informed us from the library that every letter on the notice-board was in its allotted position and none was missing. We then descended the four flights separating the laboratory from the library in order to investigate. We found every letter in its place on the notice-board and asked to see the remaining stock, if any. It appears that six specimens of each letter were supplied with the set sold with the notice-board, which had arrived only the previous day. Upon checking the unused letters, we found that one was missing - the letter L. Only three persons in existence knew where the unused letters were kept. One of these was out, and the other two - the typist and a youth employed in the library were actually in the room (the library), when the letter appeared in the laboratory. The unused letters were in the box secured by two fasteners, and kept in a closed cupboard. It was proved absolutely that no one in the Laboratory suite had entered the library for days - the Countess and Eleonore have never been in to this day - and the notice-board and sets of letters had not been in the building twenty-four hours. The Countess was not in the building at the time. Mr. Palmer in his report(9) stated that he saw the letter drop from the ceiling, falling upon my shoulder, and then to the ground. I distinctly saw the letter strike the girl's head and then fall upon the floor. Not being under stringent test conditions, we are not hailing the L incident as a phenomenon. On the other hand, there is not the slightest evidence that anyone was cheating; nor have we yet discovered how it was possible for a person to abstract the letter from the fastened box and closed cupboard in view of the fact that three persons only knew where the letters were kept. None of these was connected with the Laboratory. It has been suggested that because the letter is magnetic it might have had some affinity for the girl, but I think this theory is fantastic. The fact remains, though, that these magnetic letters played a major role in the manifestations which occurred during the girl's visit. But how the L found its way from the library to the laboratory - a distance of forty-eight feet - is still a mystery.
(9) Daily News, Oct. 2,1926.
Tuesday, October 5. I was not at the Laboratory during the morning of this day, but arrived at about 1.45 p.m. I made my way to the Laboratory suite on the top floor and found that my secretary had not returned from lunch and Eleonore had not yet arrived. I unlocked the various rooms comprising the suite, opened the doors, and sat down in the office to do some writing. At 2.15 Eleonore appeared and I rose to greet her. She took off her hat, etc. and placed them in the room where coats were kept. The door, leading to séance-room, was locked. Eleonore picked up her clockwork cat and - because there was more room for it to run without meeting obstacles - went into the passage to play with her toy. She did not enter the séance room. As I had risen from my chair, I thought I would prepare the séance-room in readiness for the afternoon observational period. Dr. R. J. Tillyard (who had recently returned from the Continent) had a number (thirteen) of Danish, French and other coins, of low values, which he had marked and had placed about the room. It was these coins that I went to check and place in their prescribed positions. Four of the coins I placed on the ultra-violet ray cabinet, spaced evenly, five inches apart. The one on the extreme right was a Danish copper 1-ore piece. On the lintel of the door leading to cloak-room, I placed four more coins, about six inches apart. The third coin from the left was a brass 1-franc piece. I placed other coins in various positions or checked those that were already there. I then returned to my writing in the office. During this, checking of the coins Eleonore was playing with her cat in the passage, the whole length of which I could see through the open office door. At exactly 2.30 I heard a coin drop in the séance-room. I looked at Eleonore, who also looked up at the same time. She said 'Dracu!' I rose from my seat, and with Eleonore (who waited for me) entered the séance-room. I at once looked at the coins which I had so recently checked and arranged, and found that the 1-ore piece from the right of row on ultra-violet cabinet, was missing. The others on the lintel of the door had not been touched. After about two minutes Eleonore found the coin not far from the curtained 'cabinet' across corner of room near window. As a matter of fact, we saw the coin simultaneously. While she was stooping down to pick up the Danish 1-øre piece, and I was watching her, the French franc - which two minutes previously I had seen firmly in position on the wide lintel of the door, fell from its place and was discovered to right of gramophone cabinet. It must have rolled - at least, that would be the normal explanation - but I did not hear it roll; I heard merely the sound of the coin (weight, twenty-seven grains) falling. No other person was on the Laboratory floor - no one was nearer than the ground floor, four stories below.
The fall of the franc was a true Poltergeist phenomenon. It would have remained on that lintel (6 feet, 10¾ inches from the ground, and 3 feet wide) for a thousand years without falling. Nothing but an earthquake would have shifted it unless it was removed normally oras I am convinced was the case - paranormally. The diameter of coin was 23mm, the depth of lintel was 24mm, and all coins were purposely placed hard up against the wall so that if they did fall there would be no ambiguity about the matter. I am as convinced of the reality of this particular phenomenon as I am of the fact that I am breathing. At one moment the coin was securely resting on the lintel, and two minutes later it was flicked to the right of the gramophone (a distance of 5 feet 9 inches), with no one nearer to it than thirteen feet. Here we have a characteristic example of a so-called Poltergeist displacement or telekinetic movement witnessed under ideal conditions. True, it was only a small and light article that was displaced; but the conditions under which the displacement occurred make it an exceptionally brilliant phenomenon. But, unlike some psychic phenomena which can be induced more or less at will, Poltergeist manifestations are of such a sporadic and spontaneous nature that their repetition at a given time and place becomes impossible. The fall of the franc was the first telekinetic phenomenon of Eleonore's witnessed at the Laboratory, concerning which I was absolutely satisfied. The falling of the coin off a ledge may be a simple movement, but for this movement to take place automatically by mechanical means would require fairly elaborate apparatus which could not be rendered invisible.
I could fill many pages with accounts of the phenomena we witnessed, under scientific conditions, during Eleonore's stay in London(10). Her visit caused the greatest interest among scientists and others who attended many of the observational periods, and those whom I invited included: Dr. R. J. Tillyard, F.R.S., Mr. W. R. Bousfield, F.R.S., Mr. Edward Heron-Allen, F.R.S., Professor William McDougall, F.R.S., Professor Hans Thirring (who travelled specially from Vienna in order to see our experiments), the Hon. Everard Feilding, Professor A. O. Rankine, F.R.S., Dr. Theo. B. Hyslop, late chief of Bethlehem Hospital, the London mental asylum, and many more.
(10) For a full account, with illustrations and plans, see Proceedings of the Nat. Lab. of Psy. Research, Vol. 1, Part 1, London, Jan. 1927.
If the 'Poltergeist' phenomena were interesting, her stigmata were equally puzzling, and they deserve a chapter to themselves. Eleonore had an idée fixe that Dracu - the Rumanian Devil - used to bite and otherwise maltreat her - an obsession that we tried to eradicate, without success. The painful weals, teethmarks and scarifyings that she experienced were more than a match for our logic.
The article above was taken from Harry Price's "Poltergeist Over England: Three Centuries of Mischievous Ghosts" (1945, London: Country Life Ltd.)
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