GHOSTS OF THE PRAIRIE

POLTERGEISTS!
SUPERNATURAL MANIFESTATIONS,
HUMAN AGENTS... OR BOTH?

 

Poltergeist activity is probably the most misunderstood form of paranormal activity, at least in conjunction with haunted houses. The word poltergeist actually means "noisy ghost" when translated from German and for many years, researchers believed that noisy ghosts were causing the phenomena reported in these cases. It was assumed that the things which occurred in a house that was "haunted" by a poltergeist were caused by an outside force. While some cases of real-like “poltergeists” have turned out to be both “intelligent” spirits and the work of human agents, some cases exist that lead researchers to believe that they may actually be combination of the two. I believe it is possible that some locations actually attract both kinds of phenomena!

Poltergeists!

First, let’s take a look at the two different types of cases that are referred to as “poltergeists”.....

Poltergeist cases are the work of actual, intelligent spirits.... while poltergeist-like cases are the work of human agents. What makes this so hard to define is the fact that some cases are a combination of the two.... where haunted locations carry such a charge of energy that they make it possible for ghosts to exist there and for the unconscious energy of the human agent to manifest.

In both kinds of cases, similar phenomena takes places, including: knocking and tapping sounds; noises with no visible cause; disturbance of stationary objects like household items and furniture; doors slamming; lights turning on and off; fires breaking out; rock and dirt throwing; physical and sexual assaults and much more. In some cases, these events can be tangible evidence of ghosts, but in other cases, while the activity is paranormal, it has nothing to do with the spirits.

Leaving out the actual cases involving negative and violent spirits, the current and widely accepted theory behind poltergeist phenomena is that the activity is usually caused by a person in the household.

This person is usually an adolescent girl, and normally one who is troubled emotionally. It is believed that this person may be unconsciously manipulating the items in the house by psychokinesis (PK), the power to move things by energy generated in the brain. This kinetic energy remains unexplained, but even mainstream scientists are starting to admit that it does seem to exist. It is unknown why this energy seems to appear in females around the age of puberty, but it has been documented to occur. It seems that when the activity begins to manifest, the girl is usually in the midst of some emotional or sexual turmoil. It is also possible for young boys, and even adults, to be able to manifest this unknowing ability. The vast majority of people have no idea they are causing the activity and are usually surprised to find there is even a possibility they could be making the strange things happen.

What can be even more difficult for the researcher is when the acts of the spirits and this energy both manifest themselves in a location. It is believed that this can, and does occur, and two of the most famous “haunted house” cases of this century boasted just this sort of strangeness.

BORLEY RECTORY

One of the world’s most famous haunted house cases was actually a case of where a haunted location assisted a human agent in creating her own activity. There seems to be no question that Borley Rectory was actually haunted... whether you choose to believe researcher Harry Price (and I do) or not. The long history of independent accounts leads us to believe the haunting went on for many years before Price ever got involved.

Briefly, Borley Rectory was a deteriorating old manor house in the English county of Essex. Harry Price got involved in the case in 1929 when a newspaper report told of some of the strange things that had gone on there for many years. He would later write two books about the house and it would go on to be known as “the Most Haunted House in England”.


Borley Rectory

Price was asked by the paper to investigate and he was told about the history of reported there, like phantom footsteps; strange lights; ghostly whispers; a headless man; a girl in white; the sounds of a phantom coach outside; the apparition of the home’s builder, Henry Bull; and the spirit of the nun who walked in the garden.

Local legend had it that a monastery had once been located on the site and that a 13th century monk and a beautiful young novice were killed while trying to elope from the place. The monk was hanged and his would-be bride was bricked up alive within the walls of her convent.

The stories had been told for many years by scores of reliable and independent witnesses. Price interviewed many of the former tenants and investigated the house thoroughly, even leasing the place for one year for a 24 hour a day vigil. Many of Price’s accounts from Borley would be first-hand, as he claimed to see and hear much of the reported phenomena like hearing bells ring, rapping noises and seeing objects that has been moved from one place to another.

Although troublesome, the ghosts at the rectory had been relatively peaceful until October 1930 when Reverend Lionel Foyster and his wife, Marianne moved into the house. Their time in residence would see a marked increase in the paranormal activity. People were locked out of rooms, household items vanished, windows were broken, furniture was moved, odd sounds were heard and much more.

However, the worst of the incidents seemed to involve Mrs. Foyster, as she was thrown from her bed at night, slapped by invisible hands, forced to dodge heavy objects which flew at her day and night, and was once almost suffocated with a mattress. Soon after, there began to appear a series of scrawled messages on the walls of the house, written by an unknown hand. They seemed to be pleading with Mrs. Foyster, using phrases like "Marianne, please help get" and "Marianne light mass prayers".

Because nearly all of the poltergeist-like activity occurred when Mrs. Foyster was present, Price was inclined to attribute it to her unknowing manipulations. However, he did believe in the possibility of the ghostly nun and some of the other reported phenomena. The rectory did not fit into pre-conceived notions of a haunted house, which was one of the reasons that it would go on to gain such a reputation. Despite the implications of the phenomena centering around Marianne, Price maintained that at least one of the spirits in the house had found the rector’s wife to be sympathetic to its plight. This was the only explanation he could find for the mysterious messages.

To Price, and to my own thinking, Borley Rectory was actually a catalyst for paranormal activity. There was something about the location itself that seemed to invite energy in and also to act as a storage battery that Marianne Foyster could somehow tap into. The house boasted three different types of phenomena... the ghosts that interacted with the investigators, the possible residual haunting the nun... and the poltergeist-like activity produced by Mrs. Foyster.

THE SAN PEDRO HAUNTING
Another case that brought together two types of activity seems to be the San Pedro Haunting or the Jackie Hernandez case, that was investigated by Barry Taff, who also investigated the famous “Entity” case.

Taff got involved in the case, along with cameraman Barry Conrad, in 1989 when he was asked to look into a house in San Pedro, California that was allegedly being haunted. The owner of the house was Jackie Hernandez, a young woman with a number of emotional problems.

The investigators were told of strange smells, unexplained sounds, moving objects, apparitions, a glowing cloud that tried to suffocate her (and which had appeared in front of other witnesses) and actually witnessed a peculiar, dripping substance dripping from the kitchen cabinets.

The events in the house grew stronger and even followed Jackie from place to place. Taff began to believe that she was creating the phenomena unconsciously because of her emotional problems and what became a strong romantic attachment to Barry Conrad. It seemed that anyone who might be perceived as threat to Jackie’s relationship with Barry ended up on the end of a violent attack by the “ghosts”.

However, there are problems with the theory that this was strictly a “human agent” haunting. The unexplained lights are certainly odd... and so would be the reports of male apparitions from witnesses and the fact that (as Barry Taff found out later) Jackie’s house continued to be reported as haunted long after she moved out. According to the owners, no subsequent tenants stayed there for longer than 6 months. Could this be merely some left-over “after effect” from Jackie’s presence there? Or something else?

Now, let’s take a look at some famous cases that leave little doubt as to their source!

THE MACOMB POLTERGEIST
One of the most famous poltergeist cases in America took place in Macomb, Illinois in 1948. In this case, a disturbed teenager named Wanet McNeil was forced to live with her father after her parent's bitter divorce. The girl and her father moved to an uncle's farm, just west of Macomb. Wanet was very unhappy with the situation and her emotions were high. In the weeks that followed, Wanet managed to start fires all over her uncle's farm with nothing other than the power of her mind. She had no idea that she was causing the phenomena.

The fires began on August 7 on the farm of Charles Willey. They began as small brown spots which appeared on the wallpaper in the house. The spots would appear and then mysteriously burst into flames. This continued to happen day after day and neighbors came to help keep watch and put out fires as they appeared. Pans and buckets of water were left all over the house and when a spot would appear, it would be quickly drenched. Still, the mysterious fires sprang up in front of the startled witnesses and volunteers began standing by with hoses to put out the blazes. The fire chief from Macomb, Fred Wilson, was called in to investigate and he had the family strip all of the wallpaper from every wall in the house. Dozens of witnesses then watched as brown spots appeared on the bare plaster and then burst into flames.

During the week of August 7, fires appeared on the front porch, ignited the curtains in every room, and even engulfed an entire bed. The National Fire Underwriters Laboratory investigated and reported that the wallpaper had been coated with flour paste and no bug repellant was present which might have contained a flammable compound. They had no explanation for what they had seen.

In addition to a number of insurance investigators, the Illinois State Deputy Fire Marshal, John Burgard, also came to the farm.

In the week that followed, over 200 fires broke out, an average of 29 per day. On Saturday, August 14, the fires raged out of control and finally consumed the entire house. Willey drove posts into the ground and made a shelter for his family with a tarpaulin, while McNeil moved himself and his children into the garage. The next day, the barn went up in flames.

On Tuesday, several fires broke out in the milkhouse, which was being used as a dining room. On Thursday, there were two more blazes and a pile of newspaper was found to be smoldering in the chicken house. Later that day, the farm’s second barn burned down in less than an hour.

The family fled to a nearby vacant house, but the fires continued. That same day, the United States Air Force got involved in the mystery. They suggested the fires might be caused by some sort of directed radiation, but had no other explanation for what was going on.

By this time, the farm was swarming with spectators, investigators, and reporters. Over 1000 people came to the farm on August 22! The suggested explanations ranged from fly spray, to radio waves, to underground gas pockets.... with everything else being ruled out, the officials turned to the possibility of arson.

While they had no explanation for the fires that suddenly appeared in front of reliable witnesses, with no possible natural cause, they did realize the puzzle had to be solved... and quickly. On August 30, officials announced the case to be closed. The arsonist, according to officials, was Wanet, a slight, 13-year-old, who apparently possessed some pretty incredible skills.... and an unlimited supply of matches! Supposedly, no one had been looking when she started all of the fires by herself, using ordinary kitchen matches.

Deputy Fire Marshal Burgard and State’s Attorney Keith Scott had taken Wanet aside for a little talk and after "an hour’s intensive questioning," she had allegedly confessed. Her reasons? Apparently, she was unhappy; didn’t like the farm; wanted to see her mother; and didn’t have any pretty clothes. Forgotten were the witnesses who had seen the brown spots appear, spread and then turn into fires, while Wanet was nowhere to be seen. Also forgotten were the fires that had appeared on the ceilings, which could not have been set with ordinary kitchen matches.

This explanation pleased the authorities but not all of the reporters who were present seemed convinced.... and the hundreds of paranormal investigators who have examined the case over the years haven’t been either. One columnist from Peoria, who had covered the case since the beginning, stated frankly that he did not believe the girl’s so-called "confession". And neither did noted researcher Vincent Gaddis in his landmark book, “Mysterious Fires and Lights“, who was convinced the case was a perfect example of poltergeist phenomena.

In the end though, the case simply went away. Wanet was turned over to her grandmother; the insurance company paid Willey for the damage done to his house and farm; the reporters had closure for their stories; and the general public was hand-fed a simple solution... which could not possibly have been the truth.

While the media certainly got involved in this case, these were the days before tabloids and tabloid TV. Poltergeist cases and media coverage certainly seem to go hand in hand and in many cases, what began as actual event often deteriorates into trickery. When this happens (and I’ll explain more in a moment) many of these cases are often dismissed as being frauds all along, when this couldn’t be further from the truth.

(Note: According to sources, recent accounts of Wanet McNeill’s activities after the outbreaks in Macomb show that her life never again regained its normalcy. Apparently, her emotional issues continued and later in life she was jailed for a time for both petty theft and prostitution.)

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(C) Copyright 2001 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.