Baffling cases of poltergeist activity

The Borley Rectory in 1892

Poltergeist is a German word translating, literally, into "racketing spirits". While a great deal of paranormal activity is of the silent variety, poltergeist activity is characterized by the inexplicable moving about of objects in an often violent manner. Because of the malevolent nature of poltergeists, these spooky spirits have captured the imagination for centuries.

One of the earliest chroniclers of poltergeist phenomena was the famed religious leader John Wesley, who devoted a great deal of time to the study of poltergeists from his home in Epsworth in 1717.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Wesley's research was carried on by Harry Price of the Society for Psychical Research. Price extensively studied paranormal activity at the infamous Borley Rectory between 1930 and 1935, documenting more than 2,000 separate reports of poltergeist phenomena for his 1948 book, "The End of the Borley Rectory". The phenomena examined by Price and his team of researchers included everything from spools of cotton flying off shelves, brass candlesticks jumping off tables, church bells ringing frantically, bolted doors swinging open by some unseen force and plates smashed to pieces.
In 1941, Sir Ernest Jelf, Senior Master of the Supreme Court, wrote of the poltergeist activity at Borley Rectory in the London Law Times:

"These occurrences stand on a different level from the ordinary ghost story, inasmuch as the poltergeist is a hypothesis to account for a force which can produce actual physical and chemical changes in matter... a very strong case has been put forward by reputable witnesses and we are at a loss to understand what cross-examination could shake it."

Not all researchers were convinced, however. In 1956, two of Price's former colleagues from the Society for Psychical Research published their own book claiming that Price had staged some of the poltergeist activity at Borley Rectory. Since Price had died from a massive heart attack at the age of 67 shortly after publishing "The End of the Borley Rectory", he was, of course, unable to defend himself against these allegations.

Poltergeist activity has been reported in virtually every country, but seems to be especially rampant in Great Britain, where some of the most famous cases have occurred. One of the most notable cases is that of the "leper bell" at Warren Hall in Thetford.

Carried by lepers in the Middle Ages to warn others of their pitiable condition, leper bells were dreaded symbols of the times. One such handbell resided on a hook on the wall of Warren Hall. Over several years, numerous witnesses have reported seeing the leper bell detach itself from the wall and float through the air to a nearby table while ringing madly. A similar story involving a similar leper bell comes from Syderstone Hall, which, like Warren Hall, also happens to be in the county of Norfolk.

A medieval depiction of a leper bell

Another famous case of poltergeist activity comes from St. Pol, a small village in northern France. Shortly after the end of the Second World War the massive flywheel of a steam plough began to revolve at a terrifying rate of speed-- even though the machine was not in operation. Dozens of witnesses observed the strange incident, which took place a total of three times, the last of which was witnessed by local policemen who were paralyzed by awe and confusion as the enormous wheel tore itself from its shaft and flew 300 meters, crashing into the side of a barn.

Perhaps the most significant and most researched case of poltergeist activity was the "Tarcutta Event", which occurred in Australia on a dairy farm owned by Lawrence Wilkinson in 1949. Dozens of researchers studied the series of strange events for a period of eleven months. Some of the unexplained phenomena at Tarcutta included a milking machine disassembling itself and flying off in all directions; metal parts-- some weighing as much as 65 pounds, were flung by an unseen force as far as 250 yards. Even the government of Australia got involved; dairy inspectors from the New South Wales Department of Agriculture traveled to Wilkinson's haunted dairy farm to look into the matter.

Hugh Laming, a British journalist who conducted his own investigations into poltergeist activity in the village of Marden in Kent, believed that there is a link between these manifestations and handicapped individuals. In 1949, during the height of the poltergeist activity at Tarcutta, Laming wrote:

"Much poltergeist phenomena is associated with the presence of a human being, usually a young girl or boy, often a cripple or in some other way abnormal physically or mentally... It seems established from the evidence available that some force, psychic or as yet unexplained scientifically, at times intrudes upon the mundane world."