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Energetic Poltergeist Phenomena

It has been suggested that a poltergeist outbreak is a form, conscious or unconscious, of seeking attention. This may be so, yet the Hodgson’s – who gained the attention of the world’s press, radio and television – gave the impression at all times that they just wanted a return to normal life. For the researcher, another dilemma is that one cannot learn more about poltergeists – and find ways of helping families afflicted by them – without investigating them on the spot.

Grosse and Playfair did what Mrs Hodgson and her brother John Burcombe repeatedly asked the investigators to do: stay with them and try to end the phenomena. They sought the help of several mediums, all of whom achieved a degree of reduction in the activity. Indeed one of them, a young Dutchman named Dono Gmelig-Meyling, may have been responsible for the eventual ending of the case, in October 1978. They also were able to stop the phenomena, although only temporarily, by separating members of the family.

While the furniture continued to fly around, Grosse and Playfair felt that it would be in the interests of science to record as much data as possible to enable others to expand their knowledge of mental states, physical systems, and the now evident connection between the two that poltergeist phenomena indicate. They had no luck with psychologists, several of whom came to Enfield (and left without making any useful suggestions), or with local doctors and psychiatrists.

They did manage to have Janet spend six weeks in the Maudsley Hospital in south London, where she underwent extensive tests for any signs of physical or mental abnormality – but none were found.

Grosse and Playfair were luckier with physicists, and Professor J. B. Hasted, head of the physics department at Birkbeck College, University of London, responded at once to their appeal for technical help by assigning his assistant David Robertson to the case for a whole week.

In psychical research, you tend to find what you are looking for. The sceptic is confronted with evidence that only adds to his scepticism, whereas the mind of the open-minded tends to be opened even wider. This was certainly the case with Robertson, who already had considerable experience of paranormal physical phenomena in the form of metal bending, a field in which Professor Hasted had been working in a serious and thorough way since nineteen seventy four.

A few days after physicist David Robertson joined the team an exceptionally bizarre series of events took place, in front of several witnesses. To his credit he lost no time in attempting some practical experiments hoping to be able to observe human levitation, he asked Janet to bounce up and down on her bed and attempt to take off. He was then ordered out of the room by the ‘voice’, and when he heard Janet call out that she was being ‘levitated’, he found he could not open the door. A bed had apparently been pushed against it.

Rose, Janet’s elder sister, became alarmed and went to fetch her neighbour Peggy Nottingham. Janet then attempted another levitation, again with the door closed, and subsequently claimed that not only had she risen into the air, but had passed through the wall of her semi-detached house into Peggy’s bedroom on the other side of it. Nobody believed her. Mrs Nottingham had already witnessed a good deal of strange activity since the first day of the case, in August nineteen seventy seven – some of it in her own house. But this was a bit too much. She calmly told Janet to try it again, then went back to her house, where – she later admitted – she half expected to find Janet. Janet was not there, but on the carpet beside her bed Mrs Nottingham found a book (entitled Fun and, games for children) belonging to Janet. It had certainly not been there when she had made her bed, and Janet had not been in her house. Robertson then handed Janet a large and heavy plastic-covered sofa cushion and asked her to make it ‘disappear’. He was hoping to obtain direct evidence for one of the most controversial of all alleged paranormal phenomena – teleportation, the passage of solid matter through solid matter.

A local tradesman later testified that at this time he was walking along the road towards the Hodgson’s’ house when he suddenly saw’ a large red cushion appear on its roof, in his direct line of vision. Had anybody opened the bedroom window and leaned out to place it on the roof, he would certainly have seen them. (Playfair subsequently tried to repeat this incident, and reported it possible, though very difficult and quite perilous!) This was not all the tradesman saw. When he arrived outside the house, he could see Janet through the upper bedroom window’, as he put it: ‘floating horizontally across the room’, accompanied by books, dolls and cushions that seemed as if they were being whirled around on pieces of elastic. The tradesman’s evidence is of interest since he did not know the Hodgson’s and did not believe a word of what people had told him concerning their poltergeist. What he saw that day made him change his mind, and left a profound and lasting impression on him.

Much of his testimony was supported by another eyewitness, school-crossing supervisor Mrs Hazel Short, who was on duty right across the road from the Hodgson’s’ house. She too insisted that she had seen Janet ‘definitely horizontal’ in the air, and from her description the investigators later calculated that Janet must have been about twenty eight inches above her bed, the mattress of which was hard and firm. A further witness, contacted several weeks later, was apparently still too confused and frightened by what she had seen to make a statement.

Whatever really happened in Enfield on the fifteenth of December nineteen seventy seven, several witnesses undoubtedly saw a good deal they could not explain.

Several other members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), in addition to chief investigator Maurice Grosse, David Robertson and Guy Lyon Playfair, made visits to the Enfield house during the case, but almost none of them witnessed anything they considered paranormal. This inevitably led some of them to cast doubts on the evidence presented by Grosse and myself at the nineteen seventy eight SPR international conference in Cambridge, and subsequently led to considerable controversy about the case.

How good is the evidence for the reality of the Enfield poltergeist? Whatever its quality, which ranges from unverifiable subjective reports of ‘apparitions’ to signed written statements by a number of responsible people, it cannot be denied that more documentary evidence was gathered on this case than on any previous one of its type. About two hundred hours of tape recording were made, and a special committee of the SPR carried out a lengthy follow-up investigation, during which most of the principal witnesses were re- questioned.

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