History is rife with great hauntings, many of which have served as the foundations of horror fiction and film as we know it, and for good reason. Some truly stand out for a variety of reasons, such as that they were well-witnessed, observed by credible witnesses, or due to their sheer creep factor and intensity, even violence. One of the greatest, most terrifying hauntings ever occurred in an otherwise peaceful village in Canada. It is a case that involved some sort of very active and malevolent presence, which would rattle the region and catapult itself into history as one of the most spectacular, unnerving hauntings the world has ever seen, and which continues to confound to this day.
The year was 1878 and the place a cozy, secluded cottage in the quaint village of Amherst, nestled amongst the breathtaking scenery of the shores of the Bay of Fundy, in Nova Scotia. Here a young woman by the name of Esther Cox lived a relatively peaceful life along with her sister Jennie, another sister named Olive Cox Teed, Olive’s husband, Mr. Daniel Teed, as well as their two children and Daniel’s brother, John. Esther had had a rather tragic life up to that point, with her mother having died when she was just a child and her father having since moved away to start a new life with another wife, and she was seen as a mostly quiet and somewhat reclusive young lady. However, they had had a tranquil life in this quiet little town, and it seemed as if life was looking up. However, in the summer of 1878 there would be a terrible incident that would serve as the springboard for a whole series of strangeness that remains unsolved to this day.
In the summer of 1878 Esther was just 18-years old when she became fond of a local shoemaker by the name of Bob McNeal, yet he was to prove to be far from a noble man when he took her on a carriage ride into some nearby gloomy woods and attempted to force himself upon her at gunpoint there amongst the brush. Although Esther was able to come out of the attempted rape physically unscathed, the event had caused great injury to her psyche, scarring her to the point that she was never really the same after that. She became despondent and morose, often crying herself to sleep and keeping what had happened a secret from everyone around her, who couldn’t figure out just why she was spiraling ever further into a deep depression. This is when things would take a turn for the decidedly strange.
Not long after the attempted assault the house became plagued by various strange and unexplained phenomena, such as what sounded like disembodied whispering coming from the walls, anomalous knocking or scraping noises, footsteps, and what seemed to be something rustling or flopping about about in the shadows. One evening as Esther was settling into bed in a darkened room with Jennie they saw something begin moving under the bedcovers as if something alive was crawling and squirming beneath, but when they pulled the covers back there was nothing there, prompting them to wake the whole house with their startled screams. The following evening the family was awoken again by more screams, and this time the frightened girls explained that they had heard a rustling coming from a box of scraps kept under the bed, but when they had pulled the box out it had suddenly become animated, to jump up into the air, flip around, and spill its contents everywhere. At the time it was thought that they had just been spooked by a mouse, and the adults of the house did not think much of it, but this would soon change.
Not long after these disturbances started, Esther came down with a sudden fever, which would spectacularly turn into something more mysterious when the young woman began screaming in agony and tearing at her clothes, and she cried out in a panic that it felt as if her body was expanding and about to explode, and she would scream “My God! What is happening to me? I'm dying!” The startled family members examined the writhing, agonized Esther, who was also beginning to gasp as if she were being choked, to find her skin red, blistered and swollen. Most ominously of all, this began to visibly spread throughout the girl’s entire body as all present looked on in astonishment and Esther began to convulse uncontrollably and contort about on the floor. As everyone stared on in stunned disbelief and tried to process what they should do, they were then jolted by a series of thunderous bangs that reverberated through the room and which seemed to issue forth from under the bed.
Oddly, with these deafening noises Esther abruptly calmed down, her skin returned to normal, and she slipped into a deep sleep, and indeed seemed to be in a trance-like state for a full three days, during which time all of the odd phenomena and disturbances in the house ceased. Things seemed to have gone back to normal, but this would turn out to not be true when Esther snapped out of her daze and later that evening she was once again assaulted by convulsions, her body again swelling visibly as her skin became so hot that it was almost painful to touch, and once again the whole episode ended with a four loud booms that shook the room itself. This and the continuing strange things going on in the house were enough for Esther’s increasingly terrified family to call in a Dr. Carritte in order to try and figure out what was ailing her. He arrived thinking he had a sick girl on his hands, but would soon realize it was much more than that.
Soon after he arrived Dr. Carritte began to witness a variety of increasingly strange and sinister phenomena at the house, almost as it it were perturbed by his presence. It began as he observed her sleeping in the dim room and noticed her pillow get pulled right out from under her head, even though her hands were in full view and no one else was there. As the evening went on this would graduate to the blankets getting pulled or even thrown from the bed by unseen hands, banging that seemed to come from under the bed, and a disembodied scream the source of which he could not discern, as well as anomalous scratching or scraping sounds and finally those jarring, deafening booms, which sounded like claps of thunder and which seemed to bellow forth from the bed and the roof, sometimes at the same time. The baffled doctor could find no explanation for any of it, but the worst was yet to come. As he looked around the room for any sign of trickery or what could be causing the spooky disturbances, his attention was captured by words that seemed to be forming on their own on the wall above Esther’s sleeping head, which scrawled out to read “Esther Cox you are mine to kill,” and were punctuated by a piece of plaster breaking off from the wall to go careening through the air and land at the doctor’s feet as he stared on in utter bewilderment.
Most people would have likely run from that cursed home screaming off into the night, but Dr. Carritte was just as curious as he was unsettled, and decided to return the very next day, which seemed to almost antagonize the spirit further because it became even more active and brazen as he was there. The doctor himself would witness objects fly across the room, cold water begin to bubble and froth as if it was boiling, heavy furniture lurch over the floor, and even forks and knives disturbingly fly through the air to embed themselves in the wall with great force. The banging noises that sounded out from the roof, floor and walls got so loud and insistent that even the neighbors could hear them, and people began to wonder just what was going on at that house.
In the meantime, Esther was given sedatives to help her sleep, but this did little to stop her mysterious convulsive fits, and indeed they seemed to get even worse, with her blurting out things such as telling of her sexual assault, but unable to remember this upon awakening. The terrifying nocturnal attacks began to become more frequent and random as well, with the mysterious force sometimes slapping, pushing, or striking her at all hours without warning, often leaving red marks, scratches and welts, often right in front of frightened onlookers. On more menacing occasions Esther was even stabbed with pins and a pocket knife by whatever it was that was tormenting her. The spirit would also begin following Esther her from place to place, even beyond the confines of her home, such as a time it showed up at her church service and began raucously banging on the pews as horrified churchgoers looked on. All through this Carritte carefully tried to figure out what was going on, to no avail, and he would later write of what he had witnessed at the house:
Honestly skeptical persons were on all occasions soon convinced that there was no fraud or deception in the case. Were I to publish the case in the medical journals, as you suggest, I doubt if it would be believed by physicians generally. I am certain I could not have believed such apparent miracles had I not witnessed them.
It even seemed as if the entity was trying to communicate, as it seemed to bang or tap out patterns in response to questions asked of it. The family would go on to devise a system through which they could ask it simple yes or no questions and it would rap out the answers. They graduated to trying to communicate with the spirit through automatic writing as well, and during these sessions it would scrawl out cryptic messages and claim that it was several disparate people, including one Maggie Fisher, who had been a classmate of Esther’s and had died in 1867.
The Teed house was starting to become fairly well-known around the area for its various phenomena and the girl being stalked by ghosts, and numerous eyewitnesses, including clergymen, flocked there to see these things for themselves, and most did not go away disappointed, with many convinced that what they had seen had no rational explanation and had not been caused by any trickery of the part of the family. The only time this relentless onslaught of weirdness subsided was when Esther fell down ill for several weeks with a case of diphtheria, during which time she was away at a relative’s house to recuperate, and after which she moved in with one of her sisters out of fear of bringing the insidious haunting and her spectral stalker back home with her. During these weeks the phenomena did not rear its head at all, and Esther came under the impression that it had perhaps stopped altogether, warily moving back to the Teed house. However, she would soon find out that the haunting had not stopped at all, but had rather just gone dormant for unknown reasons.
Indeed, when the manifestations started anew they did so with a decidedly malicious and wicked edge to them. The entity began dropping lit matches from the ceiling, which seemed to come out of nowhere and threatened to start fires. In other cases, articles of clothing would spontaneously combust into flames, luckily with no one wearing them, and fires began to start in other areas of the house as well, such as one that burst into existence in the cellar and which threatened to burn the whole house down. In addition to these fires, the entity began to speak to Esther, and on several occasions actually appeared to her as an apparition. On one such occasion, the specter commanded Esther to leave the house that very evening, and promised that if she did not it would destroy the house with a great fire. The family had by this point seen enough unexplainable bizarre phenomena that they did not doubt the entity was telling the truth, and had Esther stay at a neighbor’s house.
Esther was able to stay at the house for a while without incident, but the activity began once again and she was forced to move on, with the entity pursuing her and attacking her wherever she went. She ended up back in Amherst, where the various ominous phenomena kept on unabated. The family was then approached by a man named Walter Hubbell, who was curious as to what was going on and hoped to stay with the family and study the phenomenon for himself. Like doctor Carritte before him, Hubbell spent several weeks with the family and witnessed numerous instances of paranormal phenomena. He would witness objects seeming to teleport about the house or drop from the ceiling, fires starting for no reason, objects levitating or moving about on their own, and various anomalous bangs, thuds, and scraping noises.
He also witnessed physical attacks by the force on Esther, and was able to have simple conversations with the ghost through knocks and taps, through which it rapped out letters of the alphabet to spell names. The entity would over time variously identify itself as Maggie Fisher, Bob Nickle, Peter Cox, Jane Nickle, and Eliza McNeal, suggesting that there was either more than one ghost, or it was playing deceptive mind games. It would also accurately guess things such as how many coins were in a pocket and answer simple yes or no questions, eerily answering emphatically “yes” to whether it had seen Hell and whether it had met the Devil. One of the strangest incidents witnessed by Hubbell was one day when the sound of a trumpet echoed out through the house, after which an actual trumpet materialized out of thin air to fall from the ceiling onto a bed.
Hubbel, was so impressed by what he had seen at the Teed house that he convinced Esther to come with him on a sort of speaking tour with him, telling of her story at several locations to packed crowds of curiosity seekers looking to hear the whole story and see the haunted girl, quite possibly hoping they would see something paranormal themselves. Unfortunately for them, more often than not these appearances devolved into severe heckling and booing, causing her to give up and head back to her hometown, taking up a job with a local farmer named Arthur Davison. Apparently the entity followed her here as well, burning down the barn, and Esther was blamed for it, serving one month in jail on arson charges.
Oddly, after Esther was released whatever had been stalking and tormenting her began to fade, first losing power, then becoming just the faintest wisps of poltergeist activity, then nothing. She would end up marrying twice, before passing away in 1912 at the age of 52, to leave a legacy as the center of one of the most well-witnessed and intense hauntings on record. Hubbell himself would publish his version of the events that had unfolded in his presence, titled The Great Amherst Mystery: A True Narrative of the Supernatural, which even had an affidavit included with it signed by 16 witnesses all proclaiming it to be true, and indeed it is his account and Carritte’s journal which shed the most light and provide the most details on this spectacular haunting. The case has since been investigated and examined by all manner of researchers, whose ideas have run the gamut from that it was all real, to that it was just a hoax perpetuated by the family or the original investigators.
For all of the research that has gone into poring through this remarkable case, there are still many questions and it has never really been solved. What was this thing? There are many who believe that it might have been a mental projection from Esther herself due to some inner turmoil, or some dark, demonic entity that targeted her for inscrutable reasons. It also might have been just a hoax or fabrication. Why did it stop? This may have been because she had finally found peace with herself, which would support the idea that it all originated with her, but it could also mean she just got tired of the charade. Yet, the fact remains that many people seem to have witnessed the phenomena, and were convinced that it could not have been trickery. So just what was going on here? Was this ghosts, demons, mental projections, or what? Why target this girl and her family, and where did it go? We may never know the answers to these questions, and in the meantime the Great Amherst Mystery has launched into the upper pantheons of great unsolved hauntings.