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The Strange Case of the Romanian Ghost Girl

Sometimes the strangest cases of the paranormal gravitate towards the most seemingly unassuming, ordinary of people. Eleonore Zugun was born in Talpa, Romania on May 24, 1913, and for much of her childhood she was just a normal, simple peasant girl, and there was nothing particularly special or remarkable about her until at the age of 12 she was sent to stay with her grandparents in the village of Buhai. This would prove to be a new chapter in the young girl’s strange life, and a series of bizarre events would propel her into the spotlight and surround her with a paranormal mystery that has never been solved.

It all started with some candy. Shortly after moving to Buhai, Eleonore was walking down the street one day and was lucky to find some money lying there. The poor girl was ecstatic, and promptly blew it all on candy at a nearby store. Upon returning home she excitedly told her grandmother about how lucky she had been, but this did not get the response she had perhaps been expecting. Rather than being happy for her granddaughter, the grandmother allegedly flew into an utter rage and admonished her severely for taking the money and using it for such frivolous things. She told the girl that that money had likely been left by Dracu, the Devil, and that by accepting it and selfishly using it on herself she had invited demonic forces into her life. Not long after this the weirdness began.

Eleonore Zugun

The first phenomenon to hit were the stones. One evening as they all sat around the table having a meal a rain of stones began to hit the humble home, which then increased in intensity until there were rocks of all sizes, as well as a piece of porcelain and half a brick, flying through to smash windows in. When the onslaught let up, a look outside showed no one around who could have thrown so many objects with such brutal intensity, and it left the family baffled. Oddly, the way these stones and other debris had fallen, largely around Eleanor’s feet, made it look like these projectiles had been aimed at her. In the days after this, wherever the girl went objects seemed to fly off of shelves to land at her feet or hit her, and this deeply spooked the superstitious grandmother, as well as villagers who also witnessed various things fly through the air towards her.

The grandmother called a priest to come investigate, and he did an experiment with the stones. He surmised that since many of the rocks were wet that they must have come from a nearby stream, so he marked one of the stones and threw it back into the water. Moments later the very same stone with the very same markings purportedly came sailing right back into the house. The priest supposedly witnessed other activity as well, including breaking dishes and moving objects, and he warned the family that there was an evil presence there. This was too much for the grandparent’s, and after more than a week of this strange phenomena they became convinced that she was being targeted by evil spirits and sent her home to her parents, where the bizarre activity continued.

Back with her family, it soon became clear that rocks were continuing to be thrown at Eleonore, sailing in through windows or crashing against the house. Besides the constant barrages of stones was other various paranormal activity, such as levitating objects, objects flying off shelves, on one occasion a saucer sailing across the room to hit a visitor on the head, and furniture that would bounce about and shake wildly, all of which only happened in the girl’s presence. In another instance large potatoes reportedly materialized from under the bed and flew across the room to hit Eleanor’s father painfully on the shoulders. More ominously, Eleonore would often awaken with scratch or bite marks on her body in places where she could not have possibly inflicted them on herself, and this was enough to persuade the girl’s father to bring her to a local priest, which would prove to be a rather harrowing experience in its own right. The famous psychic researcher Harry Price would write of this meeting in his 1945 book Poltergeist Over England, saying:

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 frightened villagers persuaded the priest to hold a mass, but this did nothing to stop the phenomena that orbited the girl, which was growing day by day in ferocity, and so she was sent away to the Convent of Gorovei, near Talpa. Here there were numerous exorcisms carried out, but nothing seemed to stop the sinister activity, and in fact only seemed to make it all worse. Eleonore was allegedly witnessed to be thrown about and physically assaulted by unseen forces, and would also show classic signs of demonic possession such as growling, snarling, and levitating over the ground. Since nothing seemed to be working and the girl seemed to be slowly losing her mind she was sent to an asylum for psychiatric help and evaluation, but even there no one could figure out what exactly was wrong with her.

In the meantime, the strange story of Eleonore Zugun was leaking out and finding its way into the press, and it was one such article that attracted the attention of Austrian psychical researcher Fritz Grunewald, who immediately made arrangements to go investigate, interviewing numerous witnesses and talking to Eleonore, and witnessing much of this paranormal phenomena himself. He became convinced that this was no hoax or trick and that she was the real deal and needed to be examined more thoroughly. He managed to arrange to get her moved back to the convent in May of 1925, and began a series of observations on the afflicted girl, noting myriad phenomena in her presence, such as moving or levitating objects, other objects that seemed to materialize out of nowhere, mysterious knocks or bangs, matches that seemed to light by themselves, and even physical attacks, which seemed to indicate unseen hands pushing or slapping her.

Eleonore under observation

Grunewald had big plans for Eleonore, hoping to launch a major study, but these were tragically cut short when he died of a heart attack three weeks later, leaving the girl in a limbo once again. Her scared parents were about to send her back to the asylum, but luckily for her a rich countess in Vienna and personal friend of Grunewald by the name of a Zoe Wassilko-Serecki had been following her case with great interest and decided to take Eleanore under her wing. The girl was taken to Vienna for more study and observation, and soon convinced the countess that she was genuine, witnessing all of the same phenomena that Grunewald had and then some. The countess would later describe some of the stranger incidents in a 1927 issue of the British Journal of Psychical Research, saying:

Most interesting were the very rare cases when the last part of the hypothetical line of flight of a moving object was to be observed. Once I entered my room and looked at the window. Eleanore was standing behind me. Suddenly I saw a shadow which glided down slowly in front of the window and not straight, but in a zigzag line . . . Then I heard a low sound of something falling. I looked and saw a little iron box filled with dominoes. The box was closed but some of the dominoes lay next to it on the floor . . . Another time I was sitting with Mr. Klein at the round table, while Eleonore stood with a cat in her arms at the book-stand. Mr. Klein unintentionally looked at the girl, and on this occasion noticed a dark grey shadow come from behind her, pass along her right side and fall under our table upon the cushions at our feet. It was a tin box which had before stood on the washstand on the other side of the room. I had always the impression that a returning object of the kind was only again submitted to the normal laws of the physical world when it was perfectly itself again . . . The foregoing shadow has nothing at all to do with the appearance of the object itself. I think that the impression which this moving riddle makes, is described best by the words: ‘Hole in the World’, which I used for it.

Other strange phenomena appeared at this time as well, such as the tendency for Eleanore to occasionally go into trances, during which she would pick up a pen and start scrawling out messages, odd considering that she was supposedly completely illiterate. One such note apparently wrote out in perfect Romanian the location of a set of keys the countess had lost, after which she found them exactly where was specified. There were also more intense physical symptoms, such as frequent bruises and scratches upon her body, and the unseen assaults got worse too, with baffled witnesses even describing an incident in which the girl’s hair could be seen to rise and jerk as if someone were yanking at it, and she would also receive tiny punctures like someone was poking her with a needle. Indeed, it was claimed by the countess that sometimes actual needles were found poking out of her. Perhaps even more disturbing were the purported appearance of stigmata on the girl, of which the countess would say of one such episode:

An example of the stigmata manifestation occurred yesterday morning in my presence. Soon after I had entered the room a mark was noticed rapidly growing on the girl’s arm. As I watched it, it grew into a number of cruel-looking weals, which might have been inflicted by a whip or a thin cane. I am satisfied that neither the girl nor anyone else can have inflicted any such blow. Within a few minutes the marks had disappeared. Some minutes later, while I was helping Eleonore to wind up a clockwork cat, of which she is inordinately fond, I myself saw similar weals beginning to appear on her other arm, arid at the back of her neck. Nobody but myself was near her at the time, and both her own hands were fully occupied with the toy.

Eleonore (right) and the countess

It did not take long for the case to catch the attention of the famed Harry Price, who was at the time perhaps the most eminent researcher of paranormal phenomena in Europe, if not the world, and he made his way to Vienna in April of 1926 to carry out his own investigation. He would make several visits to the countess’s flat to study Eleonore, and although he was slightly skeptical about the stories he had heard at first, any doubts he had had were soon wiped away when on their very first meeting it was apparent that something strange was going on. Price would write of this first contact:

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.

Over the course of his visits, Price would apparently observe a whole range of odd and very often frightening unexplained phenomena, of an intensity he had never seen before. Some of these incidents really run the range of the weird, and Price would explain of some of the more bizarre of these:

I will not describe the many other manifestations I witnessed during the days I spent in Vienna, as they have been detailed elsewhere. 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. Well, I was much impressed with what I had seen.

Harry Price

Price was so impressed, in fact, that he made arrangements to have Eleonore brought to London in order to be observed under a laboratory setting. In September of 1926 they arrived in London and the girl was brought to the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, where she would spend hours on end under observation and baffle all who saw her. According to Price numerous unexplained phenomena were observed during this time, including moving objects, objects that would go missing only to suddenly appear from nowhere, including dropping from the ceiling, and objects vanishing from locked cupboards and reappearing out of thin air. Some of these phenomena were witnessed under normal conditions but others were obsevred under strict laboratory conditions. On one such occasion Price tells of a franc coin that was observed to move across a table to fall to the floor with no one less than 13 feet from it. Price was very puzzled by this, saying:

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.

There were also continuing instances of physical attacks on the girl, such as bruises, scratches, and bite marks. Perhaps the most disturbing of these were the teeth marks that would appear, sometimes in full view of witnesses, and and one such incident that supposedly happened at the laboratory was described in the Sunday Mail thusly.

A party was taking tea in the laboratory when Eleonore, in the act of raising her cup to her lips, gave a cry of pain and rolled up her sleeve. On her forearm appeared what seemed to be the marks of teeth deeply indented into the flesh, as if she, or someone else, had bitten fiercely into the arm. The marks turned from red to white and finally took the form of white raised weals. They gradually faded, but were still noticeable after an hour or so.

Other such weird phenomena were witnessed during Eleonore’s time in London as well, and it was concluded by Price and his associates that there was no trickery involved, and that “telekinetic phenomena were convincingly demonstrated, and their authenticity was attested by various prominent observers,” and were confident that “under scientific test conditions movements of small objects without physical contact undoubtedly took place.” However, others were not so convinced, and even as the media and general public stood in awe of “The Ghost Girl of Romania,” there were others who were a bit more skeptical and highly suspected trickery.

Alleged aftermath of one of Eleonore Zugun’s attacks

One of these was a Munich doctor named Hans Rosenbusch, who invited Eleonore and the countess to his home and became convinced that they were cheating, even claiming he had seen the countess purposefully scratch the girl’s neck while masking it as combing her hair. Rosenbusch came to the conclusion that the whole thing was an act, with everything fake and explainable through the clever use of subterfuge, magnets, and sleight of hand. These allegations were met with defiance by Price himself, as well as his National Laboratory of Psychical Research, who remained adamant that his experiments had proven without a doubt that the girl had some sort of telekinetic abilities. The countess also contested these accusations, and even went so far as to sue for libel. Price seriously did not believe that this was a con, but rather that it was subconscious telekinetic activity being projected from Eleonore herself due to her tumultuous past. With regards to Eleonore he called it the Dracu complex, and said of it:

What has happened to Eleonore is apparently this: During her early childhood when the so-called ‘poltergeist’ phenomena became first apparent, the simple peasants threatened her so often with Dracu (the Devil) and what he would do to her that her subconscious mind became obsessed with the idea of whippings, bitings, etc., which the ignorant peasants said would be her lot at the hands—or teeth—of Dracu. Remove the Dracu complex and the girl would probably be troubled no further with stigmatic markings. If we have discovered the cause of the ‘stigmata’ I am afraid we cannot lay claim to having unraveled the mystery of the tele-kinetic movements of the coins, etc. We have merely proved that they happen.

This is keeping with a theory on poltergeist activity called “Recurrent Spontaneous Psycho Kinesis (or RSPK)” in which a person, usually a prepubescent, will subconsciously lash out with psychic energy under stress or trauma, which is powerful enough to manifest and affect the physical world around them in a variety of profound and very weird ways. The subject is very often totally unaware that they are the source of the activity, and can even be targeted by it, with both them and those around them attributing it all to ghosts or demons when in fact it is mentally projected telekinesis. Is that what was going on here or had she managed to pull a fast one on so many people, including one of the most eminent psychical researchers in the world? What was going on here?

Trickery or not, it would become a moot point anyway, when in 1928 upon hitting puberty and her first menstrual cycle Eleonore Zugun promptly stopped exhibiting these phenomena, apparently stripped of her psychic abilities. She would then sort of drop off out of the public eye and go off to live a normal life, leaving questions behind that have yet to be adequately answered. So was this all a big scam, which managed to fool all who observed it, including one of the greatest paranormal researchers of his time? Was it real? If so was this telekinetic energy projected by the girl herself or was it malevolent supernatural forces out to get her? There is no way to really know, and the case of Eleonore Zugun remains one of the most perplexing poltergeist cases on record.