There are many types of supposed hauntings out there, and one of the more well-known of these are what are called poltergeists. The term “poltergeist” comes from a fusion of the German words poltern, meaning “to rumble,” and geist, which means “ghost” or “spirit,” making the word translate basically to more or less “noisy ghost.” This poltergeist activity usually entails a wide range of seemingly mischievous occurrences, including anomalous noises such as knocks, thuds, and footsteps, or more rarely voices, objects moving on their own or getting knocked over by unseen forces, doors opening and closing by themselves, lights or other electronics turning on or off or experiencing strange power surges, levitating objects, objects that are mysteriously misplaced or seem to teleport from one place to another, among others. It is typically largely harmless, but in more extreme and indeed frightening manifestations, objects or furniture will fly across the room to violently crash into walls, and people will levitate or even be seemingly attacked by unseen hands, often leaving bruises, scratches, and cuts behind. Such phenomena will usually seem to gravitate around a single individual, and one very curious case concerns a girl who had this strangeness follow her around to a powerful extent, to the point that it ruined her life, only for her to be miraculously cured in a shocking poltergeist case that remains unresolved.
Our tale here begins back in the 1920s, in the market town of Keighley, in the City of Bradford Borough of West Yorkshire, England. Here there lived a 20-year-old young woman who is kept anonymous in the news reports of the time, but who we shall call “Anne,” who worked at the local spinning mill spinning thread. By all accounts there was nothing particularly remarkable about her other than her good looks and the fact that she was quite tall. She had had a normal childhood, a happy family, and had never experienced anything strange or out of the ordinary. She was thought of as respectable and hardworking, never missing a day at the mill and having never experienced any trouble at work, and although she was the target of many would-be suitors, she was chaste and pure. One day in February of 1925, she would arrive at the mill as usual, but this would turn out to be far from a usual day, as a series of frightening paranormal forces would begin to orbit her.
That day she sat at her mill as usual, and almost immediately her thread snapped. This was not really a big deal, and was not uncommon at the mill, so she thought nothing of it, simply resetting a new thread and starting again. Once again the thread broke, this time before the machine had even begun spinning. This happened several more times, and as Anne sat there trying to figure out how this could be, the other workers around her began complaining that their threads were snapping as well, with one newspaper report later saying that “batches of ends broke down with alarming frequency on three frames near which the girl worked.” Oddly, when she was taken off the spinning frame and given another job, the breaking of the threads stopped and everything proceeded smoothly and normally. This was all strange enough as it was, but it would get even stranger when she got home.
Practically as soon as she entered her home, a framed picture flew from the wall to go smashing to the floor. When she entered the kitchen, crockery was tossed about in all directions by an unseen force and a table slid across the floor. Indeed, everywhere she went objects and furniture would move, levitate, or go flying, only to stop for some time and then start up all over again. This went on for days, and her mother would say of this:
We were in the kitchen one day when the table had been laid for dinner. There were four plates, one at each side, and suddenly two legs of the table were raised into the air and the plates were all shot on to the floor and broken. She was standing about two yards or so away from the table, and there is no question about it whatever that she did not touch the table or consciously make any effort to lift it. She was dreadfully upset, because it was all as mysterious to her as to us. When I told my husband what had happened with the table and pots, he could not believe me, but the following day he himself saw similar strange happenings. Ornaments and a clock were swept off the mantelpiece as if by an unseen hand, and ornaments were also upset and broken in her bedroom.
These incidents happened wherever she went, at work, in her home, when she went out on errands, and it was all observed by numerous witnesses. News of the bizarre phenomena began to make the rounds, and soon Anne was the subject of much gossip and media attention. She apparently became so upset and stressed by the strange forces surrounding her and all of the attention that she began having fainting spells. When a doctor came to examine her he would find nothing wrong with her, and an article in the Yorkshire Evening Post would say of this:
She became so troubled by the influence that she was unconsciously exercising, and also by the gossip and questions of all who knew her, that she became ill. One night she fainted several times, and a medical man was called in and told all about the strange happenings in the home – the upsetting of the table, and the breaking of crockery – and the incidents in the factory. The doctor talked to the girl, tried, without success, to find out whether she exercised any magnetic influence, and then frankly told the girl’s mother that he could not find any evidence of an abnormal condition of health.
Anne drew the attention of none other than the Sherlock Holmes author Sir Conan Doyle, who was very involved with paranormal research at the time. Doyle would meet with the troubled woman and observe the breaking of objects and moving of furniture for himself, deciding to have her brought to the College of Psychic Science for more observation. At the college the phenomena went on unabated, much to the bafflement of the researchers and doctors there who witnessed it. A Mr. J. Hewat McKenzie, the principal of the college, would describe a range of the paranormal activity that came with Anne, and a correspondent with the Yorkshire Evening Post would write of this:
Mr. McKenzie’s report, now published in the October issue of “Psychic Science,” states that even the heaviest pieces of furniture, which it ordinarily took two or three persons to move, were knocked about the room, quite independently of any act of the girl’s, and generally at a distance of four or five feet from where she was sitting or standing. In the scullery, where the girl was at work, an observer saw a frying pan dash off the gas stove, sending the frying sausages flying about. While she was in Yorkshire a similar incident had happened at a canteen, where a pudding jumped out of a basin. In the kitchen of the college, one day, things became particularly lively. A chair which stood by the fireplace jumped seemingly over the table, a cup was knocked off and broken, and the chair was found seven feet away from its usual position. At another time, when the housekeeper was preparing grape fruit for breakfast, a portion disappeared and could not be found. She got two bananas to take its place, and laid them on the table, when suddenly the missing grape fruit whizzed past her ear, and the bananas vanished.
When the girl had gone to bed one night great noises of banging and tearing were heard, and on going into her room Mrs. McKenzie found the girl in bed, but the room looked as if a tornado had swept over it. Everything that could be thrown down lay on the floor. The girl stated that the moment she got into bed the legs went, letting her down on the floor, and the mattress seemed to rise up. When she got into bed again the frame of the washstand went over, a mahogany armchair was thrown down violently and the arm support was splintered. Another chair, also thrown over, had a piece broken off the back by its fall, and a small wicker table lay on the floor. All the girl’s clothes and trinkets lay on the floor, also in a wild heap.
McKenzie would see much of this for himself, and would deduce that Anne was unconsciously discharging psychic energy due to a nervous breakdown she had had after a doomed love affair. In this theory, she had no idea of what she was doing, and that these episodes were triggered by stress. He was convinced that there was no trickery involved, and that this was a genuine unexplained phenomenon, saying in more detail of his ideas and investigation into her condition:
Direct observation, as in so many similar cases, seemed to foil its own end, but enough was actually seen by Mrs McKenzie, myself, my daughter and secretary, and some students staying in the house, as well as the constant view of damage to crockery and furniture, to leave us without a shadow of a doubt as to the girl being the focal centre of some unexplained force. In the case of this Yorkshire girl, it was noticed that things fell with great force after she had moved beyond them, as if the energy were drawn from her back and limbs, and was much greater than anything required for tipping a table over in the ordinary way. An ordinary fall will not break a solid table or chair. They need to be thrown with vigour and intention for this to happen.
I tried to find if the girl felt anything while the heavy articles were thrown about. Only once, during a particularly bad disturbance, did she say that she felt a peculiar drawing in the limbs, which would suggest the extension of the psychic body, well known in cases of physical phenomena. On this sole occasion, before the question had been put to the girl, Mrs McKenzie, going into the kitchen during the disturbance, and standing where the girl had been a moment before, became aware that she stood in the centre of force of some sort, a kind of electrical discharge affecting her limbs, such as is sometimes noticed in a psychic group.
To help try and “cure” her, a trance medium was employed, and clairvoyance, magnetism, and hypnotic suggestion were also used, which had the positive effect of causing the phenomena to wane, until after three months at the college it stopped altogether. She then returned home, resumed her work at the mill without incident, and her mental health improved vastly. Anne’s mother would say of this remarkable recovery:
She has now been home again for a month, and she is undoubtedly cured of whatever was wrong with her eight months ago. She is bright and happy, looks the picture of health, and is certainly delighted at her restoration to a normal state of health. She is so much better, indeed, that she can now laugh and joke about her former troubles. If crockery happens to be broken, she will laugh and say, ‘Well, that’s not me, any way.’ It was the breaking of crockery and other things, and the unaccountable movement of furniture that were the most alarming symptoms of her trouble. You will scarcely believe the strange things that happened. I frankly admit I would not have believed them had I not seen with my own eyes. She hopes that power will never return, whatever it was, and asks no more than to be allowed to settle down quietly at work and at home, like any other normal and sensible girl. She has no desire to make use of any of her supposed psychic powers, and does not wish to be made the subject of any more psychic experiments or investigations.
It is all a classic case of poltergeist phenomena, and a good example of the idea that this congregates around an individual, often called the “agent,” with mental stress or trauma festering within the mind, only to come erupting forth to lash out into the physical world without the person even being aware that it is coming from them. More and more researchers are coming to believe that poltergeist activity does not come from any outside forces, but rather from within the mind. Paranormal researcher Maurice Grosse has said of it:
I would say that there are forces at work which we don’t know anything about at all. Maybe one day we will. And how the mind is controlling those forces. Because there’s no doubt about it in my mind anyway, that these forces are controlled by the mind. I am fairly convinced in my experience, that high stress situations cause poltergeist phenomena. Of course, they don’t cause it to everybody! Otherwise, we’d have poltergeists all over the place. But to certain people, we don’t know why, in certain situations, these high stress situations, they happen. But I would think it’s probably a housing estate that’s overpopulated, people might be having monetary problems, and I think that these conditions are a breeding ground for high stress, which in itself brings on poltergeist phenomena in some cases.
Whatever the causes may be, this case is remarkable for many reasons. First is the sheer intensity with which the phenomena occurred, in front of numerous witnesses and even in a controlled environment surrounded by experts. There is also the frequency with which the incidents came, and perhaps most remarkable of all, that she was eventually cured of this affliction. How could this be, and by what process was this achieved? Did it have anything to do with the college and their techniques, or was this her just graduating beyond it all on her own, perhaps finding some peace within herself that allowed her to leave the weirdness behind her? There is no way to know, and the case of the Keighley Poltergeist remains one of the strangest and most well-documented on record.