Tag Archives: poltergeists

Polter-Censored???


I have been horrendously busy recently, and amusing myself with stuff like the 1st Cheltenham Paranormal Festival, so the blog has fallen rather quiet. There was one odd little incident, exactly the kind of thing one forgets. After my talk, during the ghost hunt, I walked in to the auditorium gents, and was struck on the shoulder by a button. My leather jacket has a strap on each shoulder with a button – since before Christmas the one on the left had been missing. As I walked in, it suddenly returned – and struck me lightly, before clattering to the floor. I was the only person in the gents, and there was no button I could find before in the jacket to replace it, as it annoyed me as the strap flapped free. Perhaps it had been caught up in my jacket for months – I guess it must have, or I had a very inconsequential and trivial poltergeist experience!

Anyway, today I’m moved to post by something a little odd — it seems some sceptics may be actually getting as loony as some believers can be, or maybe it is just — I don’t know, I just don’t get censorship on scientific issues. I guess the people who do these things would deny it was science –call it pseudo science. So what am I on about?

Martyn McLaughlin in The Scotsman on Sunday published a piece on Dr Barrie Colvin’s research. I’ll quote a bit of it here, for ease of  reference —

Ghostly rapping can’t be faked, research shows

Published Date: 30 January 2011
By Martyn McLaughlin
THEY are unexplained phenomena that have baffled scientists and sent chills down the spines of unwitting bystanders.

But the eerie knocking sounds allegedly made by poltergeists could not be made any other way, according to new research.
A lecture taking place this week at the University of Glasgow will present evidence for a strange audio pattern common to paranormal incidents.

(Read more)

Now as it happens I disagree. I was a strong advocate of the research, but in experiments conducted last year with friends from Rational Skepticism forum I found no difference between the waveforms of poltergeist sound files provided by Dr Colvin, and those I made by banging on furniture, under certain conditions. There has been a long and technical discussion on this blog – I have been fascinated since the first, and still think the JSPR paper was very important, but I am frustrated I could not replicate the findings. I am now waiting for others to try, and see what they find.  If you have not been following the discussion, my original article on the JSPR paper is here, followed by our experiments and critique  here, and a further piece on the polt raps here.

As one would expect, there has been a fair exchange of views, lots of speculation and refinement of hypotheses, and ultimately I think we all agree that more experimentation and as Dr Colvin said in his original article more good recordings from cases are needed. I think we also need to agree on what constitutes a slow attack, that is a sustained rise to maximum amplitude.  Still, so far I seem to be one of the few “critics” of the research – ironically given my admiration for Dr Colvin et al, and my firm commitment to poltergeist research.

Anyway today I saw the Scotsman on Sunday piece, and tried to link it to my Facebook. I received a message from Facebook saying that link had been reported as spam, and was therefore blocked. I was incredulous. I have written to Facebook using the report, asking the article be un-flagged – but was puzzles me is why it was flagged as spam in the first place. I may disagree with the article, but that is just ridiculous – censorship.

I am going to be paranoid here, and say that I think it was reported as spam by a sceptic, probably someone who sees themselves as a scientist, and who has never even read Dr Colvin’s paper.  Why do I believe this, rather than blaming some dour Scottish religious type? Well firstly religious types tend to welcome evidence for “supernatural” manifestations, especially polts which are often demonic in their attributes and behaviour and the fear they instil, even if not demonic in essence – whatever demonic may mean, exactly. Secondly, bitter experience of people refusing to listen when I discuss rationally evidence for “paranormal” claims. However for me the clincher was when I was trying to edit the Society for Psychical Research‘s and other parapsychological organisations wikipedia articles, often vandalised in the past, and edit after edit was rejected. Many times that was fair – I had messed up the edit – but eventually I realised that even though my edits were on historical matters and referenced, they seemed to arouse considerable hostility and raw emotion in some people.

The worst example I ever saw of this was after a well known parapsychologist and biologist was physically attacked and wounded, when on a sceptic’s  forum (the JREF) I saw someone post a horrific  comment praising the action, and hoping – well you get the drift. When people get so angry they say things like that, something is wrong.  Now let’s be fair – the comments were edited away, the JREF mods quickly acted as I would expect of them (I have come to know many of them through the forum as good people, and it is VERY well run usually) – but honestly, the couple of nutjobs who displayed real hatred scared me a bit.

Now every forum has nutjobs, and as recent experiments in social psychology has shown, attitudes harden rather than being softened in a group forum which faces outsiders posting contrary opinions.  In fact in the case of the JREF, the people who posted the material I found offensive were NOT regular forum types; my experience of sceptic forums is that people become far mellower and nicer over the years, ditto pretty much any forum, as they get used to the forum environment, and communicating on the interweb.

So I suspect that this latest piece of vandalism was just an aggrieved nutcase with a lot of faith, who KNEW this was pseudo-science, who therefore hit a spam button to stop this pernicious threat to their cosy FAITH go unseen by the eyes of poor gullible dupes like all of us. Such people just annoy the hell out of me — because they are not sceptics, they are simply bigots. Still I could be wrong – maybe there was some other reason for The Scotsman on Sunday being blocked – but somehow I doubt it.

It’s a sad,  sad world when people on either side of the great paranormal debate can’t even listen to one anothers opinions and try to formulate a rational critique 😦

cj x

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Knocking away the poltergeist evidence? A follow up on Dr. Colvin’s JSPR paper


It’s been a long time since JG posted comments on the piece I wrote on Dr Colvin’s JSPR paper that started me thinking about running some tests to attempt to falsify the hypothesis offered in that interesting article. I emailed Dr Colvin who very kindly sent me a selection of .wav files so I could look at them. My earlier piece examines Dr Colvin’s paper in detail; however essentially he postulates based on recordings from a number of purported poltergeist cases that the waveform characteristics of sounds made by poltergeists are unusual, with a slow attack and slow decline. Have a look at my earlier post if you don’t follow, and all should become clear. In this post I describe a simple test we did on this idea, and the results…

I had become intensely interested in the issue while debating Campermon over at Rational Skepticism forum. He raised an interesting possibility – if the sound were in fact anomalous, the sustained attack/delayed decline might be due to them not being raps at all, but two surfaces rubbing together – abrasion. As he pointed out, that would produce a waveform similar to that we were looking for, similar to recordings of seismic activity which are after all abrasion on a vast scale.  So I downloaded a 30 day trial of Adobe Audition (I don’t have the money to purchase a full copy, so don’t expect much more from me on this!) and started experimenting…

As you can see, this looks a lot like the waveform we are looking for – Campermon’s scratching hypothesis was vindicated. However there was a problem — it sounded wrong, nothing like a “rap”, and nothing like the recordings I had been sent.

So then we started experimenting in earnest. I made a number of control files, simply by banging furniture in my basement: one was Lisa jumping on the floor above, and one was the abrasion of a coffee mug along the desk. Then with 12 wav files total, including the anomalous ones, I submitted them to Campermon, GrahamH and Twistor59. I wish I could use their real rather than forum names but I would have to ask their permission  (and what they actually are)  so they can reveal themselves if they want).

The Test Files

All of the waveforms for these twelve files can be viewed here on Campermon’s site. I may as well reproduce them here!

waveform from experiment

CJ1

waveform

CJ2

waveform

CJ3

waveform

CJ4

waveform

CJ5

waveform

CJ6

waveform

CJ7

waveform

CJ8

waveform

CJ9

waveform

CJ10

waveform

CJ11

waveform

CJ12

Can you spot the four “genuine poltergeist raps” from the files???  We couldn’t. Well I could, because I created the other eight and prepared the blind test, but the others were not so sure.

Interpreting the Results

The problem was that several of the waveforms created by banging furniture by me look like the supposedly anomalous waveforms. Number 6 is just me scraping a coffee mug on the desk – we removed that from most of our analysis, as it sounded so different.   Just for the record the “genuine poltergeist”  files (in that they were recorded at poltergeist cases) are 1,4, 9 and 12. We decided the only way forward was a less subjective numerical analysis of the data.

A problem now arose, in how one measures what constitutes a slow attack, which Dr Colvin does not mention in his paper. Twistor59 suggested “time from first instance of 10% max amplitude to first instance of max amplitude”. Assuming sample rate = 44.1kHz for all files, we then measured these – well Twistor did.   I then noticed something – the attack is always a ratio of the total length of sound, or so it appeared to me. Twistor then recorded the length of each sound, and Campermon tabulated it thus —
The test results:table showing duration and attack time

I had proposed that the percentage of total duration of sound in the attack was the important factor. Campermon however found a more useful way to graph this —

As Campermon suggests, there are too few data points and our sample size is too small for this to be meaningful, but our very informal tests show no striking confirmation of the hypotheses that the poltergeist raps have unique or indeed particularly unusual characteristics.  We would like to see larger tests done, with more poltergeist samples included, but remain very grateful to Dr Colvin for his assistance in supplying the wav files these tests.

So what causes the odd waveform?

Campermon in the debate raises some interesting questions —

“One thing that has nagged me from the Colvin paper was this statement from the abstract;

‘Differences in low-frequency wave properties between the two classes of sounds have been noted.’

OK, this has bugged me because in the body of the paper he doesn’t mention much about this. He doesn’t explain in any detail how he treated the recordings, for example, did he filter out the low frequencies only for his analysis? If so, what band of frequencies? Colvin does not make it at all clear, which is one of my original criticisms of the paper.

One explanation for any anomalous low frequency waves observed on the poltergeist recordings may lie in the fact that they were originally recorded on analogue gear and then digitized. Colvin states that he did digitize some himself, but other, digitized sources, were provided by others. Perhaps these recordings suffered from ‘aliasing’? Aliasing occurs in the digitization of a signal when the input signal frequency is higher than the sampling rate. It results in the addition of low frequency signals appearing on the digitized copy. More here; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aliasing”

Yesterday I hazarded some thoughts on the subject. What was interesting is that all my original experiments had produced, as you can see from my earlier piece and the debate, the characteristic “normal rap” waveform.  However when I recorded my controls, I found some fairly “polt-like” characteristics.

I think two factors are involved, a) the presence of blank wall space that ‘reflects’ the sounds, creating a sustained rise – but I cant be sure that is a factor, I just think it possible b) the transmission of the sounds through two mediums (as demonstrated by the wav file of Lisa bouncing above me through the floor). In most cases my final success in replicating the noises came from hitting an object some distance from the mc stand which rested on my desk – I suspect but do not know that the varying rates of propagation of the sound waves through two different mediums (the air and the desk) led to attenuation of the sound and the waveform characteristic displayed.

This morning just as I was writing this up JG wrote to me describing his experiments on the subject. I am not sure if he intends a more formal publication, but I would very much like to post them on this forum. I have emailed him with details of what we have been up to, and look forward to hearing his thoughts.

Final Thoughts

Assuming I do not have a poltergeist in my basement, or did not use mysterious PK power to alter my recordings 😉 I am afraid that at the moment our attempts to test the hypothesis poltergeist raps are in some way anomalous has proven only that they do not appear in a very small sample to stand out: I suspect the raps are perfectly normal sounds, which is NOT to say they are not caused by a poltergeist. Dr Colvin’s hypothesis they are internally generated in the structure of a substance is supported by the recordings; unfortunately they could just as well be an artefact of large bare walls, recording sounds from the other side of a wall, or many other quite normal factors?  Sadly we do not know enough about the conditions in which they were recorded to judge – but further research is clearly required on this fascinating line of inquiry.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank firstly and most of all Dr. Barrie Colvin who has offered a quantifiable and fascinating hypothesis, and supplied the four sound files we used; my colleagues in “beer mat parapsychology” and “beer mat physics” Campermon, GrahamH, Twistor59, and everyone who has commented from RationalSkepticism.org, JG for his invaluable comments on this blog, and Becky Smith and Lisa Langood for their tolerance of my loud thumping in the basement and helpful suggestions, and finally Anthony McCann for his hilarious poltergeist rap he composed and recorded to amuse Wendy Cousins and myself!

cj x

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Who ya gonna call? A Pembrokeshire Haunting….


We have a new answer to that long established question “Who ya gonna call?”

Pembrokeshire County Council  it seems!

Pembrokeshire County Council to investigate ghostly events at Wintern Day Centre, Fishguard

3:04pm Wednesday 5th May 2010

Mischievous ghosts are said to be spooking staff at a Pembrokeshire day centre.

Strange activity has been experienced at the Wintern Day Centre, in Fishguard, run by Pembrokeshire County Council. The problem has got so bad staff are believed to be afraid of working there after hours.

Firstly, I can see why PCC are concerned. This is a staffing issue, and they have to take it seriously. Secondly, I’m mildly curious as to what they find!

Unexplained events include printers printing when not plugged in, keyboards turning upside down overnight, furniture being moved, items flying off walls and a haunting smell of bluebells wafting through the rooms.

OK, when a printer prints and it IS plugged in I regard that as a minor miracle. However, my issues with IT aside, that is an odd phenomena, but I can imagine a printer retaining charge after it is unplugged. There must be ways this could occur – I’m not sure by “Not plugged in” if it means not plugged in to the mains (like Cath’s hairdresser in the Cheltenham case)  or not plugged in to the pc, which would be much less mysterious I think.  I suspect many printers possess some kind of “buffer”, and after receiving a command to print can continue to do so, at some later point when powered up again. Mine does it when I turn my pc back on (or simply remember to put some paper in it) and interrupted print jobs I had forgotten about come shooting out throwing paper all over the floor.  However without more details as to the precise nature of the issue it is probably fruitless to speculate further. The problem may however be uncanny — a brief Google search for “printer working while not plugged in” provides no hits on Google.  However “haunted printer” returns 515 hits —

http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=X1q&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-GB%3Aofficial&channel=s&q=%22haunted+printer%22&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=

— and i do not have time this morning to check them all to see if any are similar problems. 🙂

“keyboards turning upside down overnight” again does not sound all that mysterious to me, if by this it means that workers enter the building in the morning to find that their pc keyboards are upside down.  It seems to baffle many office workers to realise that things move overnight — because they are so used to being the sole occupants of their workspace they forget that while they are at home, or safely in bed, a team of cleaners come in and clean the office?  As they never see these people, or very rarely, they may well fail to consider the option a cleaner has simply sprayed and wiped the desk, then forgotten to flip the keyboard back properly.  I can’t prove that was what was happening here, but I would start my enquiries with the office cleaners. “Was it Henry the mild-manner Janitor? — could be!”

“furniture being moved” is something every reader of this blog must be familiar with as a recurring phenomena by now. The problem however is the frustrating lack of details — if again, it simply comes down to workers coming in in the morning and finding furniture is not where it should be, then late working staff, people using the building unofficially after close to access the net, or  most likely of all those ‘invisible’ cleaners are my prime suspects.

“items flying off walls” — interesting, but incredibly vague. I suspect the author of this piece, Anwen Humfrey would have given more details if possible — so either this happened a while ago, or the witnesses are not speaking, or its simply a very common occurrence. “Flying off” is intriguing, but “items falling off walls” may be closer to the truth – while I desperately want to know distances, trajectories etc, sadly no details are available (though I will email Anwen of course, just in case!)

More intriguing is “and a haunting smell of bluebells wafting through the rooms.” The Coates case saw me searching the house and handbag and clothing (and let’s face it I’d probably have gone for a full body cavity search if decency permitted) of a mediumistic claimant after a strong floral smell pervaded the property after she did her “clearing”.  We could all smell it, it was not a delicate scent, and I never did locate the source.  I’d be useless here though – I live near a very beautiful bluebell wood, but I can not bring to mind the smell of bluebells. Of course I could invent hundreds of reasons for a phantom smell, but just for once I’ll resist the temptation. So why bluebells?

Rumour suggests the building is haunted by the spirits of two maids who lived in the attic. It is understood the girls hanged themselves after both became pregnant. The tragedy is said to have happened when the bluebells bloomed, and the building now smells eerily of the flowers.

I’m pretty sure this romantic tale has grown up recently (perhaps from a psychic claimants utterances) in response to the smell, not vice versa. I could of course be totally wrong, I usually am. I would love to know if there is any written record, or indeed older resident of the area, who can recall hearing the story in the past. “Wronged pregnant maidservants” are a staple of Victorian scandal and modern psychic’s claims, but whenever I hear of a “ruined” girl and these tragedies, I am reminded of Thomas Hardy’s wonderful poem The Ruined Maid. Do have a look, it’s not what you might expect from Hardy! 🙂

One source who has been researching the building, said: “It’s quite true, it’s a very scary situation, staff are not willing to work there at night at all. “It’s worse now than ever. Over the years when they used to light fires there, they would go out with a bang for no reason. It must be especially frightening for someone new starting work there.”

An anonymous source? Presumably someone connected with the workplace, but OK,  they tell us a couple of very interesting facts. I don’t know if the fires are gas, coal or electric, so I can’t speculate in that — but I’d get a fire safety officer round, or a GasSafe plumber, or an electrician as appropriate.  However this has been going on for years at a low level?  Yet only recently have the other phenomena started based on this – but I am speculating beyond the facts, and would need t know much more before I could be confident in that assertion, it’s just a possibility based on what I infer from this…

Shaun Sable, of paranormal investigation team Pembrokeshire Beyond, said: “It would be quite exciting to go down there and see what’s happening.” The Western Telegraph understands that Pembrokeshire County Council is investigating, and despite calls for an exorcist, is looking for other explanations before considering that course of action.A Pembrokeshire County Council spokesman said: “Members of staff at the centre have reported some strange activity and unusual noises. Although there have been no further reports in the past month, the council has arranged for the building to be inspected in order to reassure the staff working there.”

It’s interesting the phenomena apparently ceased quite quickly. Again I wish I knew more…

Anyway part 2 to follow.

cj x

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Reports from a Firestation in Virginia


OK, this one caught my attention this morning —

Crews report ghostly happenings at Va firehouse

By LAETITIA CLAYTON Northern Virginia Daily

April 11, 2010

TOMS BROOK, Va. – Things do go bump at Toms Brook Fire Hall, and not just in the night.

There don’t seem to be certain times or circumstances that prompt the strange happenings, such as lights turning on and off, doors opening and closing and pots and pans flying off of shelves. But several people can attest to the fact that these things do happen–and they attribute them to a ghost they call George.

It’s been a quiet few days, or maybe i have just been so busy I have not picked up on any cases that made the press, but this one is quite interesting. Lights turning on and off always to me suggests an urgent check on the wiring: but I assume a Fire Department knows a thing or two about electrical safety. Doors opening and closing, pots and pans flying off shelves? Interesting, and obviously compatible with a “polt” interpretation – but also possibly with a wooden building being shaken violently somehow? I don’t know the building is wooden btw, I’m just wondering of there might be some structural problem. Tony Cornell’s fascinating experiments with shaking buildings apart were conducted on brick built Cambridgeshire houses as I recall: it could be all the above has sensible explanations. Still let’s look further…

Richard Funkhouser, who was fire chief at Toms Brook for 14 years, says he has seen George twice. “But there’s been a couple of other people that have actually seen him, and we all describe him the same way,” he says. “Floppy hat, little square glasses, with a riding coat.”

There is something about the apparitions dress sense that appeals to me – that may be a description of something 18th or 19th century – I’m no expert in the history of fashion — but it is clearly unusual!   I respect the chap for sharing his story, must be hard when you were a fire chief to go public with something like this — but sounds like he has retired now. The wording is a little odd “a couple of other people have actually seen him” seems to suggest that Richard has not — but he has twice, unless that was somehow ‘psychically’? I suspect this is down to my unfamiliarity with how Americans phrase things, or just the way the interview was written up.

George has been around awhile, too, Funkhouser says, as there were some sightings at the old fire hall, which was built in the early 1900s. Funkhouser believes George followed them to the new facility when it was built in 1983–and so does the Virginia Independent Paranormal Society, a local team of paranormal investigators who are very familiar with the Toms Brook Fire Hall.

So the ghost “moved house” with the firemen? I know that the Cheltenham ghost has occasionally been reported in buildings across the road, but even in the classic apparitional phase of that case she was seen all over the house and grounds.  A ghost that follows you about is usually considered a person-centred ghost, that is often a polt — though I have read enough accounts to not entirely dismiss the idea of haunted objects. Could the ghost be “anchored” to something that was taken from one building to the other? Is the ghost some sort of “totem” of the firemen, moving with them? Are the earlier and later sightings completely unrelated? Still this is interesting.

Shenandoah County-based Vips was formed in 1996 by Toms Brook residents Rusty Edmondson and his wife, Sharon, and their friend, Wade Ross, of Edinburg. All three are Civil War re-enactors and historians. They believe that George and many of the other ghosts they’ve encountered were Civil War soldiers.

I can see why given the dress of the apparition, makes perfect sense I guess. The team report their results from visits…

During their investigation of the fire hall last year, Vips found some mists, orbs and energy balls, Edmondson says, referring to terms used in the paranormal world to describe images and the like that are detected using various equipment. In one picture, they captured “almost the form of a body getting ready to go up the steps,” he says, and they picked up some “energy streaks in the bathroom.”

“He has a fetish for the bathroom,” Edmondson says of George.  “This ghost likes water,” Funkhouser agrees.

Not sure what to make of this. However with the next bit I am back on familiar territory —

When he was fire chief, Funkhouser says he had several volunteers leave the building and not come back until the next day after strange things occurred when they were sleeping there overnight.  “A lot of them are scared to death,” he says. “One of them, it likes to mess with him in the bathroom. It shakes the stall door.”

This sounds pretty typical – people get spooked when in the most isolated, er, vulnerable places. This does however to me sound an awful lot like a workplace prank, a ghostly tradition used to scare the new boys on the fire brigade. Just typical humour for firefighters, to sneak in and rattle the loo door while someone is using it, having primed the pump with ghost stories? Yet I did in the Gloucester case deal with a haunted loo, which was a central part of the manifestations, and indeed witnessed “in action” – the toilet seat rising and falling – by the CPRG team there.

Funkhouser got a call from one of the volunteers one night, he recalls, who said, “Some creepy stuff is going on down here.”  A soda pop fell out of the machine and onto the floor, the fire hall’s office door opened and closed, and the door to the radio room, which Funkhouser says takes a lot of force to open, was opened on its own.  “I’m getting the hell out of here,” Funkhouser says the volunteer told him, and he did–even leaving his coat behind.

This sounds less like normal hoaxing to me. Where is the fun in it? And how do you make the soda machine dispense like that? OK it may have just been broken, and if the chap in question was trying to buy a soda when it fell out it sounds a lot less mysterious: insufficient data. Still doors opening and closing might unnerve one…

And then there was Christmas night three years ago. Edmondson says he was in the fire hall waiting for his wife to pick him up when he heard the commode flush. He thought someone else was there, but couldn’t find a soul. Lights proceeded to turn on and off and doors slammed. Edmondson says he had finally had enough.  “I said, ‘That’s it pal. If you don’t want me to be here, I’ll leave.

Well I don’t know how familiar Edmondson is with the building. Given he is a psychical researcher, it is not hard to believe he could have been hoaxed by a sceptical fun loving fireman – but Christmas night is an odd time to play tricks like this, and again we see the doors slamming. Lights being turned on and off? Well thats possible from the fuses I guess, but… it certainly sounds spooky enough!

The rest of the article is about ViPs – I seem to recall seeing Edmondson on a CBS Reality Unexplained Mysteries segment about Gettysburg ghosts — but I look forward to hearing more of the ghost. Firestations often seem to have ghost stories though – the old Bond Street I believe in Ipswich firestation was reputedly haunted, and also the old Bury St Edmunds firestation, down by the Mermaid Pits — now demolished. Still, more of a haunt than a poltergeist this one. 🙂

cj x

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South Yorkshire Tyre Depot Poltergeist – part 4


OK, moving on. Having established that people I know and trust are looking at this one, I’m still reading the press – the news story has appeared from Canada to India now – but I’m increasingly intrigued by trying to work out what is actually going on. Readers of the previous parts (and if you have not read them have a look at part 3 and the associated newspaper article at least to get the idea of what I am talking about) will recall my realisation yesterday that in fact all we have in the 2010 incident seems to be, based on the press release, a couple of old pennies turning up. The interest in the story is because in 2003 there was a lot of activity of different types — and it could be this marks the beginning of that again I suppose, in a recurring haunt with phenomena over many years, as was the case with Syderstone Parsonage and, ostensibly, Borley Rectory.

If I am correct in this assumption, and i’ not going to muddy the waters by bothering Nick White as he has plenty of other interest from the print media I’m sure, and a business to run, and other highly qualified investigators are looking in to the matter, then we have the mystery of these two potential “apports”.  So where did they come from?  Disappointingly the answer may be very prosaic.

All of the news stories were credited to “Staff Reporter” or similar, which means they were written up from a press release. If you go through all the stories – Telegraph, Express, Mail, Star, etc, the wording and information content is pretty similar. The Express gave the most detailed coverage — however it it the Daily Star which in a short piece may provide us with the essential clue – a clue omitted from the other journalists working from the same press release as far as I can make out?

Let’s look at the Daily Star article, or rather the relevant piece. It’s almost verbatim the same as the other articles – with one vital piece of information at the end the others chose not to present…

Previous owner Nigel Lee even asked a vicar to do an exorcism.Nick added: “Nigel told me all about the strange things that had been happening.

“Some of it was incredible – with tyres stacking themselves up and being moved around when the place was locked up at night.

“Customers even witnessed small change and stones coming out of nowhere and flying here and there – even hitting the staff sometimes.

“Tyres had also been known to jump from the racks on the walls and roll along the floor of the workshop in front of the office.

“When I took over there was a load of old coins piled up on the back of all tyre racks – and nobody could ever explain how they got there.”

http://www.dailystar.co.uk/posts/view/129278

Note the section in bold. Now it could be the coins stacked there were paranormal – or it could be that someone in the moving out of the previous tenant (Nigel Lee) found an old tin of pennies, and knocked them over, and just stacked them up on the tyre rack. I think the latter is rather more likely somehow… However I don’t know enough about this incident to actually really pass comment — it could be it was all much more mysterious than it sounds.   What I do know now from the Daily Star coverage that I did not know before is that there were at one point a lot of old coins on the property. That a couple, maybe more, should have strayed and then been noticed back in February and March hardly defies rational explanation to my mind.

There are technical issues we could bring to the problem – “perfect placement” is a common feature of polt phenomena, and without interviewing or investigating further I can only speculate, but while it might seem unlikely for three years old coins could be kicked around a garage unnoticed (and we don’t know the coins found on the tyre racks were of the same type: they could have been more recent I guess, though they are described as “old” )  it strikes me as entirely possible that a couple of coins have in fact been kicking around the garage since 2007 – notice one, and you are more likely to spot another. The first thing investigators might want to do is to check that there are no other coins hidden in the depot, concealed under dirt or grime, and run a metal detector over any gravel or mud outside.

Now it’s easy to be an armchair expert – I have been on enough investigations over the years to know just how annoying it is to have ill founded speculation by people who have never spoken to the witnesses come up with exciting sceptical “debunks” — but clearly this possibility needs to be taken very seriously.

I will note one other thing – while I am still planning to find the accounts of the 2003 incident, if I can, the Star‘s reporting contains a few other items of interest — starting with stacking phenomena. Coins stacked, tyres stacked. I had similar reported to me by staff  in The Dolphin, Thetford case in the mid 1990’s . (In case readers are not aware I have been actively investigating with interviews and physical visits to the properties these phenomena for well over twenty years now). In the Dolphin case it was bizarrely stacked chairs — here tyres and coins… One immediately thinks of a line from Ghostbusters

“Symmetrical book stacking. Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947.

Now I suspect stacking of objects has a long and respectable history in polt cases – but now for a shameful admission: I have never watched the film Poltergeist, or any of its sequels.  I do wonder if this phenomena might feature in that film, and be part of the popular culture view of what a poltergeist should do. As it happens I have mislaid my copy of Gauld and Cornell’s Poltergeists, so I can’t check, and it’s no reason to be suspicious – popular culture often reflects actual occurrences after all – but I am curious.

Every weekend when Becky drives down she brings the DVD of the film Poltergeist for me to watch., and every weekend I fail. We have seen The Exorcist, endless ghost hunting shows, and I read everything from Chat to Take A Break to try and get a  handle on popular culture representations of my field, yet somehow I have missed Poltergeist! I think it’s time for another one of my little experiments….

Anyway, all these reports are Nick White telling us what Nigel Lee experienced seven years ago.  I was interested by

Tyres had also been known to jump from the racks on the walls and roll along the floor of the workshop in front of the office.

Well tyres roll, and I figured if you squeezed them in a rack, and the temperature changed enough this might happen naturally. However a moments thought has made me doubt this: tyres experience a lot of heat from friction in gripping road surfaces, and speeding up and slowing down must experience rather more temperature change than is likely to occur in the tyre depot. I guess they do not expand or contract much, or they would be not suited to purpose. There may be other ways they could leave the racks though I suspect, like if not properly placed on them. Hard to say, but I have a garage round the corner from my house, and I shall go see if they do tyres and ask them if there tyres ever roll off the racks. Seems a sensible way to proceed?

Customers even witnessed small change and stones coming out of nowhere and flying here and there – even hitting the staff sometimes.

And here is the bit where I really wish I knew more. It happened seven years ago now, and I suspect the staff will have forgotten most of what happened – (see Becky & my Accidental Census research for why I assume this; will try and get it published this year sometime, but there is a short summary of the relevant part on my other blog). I have mentioned before my surprise at the objects striking the staff – it is now clear they actually did, assuming Nick is remembering correctly – but there is one detail I would very much like to know.

So what do I think of the Doncaster poltergeist? Well whatever happened in 2003, I think the coins appearing can be explained mundanely. It may well be there is much more to this case, but only the conflation of the 2003 and 2010 incidents by the press allows the story to be as interesting as it is. What is alarming however, assuming the Daily Star did not conduct an additional interview, is how the journalist in almost all the sources withheld the information about the old coins Nick provided: probably because they immediately jumped to the same conclusion as me, that it was suggestive of a normal non-paranormal explanation.

When I interviewed Janice Wright about the Cheshire Poltergeist I was surprised to find the press stories were pretty accurate – well they missed an incident, and seem to have invented one tiny bit – I hope to write more on this case this week — but it was well handled by the local journalist. In this case it was only my sheer determination to read all the coverage that meant I finally noticed that little bit in the Daily Star.

So is the Doncaster tyre depot still haunted? No idea. Insufficient data: but the press coverage is not suggestive of a poltergeist outbreak of any intensity at his time, and coins rolling around in the dirt strikes me as a probably cause.

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South Yorkshire Tyre Depot Poltergeist – part 3


OK, back to the ‘ Doncaster Poltergeist’ — and the Daily Mail coverage this time

The ghost in my garage: Riddle of the tyre depot phantom whose calling card is a pre-war penny

Gothic castles, deserted mansions, ivy-covered old houses  –  all of them perfect haunts for a ghost.

But how about something as modern and mundane as a tyre depot in sensible South Yorkshire?

According to owner Nick White, a supernatural visitor has been running riot at his garage, which was originally a chapel and also served as a makeshift mortuary during the Second World War.

So reads the Daily Mail’s opening paragraph on the current case we are looking at.  We learn one new fact — the location was also a chapel in the past.  I was able to locate the name, address (Central Doncaster) and a few positive reviews – it’s a good garage, I doubt they need to advertise – for the company – interestingly neither the Express or the Mail chose to directly reveal this information.

The uninvited guest has thrown stones and coins at staff, and stacked up piles of tyres and moved them around the building while it was locked up overnight.

Hey, we are back on very familair territory – good old fashioned stone throwing, reported throughout history. One wonders if a polt whatever that may be can differentiate between a stone and a coin? It’s interesting that the Express piece did not mention this classic phenomena in their write up…

The ghostly figure, which materialised from time to time dressed in the style of the 1940s, is said to have first made its presence felt in 2003 but vanished (so to speak) after Mr White took over the business three years ago.

OK, so now we have new and interesting information. The ghost was seen before – nothing here suggests that the apparition has been seen since the 2003 outbreak — and after Nick White takes over, he seemingly a sensible kind of bloke, it all stops. Did that earlier phase which appears to be associated with apparitions – well one apparition of a chap in “1940’s” clothing — feature similar physical phenomena of objects moving and being thrown? Actually, yes it did.Yet the new phase seems fairly low key in comparison…

The obvious thing to do is to link the two episodes as one “haunting” — but anyone who has read my JSPR piece The Poverty of Theory: Some Notes On Investigation of Spontaneous Cases will understand why I hesitate to do so.  In this case I think they may well be linked – but not as directly as may at first appear. I will explain my thinking on this in a later piece…

Now, however, the odd goings on have started again, with pre-war coins turning up mysteriously on the garage floor in two strange incidents a month apart. Mr White found the first of the old penny pieces, dated 1936 and bearing the image of George VI, when he arrived for work one day in February. The second copper coin, dated 1938, was lying in almost the same spot when Mr White, 35, and one of his mechanics turned up at the depot in Doncaster last week.

OK, I think I had best try to talk to Mr White. Perhaps I have the wrong end of the stick: from this it sounds like the coin incidents are the only things that have happened, and these are interpreted as spooky because of the 2003 episode. Clearly I need to find out more about the earlier incident – in case you have not gathered by now my modus operandi is to read each news story and comment in succession, trying to get as much information as possible, then work out a theory based on the reported facts and follow it up with phone calls and emails. Reading the stories one at a time produces an odd effect of me misinterpreting – I had assumed the tyres moving and coins pelting staff were recent events, clearly not – but I find it useful as I develop an analysis methodologically, without trying to piece it all together too quickly…

Mr White said: ‘I took all the strange stories with a big pinch of salt when I bought the place. But I wouldn’t like to say it’s not true any more. There’s no logical explanation for the two old pennies turning up like they did. I wish there was. ‘It’s a little bit scary knowing that there’s something happening while the place is locked up at night.’ Previous owner Nigel Lee once called in a clergyman to perform an exorcism.

We get a picture of a sensible straight forward bloke here. I wonder who the other mechanic was, and whether he worked for Nigel Lee, the previous owner? I doubt there was an “exorcism” as such: a blessing seems more likely. AGain all these events will be reported in the press of the time, I just need to find the stories.

Mr White added: ‘Nigel told me all about the tyres being moved around when the place was locked up at night and customers witnessing small change and stones coming out of nowhere and flying here and there.

Interesting. Well I will comment fully tonight!

‘It’s all right being sceptical about these things, but I’m the owner of two very old pennies now, and I’d love to know where they came from.’

The story is from : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1263755/The-ghost-garage-Riddle-tyre-depot-phantom-calling-card-pre-war-penny.html#ixzz0kKZ1Kh0c

Part four to follow!

cj x

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South Yorkshire Tyre Depot Part 2


OK, let’s start with the Daily Express coverage of this event – which it seems is happening in Doncaster. I will then return to the Daily Mail story.  Firstly, thanks to David Sivier for the tip-off which led me to this story today.

RIDDLE OF THE PENNY PHANTOM

A PHANTOM has left a tyre depot boss spooked after 70-year-old King George VI penny coins were left on the floor at the dead of night.

So begins the story. In itself I find this fascinating: during the Accidental Census of Hallucinations conducted by Becky Smith and myself  we had a wonderful account of a Canadian poltergeist case where coins being moved and left on the floor were a key phenomena. Money also featured heavily in the Cardiff Responsive Poltergeist investigated by Prof. David Fontana, and in many other cases over the years. Immediately a question arises – why are coins (and less frequently banknotes – one wonders when mysterious Paypal transactions and credit cards will start to feature!) so important in these cases?

British Pennies

King George VI penny (top) - from Wikipedia commons. They are about the size of a modern two pence piece.

So seriously, why coins? One reason may be that coins provide a date, and set a “cause” for event in context. We are all used to archaeologists dating sites by coin finds, while coins remain in circulation for sometimes decades after they are minted, and sometimes much longer, the latest coin found can sometimes provide an important clue to the latest date of a site being inhabited.  However, in this kind of case the date of the coins is clearly pointing to a time period — but immediately something strikes me as very unusual. As far as I recall off the top of my head, in Cardiff and other cases I have looked at like the Canadian one the coinage that was moved or appeared was modern – contemporary money. In fact I seem to recall fivers appearing in the Cardiff case.

Ancient coins may feature in some cases – I have vague memories of such, and would welcome being pointed to references – but I can only think of the artefacts produced by the Scole Group, some of  which such as a newspaper were again of approximately World War 2 vintage (though later shown to be a later souvenir reproduction copy as I recall?), and the Borley Medallions which were 18th or 19th century French religious medallions. It might be interesting to do an analysis of the age of the items in such cases as the time of the discovery, rather than the date they come from, and see if there was any pattern –but oddly the very fact these coins are so clearly old makes me wonder if we could be looking at a hoax?

George VI pennies are not rare – at home in Suffolk I have a small box with a couple of hundred of them, and other old coins going all the way back to Queen Victoria. It’s about forty years since they were legal tender, but I assume that millions of them were in circulation, and many readers elderly relatives may still have some in their homes, based on my grandmother Alice having given me hers she never got round to changing in to new money at decimalization. Only two coins have been found so far, so not hard to fake if you wanted to.

The coins being left on the floor are however interesting – I would have thought a hoaxer would have thrown them, or placed them in some more interesting and eerie location. In the Canadian case,  the witness reports coins being taken form a glass jar and placed on top of the TV, the floor by the bedroom door, and the coffee table. A similar, equally ‘pointless’ manifestation – except in that case the coins were modern.

So why money? Is this indicative of a “dead” or “living” agent for the ‘haunt’? As I note using commonly available old coins seems to be an obvious tactic for a hoaxer — and if you are going to lob something in a hoax coins are a great choice, easily available, make a nice ringing noise on impact and people are wired to be impressed by money – but equally the psychological power of money and coinage as a symbol might be just as important if unconscious psi from a living agent was responsible. And if a discarnate “dead guy” was responsible, well maybe we can see this as a very definite demonstrations of the “ghosts” time era….

Google and the Single Poltergeist

However, I am by nature suspicious. Those who do not own a blog may not be aware but while we receive no information on WHO is googling our sites, blog owners can see what search terms bring people to the site from Google and other search engines.  In recent weeks I have noticed a pattern on my other blog – And Sometimes He’s So Nameless – and on this new blog. The search terms “Cardiff poltergeist +Fontana” & similar turn up just three hits on this site (April 1st to 3rd) – and the same period reveals a number of hits (12) on my other blog on this subject. Now in fact Becky’s essay and my passing references say nothing about coins, and I know that at least one individual was writing a piece on the Cardiff  case — so perhaps my suspicions are ill founded. I suspect the most likely reason for the interest in the Cardiff Case in early April was that the old Ghosthunters (William Woolard) show aired somewhere in the internet using world, as a similar pattern emerged of searches for “Ancient Ram Inn” after the Ghost Adventures episode based there aired first in the US and then in the UK.  I therefore think that it is unlikely, but not impossible someone could have been using Google to find out about polts to fake one: it is far more likely given the large number of recent cases reported that an investigator or interested party was casually browsing!

Apparitional Encounters…

Let us return to the Daily Express story —

The ghostly figure, said to materialise from time to time in 1940s clothing, has previously pelted staff with coins by day and moved tyres around the locked building overnight.

Curious. Several things stand out here. Firstly, an apparition has been seen – a “polterghost case”. That is of course not that uncommon as I have pointed out before, and I will write something on polterghosts in the future.  The figure is seen in 1940’s clothing – hence the coins are clearly appropriate. Yet, one wonders — the journalist does not seem to have an interview or direct quote about the figure being seen. One wonders how long ago the ghost was seen, and if an old ghost inspired the 40’s coins… I don’t know why, maybe I’m just unusually cynical today. Perhaps it’s the fact I find the story in the national press, rather than the local press as with the other stories.

Secondly, we see the staff have in fact been “pelted” with coins. Readers of my blog will realise why I find that interesting and puzzling. Did the coins hit them? Were they modern coins, or more George VI pennies? Probably the former, as only two George VI pennies have been found, and they were both on the floor.  Why George VI pennies? I would have imagined a chap in say 1942 would have in his loose change coins from George V, and other monarchs.  George VI only came to the throne in 1936 (December 11th), so coinage issued would only go back 14 years at the end of the forties – if I had any money I would check the dates, but I would not be surprised to find coins dating from the 1980’s and 1990’s in my pockets (well I would, but only because the life of a paranormal investigator means I hardly ever have any coins in my pockets – time to add a donate button to the blog!) So far only two old coins have been recovered – why I postulate above that the other coins staff were “pelted with” are modern – so I guess that implies some time in the 1940’s when they were the most common coins in circulation.

In the spirit of investigation I found my coat with a handful of change in – the coins were dated as follows 1980 (1):  1989 (1): 1996 (1) : 1997 (1) : 2001 (3) : 2007 (1): 2009 (2).   So while we only have two King George VI (coins struck 1937-1952) coins to work with, it would be dangerous to draw too many conclusions  from that – I have a thirty year two pence piece in my pocket!  Becky checked her purse, and her oldest coin was 1982 – as old as she is…

Still, we are also back to the traditional poltergeist activity – people having coins thrown at them, and tires moving around. But wait —

“and moved tyres around the locked building overnight.”

OK. So tires move when no one is present. I have seen plenty of cases where this kind of thing is supposed to occur – movement when no one present in the building. Off the top of my head that was the case in a couple of incidents in The Bromley Poltergeist investigated by the late Manfred Cassirer. However it clashes with William Roll’s cases, where  human living agent was almost always present in the vicinity when events occurred, and the “vortex” theory, where a swirling field of “energy” around a living agent shoots objects off at a tangent, like dried peas off a record turntable…

I find this mildly suspicious. Why should the movement not occur during the day? Sure night time is the traditional time for spooks, but in fact it seems coins were thrown in the day time: even a shy poltergeist could have moved tires when everyone was distracted surely? If this has only happened once, I can see it — it would be strong evidence for “battery” theories of the poltergeist, or “dead guys” —  but it just seems odd somehow. Could someone be hoaxing Nick the owner? Has any former worker from the business got a key? When were the locks changed? As usual I have more questions than answers…

Father-of-four Nick White, who bought it in 2007, said: “I took all the strange stories with a very big pinch of salt. It seemed so far-fetched. But this is scary. The place is locked at night.”

I’m starting to see a possible explanation, but it may be far fetched (it will have to wait for Part 3 though). The building already has a reputation for being haunted in 2007 when Nick buys it. In fact we learn —

Psychic researchers now plan to spend a night at the depot, once named by The Rough Guide To Unexplained Phenomena as one of the spookiest places in Britain.

Interesting. Wonder who is going in to look? I would have thought conducting detailed interviews with all the staff and former tenants of the building would have been a more productive mode of investigation, but still be fascinating to stay there overnight, and I hope to see the report from the group when it’s written up.  What I find particularly fascinating here is that The Rough Guide To Unexplained Phenomena which was published in August 2007 features the location. There may also be earlier newspaper stories then in the local press archives, and earlier witness reports from before Nick arrived.  With the limited resources at my disposal I will try and track these down, but if anyone has a copy of the Rough Guide I would love to hear what it says about the place. Can anyone help?As you may have gathered I can’t afford to buy books! 😦

What is very clear here is that the case is a “haunting”: it appears to have gone on for at least a  few years, and to be place-centred rather than person centred. Whether this is necessarily the case or not I will discuss when I suggest my own ideas in Part 3, but I need to actually go do some real life stuff now, so Part 3 will be late tonight or this afternoon if I can find the time.

I will sign off with a final spooky quote from the article which I will discuss in depth later —

The depot in Doncaster, South Yorks, is a former chapel that served as a war-time morgue.

CJ x


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