Poltergeist Girls

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 12th, 2008

“Cryptomundo” means “hidden world,” of course, and sometimes I do adventure into the Fortean areas that interest me. Yes, yes, cryptozoology must remain our primary pursuit. But allow me to go off the beaten path today, based on time and place.

Writing this from the haunted Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado (think The Shining), I have to give a nod to poltergeists, specially “Poltergeist Girls,” (no, it is not a new band’s name) for at least one posting.

Zoologist Ivan T. Sanderson shared with me the stance that of all the “ghostly” investigations he might do, the only one that really interested him was the search for the poltergeist. After all, he said, they were the “tangible intangibles,” which might be something a biologist might have some insights regarding.

During my time here in Colorado, I was talking with author Jeff Belanger about the recent interest anew in poltergeists and the sometimes lack of historical bearings among various interested parties in the phenomena. I shared with him that I had made an intriguing discovery a few years ago – this being that fire poltergeists actually appear to have been at the root of the origins of the fire insurance underwriting in the United States. It was a discovery relatively ignored within the so-called “paranormal” literature as I am primarily seen as a cryptozoologist, these days.

Since he was interested, I looked up and forwarded the following selection from a longer article to Jeff, and I thought folks here might like to read this too.

Coleman, Loren. “Incendiary Poltergeists, Spontaneous Human Combustion and Fire Suicide Clusters.” The Anomalist, No. 1, Summer 1994. (Available as a free pdf download here.)


Fort and Fires

At eleven I devoured all the words I could discover by Charles Fort and recalled being struck by his discussions of fires. He probably put it most concisely in the following covert preface to his examination of weird fires, as found in Wild Talents (1932): “Because of several cases that I have noted, the subject of Fires attracted my attention. One reads hundreds of accounts of fires, and many of them are mysterious, but one’s ruling thought is that the unexplained would be renderable in terms of accidents, carelessness, or arson, if one knew all the circumstances. But keep this subject in mind, and, as in every other field of phenomena, one comes upon cases that are irreconcilables.”

Fort then ventures forth into the topic of fires associated with poltergeist activity. Case after case is given of multiple fires starting in a house or a series of fires following a family from dwelling to dwelling as they attempt to escape the wrath of the unseen firestarter.

The parapsychologist Nandor Fodor called them “incendiary poltergeists.” In his [Between Two Worlds] chapter appropriately entitled “The Rage that Burns the House Down,” Fodor used incendiary poltergeists to illustrate his underlying theory for the cause of all poltergeist activity, namely: “The chief motive behind Poltergeist disturbances is repressed aggression in the psyche of adolescents before puberty.”

He’s talking about “psychokinesis” (PK), of course, which means “to move by the mind.”

The Poltergeist Girls

The stories Fort gathered from the end of the last century and the beginning of this one certainly supported Fodor’s thoughts in this direction. Fort’s incendiary poltergeists accounts are populated by families containing adopted daughters, housemaids, servant girls and teenagers. Fort called these young women collectively, the “poltergeist girls.” The work of Vincent Gaddis [Mysterious Fires and Lights] and the late D. Scott Rogo [The Poltergeist Experience] on poltergeists, likewise, contain sets of cases filled with mostly latency-aged and adolescent females. Rogo’s excellent discussion of these fiery geists in the first half of his [The Poltergeist Experience] chapter “Bizarre Poltergeists” looks at both Gaddis’ and Fodor’s notions of PK-induced electrical charges coming from young people on-site. Rogo notes that such PK-sparks cannot explain why normally noncomhustible objects are also consumed by the incendiary poltergeists. Nevertheless, all of these authors agree to the abnormality of incendiary poltergeist incidents.

Fire insurance, it should be noted, was a direct result of incendiary poltergeist activity. During the turn of the century [18th to 19th century], in that debunking, rational thinking world, the rash of incendiary poltergeists cases were more often than not placed at the hands of the young women who happened to be nearby. Human arson and mischievous firesetting were to blame, we are told. But in a personal discovery unrecorded to date in the anomalist literature, I found through a search of non-Fortean fire investigation history direct links between a series of what I would have to say were fire poltergeists in wealthy New York City homes, the attempted blaming of these fires on mostly German house maidens, and the development in the United States of fire insurance. The insurance underwriters were called in when the fires could almost be classified as an epidemic and the domestic help explanations were found to be full of holes. The implications of such a history are worth pondering for a moment.

Selected references at the end of my article linked to the above:

Fodor, N. Between Two Worlds. New York: Parker, 1964.
Fort, C. The Complete Books of Charles Fort, New York: Dover, 1974 (reprints of
earlier works).
Gaddis, V. Mysterious Fires and Lights. New York: David McKay, 1967.
Rogo. D. S. The Poltergeist Experience. New York: Penguin, 1979.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

6 Responses to “Poltergeist Girls”

  1. mystery_man responds:

    Well this is an interesting diversion from strictly cryptozoological things. I’ve always been pretty firmly rooted in biology and zoology, and never been really into ghost reports, but poltergeist activity is interesting because there is a chance it could represent any number of possible new phenomena that could be studied. Sometimes, seemingly paranormal occurrences can lead to the discovery and subsequent study of very real natural phenomena, such as ball lightning, or some geological or atmospheric phenomena causing things like the Taos Hum.

    Unlike stories of the ghostly images of dead people prowling haunted castles, I look at some cases of poltergeist as insights into possible new processes of nature. For example, perhaps the fires could be evidence of some sort of previously unknown natural phenomena that has the possibility of being pinned down and studied in a scientific manner.

    Or maybe they really are just angry spirits. In the end, who am I to say, really? 🙂

  2. Endroren responds:

    Great article! Thanks Loren.

    Soooo – when will “Paramundo” be opening??? 🙂

  3. Unknown Primate responds:

    As I mentioned in “Who Are You? What Do You Want?”, I don’t mind at all when a little “paranormality” enters the equation. Poltergeist phenomena has always interested me, along with just about anything that is “above the norm”, including cryptids.

  4. shumway10973 responds:

    Almost all poltergeists seem to have someone as either an “agent” or “amplifier”? The correct word(s) aren’t always there for proper description. There seems to be someone that triggers these events. Many times, after hearing or reading about the event, I do wonder if there are any spirits involved at all. I know of one that there definitely is a spirit there in the building, and the only reason it is considered a poltergeist is because of the major moving of items. This one seems to be focused on the hatred of men and doesn’t seem to mind the women.
    My basic outlook on this subject is this: There are too many accounts of ghosts that can be proven one way or another for there not to be something going on in the spiritual realm, but the total human ability is still unknown in its entirety which allows for a good number of these events to be nothing but some sort of human action. I believe there is a reason why we have been questioning the abilities humankind have. People wouldn’t be looking into magic if there wasn’t something there. There wouldn’t be stories of “fire starters” if nobody could start fires with their minds. The human brain has so many areas that hasn’t been studied (mainly because no one knows how to use that section) that there is no way to know everything that is possible for us to do. These cases mentioned above could simply be examples of fire starters. I would love to find out if the number of fire starters is greater in men or women. That could be interesting.

  5. BugMO responds:

    Interesting article, I highly enjoyed reading it. I haven’t read many poltergeist cases before. I’ve enjoyed the last few day’s articles it’s been nice to read some of your fortean writing. Keep up the great work!

  6. Munnin responds:

    Wow, that’s a very interesting connection between poltergeists and the origins of fire insurance in the USA. Thanks for pointing that out, Mr. C.!

    Spontaneous Human Combustion is one of those subjects, like Bigfoot or UFOs, which seems very polarizing. There are those who dismiss the concept absolutely, insisting that there is no physical evidence of alleged SHC which cannot be explained by other circumstances; and those who insist that the preponderance of evidence cannot be satisfactorily explained in any other way BUT spontaneous human combustion. There seem to be far fewer people whose view is somewhere between those extremes.

    I once saw a TV program where Joe Nickell “demonstrated” the mundane nature of alleged SHC deaths by setting fire to the cadaver of a pig, wrapped in fabric which had been treated with gasoline. This was supposed to prove that SHC is actually the misidentified result of the “wick effect,” and that in all cases of SHC the victim’s clothing was accidentally ignited by some external source of heat. It was not at all convincing to me, and in my opinion it probably harmed Nickell’s case more than it helped. However, I’m certain he would not agree with my assessment.

    I recently read a book on SHC by Michael Harrison called Fire From Heaven, which presented quite a number of historical reports of alleged SHC. In the 19th century it was widely believed, or at least proposed, that SHC was a real and possibly inevitable effect of the chronic consumption of alcohol. This was a convenient explanation for some authorities of the day, as it offered a “Scientific” explanation, while reinforcing the desirability of a temperate lifestyle. I have known a few practicing alcoholics in my day, but so far none of them have combusted, spontaneously or otherwise.

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