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.
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
Gaddis, V. Mysterious Fires and Lights. New York: David McKay, 1967.
Rogo. D. S. The Poltergeist Experience. New York: Penguin, 1979.
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