The Most Famous Poltergeist Hauntings

If you love horror movies, you've probably seen Poltergeist - both the original and remake. Who can forget that little girl looking at a TV showing nothing but static, or the scene with the clown doll? If you thought those were scary, they don't hold a candle to the alleged real poltergeist hauntings and the other reported paranormal activity listed below. 

Want to hear some really scary poltergeist tales? “They're here…”

Photo: The Conjuring 2 / Warner Bros. Pictures

  • The Enfield Poltergeist

    Furniture moving on its own, demonic voices, levitation - it's not a scene from The Exorcist, but another reported poltergeist haunting that - in tandem with another spooky account - inspired a film franchise. The Conjuring 2 was based on the alleged Enfield poltergeist phenomena reported in 1977 in London, England.

    Single mother Peggy Hodgson put her four children to bed one night but heard a ruckus upstairs. Believing two of her daughters, Margaret (12) and Janet (11) weren't settling down for bed, Hodgson marched up to their room ready to lay down the law. Instead, she found them cowering in fear. They claimed their dresser was moving on its own. Hodgson thought her daughters were being silly or had overactive imaginations - until she saw the dresser move.

    After the family ran to the house of a neighbor, who also heard the strange noises coming from the bedroom, police were called to the scene. But instead of disproving the unexplained activity, one police officer reported seeing a chair move across the room. It's fair to presume the police academy had offered no training for such a situation, and it was obvious the police couldn't resolve the issue.

    Margaret said that although the hauntings stopped on their own, they remained with her well into adulthood:

    It’s just like a death really, it gets a little bit easier as time goes on. But the fear and the memories of it and what happened never leaves you.

    The strange noises and moving objects continued for about 18 months, along with some chilling audio recordings of an alleged entity speaking through Janet, who claimed she was particularly tormented. Once, a curtain even wrapped around her neck. Investigators later discovered that the man who was reportedly speaking through her in trance-like states, Bill Wilkens, was actually a former resident of the home. But the family stated the hauntings stopped on their own after nearly a year and a half.

    Many proclaimed the haunting was a hoax, but investigators with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) claimed to have witnessed over 2,000 incidents. One of the paranormal investigations was conducted by Ed and Lorraine Warren and helped inspire one of the most successful horror franchises in movie history.

  • The Bell Witch haunting started when John Bell Sr. saw a strange “dog-like” beast on his property in Tennessee. He took a shot at it, but it disappeared. The events that transpired afterwards made the legend of the Bell Witch one of the most famous alleged hauntings of all time, inspiring many books as well as the 2005 movie An American Haunting.

    Sounds of mysterious knocking on doors and windows, wings flapping on the roof, rats gnawing on bedposts, dogs fighting, beds being torn apart, and people choking tormented the entire Bell family. But the Bell Witch singled out John Bell Sr. and his daughter, Betsy. Betsy was initially courted by Joshua Gardner, but despite her desire to marry him, fear of the Bell Witch's wrath kept her from ever following through, as the Bell Witch opposed their union. She eventually married her previous schoolteacher and moved to Mississippi.

    John Bell Sr. suffered a far worse fate.

    According to legend, the Bell Witch seemed to have one main goal in her haunting, and on December 20, 1820, she achieved it. John Sr. had taken to his bed after one of the many physical torments attributed to the haunting. When his son went to fetch one of the three vials of medicine reserved for him, only one vial remained, half full of a smoky liquid that burned blue when the remains were thrown in the fire. According to the story, the Bell Witch spoke to John Jr. about his dad, whom she referred to as “Old Jack”:

    It’s useless for you to try to relieve Old Jack - I have got him this time; he will never get up from that bed again… [I] gave Old Jack a big dose of it last night while he was fast asleep, which fixed him.

    After John Sr. died, the hauntings calmed down, but the Bell Witch vowed to return in seven years, which the family claims she did - although fortunately, nobody suffered harm like John Sr. She also allegedly haunted people the Bell family enslaved as well as Shakers passing by, and she even had a reported encounter with a young Andrew Jackson. The hauntings may have stopped, but the legend remains one of the most famous in US history.

  • The Galloway Poltergeist

    What started as a spooky but relatively harmless account in Scotland became far more intense the longer the alleged activity occurred. According to eyewitness and local minister Alexander Telfair, the Galloway poltergeist haunting started in 1695 when farmer Andrew Mackie woke up to something strange: All the ties for confining his livestock were broken. He made stronger ties, but these were ultimately broken as well. The frightened farmer moved his livestock, but the next day he discovered a whole new phenomenon: One of his cows was hovering in back of his house, its hooves barely touching the ground. Worse yet, seemingly only a “tether of hair” suspended the poor creature.

    Then the strange allegations shifted to a new focus. Starting at the beginning of March 1695, the first reports of stones being thrown at people began spreading, particularly on Sundays and while residents were praying. As March wore on, the stones got bigger and were hurled harder, according to Telfair. When he visited Mackie on March 21, stones and other objects were thrown at him with such intensity, others could hear them striking him. That night, knocking could be heard on the floors and chests, and Telfair saw a frightening apparition. Telfair said:

    That night as I was once at prayer, leaning on a bedside, I felt something pressing on my arm. Casting my eyes thither, I perceived a little white hand and arm from the elbow down, but presently it vanished.

    A friend of the Mackies also reported seeing an apparition of a young boy in gray clothes that simply disappeared.

    Visitors to the Mackie home had progressively larger rocks thrown at them, and an unseen force dragged the Mackies from their beds and all around the house. The activity culminated in a fire on April 5, and when the family fled the home, stones pelted them. The next day, they claimed they discovered bones and small bits of flesh wrapped in paper at the door. The house was still intact until subsequent fires caused its collapse on April 28. 

    Finally, the sheep barn burned down, and nothing remains of the farm today except a dead tree marking the site.

  • The Battersea Poltergeist

    In January 1956, Shirley Hutchings found an ornate silver key on her pillow that fit none of the doors in her home. What followed was not only one of the most famous alleged poltergeist hauntings in history, but also one of the longest.

    The Battersea poltergeist started by making banging sounds so loud, it disturbed neighbors and the family's sleep. Pots and pans were then hurled through the air, along with other objects in the home. One night, Shirley began levitating from her bed, just like a scene out of The Exorcist.

    Believe it or not, according to the family, the haunting got even worse.

    Paranormal investigator Harold Chibbet took an interest in the case, trying to debunk the strange events by doing such controls as locking the family parlor at night. Yet strange messages appeared on the walls, and handwriting experts determined it belonged to Shirley - even though she allegedly had no access to the room. Some of the writings were in French, a language Shirley didn't know.

    The most serious disturbance occurred when the spirit supposedly spoke in her grandmother's voice, upsetting her so badly that she had a stroke shortly after and died. The whole family then faced death and injury from spontaneous, unexplained fires.

    The spirit was so ill-tempered, the family nicknamed him “Donald,” after Donald Duck. Donald claimed he was French royalty and the lost dauphin, Louis Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. This heir to the throne died before he could rule, but some believe he escaped his imprisonment rather than dying in captivity at age 10. Skeptics questioned this claim, but Shirley and Donald knew some details about the captivity of Louis Charles that the general public did not.

    Donald allegedly followed Shirley for 12 years, including to her seamstress job, which she lost due to multiple missing scissors and her employers' discovery that she was “the poltergeist girl.” It also followed her to a TV station for an appearance. The family once tried an exorcism, which was broken up by police, prompting discussion about the alleged poltergeist in the House of Commons.

    In 1968, Donald sent his last message, and Shirley was finally free.

  • The Rosenheim Poltergeist

    The Rosenheim Poltergeist haunting was reported in 1969 in a lawyer's office in Rosenheim, a city in the southern Bavarian region of Germany. The office of Sigmund Adam initially observed strange phenomena like flickering lights, telephones ringing without callers, desk drawers opening on their own, and photocopiers spilling out copy fluid. 

    Sabotage could explain these incidents, but the Deutsche Post installed devices that tracked incoming calls, and they seemed to originate from nowhere. Adam disabled the phones, yet these devices recorded over 600 calls within five weeks. The electric company had no explanation for how this could happen.

    Parapsychologist Hans Bender and physicists from the Max Planck Institute investigated the claims by installing surveillance cameras and audio recording devices. The paranormal investigators noted a strange coincidence: These unexplained events only took place when a new, 19-year-old secretary was working, Annemarie Schneider. Poltergeist phenomena can sometimes occur when a teenager experiences extreme turmoil, and investigators found out Schneider had suffered personal relationship trauma and had several neuroses. 

    The activity would start as soon as Schneider entered the building and end when she left. She was never caught faking evidence, but after activity ceased while she was away on vacation, Adam decided the connection was clear. Schneider was terminated, and all alleged Rosenheim poltergeist activity stopped.

  • The Black Monk Of Pontefract

    When Joe and Jean Pritchard moved into a nondescript British home with their two children in 1966, they had no idea of the alleged hauntings there, which were eventually attributed to a spirit known as the Black Monk of Pontefract. Its name comes from a black-robed figure seen in the home. Many paranormal investigators believe it is the spirit of the Black Monk who was hung for allegedly murdering a young girl. The alleged victim was around the same age as the Pritchards' daughter, Diane, who was only 12 at the time.

    In addition to the ghostly apparition, the Pritchards claimed lights would flicker on and off, furniture would overturn, pools of water would form for no apparent reason, and objects either levitated or disappeared altogether.

    Many investigators visited over the years to study the paranormal activity (the house was even featured on Paranormal Lockdown with Nick Groff and Katrina Weidman), but Tom Cuniff may have found a paranormal connection: The local gallows once stood across the street from the house. The chilling tale inspired the 2012 film When the Lights Went Out, and to this day, investigators claim to have captured photos of the spirit.