Photo: Poltergeist / MGM/UA Entertainment Co

The Herrmann House Haunting Is Said To Have Inspired The Film 'Poltergeist'

The 1982 horror film Poltergeist is still one of the best supernatural scare-fests of all time. Directed by Tobe Hooper and based on a story by Steven Spielberg, the story follows the Freeling family as they move into a new home haunted by a dark entity called the Beast who wants to drag their daughter to another dimension.

What you may not know is that Poltergeist is partly based on a true story. The film was inspired by a series of unexplained phenomena that began at the home of James Herrmann in 1958.

Photo: Poltergeist / MGM/UA Entertainment Co

  • The First Signs Of Poltergeist Activity Began In February 1958

    In February 1958, the Herrmann family lived in a suburban home in Seaford, NY, a community in Long Island. The family consisted of James Herrmann, his wife Lucille, and their teenage children Lucy and Jimmy.

    On the afternoon of February 3, Lucille was home with her children when all three of them heard unexplained popping sounds coming from all around the house. They discovered that bottles of common household liquids like cleaning products had spontaneously burst their caps, their contents erupting everywhere.

    Altogether, bottles containing nail polish remover, peroxide, rubbing alcohol, liquid starch, and bleach had all burst. A bottle of holy water in the bedroom was also knocked over on its side, spilling the liquid.

  • Lucille Herrmann Called Her Husband At Work, But He Didn't Seem Concerned

    When the popping finally stopped, the Herrmanns were understandably freaked out. Lucille called James at his work, Air France in New York City. James assumed the popping was the work of local teenagers who were pulling a prank. He told Lucille not to worry and instructed the family not to tell anyone.

    For the next few days, things went back to normal.

  • Bottles Started Popping Again, But James Thought He Found The Culprit

    Two days later, on a Thursday, the popping happened again at around the time the children came home from school. Then, the next evening, more bottles popped open. James came up with a theory as to the identity of the culprit: his 12-year-old son Jimmy, who loved science. James figured that Jimmy had rigged the bottles with carbonation capsules and timed them to explode at the same time. 

    James observed Jimmy closely all weekend but found no evidence that his son was behind the phenomenon. On Sunday, when even more bottles exploded, James confronted his son, but Jimmy denied it. While they were talking, a bottle of shampoo moved on its own and fell off the counter.

  • James Ultimately Called The Police

    Eventually, James accepted that Jimmy was innocent. At a loss for any other logical explanation, James decided to call the Nassau County Police Department, where he spoke with Lieutenant E. Richardson.

    When James told Richardson the story, the officer thought he was either drunk or playing a practical joke. But James seemed sincere, and since he had a good reputation in the community, the lieutenant agreed to send someone out.

  • An Officer Sent To Investigate Passed The Case To His Superior

    The police department sent Patrolman James Hughes to investigate the Herrmanns' home. While the patrolman was interviewing the family in the living room, everyone heard a noise from the bathroom. Once again, medicine and shampoo had spilled on their own. The patrolman noticed no loud noises, tremors, or other disturbances coming from the house during this time. Stumped, Hughes passed the case on to his superior, Detective Joseph Tozzi. 

    Detective Tozzi spent eight weeks investigating the house. On the first day, he discovered that a bottle of perfume had tipped over and spilled in Lucy's room on its own. On the second, while investigating the basement, a 100-pound bronze horse figurine reportedly flew across the room on its own and struck the detective in the back of the legs. Detective Tozzi kept meticulous notes but came up with no explanation for the activity.

  • After A Doll Moved On Its Own, The Herrmanns Reached Out To The Church

    The day after Detective Tozzi's investigation, James's cousin Marie Murtha was watching television with Jimmy and Lucy when she saw a porcelain figurine lift off the coffee table, move several inches, and drop to the carpet. 

    That's when the Herrmann family, devout Catholics, turned to the church. Father William McLeod of the Church of Saint William of the Abbott arrived and sprinkled holy water in each of the house's six rooms. Despite this, the paranormal activity continued.