The Keighley Poltergeist, 1920s

From the Yorkshire Evening Post, 6th October 1925.

Haunted Mill Girl Cured of Furniture Throwing.

The “Poltergeist” dismissed. Odd Phenomena Cease. Relief from Disorder that entailed both Discomfort and Danger.

Extraordinary details are available to-day concerning the case of a Keighley mill-girl, who is believed to have been cured of what has long been known as a poltergeist. When she was near, articles of furniture, clothing, crockery, etc. were liable eto be thrown in all directions without the slightest conscious effort on her part. After three months under special care and observation in a London home, she has ceased to be a centre of these disturbances, and is apparently restored to normal health.

Mill and Home Troubles. Keighley Stories of a Girl’s Strange Powers. (From our Special Correspondent). Keighley, Tuesday.
For obvious reasons, it is not desirable to give the name of the girl of whom the following facts are related, but, according to the evidence of members of her own family, and of people with whom she worked, she was in an astonishingly abnormal state of health nine months ago. To-day she is completely free from troublous influences of any kind, and is happy in the knowledge that the unconscious power that she formerly exerted has been lost.
She hopes that power will never return, whatever it was, and asks no more than to be allowed to settle down quietly at work and at home, like any other normal and sensible girl. She has no desire to make use of any of her supposed psychic powers, and does not wish to be made the subject of any psychic experiments or investigations.
The girl, whose name is omitted at the request of those closely interested in her welfare, is a member of a respectable and hard-working Keighley family. She is 20 years of age, tall and comely, and possessing a rather striking mass of dark bobbed hair. There was nothing unusual about her as a child, except that she was always regarded by the rest of the family as “very highly strung.” No one else in the family has ever been abnormal in any way, although one of the girl’s two sisters has been a semi-invalid for some years.
It was towards the end of last year that girls working in the same spinning mill began to notice that her presence had a curious influence. Breakages of threads in the spinning frame are fairly common, but batches of ends broke down with alarming frequency on three frames near which the girl worked. A theory was advanced that the girl’s body was magnetic in some abnormal way, and that the breaking of the threads was due to some electrical disturbance. Colour was lent to this theory  by the knowledge that a small amount of electricity is generated by the rapidly moving spindles. But strange things were also happening at the girl’s home, and she became so troubled by the influence that she was unconsciously exercising, and also by the gossip and questions of all who knew her, that she became ill. One night she fainted several times, and a medical man was called in and told all about the strange happenings in the home – the upsetting of the table, and the breaking of crockery – and the incidents in the factory. The doctor talked to the girl, tried, without success, to find out whether she exercised any magnetic influence, and then frankly told the girl’s mother that he could not find any evidence of an abnormal condition of health.

Eventually the girl went into a Bradford nursing home, and the publicity which had been given to her case attracted the attention of Sir Conan Doyle. It was through him that she went to the College of Psychic Science, where she has been for three months. “She has now been home again for a month,” said a member of the household today, “and she is undoubtedly cured of whatever was wrong with her eight months ago. She is bright and happy, looks the picture of health, and is certainly delighted at her restoration to a normal state of health. She is so much better, indeed, that she can now laugh and joke about her former troubles. If crockery happens to be broken, she will laugh and say, ‘Well, that’s not me, any way.’ It was the breaking of crockery and other things, and the unaccountable movement of furniture that were the most alarming symptoms of her trouble. You will scarcely believe the strange things that happened. I frankly admit I would not have believed them had I not seen with my own eyes.”

“We were in the kitchen one day when the table had been laid for dinner. There were four plates, one at each side, and suddenly two legs of the table were raised into the air and the plates were all shot on to the floor and broken. G—was standing about two yards or so away from the table, and there is no question about it whatever that she did not touch the table or consciously make any effort to life it. She was dreadfully upset, because it was all as mysterious to her as to us. When I told my husband what had happened with the table and pots, he could not believe me, but the following day he himself saw similar strange happenings. Ornaments and a clock were swept off the mantelpiece as if by an unseen hand, and ornaments were also upset and broken in her bedroom. G—will not talk either to us or anyone else about her stay at the College. Indeed she hates any sort of reference now to her illness, and wants to forget all about the whole business. She had no special treatment in the College, but they were very good to her, did their utmost to brighten her up and forget her trouble, and it has done her a world of good.”

Investigators’ Theory. “Some kind of depletion of the nerve forces.” (From a London Correspondent.) Fleet Street. Tuesday.

I have been able to obtain some further details of the remarkable psychic manifestations and disturbances attending the mill-girl’s stay at the British College of Psychic Science in London, where she has been under treatment and observation for three months.  All the medical men who saw the girl during the time of the strange manifestations at the woollen mill were puzzled by her case, but the psychic experts in London regard it as one of poltergeist phenomena, probably due to “some kind of depletion of the nerve forces.” In the treatment at the College of Psychic Science, the services of a trance medium were employed, and clairvoyance, magnetism and suggestion also used, with satisfactory results.

In the report of Mr. J. Hewat McKenzie, the principal of the college, it is stated that the girl had had a nervous breakdown following an unhappy love affair, and that this probably had much to do with her strange psychic condition. During the early part of her stay at the college the most devastating incidents happened. Mr. McKenzie’s report, now published in the October issue of “Psychic Science,” states that even the heaviest pieces of furniture, which it ordinarily took two or three persons to move, were knocked about the room, quite independently of any act of the girl’s, and generally at a distance of four or five feet from where she was sitting or standing.

In the scullery, where the girl was at work, an observer saw a frying pan dash off the gas stove, sending the frying sausages flying about. While she was in Yorkshire a similar incident had happened at a canteen, where a pudding jumped out of a basin. In the kitchen of the college, one day, things became particularly lively. A chair which stood by the fireplace jumped seemingly over the table, for a cup was knocked off and broken, and the chair was found seven feet away from its usual position. At another time, when the housekeeper was preparing grape fruit for breakfast, a portion disappeared and could not be found. She got two bananas to take its place, and laid them on the table, when suddenly the missing grape fruit whizzed past her ear, and the bananas vanished.

When the girl had gone to bed one night great noises of banging and tearing were heard, and on going into her room Mrs. McKenzie found the girl in bed, “but the room looked as if a tornado had swept over it. Everything that could be thrown down lay on the floor. The girl stated that the moment she got into bed the legs went, letting her down on the floor, and the mattress seemed to rise up. When she got into bed again the frame of the washstand went over, a mahogany armchair was thrown down violently and the arm support was splintered. Another chair, also thrown over, had a piece broken off the back by its fall, and a small wicker table lay on the floor. All the girl’s clothes and trinkets lay on the floor, also in a wild heap.

It was not only at the college, but at other places visited by the girl, that these mysterious things happened. Once, when the girl went into the dairy for milk, a great milk churn on the floor near her fell over, this showing (as the report states) “how the force accompanies the person of the girl, and is not located in one place.” In his observations on the case, Mr McKenzie says: “Direct observation, as in so many similar cases, seemed to foil its own end, but enough was actually seen by Mrs McKenzie, myself, my daughter and secretary, and some students staying in the house, as well as the constant view of damage to crockery and furniture, to leave us without a shadow of a doubt as to the girl being the focal centre of some unexplained force. In the case of this Yorkshire girl,” Mr McKenzie adds,” it was noticed that things fell with great force after she had moved beyond them, as if the energy were drawn from her back and limbs, and was much greater than anything required for tipping a table over in the ordinary way. An ordinary fall will not break a solid table or chair. They need to be thrown with vigour and intention for this to happen. I tried to find if the girl felt anything while the heavy articles were thrown about. Only once, during a particularly bad disturbance, did she say that she felt a peculiar drawing in the limbs, which would suggest the extension of the psychic body, well known in cases of physical phenomena. On this sole occasion, before the question had been put to the girl, Mrs McKenzie, going into the kitchen during the disturbance, and standing where the girl had been a moment before, became aware that she stood in the centre of force of some sort, a kind of electrical discharge affecting her limbs, such as is sometimes noticed in a psychic group.”

In conclusion the principal states that the report is “a continuous record, made from day to day by people competent to judge such cases, neither afraid of the forces operating nor making light of the seriousness of the matter for the girl who was involved. There is nothing exaggerated. The wish of all observers was to report correctly and to secure relief for the victim as speedily as possible. I hope this cure will remain effective. At the end of September she was reported still free from disturbances, and has resumed her daily work in the mill.”