Monday, July 01, 2019

The Ripping Out Of The Fireplace In The Enfield Case

A paranormal researcher who's skeptical of Enfield nevertheless acknowledged that "there were reports of activity that I'm not willing to dismiss a priori as childish trickery, such as a wrought iron fireplace being wrenched out of a wall". Mary Rose Barrington, in the committee report on the Enfield case for the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), referred to the fireplace incident as "an item of poltergeistery of the first order" (cited here). See here for a brief overview of the incident in a documentary, which includes comments from a few people who were in the house at the time, most of them in the room where the fireplace was. The event was recorded on audio tape (8B in Guy Playfair's collection). This post is largely about that recording.

When I cite the Enfield tapes, I'll use "MG" to refer to a tape from Maurice Grosse's collection and "GP" to refer to one from Playfair's. So, MG28B is tape 28B in Grosse's collection, and GP93A is tape 93A in Playfair's.

Before getting to the contents of the tape of the fireplace incident, I'll quote an overview from Playfair's book. On the morning of October 26, 1977:

There was a sudden violent shaking sound, and it was immediately followed by total panic.

'Oh Lord!' cried [Peggy Hodgson]. 'That does it. All that power! I'm getting out.'…

The entire iron frame of the gas fire had been wrenched out of the wall, and was standing at an angle on the floor, still attached to the half-inch diameter brass pipe that connected it to the mains. The pipe had been bent through an angle of 32 degrees. This was a major demolition job, for the thing was cemented into the brickwork, and it was out of the question to suggest that one of the children could have wrenched it out. When we finally dismantled the whole apparatus, we found it quite a job even to move. It must have weighed at least fifty pounds. (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 60)


The only skeptical explanation of the event that I remember coming across is the following from Rational Wiki:

"When she [Janet Hodgson] and her sister moved a small metal gas heater away from the wall in their bedroom then called investigators in to show them 'what the poltergeist had done', the men excitedly reported 'a heavy fireplace ripped from the wall by unseen forces.'"

They cite no source. Rational Wiki's account of what happened is fundamentally contradicted by the tape of the event and every witness.

If the fireplace had been chiseled from the wall or loosened by some other means before the morning of October 26, it should have been easy to notice. It was a large object and something the family and others sometimes thought about and discussed. For example, just a few days prior to October 26, on an October 22 tape, Margaret Hodgson and Grosse make reference to the fireplace when discussing the movement of a lamp in the room (MG9A, 1:03). Not only does Margaret use the fireplace as an object of reference on her own initiative, but Grosse responds by adding a further detail, regarding where the fireplace is situated in relation to a bed.

There was a lot of reason to look at the fireplace and the area around it in the days leading up to October 26. In the signed witness statement below about the events of the night of October 23, notice the references to how often people were in the bedroom with the fireplace and how much the room was observed, by so many people:

We, the undersigned, declare that the following statement on the events that took place at Green Street, Enfield on the night of Sunday October 23rd 1977 is true, and if required to do so are prepared to swear to this statement under oath.

STATEMENT

The family Hodgson retired to bed at approximately 9.30 pm in the front bedroom [where the fireplace was]. Mrs. M. Hodgson, Margaret and Janet were together in the double bed, with Mrs. Hodgson on the right, Janet on the left, and Margaret in the middle. Billy was in the single camp bed on the right of the double bed.

After a series of events involving the throwing of plimsolls, a slipper and the front of a dolls house, together with the pulling of a plug attached to the bedside lamp from the power socket, knocking was heard coming from the front bedroom. It appeared to come from the floor.

Mr. Grosse said he would try and communicate with 'whatever was causing the knocking' by a code, one knock for 'No' and two for 'Yes'. He knelt on the floor by the top of the camp bed, and in answer to his verbal questions distinct knocks, both loud and soft, were heard in this code, although some knocks exceeded two in number. We were unable to give any physical explanation whatsoever to the knocking. A strong vibration in the floor and walls could be distinctly felt during the knocking.

Mr. Nottingham and Mr. Burcombe examined the house thoroughly while some of the knocking was taking place but they could find no agency to serve as an explanation. Most of the knocking could be distinctly heard in the vicinity of the double bed although it often came from different positions on the floor.

Mr. J. Burcombe - Mr. V. Nottingham - Mrs. S. Burcombe - Mrs. P. Nottingham - Denise Burcombe - Mrs. M. Hodgson - Paul Burcombe - Margaret Hodgson - Mr. M. Grosse - Janet Hodgson (quoted in Yvette Fielding and Ciaran O'Keeffe, Ghost Hunters [Hodder & Stoughton: Great Britain, 2006], 63-65)

The night of October 24 is important as well. As on the night before, there was knocking in the main bedroom that seemed to come from multiple locations (GP7B, 7:25). That gave them even more reason than they'd normally have to look around the room.

On page 58 of his book, Playfair discusses something more important that happened that night. The grate of the fireplace was thrown across the room by the poltergeist and almost hit Billy on the head. He probably would have been killed if it had hit him. The family was upset and asked Grosse to come over. He got there a little before midnight. It seems unlikely that he wouldn't have looked at the fireplace under those circumstances. And even if he hadn't looked at it that night, he, Playfair, the family, and others involved would have had reason to watch the fireplace the following day and beyond.

More significantly, Playfair recorded further activity in that bedroom late on the night of October 25, less than half a day before the fireplace was ripped out. A few adults were in the room trying to observe the activity and investigating it. Not only was Peggy in the room, but Playfair was there that night as well, and so were John Burcombe and Rosalind Morris. There was a lot of knocking from multiple locations in the room (GP8A, 18:01), Peggy's bed was shaking (GP8A, 24:30), etc. At one point, Peggy comments about something going "across the room" (6:14), which illustrates how much reason they had to look around them and take notice of their surroundings. You repeatedly hear Peggy commenting on the events, and you repeatedly hear Playfair, Burcombe, and Morris in the room, making comments and asking questions, etc. If you listen to Morris' December 26, 1978 Enfield documentary for BBC Radio, she opens the documentary with a recording of some of the knocking that occurred on the night under consideration here. Morris and her producer considered the knocking on that night significant enough to open their documentary with it. It's very unlikely that Peggy, Burcombe, a paranormal researcher (Playfair), and a journalist (Morris) who were focusing on that bedroom on the night of October 25, when there was so much significant activity going on - just one day after a significant event had happened with the fireplace (the throwing of the grate) - would have all failed to notice that as large an object as the fireplace had been chiseled out of the wall or loosened in some other way.

At one point on this October 25 tape, there seems to be a discussion about the fireplace (23:40). Janet makes a comment, apparently about the poltergeist trying to move something, and Peggy responds, "I'm not going to say what I think." She would often make that sort of comment when she anticipated that there was a good chance the poltergeist was going to do something, and she didn't want to give it any ideas or encourage it to do what she was thinking of. It sounds to me like both Janet and Peggy got the impression, by whatever means, that the poltergeist was interested in moving the fireplace. So, Janet started talking about the subject, but Peggy didn't want to discuss it. Janet then says "It's trying to push it upside down." Playfair responds, after a pause, "No, it's not going to do that." Shortly after, he says, "I know it's not going to do that." Janet seems to say something about the fireplace at 24:03, and she refers to how the poltergeist can't get it out. You then hear a rattling noise. I suspect Janet or Playfair was rattling the grate or some other moveable part of the fireplace to illustrate how firmly it was in the wall. Playfair responds by saying "Right. I couldn't get it out." A little after that, Playfair says something else, which is difficult to discern, about getting something out, and I suspect he's reiterating his point about how the fireplace couldn't be moved.

It could be argued that Janet's commenting about the poltergeist trying to move the fireplace, less than half a day before the morning when the fireplace incident would occur, is suspicious. But the throwing of the grate on October 24 sufficiently explains why Janet would be concerned about the fireplace on October 25. And there may have been further movement of the fireplace or some part of it on October 25, which elicited Janet's comments. And Janet wasn't the only one who was concerned about the fireplace being moved. So was Peggy, as I explain above. Furthermore, Janet's anticipation that the poltergeist would push the fireplace upside down turned out to be wrong. And why would Janet draw attention to the fireplace in that manner if she had loosened it from the wall and was preparing to fake the removal of the fireplace? That would be counterproductive. Rather than suggesting that Janet was involved in faking the fireplace incident, her comments on the October 25 tape suggest she didn't fake it.

Additionally, it seems that Playfair was the one who rattled the grate (or some other moveable part of the fireplace attached to the immoveable part). For one thing, it makes more sense for a 42-year-old man to test the fireplace's stability by shaking it than for an 11-year-old girl to do it. And the family was in bed at the time, so it makes more sense for Playfair, who wasn't in bed, to have walked over to the fireplace and shaken it. Furthermore, he comments that he couldn't move the fireplace just after the shaking sound ends, which makes more sense if he was the one doing the shaking. So, it seems that Playfair tested the stability of the fireplace late on the night of October 25. Even if Janet or somebody else other than Playfair did the shaking, Playfair surely was watching. He should have noticed if the fireplace had been loosened from the wall.

What I've discussed over these last few paragraphs poses a series of big problems for skeptical hypotheses about the fireplace incident. So, a skeptic may want to argue that Janet, Peggy, and Playfair weren't discussing the fireplace on the October 25 occasion under consideration here. Maybe they were discussing some other object in the room. But what would that be? What other object would cause Peggy to react so negatively when thinking of the possibility that the poltergeist would move it, would explain Janet's apparent reference to the fireplace in her comments beginning at 24:03, and would be tested by rattling it in a way that sounds like metal rattling (and sounds like the noise the fireplace makes on the October 26 tape that will be discussed below)? It's highly likely that the fireplace is the object they're discussing.

There are other lines of evidence that could be added to what I've discussed above. John Burcombe (if he's alive), Rosalind Morris, and other relevant witnesses could be asked about the issues involved. I don't have contact information for most of them. I tried to get in contact with Morris, but was unsuccessful.

I don't think there are any relevant videos extant (or non-extant) from the days leading up to October 26. There's a good chance that there's at least one relevant photograph, though. I didn't notice any relevant ones in Playfair's book, the Enfield documentaries and television programs I've seen, or in the Enfield photos at alamy.com and maryevans.com. But there could be one or more that haven't been made public among the many pictures that were taken by Grosse, Playfair, Graham Morris, Lawrence Berger, and whoever else.

If the fireplace wasn't removed from the wall as of tape GP8A, how would it have been removed prior to tape GP8B? The family was already in bed, and the fireplace incident occurred before they got out of bed the next morning. Peggy was spending the night in the room with the children, Playfair was spending the night in another room close by, and at least two of the Nottinghams were at least home on the morning of October 26, which probably means they spent the previous night at home as well. We don't begin with a default assumption that people are spending the night in some house other than their own. How would the children have loosened the fireplace from the wall on that night without Peggy, Playfair, or the Nottinghams noticing? So, there apparently wasn't enough of an opportunity for the children to have loosened the fireplace between tapes GP8A (late at night on October 25) and GP8B (the middle of the morning on October 26).

That brings us to the contents of tape GP8B. The tape is disappointing, though still important.

The evidence the tapes as a whole provide for the Enfield case is significantly better than you'd think from reading Playfair's book and listening to his comments elsewhere. He underestimates or doesn't discuss a substantial amount of material. However, the fireplace incident is an example of a context in which he gives the impression that some of the evidence is better than it actually is. The incident is very likely to be authentic, and it's a highly significant event. I've never seen Playfair or anybody else publicly discuss some of the evidence for it that I mentioned above and more I'll be addressing below. But some of what Playfair did discuss publicly, including some of what he left unsaid, is problematic.

The audio quality of the tape is somewhat poor. It's early in Playfair's collection, and a lot of his earliest tapes have substantial audio problems. (The large majority of his tapes are of much better quality.) At a March 29, 1978 SPR symposium, Playfair referred to an audio problem with one of his tapes, and he mentioned that a tape recorder he had been using was defective (GP38B, 6:36). Quite a few of his tapes played at the symposium, especially the earliest ones, had significant audio problems at that time, in 1978. So, it seems that the tapes in question had audio problems from the start. It wasn't an issue of deterioration over time, at least not primarily. The tape under consideration here, 8B, has a muffled quality to it and a lot of static, and many of the details are difficult or impossible to discern. But the fireplace incident is discernable, and some important details associated with it are as well.

Expectations have a lot of influence on how people evaluate something. What should we expect the ripping of a fireplace out of a wall to sound like? As far as I know, few people or none have heard a fireplace ripped out of a wall in any other context. So, we fill in the blanks with our imagination, which is often poorly informed. If you see enough television shows and movies with fight scenes in which somebody goes flying backward and crashes through a window and it shatters into hundreds of pieces, you'll be disappointed when a real-life fight produces a much less impressive scene. Given how Hollywood, the television industry, fictional authors, etc. portray poltergeists, and given how poorly so many people think through these issues and how unreasonable their expectations often are, I suspect the large majority of people would have overly high expectations for something like the fireplace incident. And Playfair made the situation worse when he used phrases like "violent" and "total panic", as in the quote from his book above. In the documentary I linked earlier, he uses the phrases "tremendous" and "very, very violent" to describe the sound. Because of that sort of terminology used by Playfair, I was disappointed by what I heard on the tape.

I don't think Playfair was being dishonest, though. The tape has audio problems, and Playfair is describing the event, not the recording, in the contexts quoted above. Not only do we need to keep that distinction in mind, but we also need to remember that there could have been one or more objects between the tape recorder and the fireplace, which would affect what was picked up by the recorder. They seem to have usually placed their tape recorders next to that bedroom's door, whereas the fireplace was on the opposite side of the room, and they'd typically have a few beds in there at any given time. Furthermore, Playfair was in one of the other bedrooms when the event occurred. I don't know much about acoustic issues or the ventilation system in the Hodgsons' house and other relevant factors, but it could be that the sound was amplified by some means by the time it got to Playfair. On another tape, Peggy Nottingham discusses the fireplace incident (MG98A, 10:56). Apparently, she was in her bedroom in the house next door when the event happened. Her bedroom is connected to the wall in which the fireplace was situated. She corroborates much of what Playfair and others reported. She refers to how the fireplace's pipe was "all bent up", how she'd "never seen anything like it", and how the event was "really bad". She refers to how "we" heard the fireplace come out and heard screaming, so her husband and/or son probably heard what was going on as well.

But even if Playfair accurately described what he heard, he knew that the recording of the event was significantly less impressive. Unless the tape deteriorated substantially over time - which seems unlikely, given the condition of his other tapes - he should have anticipated that people would eventually compare his descriptions to the tape and should have prepared them for the differences between the two.

Having said all of that, what does the tearing out of the fireplace sound like? Whatever it sounded like if you were in the house or nearby at the time, it isn't particularly loud on the tape. It's somewhere in the middle range, louder than something like whispering or footsteps, but not as loud as, say, screaming or an airplane flying overhead. It's a rapid jostling noise, like metal being quickly banged more than once against another object, for about one second (GP8B, 12:38). I don't know if the jostling noise is from the fireplace being moved back and forth to tear it out of the wall, the sound made when one or more pieces of the fireplace landed elsewhere in the room, or some combination of the two. The sound is too rapid for it to give you much information about what's going on. You have to combine the sound with the testimony of the witnesses to get a fuller picture of what was happening. As I've said before, something that often distinguishes poltergeist activity from normal activity is the speed with which a poltergeist acts. Whatever it did with the fireplace happened quickly. It doesn't produce the sort of noise you'd get if you removed the fireplace from the wall by a normal means. It happens much faster than you'd expect if it was faked in some way. Peggy Hodgson and Peggy Nottingham refer to how a portion of the fireplace flew across the room, and they refer to how the pipe bent. Shortly after the initial noise, you can hear a rattling sound. It seems that the poltergeist ripped the fireplace from the wall, pulling it up at some point in the process, bending the pipe as the fireplace was pulled upward, and threw a piece of the fireplace across the room. Shortly after that, the grate began rattling, apparently because the poltergeist was preparing to throw it (as it had done two days earlier). Poltergeists often vibrate objects just before moving them.

Surely the children wouldn't have been able to have pulled the fireplace out of the wall, to which it was cemented. And it would be ridiculous to argue that they gradually chiseled it loose over time, or did something else of that nature, without anybody who would have disapproved noticing. It would be similarly ridiculous to propose that everybody who should have noticed the children doing something like that did notice it, but didn't say anything about it in any way that's left a trace in the historical record. The children don't seem to have been left alone in the house often. The rare occasions when there are references to their being left alone (e.g., MG75A, 4:00) involve only brief periods of time, as far as I recall. And Peggy Hodgson comments in another context that none of the children had a key at that point, in May of 1978 (GP53A, 1:19). Besides, anything the children could have done that would have been forceful enough to loosen the fireplace from the wall could easily have been heard by the Nottinghams next door, who shared the wall that the fireplace was cemented into. And it's hard to believe that every relevant witness (Peggy Hodgson, Playfair, etc.) failed to notice that the fireplace had been loosened from the wall ahead of time. Keep in mind that this was an ongoing poltergeist case being closely investigated in a small house, with many and frequent visitors, and the bedroom with the fireplace in it was one the researchers often visited and observed.

Even if the fireplace had somehow been loosened under those circumstances, how did one or more of the children produce the rapid jostling noise on the tape, lift such a heavy object, throw a large portion of it across the room, bend the brass pipe to a 32-degree angle, and cause the grate to rattle shortly afterward, all without their mother - who was in the room at the time - noticing that anything was being faked? If you watch the documentary segment I linked earlier, Peggy's description of what happened suggests that she saw the fireplace come out of the wall and saw the movement of the piece of it that went across the room. On other occasions, she frequently qualifies her comments by saying that she didn't see an event herself or that she only saw part of it. I doubt she would have made the comments in the video segment linked above, using her arm to demonstrate how the fireplace moved, if she hadn't seen it or only saw the last part of its movement. In the video, she says that Janet called her attention to the fireplace just before the event occurred, so it would make sense for Peggy to have been looking at the fireplace when the incident happened. The idea that she didn't look at it under those circumstances is so unlikely that those who want us to believe that she didn't look are the ones who carry the burden of proof. Besides, even if she'd not been looking at it initially, she would have needed only a fraction of a second to turn her attention to that area of the room. The idea that she wouldn't have noticed one or more of the children faking the series of movements involved is absurd.

The event had a big impact on her. Neither Playfair's book nor any other source I've seen says enough about how Peggy reacted to the incident. Playfair accurately quotes her initial comments: "Oh Lord! That does it. All that power! I'm getting out." But she makes a lot of other comments that underscore just how impressive, and dangerous, the event was. Shortly after her comments just quoted, she says, "Get up, Billy. It's trying to move that grate off of there." As I mentioned before, earlier that week, the poltergeist had thrown the grate across the room and barely missed hitting Billy's head. It's understandable, then, that Peggy would want to get him out of the room as soon as possible once she noticed the grate rattling. Somebody calls for "Mr. Playfair", apparently trying to get him to help. Peggy then says, "Where is he [presumably Playfair]? Things are happening." She sounds upset. At 13:44, Peggy says something about how she's not going in "there", apparently referring to the main bedroom, because of the grate. At 14:08, she comments on how the poltergeist can "move anything".

Playfair apparently arrives at the entrance to the main bedroom around 15:10. (He had a microphone in the main bedroom that he could activate remotely, which is what he did on this occasion. He activated the microphone while he was in bed in the back bedroom. He probably wasn't fully dressed when the fireplace came out, so his delay in getting there probably was due to the time it took him to think about what was happening, get out of bed, and get dressed.) He says something like "The gas fire came loose." He sounds startled. He then asks what went over the door a little earlier. If you read pages 60-61 of his book, you'll find his description of how he'd seen a slipper go over the door of the main bedroom. He wanted to keep track of it, since he'd been watching it all along, and he knew that nobody had touched it. Given where he eventually found the slipper, he concluded that it had to have moved in a paranormal manner. Under the circumstances, since he had seen the slipper and knew that nobody had touched it after he saw it, it's understandable that he'd be focused on the slipper. He had only heard the fireplace incident, without seeing it, so it appears that he initially gave the slipper more attention. After a lot of talking, much of which is hard or impossible to discern, Playfair leads the family downstairs (19:20). Other paranormal events happen down there and more conversations take place, with occasional references to what happened with the fireplace.

The discussions are often difficult or impossible to understand, but I've been able to discern some significant portions of them. At 22:39, Peggy seems to say "I know we can't move it" and refers to the "strength" the poltergeist exhibited, apparently all in reference to the moving of the fireplace. She then comments that "miracles do happen." Playfair mentions that something's been found that the poltergeist "can't do" (24:30), probably referring to how some parts of the fireplace weren't entirely removed from the wall. He mentions in his book that he had that reaction to the fireplace incident.

On another tape, recorded the next day, Peggy comments on how she'd rather have the poltergeist activity currently going on than have what happened the previous day with the fireplace (GP9A, 12:21). Later that day, Playfair makes a similar comment, and Peggy expresses agreement (GP9B, 4:55).

Playfair later had a lengthy discussion with Hans Bender, one of the foremost researchers on poltergeists at the time, about the Enfield case, and they discussed what happened to the fireplace. Playfair mentions that David Robertson will be testing the fireplace pipe, to see how much force would be needed to bend the pipe to the degree to which the poltergeist bent it (GP39A, 31:15). I asked Robertson whether he'd ever had the pipe tested, and he said he hadn't. I suspect Grosse and Playfair eventually decided against testing it, probably for good reason. It's better to leave the pipe as it is, as evidence of what the poltergeist did to it. Though it would be interesting to know how much force went into bending the pipe, there's more value in leaving the pipe as it is. And no testing is needed to figure out that the Hodgson children wouldn't have been able to have bent the pipe under the circumstances in question.

I've said a lot about how Peggy Hodgson, Playfair, and the Nottinghams reacted to the fireplace incident. But what about the children? It's true that there's some screaming and panic, but I wouldn't use the phrase "total panic", which Playfair uses in his book to describe the scene. There isn't much screaming, and the screaming is accompanied by some laughter, apparently all from the girls. Playfair's book mentions some "nervous giggling" from Margaret regarding the movement of the slipper Playfair had been watching (61), and some of the laughter does come across as nervous laughter. Margaret did sometimes react that way to paranormal events. To get some idea of what I'm referring to, listen to the reactions of the girls on the tapes played here and here. I think all or most of what you hear on those tape segments is from Margaret. But I doubt that all of the laughter on the fireplace tape is that sort of nervous laughter.

As Peggy mentions, Janet was an easily excitable child (GP53A, 8:16). She often found humor in situations, including situations that other people didn't find humorous. Earlier, I referred to what Peggy said after the fireplace was ripped out: "Oh Lord! That does it. All that power! I'm getting out." Just after that, Janet says, while laughing, "Get out, you old cow!" It seems that she was amused by the idea of the poltergeist tearing out the fireplace in order to get her mother to leave the room. Janet wasn't calling her mother an old cow. Rather, she was joking about the notion that the poltergeist was trying to get Peggy to leave the room, so she said "Get out, you old cow!" as if she was expressing the sentiment of the poltergeist. Less than three minutes later, when Playfair asks what just went over the bedroom door, Janet responds, again while laughing, "I have no idea. A duck!" So, we have two incidents for which there's good evidence of paranormality (the tearing out of the fireplace, the movement of the slipper), and Janet responds to both with laughter and joking.

To an extent, it's understandable that Playfair doesn't mention that laughter and joking in his book, that documentaries about the Enfield case often leave out that sort of content, etc. It's trivial behavior that's inappropriate and demeans the significance of the situation. It's a distraction. And there's so much potential for critics to misrepresent the behavior as evidence that Janet, perhaps with the help of one or more of her siblings, faked the events in question. But the best way to address the objections of those critics is to face the objections head on rather than ignoring them.

Yes, Janet could have laughed and joked because she'd faked something. She also could have laughed and joked for other reasons. She often did so in contexts that aren't relevant to faking paranormal events. That was her personality at that stage of her life. Critics sometimes object that the children should have been more fearful if they believed that paranormal events were actually happening. The children often are fearful on the tapes (screaming, crying, etc.). But they also went through a range of other reactions. As Janet remarked in January of 1978, "Why should I be frightened after five months?" (MG65B, 9:52) She was frightened by events at times after she made that comment. But, in general, you get more accustomed to things the longer you experience them. By the time the fireplace and slipper incidents occurred in late October, Janet probably had experienced a triple-digit number of paranormal events. And it was daytime, and she was surrounded by a few other people. Grosse and Playfair (along with others) had spent several weeks trying to calm the family down and reassure them, often telling them that the poltergeist was just a manifestation of the subconscious of one or more members of the family or some other entity who didn't intend them much harm. They weren't living out a horror movie, and they weren't experiencing a paranormal event for the first time. It's far easier to reconcile Janet's laughing and joking with the paranormality of the events in question than it is to provide a normal explanation for those events.

Though the fireplace tape is disappointing, the fireplace event is highly likely to be paranormal, and it has a lot of significance. And the disappointing nature of the tape is largely due to false expectations. The tape is about what you'd expect under the original circumstances, despite the false expectations that were produced later.

A point I've been making throughout my Enfield posts bears repeating here. If skeptics are going to propose that the Hodgson children were unusually good at something like loosening a fireplace from a wall it was cemented into and keeping that loosening concealed on a night when their mother, their uncle, a paranormal researcher, and a journalist were examining the room closely, then that unusual set of skills needs to be added to the long list of other unusual skills skeptics have been attributing to the Hodgson children (acting, magic, ventriloquism, etc.). The longer that list gets, the more problematic the skeptical position becomes. Part of what I'm doing in these posts is demonstrating just how lengthy that list is. If the Hodgson children are that gifted, you wonder why they've been living such ordinary lives these past few decades.

The same principles apply to any skeptical hypothesis proposing that the witnesses involved were mistaken or lying. Several people provided evidence that the fireplace hadn't been loosened from the wall prior to the morning of October 26, saw the fireplace come out of the wall, heard it without seeing it, saw the condition of the fireplace after it was ripped out, etc. Not only do skeptics have to explain why they think the witnesses are wrong in each case where they think the witnesses are wrong, but they also have to address the cumulative effect of dismissing so many witnesses throughout the case. What are the odds that so many people in such a small social circle had such unusual characteristics? Were all of the Hodgsons, all of the Nottinghams, all of the Burcombes, etc. so unusually dishonest, careless, forgetful, prone to hallucinations, and such? To whatever extent they supposedly were dishonest, why haven't any of them sought the sort of attention and money they could get by publicly acknowledging and discussing that dishonesty?

1 comment:

  1. After listening to some of the tapes again and reconsidering some of the issues involved, I've rewritten a few sentences. Here's the original:

    "I don't recall any situation on the tapes when the children were left alone in the house. And Peggy Hodgson comments in another context that none of the children had a key (GP53A, 1:19). They probably were alone in the house at times, but those occasions seem to have been somewhat unusual if they happened at all, and they may have been unpredictable as well."

    And here's what I've replaced it with:

    "The children don't seem to have been left alone in the house often. The rare occasions when there are references to their being left alone (e.g., MG75A, 4:00) involve only brief periods of time, as far as I recall. And Peggy Hodgson comments in another context that none of the children had a key at that point, in May of 1978 (GP53A, 1:19)."

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