Thursday, November 21, 2019

Apparitions At Enfield

The Enfield case arguably began with an apparition, and apparitions were still being reported around thirty years later. Margaret Hodgson referred to an apparition she saw while using a Ouija board in 1974, and she reported seeing the same apparition when the poltergeist was at the height of its activities a few years later (Guy Playfair, This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 238-39). When the Bennetts moved into the house after Peggy Hodgson's death in 2003, one of them reported that, "The night before we moved out, I woke up and saw a man come into the room."

What I want to focus on in this post is the evidence we have for apparitions between those two points in the case. I'll largely be drawing from Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes. I'll use "MG" to cite Grosse's tapes and "GP" to cite Playfair's. MG99B refers to Grosse's tape 99B, GP14A refers to Playfair's tape 14A, and so forth. It's helpful in some contexts to be able to picture the layout of the Hodgsons' house, so go here to see a floor plan.

On the morning of October 15, 1977, Vic Nottingham was in his back yard, walking toward his house (MG6B, 9:44). He noticed an old woman, with gray hair, standing at the window facing the back yard in the middle bedroom upstairs in the Hodgsons' house. On the floor plan linked above, it's the window to the right on the bottom of the upstairs diagram. None of the Hodgsons were home at the time (MG6A, 11:07). Later in the day, Peggy was out shopping. When she got home, she reported seeing an old woman with gray hair standing at the bay window on the ground floor. She reported that experience before hearing about what Vic had seen. Playfair mentions in his book that, "[Vic] was the last person I would have thought would ever claim to have seen a ghost." (44) Notice the similarities in what they saw: a woman, who's old, with gray hair, standing at a window, on the same day. That much overlap is unlikely to have resulted from something like their imaginations or hallucinations.

On one of the tapes, Janet refers to seeing a vision, apparently of a man standing at the bedroom door (MG60B, 25:09). It lasts a little over half a minute. Peggy can't see it, but Billy makes some comments and apparently refers to seeing something. (I can't understand much of what he's saying, because of his speech impediment.) He seems to say, "I can see it, too." (25:41) Peggy then asks, "Who is it? Do you know?", and the poltergeist voice says, "Me." (26:02)

The audio quality of tape MG86A is poor, but there's a discussion there about an apparition of Grosse (MG86A, 5:17). It sounds like at least two members of the family saw the apparition, at the same time, in the same place, saying the same thing, etc.

Elsewhere, Margaret refers to how she and Billy saw the same apparition, apparently at the same time and in the same place (GP47Ai, 6:16). She goes on to mention that Janet saw it as well, but doesn't say whether Janet saw it at the same time and place.

Typically, I think, the apparitions would only be seen by one person at a time. Click here to listen to John Burcombe describe one he experienced while in the house alone. In another context, he refers to a neighbor who walked by the Hodgsons' house and saw what she called "the face of death", which she described as an old person, in the bay window (MG72A, 13:26).

It was common for people to see partial apparitions, such as a portion of a person's body without seeing the rest of the body. In a previous post, I discussed some occasions when a disembodied hand was seen. Peggy described an apparition she saw "without any doubt in my mind" (MG62A, 0:22). That's a significant qualifier, since she was careful to acknowledge her uncertainty on a lot of other occasions when she described apparent paranormal experiences she'd had. She saw a man's legs going up the stairs, but without seeing anything above the legs. On another occasion, she saw a man's shoulders going through the kitchen door, apparently without anything below or above the shoulders (MG64B, 23:27).

There were doppelgangers as well, like the one of Grosse I referred to above. I believe a doppelganger of Grosse was seen at least four times (e.g., MG13B, 16:19), including one occasion when the doppelganger had a scar across his face for some reason (MG86A, 5:17). A doppelganger of Janet was seen at least twice. I discussed one of the occasions in a post a couple of years ago. John Burcombe reported seeing a doppelganger of Janet, standing at one of the bedroom windows in the front of the house, while Janet was downstairs (GP51A, 15:03). Peggy, who was there at the time, confirmed that nobody had gone upstairs. Janet had been downstairs the whole time. And Burcombe comments that it would have been "impossible" for Janet to have come downstairs after appearing in the window upstairs, since he could see the steps through a window on the front door of the house. He was confident that Janet hadn't come down the steps.

Just after describing the experience mentioned above, Burcombe refers to visiting the Hodgsons' house the next day and seeing another apparition through the bay window. He saw the shadow of a man in the living room, a man about six feet tall, as if he was getting up from a chair in the room. There was no man in the house at the time. Peggy then relates a similar experience she had, seeing the shadow of a man moving through the house. Burcombe and his daughter, Denise, saw the shadow of a man appear on a wall in the Hodgsons' house (GP46A, 19:07). Denise said it remained there for a few minutes. When she was walking by the Hodgsons' house on another day, with none of the Hodgsons home at the time, she saw a shadow walking through their living room (MG92A, 24:59). Page 237 of Playfair's book explains that the family was about fifty miles away from the house on vacation. John Burcombe was watching their house while they were away. It was earlier that day when Burcombe saw the apparition in the house discussed in the documentary I linked earlier. That night, Denise had her experience seeing the shadow.

The apparitions would sometimes be accompanied by other paranormal phenomena or physical evidence corresponding to the apparition. For example, Peggy and Janet woke up around the same time one morning (MG64B, 25:53). Janet's headboard was shaking, and she didn't seem to be causing it. She then said she saw an old man standing in the doorway. After the man left, they heard steps on the staircase. Apparently, Playfair was the only person in the house who may have been walking down the steps, but Peggy apparently saw him walking out of his room upstairs when she came out of the main bedroom, which implies that he hadn't just walked down the stairs. While Peggy is explaining what happened, the poltergeist voice makes comments identifying himself as the old man Janet saw. In another context, Janet reported seeing the bedroom door open, and a man walked in (GP52A, 40:38). He had long nails, and Janet refers to being frightened by him. She refers to trying to get out of bed and being pushed back in by the man, though he eventually left. Margaret then comments that she saw him as well. She doesn't specify the context in which she saw him, but, judging by what she says elsewhere (GP52B, 1:25) and Janet's lack of reference to anybody else being in the room, Margaret probably only saw the man on a different occasion. Notice that multiple objective elements are involved here: the door opening, being pushed back, and another person seeing the man in question, though at a different time. Janet refers to how she ran, screaming and crying, to her mother. Peggy corroborates that aspect of the account and comments on how rare it is for Janet to cry: "She was definitely frightened. There was no ifs and buts over it this time….When she starts crying, well that means business, as far as I'm concerned anyway." (GP52A, 42:18) Grosse says "Yes" while Peggy is talking, expressing agreement about how rare it is for Janet to cry. It seems rare to me as well, judging by the tapes and other evidence I'm familiar with relating to Janet's character at that age. On another occasion, Janet saw an apparition of a man lying on a bed for a few minutes, and there was an indentation of somebody having laid there afterward (MG87A, 7:05). She also reported seeing an apparition of a more positive nature, the (deceased) parents of Vic Nottingham (GP54B, 4:40). She says they helped her make the beds. Peggy commented elsewhere that when Janet was younger, she knew Vic's father well (MG2B, 15:37).

That apparition I just mentioned was exceptional in its positive nature, in the sense of its involving people Janet knew and liked helping her with something. The vast majority of the apparitions were neutral or negative.

At a March 29, 1978 symposium of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), Playfair made some important points about these apparitions. It's doubtful that the people involved in the case would have made up accounts with some of the features found in the reports of the Enfield apparitions (MG83A, 35:05).

For one thing, you wouldn't expect a family like the Hodgsons and some of the other individuals involved to know much about the paranormal. The Hodgsons were a lower-class family without much education, and their language, grammar, spelling, and other characteristics suggest that they hadn't been doing much research on paranormal issues or other relevant topics. In the early stages of the case, Janet would refer to the poltergeist as the "polkadice" (MG2A, 38:59). Peggy, with a serious tone of voice and without any indication that she knew she was doing anything wrong, referred to a Ouija board as a "Luigi board" (GP49A, 2:44). She also got the SPR's name wrong when discussing the organization in September of 1977 (GP36B, 1:51). The family and others often commented on how little they knew about the paranormal issues involved and how dependent they were on people like Grosse for information (GP35A, 32:54).

Yet, much of what the witnesses reported about apparitions would have required significantly more knowledge of paranormal matters than those individuals seem to have had if the reports were faked. Playfair cites the example of partial apparitions (e.g., a person sees only a disembodied leg, not the whole body, in an apparition). There are reports of such apparitions in other paranormal cases, but how likely is it that so many people like those in the Enfield case (often lower-class people, without much education, etc.) would have been familiar with the concept of partial apparitions? And if they were familiar with it, why would they fake accounts involving such apparitions and do it so often? Full apparitions are better known to the public and would tend to be considered more interesting, disturbing, and so forth.

Another example is what was reported about seeing doppelgangers. People normally associate apparitions with the dead, not with living individuals. There's precedent in paranormal research for doppelgangers, but you wouldn't expect the large majority of people, who don't know much about the paranormal, to be making up apparitions of the living as often as they were reported in the Enfield case.

It's sometimes noted that a lot of popular movies and literature in the horror genre came out in the 1970s and could have influenced Enfield and other paranormal cases. But there isn't much evidence of that sort of influence with the Enfield case in general or the apparitions in particular. To the contrary, the restrained nature of the apparitions is striking. They're typically something along the lines of a person standing at a doorway or walking across a room. The large majority involve a person of normal appearance doing something mundane. Even the most significant exceptions I recall, though disturbing, are less so than what you'd see in a horror movie. The witnesses, both adults and children, don't seem to have put much effort into developing an impressive account. They come across as reporting what they'd actually seen, which doesn't bear much resemblance to popular fiction.


  1. I am endlessly baffled and honestly, amazed, when I read your Enfield posts. I can't keep up! Are they all under the "Enfield Poltergeist" label? Sorry, just looking for a way to catch up.

    1. Hi Fran,

      I just saw your post. Yes, I think all of my Enfield material should appear under that label.

      Thanks for the encouragement!