Thursday, December 05, 2019

Fires At Enfield

Poltergeist cases often involve fires that are paranormal in some way (fires that start, proceed, and/or stop paranormally). In her doctoral thesis (187), Anita Gregory mentions that at least one incident involving fire was reported at the Hodgsons' house as early as the night of August 31, going into September 1, 1977. So, fire incidents were occurring in the Enfield case much earlier than is suggested in Playfair's book (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 187) and elsewhere.

It's useful to have some knowledge of the layout of the Hodgsons' house, so go here to see a floor plan. I'll be citing Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes, using "MG" to designate Grosse's tapes and "GP" to designate Playfair's. MG30B refers to Grosse's tape 30B, and GP15A refers to Playfair's tape 15A, for example.

As far as I recall, all of the fire incidents occurred in the kitchen, for whatever reason. (Click here for a photograph of the kitchen. The man in the photo is John Burcombe, and he's facing the living room. The back hallway is behind him.) It may be that the poltergeist needed something found only in the kitchen to produce these phenomena or preferred to do it in the kitchen for some other reason. There could be a psychological factor involved, such as a tendency to associate fire with kitchens (stoves, matchboxes kept in kitchens, etc.). Whatever the reason for only producing these events in the kitchen, Peggy Hodgson noted at one point that the poltergeist fires used to happen after they'd left the kitchen, but now happen while they're there (GP52B, 7:39).

There was a fire in a kitchen drawer on February 9 of 1978. Shortly afterward, Grosse described what had happened on tape (MG74B, 17:08). Judging by what Grosse says, I think the drawer in question is the one next to the stove, to its right, in the photo I linked above. The fire burned a box containing matches without burning the matches inside the box. John Burcombe mentioned that they found "quite a bit" of water in the drawer. That's significant in light of the fact that some patches of water had been appearing paranormally around that time, both just before this fire episode and just after. So, the likelihood of the paranormality of the water in the drawer is increased by that surrounding context. And Grosse mentions that though the fire wasn't in full force at the time they found it, it was "smoldering" and had to be "put out", so it's highly unlikely that the water was there because somebody had poured water over the drawer to put out the fire. If water had been poured over the items in the drawer, that would have been easy to notice, and it would have required a series of further steps to be taken by the individual(s) faking the incident. Grosse went on to mention that they found a piece of aluminum twisted into a spiral in the drawer as well. Peggy said the aluminum hadn't been there previously. Grosse noted that it was bent "similar to the effects that David Robertson gets with his metal benders". Playfair adds further details in his book (190). Grosse told him that he had smelled smoke for about ten minutes, but thought it was from somebody burning something outside. Margaret went to the kitchen and called out that there was a fire there. Apparently, a box of matches spontaneously caught fire, leaving the box scorched without doing anything to the matches within the box. In Playfair's book (138), there's a photograph of a box of matches involved in one of the fire incidents, probably the incident I've just described. The box is burnt badly, but the matches do appear to be unaffected.

While we can imagine somebody faking all of the characteristics involved in this episode (taking the matches out of the box, burning the box, diminishing the fire to the point of smoldering without putting it out, putting the matches back in the box, putting some water in the drawer, twisting some aluminum and putting it in the drawer), it seems highly unlikely that all of that faking would be done successfully under the circumstances in question. Nobody would be expecting all of those phenomena to happen in one episode. Why take such a large risk of getting caught when just starting a fire and quickly putting it out would be sufficient to meet people's expectations for a poltergeist? The smoke was present when the adults were in the living room next to the kitchen, and there was still smoldering going on, so a fire of some sort had to have been started recently. It couldn't have been a matter of a fire having been set hours or days earlier in order to burn the matchbox to fake the incident. But if a fire had just occurred, with the smoke coming from the area of the drawer in question, think of all of the risk involved in making the noise of starting the fire, opening the drawer, closing it, and keeping the smoldering and smoke going in the relevant area for about ten minutes. And why do it so close to the living room at a time when a few adults were there, apparently (Grosse, Burcombe, Peggy)?

I've said a lot in previous articles about the personality, motives, and other characteristics of the poltergeist (e.g., here). This fire episode I've been discussing is reminiscent of the poltergeist's behavior on other occasions. I suspect it deliberately combined water with fire in the drawer in order to demonstrate that it was able to start fires even where water was present. The twisted aluminum probably was a response to the frequent efforts of the researchers to get the poltergeist to bend metal. They would sometimes specify that they wanted the metal bent in a spiral. And that's what happened on this occasion. The poltergeist would often perform in bursts, with lesser activities surrounding something much more impressive. And the poltergeist voice would often express itself more (talking more, talking more loudly, making sounds suggesting it was excited, etc.) after something unusually impressive had been done. That's what happens in the context of this fire incident. As Grosse is explaining what happened, you can hear the poltergeist voice talking in the background, anticipating Grosse's comments and completing them for him. At one point, he's listing the items in the drawer where the fire had appeared, and he briefly pauses. The voice doesn't wait for him to finish, but instead adds "handkerchiefs" to his list, after which Grosse says, "…paper handkerch…I don't need your help. Paper handkerchiefs." It sounds like the voice is excited and proud of what it's done. So, there seems to be a connection between the voice and this fire event.

During the opening several minutes of tape MG75A, there's a discussion between Peggy and Grosse about a series of fire incidents that occurred on February 10, the day after the events described above. Given how frequently fires were occurring, a fraud hypothesis would require a lot of risk on the part of the children or anybody else faking the events and a lot of skill in never getting caught.

Peggy describes an occasion when somebody came to their door, and she and all of the children went to see who was there (GP52A, 9:58). Nobody was in the kitchen. But when they returned there, some tissues had been placed under a saucepan, apparently with the stove lit.

After another incident of a similar nature, Grosse experimented with the stove to see how rapidly some tissues that had been placed there should have been consumed under normal circumstances (MG92A, 13:48). If the last person who was in the kitchen placed the tissues there, they would have been sitting on the lit burner for about two minutes or longer. But Grosse found that two minutes was far too long. The tissues he experimented with were consumed far too quickly to explain the apparently paranormal event earlier, in which the tissues were only scorched around the edges after nobody had been in the kitchen for about two minutes or longer. He refers to the incident as "extraordinary" and "quite remarkable" and refers to how there's "no way" it could have happened in a normal manner.

Something that should be noted about the fire phenomena is how much the fires were against Peggy's interests and, therefore, would have motivated her to catch anybody who was faking the events and put a stop to them. These incidents provide a good example of how unlikely it is that she fabricated the poltergeist and how much motive she had to put an end to the case rather than perpetuate it. Fires are dangerous. They put people's lives, health, and property at risk. And there was no assurance that a poltergeist fire in particular wouldn't do any significant harm. Contrary to frequent claims about how harmless poltergeists allegedly are, Playfair notes in his book that a poltergeist he'd investigated in Brazil in 1973 involved a family who "had much of their furniture destroyed by repeated outbreaks of fire" (viii). Archie Roy, an astronomer and paranormal researcher who had some discussions with Grosse and Playfair while they were investigating the Enfield case, referred to a case he'd investigated in which a poltergeist fire burned down a door (MG80B, 15:32). There was a further risk in Peggy's situation, since she had a poor sense of smell. She was dependent on other people to tell her if they smelled any smoke (MG75A, 0:56). Think of the misery involved in not only knowing that a fire could start at any moment, but also knowing that you wouldn't be able to smell it. And she would often be alone in the house or a particular portion of it. Furthermore, as she explained at one point (GP52B, 34:35), she didn't want to tell the media about the fires, because of how it could upset people (the potential for a fire to spread to other houses, etc.). These fire incidents were putting their relationships with their neighbors at risk and had the potential to give their neighbors and others involved an incentive to be more critical of the family and monitor them more closely. As John Burcombe mentioned when discussing the aftermath of one of the fire episodes, "There was some tension in the room, because fire is a nasty thing" (MG92A, 2:59). If the children or anybody else was suspected of starting fires to fake a poltergeist case, there would have been a lot of anger and lot of interest in putting an end to what was going on. The fires were causing a lot of problems, within the house and with the family's social standing outside the house. On balance, it seems that faking such incidents would have been against the family's interests, especially given how often the fires occurred and the circumstances often involved (e.g., fires burning with the closest person being in another room).

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