I have shown in Magonia how useful local newspapers are as sources of Fortean stories and this little book provides an extensive example of how the Australian press dealt with a “poltergeist” case back in 1921. It centred around the home of a working class family in a small New South Wales town and involved mainly stones being hurled at the property from sources which evaded detection even when crowds of people ringed the house.
Everything from spirits to the local kids (larrikins) and even exploding rocks was blamed, until a scapegoat was found in the family’s twelve-year-old daughter, whose confession to faking a small segment of the stone throwing was used to close down the story. There seems little doubt that the girl was disturbed in some way and was the centre of the outbreak, which began when she complained that she had been pestered by a strange man who followed her and thrown stones at her. Later the girl claimed to be in communication with the spirit of her dead sister. All of this looks like a classic case of attention seeking.
British readers will be interested to note that the Australian press carried quite a few stories of a poltergeist case in Hornsey, North London, at the same time. This book should be of interest to Forteans, folklorists and anyone interested in how stories mutate through press coverage.
Darren Ritson and Michael J Hallowell. Contagion: In the Shadow of the South Shields Poltergeist The Limbury Press, 2014.
Written in 2009 but only published five years later, the authors present another poltergeist case, this time from Jarrow and describe some of their own paranormal experiences and introduce the idea of contagion (ironically having some similarities with Richard Dawkins' and Susan Blackmore’s notion of memes) and that polts are part of some vast hive like entity. One learns that the outwardly normal house in which the polt is alleged to have manifested seems to have the layout of a fairground haunted house, that the couple at the centre had filled the house with horror film memorabilia and that the male in the household had the delightful hobby of writing to serial killers for memorabilia. A little girl was being raised in that house! -- Reviews by Peter Rogerson.