Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Quantitative Investigation of the General Wayne Inn

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Quantitative Investigation of the General Wayne Inn

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Apparitions and poltergeist-like disturbances were reported by the owner and employees of awayside inn in Merion, Pennsylvania. The legend that a "ghost" haunted the premises had persisted for more than 2 centuries. Quantitative measures tested 3 sensitives and 3 controls. Participants marked on floor plans locations where they sensed a ghost (sensitives) or where they believed a credulous person might report a ghost (controls). Participants also responded to a checklist containing brief descriptions of the reported phenomena that were randomly interposed with descriptions of plausible disturbances that no one had reported. One sensitive's floor-plan responses significantly resembled the locations of disturbances reported by witnesses (p = .026), and her checklist impressions suggested the ghostly characteristics witnesses had described (p = .059). The combined floor-plan responses of sensitives bore a suggestive correspondence to the witnesses' reports (p .084). Control participants, neither indivi dually nor as a group, produced test responses that resembled the witnesses' accounts. No significant differences in the magnitudes of magnetic fields at target and control sites were found for peak magnitudes, mean magnitudes, or all measured magnitudes. These findings imply that the aberrant cognitive phenomena reported by witnesses cannot be attributed to variations in the magnitudes of ambient magnetic fields.

The German word poltergeist was presumably coined to distinguish a noisy ghost from a less obtrusive one, and it continues to denote a mischievous spirit or "ghost" in German. By 1848, the word had become part of the written English language (see Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 1995). More than one psychical researcher in the late 19th century observed that boisterous ghosts tended to frequent houses in which children were living. This is hardly surprising since households in those days were generally compised of large families, and children were not uncommonly family members. Indeed, youngsters with their irrepressible energy and mischievous tendencies were generally the first to be fingered as the culprits when rowdy, unfathomable disturbances took place. Alternatively, hysterical young female servants drew reprobation as the supposed hosts of the bewildering events.

With the advent of psychoanalytic theory and its seminal constructs of unconscious motivation and covert sexual drives, a prepubescent, person-centered theory of poltergeists was formulated. The new theory of ghosts was in step with the zeitgeist; the afterlife was out of favor but neurosis was very much in vogue. Evidence in support of the theory was marshaled, and it was soon widely adopted--bolstered by convergent theories and legitimized by scientific-sounding terms like focal person, attenuation, and recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK). Yet doubts about the validity of the ghost versus poltergeist distinction persisted, and theoretical discrepancies accumulated in the empirical database.

Stevenson (1972) took issue with the person-centered theory in an article charmingly tided, "Are Poltergeists Living or Are They Dead?" Maher (1991) ventured that poltergeists could in principle be both living and dead because discarnate entities might be interacting with the energy of living persons to effect physical manifestations. Gauld and Cornell (1979) attempted to sort out 500 haunting and poltergeist cases on the basis of their characteristics, but cluster analyses failed to eliminate apparitions from the poltergeist category or poltergeist features from the haunt category. Roll (1977) conceded that haunted houses could host RSPK outbreaks and volunteered that "To an extent hauntings, too, may be person oriented" (p. 400). Alvarado and Zingrone (1995) found no more signs of intelligence in the characteristics of hauntings with apparitions than in those without them, whereas signs of intelligent guidance were reflected in certain poltergeist object flights (Roll, 1977). …

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