Poltergeists are a well-documented – and rather terrifying – paranormal phenomenon, immortalized on screen in the 1982 American horror movie franchise, which was, interestingly enough, supposedly cursed. Their name comes from the German for “noisy spirit”, and they are characterized as being mischievous, sometimes even dangerous, spirits who tend to haunt people rather than locations. Just some of the activity attributed to them includes unexplained knocking, rapping and disembodied voices, objects moving, and physical attacks ranging from pinching to biting – a poltergeist has even been documented throwing someone bodily across the room, in the famous case of the Enfield haunting.
One of the most well-known poltergeist hauntings is that of Epworth Rectory in Lincolnshire, home at the time of the disturbances to the Reverend Samuel Wesley and his family, which included his wife Susanna and their many children. One version of events states that the trouble began one night in December 1716, when the family suddenly heard a terrible cacophony coming from the upper floor of the house. However another version recounts how a servant named Robert Brown, and an unnamed maid, heard dreadful groaning noises emanating from the dining room – but when they opened the door, there was no one there. Whatever truly happened, the noises and other strange activity went on for a number of months after that.
Most often, the Wesley family would hear a variety of unexplained knocks and bangs coming from various empty rooms inside the house, which at first they thought to be someone making mischief – a very unfunny joke. However the activity soon developed to include the sounds of human moans and footsteps and the noise of glass bottles being broken or coins emptied out onto the floor. Some people thought the disturbances were being caused by the devil – including Samuel Wesley himself – but one of the children, a girl named Emily, believed the spirit to be that of a man who had once resided in the Rectory, and she nicknamed him Old Jeffry, a moniker which stuck. From that moment on, whenever someone called the poltergeist by this name, loud bangs and rapping noises would be heard as if in response.
It seems that the poltergeist wasn’t around to stay, however, as a few months later the unexplained activity suddenly ceased, and the Wesley family remained at the Rectory undisturbed for nearly 20 more years. The poltergeist haunting had a deep effect on several members of the family however – including little John Wesley who was 13 at the time the activity began. He went on to become founder of the Methodist church and led a full and busy life, but never forgot the eerie goings-on at his childhood home. To this day, the Epworth poltergeist remains a well-known and much-discussed case, said to be the second most-documented haunting in Britain, and though we will never know what really caused it – or why the poltergeist chose to create such havoc for those few months – the story of the disturbances in the old rectory still continue to fascinate and intrigue us.