We will be discussing and signing copies of our book Long Island Oddities at the following dates and locations:
10/23/13 7PM Carle Place, Barnes and Noble
10/24/13 7PM Bay Shore, Barnes and Noble
10/30/13 7PM Lake Grove, Barnes and Noble
“That there may be something diabolical, or at any rate evil, in them I do not deny, but, on the other hand, it is also possible that there may be natural forces involved which are so far as little known to us as the latent forces of electricity were known to the Greeks”. - Father Herbert Thurston on Poltergeists
Poltergeists have long been one of the more interesting phenomena to study. We all know that the word “poltergeist” translates to noisy ghost, but what is it really? Theories have changed over the years and will likely continue to change. This is not only the material of popular movies, but a phenomenon that has been reported from medieval times to the present day. In fact it happened right here on Long Island to a typical Catholic family in Seaford..
On February 3rd, 1958 at about 3:30 in the afternoon, the quiet home of the Hermann family was disturbed by something very unusual. Mr. Hermann worked in the airline industry. This particular afternoon he received a frantic call from his wife telling him that all of the bottles in the house were blowing their tops. Mrs. Hermann found that bottles throughout their house including bleach, nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, and holy water had blown off their screwed on caps. It was the beginning to an extremely odd train of events.
As time went on, bottles shattered in the bathroom and a sugar bowl flew through the air on more than one occasion. Originally Mr. Hermann suspected his son to be the culprit because of his love of science. But as he spent the weekend observing his son James he saw medication bottles moving across shelves and it quickly became obvious that James Jr. was not responsible for all that was happening.
Left with no answers, the Hermann’s called the police. The first patrolman arrived, only to have more bottle tops pop off and fly in his direction. Within short order Detective Joseph Tozzi was assigned to the case. He too witnessed a number of unexplainable events including a world globe that nearly hit him while flying through the air. A bookcase full of encyclopedias was turned upside down. A portable phonograph player moved, and again and again bottles, including holy water were popped and moved. Mr. Hermann noted after picking up the holy water bottle that it was strangely warm to the touch. A photographer called in to document the events watched as his own flash bulbs flew across the room and shattered.
As part of a desperate search for answers for this befuddled family a priest was called in to bless the house. As devout Catholics, the Hermann’s hoped this would rid them of the frightening disturbances but it was not to be so. Meanwhile detective Tozzi was looking for more realistic answers. He called in Robert Zider from Brookhaven Labs. They tested out many theories including downdrafts from the chimney, seismic activity, shaky water pipes and everything in between.
Weeks later and still no closer to answers the Hermanns were receiving more and more correspondence each day as their story spread. Some assured the family that Martians had landed, others blamed the devil, and yet others tried to offer rational causes like downdrafts from the fireplace. Desperate, the Hermanns installed something to cap the downdraft and as soon as the installation was completed, a porcelain figure flew off of a desk and smashed into a wall.
The Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University took a keen interest in the case. Dr. J. B. Rhine was already conducting research into psychokinesis, or the ability to move objects without touching them. He came to study what was now called “Popper the Poltergeist” He brought along his assistant and psychologist Dr. Pratt, who believed that James Jr. might still be the source of the events even if inadvertently through psychokinesis. While Dr. Pratt spent time with James, strangely the disturbing events did not happen.
This relief was short lived though. A month after the disturbances first began; they started again with a vengeance. In front of William Roll and the other researchers from Duke, a dish leapt from the sink, a night table flipped over in James’ room, and a bowl of flowers slid from a table. Popper the Poltergeists’ final performance happened on March 10th while the family was getting ready for bed. A loud pop sent them down to the cellar to investigate, and they found a bleach bottle had popped its lid. Popper left just as it came with the popping of a bottle of bleach.
Investigators still came to study the house but the beleaguered family had had enough and eventually closed their doors, simply thankful that they could return to normal family life. There was no certain explanation for what caused the Hermanns to go through five weeks of disturbing and frightening trauma. By the end there were 67 recorded disturbances, some of which were witnessed by reporters, police officers, and professional researchers. When asked, Mrs. Hermann could only say, ““I don’t think there is a definite solution. It was just one of those things with no rhyme or reason to it. But there was a definite physical force behind it.”