Baltimore Poltergeist: a case of a modern-day Poltergeist named for the city—Baltimore, Maryland—where it baffled its victims, citizens, public officials, the media and Nandor Fodor, a respected psychoanalyst and researcher of psychic phenomena. Between January 14 and February 8, 1960, this alleged spirit caused such havoc by making objects fly, break, crack and explode that its victims finally just threw everything that could possibly be undone or broken out of their house and into the backyard. At the end of a month of terror, the activity suddenly stopped, leaving numerous speculations about the mystery but not one indisputable solution.
The head of the affected household was Edgar G. Jones, a former fireman who retired after 37 years of devoted service to Baltimore’s fire department. Also involved were his wife, Mrs. Jones; the couple’s son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Pauls; and the Pauls’s 17-year old son, Ted Pauls.
Ted was a high school dropout, but he was highly intelligent, according to his family and former teachers. Shy and reclusive, Ted spent most of his time in solitary pursuits, such as reading science fiction and tales of the supernatural. In addition, he was a writer and editor of a newsletter, Fanjack, that he mimeographed in the basement and sent to a few selected friends. His parents and grandparents, however, were upset that he was devoting himself to these activities rather than attending school.
The first indication that something was amiss came on January 14, 1960, when 15 miniature pottery pitchers exploded on a dining room shelf. In the ensuing month of terror, objects jumped off shelves and crashed through windows, pictures fell to the floor, plants leapt out of their holders, and soda bottles burst open like firecrackers.
Initially, most of the happenings took place in the late morning and afternoon. On Sunday, January 17, the noisy ghost struck at night for the first time. Mr. Jones was the first victim, when he tried to pick up a can of corn that had fallen off a shelf and was rewarded with a bang on the head from a falling can of sauerkraut. This insult was followed by a small table moving from the living room to a stairway landing, where it threw itself down the stairs. At the other end of the house, a stack of kindling wood exploded in the basement.
The next day, January 18, came a respite. But the attacks resumed on the following day with various objects cracking and flying. On January 19, all hell broke loose, and family members were kept busy running from one room to another to assess the damage.
The next four days brought another much needed respite. But once again, as if the spirit had needed to regain its energy, it renewed its activities. The family was subjected to a nine-hour barrage of breaking and flying objects that forced Mrs. Jones to flee her house and find refuge in the home of her sister. Mr. Pauls and Mr. Jones took a more drastic step: they threw every breakable item and piece of furniture into the backyard so they could get some sleep.
Within the next week, there were a dozen more occurrences. But on February 9, the attacks suddenly and mysteriously stopped.
By then, word had spread and the Jones family had become local celebrities. Newspaper and broadcast reporters were a constant presence in the house as they pressed the family to make statements for a curious public.
Theories abounded. One theory held that young Ted was perpetrating a hoax on his family, an allegation that was vigorously denied by his parents and grandparents. Other theories had a more Scientific basis, but each in its turn was found to be groundless. For example, radio signals, earth tremors or high-pitched sound waves were all considered. A high-frequency receiver, an investigation with a seismograph by city highway workers, an examination for explosives in objects that had exploded by the city policy department’s crime lab, and a radio repair man looking for wind coming from a drainage pipe all failed to provide substantial proof.
One final theory, offered by a plumber visiting the house on the night of the last activities, suggested that the hot air furnace was the culprit. He advised the family to remove all storm windows and open a dining room window to equalize pressure. After the Joneses followed his instructions, the happenings ceased. The family thereafter credited the plumber as the problem-solver.
Before the happenings had stopped completely, Nandor Fodor visited the family to investigate. His conclusions were similar to those he had made in other cases involving a young household member: he concluded that Ted was an unconscious agent who unwittingly used his mental power to create the disturbances.
Fodor theorized that Ted wanted to be esteemed for his writing talent, and being newsletter editor was one way he could raise himself above his readers. Ted’s depressed ego might be hiding behind the poltergeist activity, and he might be releasing his creative energy into abnormal channels.
Fodor explained that the human body is capable of releasing energy that could produce such abnormal activities through brain activity. Ted’s aggression was unconscious because he perceived himself to be a brilliant, misunderstood person, underappreciated by family, school and classmates. He could vent his frustrations by projecting them into aggressive poltergeist activities.
Fodor theorized that if Ted could feel appreciated and valued for his talents, his self-esteem would heighten and there would be no need for his expression in destructive poltergeist activities. Fodor explained this to Ted, who seemed relieved. However, Fodor instinctively knew that he had to do something more to prove what he was saying. He took an acknowledged risk by announcing during radio and television interviews that Ted was a gifted writer, and that recognition of his talent would seal a breach in his psyche and stop the poltergeist activity once and for all. Fodor suggested that, as therapy, Ted write his own account of what had happened, which also would have Scientific value.
Fodor expected this statement to have a therapeutic effect on Ted, and it did. His parents and grandparents found a new respect for the boy, and Ted seemed to adopt a new attitude of acceptance about himself. Although the worst poltergeist outbreaks did continue for a short time after these statements and Fodor’s departure (part of the psychological working-through process, Fodor explained), they gradually came to an end. The reason, said Fodor, was that Ted no longer needed to protest his frustrations through poltergeist activity.
In spite of this theory from an esteemed man of science, the Jones family remained convinced that it was the plumber’s simple advice that produced the cessation of their torment. Skeptics contended it was merely a coincidence. The case was never solved conclusively. In his writeup of the case in his book Between Two Worlds (1964), Fodor concluded:
The case is important because accidentally I tumbled on a novel cure of the Poltergeist psychosis. . . . It is as simple as the egg of Columbus. Find the frustrated creative gift, lift up a crushed ego, give love and confidence and the Poltergeist will cease to be. After that you can still proceed with psychoanalysis, release the unconscious conflicts, but whether you do it or not, a creative self-expression will result in a miraculous transformation.
- Fodor, Nandor. Between Two Worlds. West Nyack, N.Y.: Parker Publishing, 1964.
- Naver, Michael, and Travis Kidd. “The Baltimore Poltergeist.” Tomorrow 8 (Spring 1960): 9–16.