The Grottendieck Stone-Thrower is a Famous Poltergeist Case of Sumatra, formerly a part of the Dutch East Indies and now a part of Indonesia. Local poltergeist activities are commonplace and often reported in the newspapers. One that is still unexplained occurred in September 1903 when a Dutch engineer working for a Dutch oil company witnessed a strange phenomenon of falling stones. The story was published in the British Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)in 1906.
The engineer, W. D. Grottendieck of Dordrecht, Holland, had returned from a tiring trip in the steamy Sumatran jungle with some 50 coolies when he found that his regular quarters had been temporarily taken by another member of his company. He decided to stay in a new house that had just been erected on bamboo poles. The roof was thatched with large, dried leaves, known as kadjang leaves, in an overlapping shingle style.
Exhausted, Grottendieck laid out his sleeping bag and mosquito netting on the wooden floor and immediately fell asleep. At about one o’clock in the morning, he was partially awakened by something falling near his head outside the netting. A few minutes later, he was awakened by the realization that something was falling on the floor beside him. In the darkness, he was able to see that the falling objects were small black stones, all less than one inch in diameter. Grottendieck turned up his kerosene lamp and was amazed to see that the black stones looked as though they were falling through the roof, though there were no apparent holes in the thatching.
Grottendieck went into the next room to wake up his Malay servant boy. Thinking that someone was playing a joke on him, he told the boy to go outside to see if he could see anyone. While holding a flashlight to light the way for the boy, Grottendieck could see the stones continue to fall right through the roof onto the floor of his room.
The boy returned without finding anything. Grottendieck then ordered him to investigate the kitchen. Grottendieck returned to his sleeping room and tried to catch a few of the falling stones. Unbelievably, he was unable to catch even one of them. Just as he thought one would be caught in his grasp, it mysteriously changed direction in midair and floated away. Meanwhile, more stones were falling and hitting the floor beside him. He noticed that the stones seemed to fall slowly, and that the movements of the boy seemed unusually slow as well.
Grottendieck climbed up the partition between his room and the servant boy’s room in order to examine the spot from which the stones seemed to be falling. He could not see any holes or cracks in the roof. Once again, he tried to catch the stones, but they eluded him.
The servant boy then entered the room to say there was no one in the kitchen. Grottendieck, frustrated that somebody was so successfully tricking him, grabbed his Mauser rifle and fired five rounds into the air above the jungle to scare off the invisible prankster. The stones, however, continued to fall. The servant boy, frightened, announced that the situation was the work of Satan, and fled into the jungle. Grottendieck never saw him again. At the departure of the boy, the stones stopped falling. Grottendieck touched a few of them and found them warm. Although mystified, he returned to his sleeping bag and dozed off.
The next morning, only about 18 to 24 of the little stones remained on the floor, although the five cartridge shells from his rifle were still there. Grottendieck observed that the stones had fallen within a radius of not more than three feet, and that they all had come through a single kadjang leaf. He thought perhaps he had been visited by a shower of meteors, but he abandoned the idea after he once again examined the roof and found no torn holes.
The cessation of stones upon the departure of the boy suggested that the boy was unconsciously a poltergeist focal point. However, Grottendieck discounted that theory in his subsequent correspondence with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), explaining that while he was bending over the sleeping boy, he could still hear the stones falling through the half-open door to his room.
Prior to this incident, Grottendieck had been a skeptic in occult matters, but now he began to wonder about poltergeists and Spiritism. His sister had died three months before, and Grottendieck thought there could be a connection between her death and the falling stones—perhaps it was her way of communicating with him. Consequently, he obtained a book about spiritism in an attempt to ascertain if this might be the case. If he arrived at a conclusion, he did not share it with the SPR.
Grottendieck told the SPR that similar phenomena were commonplace in the Dutch East Indies. Frank Podmore opined that the boy servant had thrown the stones, or that Grottendieck was hallucinating because of his impressions that the stones and boy were moving slowly. Podmore’s views were refuted by other members, including Andrew Lang. A member living in Singapore suggested that the “stones” were really fruit seeds dropped by bats which fly into houses at night and eat the fruit while they hang from rafters.
The case remains inconclusive.
- “A Poltergeist Case.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)12 (1906): 260–66.
- “Correspondence.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)12 (1906): 278–331.