Seaford Poltergeist is the first modern investigation by parapsychologists of Poltergeist disturbances in a Seaford, Long Island household in 1958. The case might also aptly be called “the bottle-popping poltergeist,” as it was characterized by numerous bottles inexplicably popping their tightened screw tops and spilling their contents.
As is typical of most poltergeist cases, the disturbances began without warning, lasted five weeks, and ceased without warning or reason. The case remains unsolved.
The disturbances afflicted the James Herrmann family, whose members included Mr. and Mrs. Herrmann and their 13-year-old daughter, Lucille, and 12-year-old son, Jimmy. A cousin of Mr. Herrmann, Marie Murtha, visited during some of the outbreaks.
The incidents began on February 6 and 7, 1958 with the mysterious opening and spilling of bottles in the house when the children were present by themselves. The family were devout Catholics, and Mrs. Herrmann placed bottles of holy water in the house. This had no effect; in fact, the incidents escalated.
On February 9, while the entire family was in the dining room at about 10:15 A.M., they suddenly heard distinct popping noises in different parts of the house. They discovered that in the master bedroom a bottle of holy water had once again opened and was spilling its contents, and a new bottle of toilet water had opened and likewise was spilling. In the bathroom, a bottle of shampoo and a bottle of medicine had lost their caps, fallen over and were spilling. In the kitchen, a bottle of starch was spilling, and in the cellar, a can of paint thinner had lost its top and was spilling.
This was too much for the Herrmann family, and Mrs. Herrmann called the police. An officer arrived to investigate, and while he was in the house, more popping noises were heard. In the bathroom, the shampoo bottle, which had been righted and recapped, was open again and spilling. Nothing could be found to explain the incidents.
A newspaper report came to the attention of parapsychologists J.B. Rhine, William G. Roll, and Gaither Pratt. They obtained permission from the family to investigate. Pratt and Roll spent a total of 10 days off and on with the family and were present when more bottle-poppings occurred. In addition, household objects such as figurines flew about or were upset, sometimes breaking or incurring damage. The Herrmanns were so distraught that on several occasions they left the house to stay with friends. They also contacted a bishop to ask for a rite of exorcism to be performed, but they were told that the rite was not used for this kind of disturbance (apparently the haunting did not appear to be Demonic in nature).
During the five weeks, 67 individual disturbances occurred, of which 64 were disturbances of objects and three were unexplained thumping sounds. All disturbances were reported to the police. Of the 64 incidents of disturbances to objects, 40 involved the same 16 objects, each of which suffered two to four disturbances. Twentythree of the 64 object incidents were bottle-poppings.
Some of the disturbances were heard but not witnessed, while others were witnessed. Perhaps most unusual were the overturning of two bottles in the bathroom, witnessed by Mr. Herrmann and Jimmy. One moved straight ahead and the other spun to the right at the same time. Both crashed into the sink.
Pratt and Roll interviewed all members of the household and attempted to find natural explanations for the incidents. To determine whether some unknown pressure was causing the bottles to pop their tops, they purchased dry ice and placed it in containers with screw caps. However, the gases that built up escaped beneath the caps without forcing them off. They succeeded in exploding a bottle made of thin glass, but the cap remained screwed to the neck.
Pratt and Roll also investigated and eliminated the following possible causes: high-frequency radio waves, vibrations in the floor, electrical malfunctions, downdrafts from the chimney, changes in the level of underground water (the house had its own well), settling of the foundation of the house, airplane noise from the nearby airport and plumbing problems.
From the outset, Jimmy was suspected as the agent of the disturbances, for they seemed to happen only when he was home, and only when he was awake. Both Herrmann and a police detective accused the boy of playing tricks in an effort to induce him to confess, but Jimmy steadfastly denied any role in the matter. Roll and Pratt concluded that fraud was unlikely, given the logistics involved in producing the effects and the complete lack of evidence that any family members were accomplices.
The poltergeist disturbance ended on March 10 with the top-popping of a bleach bottle in the basement. Pratt and Roll were present in the house with family members, but no one was near or witnessed the actual incident. The bottle, only partially filled, had not spilled its contents. But the cap landed right-side up and left a wet spot on the floor.
The poltergeist was not to make another appearance, and soon after that Pratt and Roll departed. The Herrmanns apparently were not bothered again.
It is possible that Jimmy was an unwitting agent, causing what Roll and Pratt termed “recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis” (RSPK), the spontaneous and temporary disturbances of objects. Laboratory experiments have Demonstrated that people can influence the movement of objects in motion, such as rolling dice. It is extremely difficult, however, for test subjects to move stationary objects, as was the case with the Seaford Poltergeist.
The Seaford case involved no effort at communication of any sort, as is sometimes the case involving poltergeists that seem to be discarnate agents.
- Pratt, J. G., and W. G. Roll. “The Seaford Disturbances.” Journal of Parapsychology 22 (June 1958): 79–124.
- Roll, William G. The Poltergeist. Garden City, N.Y.: Nelson Doubleday, 1972.