Eleanore Zugun (1913–?) Romanian Poltergeist child who was studied by several psychical researchers, including Harry Price. The most striking feature of Zugun’s case is the scars and bite marks she suffered, as she believed, at the hands of the devil.
Eleanore Zugun was born on May 24, 1913, in the Romanian village of Talpa. Her mother died when she was young, but otherwise she seems to have had an ordinary childhood until the outbreak of the poltergeist phenomena, when she was 12.
One day in February 1925, it is said, Eleanore set off on a walk to her grandmother’s home, in the village of Budhai a few miles away. On the way, she found some money by the roadside. This she spent on candy, all of which she ate herself, causing an argument with one of her cousins. Overhearing the argument, her grandmother—a woman of 105 who was reputed to be a witch—told Eleanore that the money had been left by the devil, and that by converting the money into candy, then eating it, she had ingested the devil. Furthermore, she said, Eleanore would never again be free of him.
Eleanore stayed overnight with her grandmother, and the next day, stones pounded the house from outside, breaking windows. Small objects close to Eleanore jumped and ﬂ ew about. The grandmother took this as proof of diabolic Possession, a diagnosis in which the other villagers were quick to concur. Eleanore was sent home to Talpa, where, three days later, the phenomena broke out again.
The Zuguns were having dinner in the kitchen when a stone came crashing through the window. It was round and wet, like the stones in the river which ran close by their cottage. Eleanore’s father hurried to get a priest, who marked the stone with a cross and threw it back in the river. A little later, the same stone—identiﬁable by the priest’s mark—ﬂew back in through the broken window. The family took this to mean that the devil was so powerful that he could defy the mark of the cross. They decided to send Eleanore away for a while, and got a neighbour to take her in, but soon the phenomena started up there. Eleanore was beaten, and threats were made to send her to a lunatic asylum.
The girl ran home in terror. Her father arranged for an exorcism, but this only resulted in another series of incidents: an iron pot burst and windows shattered, ﬂinging glass onto Eleanore’s family and other villagers. A special Mass was said, and a pilgrimage made, but nothing helped—the strange and destructive events not only continued, they became worse. Eleanore was sent to a convent, where other bizarre events occurred. A heavy table levitated, and nuns’ habits were aported from one cell to another, through thick walls and locked doors. More Masses were said; more exorcisms were conducted; Eleanore was examined by psychologists; she was hypnotized. But it was all for nothing; the phenomena continued unabated. Finally, she was declared insane and was sent to the local asylum.
Fortunately for Eleanore, the case had begun to attract press attention, and this in turn led to the involvement of psychical researchers. The first to arrive was a German, Fritz Grunewald, who visited Talpa and talked to everyone he could ﬁnd with knowledge of the case. Grunewald persuaded Eleanore’s father to take her from the asylum, and he witnessed some of the phenomena himself. Early in 1925, he returned to Germany to ﬁ nd friends for Eleanore to stay with; since he was a bachelor and lived alone, he could not take her in himself. Unfortunately—as if Eleanore’s life were not already tragic enough—before he was able to make the necessary arrangements, Grunewald suffered a heart attack and died.
Luckily, a new benefactor was soon to appear. This was the Countess Zoe Wassilko-Serecki, a Romanian woman who lived in Vienna. She formally adopted Eleanore and took her to Vienna in September 1925. The countess was much interested in PSYCHICAL RESEARCH, and part of her design was to be able to observe the phenomena at close hand. In this she was not to be disappointed: Over the next year, she recorded more than 900 events, most of which directly affected Eleanore. Bottles of ink were spilled over her or in her bed, her shoes became ﬁlled with water, her toys were destroyed, her books were mutilated, her sewing would vanish without a trace. In many instances, the countess or one of the several observers she invited to her apartment for an afternoon would be watching Eleanore at the time these things happened. Often they would hear sounds of objects landing, and occasionally they saw them materialize out of the air.
Two months after Eleanore’s arrival in Vienna, a different sort of phenomenon began. This was the sudden appearance on her arms, hands, chest, or face of scratches, pinpricks or bite marks. The ﬁrst of these occurred when the countess and an acquaintance were attempting to hold a SEANCE with Eleanore. Both her hands were being held when suddenly she cried out, drew back, and announced that she had been stabbed by something sharp, like a needle. This happened several times, and on each occasion there appeared at the spot she indicated a round, red, inﬂamed spot, with a darker red puncture mark in the centre. For days after this, coloured marks, such as might be made by coloured pencils, appeared on her cheek.
These marks soon gave way to the bite marks, the manifestation of which would make the girl cry out even louder than usual. Observers would immediately begin to see thick, white welts arise on her skin. The bite marks matched those which Eleanore would have made herself, and they and the other marks were always on parts of her body that she could have reached, but they occurred so frequently when her hands were held or she was being closely watched that most researchers had no doubt that she was not deliberately inﬂicting them on herself. Eleanore was convinced that all these phenomena were the work of the devil, which she called by the Romanian word, “Dracu.”
Harry Price met Eleanore at the countess’s apartment in Vienna in April 1926 and was impressed enough with what he saw to invite Eleanore and her patron to visit his National Laboratory for Psychical Research in London. They made the trip at the end of September. The mysterious disturbances continued in this new setting, where they were witnessed by reporters and several prominent scientists. Price noticed that Eleanore would do her best to propitiate Dracu, leaving choice morsels—large nuts, pieces of cake or chocolate—around the room for him. She believed these peace offerings kept Dracu from hurting her still more. Price, however, monitored the girl’s pulse rate and found that immediately after each event, it rose from 75 to about 95 beats per minute. This was a clear indication that Eleanore was in some way physiologically connected with the phenomena, and suggested that she, and not Dracu, was responsible for their production. Evidently she had taken her grandmother’s statement about her possession so much to heart that she was causing herself to be hurt.
The countess wrote about Eleanore in several sources and published a small book on the case (Der Spuk von Talpa, 1926). Not surprisingly, her reports met the same resistance from skeptics as do all reports of striking psychic phenomena. The countess was accused of fraud, a charge she challenged in court. The magistrate found against her on technical grounds; the form of the article in question was said to show no intention of libel. Price and several continental European researchers who had seen Eleanore in person came to the countess’s defense, while other skeptics joined in on the other side. The countess appealed the magistrate’s verdict to a higher court, which again found for the critic, on the ground that his was “justiﬁ ed criticism.”
Eleanore was 12 when the poltergeist phenomena began, and she was 13 when she was studied in Price’s laboratory. She had not yet reached puberty. Poltergeist phenomena are often associated with children during this pre-adolescent period, and there was great interest in psychical research circles about how puberty would affect Eleanore’s case. In fact, as soon as she began to menstruate, early in 1928, all the phenomena ceased. At the same time, Eleanore underwent a rapid mental and physical development.
Besides providing Eleanore shelter and studying her poltergeist phenomena, the countess had nursed and nurtured her, in the space of a few months turning her from an ignorant and suspicious peasant child into a charming and responsive young lady. When the poltergeist activity ended, the countess helped her adopted daughter become apprenticed to a Viennese ladies’ hairdresser. Eleanore did extremely well at this work, gained a diploma, and returned to Romania, where she set herself up in business in the town of Czernowitz. So far as is known, Dracu never again interfered in her life.
- Gauld, Alan, and Tony Cornell. Poltergeist. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979.
- Price, Harry. Poltergeist Over England. London: Country Life Limited, 1945.
- Tabori, Paul. Companions of the Unseen. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1968.
- Wassilko-Serecki, Zoe, Countess. “Observations on Eleanore Zugun.” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)20 (1926): 513–522, 593–603.