Poltergeists are "noisy spirits" that haunt individuals or families, not the houses they live in. Usually, the activity that accompanies a poltergeist haunting focuses on the presence of one particular individual, who's always present when the haunting takes place. Poltergeists make loud noises and move objects. They may hurl vases from mantels or move heavy pieces of furniture in front of astonished observers. Some scientists believe that poltergeists are not ghosts--just strange events that may be caused by a young person or a family who are living under a great deal of tension. Still, others believe that poltergeists are ghosts who enjoy mischief.
The case of the Sauchie Poltergeist, which occurred in Sauchie, Scotland in 1960, helped provide proof that poltergeists are not ghosts, but strange events related to a young person's distress. All of the activity centered around an eleven-year-old schoolgirl named Virginia Campbell who had recently moved from Ireland to Scotland.
No one really understood how upset Virginia really was when she moved to Scotland in October 1960. Virginia was the youngest child, and the only one left at home, now that everyone else had left home to work and raise their own families. Because her parents were almost sixty and because her brothers and sisters had gone, Virginia's childhood had been lonely, especially in the rural county where they lived. As someone who knew the Campbells said, "they gave the impression of people who had lived for a long time in a remote and isolated place."
In fact, her loneliness would only be accentuated by the move to Scotland, because a number of things about the move disturbed Virginia's peace of mind. First, she was upset enough that her father had to stay behind to sell their farm in Ireland. Second, she wasn't happy that she and her mother had to live with her aunt and uncle in Sauchie. They had a small house and she had to share a bed with her younger cousin, Margaret. To make matters worse, her mother found work in another town that was not commuting distance from Sauchie. So Mrs. Campbell decided to live in the town where she worked and left Virginia in Sauchie. Perhaps worst of all, Virginia had to leave behind her only friend, Annie, and her beloved dog, Toby. So Virginia, who was a shy girl anyway, was left to stay alone with her uncle's family, share a bed with Margaret, and start school in a new town. She felt very lonely and upset indeed.
The first sign of any poltergeist activity happened on Tuesday, November 22nd, just after Virginia and Margaret had gone to bed. Virginia's aunt and uncle, who were sitting downstairs in the living room, heard the girls call out that they heard a noise in their room.
"Go to sleep, girls," Mr. Campbell called. "It's just your imagination."
A few minutes passed, then the girls rushed downstairs. As they did, a "thunking" sound, much like a bouncing rubber ball, seemed to follow them down the stairs into the living room. The noise stopped, and everyone looked puzzled. The Campbells thought that the girls might have been playing a trick on them and ordered them back to bed. But when they looked in on the girls a few moments later, they could hear the knocking, which seemed to come from behind the girls' headboard. They asked the girls to switch to another bedroom, thinking that the knocking disturbed them from sleeping. But when the girls were tucked into another bed in another room, the knocking began again, just behind the headboard of the new bed. Virginia's aunt and uncle weren't sure what to do, when suddenly the knocking ceased, right around the time that Virginia fell asleep.
The next night, the strange knocking was heard again, shortly after Virginia and Margaret had gone to bed. Even after Margaret ran terrified from the bedroom, the knocking continued. At first, her aunt and uncle suspected that Virginia was making the knocking sounds herself as a cruel joke; perhaps, they thought, it was her attempt to have the bed all to herself. But when the knocks continued, they became just as terrified as Margaret. They called a local minister, Mr. Lund, who arrived at their house shortly after midnight. He heard the loud knocking sound as well and noted that it came from behind the headboard. He thought Virginia might be to blame also, but when he asked Virginia to move down in the bed, so that her head was not touching the headboard, the knocking continued. This convinced him that Virginia could not have been producing the knocking sounds herself. What's more, the headboard did not touch the wall in any way, so that the knocking was not coming from the wall; it came from the headboard itself! Mr. Lund placed his hand on the headboard and the wall. When he heard the knocking, only the headboard vibrated in unison with the sound. The knocking continued, despite Mr. Lund's presence.
Then, as Mr. Lund watched, a large, heavy linen chest that stood near Virginia's bed began to rock back and forth. It rose slightly off the floor, before it moved toward the bed, jerking along and almost toppling a time or two. After it had moved about eighteen inches, the chest stopped, then returned to its original position.
By this point, Virginia was becoming hysterical, and Mr. Lund tried to calm her down by joking that her boyfriend must have been knocking to get her attention.
"Maybe you should knock back to him," Mr. Lund suggested.
He talked for awhile to Virginia, who seemed to become somewhat more relaxed. Then he suggested that Margaret should get back into bed with Virginia and that both girls should try to get some sleep. No sooner had he spoken than the knocking began again, very insistently, as if to say that Margaret wasn't wanted in Virginia's bed. When Margaret used another bed in the same room, the knocking stopped for the night, and both girls fell soundly asleep.
Similar knockings occurred the next day, but other, even stranger things were beginning to happen. Some china vases had moved by themselves, an apple had floated out of the fruit bowl, a sewing machine had started by itself when no one was near. But these were minor incidents compared to what happened during the course of the next week, especially at school.
On Friday, November 25th, Virginia went to school for the first time in three days. She had been kept from school when the knocking had happened, because her aunt and uncle thought she was too upset to attend school. When she returned home that day, Mr. Lund, who had stopped by for a visit, asked Virginia how her day had been.
"All right," she said, matter of factly, "but something funny happened when I was there. When my teacher was standing near my desk, the lid of another desk went up all by itself."
That was all Virginia said, but when A.R.G. Owen, a researcher who studied the Sauchie poltergeist, interviewed Miss Margaret Stewart, Virginia's teacher, he received slightly different and much more compelling information as to what had happened. For example, Miss Stewart noticed the lid of Virginia's desk raise up and down three times, when Virginia's hands were squarely on top of the desk. In fact, from Miss Stewart's vantage point, Virginia appeared to struggle against the desk top, as if to stop it from rising. Miss Stewart had the presence of mind to check if Virginia were raising the desk top with her knees; she wasn't. Then Miss Stewart stared at Virginia, as if to say, "That's enough." Virginia stared back silently.
However, Virginia seemed to have forgotten something that happened about fifteen minutes later. The girl who sat behind Virginia asked permission to return her library book and left her desk for awhile. As Miss Stewart watched, much to her surprise, she saw the girl's empty desk rise slowly upwards, until it was an inch off the floor. It stayed there for a moment, then gently lowered itself back to the floor. Immediately, Miss Stewart rushed to the desk to make sure strings hadn't been used to raise the desk. She found a normal desk, and no way to explain its movement. None of the other children had noticed the desk's movement, and she felt more than a little embarrassed at her rush to an empty desk.
In order to cover over her actions, Miss Stewart turned to Virginia and asked: "Are you feeling better, Virginia?"
"There's nothing wrong with me, Miss Stewart," Virginia replied.
Three days later, on Monday, November 28th, Miss Stewart was again surprised when Virginia approached the teacher's desk that morning. At the same time, a blackboard pointer on the desk began to vibrate and move across the desk until it fell on the floor. As the pointer moved, the teacher felt the desk and found that it was vibrating as well. Then the desk began to move in a counterclockwise fashion, away from the teacher. She looked at Virginia, who was still standing a few feet away. At that point, Virginia started to cry.
"Please, Miss, I'm not doing it," Virginia said.
"It's all right. Just help me straighten up my desk."
It was apparent from a number of other happenings that Virginia's distress was caused especially by the loss of her best friend and her dog. One day, the local doctor, Dr. Logan, stopped by to see how Virginia was doing and brought along his dog. Virginia was very taken with Dr. Logan's dog and remarked that he looked just like Toby. She played with the dog awhile, then Dr. Logan left with his pet. Later that night after she had gone to bed, Virginia went into a trance, of sorts. She began to talk in her sleep, calling for her dog Toby and her friend Annie.
Mr. Lund, the minister, was visiting at the time of the trance and gave Virginia a teddy bear, thinking that this would calm her down. For a few minutes, she held the bear and cuddled it, perhaps thinking that it was her dog, until she felt a button on its front.
"This isn't Toby," she cried and threw the teddy bear across. Then, her eyes closed and still in her trance, she flailed her arms and hit Mr. Lund and seemed to become hysterical. Mr. Lund and her aunt and uncle quickly left her room, and soon her trance ended and she was quiet the rest of the night.
By December, the Sauchie poltergeist had become a common topic among the townspeople. It had been written about in the newspaper and had begun to achieve a national reputation.
On December 1st, Mr. Lund and three other ministers decided to perform a religious service of intercession in Virginia's bedroom to provide the family some comfort. Mr. Lund brought a tape recorder to make a record of the service which lasted fifteen minutes. During the service, some knocking and scraping sounds were heard. Although the poltergeist activity did not go away, it was much less frequent after December 1st. By that time, Virginia was back to normal at school and even had a friend, Elizabeth Brown. In fact, the poltergeist was so much less disturbing that Virginia gave it a name: Wee Hughie. A few objects moved during the next few months, and soon both Margaret and Virginia began to blame a number of suspicious occurrences on Wee Hughie, most notably the disappearance of a few bags of candy. Wee Hughie, obviously, had a sweet tooth now that Virginia was feeling better.
At any rate, Toby was eventually reunited to Virginia, and by March, 1961, the poltergeist activity ceased completely. Clearly, as Virginia began to feel better about her new surroundings, Wee Hughie was much less active. With the disappearance of the candy and a few other similar events, Virginia and Margaret may have decided to blame Wee Hughie for a few of their own transgressions. A poltergeist may come in handy after all.
Copyright © James M. Deem. From an unpublished manuscript by James M Deem. All rights reserved.