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The Poltergeist of Turin

The city of Turin, Present day

The city of Turin, Present day

On the 16th of November, 1900, in Turin, Via Bava No. 6, in a little inn run by a man named Fumero, there began to be heard in the daytime, but to a greater extent at night, a series of strange noises. In seeking out the cause, it was found that full or empty wine bottles had been broken in the wine cellar. More frequently they would descend from their places and roll along the floor, heaping themselves against the closed door in such a way as to obstruct the entrance when it was opened. In the sleeping chamber on the upper floor (which communicated by a staircase with the servants’ room near the small public room of the inn) garments were twisted up and some of them transferred themselves downstairs into the room beneath. Two chairs in coming down were broken. Copper utensils, which had been hung upon the walls of the servants’ dining room, fell to the floor and slid over long reaches of the room, sometimes getting broken. A spectator put his hat on the bed of the upper chamber; it disappeared and was later found in the filth heap of the courtyard below.

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Careful examination failed to disclose any normal cause for these performances. No help could be got either from the police or the priest. Nay, when the latter was performing his office, a huge bottle full of wine was broken at his very feet. A vase of flowers that had been brought into the inn descended safely onto a table from the molding above the door where it had been placed. . . . Five or six times, even in the presence of the police, a little staircase ladder, which leaned against the wall at one side of the main room of the inn, was slowly lowered to the floor yet without hurting anyone. A gun went across the room and was found on the floor in the opposite corner. Two bottles came down from a high shelf with some force. They were not broken, but they bruised the elbow of a porter, giving him a slight black-and-blue spot.

The people kept crowding in to see, and the police during their investigations made the Fumero family understand that they suspected them of simulating, so that the poor creatures decided to suffer the annoyance in silence. They even gave out that it had ceased (after an imaginary visit from me) so as to escape at least the ridicule, if not the damage. I began attentively to study the case.

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I made a minute examination of the premises. The rooms were small. Two of them served the purpose of a wine shop, one was used for a servants’ eating room and was connected by a small stairway with a bed-chamber above. Lastly, there was a deep wine cellar, access to which was obtained by means of a long stairway and a passageway. The people informed me that they noticed that whenever anyone entered the cellar, the bottles began to be broken. I entered at first in the dark, and, sure enough, I heard the breaking of glasses and the rolling of bottles under my feet. I thereupon lit up the place. The bottles were massed together upon five shelves, one over the other. In the middle of the room was a rude table. I had six lighted candles placed upon this, on the supposition that the spiritistic phenomena would cease in bright light. On the contrary, I saw three empty bottles, which stood upright on the floor, spin along as if twirled by a finger and break to pieces near my table. To avoid a possible trick, I carefully examined, by the light of a large candle, and touched with my hand all the full bottles standing on the shelves and ascertained that there were no wires or strings that might explain the movements. After a few minutes two bottles, then four, and later others on the second and third shelves separated themselves from the rest and fell to the floor without any violent motion, but rather as if they had been lifted down by someone; and after this descent rather than fall, six burst upon the wet floor (already drenched with wine), and two remained intact. A quarter of an hour afterward three others from the last compartment fell and were broken upon the floor. Then I turned to leave the cellar. As I was on the point of going out, I heard the breaking of another bottle on the floor. When the door was shut, all again became quiet.

I came back on another day. They told me that the same phenomena occurred with decreasing frequency, adding that a little brass color grinder had sprung from one place to another in the servants’ room and striking against the opposite wall, jammed itself out of shape—as indeed I observed. Two or three chairs had bounced around with such violence that they were broken, without however hurting anyone standing by. A table was also broken.

I asked to see and examine all the people in the house. There was a tall waiter lad of thirteen, apparently normal; another, a headwaiter, also normal. The master of the house was a brave old soldier who from time to time threatened the spirits with his gun. Judging from his flushed face and humorous state, I judged him to be somewhat under the influence of alcohol. The mistress of the inn was a little woman of some fifty years, lean and very slender. From infancy up, she had been subject to tremors, neuralgia, and nocturnal hallucinations, and had had an operation for hysteron-ovariotomy. For all these reasons I counseled the husband to have her leave the premises for three days. She went to Nole, her native town, on the 25th of November and there suffered from hallucinations—voices heard at night, movements, persons that no one else saw or heard. But she did not cause any annoying movements of objects. During these three days, nothing happened at the inn. But as soon as she got back, the performances began again at first furiously, but afterward more mildly. The occurrences were always the same—utensils, chairs, bottles, broken or displaced. Seeing this, I again counseled that the wife absent herself anew, and she did so on November 26.

On the day the woman left (she was in a state of great excitement and had cursed the alleged spirits), all the dishes and bottles that had been placed on the table were broken and fell to the floor. If the family was going to dine, the table had to be prepared in another place and by another woman, because no dish touched by the mistress remained intact. Hence one naturally suspected that she had mediumistic powers, or would have done so had it not been that during her absence the phenomena were repeated in just the same way. That is to say (to be specific), a pair of shoes of hers that was in the bed-chamber, on the dressing cloth, came downstairs in broad daylight (half-past eight in the morning), traversed the servants’ room through the air, passed into the common room of the inn, and there fell down at the feet of two customers who were seated at a table. This was on November 27. The shoes were replaced on the dressing cloth and continually watched but did not move until noon of the next day; and at that hour, when all were at dinner, they disappeared entirely. A week afterward they were found, with heels to the floor, under the bed of the same chamber. . . .

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When it was seen that the phenomena continued just the same, the woman was recalled from Nole, and they were repeated with the same continuity as before. A bottle of effervescent liquor, for example, in the inn, in full daylight, in the sight of everybody, slowly, as if accompanied by a human hand, passed over a distance of twelve or fifteen feet, as far as the servants’ room, the door of which was open, and then fell to the floor and was broken.

After all this, it occurred to the host to dismiss the younger of his two waiters. When he left (December 7), all the phenomena ceased. This of course makes one surmise that the motive force emanated from him. Yet he was not a hysteric and was the cause of no spiritistic occurrences in his new home, or that we can accept that the hysterical woman, even when she was in Nole, could influence the objects in her Turin home, as we shall see has happened elsewhere.

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