Ubagabi—the ghost of an old woman that appears as fireball.
There’s an ancient Japanese legend of the one hundred yōkai—monsters, ghosts, apparitions and demons—who parade through the streets on hot summer nights. If anyone is unfortunate to see these creatures—or to be caught up in it—then they will perish away or worse be taken captive for the twisted pleasure.
If you’ve ever watched the enjoyable trilogy of movies Yokai Monsters—One Hundred Monsters (1968), Spook Warfare (1968), and Along With Ghosts (1969)—then you’ll have a good idea what these demons look like—ogres, goblins, ghosts, sprites, spooky umbrellas and dangerous women with ever-extending serpentine necks.
All of these incredible monsters have long been a part of Japanese folklore. They were first codified in the supernatural bestiary—Gazu Hyakki Yagyō (The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons) by artist and scholar Toriyama Sekien in 1776. It’s a kind of fabulously illustrated Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them but far, far more beautiful and eerie.
In 1881, artist Nabeta Gyokuei updated this incredible volume when he produced a picture book or e-hon of Sekien’s 100 demons. The Kaibutsu Ehon or Illustrated Book of Monsters features beautiful woodblock prints of each of the yōkai and its special powers.
The haunting began on a quiet summer’s evening, in August 1977, at the home of single-parent Peggy Hodgson and her four children in the north London borough of Enfield. The first sign that something strange had happened came around bedtime when shuffling and banging sounds were heard by Peggy’s two daughters Margaret (13) and Janet (11) in their bedroom. Peggy thought her children were acting up, and went upstairs to tell them to get to sleep. She entered the girls’ bedroom to see both of them were in their beds staring at the wardrobe and chest of drawers. When Peggy entered the room, the shuffling noise came from behind her. She turned to see a chest of drawers move away from the wall. Thinking it a joke, Peggy chastised the girls for playing tricks. Both Margaret and Janet said they had not done anything. Peggy pushed the drawers back against the wall. The shuffling sound came again, and the drawers moved away from the wall and quickly towards Peggy. This time she could not move them back. Banging was then heard on the wall and throughout the house. Peggy took the girls downstairs where the thumping and banging continued.
Terrified, Peggy took Margaret, Janet, Johnny (10) and Billy (7) to the home of her next door neighbors, Vic and Peggy Nottingham. Vic, a builder, decided to investigate and entered the house where he heard loud banging from different parts of the building, always moving, never in one place, as he later said:
“I went in there and I couldn’t make out these noises—there was a knocking on the wall, in the bedroom, on the ceiling. I was beginning to get a bit frightened.”
Unsure what to do, Peggy called the police thinking it was all a malicious hoax. However, during an interview with WPC Carolyn Heeps things began to get weird as a chair was witnessed by Heeps and the family levitating and moving across the room. Heeps gave a sworn affidavit confirming that “A large armchair moved, unassisted, 4 ft across the floor.” She checked the chair for possible wires or any devices that could have made it move. She found none. The police left stating the incident was not a police matter and were unable to do anything to help.
Where’s Scooby-Doo when you need him? The Hodgson children.
The banging and strange incidents continued. Peggy had hardly slept and was deeply worried for her children—but no one appeared to be offering any real help. She therefore called the Daily Mirror who sent a reporter and a photographer to the house in Enfield. They set up in the living room but, after waiting several hours, nothing happened. Then, as they decided to leave, chaos broke out: LEGO bricks and marbles flew unaided through the air and were hurled around the room. Photographer Graham Morris took pictures but when developed none showed clearly what he, his colleague and the family had witnessed.
Events escalated and concerned for the family, the Daily Mirror called the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) to investigate the case.
Maurice Grosse was an inventor and successful business who had recently joined the SPR. He had served as an engineer in the Royal Artillery during the war and had gone on to produce a variety of highly successful inventions—perhaps the most famous being his rotating advertising signs. A quiet, quizzical man with a very practical outlook, Grosse was sent by the SPR to investigate the claims. He was skeptical at first, but was soon convinced that the strange events at the house in Enfield were caused by a poltergeist focussed on eleven-year-old Janet Hodgson.
A ‘possessed’ Janet Hodgson with Maurice Grosse.
Over the next 18 months, Grosse together with writer and parapsychologist Guy Lyon Playfair witnessed nearly 2,000 different “paranormal” incidents—from flying objects, levitation, items spontaneously combusting, to the most chilling of all: Janet projecting a “demonic” voice of the ghost of deceased former tenant Bill Wilkins, who could “talk” through Janet for hours at a time.
Most skeptics claim the children were responsible for the paranormal activity in the house—a claim which is troubling in itself as its suggests on one level that the experiences of children are not valid, or at best not to be believed. Moreover, it does seem unlikely that Janet and Margaret were able to sustain the level of “poltergeist activity” and “possession” for over eighteen months—a feat most adults would have found difficult if not impossible. The cause of the events has never been satisfactorily explained.
Since 1977, the Enfield poltergeist has been the subject of much scrutiny—most being skeptical of events—though those who witnessed and experienced the strange paranormal activity claim the events were real, as Janet Hodgson said in the documentary Interview with a Poltergesit in 2007:
“I know from my own experience that it was real. It lived off me, off my energy. Call me mad or a prankster if you like. Those events did happen. The poltergeist was with me—and I feel in a sense that he always will be.”
This is an extremely well-made and balanced documentary about the events in Enfield called Interview with a Poltergeist, in which all of the main players were interviewed—Janet and Margaret Hodgson, Maurice Grosse, Guy Playfair as well as doctors, members of the SPR and the resident skeptic, who generalizes rather than rebuts the examples given.
The story has inspired various motion pictures, TV dramas and most recently SKY TV’s superb three-part series The Enfield Haunting with Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson and Matthew Macfadyen, which I do recommend, details here.