Saturday, December 13, 2014

Poltergeist: Fire Spook, Part ll

In Part l of this post I recount a terrifying haunting that drove a farm family--the MacDonalds-- from their home in Nova Scotia.

Multiple fires had started in their farmhouse and there was strange activity that centered upon the MacDonald’s livestock.

This case garnered so much attention in 1922 around the world that many people who only knew the “sensational story” from newspapers accounts began to put forth theories. 

Many stated it was obviously not a haunting but just “pranks” that had been committed on this farm.

This prank theory doesn’t take into account the fact that the MacDonald livestock always escaped within seconds of the farmer securing them. Or that many of the fires started when no one was in the farmhouse.

An Odd Investigation

Dr. Walter Prince
As mentioned in Part l a famous scientist, Dr. Walter Prince--on invitation-- traveled to Caledonia Mills to investigate this case.

Before he arrived he had already made up his mind--he believed the activity was a poltergeist that was attached to the MacDonald’s 15-year old foster daughter, Mary Ellen.

A journalist, Harold Whidden who had initially brought the case to the world’s attention accompanied Prince during part of his investigation, which lasted 3 weeks from late February to mid March. He spent six of these days at the farm.

Whidden noted that Prince went about his investigation in odd ways. He seemed more concerned about the cold than the haunting.

He spent the first day he arrived in arranging a comfortable room for himself. He demanded privacy. He insisted that no one could stay at the farm with him during his investigation without an invitation including the MacDonald family--which left a sour impression.

He did invite the MacDonald family at one point hoping they would trigger the activity. He also included Whiddon who while in the farmhouse felt the same sensation he had during his own investigation with Detective Carroll.

At one point Dr. Prince, Dan Gillivray-- a neighbor of the MacDonalds and the three MacDonald’s all witnessed Whidden walk across the room appearing to be in a trance.

He demanded a pencil and scribbled on bits of paper for over 2 hours.

He seemed to be possessed by the poltergeist that wrote a confession he had set the fires. Right after, Prince agreed with this conclusion.

Surprise Findings

In the cases he investigated Dr. Prince’s findings were considered the “final word.”

Before the investigation he had proclaimed the activity was a poltergeist but his findings, which the public had greatly anticipated, were a complete turn about.

He denied seeing Whidden do the automatic writing. 

He reported that a human hand had set the fires. He stated he had found wads of cotton soaked with an odorless flammable liquid had been positioned about 5 feet high--the same height as Mary Ellen--or thrown higher.

So he accused Mary Ellen of being the culprit. He tempered his report by stating that she was probably possessed or sleepwalking when these fires were set--so she was most likely unaware of her actions.

As for Whidden’s and Carroll’s previous experiences in the house he stated they were extremely cold and probably just hallucinating.

He never directly addressed the strange phenomenon with the cattle and horses.

A Rebuttal

After Prince’s report came out Mary Ellen became the villain of the piece in the public’s eyes. They now saw her as an arsonist.

Whidden had always gotten his information from the neighbor's the McGillivrays-- but now the MacDonald’s understandably upset, broke their silence for the first time.

In a statement, Mary Ellen defended herself passionately. She accused Dr. Prince of “fibbing.” She stated:

“I have never set fires. I have never untied the cattle in the barns. I never plaited the tails of the horses. I would have been afraid to. First they claimed I had a boyfriend--a sweetheart--who did it now they say I did it. I tell you I don’t care who Dr. Prince is. He ought to be ashamed of himself.”

Shortly after this interview Dr. Prince labeled it just another fake, stating the Mary Ellen he’d met would not have been able to make this statement for she had “the mind of a four year old.”

Dr. Prince had too much clout. Public sentiment from around the world took his side.

No one thought to check with the Caledonia Mills residents who knew Mary Ellen. She was a teen of normal intelligence that was known to have a bright smile and a happy disposition.

Tragic Outcome

Newspapers now dubbed the teenage girl, Mary Ellen Fire Spook.

The MacDonald family moved back to the farm just months afterward. All was calm through the summer but by the following October the fires started as suddenly and incomprehensibly as before.

Word spread quickly the Fire Spook was back. There was no sympathy for the family this time. Police officers that were not local, showed up at the farm. They had come for Mary Ellen.

Alex and Janet desperately fought to keep their foster daughter. Janet had to be pulled forcibly away from holding Mary Ellen.

The authorities had “sectioned” their daughter without a by-your-leave.

She was placed in the Nova Scotia Home for the Insane located in Dartmouth where the 16-year old was kept in solitary confinement for a long time.

She was considered too dangerous to be placed with the other inmates. She might set fire to something.

Mary Ellen at asylum.
Within days of her arrival Superintendent Lawler of the asylum was giving statements to the New York press. He stated she was a “common variety of the moron family and not particularly interesting…an arsonist with the mind of a child.”

After this the fires stopped which gave more credence to Dr. Prince’s version.

Mary Ellen spent the rest of her life in this asylum.

In Poltergeist: Fire Spook,Part I-- I share more details about this haunting and the Whidden and Carroll investigation.

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