Eleonore Zugun (1913-1998) focus of aggressive poltergeist activity 1925-27
THE ROMANIAN POLTERGEIST GIRL
It is some 90 years since Eleonore Zugun, a young teenager from Romania, became the most closely observed, investigated and tested poltergeist girl of the 20th century. The disturbing poltergeist phenomena which pursued her across Europe makes the case one of the most remarkable and well-attested on record. It is also the first poltergeist cases in which Freudian psychoanalysis came to be applied to the girl at the centre. American researcher D. Scott Rogo considered that the idea of “a sexual base for the poltergeist…was only suggested by the Zugun case”. Thus, it played a part in cementing the link between adolescence and poltergeist activity which is a standard connection made today.
The case began in 1925 when violent poltergeist activity broke out around the then 11-year old Eleonore Zugun after an argument with her grandmother during a visit. Her grandmother’s home was reportedly struck by a rain of stones, breaking windows. Inside small objects began flying around Eleonore. She was packed off back to her parental home in Talpa quickly the day after. On arriving home, the manifestations continued, terrifying her father and step-mother. Fearing that evil forces were at work, Eleonore was brought before the local priest, a Father Macarescu who soon witnessed manifestations for himself and by a young man. A jug full of water rose in the air and a heavy trunk rocked up and down soon after Eleonore had sat on it. The next evening a trunk was seen to move itself by Nicolai Ostafi. Soon after a board for mixing porridge rose up and struck Ostafi on the head, inflicting a wound. An exorcism failed to quell manifestations and Eleonore was sent to the small 18th century monastery at Govorei for prayers. The phenomena continued unabated. She was then moved to a mental asylum for adults, apparently after press coverage about the phenomena and concerns about her treatment.
The press coverage came to the attention of the German papers leading to a visit from a German psychical researcher Fritz Grunewald of Berlin. He travelled to Talpa and located Eleonore and could find no abnormality in her. He intended to pursue the case but unfortunately, Grunewald died suddenly from a heart attack when making a brief return to Berlin. Fortunately, Eleonore’s case was taken up by a remarkable young Austrian aristocrat Countess Zoe Wassilko-Serecki (1897-1966) who spoke Romanian.
The Countess duly re-traced the path of the deceased Herr Grunwald back to Talpa in September 1925, funded by the most influential figure in German psychical research Baron Schrenck-Notzing. She succeeded in contacting Eleonore and her family again and decided to take Eleonore to Austria. After paying money to Eleonore’s father and step-mother to take Eleonore into her care, the Countess was duly granted permission to take the girl out of the family peasant environment and taking her back with her to Vienna for investigation. It was not rushed – Eleonore eventually reached Vienna on 29 January 1926. The Countess at once moved Eleonore into her flat, allowing her to live there for months under close observation by the Countess and psychical researchers.
THE PHENOMENA CONTINUE
Often the separation of the adolescent poltergeist focus from the domestic environment seems to bring an end to the phenomena. However, this did not occur. Eleonore’s arrival in Vienna was soon marked with further poltergeist activity. The first incident was the fall of a silver spoon reported by a maid; it seems from her log of phenomena, the Countess initially had doubts about how it was occasioned, showing she was not minded to be duped by the young Eleonore.
More upsetting for the household was the displacement of an ink pot, thrown across the room sprinkling and smearing many items with the contents. Following this all the ink was locked away and Eleonore’s movements were restricted to certain parts of the flat. Water mysteriously filled Eleonore’s boots. Realising that the phenomena usually occurred in the same room or one room away from Eleonore and realising that damage to valuables in the flat would follow if Eleonore was in range, the Countess responded by restricting her movements Consequently the drawing room and dining room and some bedrooms were put out of bounds. This left Eleonore with the hallway and the domestic quarters of the servants, where she was, as given the same freedom to roam about the place as any other member of domestic staff
The poltergeist phenomena followed Eleonore to Vienna were divided into two stages, object movements and which shifted to and marks appearing on her skin six months later. Both categories of manifestation were blamed upon an entity Eleonore called ‘Dracu’ the Romanian word for devil.
The result was one of the closest and lengthiest studies of an adolescent girl at the centre of a poltergeist outbreak; at one stage the Countess attempted a psychoanalytic assessment of Eleonore.
Of course, the name ‘Dracu’ immediately brings to mind the novel Dracula and Bram Stoker’s immortal vampire count. Today a teenage girl who talks of a vampiric entity biting her might be presumed to have become obsessed with romantic and erotic images of vampires in novels, in the cinema and TV. This was not the case with Eleonore since in 1926 the largely cinema-driven cult of the immortal vampire count had not emerged as a social phenomenon– Bela Lugosi had yet to bite anyone on stage or screen. But Eleonore’s ‘Dracu’ did share one unpleasant feature associated with the fictional vampire– he wanted to bite a younger female – with Eleonore his only chosen victim. Bite marks, punctures and abrasions began to appear on her skin and were photographed.
Much was recorded by Countess Wassilko including the following:
Raps on furniture
‘Apports’ of toys and other objects dropping from the air in various
rooms in the flat
Object movements, including items of furniture
Automatic writing produced by Eleonore
Disappearance and reappearance of objects, sometimes for weeks
On one occasion a strange voice
Sudden displacement of pins and needles found in Eleonore’s hands and arms.
Objects were moved and seemed to materialise and dematerialise. Locked doors seemed no hindrance to their transportation. These included three valuable chess pieces from a set owned by the Countess’s father; they re-appeared after three days seemingly falling from the air.
The Countess recorded each and every phenomenon, firstly in her hand-written logbooks, vol. I – III, totalling 141 pages which she later turn into a book. In the flat rotas of visitors to the flat taking turns in keeping the log established by the Countess. A total in excess of three thousand phenomena which nearly nine hundred are very well documented. The Countess recorded 67 incidents in one day, and 1050 in three months, whilst Eleonore was in Vienna.
Harry Price who considered the Zugun phenomena genuine
The British researcher Harry Price (1881-1948) believed he witnessed both the dermal phenomena and object movements on his visit to the Countess’s flat, in Vienna, being present when a mirror was mysteriously transported along with the repeated disturbance of books in the flat of the Countess.
Harry Price is a controversial character, a researcher who has been both championed and vilified in the seventy years since his death. Probably the truth about him lies in between; writer Robert Aickman who knew him for thirty years stated he was neither as good nor as bad as people made out. But it is interesting that his later critics made scarcely any attack on his involvement in the Eleonore Zugun case; the Countess herself lived until 1966 and there were too many other distinguished witnesses who were involved to single out Price in this case. To sustain the fraud theory would require evidence of an international conspiracy of researchers, observers and scientists, many of whom must also have been in league with Countess Wassilko.
The movement of objects gradually shifted almost wholly to the ‘dermal phenomena’ i.e. scratches and bites on her skin and spitting, thus there have been two clearly distinct phases. Eleonore’s body suffered marks, scratches and apparent bites which appeared on her skin which were attributed to attacks by the invisible ‘Dracu’. The bite marks did not correspond to Eleonore’s own teeth; whoever was responsible for the bites, it was not Eleonore inflicting them.
Some of the punctures left impressions like teeth in Eleonore’s skin which was smeared with what appeared to be saliva. On October 25th 1926 Eleonore was examined by a number of doctors in Berlin and a zoologist who tested the ‘saliva’ appearing around bites. The substance was found to be teeming with micro-organisms, different to those found in the mouth of Eleonore, though there was some doubt as to whether it was spittle at all. Swarming in the white substance were staphylococci bacteria, linked with a variety of infections.
Cases of poltergeist scratches and abrasions are recorded historically but exceedingly scattered in the literature of the poltergeist. For example, in September 1910 a case was recorded of a biting/pinching/ rapping poltergeist at Turffontein, South Africa which moved objects and left “nail marks” on the arm of a 16 year-old girl, while an earlier one occurred at the Lamb Inn, Bristol, England in 1761-62, although details of the latter did not become known until 1970 with the re-issue of the obscure 18th century pamphlet.
In the autumn of 1926, the Countess embarked with Eleonore upon a ‘tour’ of some five months’ duration, visiting the leading psychical researchers of that time, covering London, Berlin, Nuremberg, and Munich, during which time records.
Harry Price tested Eleonore, along with a number of interested scientists and observers on her arrival in London, receiving a great deal of publicity. Eleonore was subject to study at the National Laboratory for Psychical Research, leading to an extensive report and much coverage in the British press.
Aside from the punctures there were also stigmatic marks and weals appearing on Eleonore’s breasts arms and wrists. Psychosomatic marks and lesions have been noted in the case of hysterical patients and stigmatics, but the marks and abrasions on Eleonore gave the impression on being physically inflicted by an external force. However, it appears from later examinations that Eleonore had an exceedingly responsive skin. In its later stages she was accused of manufacturing incidents, a later stage but the issue was complicated by Eleonore seeking to provoke attacks by harming herself, in order that the phenomenon could be recorded on film. it was also induced by her striking herself, suggesting that she was finding an internal way of controlling both her feelings and the phenomena.
Eleonore Zugun was one of the most closely tested poltergeist subjects on record, being filmed here with Countess Wassilko
In any other context, such marks or injuries would be classed as evidence of self-harm or abuse. Eleonore was accused of faking her injuries (perhaps with assistance from the Countess) but the critics could prove nothing. Numerous individuals in different places were able to witness the phenomena and virtually all observers over the period 1925-27 were satisfied that the majority of marks were not deliberately inflicted injuries suggesting at the very least a psychosomatic origin, a subconscious reaction within the body. Simple fraud – deliberate or unconscious – fails to explain the totality of incidents.
Throughout all of this Eleonore seemed to retain a certain childlike quality, Although moody on occasion, she seems to have been a simple and rather pleasant child. The undeveloped nature of Eleonore’s personality was shown in that many of the apports were toys (‘she was more like a child of eight than a child of 13’ observed Price). Eleonore gave the appearance of loving the Countess very much, though this may have been the attachment of a child who had never known much love or attention hitherto. She did not seem to display altered states of consciousness that often seem to arise in poltergeist cases, and the mystery of what lay behind the physical symptoms remained.
At the end of the tour in 1927 a record of Eleonore’s dermographic phenomena was made on 36mm film. The Countess wanted the movie to be shown only in connection with her introductory text and only to very “selected” audiences. Giving Eleonore’s age as 14 rather than 13 years, it is silent and shows sessions with her conducted by three experimenters, one female and two male in which abrasions of the skin apparently emerge. Altogether, it is a disturbing film.
The phenomena waned after Eleonore reached puberty and began to menstruate, ceasing entirely soon after. With the cassation of the phenomena, the Countess funded Eleonore to train as a hairdresser and she eventually moved back to Romania. Harry Price traced her in 1945 by which time she had married and in the 1960s she visited Vienna again, a guest of Austrian parapsychologists where she again met with Countess Wassilko. There had been no recurrence of the phenomena. Eleonore died in Romania in 1998.
The Lancet March 5 1927.
Mulacz,Peter see http://zugun.parapsychologie.info/ (in German)
Price, Harry (1945) Poltergeist Over England. London. Country Life.
Price, Harry, ‘Poltergeist Phenomena of Eleonore Zugun 1926 Journal of the American SPR p 459
Wassilko-Serecki (1926) Der Spuk Von Talpa ( ‘The Spook from Talpa’).
Two Worlds 23;1911 437-438 9.9.10;
Wilson, Colin (1981) Poltergeist! London. New English Library.