Born on 24 May 1913, Eleanore Zugun was a Rumanian peasant girl who lived in the village of Talpa, in the north of the country. In February 1923, when she was eleven years old, she went to visit her grandmother’s house at Buhai, a few miles away from her village. On the way she found some money by the side of the road, and when she arrived at Buhai she spent it on sweets and ate them all.
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Zugun’s 105-year-old grandmother, who had the reputation of being a witch, overheard Eleonore and her cousin arguing about the sweets, and warned her that the devil (Dracu in Rumanian) had left the money to tempt her, and from then on she would never be free of him. The next day poltergeist activity apparently began.
Reports of Paranormal Activity
Stones crashed against the house and broke windows, and small objects near to Eleonore jumped up and flew about. Her superstitious grandmother was convinced that the girl was possessed by the Devil and Eleonore was quickly sent home to Tulpa.
But here, three days later, the poltergeist activity started again. A jug full of water rose slowly into the air and floated several feet without any water being spilled. A trunk shook violently up and down, a porridge bowl flew at a visitor and hit him on the back of the head causing a painful wound.
The paranormal phenomena apparently continued and Eleonore found refuge in the monastery of Gorovei. But after three weeks there, with the violence of the phenomena unabated, she was locked in a lunatic asylum.
Fortunately, newspaper accounts of her strange story reached eminent Austrian psychical researcher Fritz Grunweld in Charlottenburg, Germany, who, with the help of Kubi Klein, a journalist form Czernowitz, managed to get her sent back to the monastery where she could be properly observed.
Grunewald took detailed shorthand notes of the amazing phenomena which took place between the 9 and 18 of May, 1925. (These were edited and published after his death by Professor Christoph Schröder in the Zeitschrift für psychische Forschung, vol. I, 1927.)
The most common type of phenomenon were object -movements, ranging from the slow movement of a large pot on the oven, to the sometimes violent throwing of things at or close to people. Objects also appeared seemingly from nowhere (apports), and there were occasional knocks, and, once or twice, matches were mysteriously set alight. The poltergeist also began slapping the girl.
In July 1925, however, Grunewald died of a heart attack aged forty-one, and the unlucky Eleonore was once again left in the care of her apparently unconcerned family. Fortunately, later that year, she found another protector.
This was in the form of an attractive young Viennese woman – the Countess Zoë Wassiliko-Serecki, part Rumanian, who had been connected with psychical research for years, and also had an interest in psychoanalysis. When she visited Eleonore at the monastery of Gorovei in September 1925, she found an uncared for, dirty and very frightened girl.
While there, the Countess saw for her self the bizarre paranormal phenomena. She wrote a short book about Eleonore’s case, later published as Der Spuk von Talpo (Munich, 1926), and by January 1926 had managed, after complicated negotiations, to bring Eleanore to Vienna to live with her in her flat.
Here, Eleonore was happy and healthy and before long the Countess had her training as a hair-dresser. Though Eleonore was emotionally stable at this time and not in the psychological condition usually associated with poltergeist activity, the phenomena continued as before.
The Countess kept a diary of events and divided the phenomena produced by the girl into a number of main categories. The movement of objects and apports of a range of items from various rooms in the flat were common, and object-movements even
The Countess noticed what many other researchers into poltergeist activity had also observed – that it was very rare for objects that were moved to be actually seen in flight – they just appeared in the air without anyone seeing them leave their original place.
Usually they fell out of the air landing noisily, sometimes apparently having travelled through closed doors, or out of locked cupboards.
The Countess made some intriguing and relevant observations on this:
Most interesting were the very rare cases when the last part of the hypothetical line of flight of a moving object was to be observed. Once I entered my room and looked at the window. Eleanore was standing behind me. Suddenly I saw a shadow which glided down slowly in front of the window and not straight, but in a zigzag line… Then I heard a low sound of something falling. I looked and saw a little iron box filled with dominoes. The box was closed but some of the dominoes lay next to it on the floor… Another time I was sitting with Mr. Klein at the round table, while Eleonore stood with a cat in her arms at the book-stand. Mr. Klein unintentionally looked at the girl, and on this occasion noticed a dark grey shadow come from behind her, pass along her right side and fall under our table upon the cushions at our feet. It was a tin box which had before stood on the washstand on the other side of the room. I had always the impression that a returning object of the kind was only again submitted to the normal laws of the physical world when it was perfectly itself again… The foregoing shadow has nothing at all to do with the appearance of the object itself. I think that the impression which this moving riddle makes, is described best by the words: ‘Hole in the World’, which I used for it.
Then I heard a low sound of something falling. I looked and saw a little iron box filled with dominoes. The box was closed but some of the dominoes lay next to it on the floor…
Another time I was sitting with Mr. Klein at the round table, while Eleonore stood with a cat in her arms at the book-stand. Mr. Klein unintentionally looked at the girl, and on this occasion noticed a dark grey shadow come from behind her, pass along her right side and fall under our table upon the cushions at our feet.
It was a tin box which had before stood on the washstand on the other side of the room. I had always the impression that a returning object of the kind was only again submitted to the normal laws of the physical world when it was perfectly itself again…
The foregoing shadow has nothing at all to do with the appearance of the object itself. I think that the impression which this moving riddle makes, is described best by the words: ‘Hole in the World’, which I used for it.
More Unexplained Phenomena
Occasionally raps on furniture were also heard in Eleonore’s presence, and, very rarely, independent voices. Cherished possessions disappeared and were sometimes never seen again; or if they were returned, were broken or damaged.
But the most significant and persistent development at this time was the occurrence of what appeared to be physical assaults on Eleonore’s body, apparently by the malicious ‘Dracu’. Objects were allegedly hurled at Eleonore, she was slapped, forced to the ground, tossed out of bed, had her hair yanked out and her shoes filled with water.
As if this wasn’t enough, from late March 1926, things got even worse. The girl’s hands and fingers were constantly pricked as if by needles, and sometimes real needles were found embedded in her flesh.
Further Psychical Research
On 30 April 1926, Harry Price, the well known and controversial English psychical researcher, arrived in Vienna. He was much interested in thirteen-year-old Eleonore’s case and visited the Countess’s flat on three occasions.
While there he witnessed object-movements such as a steel letter-opener fly across the room, a small mirror float over the partition of a room, and a cushion move off a chair whilst he had both the Countess and Eleonore in view.
He also observed bite and scratch marks appear on Eleonore’s arm and chest, and a large black cloth dog appear from nowhere.
Price was impressed and convinced that some of the telekinetic phenomena (i.e. object-movements) he witnessed could not be explained by normal means. He decided to bring the Countess and Eleanore to London for study at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, an institution largely created and run by himself.
They arrived in London on 30 September 1926, and stayed until 14 October. Eleonore’s visit produced great interest in the British Press and large headlines, innumerable articles, photographs, and cartoons were dedicated to Harry Price’s new ‘discovery’.
The National Laboratory of Psychical Research
Eleonore spent many hours at the Laboratory sometimes alone and sometimes with the Countess. Physical lacerations in the form of bite and scratch marks occurred in ordinary daylight when Eleonore was under close observation and some of these ‘stigmatic’ markings were photographed by Price.
However, Price was more impressed by the object-movements which occurred in the vicinity of the young Rumanian girl. Though two possible attempts at cheating were noticed, psychic phenomena were convincingly demonstrated, and their authenticity was attested by various prominent observers.
Apparently the most amazing of these paranormal incidents was when a small metallic letter C, from the spare stock used for a notice board in the Laboratory, disappeared from a securely locked cupboard.
Eleven days later the letter was found by Professor Tillyard F.R.S. – in the strangest of places. It was fastened tightly around the metal rim of his pocket knife case, sealing it shut. Professor Tillyard had used the knife more than once that day and the metallic letter had not been there when he did.
Trickery was not possible as close control of Eleonore and the Countess was operated in the Laboratory at all times. This incident helped to convince many of the scientists and doctors invited by Price to observe the little Rumanian girl that they had witnessed authentic paranormal phenomena.
Price and the Laboratory Council concluded that with Eleanore they had indeed shown ‘that under scientific test conditions movements of small objects without physical contact undoubtedly took place’. In other words, that the girl had ‘psychic’ abilities.
Late in October Eleonore and the Countess left London for Berlin. After she returned from England Eleonore’s psychic/telekinetic ability began to fade, but the biting and scratching continued, with one important and unpleasant new element – the appearance on her skin of large amounts of saliva.
There are other cases of biting and scratching poltergeists and one – that which occurred in Bristol in 1761-2 – where foul-smelling spittle was found in some of the bite-wounds of the young female victims.
Samples of this spittle taken from Eleonore’s arm and face were analyzed and found to be full of micro-organisms, whereas that taken from Eleonore was relatively free of micro-organisms. Obviously the saliva was not Zugun’s.
To test whether the marks on Eleonore’s body were caused from outside of her body, a Dr Walther Kröner smeared her face and arms with greasepaint; on examination it was discovered that when scratches appeared, the greasepaint had been pushed aside – showing that they were externally created.
Testing Zugun’s Paranormal Abilities in Munich
In January 1927 Eleonore and the Countess left Berlin and spent a fortnight in Munich, as the guest of Baron von Schrenck-Notzing. A cine-film of the ‘friend of Dracu’, as she was dubbed, in action was made at one of the sittings there by the Emelka-Kultur-Gesellschaft (‘Eku’ company), a copy of which is held by the British Society for Psychical Research.
One of the things shown in the film is Eleonore’s arms being held by researchers whilst she cringes in apparent pain.; close-up shots show bite marks which had seemingly just appeared.
Dr. Hans Rosenbusch, a Munich doctor who had been present at two of the sittings, invited Eleonore and the Countess to give a sitting in his own home. Shortly afterwards, he announced that he had found Eleonore cheating with the help of the Countess, and declared the girl a fake.
Harry Price replied that, though the girl would probably cheat if allowed, all of his test experiments with her were tightly controlled and the Countess was not present at any of them, and still unexplained phenomena occurred.
Many prominent Viennese scientists and doctors also declared themselves convinced of the phenomena they had witnessed for six months in the presence of Eleonore. The Countess came to her own and Eleonore’s defence, saying that she told Rosenbusch that Eleonore would probably fake the phenomena if she could.
She sued Rosenbusch for libel, but the case was eventually dismissed on technical grounds. Though Rosenbusch’s case remains unproven, the fact that Zugun seems to have been discovered cheating must cast serious doubts on the genuineness of her ‘psychic’ abilities.
However, it must also be noted that Rosenbusch completely ignored unusual phenomena which occurred when no trace of fraud was detected, and that later analysis of the documentary film taken in Munich showed no indication of fraud.
The controversy became irrelevant when, in the early summer of 1927, around the time of her fourteenth birthday and the onset of menstruation, Eleonore’s phenomena ceased for good. When last heard of, in the 1930s, she was running a successful hairdressing business in Czernowitz, Rumania.
As far as explanations for the Eleonore Zugun case are concerned, the Countess Wassiliko-Serecki herself was convinced that Eleonore’s unconscious mind was responsible for the attacks.
Obviously influenced by Freud, she believed that Eleanore had strongly developed sexual urges, partly centered on her father, and the ‘attacks’ were a kind of self-punishment for these feelings.
Harry Price agreed and compared the bites and scratches to the ‘stigmata’ found on some religious people. Although Colin Wilson points out that carrying this form of self punishment on for two years, much of this spent in comfortable security with the Countess, would be unlikely, it has to remain a distinct possibilty.
The Origins of Eleonore’s Abilities
The threats of her grandmother and the peasants of her village regarding ‘Dracu’ and what he would do to her must certainly be born in mind when thinking of the subconscious origins of Eleonore’s poltergeist.
But even if this is taken as probable, where did the power come from to throw objects around and make them disappear in one room and re-appear in another? Or to generate scratch and bite marks that contained saliva that was not her own? Was this all a fraud?
An independent mischievous entity? Or some unsuspected and bizarre part of the human personality of which we know practically nothing?
Although no convincing explanation has ever been offered for the case of Eleonore Zugun, the fact that she was caught cheating in Munich is enough for sceptics to label her a fraud. Her involvement with the controversial psychic investigator Harry Price has also caused many researchers to have their doubts about the case.