8:06 AM PDT, October 2, 2021
In 1938, a London woman named Alma Fielding reported that objects were mysteriously flying around her house and terrifying her family.
Her case attracted the attention of a paranormal researcher named Nandor Fodor, who decided to investigate what was happening to her.
The story of Alma, who may have been haunted by a poltergeist, is the subject of Kate Summerscale’s recent book, “The Haunting of Alma Fielding.” Kate spoke with Inside Edition Digital to tell Alma’s bizarre story.
Kate Summerscale says Alma’s story began one Friday night in February of 1938 while she and her husband, Les, were in bed in their South London home.
“She and Les apparently witnessed this bizarre poltergeist activity: objects flying across the room, like glass tumblers and light bulbs. When her 16-year-old son, Don, came to the door to see what was going on because of all the clatter and shrieking, things were thrown at them as well.”
“The whole family was very scared. When the events continued, the next morning in the kitchen, eggs flew around. So, Alma telephoned a Sunday newspaper that was running a series on the ‘super normal’ as it was then called, and invited the journalists to come and see for themselves what was going on in her house.”
Word of the haunting made its way to a man named Nandor Fodor. As Kate explains, he was a Hungarian Jewish refugee in London who worked with the International Society for Psychical Research.
“He believed in ghosts, but he hadn’t yet been able to categorically pin down the truth of them. He thought this sounded like a really plausible case. So, he hurried down to see if he could get any evidence for himself of these supernatural happenings.”
Kate says he went to meet Alma with a couple of colleagues. While there, they all independently saw different and weird things happen.
“So, they’d see wine glasses spring out of Alma’s hands and shatter in mid-air, or even hit the light fixture in the ceiling,” she said.
“They saw a saucer that had been used to feed the cat fly across the room when Alma’s back was turned, and there was absolutely no way she could have thrown it and shatter against the back door. A vase apparently transported independently from one room to another. So yes, they were very excited, as well as slightly chilled by what was happening there.”
Kate notes that they wanted to discover proof of the supernatural but didn’t want to be taken for fools.
“They were wise to a lot of the tricks that mediums and others deployed in impersonating supernatural events.”
“They were looking out for things like strings and wires, and misdirection, and sleight of hand, the tricks that the conjurers on the London stage were also using at the time.”
The researchers later invited Alma to come into the International Institute for Psychical Research in South Kensington to see if the poltergeist-like energy would follow her. And it did, Kate said.
“To their great delight and amazement, they did, but they took new forms.”
“When Alma paraded around the séance room in the presence and under observation from all the researchers, she apparently materialized from thin air small objects: pieces of jewelry, odd little items from her home seemed to have followed her and materialized, and increasingly sort of more ancient objects like little terracotta pots.”
Eventually, even live creatures like a mouse, a bird, and a terrapin materialized. But Kate explains that Fodor became increasingly suspicious because it all seemed too good, or too eerie, to be true.
“This went on for some time, many weeks,” she said. “Things got weirder and weirder in terms of the experiences she was reporting. Fodor saw a couple of moments at which he thought he saw her cheating. He saw what could have been trickery/slights of hand.”
Eventually, Fodor decided that to determine once and for all whether she was for real or not. He did this by half-tricking her into submitting to an X-ray on a portable machine in their offices.
And on the X-ray, he found evidence that she did have objects concealed in her body. Therefore, determining that at least some of the phenomena were fraudulent.
But Fodor thought there might be a psychological explanation for Alma’s experience, Kate noted.
“Fodor deciding under the influence of ideas he’d read from Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts, that what was really going on with Alma both in terms of her fraudulence and her genuine terror was that she was expressing repressed trauma and that a traumatic event had occurred in her childhood which she had forgotten and that was emerging in the form of these phenomena and this sort of acting out and storytelling,” she said.
“When the other members of the International Institute for Psychical Research got wind of his theories and where he was going with it, he started in effect conducting a kind of psychoanalysis on Alma,” she added. “They were very freaked out by this and thought it was very disrespectful of the spiritualist beliefs of many people in the institute, and also just dangerously sort of sexual and weird, and generally would discredit the institution.”
Eventually, Nandor Fodor was expelled as the chief researcher/ghost hunter from the institute. And the investigation into Alma was abruptly ended.
And that’s how Alma’s haunting story ended. But Kate adds that Fodor’s career didn’t end.
“After this, Fodor, to his delight, managed to get some endorsement for his theories from Freud himself who had turned up in London that year,” she said.
“Then Fodor left London, left England, and went and established himself in New York and forged a new career as a psychoanalyst.”
Fodor later died in 1964.
Alma Fielding eventually moved to the countryside, where she occasionally held seances. And she died in 1976.
And whether a poltergeist actually haunted her is not a question that’s easy for Kate to answer.
“A lot of supernatural experience was a way for these women in any case of expressing traumatic experience, expressing things for which there was no language at the time,” she stated.
“Alma, in particular, was almost like a performance artist. Her supernatural experience was telling something about her inner life that was not accommodated by the society in which she found herself, or the life she found herself living as an ordinary housewife in a working-class home in South London.”
“So, haunting is a form of self-expression, and of expression of stories through which a culture or society doesn’t yet have a language.”