Owing to the noise that has been made recently about certain ” haunted houses” in England, France and elsewhere, I have been asked to state my views on this subject. I certainly have no intention of building up theories on a subject so obscure and even so controversial; but I have no difficulty in recalling, for the benefit of the readers of the Annals Of Psychical Science, the principal occasions I have had to concern myself personally with spontaneous phenomena of this description.
I will begin by speaking of a ” hantise ” which I was not able to examine actually de visu, but as to which I made a personal inquiry which gave most interesting results.
I had heard it said, in 1892, that strange phenomena took place in the house, No. 7, Via Pescatori, at Turin. I went there in December with my daughter Gina. Having been roundly snubbed by the indignant concierge, we found ourselves obliged to lay a regular siege to the premises, until two neighbours were good enough to inform me that the events in question had really taken place in that house, but some years previously, and in the portion occupied by the Pavarino family, who had since removed and now lived at No. 12, Via Napione.
We went there and found a modest family of working people. According to my invariable custom, I began by studying the people themselves among whom the events had taken place. M. Pavarino was a healthy man, but of a singular character; his wife, on the other hand, was hystero-epileptic and anaemic; she frequented the so-called healers; her father had died of phthisis* contracted during the war ; her mother suffered from scrofula.** She had a sister who was a ” medium,” who could make tables dance, and who had four children with superfluous fingers. Mme. Pavarino had at that time a daughter aged 21, who was rickety***, sickly, neurasthenic****, and who frequently produced the spontaneous movement of objects ; another daughter 10 years old, and two sons, one 14 and the other 8, all healthy. She gave the following account of her experiences:
” On the night of September 5th, 1882, towards midnight, when M. Pavarino had only just returned home, and while I was working at the table with my eldest daughter, we suddenly heard a noise as of a basin of water being overturned ; we looked, but saw nothing at all. Supposing that it was a hallucination we attached no importance to it, although we heard some other noises as of objects being displaced ; and there it stopped.
” On the following morning the bell of the entrance door and those of the rooms began to ring. As the children were much alarmed by it I went to the landlord ; an architect and a builder were called in, they examined the bells, moved them, filled them with lime and tow, but in vain; even after the wire was detached the bell thus isolated continued to ring. We heard also continual groans in the house, day and night. My husband and the two boys saw shadows at night; the two girls and I did not see them, but we slept in another room.
” My younger daughter, now married to M. Ottolenghi, slept in the same bed as her elder sister ; she was aroused during the night by blows struck upon her as though by a stick, and pinchings which left bruises all over her body, her bed-coverings were continually removed. My eldest daughter, who afterwards married M. Revelli, Registrar at Mondovi, felt nothing, and did not even wake when she was called by the other members of the alarmed family.
” In the other room, one night, my husband and the two boys heard groans, and a great noise as of swords clashing together; M. Pavarino saw shadows and moving lights; he was so alarmed by them that he did not want to come home to sleep. My sons only heard groans.
” During the day articles were incessantly moved. One day, while I was in the kitchen, a plate left the dresser and came on to the table, after which it returned to its place. A bersagliere’s***** hat, which had been given to my younger son, jumped about continually; one of our neighbours, a quartermaster in the army named Giolitti (at present employed at the Foundling Hospital), tried several times to nail the hat to the wall, but in vain, for the hat immediately followed him about the room.
” The concierge came into our apartment one day; she had scarcely reached the threshold when we all heard the well-known sound of water upset; the good woman cried out; she was soaked through without having seen the water.
” One evening I was in the street in front of the house ; I had sent my little girl to fetch something from our apartment: she came back quite frightened, saying that there were robbers, that she had heard them moving about, and had seen candles going to and fro. Two soldiers, who were present, went to our rooms, and actually saw little flames flitting about without being carried by any hand ; they withdrew, terrified.
” Another day, my eldest son’s master came to see us. All was quiet, but about ten o’clock, when he was on the point of leaving us, we suddenly saw the door of the cupboard, in which we kept the shoes, open; the shoes came out in regular order and paraded in front of the visitor.
” All these phenomena lasted, in their full intensity, for about eight months. For five years more we sometimes heard the bell ring, and groans; the coverlets of the beds were still removed from time to time. After my eldest girl left us, the one who is married at Mondovi, we heard nothing more; even at Mondovi no phenomena have occurred.”
I naturally tried to collect testimony as to these events, and obtained the following :
Declaration by M. Giolitti.
” In September, 1882, I lived in the same house as M. Pavarino, who was billiard-marker in a cafe”, and cameÂ home late at nightâ€”towards one o’clock. I myself came in habitually about 10.30 p.m. But one night, having returned at half-past eleven, I was met by the Pavarino family, who seemed glad to see me. Suddenly I heard the bell of the entrance door ringing violently several times, until it came off and fell to the ground.
” One of the rooms in the apartment communicated on one side with the kitchen and on the other, by a corridor, with Mme. P.’s bedroom. It was the room in which the two boys slept; above the bed was a small board fixed to the wall, on which had been placed a bersagliere’s hat and some shoes. The hat fell to the ground while I was with Mme. P., the eldest daughter, the two boys, and the concierge, in Mme. P.’s bedroom : we went and replaced the hat on the shelf, but we had scarcely returned to the next room before it fell again, not under the board, but some paces away. Twenty times did we put the hat back in its place, and twenty times it fell down again; at last I nailed it to the board, and in spite of this we had scarcely returned to the adjoining room when we heard it fall to the ground again. We then left it lying, but now it was the turn of the shoes to fall. The hat, however, did not go out of the boys’ room. The phenomenon also occurred when there was a lighted candle in the room, but less frequently.
” This went on until half-past two in the morning; I went home at last, very tired, having to rise early. I noted the phenomena after they had occurred, but I did not see them at the moment of happening. At one time I placed myself near the door of the children’s room, with the intention of entering quickly and catching anyone who caused the hat to fall: once, on thus entering suddenly, I saw falling to the ground as much water as a table-glass would hold ; there was no tap in that room.
” I felt absolutely no fear; on the contrary, I amused myself with witnessing these phenomena; only I thought that they were probably due, not to spirits, but to some joker or ill-intentioned person, skilled in conjuring tricks, and well acquainted with the apartment. But I could not explain how a person could proceed in order to produce them.”
Albert Giolitti. May itfh, 1896.
Declaration of M. Pavarino, Junr.
” The events lasted for two months, beginning in September, 1882. I remember that while I was putting a watch right, I found that it was no longer in my hands; 1 afterwards found it in another corner of the house. The bersagliere’s hat, which moved about incessantly, described a course like this, A : that is to say, before falling it rose over a curtain and fell on the other side.
” One evening my father decided to watch in the chamber ; he went into it with a revolver and a small lamp. He had scarcely entered when the lamp went out, and he heard a noise of swords clashing together, then of a falling body, but saw nothing ; he began to call out and threaten, but the noises continued. Finally he went to bed, at the same time as my mother; but all night long they heard a noise as of a great dinner, an orgie; my sister, too, in the other bedroom, could not sleep on account of the noise of the imaginary banquet.
” The bells of the apartment continued to ring for two months in succession. We tried removing the wires, and putting tow in them ; we fetched an architect, but all in vain, and the ringing did not cease until the bell was removed.
” My younger sister, while passing through that chamber one evening about 8 o’clock, was seized by the hair, raised a foot or more from the ground, then let fall again when the rest of the family came in.
” Another evening, while several persons were watching the performances of the bersagliere’s hat, they saw three pairs of shoes, which had been hidden behind a screen so that they should not be disturbed like other articles, come out and move about in the room, after which they returned to their original place.
” As to the bell, the gentleman who came to our rooms to investigate matters, and to try to find out the cause, is the present owner of the house, M. Petiti, architect. He searched all over, but found nothing; as the neighbours advised him to break through the walls at a certain place, he sent for a mason and told him to break through the wall
* The disagreement between the various witnesses as to the duration of the phenomena is probably more apparent than real. It has been seen from Mme. Pavarino’s declaration that these strange occurrences only ceased by degrees ; the disagreement, therefore, relates only to the length of time during which the phenomena continued at their height, which is mainly a matter of personal opinion.â€”C. L. and see if there was anything there. The man, while at work, heard such a noise that he was frightened and left, refusing to continue his work.
” Another evening we heard heavy blows of a stick struck on the bed, but without the persons who were lying in it feeling any pain.”
(Signed) Pavarino, Surgeon-Dentist.
Declaration of M. and Mme. Lossa.
” About September, 1882, our curiosity having been aroused by the tales we heard every day from M. Pavarmo, as to extraordinary events taking place at his house, in the Via Pescatori, we went there with him, accompanied by our daughter, aged seven, and by a shop-boy of ours ; we were rather inclined to doubt the truth of these events.
” We had been for about an hour at the Pavarino’s, who were telling us what had happened during the last few days, when we heard a sharp peal at the bell; we went to the door but found no one there ; meanwhile the bell continued to ring full peal.
” We had not long returned to the apartment, when we saw two shoes, which had been placed on a board in the children’s room, fall violently to the ground ; immediately afterwards, a bersagliere’s hat, which was on the same board, fell in its turn. We noticed that the shoes and hat, in falling, did not follow the natural course of a body left to itself, but described a curve, so that they left the chamber by an adjoining door and entered the passage. We examined the board carefully, but saw nothing which would have produced the falls in the manner described. Before leaving, we heard the lamentations of the concierge, who had been sprinkled with water while passing through the corridor of the Pavarino’s apartment.
” Some months later we heard from young Pavarino that these events had completely ceased.”
Turin, Giuseppe Lossa.
May 6th, 1896. Maddalena Lossa.
*Phithis: Pulmonary tuberculosis
**Scrofula: A form of tuberculosis characterized by swelling and gradual degeneration of the lymphatic glands. Commonly called “King’s Evil.”
***Rickety: Refers to the disease “rickets,” characterized by softness and gradual degeneration and deformation of the bones, the result of chronic vitamin D deficiency which in turn inhibits the absorption of calcium.
****Neurasthenic: Suffering from a nervous breakdown.
*****Bersagliere: A soldier in the Italian army from a corps created in 1836.