Friday, February 04, 2005

Satan in the Suburbs

At the moment I am writing a novel about people who are haunted by images from their own past. The novel is entitled London Cries; one of the main characters is a young photography student called Nina. In the book Nina is doing a photographic project on 'spooky' and 'mystical' places in London.

By way of research for Nina's character, yesterday afternoon I visited the house pictured above. At first I was surprised by the averageness of the building and its surroundings. But then I thought better of it. In fact I rather warmed to the idea of such an ordinary place having such an extraordinary and disturbing claim to fame.

The house you see above was once the most haunted house in England. Taken together, the events that happened here, thirty years ago, constitute the most remarkable and best-documented haunting in modern history.

The events started in August 1977, when the mother of the house, Mrs Harper, heard a commotion in the upstairs bedroom. She went to investigate, and found her daughter Janet (11 years old), and son Pete (ten years old), agitated but unharmed. Nothing else seemed amiss. However, over the following weeks the commotions intensified: the children regularly reported shaken beds, unexplained furniture movements, and loud raps on the wall. At first the mother remained skeptical: until she saw a heavy dresser move eighteen inches across the carpet by itself.

One night things got so bad, the Harper Family, dressed in their nightclothes, fled next door for help. The police were then called, and carefully searched the Harper home. During the search, one police officer saw a chair skitter across the floor, apparently without any human intervention.

The following months saw many manifestations, some of them witnessed by the various journalists and psychic researchers who visited the house. Chairs were thrown, objects hurled, electrical disturbances came and went. Special equipment set up for monitoring and recording the strange happenings malfunctioned. Tapes used by the news media to document the events were damaged or even erased. One of the journalists managed to take a photo of the daughter, Janet, apparently levitating.

Most sinister of all, this same girl, Janet, started speaking in a rough male voice. The voice claimed its name was ‘Bill’; Bill told the astonished journalists that he had lived and died in the Harper house.

Two years laters, the supposed hauntings came to an end when Janet was spotted faking 'evidence'. For some people, this was reason enough to dismiss the whole flap as a hoax. Others, however, asserted that these latter-day shenanigans meant nothing. So the attention of the world's media had seduced the kids into fakery? Quelle surprise. That didn't mean the earlier, weirder manifestations were bogus.

Who's right? Search me. Whatever the answer, the Enfield case remains an enigma, and a potentially disturbing one at that. The voice produced by the girl, in particular, is deeply chilling to this day. You can listen to it

here


Remarkably, the Harpers still live in Green Street, Enfield. In the same house. Indeed I am pretty sure it was the mother, Mrs Harper, who tweaked her net curtain to check me out yesterday afternoon, as I loitered in her drive. I was tempted to tell her that I was writing a novel about people sent mad by ghosts. But then I thought better of it.

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