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The Real Poltergeist | Ghost Story behind the 80’s Movie

In 1958, a man named James Hermann got a call from his wife. That simple phone call started a series of events around the family’s uninvited guest. Also known as, a poltergeist.

This experience in Long Island, New York, inspired the famous 1980’s movie. Propelling the term to infamous heights.

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The Movie

It’s one the most famous and spookiest movies of all time. Surrounding a random family. Focused on their adorably scared little daughter, Carol-Anne.

Poltergeist released in 1982. An American supernatural film directed by Tobe Hooper, and written by Steven Spielberg. Based on a family who lived inside a house with malicious spirits.

Warning: The following includes Spoilers… watch the movie!

Featuring some of the creepiest scenes of any horror. Playing off the imagery. The power of evil spirits attacking this innocent family.

Everyone remembers…

  • The Clown Doll.
  • Misty hands and figures coming out of the walls and television.
  • And who can forget skeletons in the pool (Were real!! READ THIS)

All leading up to the family giving up. Leaving their home.

This movie had many over-the-top moments which will never happen in truely haunted houses. However, the realism is there.

Made me think. Is it based on a true story? Guess what … it is!

“Theeeey’re Heeere…”, clip from 1982 movie

The Poltergeist Curse

Before diving into the story, I must mention the curse. Some hint … bad things happened to the cast and crew. Because the story was based on a true life experience.

After reading the story below, you’ll disagree.

Cursed Events?

  • Heather O’Rourke – Played little Carol Anne. Died from cardiac arrest only 5 years after the movie was release. At only 11 years old.
  • Dominique Dunne – Played older sister, Dana. She was murdered by her ex-boyfriend John Sweeney in the same year the movie was released.
  • Julian Beck – That’s the evil preacher from Poltergeist II. In 1985, he took his own life after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. Strangely, it happened one year before the movie was released.
  • Will Sampson – who played Taylor, the Native Shaman. Died during surgery in 1987. During filming, it’s rumored he performed a real exorcism. As a way to calm the tense cast and crew.

The Skeletons were Real

Another possible origin for the “curse”… real skeletons in the pool.

In an interview with assistant prop master Bruce Kasson. They asked him about the skeleton rumor.

And, he basically admitted the skeletons were real. Saying there were no good fake ones at the time.

Give it up for actress JoBeth Williams, who played the mom. Takes a Rockstar to go into a swimming pool with a bunch of real skeletons.

Or maybe in the end, the cursed events are coincidence.

At the least, even skeptics must agree… it’s all very strange!

The Real Ghost Story

It starts on February 3, 1958. With a man named James Hermann who lived in Long Island, New York. Yes, same region as Amityville.

James Hermann & his Family

Decades before Ronnie Defeo murdered his family, James got a telephone call at work from his wife, Lucille. She said their teenaged children, Jimmy and Lucy, heard popping noises around the house.

When James got home, his family got up the courage to explore. They found uncapped bottles in different rooms. One of them, from a small vial of Holy Water.

No information was given on the bottles. If I were to interview the family, my quesion, “Were the bottles already in the house?”

Since it wasn’t mentioned, my assumption is … yes they were.

Skeptics Can’t Deny

Hermann was a skeptic. Told his family to stay calm and not tell anyone about the caps.

Fear of gossip in the 1950’s. Long before today, when everything must be shared on social media. Back then, things were kept quiet from nosey neighbors.

Hermann said,

“Was probably some rebellious teenagers, not a poltergeist! Broke in and popped some bottle to scare us.”

A ridiculous thought. Rationality of a scared mind.

They’re Back

Then, five days later, the popping bottles returned! And again the next day. The whole time, Hermann told his family to stay silent.

Not long after, James witnessed the bottles. They moved in the bathroom.

While staring into the mirror, he saw movement. Looked down as a bottle slide along the countertop. Now he was scared too!

So, what did James do? Called the police! I really wish that 911 call was available for us to hear.

Popping for the Police

The officers arrived.

You’re may think, “Oh, it’s just like the mechanic. Minute you arrive, everything’s fine again!” Nope.

The bottles popped when the cops were inside the house. Led to a full investigation, with experts being brought in. Tests done to rule out radio transmissions and electric disturbances.

Didn’t work. This led to February 17th, 1958. When the priest arrived.

There’s a Leak

Someone leaked the event!

Maybe a cop or the priest. They shared the story with reporters.

Articles were written on the ghostly phenomenon. Including one in the popular Life Magazine, titled “House of Flying Objects“.

Life Magazine article from March 17, 1958

Fame didn’t embarrass the poltergeist. It motivated it. And the activity continued.

Enter Dr. Rhine

Then Dr. J.B. Rhine found out. The Director of Duke University’s Parapsychology Laboratory.

Yes, Duke had a Parapsychology Lab in the 1950’s. Anyone else shocked by this fact?

JB Rhine is on the right

My assumption for the lab, it was related to the popular spiritualist movements of the day. Ghosts were part of American life back then (almost as much as today).

Rhine approached the Hermann family with a new angle on the haunting.

He believed it was the teenage kids, Jimmy and Lucy.

A thought more common today. The chaotic energies of puberty and such. Rhine thought that energy was creating a poltergeist.

He brought colleagues in to study it. Along with family interviews and recorded accounts of the mysterious occurrence.

Just like in the movie! But the movie was ghost-based. Real life was people-based.

And No Climatic Ending

In real life, the arrival of experts was enough to stop the ghosts.

Makes sense when you think about it. The kids now subject to an investigation. Naturally they’d feel shame. Tension leading to the end of chaotic energies.

In the End

All in all, there were 70 reports of unusual activity from February 3rd to March 10th, 1958. Along with the first movie about 24 years after the event.

And a final parallel with real life … in the end the family moved away.

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