The Potato Pinching Poltergeist on Old Town Hill

I thought I’d begin 2019 with a poltergeist story from 1874, which took place on Old Town Hill, in Cookstown, the home of the sausage, and was reported in the Irish Times of 18 November 1874. [1] While many will dismiss the story based on how one of Mr Allen’s sons spent his free time, I love it for its range of poltergeist phenomena - from hovering hats to stolen spuds.
Cookstown has lately been singled out for the attention of a visitor whose freaks and doings have caused no little wonderment and curiosity. Were the time a little further advanced the narrative of the manifestations which have so completely upset the ordinary tranquillity of this community might be embodied in a fairly exciting Christmas story. 
Vincent van Gogh's 'Basket of Potatoes'
The haunted house is situated on Old Town Hill, and is occupied by a Mr. Allen, who carries on a respectable business as a grocer. The manifestations of something unusual, and untoward, first became noticeable some eighteen months ago. The phenomena were then mainly confined to breaking the windows. It may be thought there was nothing very extraordinary nor ghostlike in such a procedure; but there was. When several panes were broken, and the how and means escaped attention, a strict watch was put upon the windows, but all was useless: the cause was still undiscoverable. 
Sometimes stones were used as the media, but by whom or what nobody could see; and more frequently again the glass broke, apparently of its own accord. Even the frames began at last to get abused, more especially at the rere of the house, and the strictest and most constant guard could make nothing of it. 
The house, by the way, is a small two-storey building, with three windows behind, and the ordinary shop and front windows before. The yard is small, and surrounded by a wall ten feet high, from whence extend the open fields. 
All the glass at the back of the premises having been repeatedly broken and every effort at protection avoided, one of the windows was barricaded with a shutter, to which was affixed a bell in such a position that if the shutter were removed the bell must ring. Men were also placed at each window with loaded guns, so that it was impossible for any individual to approach without being at once observed and in their power. Notwithstanding this, the shutter was taken down, the bell simply noting the fact when it was accomplished, and that in such a gentle tinkling monotone as to be almost unheard. 
In the front of the premises glass was broken with the same security and freedom from observation. 
Fear now commenced to grow into serious alarm, which in no way decreased, as other incidents, equally, if not more, bewildering in their character, became of daily occurrence. 
Bowls took a fancy to rotate, with various degrees of swiftness, upon the tables, and then, as if smitten with the same idea of self-martyrdom, shot off at a tangent, ending sharply and forever their symmetrical usefulness upon the floor. 
Coats, which formerly hung with all staidness and propriety upon their respective pins, now shivered and fluttered, as if seized with an ague, and again expanded in all their proportions, as if each were enveloping an invisible Falstaff or an aspiring Claimant. Hats took unto themselves wings, and bodily flew away. 
In sooth, the natural order of affairs in the house was completely deranged, and the more agitated became the inanimate articles, the more excited became, naturally enough, the members of the family. Every conceivable project that could be devised for elucidating these mysteries failed utterly in pointing out a cause which could be understood. 
Even the potatoes boiling in a pot on the fire became mashed, and leaped behind the fire. And when ten or twelve were entered for boiling, a tot up in a few minutes revealed the startling fact that several had altogether and unaccountably disappeared, though many pairs of straining eyes were watching with almost painful eagerness every motion of the immovable pot. 
Latterly, also, large stones, weighing on an average about three pounds or three pounds and a half, have rolled slowly down the stairs, bobbing with leisurely ease from step to step. These have been sometimes damp and wet with clay, as if just removed from a ditch or roadway, and at other times, dry and clean, as if preserved from the weather for a considerable space of time. No persons have been in the upper portion of the house where such events have happened, and not the vaguest shadow upon which to found a belief in the collusion or complicity of any parties in the causing of them has been at all afforded. 
These manifestations will serve to show the cruel and persistent manner in which Mr Allen and his family have been afflicted, though they are from exhausting the minor details of a system of persecution as vexations and hard to be borne as it is strange and unexplainable both in cause and result. 
The family consist of Mr and Mrs Allen, two sons, and a daughter. One of the male branches, a young man of twenty-two or thereabouts, resides constantly with his father, and is said to be an apt student of the art of legerdemain.  Rumour will insist on mixing him up with the occurrences, but they have been known to take place when he was away working on the farm. 
Mr. Allen has ceased to accept, or even listen to any interpretation or explanation of the facts. He is not by any means a nervous man, nor superstitious in his way of thinking, but having seen these things occur, and being utterly unable to assert a reason for them, he would at the present moment be an easily manipulated disciple of the most ardent spiritualist. The whole affair in its recital might seem quite a ludicrous matter, were it not for the very great pain suffered by those most concerned.
  1. The Irish Times lifted the story from the Belfast News-Letter.

  • The Irish Times, 18 November 1874


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