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The Terrifying Amherst Poltergeist

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The Cox house in Amherst, Nova Scotia

The Cox house in Amherst, Nova Scotia

For months it tormented a 19-year-old girl and her family with deafening noises, horrifying threats and unspeakable violence in one of the most famous poltergeist cases in Canadian history

Some ghost stories live on because of the sheer terror they brought into the lives of those who experienced them firsthand. For the most part, ghosts and apparitions are harmless to those who witness them, flickering briefly into view to perform some timeless task or to relay a message to a loved one, and then fading back into the unknown. Poltergeist activity, however, is another matter entirely. Seeming to center around an individual, a poltergeist produces physical phenomena that have been known to cause serious harm and otherwise scare the daylights out of its victims.

Esther Cox of Amherst, Nova Scotia was such a victim in a case that became one of the most frightening poltergeist accounts in Canadian history. The strange events were witnessed and documented by many people, and even became the subject of a book.

The year was 1878 and the place was Princess Street in Amherst, a town in north central Nova Scotia where the province borders New Brunswick. Esther Cox, 19 years old, lived in a small rented house with her married sister Olive Teed, her husband Daniel Teed, and their two young children. The crowded little cottage was also home to Esther's siblings, Jennie and William, as well as Daniel's brother, John.

THE ATTACK

Suddenly, into the tedium of this ordinary home, horror struck. But not from some paranormal force, rather from an all-too-human monster: Esther was nearly raped by an acquaintance named Bob MacNeal, a shoemaker with a disdainful reputation of which Esther had been unaware. Although she escaped the attack with minor injuries, the violence against her seemed somehow to open a door to further attacks - this time from an unseen entity or entities. And the Amherst poltergeist mystery began.

Although the house was crowded with the Teeds and their extended family, it wasn't unusual for households to take in boarders to help pay the rent. Walter Hubbell, a sometime actor, was a boarder at the Teed residence when the first stirrings of supernatural phenomena took place, and he recorded them in this book, The Great Amherst Mystery. One night, screams of fright brought all of the adults of the house rushing to the room where sisters Esther and Jennie shared a bed. The girls had seen the formation of something moving under their covers as they were about to go to sleep for the night; Esther thought it was a mouse. A search turned up nothing. The girls returned to bed and the house quieted for the night.

The following night, more screams disturbed the family. Esther and Jennie excitedly claimed that they had heard strange noises coming from a box of fabric scraps that was kept under the bed. When they brought the box out to the center of the room, it leapt into the air of its own accord and landed on its side. No sooner had the girls nervously righted the box when it jumped into the air again, eliciting the screams from the young women.

Up to this point, the events could have been attributed to the active imaginations of the two girls, especially given Esther's recent, harrowing experience at the hands of Bob MacNeal. But the third night would provide evidence to all in the Teed house that something far out of the ordinary was happening with Esther Cox. That night, Esther excused herself to bed early, complaining that she felt feverish. At about 10 p.m., soon after Jennie joined her in bed, Esther jumped up from the bed to the center of the room, tearing at her nightclothes and screaming, "My God! What is happening to me? I'm dying!"

Jennie lit a lamp and looked at her sister, horrified to see that her skin was bright red and seemed to be swelling unnaturally. Olive rushed into the room and assisted Jennie in getting their sister back in bed as she now seemed to be choking and struggling to breathe. The other adults watched in disbelief as Esther's entire body, which was remarkably hot to the touch, swelled and reddened. Esther's eyes bulged and she cried in pain, fearing she was literally going to burst through her stretched skin. Then from beneath Esther's bed came a deafening bang - like a clap of thunder - that shook the room. Three more loud reports exploded from under the bed, after which Esther's swelling subsided and she fell into a deep, deep sleep.

Four nights later, these terrifying events repeated themselves - Esther's unexplained swelling and torture ended only by the thunderous noises from under the bed. At a loss to cope with this unearthly ordeal, Daniel asked a local doctor, Dr. Carritte, to examine Esther. And he was witness to some of the most frightening events of all.

Next page: The Poltergeist Attacks

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