On the eve of World War II, a young housewife named Alma Fielding found herself in the grip of a poltergeist hell-bent on flinging china through the air, toppling over dressers, and leaving no egg uncracked in her London home. Her case caught the attention of the Hungarian ghost hunter Nandor Fodor, whose tests at the International Institute for Psychical Research led to ever-odder phenomena from Alma: a bird flew from her skirts, beetles crawled beneath her gloves, stolen jewelry materialized on her fingers. In The Haunting of Alma Fielding, Kate Summerscale tells the story of an investigation that combines the supernatural and subconscious, revealing the very real anxieties of a changing society.
Go beyond the episode:
- Kate Summerscale’s The Haunting of Alma Fielding
- If you haven’t seen it yet, you must: Poltergeist
- Also Carrie: because Alma’s story is in many ways a mashup of both
- In a reversal of Alma’s story, the unexpectedly excellent Ouija: Origin of Evil follows a family whose fraudulent tricks end in real possession
- In an earlier episode of Smarty Pants, “Scientists and Saints,” we covered women’s roles in American spiritualism and other fringe religions
- Read Sudip Bose’s essay on how a séance lead a connoisseur of the occult to discover a lost Robert Schumann concerto
Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.
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