From the Archives: The Haunted House on Berry Hill

Sleeping girl vacuumed by Poltergeistby Curtis Fuller

FATE, January 1958, Vol. 11, No. 1
Shirley keeps blaming Grandpa for the strange events in her Tulsa home—but Grandpa died 5 years ago!

IT HAD BEEN going on in the Berryhill Community, Tulsa, Okla., for a month before the newspapers got wind of it. Then the press association wires and the Tulsa papers were full of the strange happenings in the C.A. Wilkinson home. It’s a modest cottage, only 23 years old, and “ghosts” can’t have had much time to get established there, though some of the neighbors feel they explain the spooky affair. It began early in July and all the disturbances seemed to be centering around the electrical wiring and appliances in the home.

The most serious damage was done to a new $1,300 electric organ that got all churned up inside even though it wasn’t even connected to the electricity. In fact, the repairman of a Tulsa music store said it looked as though “a bear had walked around” inside the organ.

But though the damage to the organ was by far the most costly, it wasn’t the most mysterious, even if mighty few bears are walking around in organs.

A more unusual event was the habit of an electric hand-sweeper of creeping through the house—generally settling on or around the bed of the Wilkinson’s 11-year-old daughter, Shirley.

Mrs. Wilkinson declared that her daughter came into her room one night and complained that a sweeper was crawling across her stomach. Sure enough, Mrs. Wilkinson said, the extension cord had wrapped around the bed several times and the sweeper was sitting on the bed where her daughter had been sleeping.

The refrigerator motor “blew up” not once but twice and caused so much trouble that the Wilkinson’s finally stripped its wires and filled it with ice.

Electric plugs jumped out of their wall sockets with such force the prongs were twisted—again when the electricity was not connected. Wilkinson said they were “shot out” of their plugs even when the master switch had been pulled.

All this activity naturally upset the Wilkinson’s. Mr. Wilkinson, an employee of the Sunray Mid-Continent Oil Company, finally concluded that some sort of an “electrical field” must be operating around the house, though it never had operated before in the 23 years since the house was built. He suggested maybe a leaky electrical transformer had set up such a field.

Mr. Wilkinson dug up the water pipes surrounding the house and tore down a new fence in an effort to stop the field. He also removed the ground wire to the house’s electrical lines but the utility company advised him that this was dangerous and that their equipment had nothing to do with his troubles.

To show this was wasted energy an electrical clock toppled from its perch six times. “Some kind of a doctor called me and suggested something that might work,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “He said by putting in four grounding rods around the house and extending them up from the electric meter to the top of the house, like a parasol, the magnetic field would be neutralized.”

By the first of August, activity in the Wilkinson home was no longer confined to electrical appliances. Metal chairs and tables moved mysteriously and toppled over. A pan of water jumped off the kitchen stove.

The family called sheriff ’s officers for help but they could offer no solution. Mrs. Wilkinson consulted an attorney with a view to taking legal action if the annoyances didn’t stop. But it was hard to figure who to sue.

A newspaper reporter and the attorney examined several of the electric plugs, which had been connected to extension cords and appliances. They found that more than half a dozen of them were twisted and bent.

Meanwhile, the Wilkinson’s got so desperate that they spent the night of Thursday, August 1, sleeping in their car. They did this after the tables and chairs went into a “weird sort of dance.”

Then they moved a block north of their house at 3951 S. 61st Avenue.

“We don’t know if this thing is a magnetic field, uranium, an old gas pocket under the ground, or what,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “But it has us so completely unnerved and so upset we can’t live a normal life here. We’re moving.”

During all this time, the term “poltergeist” was never mentioned. Poltergeists, as readers of FATE know, are strange forces that operate at times—usually in the vicinity of adolescent children and particularly of adolescent girls.

Poltergeist activities often take the form of “tricks.” They are usually random, apparently senseless, and represent the kind of humor a four-year-old mind devises. But, although they are associated with adolescent children, the children are unconscious agents.

While science tends to scoff at poltergeist activities, they occur everywhere in the world, and have occurred throughout the ages. The unusual thing about the Berryhill poltergeist, if such it was, is the early emphasis on electricity and electrical appliances. However, this emphasis soon degenerated into a more random type of behavior closer to the usual poltergeist pattern—chairs and tables dancing about and a pan of water jumping off a stove, for instance.

Now, although the word “poltergeist” nowhere appears in the Berryhill record, the Tulsa newspapers at times referred to the Wilkinson’s as a “haunted” family and it was not long before a “ghost” was being blamed for the activities.

On Monday, August 5, the 11-year-old daughter of the Wilkinson’s, Shirley, decided that there was an explanation for all this and that she had known it all along. She said, “Grandpa did it and blamed it all on me.” Shirley’s Grandfather Wilkinson had died in 1952.

Shirley blamed Grandpa after the Wilkinson house and the events themselves had been investigated by Tulsa employees of an engineering research firm and by members of the American Society for Psychical Research.

The electrical research firm made all kinds of tests and concluded that there was nothing electrical or magnetic causing the affairs at the Wilkinson home.

Shirley was told that several articles in the home had been dusted with invisible powder that couldn’t be removed from her hands and showed up only under a special light ray.

“Grandpa stole my fingerprints and put them there,” Shirley told Roy Hanna of the Tulsa Tribune. “I don’t know why he did it, he should have known it would cause a lot of trouble.”

She said she had known it was Grandpa all along, but hesitated to tell anyone about it for fear her dead grandfather might discontinue his “visits” with her.

“I’m going to talk with Grandpa Tuesday night and tell him to stop all this,” said Shirley when it was explained that the strange events were upsetting her family and causing her father endless trouble.

“Grandpa cut the wires and pulled out those springs in the organ,” Shirley said. “He didn’t want me to play the organ and I loved it.”

Asked if she were going to get back the organ which was then being repaired, Shirley said: “It might be better if it stayed in the shop a while longer.”

In the course of the investigation it became known that Shirley was an adopted child

Mrs. Wilkinson said, “Grandpa didn’t take much to the idea of our adopting a little girl. But before he died, he kept calling for Shirley.

“I have felt several times that someone—who I could not see—was laying a hand on my shoulder,” Mrs. Wilkinson declared.“ Usually, before these things start, I feel this heat and smell the stale odor of earth as if I were in a tomb.”

But although Shirley planned to ask “Grandpa” to stop all the nonsense she wasn’t sure that he would.

“Something in my heart tells me that it is not over yet,” she told reporter Roy Hanna on August 4.

Immediately after these words Shirley’s purse fell unassisted from a table beside the girl’s bed, Mrs. Wilkinson reported.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here again, the requirements of a true poltergeist case are fulfilled. Not only are poltergeist phenomena usually associated with an adolescent girl but such a child is almost invariably upset or unhappy.