The Martin Croft Devil. A Finnish poltergeist tale.

The following is an English translation of a chapter in the book Olevaisen yöpuoli (1993) by Heikki Tikkala, a collection of poltergeist and ghost stories from Finland. The translation was done with permission from Mr. Tikkala himself. Translated by Salla Juntunen.


Martinin_torppa

(the Martin croft)

The poltergeist of Martin’s croft is not exceptional when it comes to the quality of the case – similar phenomena have occurred in most other Finnish cases of poltergeist disturbance. What makes Martin’s poltergeist particularly noteworthy is the associated trial, during which fifteen affidavits were filed. The weight of these witness statements is significant even on an international scale.

The witness statements from the trial have been presented in numerous writings, most recently in Jarl Fahler’s book Parapsychology. Therefore I will not recount them in full here. While describing the event I rely heavily on Matti Seppä’s thorough report, which reviews almost everything that is known about the case.

On January 12th of the year 1885, the croft of Efraim Martin, the chairman of Ylöjärvi’s parish assembly and a former teacher, became haunted. The croft’s three inhabitants, Efraim, his wife Eva, and Emma Lindroos, their 13-year-old maid, noticed objects moving inexplicably. The door would not stay closed, papers from shut desk drawers flew on the floor, tens of litres of plastering fell on the floor from somewhere. The phenomena seemed to centre around the fatally ill Emma. The haunting continued for a little over two weeks up until January 27th and then ended as abruptly as it had begun. The writings of Tampere newspapers drew out so many people that master Efraim saw it best to move to Tampere for a few days in order to escape the curious eyes. Many visitors were in high spirits and heavily inebriated, which was likely a factor in Martin getting served a summons to appear in court.

Efraim Martin (1814-1890)

Alerted by the rumours, parish bailiff Kasimir Liljestrand visited the place and sent the governor of the province of Häme a letter in which he attempted to sort out what had happened. In his response the governor ordered the Martins to be prosecuted for witchcraft and the illegal sale of alcohol.

The hearings for the Martin case were held at the district court of Ylöjärvi on March 24th. The charges were deemed unfounded, but the most interesting part of the trial were of course the eyewitness accounts of the haunting. Out of the fifteen people called as a witness only one reported that they had not observed anything supernatural. The rest described 78 inexplicable phenomena altogether. Many of the most impressive ones are found in the testimony of Efraim Eerola:

From January 14th onwards, throughout the whole period of time in question, the witness had visited the Martin croft every day. The first time he visited – – he noticed that the window screens of the living room were smudged with clay, as were the floor and the furniture. He did not, however, notice any visible damages in the wall plastering. Upon inspecting the window screens they appeared to be stained with soap, not, however, stroked by a human hand. In the presence of the witness, crumbled clay accumulated on the floor in an invisible manner without anyone touching it or noticing from where and how it came. Three whole baskets worth of clay crumbs accumulated. – – Clay appeared on the floor twice and both times it was swept away carefully.

When specifically asked, the witness explained that the room’s ceiling was somewhat fragile and cracked, but he was prepared to assure under oath that the clay did not appear on the floors through the ceiling, as such amounts of clay travelling through the air would certainly have been noticed. Furthermore, one day the witness observed a massive knife fly past his face six times in a row, although without hitting him. He assumed that the knife initially flew from the next room and was then moved back and forth by some inexplicable force.

When the witness took a break from smoking and laid his pipe on the table, the pipe flew into the air as did stones and whetstones, as if moved in the air by an invisible force. One day the witness saw various objects and books fly out of a drawer that had been locked and, due to prior similar events, bound shut by a firm rope, without the drawer ever even slightly opening. One morning he was told that the legs of the sheep in the barn were tied. He went to release them and as he left the barn the latch on the door spun around in an unexplainable manner. When he went to the living room, under the table were discovered some strange rocks and Efraim Martin’s glasses, which had been thrown there from the desk drawer without anyone knowing how. The frames of the glasses had partially snapped and appeared to be burned. All these and many other events the witness saw every day, although he could not now recall them in full detail, and he assured upon his word that they were not brought about by humans but by spirits or other forces unknown to the witness. – –

Witness Eerola furthermore added that one day when he was in the croft’s kitchen he noticed a large amount of medicine bottles containing nitric acid, hydrochloric acid and other private substances gather on the table in an unknown manner. The bottles began jumping spontaneously, spilling their contents on the table where they began to boil and foam. The witness was also present during the back end of the haunting when ladles, buckets and other such household items appeared in the oven and there caught fire. The witness also assured that no cellar was found underneath the Martin house and therefore no such items could have been hidden there since the room stood on hard rock, and that the witness never checked whether some stranger could have been hiding in the room’s loft.

Most commonly the witnesses saw objects moving for no reason. A key, a pot, a saw, a pair of shoes, a candlestick, a brick, a hymn book, a matchbox and a stool, among others, jumped or outright flew in the air even though no one moved them. The candlestick appeared to have been the most popular target:

Gustaf Hellen sat at the end of the table. At that moment a piece the size of an egg detached from the candlestick standing on the table and inexplicably flew atop Emma Lindroos’s head, rotated angularly and fell at the witness’s feet, rotated once more on the floor and rolled into the corner of the candlelit room.

Karl Lindholm saw a candlestick twice fly towards the door and on the third time to the back of the room. The witness could not figure out from where the candlestick flew, but he believed that it could not have been launched by any human means, as the candlestick moved in a spinning motion as if held up by an invisible force. The candlestick had moved in a slow weaving motion, always turned upside down. Simultaneously, a clatter was heard from beneath the table. – Helena Punala had been sitting by the table alone when the candlestick flew off of it, therefore it could not have been thrown by any human.

The bread poles were another favourite target of the disturbances, three incidents relate to them. On one occasion four people witnessed them moving:

Gerhard Grönfors had visited the Martins in the middle of the day on January 18th. On that occasion, in a room where neither the Martin couple nor Emma Lindroos were present, shingles in the corner of the oven began jumping and spinning around each other. Additionally, two bread poles in the corner danced and struck together. At this point Eva Martin arrived, took one of the poles in her hand and slammed it to the floor three times saying: “Won’t you behave.” The witness inspected the corner in which the poles had stood thoroughly and found nothing suspicious. Alku Eerola confirmed Grönfors’s description and explained that he also inspected the corner. Gustaf Hellen and Henrik Asuntila also concurred with their statement.

The most famous singular phenomenon in the Martin disturbance was the knife flying six past Efraim Eerola’s face times in a row; it is referenced not only in Eerola’s witness statement but also in the broadside ballad written about the event. These witness statements clearly demonstrate objects flying unnaturally slowly or weavingly, which is typical of a poltergeist. In most cases, however, the objects simply flung themselves around.

There are some statements of teleportation, or objects transfering inexplicably. The accumulation of plastering on the floor must likely be considered teleportation since according to Efraim Eerola’s statement no one could explain where it came from. The case of Efraim Martin’s papers flying on the floor from a drawer tied with string without the string untying, which Alku Eerola also describes in his witness statement, must also be counted among unexplainable events.

martin

(another shot of the croft)

There were hardly any sound phenomena linked to the Martin poltergeist. On a few occasions the witnesses mention an unexplainable clatter or rumble. The clearest case has to do with the visit of sexton Lindell. The sexton had come to the croft to write a news piece, but had relocated to the shed in the yard due to the restlessness of the cottage.

Alerted by the noise, sexton Lindell hurried back into the room. There he saw the two boards of a dining table banging on its legs. When the witness pressed the other board with his knee, the other struck that much harder. Therefore the sides of the table were bound and also wedged with ropes for a good measure. Now the boards stayed immobile, but a puffing sound came from between them. The table jumped spontaneously a few times, approximately an inch off the floor. No hatches, loose planks or secret strings were observed by the sexton and therefore he did not deem it necessary to inspect other parts of the room.

The moving of objects and teleportation are the most strongly substantiated phenomena of the Martin croft. The testimony of sexton Lindell which stated that the spirit tied Emma Lindroos with rope as she lay in her bed is also rather interesting. The case of Eva Martin’s hands catching fire, which was mentioned in Jarl Fahler’s book, was proved by Matti Seppä to be a translation error: the witness meant that candles wouldn’t stay in Eva Martin’s hands.

The study of the case of the Martin croft is based almost exclusively on court documents. There is not a single eyewitness to be found in folk tales. An interesting addition to the case, however, is baron Schrenck-Notzig’s account of the haunting. He had received the German translation of the court transcripts as well as some additional information from his doctor colleague Yrjö Kulovesi from Tampere.

In 1921, Kulovesi had interviewed Efraim Martin’s then 79-year-old son Berndt Erland Martin in Tampere. Berndt Martin had not been home at the time of the haunting. The only witness Kulovesi met was Emil Keso, a householder from Aitolahti. He had visited the Martins together with Simo Laalahti and Efram Eerola, who was mentioned in the court transcripts.

The guests arrived between three and four in the afternoon. It was still light in the cottage. As they sat down, Laalahti’s mitten was thrown to Keso’s side of the bench. Keso then said: “Enough with the tricks, didn’t we just agree to avoid such mischief.” His mittens then flew away as well. Laalahti claimed that he had not thrown the mittens. In order to observe the situation as clearly as possible, the men sat on chairs in the middle of the room. Suddenly shingles began to fall from the beams in front of Keso’s feet. They flew closely side by side as if tied together by an invisible force, and when they fell at his feet they did not slide at all in the direction one would expect, but rather stayed still as if captured by a mysterious power. Ten shingles fell, all in all. In the room at the time were Eva Martin, Efraim Eerola and both householders. Keso could not recall if Emma Lindroos had also been present. At the same time, cobbler’s tools were thrown from the corner to Laalahti’s feet.

The Martin haunting was so versatile and the eyewitness statements so detailed that the ghost has certainly earned its international reputation. As the only Finnish poltergeist it rose to international fame when the court transcripts were published as widely distributed pamphlets. Considering the weight of the material it is therefore strange that the ghost was soon buried into dusty local history publications as a mere freak of folk religion. A truly encompassing analysis of the Martin poltergeist and its impact on our worldview remains in unmade in our cultural conversation.

kyltti-kummitustalolle

(a sign indicating the spot where the croft once stood. The sign says: “The spot of Efraim Martin’s croft. The building was moved downtown after Efraim’s death in the 1890s.” Photo: Pentti Säynäväjärvi)

Author: booksbulletsandbadomens

teemutku@protonmail.com

One thought on “The Martin Croft Devil. A Finnish poltergeist tale.”

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