That ghosts & in particular poltergeists love to move objects have become well established knowledge amongst ghost investigators. This is certainly not a new discovery; the flinging of stones and lumps of earth & the moving of objects within a location has been reported since the earliest days. There are numerous accounts from the middle ages of such events, although they were frequently associated with demons or devils rather than being associated with ghosts or spirits. In the 18th century at Epworth Rectory, Lincolnshire, the Wesley family was plagued by an outbreak of rapping, knocking & the movement of objects. The events were recorded in the letters & journal of John Wesley, famous cleric, preacher & one of the founders of the Methodist movement. Accounts from 19th and 20th century Spiritualism too are filled with tales of objects being picked up & transported around the séance room, disappearing altogether & reappearing suddenly.
Control Objects & Evocative Objects
The apparent fondness of ghosts & spirits for moving things was noted time & again in accounts of hauntings. Investigators noted the seemingly strange, unusual manner of these movements. Rarely, was the object observed to move or if it was only the final moments of the movement was seen, almost never was the commencement of the movement witnessed. Objects large & small, nothing was beyond the capability of the ghostly agent. At Borley rectory Harry Price recorded the movement of a sack of coal weighing more than fifty pounds & on another occasion that of a small pot containing pins, which moved a mere half inch. Price used the technique of drawing around objects with chalk in order to mark the position of these "control objects" as he called them. In addition to marking around existing objects, he also set-up control objects. In one experiment an electric bell contact breaker was installed beneath a pile of books on the dining-room mantle. Any movement or displacement of the book pile would cause the bell to sound. The room was locked & sealed. During the night, the bell began to sound & upon opening the door the sound ceased. The investigators discovered every book had been moved. Price recorded dozens of similar events within Borley, his control objects were frequently discovered outside of the chalk circle which surrounded them. Price, realised the importance of applying control upon objects within a haunted location & the need to record any movement they might make. However, Price was concerned with the movements of existing objects & whilst he did from time to time position objects, such that their apparent motion might be recorded, such as with the bell & contact breaker under the book pile it was later investigators who developed the idea of bringing objects into the location, objects that they considered would be sufficiently interesting to the spook that it would be provoked into moving it or interacting with it in some manner. Peter Underwood, a lifelong investigator & former President of The Ghost Club suggested that "It is useful to have a number of 'evocative articles' that can be left in various positions, carefully ringed with chalk & checked regularly" He continues: "Sometimes, the ghost will that of a child & toys will be an attraction; often a murder has been committed so an appropriate weapon might be useful; sometimes religion has a bearing on the case, so I will usually take suitable symbols with me, such as a small bell, a doll, a ball, a paper knife, a dagger, a Bible, a crucifix or a photograph. On occasion such miscellanea will apparently help to promote phenomena and, in any case, they provide interest for everyone present & can lighten the atmosphere"
Popularity of the Trigger Object
Clearly, Underwood is describing the 'trigger object' so well known by current investigators. Underwood wrote many books, that contained accounts of his numerous investigations & the use of 'evocative objects' was known by investigators as a result. No doubt inspired by Underwood & others, investigators from ASSAP laid out a series of objects in a strict pattern in the floor of a locked room within Charlton House. However, the popularity of using a trigger object probably lies with the demonstration of the technique on Most Haunted (Series 1, episode 14) which was filmed at Derby Gaol. The show's investigator Jason Karl positioned a crucifix on a sheet of paper within the condemned cell, drawing around it with a pencil. Later, perhaps almost inevitably, the cross was found to have moved... This demonstration of apparently genuine paranormal activity was trumpeted widely by the show & also by Karl. I recall attending GhostCon, held at Bestwood Lodge in Nottingham during which Jason Karl produced the famous crucifix & described his amazement at this display of unexplained movement. Later, the crucifix was displayed but nobody except for Jason was permitted to touch this revered object. Following this 'successful' debut of the trigger object experiment on Most Haunted, almost inevitably the use of a trigger object was readily adopted by UK paranormal investigation teams, inspired by the show to take up their own investigations. NB. The use of a trigger object seems to be mainly a pre-occupation of British investigators & although it is used, it is not quite so popular in America. The technique is used by some groups & has been seen on several of the popular US TV ghost hunting shows.
Trigger Objects in Use
Over the years I have been fortunate(?) enough to have witnessed countless trigger object experiments being set-up & used during paranormal investigations. The selection of the objects has often caused a degree of personal amusement; so fulfilling Underwood's note that they can serve to lighten the atmosphere! The crucifix of course, was the most popular item, even better if it was similar to that used on Most Haunted. Crucifixes appeared in almost every investigators kit & were deployed on bits of paper in every conceivable location from houses to castles, & from factories to graveyards; seemingly without any regard for relevancy to the history of the location or that of the ghostly presence. All ghosts were attracted to crucifixes it seemed; Prince or pauper, adult, child, headless or evil & demonic, they just could not resist giving the crucifix a playful nudge to tease the investigators. Other ghost hunters took greater notice of the relevancy question, the ghosts of children are apparently commonly encountered & so a child's toy was frequently deployed to tempt the ghostly minor. This clearly resulted in many visits to Toys 'R' Us & junior's toy box to obtain the necessary object. What a 17th century child would make of being presented with Buzz Lightyear or a toy car didn't seem to be a question that was asked by the investigators I witnessed carefully positioning in view of their night vision cameras. At another location, said to be haunted by a ghost who liked to draw & write upon the walls (echoes of Borley perhaps?) the ghost hunters proudly produced an Etch A Sketch & placed it dutifully on a table. The team's resident medium then called upon the spirit to leave them some message or draw them a picture but neglected to give the poor spook any instructions about manipulating the pair of knobs necessary for controlling the device & making pictures appear - probably an oversight that resulted in the failure of that particular experiment. At a Snooker hall, I looked on as the lead investigator set-up a series of trigger objects that included a Whale's tooth (nicely engraved), a small sliver of wood from HMS Victory & a Bosun's whistle on the green baize of a snooker table. The nautical theme of the assortment inspired by the location being close to former dockside warehouses, although the building is much more modern as is the ghostly tales associated with it.
Trigger objects are often deployed in an almost ad-hoc & haphazard fashion, dumped & placed wherever the investigator finds a suitable flat surface. On a packed desk, littered with all the usual detritus of an office environment, with barely an inch of unused space I observed that the ghost hunters had managed to squeeze in a sheet of A4 paper with a coin in the centre and carefully drawn around. The particular ghost must have been extremely familiar with the scattered contents of that desk-top or were endowed with exceptional vision (second-sight!) as the coin was later found to have been disturbed. Sadly, the group had not set-up a camera on the trigger object so when the coin was discovered to have moved, they were forced to seek assurances from all present that nobody had touched it - which of course they hadn't.... Actually, I know they hadn't, because I myself saw the object move without any human intervention. The movement taking place as another investigator returning from having a cigarette outside opened a door & caused the breeze to blow the paper, lifting it & causing the coin to shift from inside the pencil line that encircled it. Sadly, the investigator was focussed on getting to his tea & biscuits, missing this non human object displacement just a few feet in front of him.
Trigger objects remain popular & still feature in many investigations but their use has in recent years diminished. Perhaps because the investigators have realised that ghosts really can't be bothered messing around with plastic toys, wooden crucifixes & the like. Or perhaps, they believe that the haunting medieval spirit is much more likely to want to flash the lights on their K2 meter & mumble incoherent nonsense into the digital voice recorder. I'm sure the trigger object will survive this recent usurping by modern technology & will remain a stalwart of the flight-case though. I look forward to seeing many more novel & interesting articles being scattered throughout haunted houses in future years.....