The Portsmouth Poltergeist

Posted by carrieh in Virginia Beach Ghost Tours
The Portsmouth Poltergeist - Photo

In the paranormal realm, there are few stories as creepy or unexplainable as the Portsmouth Poltergeist in Portsmouth, VA.

Many skeptics and seasoned paranormal investigators believe that poltergeist activity is not the haunting of a ‘ghost’ as much as it is a mind-over-matter phenomenon. However, many experiences are authentic, whether they can be explained by human logic or not. That is the case behind the story of the Portsmouth Poltergeist.

What is a Poltergeist?

A poltergeist is best described as a type of ghost or spirit that causes physical disturbances such as loud unexplainable noises, things being moved, thrown, or even destroyed. They are also known to manifest physically on people by biting, pinching, or hitting. Some accounts depict the capability of levitation of objects. You often hear of furniture, cutlery, or other items that appear to float in the air.

The word poltergeist comes from the German language meaning poltern (to make sound) and geist (ghost or spirit). Essentially it is translated as “noisy ghost” or “loud spirit.”

For the most part, poltergeists have been described as troublesome spirits haunting a particular person rather than a specific location. Many accounts center around adolescents that possibly suffered some type of trauma.

Many different cultures support various folklore around poltergeist activity, even dating back to as far as the 1st Century. However, references to poltergeists became more common in the early 17th Century.

Suggested Explanations of Poltergeist Hauntings

Although many accounts of poltergeist activity turned out to be hoaxes or trickery, far more can not be explained at all. Some skeptics claim that poltergeist activity can be explained by physiological factors such as illusions, memory lapses, or wishful thinking. Others argue that the occurrences are merely delusions or hallucinations.

Along with mental explanations, some skeptics attribute strange phenomena to unusual air currents, such as a downdraft from an uncovered chimney. One strong enough to blow a mirror off a wall, overturn furniture and knock things off shelves.

Another explanation suggests that the poltergeist phenomena could possibly result from turbulence caused by underground water movement. This would cause the vibration of the structure and explain strange noises and moving objects.

Later, researchers tested this hypothesis by placing objects in specific places in different rooms. Causing solid mechanical vibrations, the result was only structural damage and merely a few things moving a short distance. If the hypothesis were true, the building would undoubtedly crumble into ruins.

The Strange Phenomena of Ball Lightning.

Another suggestion by (retired) physical chemist David Turner is that ball lightning could cause the claimed poltergeist activity movement of objects.


Ball lightning is described as a luminescent, orbicular object. They vary from the size of a pea to several meters in diameter. Although ball lightning is usually associated with thunderstorms, they are said to last longer than a standard flash of lightning. They are reported as darting in all directions, frequently breaking into a structure from a window and eventually exploding, leaving behind an odor of sulfur.

Although Scientists have proposed several hypotheses to explain ball lightning, it too remains an unproven existence with poltergeists.

Phenomena of the Portsmouth Poltergeist

Regardless of beliefs about poltergeist activity, to Cleveland Harmon and his family, the experience was real. They moved from their home in a matter of a few days after the activity began.

In 1962 Cleveland Tony Harmon was a 13-year-old boy that lived in Portsmouth with his Great-Great-Grandparents Annie and Charlie Daughtery. At the time, they were in a small one-story rental home on Florida Avenue.

The occurrences started on a sunny afternoon in September. Harmon was on his way home from school and remembers smelling the tantalizing aroma of his Grandmother’s baked apple pie.

As Harmon entered the house, he reported dropping his books on the floor by the door. Suddenly, his books rose from the ground and flew over the top of his head. His Grandmother scolded him, and despite his plea of innocence, he was put to sit in the corner.

The next afternoon his grandparents were sitting in their living room chairs smoking tobacco out of their corn-cob pipes. Glancing up at the can of tobacco kept on the fireplace mantel out of his reach, he wondered where he could get some tobacco of his own. Suddenly without warning, the can of tobacco flipped over and crashed to the ground. Stunned, Harmon felt a flood of excitement run through him as he did not understand what he had done. There simply was no explanation!

Harmon gives accounts of sheets being ripped from the beds and flying in the air, a bottle of pesticide flying across the room, hitting Mrs. Daughtery in the head. The chair Mr. Daughtery was sitting in, tipping over and dumping him to the floor.

Neighbors Eye Witness Accounts

Helen Davis lived across the street from the Daughtery’s. Her account of the events sticks with her to this day. Walking home from church with another neighbor, she stopped on her porch and turned toward the house. Her neighbor exclaimed that something needed to be done as things flew out of the house into the street. Davis reports seeing cups flying out of the house and into the road one after another.

Walking across the street to where the Daughtery’s and their grandson lived, they entered the home to find the couple sitting in their living room amongst their shattered belongings. Their expressions of relief on their faces told her they were glad for the intrusion by their concerned neighbors. Mr. Daughtery exclaimed that they had no idea of what was happening or how it was happening.

While they were in the Daughtery’s home, Davis claims that a set of salt and pepper shakers jumped from the table and crashed to the floor. While standing in another room of the house, a rocking chair started rocking on its own. And then, the phenomena of all phenomena, a mattress on the bed, started spinning as if something was turning it. It was at that point that the two neighbors fled from the house.

The Police Investigation of the Portsmouth Poltergeist

Later that day, the family alerted the authorities, who came to investigate. Bringing two Police dogs with them, the officers stood outside the home. The dogs, however, would not enter the house and merely whined. Finally, an officer forced one of the dogs into the house. Returning moments later, the officer reported that he saw nothing happen other than being hit in the leg by some unknown objects. Mrs. Daughtery simply stated that if he stuck around long enough, he’d be hit by all kinds of things!

The Portsmouth Poltergeist meets the press

By the next day, word had gotten out through the grapevine, and the press came to investigate the story. A reporter for The Virginian-Pilot, Joseph Phillips, tells his account of the ongoing phenomena. He claims that after he entered the house a skeptic, he left a believer. 


Dodging cups, vases, and tobacco cans, he could not explain what he had witnessed with his own eyes. This was the day, he says, that he began to believe in ghosts. The photographer accompanying Phillips confirms the experience. He states that they had walked down the hallway, and things simply flew here and there, crashing and often breaking with no explanation of how it was happening.

The Portsmouth Poltergeist Looky Loo’s

By Sunday afternoon, the looky-loo’s came in droves to witness the poltergeist activity. Police estimate as many as 10,00 people flocked to the neighborhood and homestead, peering in windows and trying to find ways to enter the house. Some wanted to buy trinkets from the hot spot, while others wanted to see things fly around themselves. Harmon states that cars in the hundreds drove by the house throughout the few days they lived there.

The Daughtery’s and their grandson moved out of the house on Monday and stayed with family members. They never returned to the house on Florida Avenue. Two men moved into the home after the Daughtery’s left and said nothing happened out of the ordinary. He said neighbors told him of the haunting. Many believe that when the house was torn down years later, the mysterious poltergeist that once caused the infamous occurrences went with it.

Whether you believe in the supernatural or are just curious, Virginia is a state full of paranormal phenomena. Read more stories of the 10 top haunted places in Virginia Beach, VA, and if you are ever in the area of any of these sights, don’t be too surprised at what you might see or hear or even feel.



Poltergeist – Wikipedia

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