The Long Island Haunting That Inspired the Movie Poltergeist

Herrmans of Seaford were supposedly terrorized by a ghost in 1958.

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Photo: The James Hermann family of the alleged Seaford poltergeist case. Source: House of Flying Objects. LIFE Magazine. 17 March, 1958. Public Domain.

Sure, everyone knows about The Amityville Horror house. But, did you know that another haunted home on Long Island also inspired a classic horror film?


It was the late 1950s and Long Island was just another idyllic postwar suburb but as usual, things were not always what they seemed. In 1958 something strange was brewing in a typical ranch-style home in Seaford. It was a February afternoon and James Herrmann got a call at work from his wife, Lucille, to tell him something strange was happening at home. His teenage kids had heard popping sounds that couldn’t be explained, later found to be the caps of a variety of substances around the homes that had inexplicably popped off, including shampoo, bleach and a vial of holy water.


Weird but not deserving of a call to Ghostbusters just yet. Possibly, Mr. Herrman theorized, the result of some bizarre chemical reaction yet to be figured out.


Then it happened again. And again.


Herrman called the police who also couldn’t explain the phenomenon. The Herrmans did what any other devout Catholics would do next: they called in a priest to bless the home and rid it of harmful spirits.


The incidents became more violent with figures smashing and a bookcase falling over randomly. It was then they suspected that a poltergeist was in their home. The story went national and even became the subject of a Life magazine article.


The haunting caught the attention of paranormal investigators who did not come to a conclusion about the poltergeist one way or another.


The Herrman’s experience eventually inspired the movie Poltergeist, which has a very similar story with a young suburban family experiencing strange things going on in their home, although the haunting is ramped up for the drama and scare factor. In the movie version, the cause is an Indian burial ground underneath the home where the Herrman story was never fully explained.


Some say it was all a prank pulled by the teenage son but that has never been fully proven. Others claimed that the teens had developed some sort of telekinesis that contributed to the objects popping and smashing. In all, between February 3 and March 10, almost 70 instances were witnessed.


Then it all stopped just as quickly as it started.


Not scared enough? Read our story, Crazy Facts About the Amityville Horror House.