Angelique Cottin was the alleged generator of poltergeist activity in France over a few months in 1846. Angelique came from a poor Catholic family who saw her supposed power of manipulating objects as a way to make money. Whether that was the plan all along or the Cottins had simply cashed in on their misfortune, no one knows for sure. Either way, it did not help the credibility of their story. Nonetheless, Angelique’s story is prominent among stories of alleged poltergeist activity and has yet to be debunked or proven, so it remains a mystery.
When the Poltergeist Activity Started
Angelique lived near La Perriere, France when the alleged phenomenon started on January 15, 1846. The story goes that she was working silk with a few friends when either the weaving frame or the table on which they worked started shaking. They told adults but they did not believe them, so they tried to go back to work. Apparently, it kept happening, but only when Angelique was near the frame or the table, depending on the source. Note: Small variations in the sources regarding Angelique Cottin may be the result of French to English translations. However, there are large discrepancies of note as well.
Parents Requested an Exorcism
Angelique Cottin’s parents found out about the occurrence and apparently believed her. They took her to the parish priest for an exorcism. Lucky for Angelique, the priest sent her to a doctor instead, obviously believing that the girl was not possessed. Whether he believed her a fraud or someone with a strange illness is unclear. The fact that he sent her away is interesting, given the nature of her alleged symptoms. If the priest witnessed such things and believed them to be genuine, it seems he might believe a young girl to be possessed. Then again, he may have had his own reason for ruling out possession that did not include fraud on the part of the Cottins. This is unclear in the surviving paperwork regarding the case.
Objects Moving About
The doctor allegedly saw objects move quickly away from Angelique Cottin after so much as brushing against her skirt or hand. People near her supposedly felt electric shocks. Chairs and couches that Angelique sat in flung against the wall or shook violently. The doctor’s reports supposedly state that men were made to hold down furniture that was affected by Angelique. They were unable to hold it still when her poltergeist was active. There were breaks in the activity and the doctor said she was most active in the late evenings.
Committee of Academic Believed the Poltergeist Activity
Eventually, the case of Angelique Cottin was referred to academics, one of which was a physicist. They went over the reports given by the doctor, by the girl and presumably her parents. They made their own report based on these and their own tests. According to some sources, the committee of academics concluded that the phenomenon was genuine after observing it all for themselves and published those findings in the Journal des debats in February of 1846. In truth, the committee observed none of the phenomena described by the doctor and the Cottins save one. They observed the chairs she sat in shaking, though they were never able to ascertain whether the shaking was of her doing. They were going to arrange further tests, but the poltergeist of Angelique Cottin suddenly ceased activity on April 10, 1846. At least that is what was told to the committee.
Did Angelique Cottin Fake It?
Despite never returning for follow up experiments with the committee, Angelique continued to display her malady for money. How she replicated it after it allegedly stopped is unknown. Whether she just continued to fake it, as she had been all along, is also unknown. However, the biggest question is how she would have faked it. It seems that without either the help or incompetence of her doctor, she would not have been able to pull such an elaborate fast one. Maybe she fooled the doctor. Maybe her parents promised him a cut of the profits. Perhaps she did not fake it at all.
It is important to mention that sources regarding Angelique Cottin vary wildly. Some say she could manipulate magnets, though the only claim made at the time is that she could find the north pole on magnets by touch. There are also some that say she made compass needles spin, though that was never claimed possible by her observers. Luckily, contemporary sources are available to peruse.
Haughton, Brian, Angelique Cottin — Electric Girl, retrieved 11/19/11.
Figuer, Louis. The Electric Girl, Popular Science Monthly March 1875, Volume 6