The 13th Floor

The Frightening History of Real Life Haunted Televisions

No matter how fast technology evolves, the supernatural have the disquietingly bad habit of mastering state of the art devices faster than a toddler with the latest iDevice; and in my household that’s lightning speed, parent-humiliatingly fast. Gone are the days of brushing books off of shelves, launching teacups across the room or spelling mystic messages out on Ouija boards. Each new technological breakthrough presents the spirit world with yet another potential portal between their world and ours.

But long before cellphones and tablets became so commonplace, reports of “tech savvy” ghosts first came flooding in at the dawn of the television age. Society’s suspicions of a technology, coupled with the fact that those old cathode ray sets came bearing plenty erratic static, foggy images and crackly audio, provided the perfect breeding ground for the eerie belief that TVs did actually serve as a static-addled portal right into our living rooms.

Despite tales of haunted television sets dating back as far as the early 1950s, scientific research into the phenomena didn’t really find its roots until the ’70s. This is when reports of ghosts in the machine started shooting through the roof. Unsurprisingly, tapping into the social anxiety created by these supposed hauntings, a new wave of cinema revolving around the horrors of household appliances was on the horizon. Standouts ranged from the likes of Tobe Hooper’s POLTERGEIST to David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME. And despite the Japanese mythology that the supernatural avoid electricity like the plague, it was Hideo Nakata’s psionic shocker, RINGU, that proved itself the harbinger of Japanese technology-centric horror to come, marking the resurgence of J-horror in a big way.

With the Javier Gutierrez-helmed sequel to the U.S. take on the RINGU franchise, RINGS, all set to crawl out of cinema screens this February, we dared to delve into Sadako Yamamura’s (AKA Samara Morgan) real-life dead-ringers…

One of the earliest publicized reports of a haunted television set dates back to 1953 when Jerome E. Travers of Long Island, New York claimed he and his three children had witnessed a supernatural phenomenon whilst watching “Ding Dong School,” a precursor to “Sesame Street.”

According to Mr. Travers, a spectral woman suddenly appeared on the screen during the kids’ show and her voice began echoing out from the television.The sounds and images carried on even when the set had been unplugged. Rather than resorting to a psychic for help, the family decided that the best plan of action was to punish the television set by turning it to face the wall “for gross misbehavior for frightening little children.” This story had reporters flocking to the scene of the incident for further proof.

Another widely-circulated report suggested a ghost had offered a haunted helping hand over two consecutive Christmases in 1967 and 1968. On Christmas Eve in 1968, a woman was leisurely taking snapshots of her husband assembling some toys when one particular photo quite literally embraced the spirit of Christmas: a hand reaching out from the foggy darkness and pressing its palm up against the glass on their unplugged television screen. Whilst photographic evidence was only provided for the 1968 incident, the couple stated how they had also witnessed similar events over the Christmas period the year before.

Evidence aside, many people brushed the story off with a “Bah, Humbug!” when Brad Steiger, a journalist allegedly renowned for fabricating stories and bending facts for his own benefit, published a palm reading article in Occult magazine. Despite the debacle sparked by Steiger’s coverage, the article in question is said to include an un-cropped version of the photograph taken, thereby proving that it was taken before any commercial image manipulation software was available.

Mentioned above, paranormal research into this phenomenon only really found its footing in the ’70s and ’80s with the term Instrumental Transcommunication (ITC) coined by researchers of the era. One of ITC’s founding figures was German paranormal researcher and self-proclaimed psychic Klaus Schreiber whose first interest in the subject was sparked when he heard about psychokinesis and discovered he could bend a variety of silverware, something he put down to psychic abilities.

One experiment led to another, and it wasn’t long before he found himself dabbling with tape recorders. Upon “receiving” voices from various dead relatives, he built his own lab in the basement to conduct audio and video experiments using a device which he referred to as the “Vidicomin.” This contraption consisted of a video camera pointed towards a television set which was switched on, but not attached to an aerial. Schreiber then looped the output from the camera back into the TV so as to create a “feedback loop,” the results of which were pretty startling:

The video above is just one of many examples of Schreiber’s visitors, with celebrity guests even putting in appearances on the odd occasion. One such guest was the Austrian actress Romy Schneider. But if you think Sadako’s straggly black hair is the thing of nightmares, I can’t even begin to imagine look on Schreibers’ face when he caught sight of the insanely unkempt coiffure proudly sported by another of his famous spirit guests: none other than German theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein.

Schreider had also been extremely close to his deceased daughter Karin and after a few visits she began working as his intermediary from the other side of the TV screen. Finally, in January, 1988, Schreiber died after a second heart attack, but reports soon started coming in of images and messages he had sent to friends and colleagues, including a picture of the spirit world where he was now living with departed family members.

Schreiber wasn’t the only one who continued his work from the grave and a similarly shudder-some story surfaced when Swedish film producer and early pioneering ITC researcher, Friedrich Jürgenson, died in 1987.

A fellow paranormal researcher, Claude Thorlin, claims that Jürgenson sent him some form of psychic message from his death bed telling him to expect a “live funeral stream” on his television. Taking Jürgenson’s message as gospel, Thorlin stayed glued to the TV in his home town of Eskilstuna (all of 500 km away from the funeral) in the hope of recording the event. With no TV listings to guide him, Thorlin’s wife Ellen reports having heard Jürgenson repeat the words “channel four” over and over again during breakfast that day. There was just one minor problem, though! There were only three channels broadcasting on the radio and two on the TV so Claude decided to put channel four on the television when the funeral was scheduled to start but, much to his dismay, found nothing but white noise. Luckily, he left the TV on and 22 minutes into the ceremony a small glimmer of light began expanding on the screen so Claude took a Polaroid to document it. As the photo slowly developed itself, a white figure began to out against the backdrop of the black TV screen before Ellen suddenly burst out, “Oh my God! It’s Friedrich!”

Image Credit: iStock

The most disquieting report of a TV haunting comes all the way from Bhutan. If you ever venture off for that once-in-a-lifetime trekking trip to the Himalayas, you absolutely mustn’t forget to stop off at the remote village of Tsento, the resting place of a long-banished television set. Why would anyone exile a TV? It is purportedly accursed by an irate devil, inhabited by an evil man’s disgruntled soul and haunted by a devious ghost escaping the heavens. Stories also suggest that the television set is to blame for having brought disease and bad luck to three different owners before a psychic eventually examined it and suggested that the locals banish the appliance to a faraway cave and bid it farewell with a befitting ceremony. The bedeviled box has remained in the cave for over two decades now and locals continue to report how, “Sometimes, at night, one can see it flashing.”

Further proof of the television’s powers surfaced just a few years ago when one gallant person dared to remove it to take it home to his own personal man cave. When the man’s physical and mental health took a more than serious turn for the worse, the television was promptly returned to its rightful abode.

Despite ever-belligerent skepticism when it comes to Instrumental Transcommunication, this is one phenomenon that continues to frighten and intrigue us, with the recent prevalence of psionic cinematic shockers very much to blame. Proving just how effective said terror trope is, Paramount devised the ultimate marketing ploy for their latest horror offering, RINGS, and we’ll leave you to enjoy their virulently viral prank that captures the reactions of unsuspecting customers when Samara reaches out for her Mommy at the local appliance store…