When Frank McKinstry of Joplin, Missouri, stepped out onto the street in the early morning, he knew that he would have to keep moving. If he stopped walking, his feet would become fixed to the ground; in effect, he would be rooted to the spot until he could persuade a passer-by to lift his feet and release the mysterious force that held him.
McKinstry is just one of a number of “human magnets” who have been studied by scientists since the mid-19th century. Also known as electric people, they seem to be able to store and discharge powerful electric currents, sometimes with bizarre and unpredictable results.
Anyone who touches such people may receive an electric shock. Sparks may fly from their fingertips, and some objects may become immovable or move apparently of their own accord.
One of the first cases scientists investigated was that of a 14-year-old French girl, Angẻlique Cottin, who worked as a glove maker in Normandy. For a period of 10 weeks in 1846, the wooden frames on which she worked would twist in her hands, her bed would rock, chairs would move away when she attempted to sit on them, and the slightest touch from her hand could send furniture spinning uncontrollably across her room.
Angẻlique was studied by an eminent member of the Academy of Sciences in Paris, but beyond likening her power to that of electromagnetism, he could offer no explanation for the phenomena.
Around 1890, scientists at the Maryland College of Pharmacy in Baltimore examined the curious ability of a student named Louis Hamburger. Pins and other metal objects would attach themselves to him, dangling from his open hands.
A striking case of human magnetism came to light in 1938 when the Universal Council for Psychic Research in New York City offered a $10,000 prize for demonstrable proof of psychic phenomena. Mrs. Antoine Timmer came forward to show how cutlery would stick to her hands so firmly it could be removed only by a sharp tug.
The council dismissed the case. Although members made no allegations of fraud against Mrs. Timmer, they claimed that a competent magician could reproduce the effect using concealed thread.
Shocking Behavior: Through the centuries many cases have been recorded of “electric people” – those who, because of electric currents discharged by their bodies, are able to move unwieldy objects with slightest touch. One of the earliest cases to be investigated was that of a 14-year-old French girl, Angẻlique Cottin, who demonstrated her abilities of Sciences in Paris.
In Sickness and In Health
Occasionally, extraordinary discharges of electricity are related to periods of illness. For example, in January 1837 brilliant sparks up to 11/2 inches long were emitted from the fingers of a woman on Orford, New Hampshire, who suffered from a variety of problems with her joints and muscles. The woman’s electrification lasted six weeks. Her doctor attributed the cause to a dramatic aurora borealis in the sky during the same period.
In 1879, when 19-year-old Caroline Clare of London, Ontario was recovering from a lengthy and baffling neurologic illness, she found that metal objects jumped into her hands as she reached for them. If she held on to any item, it would stick, and someone else would have to pull it off.
In 1920 the chief physician of a state prison in New York reported on a number of inmates who carried strong charges of static electricity during an outbreak of food poisoning. Paper would stick to their hands, and they could deflect compass needles and make a metal tape away by moving their hands over it. The phenomena ceased when the men recovered their health.
Nothing is known about the health of an Englishwoman, Mrs. Grace Charlesworth, who was tormented by electrical phenomena for two years in the 1960’s. Objects in her home would give her electric shocks, she would vibrate in her bed, and sparks ran up the walls. An examination of the house where Mrs. Charlesworth had lived uneventfully for 40 years uncovered nothing that could account for the shocks; scientists could conclude only that they originated from Mrs. Charlesworth.
Among the more recent cases on record are those of people who have had strange effects on electrical equipment. In 1973 a woman in London had to appeal publicly for help, she claimed automatic ticket machines, and household appliances malfunctioned when she approached them.
Perhaps the most dramatic of contemporary cases is that of Jacqueline Priestman of Manchester, England. In 1983 she had an adverse effect on 30 vacuum cleaners, five irons, and two washing machines. Whenever she passed her television set or any electrical equipment, the appliance started to act up and often emitted sparks.
Despite more than 100 years of investigation, to date physical science has failed to account for the bizarre phenomenon of electric people. One thing seems certain: more than ordinary electricity or magnetism is involved.
Some researchers have suggested that an undiscovered source of transmittable electromagnetic power within the human body may be responsible or that atmospheric conditions may play apart. But there is little evidence to support their theories – and electric people still defy explanation.