Angelique Cottin was a Normandy peasant girl who had a bizarre affect on objects and people. Indeed, the phenomena which she 'produced' are very similar to those more normally associated with poltergeists. Angelique became known as 'The Electric Girl', and her case, though certainly not unique, was one of the first of its kind to be scientifically investigated.
The phenomena began in the town of La Perriere, France, on January 15, 1846, when Angelique was 14. It was eight o'clock in the evening, and Angelique, together with some other girls, was weaving silk gloves on an oak frame, when suddenly the frame began to shake as if it were alive. The girls couldn't keep it still no matter what they tried. They became distressed and called the neighbours, who didn't believe them and told them to carry on with their work. So they returned slowly, one by one, to the weaving frame, which remained still until Angйlique came near, then it again began dancing around again. All the girls were afraid, but Angйlique also felt a strange attraction towards the frame.
When Angelique's parents found out about the incident they thought she must be possessed. So they took her to the presbytery in order to have her exorcised. But the curate would have none of it, instead he wanted to witness the strange phenomenon for himself, and, after doing so, and convincing himself it was physical, advised her parents to take the girl to a medical doctor.
Meanwhile, Angelique's bizarre condition worsened. When she attempted to sit in a chair, it was pulled or pushed away; such was the power of the force that a strong man couldn't hold down the chair. A heavy 60 pound table floated up from the floor when she touched it. If she tried to sleep in a bed, it rocked, and the only place she could rest was on a stone covered with cork. Whenever she went near objects they moved away from her, even without apparent physical contact. The merest touch of her hand, apron or petticoats sent things - even heavy furniture - flying off or bouncing up and down, even if someone was firmly holding them down. People who were near her, even without any contact, would frequently get electric shocks.
A certain Monsieur Hebert, while sitting on a heavy container, was raised up into the air with it. The blowing of a cold wind - as often experienced in hauntings or poltergeist cases, was also noted in her presence. Angйlique was often injured by her own violent involuntary movements, and when the power was active her heartbeat would increase to 120 a minute. She also suffered from convulsions during the activity and she was so frightened by her power that she constantly ran away from the scene.
The effects of her condition, though lessened when she was on a carpet or waxed cloth, intensified remarkably when she was on the bare earth. Metals, it seems, were not affected at all, indicating that if it was a form of electricity it was an unusual kind. Her 'powers' sometimes stopped completely for two or three days, and then started again without warning. When she was tired the effects were reduced.
The doctor who Angelique had been referred to brought her, along with her father and mother, to Paris. At the Observatory she was studied by a group of scientists appointed by the Academy of Sciences. They testified that the phenomena were real, and a report was published by well known physicist, Franзois Arago, in the Journal des dйbats (February 1846).
Arago noted many things about Angelique's strange power, which he thought was a kind of electro-magnetism. He noted that the left side of the body, specifically around her left hand and pelvis, was where most of the repulsive force was, and that during the activity the left side of her body was warmer than the right. Her body was affected by unpredictable movements, and a shaking, which was transferred to any hand which touched it. The phenomena were not produced continuously, but sporadically during the day, and most intensely in the evening between seven and nine o'clock.
When a piece of paper, a pen, or any other light object was put on a table, and Angelique approached with her left hand, even before she touched anything, the object would fly off the table, as if blown by a gust of wind. The table itself was sent flying the minute her hand touched it, or even when it was touched by a thread which she was holding. If she tried to sit down the seat was thrown a distance from her with such a force that any other person sitting in it was carried off as well. One day, even though the chair was held by two very strong men, it shattered between their hands. On another occasion a chest on which three men were sitting was moved in this way. Arago noted that Angelique could: 'touch no object without breaking it or throwing it upon the ground.' His observations also confirmed what others had noticed earlier, that pieces of furniture only needed to be lightly touched by her clothes to be moved or overturned.
Arago probably arrived at his theory about electro-magnetism after observing the young girl's strange sensibility to the action of magnets. A horizontally suspended needle swung quickly with the movement of her arm, though there was no contact, or remained still, while deviating from the magnetic direction. When she approached the north pole of a magnet she experienced a powerful shock, while the south pole produced no effect at all; she was tested on this many times when a scientist changed the poles without her knowledge, but she always found the north by the different sensations which she felt. This is remarkably similar to the talents of German mystery child Kaspar Hauser 20 years earlier (see Kaspar Hauser article on this site). Arago, however, did not see any evidence that the young girl had any affect on the needle of a compass, though he had expected there to be some.
Despite the unpredictable nature of the phenomena the general health of Angelique Cottin was very good throughout all this, though it was suggested that some kind of nervous malady might explain her condition.
Argo summed up his findings by saying that the case of Angelique Cottin demonstrated: 'That, under peculiar conditions, the human organism gives forth a physical power which, without visible instruments, lifts heavy bodies, attracts or repels them, according to a law of polarity, -overturns them, and produces the phenomena of sound.'
That was not the end of the case, however. The girl's parents, poor and sensing an opportunity, decided, against the advice of the doctors, to exhibit Angelique in Paris as an attraction for paying visitors. It seems likely, as suggested by Catherine Crowe (see Night Side of Nature p301), that after the phenomena had in reality stopped, the girl was persuaded to fake what had originally been a genuinely mysterious phenomenon.
On 10 April, 1846, the phenomena ceased, never to return.
Although Angelique was probably the best known 'Electric Girl', there were others around at about the same time. Catherine Crowe mentions a young lady - Mademoiselle Emmerich, sister of the professor of theology at Strasburg, who also had this 'electric' power. The problem originated from a serious fright, after which the girl fell into a state of deep trance, accompanied by a great degree of clarity. Her body was so charged with electricity that she became in effect a human electric battery, as Colin Wilson puts it, (Poltergeist, p132), and she gave electric shocks to whoever was near her, as with Angйlique Cottin, often without touching them. Incredibly, she was able to give her brother, Professor Emmerich, a sharp shock when he was several rooms away. He ran into her bedroom and as soon as he entered she said laughing, 'Ah, you felt it, did you?' Unfortunately, Mademoiselle Emmerich's illness ended in her death.
Mrs. Crowe also mentions an acquaintance of hers who could give electric shocks by the use of will power alone, though it does not seem that Angиlique Cottin had enough control over her abilities to force them to obey her will.