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Haunted Girl : Esther Cox & the Great Amherst Mystery

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In 1878 eighteen-year-old Esther Cox arrived in Amherst, Nova Scotia, to live with her sister’s family. Shortly after Esther moved in, the story goes, the house was plagued by unexplained occurrences—something (or someone) knocked on the walls, hid household items, moved furniture around, and set fires. Esther herself was subject to mysterious fevers, prodding and, on one In 1878 eighteen-year-old Esther Cox arrived in Amherst, Nova Scotia, to live with her sister’s family. Shortly after Esther moved in, the story goes, the house was plagued by unexplained occurrences—something (or someone) knocked on the walls, hid household items, moved furniture around, and set fires. Esther herself was subject to mysterious fevers, prodding and, on one occasion, stabbing. These occurrences followed her when she went to stay with other families in the area. Eventually she was charged with robbery and spent a month in jail, after which the haunting ceased. Was Esther the victim of paranormal powers or the troubled mind behind a series of elaborate hoaxes? At the time of her alleged haunting, the plausibility of Esther Cox’s claims were hotly debated in newspapers and by fellow Amherst residents. In the hundred years since her death, Esther’s story has been retold numerous times and she remains to this day the town’s most famous historical figure.


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In 1878 eighteen-year-old Esther Cox arrived in Amherst, Nova Scotia, to live with her sister’s family. Shortly after Esther moved in, the story goes, the house was plagued by unexplained occurrences—something (or someone) knocked on the walls, hid household items, moved furniture around, and set fires. Esther herself was subject to mysterious fevers, prodding and, on one In 1878 eighteen-year-old Esther Cox arrived in Amherst, Nova Scotia, to live with her sister’s family. Shortly after Esther moved in, the story goes, the house was plagued by unexplained occurrences—something (or someone) knocked on the walls, hid household items, moved furniture around, and set fires. Esther herself was subject to mysterious fevers, prodding and, on one occasion, stabbing. These occurrences followed her when she went to stay with other families in the area. Eventually she was charged with robbery and spent a month in jail, after which the haunting ceased. Was Esther the victim of paranormal powers or the troubled mind behind a series of elaborate hoaxes? At the time of her alleged haunting, the plausibility of Esther Cox’s claims were hotly debated in newspapers and by fellow Amherst residents. In the hundred years since her death, Esther’s story has been retold numerous times and she remains to this day the town’s most famous historical figure.

30 review for Haunted Girl : Esther Cox & the Great Amherst Mystery

  1. 4 out of 5

    Justin Wiswell

    “Haunted Girl – Esther Cox & the Great Amherst Mystery” is a recent addition to Nimbus & Vagrant Publishing’s long list of Eastern Canadian paranormal & folklore focused literature. The authors, Laurie Glenn Norris & Barbara Thompson, go to great lengths to provide a biographical narrative that is not only historically accurate, but pleasantly neutral and objective. In stark contrast to other books about Esther Cox, no potential stone is left unturned as to the possible causation of the alleged “Haunted Girl – Esther Cox & the Great Amherst Mystery” is a recent addition to Nimbus & Vagrant Publishing’s long list of Eastern Canadian paranormal & folklore focused literature. The authors, Laurie Glenn Norris & Barbara Thompson, go to great lengths to provide a biographical narrative that is not only historically accurate, but pleasantly neutral and objective. In stark contrast to other books about Esther Cox, no potential stone is left unturned as to the possible causation of the alleged phenomena – providing the reader with a unbridled look into the life of a 19th Century girl living in very unusual circumstances. “The Haunted Girl – Esther Cox & the Great Amherst Mystery” is as much a biography of Esther Cox’s life as it is a much needed retrospective case study of the phenomenal events that surrounded her from 1878 – 1879. Unlike most literature in this vein, the expectation should not be set that this is just a simple facsimile of William Hubbell’s novelization of the events that had plagued Esther Cox and the residents of 6 Princess Street, nor is it a simple retelling of folklore leaning on the side of superstition. It is, in fact, a surprisingly well-researched biography that not only provokes critical thinking, but also leads readers to question some of the same points the authors do, well before extensive reflection in later chapters. The book first sets the stage by recounting what daily life was like in Amherst during Esther’s life: what relationships had developed between local officials and the town’s people, who Esther Cox was, as well as the events leading up to “The Great Amherst Mystery”. Once the setting is established, the reader is immersed into each event as recounted by those who witnessed or documented Esther’s story. In early chapters, the authors are mindful not to interpret the events, but to report them as they were alleged to have transpired. The story itself is an arduous reconstruction from diary entries, conflicting articles from newspapers, and witness testimony. The reader is next introduced to Walter Hubbell, the author of “The Great Amherst Mystery”, who claimed to be interested only in documenting and authenticating the phenomena surrounding Esther. Considering his actual contributions to unravelling the mystery and his tendency to sensationalize, the reader begins to wonder if his motives were not actually self-serving. A great deal of time is spent deconstructing his work and cross-referencing with multiple sources throughout the book. The authors make a very astute observation about the media climate at the time, which remains true even today. They go to great lengths to explain the polarization of competing newspapers based on their interpretations of the events occurring at 6 Princess Street. Each newspaper is described as having taken drastically different stances. When one newspaper would run a story sensationalizing or glamorizing events, another would reel it back into the realm of science, while yet another would depict those writing about or participating in the public dialogue as frauds. Regardless of the authenticity of the events, the reader begins to see how Esther found herself under the microscope of early Canadians, and perhaps, unintentionally became an international celebrity. Approximately halfway through the book the reader is shown many contrasting interpretations of the events surrounding Esther Cox, and is given some insight into her state of mind, as well as the many expectations placed upon her. The authors then delve into the proliferation of spiritualism (how Esther would have been familiar with the movement) and the many forms of Mediumship that came in its wake. Many comparisons are drawn between similar cases such as the Fox Sisters, Angelique Cottin, the Salem Witch Trials, and Borley Rectory (to name a few). Whether readers are researchers, historians, folklore enthusiasts, or paranormal enthusiasts, “Haunted Girl – Esther Cox & the Great Amherst Mystery” opens up a century-old case of alleged poltergeist phenomena and could be considered the definitive guide to understanding “The Great Amherst Mystery”. While we may never know what actually happened to Esther Cox, “Haunted Girl – Esther Cox & the Great Amherst Mystery” is a great start. Not only does it set the precedent for researchers and enthusiasts alike, it is an excellent contribution to Canadiana.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hugh Coverly

    A jilted young woman is suddenly overtaken by six ghosts who control and assault her body, raising havoc in a ordinary working class family; then, just as suddenly some fifteen months later, after a short stay in jail for theft and arson, the “hauntings” stop, never to reoccur. What actually happened? What happened to Esther Cox? An excellent account of a long told and often exaggerated ghost story. Norris and Thompson demonstrate quite convincingly that there is more to this “good ghost story” A jilted young woman is suddenly overtaken by six ghosts who control and assault her body, raising havoc in a ordinary working class family; then, just as suddenly some fifteen months later, after a short stay in jail for theft and arson, the “hauntings” stop, never to reoccur. What actually happened? What happened to Esther Cox? An excellent account of a long told and often exaggerated ghost story. Norris and Thompson demonstrate quite convincingly that there is more to this “good ghost story” than is generally understood.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen McRae

    This account of Esther Cox is well written and I do like how it was written with the culture of the times in mind. Women were weak minded victims who easily fell prey to various influences. this could be maintained because they were treated as property and had no voice. It was very convenient to maintain this status quo as it kept men and their views firmly in charge.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Marisa

    Ultimately, this was disappointing. For such a fascinating story, this book is a bit bland when it comes to telling the story. I think it fell into the typical area that a lot of historic nonfiction books do when there isn't a lot of source material, which means the author talks about every other potentially related case and detail possible, but that still wasn't enough to hold my interest for what was already a very short book. Ultimately, this was disappointing. For such a fascinating story, this book is a bit bland when it comes to telling the story. I think it fell into the typical area that a lot of historic nonfiction books do when there isn't a lot of source material, which means the author talks about every other potentially related case and detail possible, but that still wasn't enough to hold my interest for what was already a very short book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tom Ruffles

    My review: http://www.spr.ac.uk/main/publication... My review: http://www.spr.ac.uk/main/publication...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jackie Gould

  7. 4 out of 5

    Allie Gagnon

  8. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lara Jane

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lacey

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gail

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jen

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

  14. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  15. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Martinez

  16. 4 out of 5

    Emma

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ainsley

  18. 4 out of 5

    Diane Tye

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Glenn Norris

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jared Adams

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Ward

  25. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  26. 4 out of 5

    Diane Mckinnon

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shona Burnside

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