The baptism by fire for the American Society for Pchychical Research was a most talked-about event. At that time (the year was 1884), the ASPR had only five members, and all were eager to start investigating. So when the first case turned up, it was the five of them en bloc who got ready to look into it. At that time, the Society already had a small network of spies or informants. You know?, the investigation of paranormal phenomena presents similarities with criminal investigations. One needs informants in the streets, people with eyes and ears wide open to find out anything unusual that is happening. In those early times, however, the network of informants of the ASPR was very small. In fact it consisted of only one man, Jerry Bonanno, although this man was located in the right place.
Bonanno was a waiter in McDermont’s Old Ale House, a Lower East Side saloon which was a kind of magnet for paranormal guys. Mediums, clairvoyants, telepaths … all came together in that place at the end of the afternoon. There was even an individual of whom (for the way in which he sucked wodka) Bonanno suspected that he was an extraterrestrial, one of those reptilians disguised as ordinary people the conspiranoics talk so much about. By the way, the conspiranoics were also part of the clientele. In particular there was an individual who had spent five years in a bunker built underground in a lone spot of Flatbush. His astrologer had told him that a Martian invasion was imminent and he spent all his savings on building and equipping the bunker. One afternoon he read in the newspaper the news of a UFO sighting and did not hesitate for a moment. “They’re already here,” he thought, and went to lock himself in his bunker. After five years, when he ran out of cans of food, he surfaced expecting to find the Earth devastated, and what he discovered was that just above his bunker they had built a wooden hut. The old woman who had rented the hut got the shock of his life when she saw the individual emerge from the ground of the sitting room. She thought he was the devil himself!
But I’m digressing.
The fact is that one day this Bonanno went to the headquarters of the ASPR with a sensational news: he had heard rumors that in an Orchard Street apartment there was a guy possessed by several demons at the same time. The demons did not stop quarreling among themselves due to the lack of space, so the neighbors were sick of the noise and the shouting. When the five members of the ASPR went to the small apartment, they heard through the door such commotion that they thought it was one of those crowded apartments that, sadly, were so abundant in the neighborhood. But it was a single subject who lived there, only that he did not stop disguising different voices that argued heatedly with each other. However, the man had periods of lucidity during which he managed to expose the investigators how desperate was his situation. According to him, five demons at odds with each other had entered his body and there was no way to evict them. These periods of lucidity, however, were scarce and lasted only a few minutes. Most of the time, the man looked like a ventriloquist who gave voice to five dolls at a time. The experts of the ASPR witnessed one of these nasty arguments and, during the first half hour, they did not intervene. But then, little by little they took sides, each one with one of the warring parties.
As the discussion among the members of the ASPR grew heated, the possessed man experienced the inverse reaction: he was appeasing himself. When a Catholic priest arrived a little later to exorcise the possessed man, he realized that the work was already done: the five demons had left the body of the man (who laid exhausted in bed) and carried on with their dispute on the outside.