Angélique Cottin was a 14 year old Normandy peasant girl in the town of La Perrière. Little did she know that the events which would occur on the evening of January 15, 1846, would change her life forever and send her name into the annals of the mysterious, strange and bizarre.
It was about 8pm and Angélique, together with a number of other girls, were weaving silk gloves on an old oak weaving frame. Suddenly the heavy wooden frame began to shake and no matter what they did, the girls could not keep it still.
Being scared of this strange phenomenon, they ran out and called a neighbour who disbelieving them, told them to go back and get on with their work. Slowly the girsl went back to the weaving frame which was now still … until Angélique came near when it began dancing around again. Al the girls were afraid, but Angélique felt a strange attraction to the frame.
Of course this story got around and when her parents found out, they insisted that she must be demon possessed and took her straight to the presbytery to have her exorcised. The curate was skeptical and demanded to see the strange happening himself. Angélique complied. The curate was convinced that the matter was physical rather than spiritual and advised her parents to take her to a doctor.
In the meantime Angélique’s condition worsened. When she attempted to sit in a large wooden chair, the chair was forced away from by an unseen force. It was so strong that a large man could not keep hold of it. A table weighing 60 pounds floated up from the floor when she touched it, and sleeping in her bed became impossible as it would rock and shudder as soon as she went near it. The only place that seemed safe to sleep was the cold stone floor with a cork plank thrown on it.
Whenever she went near objects, they would move away. Just a touch of her hand, or even clothing, would send even heavy furniture flying – even if someone was holding onto it. Another anomaly to emerge was that frequently people who went near her would get electric shocks. Cold air, such as is often reported during poltergeist or haunting activity was also felt.
Angélique’s body was also suffering from the strange malady. She was often injured from these violent and unpredictable events. Doctors who monitored her, reported that her heartbeat would often rise to around 120 beats per minute and convulsions were also a common feature. She would become so scared of her power that she would often run away from the scene of the activity.
People soon noticed that certain materials were more resistant to her extraordinary abilities. When she was on a carpet or waxed cloth, the effects were mutes. Conversely bare earth seemed to intensify the powers. All things pointed to the powers being electrical in nature, except for one oddity: metals seemed to be immune from the effects. Could this indicate a special kind of electricity?
The strange phenomenon was also pretty erratic. It would often cease for a couple of days before starting up again. When Angélique was tired, it seemed that the powers diminished somewhat.
The doctor and her parents decided to send Angélique to Paris for further study. She was taken to the Observatory where scientists appointed by the Academy of Sciences could observe and study her. The committee testified that the phenomena were real, and a report was published in the Journal des débats (February 1846).
The well known astronomer and physicist of the day, François Arago, was called in to observe the girl’s strange powers. He noted a number of strange things about her. The left side of her body was where the power of repulsion was the strongest and that during periods of activity, the left side of her body was warmer than the right. He also noted that the peak of activity seemed to occur from 7pm to 9pm.
Arago wrote about a number of different events that he had witnessed.
In one case three heavy men were sitting on a chest. When Angélique came near, the chest moved across the floor. In other case a chair was held down by two strong men. When Angélique came near it shattered into many pieces.
Tables would fly across the room in she touched it. The same result happened when she touched the table with a small thread of cotton which she was holding.
Under more scientific experiments, it was noted that a horizontally suspended needle would move when she moved her arm and that if she went near the north pole of a magnet, she would receive an electric shock. Strangely the south pole would have no effect. Arago did also note that she appeared to have no effect on the needle of a compass.
Arago concluded that Angélique was based on electro-magnetism. Somehow her body was generating high levels of electro-magnetic fields which would affect the things around her. He wrote: ‘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.’
The girls parents, sensing that their impoverished status could now change, decided to exhibit her strange talents in Paris to a paying audience. It was rumoured however that most, if not all of her performances were faked as the phenomenon had ceased. It is commonly accepted that on 10 April, 1846, the phenomena stopped, never to return.