In November 1890, in Thorah, near Toronto, Canada, strange things started to happening around a 14 year-old girl named Jennie Bramwell, She was the adopted daughter of a farmer, Mr. Dawson, and his wife. Jennie had been ill and gone into a trance, will in this trance she could be heard crying out 'Look at that!' well pointing to a ceiling which was on fire. Shortly after, to the amazement of Mr. and Mrs. Dawson, she pointed to another fire. The following day numerous fires broke out around the house; as soon as one was put out, another started. In one instance while Mrs. Dawson and the girl were seated facing a wall, the wallpaper suddenly caught fire, Jennie's dress then burst into flames and Mrs. Dawson burnt her hands extinguishing the fire. Fires continued to break out in the house for a whole week. A report in the Toronto Globe, for November 9th,1890, described charred pieces of wallpaper, which looked as if they'd been burned using a blazing lamp. The situation soon became unbearable, at one point all the furniture was moved into the front yard, and Jennie was blamed for the fires, she was sent back to the orphanage shortly after..... With her leaving, the phenomena stopped.
The reporter from the Toronto Globe depicted her as 'a half-witted girl [who] had walked about the house with a match, setting light to everything she came across.' However, he had difficulty explaining exactly how the fire on the ceiling, and those on the walls had been started. Charles Fort, describing the case, commented wryly - 'I'll not experiment, but I assume that I could flip matches all day at a wall, and not set wallpaper afire.'
Then in January 1895 strange fires started in the house of an out of work carpenter named Adam Colwell in Brooklyn, New York. The fires were investigated by the police and firemen who witnessed furniture burst into flames with no apparent explanation and subsequently reported that the cause of the fires was unexplained.
Thought the Fire Marshall suspected the Colwells adopted daughter, Rhoda, of playing some part starting the flames. He stated that 'It might be thought that the child Rhoda started at least two of the fires, but she can not be considered guilty of the others, Because she was being questioned, when a few of them started. the Fire Marshall " I do not want to be quoted as a believer in the supernatural, but I have no explanation to offer, as to the cause of the fires, or of the throwing around of the furniture."
Mr. Colwell stated that on the afternoon of January 4th will in the company of his wife and stepdaughter Rhoda, a crash was heard - a large, empty stove had fallen over, four pictures also fell off the walls. Shortly afterwards a bed caught fire, a policeman was called who saw wallpaper start to burn. Another fire started and a heavy lamp fell from a hook onto the floor. The house burned to the ground and the family, who had lost everything apart from their clothes, were taken to the police station. Captain Rhoades, of the Greenpoint Precinct said that he could attribute the strange fires to 'no other cause than a supernatural agency.'
However, a man named Mr. J.L. Hope from Flushing, Long Island, went to see Captain Rhoades and told him that Rhoda had worked for him as a housemaid and, between November 19th and December 19th, four mysterious fires had broken out. This was enough to convince the Captain of Rhoda's guilt in the present case as well, and she was warned to admit the truth. Frightened, she admitted that she had started the fires as she disliked the place she lived and wanted to get away. The girl had also knocked the pictures off the walls and dropped matches into the beds, continuing, even after the police, firemen and detectives arrived at the house.
Though the police Captain had previously thought the fires 'supernatural' he now had a natural explanation in Rhoda's now well-attested fire-starting tendencies. The New York Herald ran the story as 'Policemen and firemen artfully tricked by a, young girl.'
So instead of investigating the fires in Flushing the Captain now satisfied that Rhoda had set the fires simply closed the case.
Sudden fire starting for no apparent reason seems to be connected with poltergeist activity along with the moving of furniture and banging sounds.... Some, though not all, of the fire-starters seem to be orphans in unhappy situations, and this may, in some cases, explain the motive. But since the methods used to start the fires were a mystery, we are still left with the puzzle that certain people seem to posses a seemingly paranormal ability to unconsciously start fires without any visible means.