Devil’s Chair Blamed for Exhibit Shutdown

Kenny Biddle

A new exhibit at Zak Bagans’s (Not) Haunted Museum apparently had to be shut down after some alleged paranormal activity got a bit too overwhelming for the TV star. The focus of the new exhibit, a rocking chair that is said to have played a part in “The Devil in Connecticut” demon possession case, was blamed for four specific events: a small door opening on its own, a power cord being yanked out of the wall, a woman fainting inside the museum, and six people allegedly crying for no reason. It didn’t take long for the news to hit TV tabloid show TMZ and be repeated by other news outlets, so I decided to take a closer look.

Bagans purchased the chair—dramatically dubbed “The Devil’s Chair”—earlier this year from Carl Glatzel Jr., older brother of David Glatzel who was at the center of an alleged demon possession case detailed in the book The Devil in Connecticut. David, who was eleven at the time of the experience, began exhibiting extremely odd behavior. The parents called in Ed and Lorraine Warren, self-proclaimed demonologists who, predictably, diagnosed the child with “demonic possession.” The Warrens allegedly attempted four minor rites of exorcism on David in 1980, apparently to rid the boy of forty-some demons that were reportedly possessing him (Newswire.com 2007). The so-called Devil’s Chair was reportedly in the room during these events and “would allegedly rock on its own, levitate, and even vanish and reappear. David and Lorraine also claim to have seen the devil sitting in it” presumably as Satan got bored standing and watching his minions be removed from the boy (TMZ 2019).

In 2007, Carl and David Glatzel filed a lawsuit against Lorraine Warren and Gerald Brittle for their involvement in authoring The Devil in Connecticut book, which was originally published by Bantam Books in 1983 and rereleased by IUniverse in 2006. According to Carl Glatzel Jr. and other members of his family, David had been suffering from a mental illness rather than any sort of demon possession. Carl stated, “My brother was never possessed. He, along with my family, was manipulated and exploited, something the Warrens were very good at, and along with their author, Gerald Brittle, they concocted a phony story about demons in an attempt to get rich and famous at our expense, and we have the evidence to prove it.” Carl continued, “The Warrens told my family numerous times that we would be millionaires and the book would help get my sister’s boyfriend, Arne, out of jail. I knew from day one it was a lie, but as a child, there was nothing I could really do about it” (Newswire.com 2007). Although I located some court documents concerning the case, I could not find the result of the lawsuit, and it was likely dropped, dismissed, or settled.

According to a TMZ article, Carl Glatzel decided to sell the “Devil’s Chair” because it has been in his family’s possession since the 1950s. He was moving to a new home and simply doesn’t want to take it with him. The article reports that Bagans purchased the chair for a hefty $67,000 (Hey Zak, I’ve got a few items I’ll sell you). However, after reading all the hype I’m left with two important questions: first, if Glatzel had this “haunted” chair since the 1980 events—almost forty years ago—why have we not heard of any paranormal activity before Bagans got it? Sure, Carl Glatzel is quoted claiming “the family heirloom has mostly been avoided due to its bad juju. He claims those who have been brave or stupid enough to sit in it have paid the price with back pain afterward … one of his friends even had to have surgery!!!” (TMZ 2019). Back pain is not uncommon and has several perfectly natural causes. Also, I’m sure after sitting in an old chair like this one most people would feel some back pain.

My second question concerns the connection of the chair to the alleged exorcisms. How do we know that this chair was in the room with the allegedly possessed David Glatzel and the Warrens? I could find no images that would place the chair in the room with those people during the event, and therefore establish this was the same chair. Of course, there may be images somewhere, but there does not seem to be any in the public domain. We simply can’t be sure whether this chair was the one in the stories or just an old chair one could pick up at a yard sale for $5. This is a pattern that Bagans seems to follow closely, as I’ve demonstrated with my investigations of the Bela Lugosi Mirror and Captain Smith’s ‘Haunted’ Mirror (Biddle 2019a; Biddle 2019b), where he promotes a sinister and sensational background without providing documentation in support of the claim.

For example, a Newsweek article that covered the closing of the exhibit stated in its first paragraph, “Bagans welcomed the new addition, a rocking chair from the museum of Ed and Lorraine Warren that inspired the upcoming Conjuring 3” (Wynne 2019). The claim that it came from the Warrens’ own museum was quickly refuted by Tony Spera, the spouse of Judy Spera (daughter of the Warrens). In a post on social media dated May 2, 2019, Spera stated “Just to clear up any confusion. The rocking chair that Zak Bagans bought—he did NOT buy it from us (people have written me wanting to know how I could ever sell a haunted item). The chair was never in Ed, Lorraine’s or my possession. Carl Glatzel Jr. had possession of the chair—and sold it to Zak. We would not sell haunted or alleged haunted artifacts. Period” (Spera 2019). To be fair, we can’t be sure whether this error originated with Bagans or the author of the article. Regardless, misleading information such as this is what drives many of the items in Bagans’s museum.

Let’s get back to the shutdown of the museum exhibit. On May 27, 2019, a tour guide by the name of Virginia posted to Twitter “No longer than 15 minutes ago a lady lost her vision on my tour and passed out in the hallway her eyes rolled around she began crying and didn’t know why she was crying 5 tour guides have been crying myself included” (Rebelene 2019) . Apparently, the uncontrollable crying and sobbing was not severe enough to keep the tour guide from posting on social media.  Another post (also on Twitter) by Bagans himself a few minutes later confirmed the temporary closure and stated “… moments before we opened the exhibit me and my assistant witnessed a plug get yanked out of the wall socket by itself then the door to the chair opened slowly” (Bagans 2019).

Surveillance footage obtained by TMZ shows both the room where the chair exhibit is housed and where the woman who suffered the fainting spell had her incident. In the “chair room,” we see footage taken approximately twenty minutes before the first tour group was allowed in (TMZ 2019). Bagans is seen standing by the doorway and his assistant is sitting on the floor. On the right side of the screen, we see the viewing door (to the chair) slowly start to open, picking up a little speed as it continues. Wooden shelves on the wall obscure the camera’s view of the door until it swings open several inches (though we can spot movement between gaps in the shelving). This reminded me sharply of a door that’s not level on the hinges and either hasn’t been completely shut and opens due to vibration (caused by foot traffic) or is pushed open by air pressure.

The CCTV video isn’t great, but it does allow for two details to stand out. First, there is a gate on the left side of the screen that is open. This would normally be closed to prevent guests from getting too close to the exhibit piece (he has a similar set-up with the Peggy doll exhibit), but during this video the gate is obviously open. It makes me wonder if Zak (or his assistant) had been on the other side of the barrier messing with the door or had closed the door himself. The video footage starts about four seconds before the viewing door begins to open, so we don’t know what was going on prior to the event. I also find it strange that Zak and his assistant were in the room waiting for something to happen with the “Devil’s Chair”—with the viewing door to the chair closed. Why would it be closed? I mean, if you’re in the room to see if the “Devil’s Chair” does something, such as start rocking on its own, wouldn’t you want to see that? The claims about the chair involve that it “allegedly rocks on its own, levitates, and even vanishes and reappears” as stated earlier. With the door closed, none of this potentially mind-blowing activity could be witnessed by the so-called investigators. It just doesn’t make any sense.

The second thing that stands out to me is an apparent edit in the video. As the door is opening, it suddenly skips ahead; the door skips ahead about a foot in its travel, and Zak’s left hand goes from down by his side to suddenly holding his phone (along with his right hand). Skips in videos are a red flag to me; I don’t trust them. Granted, it could very well have been a glitch in the recording system, but it still opens this event to editing. Skips have been used to hide certain details, such as light glinting off fishing line or an exposed body part of a hidden accomplice. To clarify, I’m not saying this is the case here; I have no evidence to support such an accusation. I’m just pointing out that skips can easily be used to hide revealing details, especially when the camera is stationary.

There is one more detail I’d like to explore. In the interview from Newsweek, “Bagans clarified that the chair is housed directly under the set of stairs (where the woman faints).” (Wynne 2019). If the chair is housed in a small alcove directly under a main staircase, which can be seen in the video footage of the woman fainting, we can speculate that there would be a considerable amount of foot traffic throughout the day and night, both from employees and tourists. If there is a leveling issue with the viewing door to the chair, it’s not hard to imagine the vibrations from people going up and down those stairs might cause the door to pop open. Keep in mind that during touring hours, the viewing door is normally open (so visitors can see the chair), and the occasional opening of an unlevel door wouldn’t be noticed. This is something I would love to test myself, though I’m not so sure Bagans would be welcoming to that idea.

According to Bagans, the second major activity attributed to this old chair that caused the shutdown involved “six people all shared the same disturbing, uncontrollable crying during the short time I opened the exhibit, one of them being a guest who also collapsed directly above the Devil’s Rocking Chair on the stairs” (Wynne 2019). Fainting is the sudden and temporary loss of consciousness, usually due to a lack of oxygen to the brain (Nordqvist 2017). There are serious conditions that lead to fainting, such as coronary artery disease, severe heart valve disease, anemia or blood loss, especially in older people (URMC 2019). Other triggers include severe emotional upsets, fear, standing for a long time, suddenly standing up, coughing very hard, and dehydration or loss of body fluid (URMC 2019). Symptoms also include “falling down, blurred vision, and confusion” (Nordqvist 2017). There are plenty of natural causes for someone to faint with no need to invoke some make-believe evil power of an old rocking chair.

If we consider that the majority of visitors to the museum are fans of Bagans, his television show, the paranormal, or all three, it’s not a stretch to suggest that some of these triggers could have played a role in why this woman fainted; high anxiety and fear from being around so many “haunted” objects, perhaps mixed with a little dehydration from the Las Vegas heat (I’ve also been to the museum and know that it gets hot in there) and long wait time just to get in. As of this writing, there has been no follow-up on the woman’s condition, so I don’t know what the likely cause of her fainting spell was. I do hope she is feeling much better.

This situation is certainly an emotional and upsetting experience as well, which can easily result in the person crying. It is also not a stretch to think that others involved or witnessing the situation were extremely concerned for the welfare of the woman and suffered emotional responses themselves, often referred to as sympathy crying. The woman was obviously not alone, and family and/or friends could easily become emotional during such an experience. We don’t know if all six people spontaneously started crying at the same exact time or if there was a progression as the events were unfolding (most likely). Along with separation and loss, sympathy crying is among the most common causes of crying in adults (Williams and Morris 1996) and simply would not be unusual in this situation. In my time as an emergency medical technician, it was common to see family, friends, and even total strangers begin to weep when witnessing someone in distress. The video footage we’re provided doesn’t actually show anyone crying; it shows only concerned people helping another person in distress.

In addition to what was reported at the museum, Bagans also claims things were going on in his own home. He states, “Me and a friend felt an evil presence move between us as we were sitting down in my living room, which then caused my dog to growl,” Bagans explained. “I then became very affected, began speaking strange things about God and Satan with my head down, and then my friend began to cry uncontrollably and literally ran outta my house” (Wynne 2019). It is only the latest in a series of events in which Bagans has claimed to be “possessed”; he’s done this bit so many times even his own fans are weary of it.

Poor investigation methods are common with Bagans and his crew. The camera appeared to be deliberately positioned so the viewer can’t fully see the alleged activity, which seems to be common with his adventures. The footage we’re shown from the “Devil’s Chair” exhibit gives us a great view of Zak and his assistant emoting but absolutely no view of the subject we actually want to monitor, the Devil’s Chair. Seriously, with all of the alleged claims associated with that chair, why would this self-styled “one of the world’s leading researchers on ghosts and demonology” (as described in his Demon House film) not have a camera trained on the chair?

This isn’t the first time Bagans has demonstrated this poor methodology with camera placement. For example, in Bagans’s pseudodocumentary Demon House, after barricading himself inside a house he apparently encounters a dark entity in the room with him. However, the handheld camera, which is set on the mattress next to him, suddenly (and conveniently) goes out of focus. In addition, footage of that moment from a camera mounted in the corner of the room is never shown to the viewer. I have a pretty good idea why.

Paranormal groups that watch these shows and try to emulate them must understand that the poor choices being made (often done deliberately to hide details) demonstrate a severe lack of good investigation skills. If you’re monitoring a specific object, several cameras are required to keep an eye on the object from various angles and vantage points: close up, wide angle, etc. You also need to cover any access paths to the object, e.g., doorways, windows, upper and lower floors, etc. Properly investigating a claim takes time, planning, patience, controls, and a lot more work than what you see on “reality” TV shows.

I have little doubt the exhibit will reopen quickly and visitors will continue lining up outside to satisfy their curiosity and fanboy needs. In fact, as I was finishing up this article, I received confirmation that the exhibit reopened on June 7. Keep in mind that people do faint for various reasons and seemingly weird things happens all the time yet have very natural and logical explanations. There is no reason to think that the fainting is in any way relevant to the contents or theme of Bagans’s museum. Visitors to museums around the world occasionally faint—as they do at restaurants, theaters, amusement parks, on subways, and so on. Before jumping to the illogical conclusion that it must be paranormal activity, make sure the person who fainted is taken care of, and then look for possible causes of “weird” events. A little common sense and critical thinking can go a long way. There’s really no reason to think a “haunted” chair was responsible.

 


References

  • Bagans, Zak. 2019. Twitter post. Available online at
    https://twitter.com/Zak_Bagans/status/1133150410510749696.
  • Biddle, Kenny, 2019a. A closer look at the Bela Lugosi ‘haunted’ mirror. Available online at
    https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/a_closer_look_at_the_bela_lugosi_haunted_mirror/.
    Biddle, Kenny. 2019b. The provenance of Captain Smith’s ‘haunted’ mirror. Available online at
    https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/the_provenance_of_captain_smithrsquos_lsquohauntedrsquo_mirror/
  • Newswire.com. 2007. Brothers sue world famous psychic Lorraine Warren for false accusations in Devil book. Available online at
    https://web.archive.org/web/20080829012011/http://www.mmdnewswire.com/brors-sue-world-fmous-psychic-lorrine-wrren-for-flse-ccustis-in-devil-book-2347-2.html.
  • Nordqvist, Christian. 2017. What is fainting and what causes it? Available online at
    https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/182524.php.
  • Rebelene123. 2019. Twitter post. Available online at
    https://twitter.com/ZFlowers112/status/1133815372946268160.
  • Spera, Tony. 2019. Facebook posting (May 2).
  • TMZ.com. 2019. Zak Bagans adds haunted rocking chair to the … from ‘Devil Made Me Do It’ case. Available online at
    https://www.tmz.com/2019/04/28/zak-bagans-hanted-rocking-chair-lorraine-warren-devil-made-me-do-it-case-conjuring/.
  • University of Rochester Medical Center Rochester, NY. 2019. A serious look at fainting. Available online at
    https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=56&contentid=1636.
  • Williams, D.G., and G.H. Morris. 1996. Crying, weeping or tearfulness in British and Israeli adults. British Journal of Psychology 87: 479–05. pmid:8794556.
  • Wynne, Kelly. 2019. Zak Bagans closes devil’s rocking chair exhibit after museum haunts, chilling encounter in his home. Available online at
    https://www.newsweek.com/zak-bagans-closes-devils-rocking-chair-exhibit-1441871.

Kenny Biddle

Kenny Biddle is a science enthusiast who investigates claims of paranormal experiences, equipment, photos, and video. He promotes science, critical thinking, and skepticism through his blog I Am Kenny Biddle. He frequently hosts workshops on how to deconstruct and explain paranormal photography. Email – parainvestigator@comcast.net