If you ever start to hear voices coming from your stove, goblins are probably the least of your worries. But when this happened to one family in Zaragoza, Spain, the voice was quickly labeled as a duende (which roughly translates to “elf” or “goblin”). News soon spread around the country and beyond. As strange as this case was, the explanation that was eventually settled upon sounds just as bizarre: it was allegedly caused by the household maid's “unconscious ventriloquism."
The incident began in September of 1934 when the Palazón family started hearing voices, screams, and laughter coming from the kitchen stove and its chimney. The family lived in an apartment building, and when they invited their neighbors to come listen, their visitors would hear the voices as well. Word got around, and both the skeptics and believers began referring to the voice as a duende.
Although it wouldn't have been a stretch to say the chimney was funneling voices from another room in the building, what made the case so mysterious was how the voice interacted with people in the Palazóns' apartment. Within a month of surfacing, the voice was asking and answering questions. It developed something of an obsession with the family’s young maid, Pascuala Alcocer, and would sometimes call out her name and cackle.
After enduring the madness for several weeks, the Palazóns eventually turned to the police for help. The police investigation only added to the frenzy surrounding the phenomenon, as curious onlookers flocked to the building by the hundreds. An architect and some workmen searched every room from the cellar up for the potential prankster only to find no one. Still, the voice continued to answer each question the police asked it. When one worker commented that the chimney opening should be measured, the voice reportedly said “You need not trouble, the diameter is just six inches.” This turned out to be accurate.
The initial investigation produced no answers, so the building was evacuated and a team of police officers and volunteers were tasked with monitoring the perimeter round the clock. The voice continued to blabber on until one day it suddenly stopped. The police withdrew their investigation, only for the voice to reappear two days later proclaiming, “Cowards, cowards, cowards, here I am.”
The Palazóns had had enough and left town for good. Meanwhile, the police reopened the case and public interest in the phenomenon soared to new heights. The London Times reported on the story on a near daily basis, and one Barcelona radio station tried getting a microphone into the room to broadcast the voice live.
On December 4th, more than two months after the voice was first heard, the governor of Zaragoza issued a statement he hoped would put an end to the hysteria. He alleged that the family's maid had been performing “unconscious ventriloquism”—in other words, she was throwing her voice without being aware of it. The official who had presided over the investigation claimed to have seen this first-hand, and the town more or less accepted the explanation, even though Alcocer hadn’t been present for most of the occurrences and the goblin voice was identified as male.
Normal life resumed in the apartment building, although paranormal noises were still occasionally reported by tenants. Any remaining hope of uncovering additional evidence vanished when the the apartment complex was torn down in 1977. There’s hardly anything out of the ordinary about the building that was erected in the its place—except for the words “Edificio Duende” or “Goblin Building” branded in gold lettering beside the entrance.
[h/t: Atlas Obscura via Slate]