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1826: When The Devil was loose in Salmon Street

1826: When The Devil was loose in Salmon Street 7

What I will be relating here is a classic Danish “poltergeist” case from 1826. This incident became so well known that it even led to the popular expression, “The Devil is loose in Salmon Street”, similar in meaning to “when the shit hits the fan”. It is still used occasionally, but more in a nostalgic manner. Many people don’t actually know the origin of the expression, but the story, popularly told, goes something like this:

One night in September 1826, a house located on Laksegade (Salmon Street) 15 in the center of Copenhagen, became the source of much commotion. Suddenly, all the building’s residents fled to the street in panic, from where they could observe their home develop into a state of total chaos. Soon the message spread and people from all over the city came to see what was happening. Witnesses would describe windows being smashed and potatoes, cutlery and firewood flying through the air, as if thrown by an enormous, unseen force. Also bursts of harsh and scary laughter, swearing and cursing sounded loudly throughout the street. Some witnesses even claimed to have heard growls like those of a wild animal, and seen large red eyes glowing behind the windows.
1826: When The Devil was loose in Salmon Street 8

Laksegade 15, many years later (date unknown).

 

When the police arrived at the address they duly searched the building, but couldn’t locate the source of disturbance. Eventually things died down, but officers were placed on guard there for several days after. During the subsequent questioning of eyewitnesses, further strange details emerged. An elderly female resident even ended up taking responsibility for the events, believing she had called forth evil spirits by accident, while consulting her Cyprianus earlier in the day (The Cyprianus is a lightweight occult grimoire of sorts, which was once rumored to have be written in blood. In actuality, it was a widely copied and popular book in many homes at the time).

 
1826: When The Devil was loose in Salmon Street 91826: When The Devil was loose in Salmon Street 10
An old (left) and more recent (right) version of the once so popular Cyprianus

 

After a while, people started to believe that the commotion at Laksegade was simply a mischievous plan cooked up by a group of pranksters. Another popular theory was that the event had been staged by a chicken farmer, as revenge for his daughter who had been treated unfairly by a family living there. As to what really happened, it has never been properly resolved. In fact, there are several contradictory stories and details that makes it even more confusing. For example, there is no official date for the event in any of the writings i have come across, but a police report came out in early October, so it must have been some time prior to it’s release. An official police statement also exists, dated 15th of September:

Københavns Politi: Politimesterens korrespondanceprotokol nr. 41, 1826:

Nr. 1688. Bekendtgørelse fra politiet, 15. september 1826:

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”Da de urimeligste rygter om begivenheder, der skulle være bemærkede i huset nr. 20 i Laksegade, har i de sidste dage forårsaget betydelige folkesamlinger i bemeldte og tilstødende gader, så finder jeg mig foranlediget til herved at bekendtgøre, at det, der har tildraget sig så manges opmærksomhed, ikke består i videre, end at en i huset boende mand har i løbet af omtrent 3 uger til forskellige tider fået adskillige vinduesruder indslagne fra gaden”.

The statement notes that a man living in Laksegade 20 (not 15), had experienced several of his windows being smashed from the outside, over a period of three weeks. This had eventually created a spectacle by drawing large crowds to the street, but was all there was to it. Whether this is really true or if it was simply an attempt by the police to calm things down, we can at least conclude that the night in question must have been before the 15th of September. Looking through the archives at The Royal Library in Copenhagen, i tried to find even just a mention of the event in local newspapers from the period, but to no avail. This is suspicious too, since references often are made to specific newspaper coverage from September 1826, when the case is mentioned.

 

In any case, SOMETHING clearly happened back then, but how much of it was a result of an escalating social panic is difficult to say exactly. It might take some more digging in the archives to get closer to the truth. Until then, it remains an example of a good story that exerted great influence for many years to come.

Sources:

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