Creepy Things That Seem Real But Aren’t is a series that explores modern urban legends, bringing you a new tale each week.
In June of 2003, an auction appeared on eBay. This (naturally) was not an unusual occurrence. Nor, at first glance, was the object up for the auction itself unusual: A small wooden cabinet, old, measuring 12.5″ x 7.5″ x 16.25″, intended for the storage of wine. The contents of the box, however, were somewhat less mundane: Inside the box were two locks of hair, one granite statue, one dried rosebud, one goblet, two wheat pennies, one candlestick– and one dybbuk (alternately spelled “Dibbuk”), a malevolent spirit believed in Jewish folklore to be the dislocated soul of a dead person. Thus, the item’s name: THE DYBBUK BOX.
The seller of the box told the item’s tale in a lengthy description on the auction page. In September of 2001, he wrote, he attended an estate sale in Portland, Oregon. The estate in question belonged to a Jewish woman who had lived until the impressive age of 103. Originally from Poland, the woman and her family were sent to a Nazi concentration camp during World War II; of the family members who were sent—her parents, brothers, a sister, husband, and two sons and a daughter—she was the only survivor. She escaped to Spain sometime during the war, which is where she acquired the wine box. It was one of only three items that she took with her when she emigrated to the United States.
After the current seller purchased the box, he was approached by the woman’s granddaughter. Referring to the wine cabinet, she said, “I see you got the dybbuk box.” Not knowing what she meant, he asked her to explain. She went on to tell him that when she was a child, her grandmother kept the wine cabinet out of reach in her sewing room. It was always shut. When the girl asked her grandmother what was in the box, the woman spit three times through her fingers and said, “A Dybbuk.” She told her granddaughter that the box was never to be opened. Ever. The girl still had no idea what a dybbuk was, but true to her word, she had never opened the box—and she didn’t intend on doing so now. Concerned, however, that he was taking away with him a family keepsake, he offered to give the box back. The girl was first insistent that he keep the box, but the more he persisted in his offer to give it back, the more upset she got. Finally, she yelled, “You bought it! You made a deal! We don’t want it!” and stormed off.
He took the box and left.
And that was when the bad things started happening.
The seller had initially intended to refinish the cabinet and give it to his mother. He stored the box in the basement workshop of his furniture refinishing store. One day, he received a frantic call from his salesperson, who screamed that someone was in the workshop, smashing things and cursing and that the intruder had locked the security gates and emergency exits, trapping her inside. The seller raced to the shop, unlocked the gates, and went to investigate the basement. The light bulbs in the workshop had all been smashed, and the place smelled overwhelmingly of cat urine. There was no intruder to be found, however, and there have never been any animals, cats or otherwise, found in or around the workshop. The salesperson quit that day.
But the seller didn’t associate the occurrence with the box (who would?), so he went on with his plan to refinish it. When he opened the box to work on it, he found the collection of objects inside it. He removed the objects, intending to give them back to the estate, and gave the box to his mother for her birthday. Not five minutes after he gave it to her, she suffered a stroke.
Next, he gave the box to his sister. She kept it for a week, then gave it back, claiming that it wouldn’t stay shut. His brother took it next; he kept it for only three days before giving it back, stating that while it smelled like jasmine flowers to him, it smelled like cat urine to his wife. His girlfriend kept it for two days, then asked him to sell it. He did, but three days later, he arrived at his shop to see the cabinet sitting on the doorstep with a note that read, “This has a bad darkness.” So he took it home.
The seller began having a recurring nightmare in which he would be walking with a friend or loved one. They would stop and he would look into their eyes—only to find something evil looking back at him. Then his companion would change into a gruesome, demonic beast, which would then beat the living daylights out of him. Later on, he discovered that every single one of his family members who had held the box in their possession, no matter for how brief a time, had been having the same nightmare. After a number of other occurrences, many of which involved the sudden smells of jasmine and cat urine, the seller finally decided to get rid of the box.
So naturally, he put it up on eBay.
But the story doesn’t stop there. The dybbuk box was purchased by a Missouri college student named Iosif Nietzke, mostly out of curiosity. Not quite a year later, though, Iosif put the box back on Ebay. This occurred after a “tidal wave of bad luck,” health problems suffered by himself and his roommates, unexplained broken light bulbs, a bug infestation, smells that wouldn’t go away, and so on. Most disturbingly was this: Iosif’s hair began to fall out on Tuesday, January 27, 2004, and by Friday of that week, it was almost half gone. He noted, “I’m in my early twenties, and I just got a clean blood test back from the doctor’s. Maybe it’s stress-related, I don’t know.” But what he did know is that he, like the previous seller, wanted the box gone. He got his wish: on February 9, the box sold for $280 to Jason Haxton, a university museum curator.
Haxton, who still owns the box, went into the whole thing with plans to uncover the box’s origins. “To me, this is a historical puzzle,” he told Leslie Gornstein in an article for the L.A. Times. “It came from somewhere. It was made for a reason. What is it and why is it?” Indeed, Haxton has created a websiteto field inquiries about it, and he has a book on the subject due out for publication in November of 2011. But while he claims to have suffered all the previous complaints—health problems, jasmine and cat smell, the works—naturally, the box’s veracity has been called into question by assorted and sundry. Gornstein notes that researchers and religious scholars say that, “sure, the box contains items that could have served as fetishes or tokens to a family, Jewish or otherwise.” But, at the same time, Gornstein also points to folklore specialists who see a number of red flags in the tale—because hey, isn’t everything a hoax these days? For one, most dybbuk stories usually have the ghost coming back to deliver a message, but this box doesn’t seem to have a reason to be inhabited. Furthermore, there are SO many incidents involving the box that one anthropology professor can’t figure out why someone didn’t just destroy or otherwise dispose of it. [tagbox tag=”Creepy Things That Seem Real But Aren’t”]
So who knows. Maybe the box is haunted; maybe it’s not. But like most of the Creepy Things we like to spend our Saturday nights reading, it’s a damn good story, isn’t it? For the curious, an archive of Iosif’s eBay auction page can be found here. Creeeeepy.
P.S. Guess what? Like This Man, there’s a movie being made out of this one, too! Called The Possession, the film, directed by Ole Bornedal, will center around a young girl who purchases the box at a yard sale and inadvertently ends up cursed. The girl’s father will have to team up with his ex-wife to find a way to free their daughter of the curse. Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick will star, presumably as the unfortunate parents.