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Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects: Gef the Talking Mongoose


* Fifty years ago today, parapsychologist Nandor Fodor died in New York. He dedicated his life to investigating paranormal activity, but one of his oddest jobs was on the Isle of Man, hot on the trail of Gef the Talking Mongoose.

* Gef was brought to the world's attention by James Irving, a farmer who lived at Doarlish Cashen, a farmhouse outside the village of Dalby. His story of an "eerie weasel" who had learnt to sing nursery rhymes and engage in conversation was one that journalists of the 1930s found irresistible. Newspapers from the Manchester Daily Dispatch to the Hong Kong Telegraph went big with the story, despite a suspicious lack of corroboration from anyone outside the Irving family – Jim, his wife Margaret, and their daughter Voirrey.

* The early 1930s saw visitors flock to the farmhouse from all over the world. The weasel now claimed to be a mongoose called Geoff (insisting on the spelling G-E-F) and was allegedly capable of shape-shifting, invisibility, food-pilfering and singing the song "Carolina Moon" by Gene Austin. However, while many visitors claimed to have heard voices, Gef only ever seemed visible to Voirrey, a precocious child with a talent for ventriloquism. Yes, ventriloquism.

Voirrey Irving blamed the elusive mongoose for her inability to find a husband

* Cynics of today would laugh at Jim Irving's insistence that Gef "is averse to being photo'd", but Fodor investigated thoroughly, and found other people who said they'd encountered Gef, including a bus conductor who claimed that Gef had once eaten his sandwiches. Fodor considered the Irvings "too sincere and simple" to perpetrate a hoax, and concluded that, on balance, Gef was real.

* Later, in 1952, Fodor revised his opinion, stating that the "mental starvation" of life in a remote farmhouse probably caused the manifestation of Gef, a "split-off part" of Jim Irving's personality. Voirrey was tracked down by a journalist in 1970, but was notably reluctant to talk about Gef, other than blaming the elusive mongoose for her inability to find a husband.