"We just love the idea that a mysterious antique box becomes the central device of horror in this story," says screenwriter Stiles White. "There's so much more of this story that could be told in future movies."

Haxton says initially he'd been so consumed with trying to contain the dybbuk that he brushed off Raimi's production company. He performed various Wiccan rituals and finally, under advisement from a paranormal research group, had the gold-leaf acacia ark built to house the dybbuk box. Haxton says rabbis he consulted also suggested he add religious artifacts to counter the malevolent energy — some Torah scrolls, a 500-year-old book of kabbalah writings. Eventually, Haxton's health improved, the smells and apparitions disappeared, and life returned to normal. Today he considers the box a kind of "case closed" situation.

"This thing has been really put away," he says. "I think it took on a life of its own, and so I respect the story that I discovered."


The “real” dybbuk box — shown here inside its protective ark — is kept in a secret location somewhere in northeast Missouri.
The “real” dybbuk box — shown here inside its protective ark — is kept in a secret location somewhere in northeast Missouri.
Jason Haxton at the Laughlin family plot in Kirksville, where Harry Laughlin is buried.
Jessica Lussenhop
Jason Haxton at the Laughlin family plot in Kirksville, where Harry Laughlin is buried.

There are, however, a few loose ends.

One of the most vocal nonbelievers is Michael Callahan, the magician, who models himself after Penn & Teller as a skeptic and an atheist. He considers Haxton's retelling of their acquisition of the dybbuk box exaggerated and says he never had trouble with the box even when it spent a week in his home.

"Absolutely nothing ever happened. We never saw, smelled, heard, had anything negative — if anything our lives have been surprisingly good," he says. "If he gets to have his opinion and say it's all real, I get to have my opinion and say it's a scam."

In his book Haxton also reveals some sizable holes in Kevin Mannis' story. Haxton traveled to Oregon to meet Mannis, and after driving around Portland with him looking for the estate sale house, Mannis claimed he couldn't find it. He also resisted providing Haxton a surname for Havela, saying the family didn't want anything to do with the story. When Mannis finally relented, he offered the name "Jewiski." Haxton found no record of anyone with that name in the area, nor any record of a 103-year-old woman dying in the area in 2001.

Haxton was able to track down some of Mannis' siblings who told him there was never any shared or recurring nightmare about an old hag.

And perhaps most glaring of all is Haxton's discovery of a bar in Beaverton called Club Underground. Several of the employees at the bar recall Mannis — a onetime security guard, promotions manager and jack-of-all-trades for the club — bragging about coming up with a fantastic idea for a short story about a haunted Jewish wine box.

"This is what my impression is," says John Wegman, the former owner of the Underground. "He had this box, and he was trying to sell things on eBay, and he put this box together and made up a story to go with it on eBay to see how many bites he got. And he got tons of people wanting it."

Wegman says at his wedding Mannis presented him with a chunk of stone with Hebrew writing on it, very similar to the one in the dybbuk box, that Mannis said he made himself.

Matt "Shaggy" Christensen, a kitchen manager and former bartender for the Underground, says he's pretty sure one of the locks of hair inside the box is his. He says one night he came into work badly needing a haircut and shaved off his long hair in a back room. As a joke, he says he put some of the hair into the bartender's tip jar. Mannis, says Christensen, fished some of it out to add to the box's folklore.

"He took it and really ran with it. I told him to buy me a beer that night and we'd call it even. I guess I should've asked for little bit more," says Christensen. "Kevin is a very intelligent person."

There are also monetary and publicity incentives to keep the myth going. Both Kevin Mannis and Jason Haxton were paid for the rights to their stories by the producers of The Possession, and will appear on a History Channel special and an episode of Syfy's Paranormal Witness.

"I know Kevin," chuckles Wegman. "He's trying to make it sound really exciting and trying to publicize the story."

Asked about these discrepancies, Mannis sticks to his original story. He claims he actually did find Havela's family again after Haxton left, though he still declines to identify them. He says he is somewhat estranged from his younger siblings, in part over the dybbuk box and the media hoopla it stirred up, and that may be the reason they've refuted his story. He also denies that his own grandmother — a Jewish immigrant who lived to be 105 — served as the inspiration for a character named Havela or that he added any of the artifacts to the dybbuk box.

As for the recollection of the staff at the Underground, Mannis largely sidesteps the question.

"I have no explanation for that whatsoever," he says. "Even if I was a really good writer, it doesn't speak to the hundreds of people who've emailed Jason and myself about their experience with the box. It doesn't speak to any of the experiences that Jason had or Joseph had.

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7 comments
kevinmannis
kevinmannis

Please know that the comment below was left with a great deal of affection and not intended to be offensive in any regard.

 

Jason Haxton is an outstanding writer, a true scholar, and someone I am privileged to call my friend.

kevinmannis
kevinmannis

Over the past 8 years, or so, I have come to know Jason Haxton as a fine upstanding citizen, an intrepid investigator, and someone, in my who has made great efforts, great strides, and found success as an academic achiever.

 

In the article Devil's Wine Box: Missouri's tie to The Possession, it was reported that Jason doesn’t like my “un-academic” approach when I’m interviewed about the box. The article goes on to say that Jason’s irritation stems from my repeated statements that the box contains a “Dybbuk”, and “Kesem”, which Jason asserts is a “…totally incorrect term for a spirit or magical object.”

 

I just wanted to chime in by saying that the word “unacademic” is not a hyphenated word according to the Oxford dictionary, Webster’s, or Dictionary.com, and while Jason may not like, approve, or consider my approach to interviews we have done as being academic, the fact of the matter is that I approach every interview from the position of being the only person who has been allowed to maintain contact with the family of the original creator of the object. The fact of the matter is that I have never claimed that the box contained anything called “Kesem”. I have always used the correct term, “Kesselim”, which is a Hebrew word for what is translated as the term, “fooling spirits”.  One of the best descriptions of these entities may be found in Gershom Sholem’s book, “Kabbalah”, which is considered to be a definitive primer on the subject.

 

To be certain, I approach interviews and the subject of the Dibbuk Box as someone who began learning Hebrew at birth; began studying the contents of the Hebrew works such as the Mishnah at the age of 10; studied the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Torah, the first five books of Moses-the first five books of the Old Testament, and the verses of the Haftarah, from the books of the Prophets on a daily basis in “shiurim” classes, “chavrutas” pairs and private tutored study 3 hours per day, from the age of 10, through the date of my Bar Mitva at the age of 13.

 

Upon my Bar Mitva I became eligible to lead religious services, and read from the Torah as well as participate as a member of a minion. I was expected as I continued my daily studies of the Talmud, the Shulchan Aruch, and Halakha. Halakha has been developed throughout the generations since before 500 BCE. It is a constantly expanding collection of commentaries consolidated in the Talmud. It is the amalgamation of intricate judicial opinions, legislation, customs, and recommendations, passed down over the centuries, and taught to successive generations from the moment a child begins to speak. It is the subject of study in yeshivot. Yeshiva is a Hebrew word   I was also expected to have learned and responsible for keeping the 613 commandments contained in the Old Testament. Known as the Taryag mitzvot תרי"ג מצוות, there are 248 positive mitzvot and 365 negative mitzvot given in the Torah.

 

I have read and studied in Hebrew, Aramaic, and English, ancient Kabbalistic texts such as the Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation), the Zohar, the Sefer Ha-Bahir (the Book of Illumination), and scores of other works contained as part of Aggada – always keeping in step with Parashat HaShavuah, or the weekly portion of the Torah, Ketuvim, Navi, and the blessings of the works of Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and even the radical works of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

 

Eventually, I ended up also taking the regular courses I completed in college for my A.A. in Real Estate, and the licensing requirements of my state, and my B.S. in Business/Advertising too.

 

I’m sure it is obvious that due to the fact that I am a Jew, aside from my regular American education, I have had no other option but to receive my education in exactly, and identically, the same manner as people such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Jesus.

 

On his website, under the heading of research, Jason lists two books:

 

 Sepher Ha-Razim (the Book of Mysteries) Jason states that the book contains actual Hebrew “incantations” written phonetically in English that instruct a user on how to call upon angels.

 

Jewish Magic and Superstition, by an author named Trachtenberg. Jason offers this book as the best book on Jewish Mysticism in the last 2000 years up until 1939.

 

Having said all of this, let me just give my apology for the unacademic way I have approached the subject of the Dibbuk Box, derived from my original Ebay posting, and the subsequent interviews I have participated in over the last 8 years. I have been trying to do the best I can with the resources I have had.

 

Steven Butler once commented,

 

"Academic and aristocratic people live in such an uncommon atmosphere that common sense can rarely reach them."

 

Happy Rosh Hashana, everyone!

 

kyda40
kyda40

@rbdragonrider You should research and learn the difference between "then" and "than" as well as how the space goes after the comma instead of before and a period ends a sentence, not a comma.

rbdragonrider
rbdragonrider

that is Qaballa, and Madonna is one celebrity ,among many, who practice the spiritualism and self empowerment, before quoting it u should learn to spell it and study it, I have studied the Qaballa for years and even applied it to precepts of wica,for self  healing and power, and i have never had  any disease since adolescence,more serious then a cold

rbdragonrider
rbdragonrider

 @kyda40  @rbdragonrider actually i probably know better then u how to punctuate since i have had several published essays in Missouri Youth Writes,from Mizzou press, but my typing is atrocious so a few typos are inevitable, hence editors

kevinmannis
kevinmannis

 @rbdragonrider The word is spelled Kabbalah, when it isn't spelled in Hebrew, and Madonna's practice of Kabbalah is similar to a penguin's practice of rug crochet. I am glad, however that you have been blessed with good health and a hearty faith.

 

rbdragonrider
rbdragonrider

 @kevinmannis like i said the correct spelling is Qaballa go to ur local library and check the card index I have the the book. published in 1934 by Random house

 
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