The Dybbuk Box



The Dybbuk Box, Fact of Fiction

Kevin Mannis coined the term ‘Dybbuk Box’ when selling his box on eBay in 2003. He claimed it contained an evil spirit that ruined his life. But this is not where this Urban Myth starts. According to the stories attached to this box, its history started much earlier.

dybbuk (Yiddish: דיבוק‎, from the Hebrew verb דָּבַק dāḇaq meaning “adhere” or “cling”) is a malicious possessing spirit believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person. It supposedly leaves the host body once it has accomplished its goal, sometimes after being helped.

The Dybbuk BoxAccording to Mannis, he bought the box as part of an estate sale in 2002, and from the information he could gather about the Dybbuk Box it lead him  to believe it had belonged to a survivor of the holocaust in Germany occupied Poland. This would give it an origin of at least 1939, maybe even older.

The original owner a Jewish 103-year-old woman named Havaleh, whose entire family, parents, brothers, sisters, husband and two sons were killed. Havaleh then escaped a Nazi concentration camp in 1939 and made her way to Spain somehow taking the box with her? The story is inconsistent; in some cases, Havaleh bought the box in Spain, and in others it comes from Poland. According to Havaleh’s granddaughter (but her entire family is dead right?) the box is a family heirloom, that was in their grandmother’s sewing room and had never been opened. Upon hearing this Mannis offered to give the box back to the family. They do not want it back.

The Dybbuk Box InteriorMannis opened the box to find it’s curious contents, two pennies from the 1920s, a lock of blonde hair bound with cord, a lock of black hair tied up in the same way, a small stone statue with the Hebrew word Shalom carved on it and inlaid with gold, a golden wine goblet, a dried rosebud and a single candle holder with four octopus-shaped legs.

The Dybbuk Box Spirit

From this point on Mannis’ life changed for the worse, he had opened the Dybbuk and his future took a dark turn. From paranormal attacks, to his mother’s stroke on the same day he gave her the box as a birthday present, Mannis had a curse.

“I find myself walking with a friend, usually someone I know well and trust at some point in the dream, I find myself looking into the eyes of the person that I am with. It is then that I realize that there is something different, something evil looking back at me. At that point in my dream, the person I am with changes into what can only be described as the most gruesome, demonic looking Hag that I have ever seen. This Hag proceeds then, to beat the living tar out of me.” — Kevin Mannis

The Dybbuk Box (Jason Haxton)Since Mannis, the box has changed hands a few times, with each owner citing their paranormal experiences, and the strange smell of cat urine coming from the box. Losif Neitzke a student at Truman State University bought the Dybbuk Box from the eBay auction. Neitzke said the Dybbuk Box caused lights to burn out in his house, and his hair to fall out. Neitzke sold the box after just 8 months, again via eBay auction to Jason Haxton.

Jason Haxton, Director of the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine, In Kirksville, Missouri, was the last person to pay money for the Dybbuk Box. Haxton started to develop strange health problems including hives, head-to-toe welts, and coughing up blood. He eventually said he’d contacted Rabbis to try to figure a way to seal the box, with apparent success. Haxton went on to write a book ‘The Dybbuk Box.’. The box was then hidden in a secret location until Haxton chose to donate it to Zak Bagans.

The Possession (Film)The Dybbuk Box now resides in Zak Bagans Haunted Museum, where it is on display. After this arduous journey, it has found a home with other haunted curiosities. Zak Bagans opened the box on his TV series ‘Ghost Adventures: Quarantine.’

Kevin Mannis sold the story to Hollywood as a true story, it was produced by Sam Raimi and ‘The Possession’ was released in 2012. It now has a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Truth is in the Dybbuk Boxes Details

They often say that truth is stranger than fiction, in this case, the truth is quite boring unless you are into liquor cabinets from the 1950s and 60s. The first thing that struck me as odd about this box, which I noticed this straight away; the handle from the draw seemed to be from the late 1950s to early 1960s. The angular futuristic design is very reminiscent of the atomic age designs of post-war USA.

Dybbuk Box OpenThat darn handle is what lets this whole story down, there was no way this box was made pre 1950s maybe even pre 1960s. After some research, the handle was found. It is a “Boomerang Angled Brushed Chrome Drawer Pull [1]” an icon of 1950s and 60s furniture design. You can still buy them today for the hefty sum of $7. This dirty great big clue as to the boxes origins was right there in front of everyone the whole time. All these researchers missed it? How?

The truth does not stop there. The box has a unique internal mechanism designed so that when you pull the drawer open both doors swing open to show its contents. So unique was the mechanism it was Patented in the USA in 1958 by R. Karoff Patent # 2836477 [2]. This gives a construction date of at least 1958. However, looking at the construction of this Dybbuk Box more evidence came to light about its construction date.

The Karoff Patent

The Karoff Patent

The carpentry on the original Karoff Boxes was excellent as you would expect from this high-end luxury item. All the joints were properly made, and the wood was of the finest quality, quite often rosewood. Yet on this Dybbuk Box that high level of hand made carpentry has gone. From the images available the rosewood is reduced to a just a veneer.

Firstly, looking at the back, you can see on the original box there are no nails, whereas the Dybbuk Box has a piece of nailed on plywood. Also, when you look closer at the corner details the top piece of the original curves gently at the corner to make the joint stronger. The Dybbuk Box looks like it is a standard ‘lap joint,’ common in mass-produced furnishings.

Looking further at these top corner joints the original Karoff boxes all had flush fitting ‘finger joints,’ which adds an element of complexity to its construction. By comparison, the Dybbuk Box’s joins are ‘lap joints,’

Dybbuk Box back Comparison

Dybbuk Box back Comparison

easy to make on a machine so that it can put together quickly and cheaply. This is probably something they did in later production runs to meet demand in the mid to late 1960s. This would have sped up production and cut down on costs. Putting this box’s construction sometime in the mid to late 1960s. The original boxes were made in Japan [3] until they simplified construction for mass production, where the construction origin is unknown.


Dybbuk Box top Comparison

Dybbuk Box top Comparison

It would be fair to say that the Dybbuk Box was a cheap wine storage, with some cheap metal grapes stuck to it. Some of the hardware has changed, the hinges and the aforementioned handle, to make the boxes cheaper and easier to manufacture. The internal structure, dimensions, and internal mechanism have stayed the same through all iterations. If you’re lucky you can pick up an original Karoff box with the original bottles and glasses.

Without any high-resolution images or a close-up inspection of the box’s contents, it is difficult to say what the origins of most of the parts, other than the 1920s pennies, would have been. The only other part of this Dybbuk Box that has any searchable history is the candlestick holder. This is a Victorian design that originally came with a handle on it, there is also a similar candle holder with a chicken’s foot.

Even the name ‘Havaleh’ has some doubt cast over it, there is no record of this being a Jewish name. It could be the Jewish word ‘Havilah’ which is in the bible and refers to both a land and a people. Mentioned in Genesis 2:10-11.

Govi Jar

Govi Jar

From the research, at hand, there is no mention of Dybbuk Boxes in Jewish history. The closest thing to the Dybbuk Box is a container from Haitian Voodoo called a Govi Jar, this holds evil or malicious spirits. Even the term Dybbuk isn’t in Talmudic literature or the Kabbalah, this kind of phenomena was always called an evil spirit. [4]

But the Experiences?

Many of the stories about the owners of this box are from word of mouth. Surely if you had a genuine haunted box you would keep all correspondence and paperwork for authentication purposes? In this case, nothing has come to light. We only have Mannis’ story about Havaleh’s relatives, no bill of sale from the estate sale, not even any correspondence with the family. This throws everything into serious doubt. Given what we know how can we believe any of Mannis’ stories? Can we believe anything about this Dybbuk Box’s history? Probably not.

The human subconscious is a powerful thing, and belief alone can cause your body to react as though you are ill or have a disease. The power of suggestion and the story behind the Dybbuk Box could account for many of the physical ailments. The symptoms Haxton developed could have been from Toxoplasmosis which you can get from cat urine (remember the box smells of cat urine.) However, in all cases, no medical bills or reports have come to light.

“[They were] already primed to be looking out for bad stuff. If you believe you have been cursed, then inevitably you explain the bad stuff that happens in terms of what you perceive to be the cause. Put it like this: I would be happy to own this object.” – Chris French [5]

Original Karoff Drinks Cabinet Interior

Original Karoff Drinks Cabinet Interior

What is happening here is an example of the power of belief. People who have had the box believe there is an evil spirit or curse attached the box. This has made them notice bad things happening more and more. If someone believes they are cursed they will notice negative events happening to them, rather than brushing them off. In reality, bad stuff happens all the time and we pay very little attention to it, yet point out a negative cause and we notice our bad luck more often. A good story like the Dybbuk box is one of those that has elements that are, on the surface, believable. However, once you make a scratch those elements fall to pieces. Most of what is happening to the owners we can attribute to the psychosomatic effects of belief in this Dybbuk Box’s story.

Since the Mannis auction listing, there have been many Dybbuk Boxes on eBay and other sites. Not one of them has gone to the lengths Mannis did with a backstory and somewhat old looking props. These new boxes have wax stuck on them and are sold for ridiculous amounts of money.

Conclusion [TL; DNR]: Dybunk Box
Original Karoff Drinks Cabinet

Original Karoff Drinks Cabinet

There are way too many facts going against the physical box itself, being patented in 1958, originally made in Japan. The poor construction and mass manufacturing nature of this box puts the construction date to the late 1960s. There is no way it could have been in 1939 Poland or even post-war Spain. We are pretty sure if you asked a Rabbi about the history of Dybbuk Boxes you would get a blank stare or a big belly laugh. The lack of paper trail, bills of sale, medical reports, or anything to back up what people say about this box removes all credibility. The best conclusion we can come up with is that this was an internet Hoax created by Mannis.

“Although Mannis was the first to write about it, his eBay auction never reached the viral status a seller hopes for. Haxton published a book in 2011 entitled The Dibbuk Box, which reached a much wider audience and solidified the object’s place in paranormal lore. This book straddles the line between ‘it’s haunted’ and ‘it’s a hoax,’ never making a final decision and evoking the trite, open-ended method of ‘I’ll let the reader decide.’” – Kenny Biddle, A Closer Look The Dibbuk [6]

Mannis, a professional writer and recording artist (a furniture restorer in some stories), he has the tools to tell a good story and build folklore. I am not sure on Mannis’ motives or reasoning, but getting a movie deal out of this has surely made him happy.

  • A Nice story, with not too many fantastic elements
  • The box was made in the 1960s, not pre 1939
  • No paper trails and all evidence is word-of-mouth
  • No history or Jewish traditions of Dybbuk Boxes
  • The original owner’s name is wrong
  • Spirit boxes and jars exist but not in Judaism
  • Havaleh is not a Jewish name
  • Havaleh’s family history is inconsistent
  • The Jewish word Dybbuk is not that old

Urban Myths BullshitThere is little evidence and next to no real history. It might be a nice scary story or spooky item, but it is just that, a story. Many of these are knowingly fabricated by people as a scary story or for some marketing or PR stunt. Occasionally one will come around that hasn’t been created by an individual and it’s naturally formed within a community or social group.

[1] Boomerang Angled Brushed Chrome Drawer Pull
[2] Patent Number: 2,836,477 May 27, 1958
[3] Collectors Weekly, Karoff Japanese mid-century mini bar
[4] Kenny Biddle, A Closer Look The Dibbuk Box
[5] Brian Dunning, The Haunted Dybbuk Box
[6] Kenny Biddle, A Closer Look The Dibbuk Box

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