On March 10, 1970, the impossible happened. Tucked away in a lab in Leningrad, a frog’s heart floated in a solution beating quite normally. The beating became faster, then slower; finally, it ceased to beat entirely. But this was no ordinary death, nor the result of some scientific experiment on the function of animal organs. It was a test of the mental power of a housewife by the name of Nina Kulagina.
Born Ninel Sergeyevna Kulagina on July 30, 1926 in Leningrad, Nina was very much an average, tough Russian woman. She was loyal to her country, joining the tank regiment of the Red Army during World War II when she was only 14. After the war, she married and became a housewife, living what anyone would describe as an average life until she began to test if the psychic abilities of her mother might have rubbed off on her.
It was during Nina’s private attempts at developing these psychic abilities that she seemingly unlocked something within her. The most well-known of these alleged abilities was psychokinesis (PK), or the moving of objects with the mind. Nina could move a wide variety of items including clock pendulums, crystal bowls, matches, cigarettes, compass needles, bread loaves, salt shakers, and many other small objects (often placed in Plexiglass boxes to show there were no strings attached). She first became aware of this ability when things would move whenever she would get angry. And aside from her famous stopping of a frog’s heart, Nina performed another fascinating feat: she separated an egg. That might not sound so amazing until you know that the egg was floating in a salt water tank two meters away from her. And she brought the yolk and white back together again when instructed to do so.
Nina Kulagina levitating what appears to be a ping-pong ball in the 1960s.
But Nina Kulagina’s special powers extended far beyond moving matches and killing frogs. She was said to possess healing powers, healing wounds with the application of her hand, and be able to diagnose illnesses merely by meeting people. She had the ability to make images appear on photographic paper, both outlines of images she was shown and the letters A and O. Her body could generate a strong electromagnetic field and even a strong amount of heat, causing burns to form on her clothing and—on one occasion—a red burn patch to appear on the arm of an observing journalist. While Nina was in a hospital recovering from a nervous breakdown in 1964, doctors observed that she could reach into her basket and pull out the correct color of yarn without even looking at it. (She claimed she was able to “see” the colors with her fingers.) She could even tell people what they carried in their pockets.
At the First Moscow International Conference of Parapsychology in 1968, footage of Nina seemingly moving objects with her mind was finally shown to the public. But with the scientific community catching wind of Nina’s astounding feats came the heavy hand of scrutiny. Skeptics including James Randi have long maintained that none of Nina’s apparent psychic abilities were anything more than common trickery and sleight of hand illusions. Just like Uri Gellar, Nina’s publicized experiments were never under ideal laboratory conditions. She was seen at home or in hotel rooms, without experts in trickery on hand. It’s been claimed that Nina had magnets implanted into her body to manipulate objects; other telekinetic claims could have employed the use of thin wires or mirrors. Yet in the USSR, laboratory experiments were performed on Nina (under the pseudonym Nelya Mikhailova) by several researchers, including Czech psychical researcher Dr. Zdenek Rejdak, psychologist B. Blazek, physicist V. F. Shvetz, Dr. J.S. Zvierev, physiologist L.L. Vasiliev, and the aforementioned Dr. Sergeyev. Dr. Rejdak published a report of his experiments (titled ‘Nina Kulagina’s Mind over Matter’) in the June 1971 issue of Psychic Magazine.
A still frame from one of 60 short films depicting Kulagina’s psychokinesis.
The Cold War had a little-known side, a “Psi Race” where both the US and the USSR tried hard to become superpowers with super powers. Telekinesis, remote viewing, automatic writing, and many other mind-over-matter experiments were carried out by both sides in an effort to turn the human mind into a powerful means of control and weaponry. Unfortunately, many of these experiments were complete failures.
It has been argued that Nina was shown off by the USSR in an effort to make it seem like they were making huge leaps in telekinesis when in fact it was all fakery. But even though the Cold War has long since ended, Russia has continued to keep many of its secrets under lock and key. If Nina was such a glowing success, where are the scientific reports? Might they still be housed somewhere in a storage room never to see the light of day? As is the case with so many things, just because we haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Near the end of her life, Nina seems to have lost the abilities she became so famous for. Her exertion in manifesting these powers was blamed for a near-fatal heart attack in the late 1970s. Sharp pain in her spine, dizziness, blood sugar irregularities, failing eyesight, and many other health concerns plagued her. With deteriorating health, Nina stepped away from the endless scientific testing, conducting very limited experiments in labs up until her death in 1990. And so, the full truth died with her. Whether or not she ever possessed remarkable abilities, perhaps faking it when her powers disappeared later in life, is a matter of speculation.