Hereward Carrington

Hereward Carrington

A distinguished psychical researcher, author of many important and popular books on psychic subjects. After Dr. Hodgson died and the new ASPR was established under Professor Hyslop's leadership Carrington became his assistant and worked in this capacity until July 1908. In 1909 he was involved in the famous Naples investigation into the physical phenomena of Eusapia Palladino, along with W. W. Baggally and Everard Feilding. In 1921 he was the American delegate at the first International Psychical Congress in Copenhagen. Also in 1921, with an interested group behind him, he founded the American Psychical Institute and Laboratory. In 1924 he sat on the Committee of The Scientific American for the investigation of the phenomena of Spiritualism.

The Methods of Fraudulent Materialisation Mediums - Part 1

- Hereward Carrington -

          THE CHARACTER of the ordinary "materializing sťance" is probably well enough known to my readers to render any long description of it unnecessary in a volume such as the present The medium is usually tied or otherwise fastened in his cabinet, while the remainder of the spectators sit outside, in the sťance-room, which is darkened more or less completely. After a certain time, hands and faces are seen in various parts of the room, and even full, life-sized forms issue from the cabinet, and walk about among the sitters.

That these figures are genuine and lifelike, and not mere hallucinations, can frequently be proved to the sense of touch, as the figures walk amongst the sitters, and speak to them, delivering messages from the dead who have gone before, and in many ways proving that they are creatures of real flesh and blood for the time being, as truly as any of the sitters are. It is believed that the spirit is, in some way, enabled to draw "vital power" from the sitters, and especially the medium, and utilize this power for the temporary upbuilding of a more or less material form, resembling the physical body of that person, when alive. After a time, this power wanes, and the figure fades or "dematerializes," sometimes before the eyes of the sitters, leaving nothing behind to show that there has been present a figure or a body, which, but a short time before, gave evidence of being as material and as incapable of "dematerializing" as that of any of the sitters. Needless to say, if this fact of materialization and dematerialization be a fact, it is one of the most extraordinary, as well as one of the most important that science has ever discovered, and one of the most difficult of solution that the man of science will ever be called upon to explain or solve.

It is hardly necessary to remark that I have spoken of the phenomena presented as they appear to the sitter, and as spiritualists and mediums assert the phenomena actually, are produced; and I have not attempted to assert that genuine materialization is not a fact. Whether or not such a phenomenon ever occurs, and the scientific attitude toward its a priori possibility, will be considered later in the discussion. Certain it is that the history of modern spiritualism, and especially the history of materialization, does not afford us any valid grounds for assuming that this phenomenon is ever genuine, or anything more than the clumsy reproduction, by fraud, of the phenomena genuine materialization would be supposed to represent. For, with hardly an exception, all the professional mediums through whose agency these manifestations are supposed to be obtained, have, at one time or another, been found reproducing, or endeavouring to reproduce, the phenomena by fraudulent means. For those who wish confirmation of this statement, I would refer to Frank Podmore's Modern Spiritualism, pp. 95-116 (Vol. II.), Frank Herne, Charles Williams, Miss Florence Cook, Miss Mary Showers, William Eglinton, Doctor Francis Monck, Miss Lottie Fowler, Miss Wood, Miss Fairlamb, Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Mellon, the Eddy brothers - to quote only a few of the names most widely known as materializing mediums Ė all these rest under a heavy cloud of suspicion, if there is no proof that fraud was practised by them. The investigations of members of the SPR went to prove that fraud and nothing but fraud was practised by all the mediums seen by them, in their numerous investigations. In Mrs. Eleanor Sidgwick's paper, "Results of a Personal Investigation into the Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism,"[1] will be found much valuable information in regard to the mediums investigated at that time. The evidence in the cases of Miss Wood and Miss Fairlamb was particularly damaging. (Miss Fairlamb afterward became Mrs. Mellon, and it is by this name that she is best known to the spiritualistic world. I shall, accordingly, call her by that name in the discussion that follows.) In fact the history of materializing mediums is so full of exposes, and the evidence of fraud so overwhelming and so constant, that, as the result of carefully considering the evidence in the case, and the personal histories of the various materializing mediums, William T. Stead (a spiritualist) could only say, writing in 1892, "The phenomena of spiritualism, at least so far as relates to the materializing of spirits, seems to be much less frequent in London at present than they were some years ago. During these investigations I have made great efforts to obtain the services of a trustworthy materializing medium who has not at any time been detected in fraud. There are three or four materializing mediums who give seances in London; but, whether from misfortune or their own fault, their names have all been associated at one time or another with the production of fraudulent phenomena. I am not now speaking of what is said by such opponents of spiritualistic phenomena as Doctor Weatherly and Mr. Maskelyne. I am speaking of what has been communicated to me by fervent spiritualists, whom I have consulted, in the hope that they might be able to furnish me with the address of a trustworthy materializing medium. The net result of my inquiries came to this: that, in the whole of the United Kingdom, so far as was known to the spiritualist community, there was only one person of undoubted materializing faculty and undoubted character who could almost always secure the presence of phenomena, and who had never been detected in a trick of any kind... I refer to Mrs. Mellon, late of Newcastle-on-Tyne, whose success as a materializing medium is undoubted."[2]

[1] Proceedings, Vol. IV., pp. 45-74.
[2] More Ghost Stories, p. 54.

This rather dubious and unsatisfactory evidence must be discounted, however, owing to two considerations. First, the most unsatisfactory nature of the evidence brought to light by Mrs. Sidgwick, in the paper previously referred to, in which fraud was strongly suggested, though not actually found; and secondly, because Mrs. Mellon, of "undoubted character," was detected and caught red-handed, in producing the grossest fraud, in a circle in Sydney, Australia; and, though Mr. Stead and others tried to defend the medium in Borderland, and to show that the detection did not point to fraud at all, it is most obvious to any one carefully studying the evidence in the case that Mrs. Mellon did practise fraud, while the evidence points to the fact that she was in the habit of producing it constantly.

The whole story will be found in a book entitled, Spookland: A Record of Research and Experiment in the Much Talked of Realm of Mystery, etc., by T. Shekleton Henry, A. R. I. B. A. Here we read that, after a number of sittings with Mrs. Mellon, in which spirits materialized and were photographed, the sitters, believing that the so-called spirits were none other than Mrs. Mellon herself in various disguises, agreed to seize "the spirit," when it should materialize at the next sťance, and hold fast to the figure, and thus ascertain whether it was in truth a spirit form that was held, or the body of Mrs. Mellon herself. Accordingly, on the night of Friday, 12th of October, 1894, at a sťance held in Mrs. Mellon's house, Mr. Henry suddenly seized the figure that issued from the cabinet, "and found that I held the form of Mrs. Mellon, and that she was on her knees, and had a white material like muslin round her head and shoulders. I can swear positively that when I seized the form Mrs. Mellon was on her knees. She struggled, but I held her firmly and called for the light to be turned up. Some one struck matches, and then I saw that Mrs. Mellon had a mask of black material over her face, and aforesaid white drapery round her shoulders, her sleeves drawn up above the elbows, the skirt of her dress turned up, and her feet bare. She was on her knees, and I held her in the position in which I had caught her. The matches were blown out, and I was assaulted by two or three men present, Mr. Mellon catching me by the throat and tearing off my necktie. I never let go my hold on Mrs. Mellon, however, until the gas in the back room was lit and turned full on, and every one present had an opportunity of seeing Mrs. Mellon in the position and in the condition in which I had caught her. I looked inside the cabinet, and saw, lying upon the floor (inside the cabinet) a false beard. I called Mr. Roydhouse over, and he picked up the beard, but it was snatched from his hand. As soon as I relaxed my hold, Mrs. Mellon tore the black mask from her face and the drapery from her shoulders, and bid them under her petticoat. I then entered the cabinet, and found on the floor a small black shawl, some old muslin, Mrs. Mellon's shoes and stockings, and a small black cotton bag about nine inches square, with black tapes attached to it ..." (pp. 50-1).[3]

[3] My readers who are unfamiliar with the history of the subject may think that this is a most out-of-the-way and unique occurrence. That is not by any means the case; those who think so might consult a book entitled The Vampires of Onset: Past and Present containing numerous accounts of such "grabbings" of the spirit by skeptical sitters, parts of the book reading more like a description of a prize-fight than a spiritualistic sťance! I quote one case which is quite typical of a number:

"Smash! Down came a black-jack on the head of a man who tried to force open the cabinet, which, by this time, was found to he barricaded by a heavy wooden partition and secured by means of a stout spring lock. It resisted the united efforts of three men who tried to kick it down. The two men who had been inside succeeded in dragging out the woman and stripped her of a cheap, cheese-cloth garment with an elastic neck-band and short sleeves of such a size as might be worn by of sixteen.

"Whack! Smash came a stove-lifter down on the head of a curiously disposed individual, while three or four sluggers in the employ of the establishment made a grand rush to cut off further investigation. The man who did the clubbing was seen to be Cowen, the husband of the medium, and in his assaults he was joined by two other men, while the fourth contented himself with pulling and hauling at the investigating party. In all, a half-dozen blows with black-jacks and the stove-lifter were struck by Cowen and his 'Healers' (1) and one of the visiting party was badly cut on the neck, crown of the head, and over the right eye. The resistance made by Cowen was savage and persistent, and not until Officer Hensey of the 4th police division burst in the door and placed the 'twisters' on Cowen's wrists did he desist from showing fight" (p. 14). This, it must be remembered, was at a spiritualistic sťance, where, if ever, the most elevating of all the soul's aspirations are supposed to be centred. Can it be wondered at that, so long an this kind of thing goes on, spiritualism in held in contempt by the public - whose sole knowledge of it is derived from newspaper accounts of such disgraceful occurrences as these?

The exposure, in the case of Mrs. Mellon, then, seems to be about as complete as possible, and clearly shows that Mrs. Mellon was in the habit of producing phenomena of the kind constantly, and by the same means. And, if that is the case, then Mr. Stead's "unique" case vanishes, and the history of materialization, so far as professional mediums are concerned, is practically one unbroken line of fraud, and this has been the more forcefully emphasized by the fact that the newest cases investigated by the SPR have proved to be fraudulent.[4] A review of the evidence procured by the Seybert Commission and the American Society for Psychical Research,[5] confirms this opinion; while the absurdly uncritical attitude of many of the early investigators, a fair sample of which may be found in Olcott's People of the Other World (this being literally torn to pieces in a review by D. D. Home, the medium, in his book, Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism, pp. 301-28), may account for the extraordinary nature of many of the narratives recorded, and the lack of exposure in the early days of the subject.

[4] See Journal SPR, Vol. XII., pp. 266-8 and 274-7.
[5] Amer. Proc. SPR (old Society), pp. 102-3.

There are, in the whole history of the subject, only two cases that call for serious consideration (aside from those mentioned on pp. 237-8), these being the case of Miss Cook, and the case detailed at great length by Alexander Aksakof in his A Case of Partial Dematerialization of the Body of a Medium, he, indeed, devoting a whole book to a consideration of that case. The former of these I shall not stop to consider in detail here. That will be found discussed in Podmore's Studies in Psychical Research, p. 120, and in his Modern Spiritualism, Vol. II., pp. 97-9, and 153-5. As no detailed criticism of the latter case has ever appeared in print, so far as I am aware, it may be worth our while briefly to examine this cue, which seems to stand out the more strongly amid the fraud disclosed in the other cases which we have just examined.

The famous sťance, which, as stated, M. Aksakof considered sufficiently important to devote a whole book of nearly two hundred pages to, relates the occurrences of a sťance that took place in Helsingfors, Finland, December 11, 1893. The medium, Mme. Elizabeth D'Esperance, was seated in a chair, outside the cabinet, which was behind her, the sitters being in front of her in a sort of horseshoe formation. The light was very dim, so dim, in fact, that several of the sitters asserted afterward that they could not see anything that transpired, having to depend almost solely on the sense of touch, when they were called up to examine the medium, as will be presently described. After some minor manifestations, the medium stated that the lower part of her body had dematerialized, and that, whereas her head and the upper portion of her trunk was visible and tangible, her lower limbs, and the lower portion of her body had dematerialized and could no longer be seen or felt! Needless to say, such an astounding phenomenon caused considerable stir and some amount of skepticism amid the sitters in the circle. But the medium, to silence their doubts, invited them to come up and ascertain for themselves, and see whether or not this was the case. Several of the sitters availed themselves of this offer, and while they could distinctly see the upper portion of the medium's body in front of the chair on which she was sitting, and while the medium could talk, drink water, etc., the lower portion of her body had apparently dematerialized, being no longer visible, while the whole seat of the chair could be distinctly felt by the sitters, who were allowed to feel it with their hands. From the reports, there can be no reasonable doubt that the upper portion of the medium's body was really in front of the chair-back, nor can there be any doubt that the lower portion of her body was absent, and the legs not simply drawn back, e. g., against the sides of the chair. The evidence would thus appear to be fairly conclusive, and it is only a detailed examination of the various reports that reveals the possibility of fraud, which, I believe, was practised in this case, and the nature of which was evident to me the moment I had read them.

The secret consisted (in all probability) in the following fact. The back of the chair was partially open, and of sufficient size to allow the medium to thrust her legs through as far as the hips, when the dress had been drawn up, and spread over the seat of the chair. The medium would, therefore, be in a kneeling position behind the chair, with the upper part of her body in front of the chair-back, and, of course, visible to the investigators who made the examination. No one thought of looking behind the chair, (this is stated in the evidence), nor did anyone, apparently, suspect the manner in which the medium was producing the "dematerialization." The evidence is to my mind absurdly inconclusive, and hardly worth consideration at all, from the strictly evidential standpoint. It is only because the case is made so much of by many spiritualists that I have deemed it necessary to consider it here at the length I have.[6]

[6] My detailed analysis of this case, with diagrams, will be found in the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research, Vol. I, Part 1, March, 1907.

It is possible, or, at least, conceivable that such a thing as genuine materialization exists as a fact in nature, though the available testimony must render us extremely wary in accepting evidence which would necessitate our accepting the phenomena of materialization as genuine and proved beyond doubt or cavil. It is conceivable that the ethereal body, described by many able writers on the subject,[7] may, under certain conditions, about which we at present know nothing, become visible and manifest to us in some such manner as by materialization, though, as stated, the lack of evidence for such phenomena renders all such speculations premature. Mr. Frederic Myers has beautifully worked out the scientific possibilities in his Human Personality, Vol. II., pp. 538-40; pp. 544-9, etc. It is true that Doctor Maxwell has recorded[8] several most remarkable phenomena (luminous) which seem hard to account for by any process of trickery, phenomena strikingly similar to those recorded in Occult Science in India, p. 267. It is also true that Professor Charles Richet has recently recorded a case of materialization, obtained under apparent test conditions, that is most extraordinary,[9] and that Sir William Crookes has seen and felt hands materialized at sťances with D. D. Home, which hands, Sir William explicitly stated, were not drawn away forcibly, but melted, as it were, in the hands of the sitter, when he continued to hold them (all this in good light), which fact, I may add, is confirmed by various other witnesses of the Home phenomena.[10] I do not deny any of these facts, or wish to depreciate the character or value of the evidence for these remarkable manifestations; I only insist that there is not enough evidence of this character to warrant our speculating seriously on the nature of these facts, unless we know that they are facts. We need more positive evidence before speculation becomes valid. And the whole history of the subject is so besmirched with fraud that we should be particularly careful in accepting data obtained through the professional materializing medium. One of the most remarkable cases I have ever read is that related by the Ven. Archdeacon Colley,[11] where a spirit was apparently seen to materialize from a cloud of vapour, which, in turn, is seen to issue from the medium's side. I know of no case which seems as remarkable as this one does, or that conveys to the reader's mind the impression that the facts narrated could not have been produced by fraud; and yet, Mr. J. N. Maskelyne, on October 8, 1906, at St. George's Hall, London, duplicated this phenomenon by fraudulent means alone. If so much can be accomplished by fraud we should certainly be most careful in accepting statements, and even the evidences of our senses, in this field. We should, at all events, be content to await further evidence before finally believing that such phenomena as these are other than frauds, or the results of trickery.

[7] See Elbe, Future Life in the Light of Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science; H. Frank, A Scientific Demonstration of the Soul's Existence and Immortality; Delanne, Evidence for a Future Life; Myers, Human Personality, etc.
[8] Metapsychical Phenomena, pp. 150-4.
[9] Annals of Psychic Science, October, November, 1905.
[10] See Hardinge, Modern American Spiritualism, p. 106; Dialectical Report, p. 120; Owen, Debatable Land, pp. 351-2, etc.
[11] Annals of Psychic Science, December, 1905, pp. 392-9.

It is necessary that we should now turn to a consideration of the actual methods that are employed by mediums to produce the phenomena of materialization by fraudulent means. In order to render the subsequent explanations intelligible, I shall first quote a typical description of a materialization sťance given by an eye-witness, from which description the reader may form a good idea of what occurs, and the detailed explanations that follow will be rendered more easily intelligible than if I were to describe a series of phenomena, none of which were familiar to the general reader.

"Everything now being in readiness, the medium seated himself in a chair, after first bringing a tambourine, guitar, tea-bell, tin trumpet, and a pair of castanets and depositing them inside the cabinet. After being seated he proffered some pieces of rope and stated that any one was at liberty to bind his hands and feet, or secure him in any way he saw fit, in order to preclude the possibility of his having the use of any of his members during the continuance of the sťance. Again did the writer, in company with the only other skeptical gentleman in the company, exert all his ingenuity in binding the medium so that he felt positively assured that he would still be in the chair when the sťance was closed. After the tying was finished, the writer would have wagered any amount that it was an utter impossibility for the medium to free himself... Medium and chair were now picked up and deposited in the cabinet, and the curtains drawn.

"We had no more than reached our seats than the guitar was seen gyrating around in space over the top of the cabinet, with no visible contact with anything. The light had been shaded until you could just distinguish the forms of the sitters, without being able to discern their features. After a few seconds, the guitar was joined by the tin trumpet, and out of it came a voice saying:

"'I am the spirit-father of Mr. B   , and my name is J    B   ,' giving his name in full.

"This test was instantly recognized by one of the gentlemen, and there followed a commonplace message to his daughter-in-law, the wife of Mr. B   , who was present. While this was transpiring, the guitar had disappeared into the cabinet again. As soon as the speaking had ceased, and the trumpet fallen to the floor, we were requested to examine the condition of things in the cabinet. Again the skeptics were permitted to do the investigating. We found the medium in precisely the condition in which we had left him at the beginning, it not appearing that he had stirred.

"We had not reached our seats, which were distant about eight feet from the cabinet, when the guitar again made its appearance, and began playing an air of great beauty, the entire instrument being visible, but the hands that created the music upon it could not be seen. The music produced was subdued, soft, and sweet, as though the strings were being manipulated by very gentle, soft finger-tips. The skeptics were now very much interested. Again the horn joined the guitar, and when the latter had ceased its music, announced that its name was W    E   , son of Mr. and Mrs. E   . The horn was correct again, and, after giving a message, in which he gave some instructions concerning his pony, that the parents still kept, the horn fell to the floor of the cabinet, and an examination disclosed everything as we had last seen it. The medium appeared to be in a trance or sleep, his eyes closed, teeth set, and breathing heavily. We had just turned our backs on the cabinet, after the examination, when a shapely white hand protruded through the opening in the curtains. Before we had seated ourselves there were two, three, four, all of different sizes, and doing considerable finger-snapping, thus doing away with the idea of rubber hands, stuffed gloves, etc. Then came a bare foot at the bottom of the curtain, and, in response to a request by one of the circle, the toes were wiggled. No one was allowed to touch the hands or feet that appeared, but it was evident to any one in possession of his five senses that they were human hands and feet and not rubber or wax, even did we not know that nothing of the kind had been carried in by the medium. After a few moments of these manifestations, another examination of the cabinet and medium was made, and everything found satisfactory. Now, the tea-bell began ringing, and was soon joined by the castanets and tambourine. Ever and anon one or another of the instruments would swoop around above the cabinet and disappear again. They seemed to be flying about in all parts of the cabinet, and to be travelling with great swiftness and force; and it appeared as though the medium's eyes stood a very fair chance of being decorated in black! Another examination and everything found satisfactory. The writer was wavering, and was most intensely interested, to the great delight of his sister. The horn now requested that the company sing 'Sweet By and By.' Whilst the company was singing, they were joined by the horn in a deep and powerful voice, which claimed afterward that it was, at the time, 'John King,' the medium's main control. After the song was finished, a rustling noise was heard in the cabinet, and presently the curtains were agitated, and slowly a face presented itself at the opening. Plainly, it was a face, but it was not recognized. Then other faces appeared, but without recognition. Once more the guitar strikes up its music, and, during its continuance, the curtains open sufficiently to reveal to our astonished gaze a form, draped from head to foot in a dazzling white robe, in which there appeared to be a great many yards of material used. The face, in this instance, was much plainer, and in fact, was recognized by one of our number, who, however, said nothing until the form announced its name as Mrs. E    L   , mother of the lady sitting next to our host. The form spoke in a loud whisper, but no movement of the lips was visible. It stood stock-still, and might have been mistaken for a dummy were it not that the face was so absolutely identified by the lady it claimed as daughter, and the full name it gave being entirely correct. The form remained in sight for a period of about twenty seconds, and, after it had disappeared, the horn announced that the daughter carried the mother's watch, and that it contained the photo of her father. This the lady declared to be correct, and after the sťance exhibited the watch, with the photo inside, and the name given by the spirit graven on the inside of the back lid. The lady declared that she had never before met the medium.

"The props were being knocked from under the writer's materialism in beautiful shape! Other forms now presented themselves, and four of them recognized. One of the faces was an exact likeness to an uncle of the writer's, and he was almost paralyzed with astonishment, and ready to throw up his hands in surrender, when his sister, addressing the spirit, said:

"'Uncle L   ' (for, she, too, had recognized the face), 'have you anything to say to brother? Tell him something to convince him.' The writer was just about to say that it required no more evidence to convince him of the possibility of spirit return, when the apparition spoke, saying:

"'Indeed, I should be pleased to grant the lady's request, but not being the spirit I am taken for, I cannot do so. I am the spirit of S    W   , and the cousin of Mrs. D   .'

"The lady named said she had never seen him in life, but there was a resemblance to a photograph of him in the family album. None of the forms or faces remained more than from five to twenty seconds.

"Now, if this was the work of the medium, why did he not take the opportunity presented of palming off one of his dummies on one who had already accepted it as an uncle, and make an absolute test of it, instead of denying that it was the spirit supposed to be, and make an uncertain test of it? This thought also struck the gentleman skeptic who assisted the writer in the examinations.

"Occurring as it did, it certainly went far toward sustaining the medium as honest, and having no part in the presentation of the phenomena. Both skeptics were by this time pretty well hors du combat. All that was now required was that some spirit friend or message present itself that could be recognized, and the 'turn was made.' The horn now made itself heard again, and began announcing the names of the spirits present. In all, about twenty were given, and eleven of them recognized. Among them were four full names of the author's deceased relatives, two of them giving date of death, and the cause thereof, and sending messages of love to members of the family not present, in each case, giving the name of the one the message was for. My sister informed me that she had never even heard of this particular medium before that week, and this was the first visit of any member of the family to him. The writer struck his arms and capitulated!

"After another examination of the condition of things in the cabinet which resulted satisfactorily, there was a regular bedlam of noises begun, made by each one of the instruments setting out on an erratic aerial excursion about the confines of the cabinet. Occasionally, one or two of the instruments would dart up out of the top of the cabinet, and, after executing a few fantastic movements, go below and join the general rumpus on the inside. It was, apparently, impossible for the medium, even were he free, to put the instruments where they were seen; and besides this, the entire instrument was visible, and it was impossible to detect anything in connection with them, they seeming to float about the atmosphere as a balloon. Certain it was that the guitar could not perform on itself, and there was no human hand visible, to cause the vibration of the strings.

"The only thing appearing strange, regarding the guitar, was that only one air was executed upon it. Immediately the rumpus ceased, another inspection of the cabinet was made, and everything found as it had been. The trumpet now requested that a writing-tablet and pencil be placed in the cabinet. This was done, and in a few minutes five messages of greeting, from 'controls," were handed out. One was in English, and signed by John King; another in French, another in German, another in Spanish, and the last in Hebrew, which no one present could read. It was taken next day, by the writer and others, to a Hebrew clothing dealer, who read and interpreted it with ease, and stated that it was elegantly written. The medium claimed to have no knowledge of any language save English, and was unable to speak that correctly, - which was a fact, for he did badly mangle the language every time he spoke. While we were waiting the thrusting out of the sixth sheet, the medium was heard to moan and yawn and move uneasily. In the course of a minute and a half, he called for light, and stepped out of the cabinet, freed from the ropes that had bound him less than two minutes before! An examination revealed the fact that the medium had not only slid out of the ropes, but that every knot had been untied, and the ropes lay in a heap in the corner. Think of it! Something had untied the knots in less than two minutes, that (to tie) had required ten minutes of time of two men! The instruments were handled and examined, and found to be perfectly innocent of any mechanism not properly belonging to them, with the exception of a small hole, about the eighth of an inch in diameter, bored into the neck of the instrument, on the lower side and near the body of the guitar. The medium explained that it was for the purpose of attaching a music-holder to the instrument, and, as he was stopping with our host for the evening, he soon brought the holder and put it in position. It answered the purpose admirably, and satisfactorily explained the presence of the hole."

In a sťance such as the above, there are several factors that must be taken into consideration, requiring an explanation, they being independent and distinct from the "materialization proper," which alone concerns us in the present chapter. The methods of obtaining the "test information" about the sitter are explained on pp. 312-18; the rope-tying manifestations I have explained in the chapter devoted to that subject, pp. 143-67; the self-playing guitar I have explained on p. 197; to the "messages" I shall again recur on p. 317; so that in the present chapter there remains for our consideration only the methods the medium employs in fraudulently producing the materialized bands, faces and forms. To this aspect of the problem I accordingly turn. I shall first of all describe the methods of obtaining the spirit hands and faces, leaving the more detailed and the more wonderful "full-form materializations" for later discussion.

It need hardly be stated that many of the "materialized hands" seen at sťances are none other than the medium's own. Under cover of the intense darkness that is always called for when materializations of the kind are seen, the medium releases himself from his bonds, and does his own "spirit touches" merely by walking about the room and touching one or other of the sitters, either with his bare hand, or after donning a glove dipped in cold water, to give a cold, clammy effect to the sitter experiencing the touch. This is a device frequently employed. In many cases the medium rubs over the surface of the glove with luminous paint, this giving the effect of a bright, shining hand, floating in space, since the performer, if entirely dressed in black, is quite invisible in the darkness. (Those of my readers who doubt the fact that any figure dressed in this manner would he absolutely invisible should witness the public performance of an act known as "Black Art," in which the performer's assistants walk freely about the stage, which is entirely darkened, and produce the many marvellous effects witnessed. The illusion is perfect, and no one witnessing the performance, and not knowing how the effects are produced, can detect the method of operation, no matter how closely he may watch the stage.)

Some mediums make use of the damp kid glove, just described, in a very clever manner. They stuff the glove, and attach the back of the hand to the small end of the telescopic rod, mentioned on p. 196. By moving the rod about in various directions, touching the sitters with the glove, they are enabled to produce the phenomenon of "spirit touches" at a great distance from themselves, and in places where it would be impossible for them to reach, even were they free. A still more astonishing phenomenon may be produced by attaching the glove to the rod by means of a piece of stout black silk thread, about a yard or so in length. Now, by waving the rod about in various directions, the glove is given a great range, and moves so rapidly, moreover, that several sitters may feel the touch of the hand at the same instant (practically), which would, of course, have the effect of several hands all active at the same time. The hand may or may not be made luminous, in this case, as desired.

Mr. J. H. W. Shaw describes a very effective variation of the method just described in his Magic and Its Mysteries, pp. 55-6. The effect, in this case, is this: after the medium is securely tied in the chair, a luminous hand slowly materializes, only the tips of the fingers at first being visible, but afterward the whole hand comes into view, until the arm up to the elbow is seen. It now suddenly disappears and as suddenly appears again, finally vanishing altogether.

The effect is produced, in this case, by the following means. The medium has secreted about his person a glove made of black material, the palm of which is coated with luminous paint, and the rest of the hand and arm is also painted very lightly with it. To the elbow of this glove is sewn a cylinder of thick, black cloth, of sufficient length to completely cover the hand and arm when pulled over it. Before the sťance begins the medium gives the glove a coat of paint, as stated, pulls the cylinder up over the glove, and secretes it about his person. At the proper time the medium dons the glove, which is still invisible because of the covering black-cloth cylinder. Slowly, the medium pulls this off toward the shoulder, thereby disclosing the hand and arm, the palm of which is turned to the sitters. Now, by suddenly pulling the black cloth over the hand again, the medium is enabled to produce the phenomenon of materialization and dematerialization as often as desired.

The famous (or rather infamous) Doctor Monck was in the habit of producing a very remarkable manifestation, a materialized spirit hand, that of a baby, in partial light, and when the medium was sitting at the table together with the other sitters. Doctor Monck would sit at one end of the table, when presently the table-cloth would be seen to move, and from beneath the table would come the tiny hand, which, after a few seconds' visibility, would suddenly dematerialize, and a thorough search under the table would fail to reveal the clue to the mystery. "Professor Hoffmann," in a Note to his translation of Houdiniís Secrets of Stage Conjuring, gives (pp. 220-1) a description of this test and an expose of the manner in which the trick was performed. He says, in part:

ďA dummy hand of small size, with the fingers slightly bent, is attached to a piece of broad elastic about three feet in length. This in turn is fastened to a belt round the performer's waist, and thence passes down (say) his left trouser leg, the hand reposing, when not wanted, within the garment, a few inches above the ankle. To the wrist of the hand is appended a kind of elastic sleeve of five or six inches in length. (In Monck's case, if we remember rightly, it consisted of the upper portion of an ordinary sock.) The medium, thus prepared, takes his seat at one side of a square table, with an overhanging table-cover, allowing no one else to be seated at the same side of the table... Some one present is requested to lower the gas. 'A little lower, please. A little lower yet,' till, as a natural consequence, it goes out altogether. 'Dear me,' says the medium, 'I am extremely sorry! I did not intend you to turn it out. Pray light it again!' This is done and it is again lowered but this time only to a dim twilight. Meanwhile, under cover of the momentary darkness, the medium has quietly crossed his left foot over his right knee, pulled down the dummy hand, slipped the sleeve portion over the toe of his left shoe, and, with the foot masked by the table-cover, calmly bides his time. Presently, on the right hand of the medium, something is seen to be moving under the table-cover, making apparent efforts to come out. The medium, at the same time, prepares the minds of the spectators by declaring that he sees a hand floating about, that it has touched him, and so on. Presently, he gradually draws his foot, still crossed over the right knee, from under the table-cover, and allows the hand to show itself just above the surface... Doctor Monck went so far as to offer a set of 'fairy bells' to the touch of the spirit hand, and, partly by scraping the hand against the wires (or rather the wires against the hand), and partly by a judicious use of his own fingers, produced sounds which, though not particularly harmonious, passed muster fairly enough as the production of a hand without a body. The manifestation over, the performer has only to place the left foot on the ground, and, with the other foot, dislodge the dummy hand, which is forthwith spontaneously drawn back by the elastic band beneath the sheltering trouser. The gas being turned up, skeptical gentlemen may search beneath the table, but in vain."

When hands appear above the top of the cabinet, or otherwise beyond the normal reach of the medium, it is either a stuffed glove that is exhibited, or a glove that is attached to the end of the medium's telescopic rod, and made to open and close by the medium blowing through the hollow rod, causing the glove to alternately fill out and relapse into "flabby nothingness," according to the amount of air forced into the rod and glove. In a dim light, this has a very good effect. Then, again, the medium often makes use of simple pieces of cardboard, painted black, upon each of which is painted a hand in white. By exhibiting this hand at the top of the cabinet, and at the same time snapping his own fingers, he can produce the effect of the hand itself causing this sound, thus proving, not only its objective reality, but the fact that it is made of flesh and blood! Several hands can be made to appear in like manner, at the same time, the medium attaching them to his rod, by means of a slot in the end of it.

Some ingenious medium devised the following plan, by which the hand may be made to move, apparently, to open and close, e.g., or to snap the fingers. This proves to every sitter conclusively that the hands are real, for what but real hands can move in that manner? The secret consists in the fact that the medium has painted on both sides of his blackened card a hand in white, these hands being painted in different postures. The medium simply slips the cardboard into the slot in the end of his telescopic rod, as before described, and exhibits, first one side and then the other of the painted card. If the half-turn is made quickly enough, it is quite invisible to the sitters, and the effect of the turn is to produce a complete illusion in the minds of the sitters that the hand has itself moved before their eyes. If the supposed card is painted to represent the fingers snapping, the medium snaps his own, and the spirit hand is supposed to have produced the sound!

If the hands felt at a sťance are unmistakably human, then the sitter way rest assured that they are either those of the medium, who has in some manner managed to release himself from his holds or ties, or those of some confederate, such confederates being frequently introduced in sťances of this character as will presently appear.

We now pass on to consider the methods that are employed by the medium in order to produce "full-form materialization," in which figures are seen to issue from the cabinet, while the medium is securely tied and otherwise fastened to his chair within it. These forms are almost invariably clothed from head to foot in dazzling white garments, and the question at once arises, where did the medium (supposing it to be he, disguised, and parading about the sťance-room) obtain all the material and other portions of the make-up, since he was thoroughly searched before he entered the cabinet, and nothing of such a nature was found upon him? Even granting that the medium was enabled to release himself in some manner from the cords that tied him to his chair, and, disguising himself, enter the sťance-room and act the part of some spirit, how did he obtain possession of the white drapery and other material in which the spirit was clothed? The fact that the medium was thoroughly searched just before the sťance, and no such "properties" found upon him, would seem to show that it was not and could not be the medium; and any fraud on his part was consequently out of the question. How mistaken this idea is we shall now see.

There are many ways in which clothes may be smuggled into the cabinet by the medium, without the sitters being aware of the fact, or suspect that any trickery is being practised upon them. One of the most ingenious devices is the following, which has been used by mediums for many years past, and which is still very largely employed. On p. 197 I described a self-playing guitar, the secret being that it contained a music-box, which, when wound up and set going, would play a tune without necessitating any fingering of the strings by the medium. That, however, is only half the secret of the guitar, for, besides the music-box, the guitar also contained a sliding panel, opening into a hollow compartment in the interior, and in this compartment are placed the robes and other paraphernalia employed by the medium in dressing up as the spirit he purports to be. These robes are made of a sort of fine netting, and are capable of being compressed into a remarkably small space, the full costume of an adult spirit folding into a space no larger than a good-sized watch. Indeed, these robes are sometimes carried in this manner instead of the guitar. The watch is a dummy, is hollow, and is filled with the costumes for the evening's sťance! At other times this material is carried in a purse, a letter, or in many other ways that will suggest themselves. One method frequently employed is that of placing the material in the hollow boot-heel. The heel of the shoe is made of steel, being, in fact, a sort of hollowed out box, covered over with leather, and blackened to imitate the regular shoe. Usually, however, the medium carries a series of netting masks in this heel, these also folding up into a very small compass. If the medium gives the sťance in his own house, there are, of course, many ways of gaining possession of the requisite material, - hollow chair-seats, table-legs, etc., forming convenient receptacles for the robes and other paraphernalia used in the sťance.

Mr. Lunt, in his little book, Mysteries of the Sťance, has described a method he has found used by female mediums to evade the watchfulness of searchers, in cases where the medium, as a test, is obliged to don the all-black clothes provided by the sitters. It is this:

"Some female mediums have a novel arrangement by which they can carry into the cabinet all the supplies they want, in spite of the strictest search. For instance, one has a black cloth belt made deep enough to hold a great variety of stuff. This is worn around the waist next the skin, and held in place by an elastic band. Over this is the usual black skirt, then the other clothing. When the committee of ladies search her, she 'entirely disrobes down to this black skirt, which she retains 'for modesty's sake,' until the skirt provided by the committee is put on over it. Then the black skirt is unhooked and taken off. This leaves her supposedly clothed only in the committee's clothing, which of course is all dark. To satisfy them that all is right she lifts the last skirt as high as possible, and shows the bare skin, and the presence of the useful little belt is not suspected. The rest of the clothing provided is donned, - and the performance goes on with the greatest success" (pp. 32-3).

From the description and remarks on p. 44 of Henry's Spookland, it appears to me highly probable that Mrs. Melon used some such device as the above.

The modus operandi of the ordinary materializing sťance should now be pretty clearly defined in the sitter's mind. The medium is not usually fastened in his cabinet; and if he is tied, or otherwise secured, he releases himself by one or other of the methods before enumerated. Then he proceeds to dress himself up in the robes, etc., he has managed to smuggle into the cabinet by one means or another, as described. Then the robes are properly adjusted, the medium dons the wig, mask, etc., that is appropriate for the character he is to portray, and boldly walks into the room and asserts that he is that individual![12] If his voice is one that is easily disguised, the medium makes bold to speak aloud; otherwise the "spirit" confines its conversation to loud whispers. The more dramatic the play the better, of course, up to a certain extent, though the medium who knows his business will always remember that spirits should conduct themselves with becoming gravity. A certain amount of "the actor" must enter into any medium who makes a success of his profession. Darkness, the dramatic setting of the sťance, and suggestion can be depended upon to do the rest. I have more fully elaborated this branch of the subject in my chapter on the Psychology of Deception, and it is not necessary for me to consider it at any great length now. My object for the moment is to show how these forms are actually produced, and not their possible significance. I have described other methods of materialization, and other devices on pp. 268-75.

[12] In some cases, it is impossible for the medium to escape - when, e. g., he in fastened in a cage provided by a committee. In that case, he frees himself as much as possible, and shown a variety of masks, robes, etc., through the curtains, - these being attached to the end of his telescopic rod and thrust between the bare of the cage and the cabinet curtains. Some very effective figures can be created in this way.

It remains for me but to consider certain materialization phenomena which we have not so far discussed, such, e. g., as the production of "spirit lights," "apports," etc. To these I now turn. Spirit lights may be produced in a variety of ways, one of the simplest being the following, a method very frequently employed.

The medium procures a bottle, or flask, holding about two pints. Into this he drops the heads of about one hundred parlor matches ("red-heads"), and over these is poured just enough water to cover them, and a little more. The flask is now kept tightly corked for some time. When the medium requires to produce his spirit lights, he brings forth this bottle, and, while slightly shaking it, removes the stopper a very little, when the portion of the bottle that is filled with the fumes will present a very beautiful phosphorescent appearance. If a transparent wire mask be held before the bottle, it will be greeted as a spirit face by the sitters, and very likely recognized by one or more of them as a dead relative! (v. p. 52). By simply moistening the fingers and rolling a match between them, a very fine effect is produced, though the light is, of course, small. Spirit lights of different sizes and shapes are made by cutting out pieces of cloth of the shape required, and pasting them on cardboard. These are painted with luminous paint after the manner described on p. 269. They are attached to the end of the telescopic rod, so often spoken of throughout this book, and moved about over the sitters' heads. The manner of producing luminous hands, arms, and faces will be presently described. The methods the medium will resort to are innumerable. It is even asserted that some mediums have had the hardihood to introduce fireflies into the sťance-room, as a means of producing these effects!

Just recently, some ingenious medium has devised a method by which it is possible to produce luminous names, apparently flashed out of the air, with lightening-like rapidity and brilliancy. This clever test is performed as follows. The names are cut out of tin-foil and pasted on a sheet of clear glass, care being taken to connect each letter with the next. When all is ready, a wire from a powerful battery is connected with the beginning and terminal of the tin-foil, and a brilliant flash will light up all the lines for an instant. The battery may be concealed in a distant place, and two fine wires in the sťance-room could be easily concealed. For the secret of this clever test I am indebted to Mr. E. D. Lunt, of Boston.

I now turn to a consideration of certain phenomena of materialization in which solid bodies, other than human beings, are produced in the sťance-room, they being generally left there "by the spirits" as a proof of their objective reality. In all these cases, the sťance 'is a dark one, and when the lights are turned up, certain objects are seen on the table of the sťance-room which certainly were not there before, and the conclusion drawn is that the spirits brought them thither. The explanation generally offered is that the spirits dematerialized the objects, wherever they happened to be at the time, conveyed them in that semi-material, vaporous condition into the sťance-room, and again "integrated" or materialized them there. This is the orthodox explanation for phenomena that are technically known as "apports."

Without now stopping to consider any a priori speculations as to the scientific possibility or impossibility of such a thing; the mere historic evidence in the case would certainly seem to point to the conclusion that fraud and nothing but, fraud has been operative throughout, and is quite sufficient to account for all the phenomena observed (save in the case of W. S. Moses, perhaps, that stumbling-block to the rationalistic psychical researcher), in the presence of professional mediums. Only some mediums produced these phenomena; D. D. Home did not believe in them! Some famous historical cases are absurdly simple of explanation, as, c. g., the "Great Materialized Stone," described on pp. 129-82 of Truesdell's Spiritualism, Bottom Facts. In fact all these cases sift themselves down to the one primary consideration: could the medium, in spite of the searching, have introduced into the sťance-room, unseen by his sitters, the objects materialized? On thinking the matter over, it will become apparent to my reader that this is, after all, the only question involved, and, in the face of the damning historical evidence, no less than because of the obvious simplicity of smuggling objects into the sťance-room undetected, it must be admitted that the proof that these phenomena have ever occurred in a genuine manner is so remote as to hardly be worth serious consideration.

Take, e. g., the cases where live creatures, fresh flowers "with the dew still on them," etc., have been imported into the sťance-room. If the sťance is held in the medium's own house, the objects way very well be slipped into the sťance-room through some trap door or sliding panel, such as will presently be described in full. Or the flowers may be contained in the hollow seat of some empty chair, sofa, etc., the medium simply securing them, when required, and spraying them with water to imitate dew before placing them on the table. At other times a confederate has the flowers hidden about his or her person. If the medium is not searched before the sťance, his part is, of course, an easy one. Female mediums produce this class of phenomena much more frequently than males, their dress serving as a convenient hiding-place for many of the "apports" that appear later on. In any case, the flowers are obtained as fresh as possible, sprayed with water, and placed in a black cloth bag until wanted by the medium. It only remains to be said, in connection with this phenomenon of flower-production, that the flowers have frequently been traced by investigators to the shop where they were purchased, and it was thus proved beyond question that the medium had purchased them there but a short time before the sťance! This fact failed to shake the belief of "the faithful," however, who still continued to believe in the medium's honesty, and to protest against such methods of "persecution!"


The above article was originally titled 'Materialization' and published in Hereward Carrington's book "The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism Fraudulent and Genuine" (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920).

Other articles by Hereward Carrington

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