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Harry Price

Harry Price

Highly charismatic personality whose energy and enthusiasm for the paranormal made him the first celebrity ghost hunter. A skilled magician and an expert at detecting fraud. Because of his flamboyant manner and continuous self-promotion, Price made a number of enemies within the psychical research field, especially within the Society of Psychical Research. Founder of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, which later became the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation.

The First Psychic Laboratory

Founding of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research | The Séance-Room | Chemical and Physical Laboratory | Optical Equipment | Workshop and Dark Room | A 'Psychic' Museum | Principal Mediums Investigated | Our Collaborators | Publications

 - Harry Price -

           IT WAS Huxley who reminded us that science is nothing but trained and organized common sense. That this uncommon commodity is often lacking in the investigation of alleged abnormal phenomena is only too apparent to those engaged in serious psychical research. The work of great psychists like Barrett, Crookes and Richet is convincing only because we know that their methods and records are those of the trained and scientific worker. The most convinced spiritualist will, I am sure, be the first to admit that much of the work of the old-time investigators is valueless owing to the inadequacy of their methods and the incompleteness - or total lack of -detailed records. Some spiritualists affect to despise the scientific side of the subject, but it is noticeable that whenever their leaders wish to appear convincing, either on the platform or in print, they invariably fall back on the scientist and scientific experiments for their proofs and evidence. Even the Roman Catholic Church is not averse to the scientist putting his cachet on the miracles of Lourdes and similar manifestations. In a speech(1) the Pope said that the Church did not fear scientific investigation with regard to miracles; on the contrary, such help was welcomed.

(1) Reported in the Daily Express, March 30, 1926.

Founding of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research

At the close of the Great War it was obvious that something would have to be done to combat the machinations of the horde of charlatans who were battening on the bereaved, the credulous, and the uncritical. To this end, I decided to establish a laboratory in London where the miracle-mongers could be tested and the genuine medium encouraged. The main object of the laboratory was to investigate in a dispassionate manner, add by purely scientific means, every phase of psychic or alleged psychic phenomena - uninfluenced by the emotionalism of spiritualism on the one hand, and the 'philosophic doubt' of the orthodox scientist (especially the physicist) on the other. It was decided to place the evidence obtained, whether good or bad, before such members of the public as were interested in the subject. Starting with no preconceived theories - scientific, philosophical, or religious - the Council of the Laboratory endeavoured to ascertain and demonstrate the laws underlying psychic or abnormal manifestations. Personally, I was determined to bring psychical research to the notice of orthodoxy, and my great ambition was to establish a department of psychical research at London University.

The first work of the Laboratory was carried out in 1923, in a house in Queen Square, Bloomsbury. The first 'subject' was Miss Stella C., whose phenomena made psychic history(2). During the examination of this young woman it was found that our equipment and apparatus were not sufficient for the many experiments we wished to carry out, and I decided to lease a suite of rooms which I could fit out with every scientific and automatic recording instrument which experience suggested might be useful to us. I found suitable accommodation in Queensberry Place, South Kensington, and on January 1, 1926, we opened the doors of the only properly-equipped psychic laboratory in the world to those researchers who cared to use it. The apparatus, furniture, instruments, tools, etc., were valued at £3,000. In February, 1931, the Laboratory was moved to larger premises at 13 Roland Gardens, South Kensington, where it remained until March, 1937, when, upon the termination of our lease, the equipment, library, etc., were transferred to the University of London.

(2) See Stella C, by Harry Price, op. cit.

The Séance-Room

For the guidance of those who wish to establish university departments of psychical research, some account of the rooms and equipment of the National Laboratory (now the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation) is necessary.

The Laboratory suite comprised the following rooms: office, chemical and physical laboratory, séance-room and library, dark room, workshop, large hall, and usual domestic offices. (See Plate XIV.)

The séance-room. measured 22 feet 7 inches long, by 15 feet 7 inches wide, by 9 feet 9 inches in height. It had two doors, one leading into the workshop, the second giving access to the entrance hall. Both of these doors could be locked and sealed.

One of the recesses formed by the chimney-stack was extended, on the ceiling, by means of a semi-circular rail, and from this rail was suspended by means of pulleys and roller-bearings a pair of red plush curtains weighing 14 pounds. This formed the traditional 'cabinet,' roomy and comfortable, in which a medium could sit in an arm-chair, the curtains completely concealing him. The measurements of the cabinet were: width, 6 feet 3 inches; height, 9 feet 9 inches; depth, 3 feet 3 inches, depth of sides, 2 feet.

The floor of the séance-room (in common with the other rooms of the Laboratory) was covered with three-eighths inch natural cork carpet, which is a bad conductor of heat, and thus keeps the room at an equable temperature. The cork is pleasant to the feet and clean, and forms a good background for anything that may form there.

The lighting arrangements were somewhat elaborate and every provision was made for various forms of illumination. Ultra-violet and infra-red installations were available and X-ray apparatus was at hand, if necessary. The normal white lighting was by means of a central pendant holding two 100-watt bulbs. By the turn of a switch, these could be converted into bright ruby illumination, supplied by two 25-watt red bulbs. This light was useful for photographic work during a séance.

The illumination of a séance could be accomplished in many ways, and by various flood-lights, including coloured filters or screens in special 'lanterns' or inverted ceiling lights constructed by the Wratten Division of Messrs. Kodak, Ltd. The entire series of Wratten filters or 'safelights' were employed in two sizes, 12 x 10 inches, and 10 x 8 inches. The most commonly used were: Series 0, pale orange; series 1, deep orange; series 2, deep red; series 3, a special 'neutral' light, a combination of orange and green tints, which we used for panchromatic or autochrome plates, or cinematographic films. By using a 60-watt new gas-filled electric bulb with each of these flood-lights and filters, it was possible to keep constant and to standardize the lighting of a séance, so that the exact illumination could be duplicated at future experiments. All these lights were controlled by rheostats or dimmers. Six lighting plugs and two power plugs were available for the various lamps and instruments.

For heating the room,. a 1,000-watt electrical radiator, with enclosed elements which converted water into superheated steam, could be used, the fins heating by convection. A thermostat automatically regulated the heat, which thus remained constant. The séance-room also contained a fireplace permanently blocked by a metal plate and a large gas-fire. A large window at one end of the room could be screened by an opaque, black rubberized spring blind, the edges of which were masked by a felt-lined 'box' which entirely surrounded the window. These spring roller-blinds are used extensively for X-ray work in large hospitals. The system is an ideal one for a séance-room which can be made absolutely dark in a few seconds.

A number of photographic and cine cameras, dictaphones, time-clock, etc., were at hand for recording purposes and a cabinet gramophone and musical boxes supplied such music as was required by the medium. Bookcases lined the walls of the room (giving the place a homely and comfortable appearance), and the usual chairs, table, etc., were available for the sitters. A large settee was used for experiments in hypnosis. A special teak note-taker's table, on pentagraph rubber wheels, supported dictaphones (for recording or note-taking), rheostats, luminous watch for timing, etc. Transmitting thermographs, barographs, and other instruments were installed for recording the meteorological conditions. A special instrument which I adapted for séance purposes is a time-clock which indicates the exact duration of a phenomenon. The system is an electrical one. The movement of a special 24-hour clock is so constructed that a red bulb is caused to glow at regular intervals, of 1/2, 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 seconds, according to the setting. By the turn of a switch a buzzer or bell can be operated instead of the light. By placing the clock in a convenient position in the line of sight of a person noting the manifestations, the precise duration of a phenomenon can be accurately determined. A special note-taker's lamp reflected a red light from below through the paper which was being written on, no extraneous light escaping into the séance-room. Another special piece of apparatus was the fraud-proof double cage table, used for testing telekinetic mediums.

Chemical and Physical Laboratory

The laboratory belonging to the organization was a well-lighted front room, 17 feet 4 inches by 16 feet 4 inches, with two large windows. Wall benches round all four sides of the apartment, with cupboards beneath, afforded excellent working space for experiments. Bunsen and other gas-burners were attached to connections at various points. Batteries of electric bulbs could be used to regulate the lighting of the room, and power and lighting plugs were spaced round the walls at regular intervals. Over the benches were shelves for bottles, instruments, etc. A 4 feet 6 inches square teak laboratory table and six chairs completed the furniture. The laboratory could be converted into a large dark room by erecting special shutters, impervious to light, over the windows.

Every chemical likely to be required in photography or psychical research was available, and we were the happy possessors of several pounds of radio-active red, green, and yellow sulphide of zinc (which I purchased from Poulenc Freres of Paris), used for making luminous paint. Our stock probably exceeded that held by any institution in Great Britain. Glass-blowing apparatus, laboratory glass-ware, graduated measures, and the hundred-and-one pieces of apparatus which go to make a well-equipped laboratory were to be found in our rooms.

The special equipment of the laboratory included an electric heater for melting wax, etc., chemical balances, electroscopes, galvanometers, barographs, thermographs and other thermometers for measuring temperatures, a fraud-proof control for 'voice mediums,' an air-tester for recording the circulation of the air, and an extensive broadcasting equipment complete with microphones. A large copper still provided all the distilled water needed for photographic and other purposes. An assortment of luminous objects, musical toys, isolation chambers (for telekinetic phenomena) and other special apparatus (such as were used for the Marion experiments in hyperaesthesia(3)) were kept in the laboratory. For photographic purposes, a 500-watt spotlight, with filters, and a 1,000-watt flood-lamp were used. For photographing in a dull light, infra-red lamps and filters (for use with infra-red films and plates) were employed. For ultra-violet illumination, a quartz mercury-vapour lamp, in special steel cabinet, with window for filters, was erected. For certain experiments, complete X-ray apparatus was installed and there were two battery-chargers (for both A.C. and D.C.). Automatic flash-light apparatus and Vaku-Blitz bulbs were used for photographing during a séance.

(3) Illustrated in Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter (Plates opposite pp. 266 and 276).

Optical Equipment

The optical equipment of the laboratory was particularly complete. There were fifteen cameras of various sizes, including stereoscopic, reflex, and cinematographic. These last-named included Zeiss 35-mm. and Bell and Howell 16-mm. instruments, together with their respective projectors, and reeling and splicing equipment. Three photographic enlargers (one vertical automatic) belonged to this section. Five stereoscopes (including a semi-automatic 'Taxiphote' instrument for 45 X 107 mm. positives) by Zeiss and other makers were in the collection.

The Laboratory possessed four microscopes (binocular and monocular) with batteries of Zeiss and Leitz oculars and objectives (including apochromatic), an automatic microtome for cutting sections, and the usual mounter's cabinet, lamps, specimen cabinets, etc., used in microscopy. Some interesting discoveries concerning the composition of 'teleplasm' were made with these instruments(4).

(4) See 'The Microscopic Anatomy of the Albuminoid Type of Duncan "Teleplasm",' by Harry Price, Bulletin 1, Nat. Lab. Psychical Research, London, 1931, pp. 87-95.

For our lectures and demonstrations, both cine projectors and optical lanterns were used. The latter included an 'Optiscope' (a perfect instrument with many refinements) and an epidiascope for projecting pictures of solid objects. The necessary silver and other screens were, of course, part of the equipment. Many other optical instruments were used from time to time, and for 'scryers' we had five crystals, including a 5-inch flawless quartz sphere, true in every diameter to .001 inch.

Workshop and Dark Room

The uninitiated, when viewing for the first time the workshop attached to the laboratory, often expressed surprise that tools could possibly be used in psychical research. When it was pointed out to them that the construction, maintenance, and repair of apparatus, instruments, cameras, electrical equipment, etc., needed every kind of tool, they realized the utility of the workshop, which was in almost daily use.

The workshop attached to the laboratory contained every tool and gauge necessary for the construction and maintenance of scientific apparatus. Turning, brazing, casting, forging, grinding, polishing, etc., could all be carried out in the workshop by a competent person. Two lathes were installed. The larger, a 4 1/2-inch screw-cutting model, with 6-foot gap bed, was capable of handling really big work. It could be driven by power or treadle. The smaller tool was a 'Lorch' lathe for fine precision work. Sets of wood-turning and wood-carving tools could be used with the large lathe. Every size and type of screw could be made or duplicated by one of the lathes or sets of stocks and dies.

The fittings of the workshop included a strong bench, three vices, and every kind of tool. Sets of shelves and cupboards contained stocks of screws, plugs, wire, electrical odds and ends, gauges, and new material. Gas and electric power were installed for the forge, brazing jet, soldering stove, etc.

The dark-room contained the usual lead-lined sink; bench; various copper electric lamps for ordinary and panchromatic photography; automatic alarm clocks for timing development or enlargements; stocks of photographic chemicals; more than a hundred glass and porcelain dishes and tanks; graduated measures, automatic washing tanks and drying cupboards, exposure meters and filters; printing frames and guillotines; stocks of plates and papers, and an automatic lantern-slide maker. The window was screened by an X-ray spring blind running in boxes, similar to the one in the séance-room, already described.

A 'Psychic' Museum

I must add that in connection with the National Laboratory there was a small museum of objects used by mediums; specimens of 'teleplasm' (composed of white of egg and similar substances); fake 'apports,' odds and ends of apparatus used for 'phenomena,' and two dictaphone records of a 'Martian love song' and a 'Martian symphonic chant' recorded through the 'Martian medium,' Mrs. St. John James. Other 'museum pieces' were some 'psychic lights' as used by the medium in the Rue Christine, Ostend; a bunch of 'psychic roses' (purchased by the medium in Edgware Road); and an assortment of mediums' 'confessions.'

The only laboratory apartment I have not described is the office, a small room containing the usual equipment and the card catalogue of my library(5) of some 16,000 volumes on psychical research, magic, and conjuring; a collection of many hundreds of lantern slides, negatives, and the archives of the laboratory.

(5) Now the 'Harry Price Library of Magical Literature' in the University of London.

I have now said enough to give the reader an insight into the scope, work, and research equipment of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research. The accompanying photographs will help to give some idea of the general appearance of the principal rooms of the organization. It has been suggested that such a full equipment is not necessary for the investigation of phenomena, but in practice we found that every piece of apparatus, tool, etc.) was used at some time or other, in the examination of some medium. The choice of equipment was based on research records of the past fifty years. I drew up a list of the instruments, etc., which should have been used - but which were not - and decided to house them under one roof. Many mediums have failed to pass our instrumental and scientific tests; a few have succeeded. I will now give a list of those mediums whom I examined (and place where investigated) during my Directorship of the National Laboratory, from 1923 until the Laboratory was taken over by the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation on June 6, 1934.

Principal Mediums Investigated

Physical mediums - Jean Guzik (Warsaw); Stella C. (London); Willi Schneider (Munich, London, Braunau, Vienna); Rudi Schneider (Braunau, Munich, London); Stanislawa P. (Warsaw); William Hope, 'spirit' photographer (London); George Moss, 'spirit' photographer (London); Maria Silbert (Graz and London); Freda Weisl (Graz); Guy L'Estrange (London); Einer Nielsen (Copenhagen); Anna Rasmussen (Copenhagen); E. M. Sturgess (London); Eleonore Zugun (Vienna and London); Douglas Drew (London); Herbert Dyer (Llanhilleth); 'Margery', i.e., Mrs. L. R. G. Crandon (London); Frederick Munnings (London); Helen Duncan (London); Pasquale Erto (London); Frank Decker (London); Mrs. Henderson (London); Claude Bishop, 'Dolores' (London); Matylcla Skrzetuska (London); Laura A. Pruden (London); Harold Evans (London); Mrs. Irving, 'spirit' photographer (London); and Mrs. Carnegie (London).

Mental mediums - Abbe Lambert, dowser (London); George Valiantine (also physical medium) (London); Anna Pilch (Warsaw); Ingeborg Dahl (Fredrikstad, Norway); Mrs. Beatrice Hastings (London); Mrs. St. John James (London); Mrs. Florence Kingstone (London); Mrs. G. M. Laws (London); Vout Peters (London); 'John Alleyne' (London); Mrs. Cannock (London); Mrs. Eileen Garrett (London); Mrs. Claire Cantlon (London); Fraulein Steffi Breicha (London); Mrs. Susannah Harris-Kaye (Los Angeles); Madame Eugenie Picquart (Paris and London); Dr. Arthur Lynch (London); Signora S. (in the Catacombs, Rome); Frau Lotte Plaat (London); Jeanne Laplace (Paris); Frau Liebermann (Hamburg); Mrs. Stahl Wright (London); 'Marion', hyperaesthete (London); Miss Gene Dennis (London); and 'Maloitz', vaudeville telepathist (London).

Our Collaborators

This record of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research would not be complete without the names of those scientists who have collaborated with me as Council members, lecturers, correspondents, sitters and in many other ways. They include: Sir Richard Gregory, Bart., F.R.S.; Professor Dr. William McDougall, F.R.S.; the late Dr. R. J. Tillyard, F.R.S.; Professor Dr. E. W. MacBride, F.R.S.; Lord Rayleigh, F.R.S.; Professor E. N. da C. Andrade, F.R.S.; W. R. Bousfield, F.R.S.; E. Heron-Allen, F.R.S.; Professor Dr. A. 0. Rankine, F.R.S.; the late Sir William Barrett, F.R.S.; Professor Dr. Julian Huxley, F.R.S.; Professor Dr. Cyril Burt; Professor Dr. Hans Driesch (Leipzig);

Dr. C. E. M. Joad; professor Dr. H. Gordon Jackson; Professor Dr. d'Arsonval (Paris); Professor Dr. Hans Thirring (Vienna); Professor Dr. Christian Winther (Copenhagen); Dr. Guy B. Brown; Dr. William Brown; Professor Dr. J. C. Flugel; the late Professor Dr. F. C. S. Schiller; S. G. Soal; Professor Dr. Millais Culpin; Professor Dr. T. K. Oesterreich (Tubingen); Professor Dr. F. Haslinger (Graz); Professor D. Walter (Graz); Dr. A. vor Mohr (Gottingen); Dr. E. J. Dingwall; Professor Dr. Giovanni Pioli (Milan); Professor Dr. Eugen Bleuler (Zurich); Professor Dr. C. Schroder (Berlin); Dr. Paul Sunner (Berlin); Professor Dr. Lidio Cipriani (Florence); Professor Dr. Nils von Hofsten (Uppsala); Rene Sudre (Paris); Professor Dr. F. Cazzamalli (Milan); Professor Dr. F. G. Benedict (Boston, Mass.); the late Professor Dr. Oskar Jaeger (Oslo); Professor E. R. Dodds; Dr. David Efron (Buenos Aires); Professor Dr. Ludwik (Vienna); the late Professor Dr. Karl Gruber (Munich); Professor Dr. J. A. Gunn; Professor Dr. E. Garnett; the late Professor Dr. W. E. Gibbs; William Bacon, B.Sc., F.I.C.; Dr. W. H. C. Tenhaeff (Utrecht); Dr. A. Tanagras (Athens); Professor Dr. Hildebrand (Munich); Professor Dr. A. F. C. Pollard; Professor Dr. Emanuele Sorge (Naples); Dr. Th. Wereide (Oslo); Professor Dr. Adam Zoltowski (Warsaw); Professor Dr. Karl Przibram (Vienna); the late Professor Dr. D. F. Fraser-Harris and Professor Dr. R. F. Alfred Hoernle (Johannesburg). My thanks are due to these gentleman for their assistance.

Publications

The work of the National Laboratory was published in Proceedings (1927-9); the British Journal of Psychical Research (1926-9); Bulletins I-VI 0931-3); and two offprints from Nature, July 31, 1926 and August 18, 1928 (articles by Dr. R. J. Tillyard). In addition, the following books dealing with the work done at the Laboratory have been issued. They are all by the present writer: Stella C. (London, 1925, and a French edition, Paris, 1926); Rudi Schneider (London, 1930, and German and French editions, Leipzig and Paris, 1930); Leaves from a Psychist's Case-Book (London, 1933); Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter (London and New York, 1936. Translations appeared during 1936-7 in the following countries: Holland, Italy, France, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary and Sweden). Much of the work of the National Laboratory was recorded in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, between 1925 and 1931, when I was Foreign Research Officer of this Society. In 1935, the British Movietonews, Ltd., produced a talking film, 'Psychical Research' (dealing with my work at the Laboratory), for which I wrote the script.

As I have stated, in June, 1934, the National Laboratory became the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation. This change was the result of a formal offer which I made to the University of London. The history of this proposal is outlined in Chapter 3.

Note: 

The article above was taken from Harry Price's "Fifty Years of Psychical Research" (1939, Longmans, Green & Co.)

 

More articles by Harry Price

'A Fit Subject of University Study and Research'
Broadcasting the Occult
The Law and the Medium
Psychic Practitioners (Regulation) Bill
The Story of ESP
The Mechanics of Spiritualism
Poltergeist Mediums
Can we Explain the Poltergeist?

Margery' - The Psychic Riddle of the Twentieth Century
Stella C
The Materialisation of 'Rosalie'

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