DURING THE last seventy years, two physical mediums of outstanding versatility
share the honour of providing for psychical researchers puzzles apparently quite
incapable of solution. They are D. D. Home,
the enigma of the nineteenth century, and Mrs. Le Roy Goddard Crandon, known to
psychists under her pseudonym of 'Margery.'
The mediumship of Home is not within the scope of the present work, but Margery
is still with us, even if she is not before the public to the same extent as
Mina Crandon is the wife of Dr. L. R. G. Crandon, a distinguished surgeon and
Harvard lecturer of Boston, Mass. She was born near Toronto, where she was
educated. She had a brother, Walter Stinson, who was killed in a railway
accident in 1911. It was he who subsequently became Margery's 'control' or
It is not quite clear when Margery's mediumship became apparent, but, rather
curiously, the public first heard of her indirectly through my exposure of
William Hope, the fraudulent 'spirit
photographer.' Following this exposure, the Scientific American
offered a prize of $2,500 to the first person who could produce a spirit
photograph under laboratory conditions, with especial reference to Hope. The
same journal also announced that it would give a similar prize to any medium who
could produce 'a visible psychic manifestation' under test conditions. Later,
the Scientific American invited Hope to undergo the test, promising to
pay all his expenses to New York and back. He refused. A similar invitation was
also extended to other psychics, the editor remarking that 'it applies
specifically to an American lady of very large mediumistic repute who sincerely
seeks anonymity.' This lady was 'Margery' Crandon.
 Journal, SPR, London, May, 1922.
 December, 1922.
 April, 1924.
Margery decided to enter the contest and a Committee was formed to test her and
any other mediums who were bold enough to come forward for this purpose. The
Committee consisted of Professor
William McDougall (who had already experimented with Margery in 1923); Dr.
Daniel Frost Comstock; 'Harry Houdin' (Ehrich Weiss), the conjurer; Dr.
Walter Franklin Prince, of the
American SPR; and Hereward Carrington.
J. Malcolm Bird (an Associate Editor of
the Scientific American) was secretary to the Committee.
The 'Scientific American' Inquiry
What phenomena were the Scientific American Committee going to test?
According to Dr. Crandon himself, Margery was at this time producing the
following manifestations: Raps, which answered questions through an arranged
code; 'pale, non-radiant, non-illuminating psychic lights'; scents, of many
odours; the music of chimes, bugles, clock-bells, and other instruments, though
none was present; 'trance-writing in nine languages,' though Margery was not a
linguist; telekinetic movements of light and heavy objects, such as furniture;
the passage of matter through matter, demonstrating the 'fourth dimension' of
space; the apport of roses and a live pigeon; the direct independent voice of
'Walter,' Margery's 'control;' the production of teleplasm (which could be
touched), materializations and 'pseudo-pods,' which handled objects in a red
light. Dr. Crandon tells us that 'the identity of several discarnate relatives
of the people about the table was made out.'
 The "Margery" Mediumship,' article in the
Journal of the Am. SPR, March, 1925, pp. 114-5.
The above were some of the phenomena which Margery was producing in her home
when the Scientific American inquiry began, so the hopes of the Committee
ran high that the anonymous medium would win the $2,500. Many séances were held
but none of the Committee appears to have been impressed by what was witnessed,
except perhaps Bird and Carrington. The usual dissensions between the
investigators occurred, and McDougall, Bird and Carrington withdrew from the
Committee. Houdini, Prince and Comstock attempted to reach a decision concerning
the mediumship and they, too, failed. What finally smashed the investigation was
the finding during a séance of a carpenter's folding rule in a special strong
wooden cabinet made by Houdini in order to test the medium. Margery was
immobilized in the cabinet when 'Walter' suddenly shrieked out that Houdini had
placed a two-foot rule under the cushion on which her feet were resting. The
rule was found, but it was never proved whether Houdini put it there in order to
incriminate the medium, or if Margery secreted it so that she could accuse
Houdini of trying to ruin her. That was the rather exciting - and unsatisfactory
- end, of the Scientific American inquiry, and Margery did not receive
the $2,500. Neither did Josie K. Stewart,
Mrs. Thompson, Valiantine, or
Nino Pecoraro, four other mediums who entered the contest.
 For Houdini's account of the affair, see
Houdini Exposes the Tricks Used by the Boston Medium 'Margery', New York,
The British Inquiry
The Scientific American fiasco was the means of bringing Margery to the
notice of psychical researchers all over the world. Previous to the
investigation, Dr. and Mrs. Crandon had visited Paris and London (Christmas,
1923) and had given sittings there. A few people, including
Conan Doyle, were impressed by what
they saw and heard; others remained sceptical. After the Houdini squabble, the
London SPR, through its Research Officer, Dr. E. J. Dingwall, arranged with Dr.
Crandon that his wife should be tested in Boston. An impressive document was
drawn up and it was agreed that the 'name "Walter," as applied to the
personality which manifests in the séance-room, purports to be the deceased
brother of the medium, and operates as the "spirit control."' Dingwall agreed
that neither he nor his agents would switch on any light, except with the
consent of 'Walter'; that Crandon could not be excluded from any séance without
his (Crandon's) consent; and that no sitter could be introduced to the séances
without Crandon's approval.
 For full text, see Journal, Am.
SPR, New York, 1925, Vol. XIX, pp. 116-17.
Plate IV. Crude 'teleplasmic hand' exuding from navel, photographed at
séance with 'Margery', in Boston, Mass., 1925.
Dingwall held many sittings with Margery during January and February, 1925,
Professor William McDougall and Dr. Ellwood Worcester being among the observers.
The phenomena witnessed were the usual 'Walter' voice, telekinetic movements of
objects, hand-shaped materializations which appeared to exude from the various
orifices of the medium's body, and so on. (Plate IV.) As regards the crude
'hands,' Professor McDougall's opinion was that they were made from animal
tissue, artificially manipulated to give them a crude resemblance to human
hands. I have a large collection of lantern slides of these alleged teleplasmic
extrusions and Professor McDougall (who held a medical degree) and I went
through them on one occasion and the Professor pointed out to me the arteries,
the annular bands corresponding to the cartilaginous rings of the trachea, the
openings of small lateral arteries, lung, the omentum of a sheep, etc.
Dingwall's investigation ended in dissension among the investigators, as so
 Boston Transcript, February 18,
 See Journal, Am. SPR, Vols. XIX, XX, 1925-6.
The London SPR published Dr. Dingwall's report in due course and it is a most
interesting document. He states that Margery's mediumship is 'the most
remarkable hitherto recorded,' and of great importance. Whether genuine or a
vast hoax, it is still the most important. During the whole of this long report,
Dingwall cannot say whether the mediumship is genuine or not. He says: 'I did
not succeed in achieving my primary purpose, of coming to a definite conclusion
as to the genuineness or otherwise of the phenomena. During the course of the
[twenty-nine] sittings the evidence seemed to me at one time for, and at another
time against, their supernormal nature, but never to incline decisively either
way.' And so ended the British investigation, which was as inconclusive and
unsatisfactory as that organized by the Scientific American.
 Proceedings, SPR, London, June,
1926, Vol. XXXVI, Part 98.
'Walter' Leaves his Thumb-Prints
Margery is nothing if not versatile and the reader will have seen that she
produced almost the entire gamut of phenomena, mental and physical, during the
few years of her mediumship. One phase I have not mentioned, and that I will
call 'plastic phenomena.' As far back as May 17,1924, Margery produced 'psychic'
gloves or moulds à la Kluski. They
were not very successful and rather crude, and no one was particularly
impressed. But in July, 1926, a determined effort was made to obtain prints of
the extrusions or 'fingers' which, as we have seen, belonged to the crude
materialized hands which were being seen - and felt - at Margery's séances.
'"Walter" objected strongly to getting printer's ink or lampblack on his
teleplasmic terminal,' so - at 'Walter's' suggestion - a bucket of hot wax
and a sheet of plate glass were tried. 'Walter' dipped his terminal in the wax
and then pressed it on the glass. Skin markings could be seen, but they were not
very good. Then 'Walter' suggested that the glass be covered with soft wax, and
that he should press his finger upon it. Again, the markings were not very good.
'The procedure ultimately adopted flowed out of a suggestion by Margery's
dentist, who is interested in the phenomena' and the suggestion was that
'Kerr,' a proprietary brand of dental wax, which becomes plastic when warmed,
should be used. This technique was successful - and a phenomenon, new to
psychical research, was born. For the first time in the history of the occult, a
spirit obligingly and permanently recorded his three-dimensional thumb-prints,
 Journal, Am. SPR, Vol. XXII,
1928, p. 11I.
 Ibid., p. 11.
The technique of securing the prints is as follows: Into a bowl of hot water is
placed a slab of 'Kerr' which rests on the end of a napkin. This cloth trails
over the side of the bowl into another bowl containing cold water. 'Walter's'
terminal, in complete darkness, pulls the soft 'Kerr' out of the hot water by
tugging at the end of the cloth, presses his thumb 'terminal' on to the wax,
continues the pulling of the cloth, which results in the 'Kerr' being deposited
in the cold water, where it quickly hardens. Why the napkin is used is because
it saves 'Walter' scalding his fingers in the hot water. It also prevents his
getting his 'hands' wet. Photographs showing 'Walter's' hand (which appears to
be extruded from the medium's vagina) making the print have been published.
By the time the thumb-print technique had been perfected, 'Walter' had improved
the shape of his terminals considerably. The new fingers were much better to
look at than the previous crude 'pseudopods' which, Professor McDougall
maintained, were exactly like lumps of animal tissue carved into the resemblance
 See Leaves from a Psychist's
Case-Book, by Harry Price, London, 1933, Plate XXII.
The Great Thumb-Print Sensation
With the perfecting of the plastic 'Kerr' technique, 'Walter' began to deposit
his thumb-prints (left and right) at Margery's séances on both sides of the
Atlantic. At a sitting I attended in London on December 7, 1929, 'Walter' kindly
made one specially for me. These 'thumb-print' séances are always held in
Stygian darkness, and I must admit that I was not impressed at what occurred at
the séance I attended. Every alleged abnormal happening could have been
produced normally by the medium, including 'Walter's' thumb-print, if Margery
had secreted a small thumb-print dye on her person. As a matter of fact, after
one of these London séances, a piece of wax was found, bearing an imprint of the
thumb of Margery, who was supposed to be so controlled as to be incapable of
reaching the wax.
 See Proceedings, SPR, Vol. XXXlX,
Often at Margery's séances the sitters' finger-prints were taken in order to
demonstrate that they were quite unlike the prints left by 'Walter.' One day it
occurred to Mr. E. E. Dudley, a former officer of the American SPR, to ask every
person who had ever sat with Margery to supply him with inked prints of his or
her right and left thumbs. Carefully collating this mass of material with the
'Walter' prints, he was astounded to discover that the 'spirit's' thumb-prints,
left and right, were identical in every respect with those of Margery's
friend and dentist, 'Dr. Kerwin,' who is still living! In this report,
Mr. Dudley says: 'The identification of these patterns has been checked by five
competent and unprejudiced experts, as well as by several laymen, who had not
the slightest difficulty in satisfying themselves as to the identity... In the
right thumb-print the reader should be able to find approximately ninety
identical minutiae, while nearly seventy can be counted in the left thumb-print
... This means that there is not one chance in billions of billions that
Kerwin's prints and the wax [Walter's'] prints did not belong to the same
person.' Many a murderer has been hanged because of fewer than ten
correspondences between his own finger-prints and those found at the scene of
 Reprinted as Bulletin III ('The
Identification of the "Walter" Prints') of the Nat. Lab. of Psychical Research,
London, 1932. All the relevant photographs are reproduced.
It can well be imagined that Dudley's discovery caused a major sensation.
Margery's dentist was held to be entirely innocent in the affair, if, indeed,
anyone was guilty. The question as to how 'Walter' palmed off the thumb-prints
of a living man as the impressions of his own dead ones has not yet been solved,
though volumes on the subject have been written by both Margery's supporters and
detractors. A finger-print expert, Professor Harold Cummins, stated: 'There
seems just ground for suspecting the use of artificial dyes.'
 Proceedings, SPR, London, April,
1935, Vol. XLIII, Part 139.
Finger-Prints Can be Forged
The amazing thumb-print discovery prompted various people to experiment with a
view to ascertaining whether three-dimensional finger-prints, in the form of
moulds or dies, could be produced from two-dimensional inked prints on paper.
Theoretically, I argued that this could be done by depositing (electro-plating)
a film of copper or silver on the graphite print, gradually building up the
image until it became three-dimensional, capable of being made into a
thumb-stall dye or something similar. But Professor Dr. Harold Cummins, of
Tulane University, who took a great interest in the 'Walter' prints, has
actually produced three-dimensional dyes in hard wax and other substances from
ordinary thumb-prints on paper. He has also reversed and 'mirrored' the prints
which, when made into dyes, impress the original finger-prints on to any
substance, like a rubber stamp. Thus it has been proved that finger-prints
can be forged and copied, and transferred (complete with sweat-gland
markings) to any object which the original fingers never touched. Dr. Cummins
kindly sent me a complete set of these hard wax ('Kerr') dies, produced from
two-dimensional inked prints. His paper on the subject should be studied.
 Police Science: Counterfeit
Finger-Prints, New York, 1934.
The thumb-print controversy almost killed the Margery mediumship, but we still
occasionally hear of 'Walter' effecting a marvellous cure, becoming
cognizant of articles hidden in a plaster of Paris cake, taking part in some
cross-correspondence tests, or scoring some incredible card-calling
guesses. But the public - always fickle - is now concerned with the latest
card-guessing miracle at Duke University and 'Walter' is decidedly a back
number, though the controversy continues.
 Journal, Am. SPR, July, 1936.
 Ibid., February, 1936.
 Ibid., November, 1935.
[20 Ibid., January x 938.
There is a vast literature concerning Margery, and the student who wishes to
study the case more fully should consult it. The most recent Proceedings
and Journal (1925 and onwards) of the American SPR (which has
consistently supported Margery, in spite of resignations among members and
officials) contain a complete record of the case, from the positive angle. For
negative reports and 'attacks,' the catalogues of the 'Harry Price Library of
Magical Literature,' in the University of London, should be studied. This
collection contains all the important works, pro and con, dealing with
In spite of scientific investigations, committees of inquiry, and the work of
individual researchers, not one of the vast and varied phenomena, alleged to be
the work of 'Walter,' has been proved genuine scientifically. If the phenomena
are genuine, Mrs. Crandon has been singularly unfortunate in not being
able to demonstrate their genuineness before orthodoxy. If they are
genuine, then 'survival' has been proved, and the 'independent' spirit voice
demonstrated. If they are fraudulent, then the 'Walter' entity marks the
greatest hoax in the annals of psychical research. Whether it be a hoax or not,
I cannot say, as I was never given an opportunity of testing the medium. Crandon
consistently refused to permit me to investigate though, as I have stated, I was
fortunate enough to be present at one London séance. I had instruments in my
laboratory at Kensington which, in an hour, would have settled the validity or
otherwise of some of the 'Walter' phenomena. It is to be regretted that Crandon
would not permit me to test his wife's mediumship, which, whether genuine or
fraudulent, is the most remarkable ever recorded.
The article above was taken from Harry Price's "Fifty Years of Psychical
Research" (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1939.)