THE HISTORY of spiritualism is a history of fraud. From the days of Elizabeth
Parsons and the Fox girls down to the latest newspaper 'exposure,' it is the
same distressing story. It will be noticed that the various prosecutions,
'confessions,' and dark-séance grabbings invariably concern physical mediums -
seldom mental ones. If a mental medium (e.g. a clairvoyante) tells you that she
'sees' the spirit of your grandmother attired in a green dress with red spots,
you cannot contradict her. But if this same medium professes to be able to
materialize your grandmother, you can so arrange conditions that fraud would be
impossible. Although it is very difficult to 'expose' a mental medium, one can
sometimes check her séance utterances, and prove if veridical or not; or if
performing publicly, it can be ascertained if confederates are used.
Of course, some mediums are alternately fraudulent and genuine, and these people
are difficult to test. Eusapia Palladino is the classic example. She warned
observers that she would cheat if permitted to do so, and cheat she did. Her
tricks were usually childish: long hairs attached to small objects in order to
produce 'telekinetic movements'; the gradual substitution of one hand for two
when being controlled by sitters; the production of 'phenomena' with a foot
which had been surreptitiously removed from its shoe, and so on. Some of her
tricks were so subtle that at the Cambridge tests in 1895 J. N. Maskelyne was
called in to detect them. But with all her deceptions, Eusapia was often genuine
and her tricks were of some psychological interest.
Even Florrie Cook, the beloved medium of Sir William Crookes, was finally caught
pirouetting round the room in a white garment by Mr. W. VoIckman, who, at a
séance on December 9, 1873, seized the spirit 'Katie King' and found it was
Florrie(1). She was again exposed on January 9, 1880, by Sir George Sitwell, who
also seized the 'spirit,' and found Florrie masquerading in her underclothes.
More recently, in 1921, Miss Ada M. Bessinet, the American voice and physical
medium, was investigated in London. Her spurious phenomena were alleged to have
been produced 'subconsciously'(2). Her 'spirit lights,' direct voice, and the
'paranormal' lashing of her body to the séance chair by 'spirits,' did not
impress Professor J. H. Hyslop, who tested her in 1909 and 1910(3). He concluded
that the medium's performance was fraudulent, to the extent that it was done in
a state of dissociation or hysteria, for which she was not consciously
responsible. One has to be a very experienced investigator to be able to
discriminate between true and false manifestations. Some people can never tell
the difference and that is why the 'Margery' thumb-print controversy(4) is still
with us. In the same way, many people believe that the freeing of Rudi
Schneider's arm(5) was an unconscious 'fraud,' and not a deliberate act.
(1) See The Medium and Daybreak, January 23, 1874.
(2) See Psychic Science, London, Vol. 1, Part 1, 1922.
(3) Proc., Am. SPR, Vol. V, New York, 1911
(4) See page 114, ante.
(5) See page 107, ante.
This question of 'subconscious fraud' is as perplexing as it is disturbing. Many
observers declare that they do not know what is, or is not, psychic fraud. A
medium may be normally honest, but subliminally fraudulent, and it is sometimes
difficult to be certain that the psychic is cheating: the subconscious 'fraud'
may be so like the conscious variety that we may be unable to tell the
difference, though the fact remains that at least 99 per cent of all alleged
psychic happenings are fraudulent. Of course, if there is evidence of previous
preparation for fraud, the case is simplified. And in dealing with 'obvious
charlatans,' one cannot always be certain. When Mesmer was hounded from country
to country as an impostor and adventurer, his critics little realized that his
'animal magnetism' would be developed by medical science into the curative
hypnotism of to-day. And Dr. Albert Abrams, whose 'magic box' was hailed as the
'greatest medical hoax in history' was acclaimed by high British medical
authorities as the discoverer of a real phenomenon(6). The 'fraud' of to-day can
easily be the orthodox science of to-morrow.
(6) See A Preliminary Communication Concerning the 'Electronic Reactions' of Abrams, by Sir Thomas Horder, London, 1925.
During the Meurig Morris action against the Daily Mail, Sir Oliver Lodge in the
witness-box said, according to The Times report(7): 'I hear about fraudulent
mediums, but I have not come across them.' Sir Oliver must have forgotten his
séance in 1931 with Mrs. Duncan, who was thoroughly exposed that same year.
(7) April 13, 1932.
the Spirits [top]
Sir Oliver was also unfortunate with his sittings with William Hope (1863-1933),
the fraudulent spirit photographer. I caught this man surreptitiously changing
my sensitized plates in 1922(8) and he was later again thoroughly exposed(9) by
Mr. Fred Barlow. After my exposure of Hope, Sir Oliver wrote me:(10) 'I don't
see how your proofs of Hope's duplicity could be more complete.' And yet we
find, in J. Arthur Hill's Letters from Sir Oliver Lodge(11), a reference to Hope in a
letter to Hill, dated July 29, 1929, nearly seven years after he wrote to me.
Sir Oliver says: 'The probability to my mind is strongly in favour of simplicity
and honesty, now that he has been going on so long.' Which is a curious
(8) Journal, SPR, May, 1922.
(9) Proc., SPR, Part 129, 1933; and Journal, SPR, July, 1933,
(10) April 18, 1922.
(11) London, 1932, p. 231.
The annals of psychical research are full of exposures of 'spirit'
photographers. The first, William H. Mumler, of Boston (Mass.), was prosecuted
in 1868(12). He was caught out because it was discovered that his photographs of
'spirits' were, in fact, those of persons who were alive. One such 'spirit'
testified against him in court. Edouard Buguet, a French imitator, was
imprisoned in Paris in 1876(13) for spirit
photograph frauds. He made a full confession. He began using living models for
his 'extras.' When that became too dangerous, he constructed a lay figure which
he could dress up to suit the 'spirit' which he knew his client so longed to
see. Flammarion also detected Buguet in fraud.
(12) The Mumler 'Spirit' Photograph Case, New York, 1869.
(13) Revue Spirite, Paris, Nos. 1-12.
Richard Boursnell (1832-1909), an English photographic medium, was caught
cheating by Usborne Moore(14). He used the old double exposure and 'substituting
the plate' method. George H. Moss, a chauffeur, became a 'spirit photographer,'
and once photographed the 'spirit' of my 'mother.' Unfortunately for Moss, Hope
had also just recently photographed my 'mother,' too, and there was not the
slightest resemblance between the two ladies. Moss was finally caught by Fred
Barlow, who discovered that Moss's plates were filed at one end so that, in the
dark, he could feel which way up the 'extras' were to be placed. Inverted spirit
heads would, of course, look most inartistic in a photograph! Moss finally
signed a full confession(15) that his 'spirits,' copied from old illustrated
journals and the 'family album,' were produced by normal means.
(14) Glimpses of the Next State, London, 1911.
(15) Psychic Science, Vol. IV, PP. 229-33, London, 1925.
Plate V. Charles Eldred's
mechanical chair (with removable back), mask, spirit drapery, wigs, and
other 'properties', 1906.
Among the most picturesque of photographic mediums is Mrs. Ada
Emma Deane, a former charwoman, whose 'spirit heads,' photographed floating
round the Cenotaph on Armistice Day, were declared by the Daily Sketch(16) to be
portraits of living footballers, whose pictures had appeared in that paper.
After this exposure, no more was heard of the Cenotaph spirits. The London
'Magic Circle' had previously exposed her in 1922(17). Contemporary with Mrs.
Deane are two Scotch youths, Craig and George Falconer. One of their 'spirit
heads' was found to be identical with Albert Moore's famous study 'Blossoms' in
the Tate Gallery. Later, they went on a professional tour to South Africa, were
caught by the police (1931), were convicted for producing fraudulent spirit
photographs, and each was fined £150 and costs. They appealed and lost, the
judge remarking that the brothers 'were encouraged in their fraud by the
credulous fools who supported them., Apparently they are still finding 'clients'
as I noticed their advertisement in The Greater World as recently as March 26,
1938. It stated that they have 'produced astounding evidence of survival to all
investigators;' excepting, of course, the Johannesburg police(18). This was
almost the end of the photographic mediums. But in 1932 John Myers appeared, and
what happened to him can be read in the contemporary psychic and lay Press(19).
The principal American spirit photographer, William M. Keeler, was exposed(20) by
the late Dr. Walter F. Prince(21). I will not detail the methods used, as there
is a monotony in the modus operandi of producing these 'extras': double
exposure; 'switching' the plates or dark slides (or even the camera); the use of
lay figures, etc. But there would be no spirit photographs if there were no
foolish sitters to pay their guineas for them.
(16) Daily Sketch, London, November 13-22, 1924.
(17) Report of the Occult Committee, London, May, 1922.
(18) For full reports of the trial and conviction of the Falconer brothers, see
the complete files of the South African journals in the Univ. of London Library
('Harry Price Library'). See also Light, October 2, 1931.
(19) Sunday Dispatch, October 16, 23, 30, 1932. 'A Charge of Fraud: Accusations
against Mr. John Myers,' by J. B. McIndoe, in the Two Worlds, September 6, 1935;
also 'Myers Exposed Again?' by Roy Brandon, in the Two Worlds, October it, 1935.
(20) 'Supplementary Report on, the Keeler-Lee Photographs,' Proc., Am. SPR,
Vol. XIII, New York, 1919, PP. 529-87.
(21) For the result of the Daily Mail inquiry into spirit photography, see The
Times, June 22, 1909.
Plate VI. Mrs. J. B. Mellon
with her spirit guide 'Geordie', photographed at séance, 1894.
Reports on 'materializing' mediums during the last fifty years in all parts of
the world are riddled with exposures of fraud. I will mention a few of those
cases which are educational as well as entertaining. The classic example is that
of Charles Eldred, who travelled from séance to séance, taking with him his
'highly magnetized' arm-chair in which the various spirit entities materialized.
It seems incredible that a medium under test should be allowed to use his own
properties, and even his spiritualist dupes at last became suspicious of the
number and variety of 'phantoms' which Eldred produced. At a séance in London in
1906 both he and his chair were seized by Dr. Abraham Wallace. It was discovered
that the back of the chair was really a box, with lock and key. In the box were
found a collapsible dummy, yards of cheese cloth and scent (for 'spirit
perfumes'), reaching rods, a musical box (for 'spirit music'), wigs and beards,
etc. (See Plate V.)(22)
(22) See 'Exposure of Mr. Eldred,' Journal,
SPR, Vol. XII, p. 242-52.
Amongst other exposures must be mentioned that of Harry Bastian whose
'materializations' in Vienna on February 11, 1884, were proved to be
fraudulent(23). Frederick Fisher Craddock was caught at Manchester in 1879. His
spirit guide 'Rosetta' was found to be Craddock masquerading in his shirt.
Colonel Mark Mayhew also records(24) how another spirit, 'Abdullah,' was seized
and found to be the medium(25) Madame d'Esperance was seized in Newcastle in
188o, masquerading in her underclothes as her spirit control 'Yolande.' A
similar incident occurred at Helsingfors in 1893. Mrs. J. B. Mellon (Annie
Fairlamb) was exposed in Sydney by Thomas Shekleton Henry(26), a young architect.
Her 'guides,' 'Cissie' and 'Geordie,' were impersonated by the masked medium
kneeling or standing. (See Plate VI.) 'Dr.' Monck, an ex-Baptist minister, was
sentenced to three months' imprisonment in 1876 for fake materializations at
Huddersfield. He had a trunk full of 'properties.' Miss C. E. Wood was caught
cheating at Peterborough in 1882. She was found on her knees, semi-nude, covered
with muslin and impersonating an Indian spirit 'control' named 'Pocka.' In the
same way Serjeant Cox exposed Miss Mary Showers in 1894. The spirit 'Florence'
had her head-dress knocked off in the scrimmage - thus revealing the medium.
Charles Williams (who 'worked' with Frank Herne, another medium) was caught out
at Paris in 1874 and again at Amsterdam in 1879. When seized, the usual beards,
cheese cloth, phosphorized oil, etc., were found on him. Einer Nielsen, the
Danish medium, was accused of fraud at Oslo in 1922(27), and again in 1932(28). I
sat with Nielsen in Copenhagen, with unsatisfactory results. William Eglinton,
materializing medium, was exposed in London by Archdeacon Colley and again in
Munich. Dr. Hodgson also accused him of conspiring with H. P. Blavatsky in
producing Theosophical 'miracles'(29).
(23) Einblicke in den Spiritismus, by Erzherzog Johann [Linz], 1884.
(24) Light, March 24 and 31, 1906.
(25) See 'Exposures of Mr. Craddock,' Journal, SPR, Vol. XII, pp. 266-8,
274-7. See Daily Express for May 16, 17, and June 21, 1906, for conviction of
Craddock who was fined £10 at Edgware Police Court for fraudulent mediumship.
(26) Spookland, by T. Shekleton Henry, Sydney .
(27) See Norsk Tidsskrift for Psykisk Forskning, Oslo, for 1922, Parts 2 and 3.
(28) See Copenhagen Press for April, 1932.
(29) Proc., SPR, Vol. Ill, 1885, p. 254.
One of the most amazing exposures of 'materializing' methods was that of Mrs.
Helen Duncan. In 1931 she sat at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research.
She gave us five séances, which cost us £50. Among the observers were Mrs. A.
Peel Goldney, Professor J. C. Flugel, Professor W. McDougall, Dr. William Brown,
Professor D. F. Fraser-Harris, etc. Although this woman was medically examined
and enclosed in our own one-piece garment, she was able to secrete yards of
cheese cloth with which she impersonated 'Albert,' 'Peggy,' and other 'spirits.'
(See Plate 1.) I took a large number of photographs of the cheese-cloth phantoms
and all show the warp and weft of the material, selvedge, creases and even dirt
marks. Other things which appeared in the photographs were rubber gloves,
safety-pins, and cut-out heads from magazine covers. The question arose 'How did
she secrete these "properties"?' The only part of her anatomy which the doctors
could not explore was her stomach, and we came to the conclusion - which I am
certain is the correct one - that she possesses an aesophageal diverticulum or
secondary stomach, into which she swallowed the cheese cloth, etc., to be
regurgitated at leisure. Such cases are well known(30). We published a long
illustrated report(31) on this woman. After it was issued, her former maid, Miss
Mary McGinlay, came to us and, before a Commissioner for Oaths, supported our
theory concerning regurgitation(32). Mrs. Duncan was later (May 11, 1933)
convicted(33) at Edinburgh for fraudulent mediumship (her undervest was the
'spirit') and fined £10 or a month's imprisonment. After the conviction the
Spiritualists' National Union gave her a vote of confidence (July 1, 1933) and
her 'diploma' was renewed(34). It may seem strange that a stomach should be put
to such uses, but 'ectoplasm' (i.e. cotton wool, cheese cloth, etc.) and small 'apports'
have been found secreted in rectum, vagina, and prepuce of various mediums.
(30) See 'Diagnosis and Surgical Treatment of Esophageal Diverticula. Report Of
Eight Cases,' by Charles H. Mayo, in Annals of Surgery, June, 1910.
(31) 'Regurgitation and the Duncan Mediumship,' by Harry Price. Bulletin I, Nat.
Lab. Psychical Research, London, 1931.
(32) Her 'Declaration' was published as an Appendix to the Duncan Report.
(33) Daily Telegraph, May 12, 1933, and Scots papers of same date.
(34) Two Worlds, Manchester, July 14, 1933.
Another recent conviction of a materializing medium was the case of Clive
Holmes, who was charged at Greenwich Police Court on June 16, 1937, with
obtaining four shillings (the charge made for a séance) by false pretences. A
Mrs. V. B. Evens and her son attended one of Holmes's séances at which the
spirit 'White Moose' appeared. Mr. Evens flashed his torch on the 'spirit,'
which was alleged to be none other than Holmes himself, dressed in white muslin.
After several adjournments the magistrate, Mr. L. R. Dunne (July 21, 1937),
sentenced Holmes to four months in the second division. The medium appealed, and
lost(36). The latest 'materializing' exposure is that of Mrs. Elizabeth Grover,
who, when the light was switched on, was 'discovered in her underclothes draped
with wet butter muslin, with a calico bandage round her head'(37). She signed a
confession to the effect that she 'fraudulently produced the materialized form
of "Albert Stewart" and others'(38). She was making 'something like £20 per
(36) See The Times and Daily Mail for June 17 and July 22, 1937.
(37) Two Worlds, August 12, 1938.
(38) Ibid., August 12, 1938.
(39) Ibid., August 26, 1938, p. 536.
America has produced many fakers and amongst the most amusing exposures must be
mentioned that of Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, who 'materialized' the 'mother' of Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle. Sir Arthur was present and, according to the article(40),
embraced his 'mother.' Leonard J. Hartman, the pastor of a spiritualist church,
wrote the report. A few days after the Doyle séance, the Thompsons were seized
at another sitting by two police officers. The usual masks, wigs, chiffon,
musical box and scent-spray were found on them. They were convicted and fined.
(40) 'How the Mediums "Brought Back" Sir Conan Doyle's Dead Mother,' New York
Sunday American, September 3, 1922.
'Scientific American' Inquiry
In 1922 the
Scientific American launched an inquiry into psychic matters, based
largely on my exposure of Hope. Among those tested was George Valiantine,
well-known voice and physical medium, who entered for the Scientific American
prize of $2,500, to be awarded to any medium producing a physical phenomenon
under test conditions. Valiantine was charged with fraud. At the final sitting,
in complete darkness, on May 26, 1923, special apparatus was installed. This was
an electrical circuit which included the chair on which the medium sat. When the
medium rose from his scet, a light went out in an adjoining room. Dictaphone
notes were taken of all that occurred. It was found that Valiantine left his
chair fifteen times (when he should have been in it), sometimes for as long as
eighteen seconds, and that these periods corresponded with those when the
sitters were touched by the 'spirits'(41). Other mediums who were tested included
the Rev. Josie K. Stewart, a woman who produced 'supernormal' writing on cards;
Mrs. Thompson, materializing medium; and Nino Pecoraro(42). They were all
exposed. The reader has already learnt how 'Margery' fared in this
(41) See issues of the Scientific American, New York, from October, 1922 to
January, 1923; and 'Untold Facts Behind Scientific American's Psychic Probe!' by
Austin C. Lescarboura in True Mystic Science, Minneapolis, November, 1938. See
also Daily Express, London, May 28,1923 (article, 'Spirits with a Punch').
(42) See The Medium who Admits he is a Fake, by jack Alexander, St. Louis,
Valiantine was in London in 1925 and I had one séance with him. He was then
producing voice phenomena. At this particular séance, held at the house of Mr.
Dennis Bradley, the spirit of Luigi Arditi (the composer) was alleged to
manifest. I took down all that 'Arditi' said and afterwards discovered that
every sentence was identical with those I found in Bradshaw's Complete
Anglo-Italian Phrase Book and Jaschke's English-Italian Dictionary. Not a comma
had been altered(43). Dennis Bradley had many sittings with Valiantine, but in
1931, in some experiments for fingerprint impressions (a la Margery) Bradley
found that the thumb-print of the spirit 'Conan Doyle' coincided with
Valiantine's right big toe, and a print from the spirit thumb of Lord Dewar
exactly matched that of the medium's left big toe. An indelible dye had been
painted on the substance to be impressed, and this same dye was found on the
medium's feet and elbow(44).
(43) The detailed analysis of this case can be found in Price's
Leaves From a Psychist's Case-Book, pp. 307-15.
(44) Bradley tells the whole story in ... And After (London, 1931). See also
'Tricks of a Famous Medium Exposed: Finger-Prints of the Dead Faked,' in the
Daily Express, September 21, 1931. The complete history of Valiantine's
activities has been summed up (1932) by Mrs. W. H. Salter: 'The History of
George Valiantine,' Proc., SPR, Vol. XL, pp. 389-410.
Another voice medium whom I detected was Frederick Tansley Munnings, an
ex-burglar. I had invented a piece of testing apparatus which I called the Voice
Control Recorder. Munnings tried hard to beat the machine, but failed. We heard
the voices of 'Julius Caesar,' 'Dan Leno,' 'Crippen' and 'Henry VIII,' but the
machine proved that it was Munnings speaking. He finally sold his 'confessions'
to a Sunday paper(45).
(45) 'My Confessions: How I Produced "Spirit Voices",' in the People, February 5
to May 13, 1928. See also 'The Case of Mr. Moss and Mr. Munnings', Journal,
SPR, Vol. XXIII, pp. 71-5.
Voice mediums under test have usually done badly. Mrs. Susannah Harris, an
American, was investigated in Oslo in 1920, when twenty-five sittings were held.
The final report was, to put it mildly, very uncomplimentary(46). This account of
unsatisfactory voice mediums could be extended indefinitely. Another
unsatisfactory séance was that held at 61, North Gate Mansions, Regent's Park,
on May 27, 1938, with Mr. Colin Evans. This medium claims that, in complete
darkness, he is 'levitated.' Mrs. A. Peel Goldney, Mrs. Henry Richards and
others were convinced that at this particular test no levitation took place and
the cheque paid to the medium was returned to the sitters(47).
(46) See Light, May 1, 1920.
(47) A photograph of an alleged psychic levitation of this medium was published
in the Daily Mirror, June 13, 1938. See also Photography for January, 1939. How
photographs can be obtained of a man assumed to be levitating, but in reality
jumping, is graphically recorded (with illustrations) in Proc., SPR, Vol.
XLV, Part 158, pp. 196-8.
Meers. Slade and
Lancaster, In a Scene from the New Farce, "The Happy Medium; or No Spirits
should be above Proof."
Plate VII. Carton from Entr'acte and Limelight of
Henry Slade, the medium, and Professor Ray Lankester, October 1876.
Published after the prosecution of Slade.
For some reason I have been unable to fathom, British slate-writing mediums are,
and have been, almost nonexistent. This particular 'spirit' technique is
peculiarly American, and every exponent who consented to be tested
scientifically has come to grief.
The great spirit slate-writer was 'Dr.' Henry Slade, who visited London in 1876
and impressed a number of spiritualists and others. Professor Ray Lankester
secured a sitting with him, saw how the trick was done, and published his
exposure in The Times(48). He then charged Slade with having swindled him. (See
Plate VII.) The case was heard at Bow Street Police Court on October 1, 1876,
and the medium was sentenced to three months' hard labour. Owing to some legal
flaw in the indictment, the sentence was quashed and before Ray Lankester could
issue a fresh summons, Slade fled to the Continent(49.) He was often exposed(50),
and his tricks have been published in full by John W. Truesdell(51). These tricks
include the substitution of slates already written on for blank ones examined by
the sitter; the writing on one side of a slate held flat to the underside of a
table by the two thumbs of the medium (the remaining eight fingers being above
the table), who has cemented a tiny piece of slate-pencil or chalk to the nail
of one thumb, with which he can easily write the 'spirit message'; the
surreptitious addition, to a pile of examined slates, of an unexamined one
bearing a 'message,' and so on. Another notorious slate-writing medium was P. L.
O. A. Keeler, who was exposed by Dr. W. F. Prince in a brilliant monograph(52).
Another means of producing spontaneous writing on slates is by means of
chemicals. When first written, the words are quite invisible, and the slate can
be freely examined. In a few minutes the writing appears and the sitter is duly
there are mechanical slates. I have a pair, which I bought for £8 from an
American medium, which are marvels of mechanism. The slates can be handled by
the victim, or even left in his possession: he would never discover the secret.
Yet, at will, the four blank sides can be filled with any 'spirit' writing
desired, in various colours, even when being held by the sitter. The secret is
that the centres of the slates are in duplicate. Pressure on a certain spot of
the frame allows one flap to fall, instantly and silently, into the frame of the
other slate, where it is automatically locked. Both inside surfaces of the
slates are then covered with writing. The slates can then be turned over and the
operation repeated, making four sides of writing. Any reader sufficiently
interested in slate-writing tricks should read the exhaustive work(53) by 'Chung
Ling Soo' (i.e. William Ellsworth Robinson).
(48) September 16, 1876.
(49) Where he impressed J. C. F. Zöllner, the astronomer. See his Transcendental
Physics, London, 1880.
(50) See Boston Herald, February 2, 1886.
(51) The Bottom Facts Concerning the Science of Spiritualism, New York, 1883.
(52) Proc., Am. SPR, New York, Vol. XV, pp, 315-592.
(53) Spirit Slate Writing and Kindred Phenomena, New York and London, 1899.
and Psychic Lights [top]
Very few serious investigators of to-day accept 'apports' (i.e. the spontaneous
appearance at a séance of solid objects) but there have been some famous apport
mediums. The Australian, Charles Bailey, specialized in such things as live
animals, scarabs, and exotic antiques. He was often exposed. At Grenoble on
February 20, 1910, two live birds 'materialized' at a séance. But the birds were
recognized by the local dealer who supplied them to the medium. There was
another scandal in Sydney in 1914(54). I have already mentioned in Chapter I the
'apports' of Lajos Pap(55), Anna Rothe, Heinrich MeIzer, and Hilda Lewis(56). All
these mediums were exposed.
(54) For accounts of Bailey's work in England, see
SPR, Vol. XII PP.
77-88, 109-18; and Vol. XV, pp. 194-208.
(55) See page 30; see also 'I Expose the Shams of Spiritualism,' by Nandor Fodor,
in the Leader, London, October 15, 1938, pp. 28-30.
(56) Ibid., pp. 29-30.
Another woman medium who fared badly was Mrs. Baylis. She was tested by Dennis
Bradley, who published a scathing report(57) concerning her. A famous physical
medium, Stanislawa P., was exposed in Paris by Dr. Eugene Osty, who, by means of
an automatic camera, photographed her in flagrante delicto(58). The picture shows
her making a 'telekinetic' movement with her hand.
(57) 'Another Unsatisfactory Séance,' Light, November 26, 1927.
(58) See Revue Metapsychique, Paris, for November-December, 1930.
Another physical medium, Clemens Kraus (pseud.: 'Karl. Weber') was exposed in
Vienna by Professor Hans Thirring in November, 1924. In his report(59) Kraus's
tricks are described and illustrated. Kraus afterwards wrote his
'confessions,'(60) the MS. and copyright of which were purchased by me. One of
Kraus's tricks pictured by Professor Thirring shows the medium, in the dark,
lifting a heavy table completely off the floor by means of his head. His hands
and feet were fully controlled. Still another materializing medium, Harold Evans
(a Britisher) was exposed by a panel formed by the Sunday Chronicle. Professor
Julian Huxley, Professor A. M. Low, Dr. Harold Dearden, Miss Estelle Stead and
others were the judges. Evans was found to be masquerading in a white
nightshirt, which was seized(61).
(59) 'Psychical Research in Vienna,' Journal, Am.
SPR, December 1925, pp.
(60) Abstract was published in the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, December 25,
(61) See 'Amazing Exposure of a Famous Medium,' Sunday Chronicle, October 31,
Baron von Schrenck-Notzing exposed a number of physical mediums including Oskar
Schlag, Kraus, and Ladislaus Laszlo(62), the latter a Hungarian. At the time of
his death the Baron had just completed a MS. Gefalschte Wunder: Kraus-Laszlo-Schlag,
a work dealing with the tricks of the above mediums. Lucia Sordi, an Italian
medium, claimed to be able to 'dematerialize' herself from the inside of a
locked cage. She was tested by Schrenck, who was impressed with the way in which
she escaped from her prison until he found that a wooden block, the exact size
of her head, could be squeezed between the bars of the cage(63). These 'matter
through matter' miracles are part of the stock-in-trade of many physical
mediums. When Slade was in Leipzig he convinced Zöllner that he was able to pass
a sealed loop of cord through a solid wooden ring(64). This 'proof' of Zöllner's
theory of the 'fourth dimension' caused much controversy(65). The trick is now
well known and is worked as follows: the knot is a faked one in which is hidden
a tiny threaded brass tapered socket. To one end of the cord is glued a tiny
tapered brass screw. This end can be screwed into the knot at will, and as it
buries itself in the knot, the deception is absolutely indetectable. I have a
specimen which I have even loaned to people who have never found the secret.
Yet, with hands behind my back, I was able to remove the ring from the cord - or
put it on - in a few seconds. In the same way, Cecil Husk claimed, by psychic
means, to pass on to his arm a solid forged iron ring apparently much too small
to encircle his hand. The SPR demonstrated that by using a local anaesthetic
on his hand the feat could be performed without recourse to the spirits(66). Jean Guzik, whom I exposed(67) in Warsaw in 1923, also declared that he could cause
solid objects to pass spontaneously into locked boxes, though he never had the
temerity to show me this particular wonder. However, he did show me (in the
dark) his 'fiery Pithecanthropus' - his own hand in a stocking dabbed with two
(62) See 'Der Betrug des Mediums Ladislaus
Laszlo,' Psychische Studien, Leipzig,
March, 1924, pp. 129-60.
(63) Luce e Ombra, Rome, November, 1910.
(64) Transcendental Physics.
(65) See Gemeinfassliche, Leicht Controlirbare Losung der Aufgabe: 'In ein ring
formig geschlossenes Band einen Knoten zu machen' ... ' by Oscar Simony, Wien,
(66) See Proc., SPR, Vol. Ill, 1885, pp. 460-3.
(67) 'Some Impressions of Jean Guzik and his Phenomena,' by Harry Price, Light,
September 29, 1923.
or the Rue Christine
In the summer of 1936 I happened to break my journey at Ostend on the way home
from Germany. I was strolling down the Rue Christine one hot evening when I
noticed outside a shop a board which informed me, in English, French and
Flemish, that a medium was 'operating' there nightly. Admission, 25 francs. I
looked at my watch and found the show was due to begin in twenty minutes, at
eight o'clock precisely. I clambered up the short flight of wooden stairs
leading to the first-floor room over the shop, where the séance was due to be
held. A warm welcome from a blowsy-looking female greeted each sitter, who was
asked for his fee, even before he seated himself, The séance room was a small
one and the medium - of the typical Belgian mechanic class - was seated with his
back to the only window, over which, just before the séance began, curtains were
drawn, excluding all light. The sitters sat round him in a semicircle. In front
of the medium was a table supporting a tambourine, a toy trumpet, and a small
accordion. The sitters - most of them of the usual rather unintelligent sort who
frequent séances - were asked to search the medium and lash him to his chair.
Two men volunteered. They turned out the man's pockets very thoroughly, and made
a good job of roping the Belgian. Then the light was switched off and we were
left in complete darkness.
The séance had hardly begun when the female I have mentioned complained of the
heat in the room, and leaving her place in the circle, went over in the dark to
the window, which she opened a few inches at the bottom, again closing the
Then the entertainment began: the tambourine was flung across the room; the
trumpet was blown and an air was played on the accordion - to the excited
plaudits of the sitters. Then the man's 'spirit control,' whose name I forget
(it was, of course, one of the over-worked Red Indian 'guides') spoke in broken
English-obviously for the benefit of the Britishers who were present. Then a
small luminous cross was seen floating near where we knew the medium was
sitting, and the performance finished with a shower of sparkling 'spirit
lights', which spluttered hither and thither from somewhere behind the medium,
who, it was seen, was now almost entirely free from his bonds. The room lights
were then switched on and, the séance having ended, the sitters departed.
But I stayed on for a few minutes. Most of the performance was rather silly, and
a poor imitation of the Davenport Brothers' feats. But the lights intrigued me,
especially the luminous cross. I wondered how he obtained them, as he was really
well searched. The woman had now drawn back the curtains and flung the window
wide open. Then the whole thing was apparent. Outside the window was a long box
containing plants. On the top of the soil was a heap of large beach pebbles to
weight the box in order to prevent the wind from blowing it over. I walked to
the window and soon found what I anticipated - a large pebble covered with
fulminating paste, which was hardly distinguishable from its fellows. This
pebble, rubbed against a hard object, produced a percussive flash, such as we
had seen. The next day I saw children playing on the Digue with something
The medium and his wife watched me with some interest, if not alarm. Would I
demand my money back, or inform the police? I did neither, but had an
interesting chat with them instead, explaining who I was. They admitted that the
whole show was, well, just a show, and said that if they were to run a
boarding-house, they would be fleecing the visitors just the same. As I
anticipated, when the woman opened the window just after the séance began, she
picked the fulminating pebble, and another, from off the windowbox and passed
them to her husband. The luminous cross, I learned, was painted on the sole of
the man's right foot, which he just waved round and round in the dark. The
conversation was becoming most interesting, with an interchange of professional
secrets, when we discovered it was nearly nine o'clock, the time advertised for
the next séance. As I wended my way to the Kursaal to watch the gambling, an
urchin thrust a bill in my hand. It read: Votre main parle ... la revelation de
votre destinee. Chaque ligne de votre main marque un fait important dans votre
vie... Prix 25 francs. But I had had enough of 'psychics' for one night, and I
knew that the only 'palms' the Ostend mediums were really interested in were
those containing good Belgian francs.
I could fill this entire volume with accounts of fraudulent mediums, their
exposures, and their confessions. And my list would not include the thousands of
fortune-tellers who have fallen into the hands of the police.
Most fraudulent mediums confess when they are in a tight corner in order to save
themselves from possible legal proceedings. Some, more honest, get sick of the
whole business and confess their frauds in order to ease their conscience.(68) in
1891, in America, a sensation was caused by the publication(69) of The
Revelations of a Spirit Medium. In that same year it was 'entered according to
Act of Congress in the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.' That
is, it was copyrighted. And that is all we know definitely about the book. The
author was either Donovan, Charles F. Pidgeon, Frank N. Foster, or Mansfield,
and bibliophiles have not yet decided which. But the work itself is a brilliant
and detailed exposé of most of the tricks used by fraudulent mediums, who bought
up all the copies they could find and destroyed them. The book is now of the extremest rarity. During a lifetime's collecting of rare books on magic I have
found only three copies. One of these I sacrificed in order that a facsimile
edition(70) could be produced by the anastatic process, This was edited by Dr. E.
J. Dingwall and myself.
(68) For example, that of Douglas Blackburn, whose 'Confessions of a Famous
Medium' appeared in John Bull, December 5, 1908 to January 9, 1909.
(69) By Farrington & Co., St. Paul, Minn., U.S.A.
(70) Revelations of a Spirit Medium; or, Spiritualistic Mysteries Exposed. With
Notes, Bibliography, Glossary and Index. Ed. by Harry Price and E. J. Dingwall,
London, 1922. (Sec. Ed., 1930.)
Another work, also anonymous (though supposed to have been written by Chapman),
appeared in London in 1882 under the title of Confessions of a Medium: and a
series of articles, Confessions of a Bogus Medium: How I Made £1,000 a Year by
Faked Séances was published by a weekly journal(71). It is well worth reading.
(71) In the World's Pictorial News, London, beginning February 20, 1920.
Beare Sensation [top]
The most sensational confession by a medium during the past fifty years was that
of Charles Albert Beare, the trance and trumpet medium and psychometrist. It was
in 1920 that Mr. Beare first began to take a serious interest in spiritualism,
after having practised conjuring tricks. He joined a spiritualist organization
called the Temple of Light and soon blossomed out into a full-blown 'medium.'
After a few years Beare became thoroughly sick of the whole business and, to
ease his mind, made a full confession. This was published in the Daily
Express(72) for September 18, 1931. The interview makes remarkable reading. Beare
says: 'I have deceived hundreds of people... I have been guilty of fraud and
deception in spiritualistic practices by pretending that I was controlled by a
spirit guide... I am frankly and whole-heartedly sorry that I have allowed
myself to deceive people... I believe that when they read my full and frank
confession they will forgive me for the way I have deceived them, and I am
convinced that spiritualists could not do better than clear their own ranks of
the fraud and deception which I know exist in the greater part of these
(72) 'Medium's Amazing Confession ... Séance Frauds,' in the
September 18, 1931, pp. 1 and 2.
An amusing feature of Beare's 'mediumship' is that he received a 'Diploma of
Genuineness' (reproduced in facsimile by the Daily Express) from the Temple of
Light. The certificate reads: 'This is to certify that Mr. C. A. Beare ... has
duly established, before the Board of Examiners, his claim to possess certain
Spiritual Gifts, to wit: Clairvoyance and Psychometry ... and the said person
named herein was deemed to have successfully demonstrated such gifts to the
satisfaction of the Board and is hereby passed as an Authorized Medium.'
Beare had to possess a 'spirit guide,' so he called it 'Shauna,' a Greek
supposed to have lived 130 years ago. Sometimes the exotic 'Shauna' was a
professor, sometimes a sheik - according to circumstances. Beare says: 'I used a
sort of gibberish ... anything that came into my head ... in a muddled way. It
was all for effect, but it usually went down all right.' Occasionally, the
sitters declared that they could see 'Shauna' standing behind him.
On November 4, 1931, I persuaded Beare to address the members of the National
Laboratory of Psychical Research. His talk, 'Adventures of a Pseudo-Medium' was
very amusing. He told us how he used to speak down the trumpet, and he gave us
imitations of 'Shauna' talking 'Greek.' When asked why he finally gave up his
'mediumship,' Beare replied: 'Because I got absolutely disgusted with what I saw
and with myself!'
with the Ghosts' [top]
In order to produce their 'psychic' tricks, the less clever fakers have to rely
on those persons who sell apparatus and 'secrets' to professional mediums. The
existence of these mediums' supply houses is denied by those in the business,
and I believe it is a fact that very few mediums in this country (where physical
phenomena are rare) know of such places. But they do exist, and their
proprietors loan out catalogues to those mediums in want of some new
spiritualistic effect. Again, it is strenuously denied that such catalogues
exist, or have existed.
Well, these catalogues do exist, but only just! They are issued
on loan to only a chosen few, and they are so excessively rare that during a
lifetime's search for a specimen, it was only during the production of this work
that I came into possession of a copy, the only one in Great Britain. This was
in the records of Mr. William Marriott, the well-known illusionist and veteran
arch-debunker of 'spirit' fakes, who kindly presented it to me. I know of only
one copy in America, in the collection of John Mulholland, who quotes extracts
in his Beware Familiar Spirits(73).
(73) New York and London, 1938.
And now having at last obtained a copy of this almost unprocurable brochure, the
least I can do is to tell my readers something about it. The title is: Gambols
with the Ghosts. Mind Reading, Spiritualistic Effects, Mental and Psychical
Phenomena and Horoscopy. It was issued in 1901 by Ralph E. Sylvestre & Co., of
25, Ashland Boulevard, Chicago, a firm 'Established in 1870.' On a label
attached to the titlepage is printed: 'Return to Geo. L. Williams & Co., Sole
Agents, Syracuse, Indiana.' Apparently Williams issued these catalogues for
private circulation among mediums, who had to return to him the list when goods
had been selected. The miracles for sale in the copy I possess are catalogued
101-70. The 'effects' (but not the secrets!) are well illustrated by clever
drawings, and the catalogue runs to forty pages.
In an introductory note 'To our Friends and Patrons,' Mr. Sylvestre writes: 'Our
experience during the past thirty years in supplying mediums and others with the
peculiar effects in this line enable us to place before you only those which are
practical and of use, nothing that you have to experiment with. All of our
effects are equally suitable for ladies or gentlemen except where mentioned. We
wish you to thoroughly appreciate that, while we do not, for obvious reasons,
mention the names of our clients and their work (they being kept in strict
confidence, the same as a physician treats his patients), we can furnish you
with the explanation and, where necessary, the materials for the production of
any known public "tests" or "phenomena" not mentioned in this, our latest list.
You are aware that our effects are being used by nearly all prominent mediums
... of the entire world(74), and you can, therefore, be assured of receiving
fraternal and honest treatment in all transactions... There are, as you are
aware, sporadic attempts at exposure of mediums, and of slurs in the press at
the same and at ourselves. We do not countenance or support the former and
utterly ignore the latter. In our mental feats are found much to ponder over,
and prove the truth of the immortal Goethe's history of the friendly
philosophers in his wonderful work on Electoral Affinities, while in our
mechanical appliances the work is absolutely faultless.'
(74) My italics.
And now for the effects themselves. For one dollar you can purchase a simple
slate-writing miracle (instructions only): 'Any ordinary single or double slate
is examined, thoroughly washed, and either held by sitter or hung to chandelier
for a few moments; when opened a message is found thereon.' Another
slate-writing feat 'for close circles,' which will provide answers to 'questions
asked by investigators,' cost only $1.50. For the same sum you can produce
'Instantaneous Spirit Writing,' the 'recent invention of a prominent English
medium.' The modus operandi is that 'the medium asks for a visiting card of
anyone present, and holds it up in full view in one hand, and while waving the
card about slowly he asks for the name of any celebrity or person, living or
dead. On same being pronounced, he at once hands card for inspection and the
selected name is found written thereon.' Surely a cheap miracle for only $1.50.
Other slate-writing phenomena, even more miraculous, are priced as high as
The first requisite for a fake physical medium starting in business is, of
course, the humble but useful reaching-rod. Mr. Sylvestre sells them:
'Telescopic Reaching Rod. A very useful article for mediums working in the dark.
They go in pocket and extend from four to six feet ... will pick up or bring to
you any ordinary small object, float a guitar, etc., $4.00.' The guitar
mentioned is a self-playing one: 'Indispensable for mediums. Finely finished
Guitars. In dark séances they play without medium's hands touching them. Price
séance is complete without a materialization or two. As Mr. Sylvestre
himself says: 'For all materializing mediums, the production of luminous hands
or faces is a sine quâ non for their success. We furnish you complete with
explicit directions for the making and production of same, or furnish them
complete and ready for use as desired. Also draperies, head-dresses, and
ornaments of the finest quality known. $5.00 to $25.00.' For full-form
apparitions the price is, of course, higher: 'Luminous Materialistic Ghosts and
Forms. All kinds and sizes. Full luminous female form and dress (with face that
convinces) which can be produced in ordinary room or circle, appears gradually,
floats about room and disappears. $50.00.'
The mental medium is not forgotten. Mr. Sylvestre will supply 'Clairvoyant and
Psychic Readings for Private Sittings.' The system is sold to billet-readers,
'under certain written conditions only,' and costs $25.00. The effect is
described as follows: 'The sitter enters the medium's parlour and is seated
anywhere. He is requested to write his questions on an ordinary piece of paper,
and keep same in his possession, the medium is not necessarily present during
the writings, yet he, in a few seconds, is in full knowledge of what was
written, although he does not handle or touch the paper on which questions were
written... We wish to impress upon you that in this there is nothing used that
has been made use of in somewhat similar effects in times past.' I wonder! Mr.
Sylvestre must have forgotten his classics, or he would have remembered that the
famous impostor and false prophet Alexander the Paphlagonian, of Abonouteichos
(the modern Ineboli) in Asia Minor, established an oracle of the snake-god
Glycon-Asclepius and he, too, gave answers to sealed messages, but was not
always successful(75). Alexander, who 'flourished' about A.D. 150, must surely
have been the first fake billet-reader in history. Lucian the Satirist has left
us an amusing and detailed record of his 'psychic' frauds, his 'intelligence
bureau' in Rome, etc.
(75) Like the fake billet-reader of to-day, he used heated needles for
surreptitiously removing seals from closed missives. (See Lucian's Alexander).
But to return to Gambols with the Ghosts. In Mr. Sylvestre's fascinating
catalogue you will find details and prices of spirit jugs; trick ropes for
binding mediums; 'matter through matter' effects; fire tests; fake padlocks,
bolts, handcuffs, benches, shackles and staples; mechanical and self-rapping
tables, chairs, bells, hands and skulls; fake spirit sacks, bags and trunks;
rapping tests 'as used by D. D. Home'; mind-reading, clairvoyant, second sight
and psychometry tests (one of the latter having been reduced from $100.00 to
$25.00) and complete mesmeric and hypnotic shows, etc. Then of course there are
the incidentals necessary to every good physical medium, such as luminous paint,
spirit robes, pasteboard hands, rubber 'spirits,' etc. Finally, for the
youngster just starting out in the world and wishing to make good, there is the
'Complete Spiritualistic Séance,' which includes spirit slate-writing, table
turning, rapping, and lifting, sealed letter reading, fire-resisting effects
(such as handling heated lamp chimneys or holding handkerchiefs in a naked flame
without burning) - all for $25.00, 'express charges prepaid' to any address. Now
we know what to do with our sons!
My only comment on this precious catalogue is that although Mr. Sylvestre
reveals no secrets, practically all the effects are explained in The Revelations
of a Spirit Medium, published anonymously in 1891 and written by a medium
(either Donovan, Charles F. Pidgeon, Frank N. Foster or J. V. Mansfield) who
suddenly 'got religion' and 'blew the gaff' with a vengeance.
Mr. Mulholland became friendly with one of these mediums' outfitters, and was
permitted to examine his books. Out Of 2,000 customers, he recognized the names
of several famous American mediums. In his book, my friend also reproduces an
advertisement giving the current prices of 'certificates of ordination' for
mediums. One can become a 'reverend' for $10.00 a 'D.D' for $5.00 and a 'bishop'
for five times that sum. These ordinations are cheap at the price, as under
American law, the clergy can travel at special fares on the railroads.
Only Remedy [top]
The only remedy for all the fraud, humbug, and deception exemplified in this
chapter is to examine and register professional mediums and control their
activities in some way. The curse of fraudulent mediumship can be met only by
legislation. To this end I have designed a Bill(76), which I hope will some day
reach the Statute Book. I have had the assistance of Mr. Gordon Alchin, the
distinguished barrister, who has drafted the Bill for Parliament, where, in due
course, it will be presented and sponsored by a well-known lawyer M.P. The Bill
will have the effect of stimulating scientific investigation and will confer
upon the genuine medium a cachet he could not otherwise obtain. Conversely, the
professional fraudulent medium will find his nefarious trade both difficult and
dangerous. It will also make spiritualism 'respectable' in the eyes of the
public. If the Psychic Practitioners (Regulation) Bill ever becomes law, we
shall hear much less of the seamy side of spiritualism.
(76) See Appendix C.
The article above was taken from Harry Price's "Fifty Years of Psychical
Research" (1939, Longmans, Green & Co.)