ARTICLES

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 Mechanics of Spiritualism

Photographing the Spirits | 'Materializing' Methods | The Regurgitation Theory | The 'Scientific American' Inquiry | Slate-writing 'Miracles' | Apports and Psychic Lights | Medium or the Rue Christine | Mediums' Confessions | The Beare Sensation | 'Gambols with the Ghosts' | Cheap Miracles | 'Convincing' Spooks | The Only Remedy

 - Harry Price -

           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.

Photographing 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 argument.

(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.

'Materializing' Methods [top]

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 [1894].
(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.

The Regurgitation Theory [top]

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 week'(39).

(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.

The 'Scientific American' Inquiry [top]

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 investigation.

(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, U.S.A., 1931.


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.

Slate-writing 'Miracles' [top]

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 impressed. Finally, 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.

Apports 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 Journal, 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. 690-707.
(60) Abstract was published in the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, December 25, 1932.
(61) See 'Amazing Exposure of a Famous Medium,' Sunday Chronicle, October 31, 1926.


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 phosphorus 'eyes.'

(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, 1881.
(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.

Medium or the Rue Christine [top]

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 curtains.

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 similar.

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.

Mediums' Confessions [top]

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.

The 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 practices!'

(72) 'Medium's Amazing Confession ... Séance Frauds,' in the Daily Express, 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!'

'Gambols 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.

Cheap Miracles [top]

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 $10.00 each.

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 $25.00.'

'Convincing' Spooks [top]

No dark 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.

The 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.

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'
The First Psychic Laboratory
Broadcasting the Occult
The Law and the Medium
Psychic Practitioners (Regulation) Bill
The Story of ESP
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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