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.

Stella C

 - Harry Price -

           MISS STELLA C shares with the Schneider boys the honour of being one of the very few physical mediums through whom, during the past fifty years, convincing positive results have been obtained under good conditions of control.

Stella (a non-professional medium), unlike her contemporaries, dislikes being 'investigated', takes little interest in psychical research, and scoffs at the idea that the manifestations which occur through her are the work of 'spirits.' The great majority of psychics, professional and otherwise, are, of course, convinced spiritualists.

A 'Natural Medium'

Stella is also peculiar in that she appears to be a 'natural' medium. Though we induced certain phenomena during our experiments with her, as a young girl she was the focus of curious, spontaneous psychic manifestations, which puzzled her, though causing little concern.

When Stella first placed her services - albeit reluctantly - at our disposal in 1923, she was twenty-one years old, perfectly normal, healthy, good-looking, and a typical specimen of the modern, well-educated English girl. By profession she was a nurse.

Stella's story was an interesting one. When she was quite a child, curious happenings occurred in her vicinity - happenings which we now know must have had a psychic origin, though she was quite unaware of their importance or significance. For example, she would be sitting reading at a table, on which stood a vase of flowers, when suddenly a strong, cool breeze would sweep across the room, taking in its path the flowers, which bent under the strain. The flowers were thought to induce the 'breezes.' This would happen at a time when there was no wind, or in a closed room. Occasionally, small objects in her vicinity would jerk themselves out of her way as she approached - telekinetic displacements which we afterwards induced at our experiments with her. Raps would sometimes be heard in various parts of the room in which she was present, especially on her bedstead - phenomena similar to those alleged to have been heard through two other young girl 'mediums,' Elizabeth Parsons and Margaret Fox, as I have recorded.[1] It is worth mentioning that these spontaneous phenomena did not manifest themselves until Stella had reached the age of puberty, but whether this fact is of psychological or physiological significance, it is difficult to say.

[1] See 'Introduction' to Fifty Years of Psychical Research (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1939.)

Induced Phenomena

On March 22, 1923, we had our first séance with Stella. We sat in a small room specially prepared for the purpose, and always locked, with a number of white and red lights, regulated by a rheostat. A sensitive self-recording thermometer was installed in order to ascertain if the alleged 'cold breezes' would affect it.

During the first series (May to October, 1923) of thirteen séances we witnessed the most remarkable phenomena, mostly of a physical nature. At the first séance a heavy table, weighing forty-three and a half pounds, was completely levitated from the floor three times, at the same time as distinct vibrations running through the table were felt by most sitters. The control of the medium was perfect: she quickly went into a light sleep and sank into the arms of a hospital matron who was her chief 'controller.' The temperature of the room was measured, and it was found that the thermometer index had fallen 11° Fahrenheit - obviously a telekinetic movement, and only partly a thermal one.

At the second séance the heavy table was again levitated many times, under a good red light which illuminated all present. A peculiar pulsating effect could be felt in the wood. The mercury again fell 11.5° Fahrenheit, and Stella's pulse slowed down from 126 at beginning of séance to 80 at end (a diminution in rapidity of 22.41%). Raps in various parts of the room were heard, and the usual 'cool breezes' were very pronounced.

The third sitting was remarkable for the total demolition of a new, light, hexagonal wooden table, with three legs, which appeared to 'melt' under the fingers of the medium and sitters who surrounded it. This took place in full red light, to which was added some daylight - in order to diminish the violent psychic power which it was thought might harm someone. The table was reduced to matchwood, with percussive noises as each fracture occurred. It was a curious sensation to feel a strong wooden structure crumpling up beneath one's hands.

A Spontaneous Prediction Verified

The fourth séance (April 12, 1923) was remarkable for two incidents: by means of raps (calling over the alphabet, a 'rap' signifying the correct letter) it was ascertained that Stella's trance personality was named 'Palma.' As I have stated, Stella is not a spiritualist and, when she awoke, she was as puzzled as the rest of us as to the origin of the name, which was generally agreed to be the product of her subconscious mind. In the time-honoured way, it was to 'Palma' that we addressed all future requests.

Stella's phenomena were always of a physical nature, with one extraordinary exception. At the fourth séance, and while very sleepy (or in a deeper trance than usual) she suddenly stated that she 'saw' the front page of the Daily Mail. 'Palma' was questioned and we were told that the issue was dated 'May 19, 1923' - i.e. thirty-seven days later. 'Palma' - or Stella - minutely described what she saw on the page: a boy falling, the pouring of a white powder out of a tin, a man bending over the boy, the name 'Andrew Salt' in large letters, etc. All these details were recorded in the protocol drawn up immediately after the séance and signed by all sitters - the usual routine.

On Saturday, May 19, 1923, one of the sitters sent me a telegram telling me to look at the front page of that day's Daily Mail. I did so and, to my astonishment, found that Stella had accurately visualized in trance the full-page advertisement for Andrews Liver Salts which appeared on the front page of the journal on this day. Stella was correct in ten definite points, and the question at once arose whether she could have acquired by normal sensory means the information she imparted to us at the séance. We communicated with the makers of the salts (at Newcastle-upon-Tyne) and the advertisement manager of the Daily Mail. The makers declared that, although the drawing 'seen' by Stella was in existence on April 12, no exhibition of it had taken place. The Daily Mail informed us that until about three weeks before the date of the advertisement (i.e. about April 28) there not only had been no intention communicated to them to use this picture, but they had been instructed to use an 'Abraham Lincoln' copy (published eventually on the front page of the Daily Mail of August 10, 1923), May 19 being originally booked for a display of this. In other words, the substitution was not ordered until more than a fortnight after Stella's trance vision.

Stella's Diminishing Powers

During the remaining nine séance of this first series we witnessed many different phases of physical phenomena, but Stella's powers appeared to be weakening after those first few sittings when such strong - even violent - manifestations occurred. But we recorded many telekinetic movements of objects, raps, cool breezes, thermal changes, bluish-white (electrical?) 'psychic' lights, movements of objects in a sealed cage, etc. All these phenomena were brilliant, but they became weaker as the year advanced. Stella admitted that she was tiring of the experiments, in which she took little real interest.

Crawling Pseudopods

For the Stella experiments I devised and constructed many pieces of special apparatus with a view to the production of phenomena under conditions which precluded fraud on the part of anyone present. These are detailed and illustrated in my book[2] on Stella. One of the instruments was rather like an optical bench. A system of lenses transmitted a pencil of red light through a sealed gauze cage containing a number of musical toys. If a toy moved, a shadow or silhouette of it would be thrown on a luminous screen, together with the shadow of the psychic structure which was moving it, if opaque enough. In practice, we frequently witnessed the movements of such toys and even photographed them being displaced by Stella's psychic extrusions, by throwing the shadows on to bromide paper and changing the red light for a white one.

[2] Stella C. An Account of Some Original Experiments in Psychical Research, London 1925.

But the most brilliant of these psychic structures was witnessed by Dr. E. J. Dingwall at the tenth sitting on June 7, 1923. Though a sheet of fine gauze net and a stout trellis screen, both reaching to the floor, intervened between Stella and the beam of red light, Dr. Dingwall (then Research Officer to the SPR) plainly saw the pseudopod crawling from the medium into the beam of light, and back again. In his report, dated June 8, 1923, he says: 'When the red light was switched on under the table, I lay down on the floor and looked through the passage towards the luminous screen. From near the medium's foot, which was invisible, I saw an egg-shaped body beginning to crawl towards the centre of the floor under the table. It was white, and where the light was reflected it appeared opal. To the end nearest the medium was attached a thin white neck like a piece of macaroni. It advanced towards the centre and then rapidly withdrew to the shadow.'

A 'Miracle' in a Soap-Bubble

Another piece of apparatus I devised for the Stella sittings I termed the Telekinetoscope. In effect, it was a fibre and metal spring contact-maker enclosed in and protected by a strong soap bubble[3] over which was placed a glass shade. From the contact-maker was led a heavy insulated cable to a small red pea-light and battery, also protected by a glass shade. The only possible way to light the lamp normally was to remove the shade, break the bubble, and depress (2 oz. pressure) the contact-maker - which closed the circuit. The lamp portion of the set-up was placed on the séance table in full view of the ten sitters, the bubble and cover being in the gauze and trellis cage beneath. This apparatus was tried at several sittings without result, though 'Palma' had promised us that 'she' would light the lamp. This promise was kept, for without warning, at the ninth séance (May 24, 1923), the lamp suddenly lit up for about a second. The sitting was at once brought to a close in order that the bubble, shade and contact-maker could be examined. The bubble, shade, and everything were found to be intact, and witnesses (including Mr. David Gow, then editor of Light) were brought in to testify to this fact. The bubble itself lasted for nearly an hour after the termination of the séance, when it spontaneously burst. The sitters at this first series of tests, in addition to those already mentioned, included Sir Ernest Bennett, M.P., Dr. V. J. Woolley, Mr. Hewat McKenzie, Mr. J. F. R. Stainer, K.C., the Hon. Everard Feilding, etc.

[3] Made of Castile soap, glycerol, and distilled water.

Last Experiments with Stella

Stella returned to us in 1926 and again in 1927, in order principally to assist us in our thermal experiments, which are described later. In 1928, just before her marriage, she consented to give us a final series of séances. Nine sittings were held between March and July, and a panel of scientists (which included Professors Julian Huxley, F.R.S., E. N. da C. Andrade, F.R.S., and Dr. R. J. Tillyard, F.R.S.) was formed to take part in the experiments. Many manifestations were witnessed under excellent conditions of control, though it was evident that Stella's powers were growing still weaker - or her interest in our work had almost entirely evaporated - as we experienced nothing like the violent psychic disturbances recorded in the early days of 1923. But the phenomena, if weak, were good, as the report[4] clearly states: 'Thus at three out of the last four sittings considerable phenomena were obtained, clearly denoting a supernormal origin... These phenomena, although not appearing to indicate the direction of any profound intelligence, yet did not give the impression of an uncontrolled force at work. The table was moved at times in a suggested direction, and raps denoting an affirmative or negative answer were repeatedly made either in or on the surface of the table... On no occasion were the musical instruments inside the cage played, with the possible exception of the squeaker,[5] which on two occasions was thought by Professor Huxley to have been sounded.'

[4] By Lord Charles Hope, in the British Journal of Psychical Research, Vol. II, pp. 65-78, London, 1928.
[5] A rubber bulb with reed which, when pressed, emits a musical note.

Julian Huxley Nearly Entranced

A curious incident happened at the first séance (March 21, 1928) of the last series. Many raps were heard. Dr. E. B. Strauss heard - or felt - two raps under his hands, and then the table jerked slightly. Again more raps and 'a curious movement of the table was felt by Professor Huxley, Dr. Strauss and Mr. C. C. L. Gregory. Dr. Strauss and Professor Huxley felt a strange feeling up their arms.' The official report continues: 'At 4.41 Professor Huxley deliberately relaxed and nearly went into the trance state.' The feeling soon passed, but the sitters on either side of him felt him go limp and he admitted that he felt that he might be going into a trance. The 'strange feeling up their arms' reported by Huxley and Strauss was of an unfamiliar character, and apparently not the response to any ordinary external sensory stimulus, such as parasthesia associated with cramp.

Stella - A Transformer of Energy?

The five years during which Stella was - rather sporadically - under our observation were sufficient to satisfy us that we had witnessed the following phenomena under excellent conditions: (a) Physical. Telekineses, materializations, raps, lights, thermal variations. (b) Mental. Visual prognosis or prevision (the Daily Mail incident). Of the above, I think the variations in séance-room temperature were the most striking.

It has always been a matter for speculation whether the 'cool breezes' experienced during séances with some psychics are a physical and not merely a physiological effect. From the earliest records one learns that this apparent lowering of the temperature was noticed and commented upon. Sir William Crookes appears to have made sporadic attempts at testing the theory that the immediate vicinity of the psychic undergoes some thermal change during the trance state. But little was done in this direction, and less published.

With the advent of Stella in 1923 I determined thoroughly to test the possibility of recording these alleged thermal changes, and installed a delicate recording thermometer. The results of our observations were startling. As I have already mentioned, at the first séance the mercury fell no fewer than 11
° Fahrenheit, accompanied by violent telekinetic movements of the séance table. At nearly all of the séances in this series, the instrument measured a fall in temperature. The sudden changes appeared to synchronize with violent telekinetic displacements. The thermometric records of eleven séances are tabulated below:

No. Date of Sitting Time of Start a.m. Temp at Start Time of Finish p.m. Temp at Finish Minimum (Intermediate) Fall Rise
1 Mar 22 11.32 60° 12.35 62° 49° 11° 13°
2 Mar 29 11.38 61° 12.47 65° 49.5° 11.5° 15.5°
3 April 5 11.20 64.5° 12.43 65° 57° 7.5° 8°
4 April 12 11.20 62° 1.3 66° 58° 4° 8°
5 April 19 11.18 63.5° 1.15 64.5° 43° 20.5° 21.5°
6 May 3 11.40 67° 1.45 74° no fall   7°
7 May 10 11.5 58.5° 12.25 64° 57° 1.5° 7°
8 May 17 11.0 57.5° 12.55 64° 57° 0.5° 7°
9 May 24 11.15 59° 12.55 65° 58° 1° 7°
10 June 7 11.6 62.5° 12.55 68.5° 61.75° 0.75° 6.75°
11 June 21 11.15 63.5° 12.45 68.5° 62.5° 1° 6°

I think it will occur to anyone who studies this table that some psycho-mechanical power was partly responsible for the displacement of the index in the thermometer. With the violent telekinetic movements of tables and other objects which we experienced in these early experiments with Stella, it is reasonable to suppose that some small portion of this kinetic power dissipated itself in displacing the metal index in the tube of the thermometer, independent of the cooling of the séance room. Later experiments confirmed this view. In order fully to appreciate the variations in temperature and their bearing on the other phenomena, my full report[6] of these séances should be studied.

[6] Stella C, op. cit.

By May, 1926, I had established the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, and for measuring thermal variations at séances I had constructed for me a sensitive instrument which I designed specially for the Stella experiments. It is a transmitting thermograph with a long mercury capillary tube and copper bulb. A three-hour drum is driven by the usual clockwork mechanism. The range of the instrument is 30
°, from 45° to 75° Fahrenheit. The chart used with it is divided into hours, quarters, and minutes. The degree markings are divided into four parts, and the instrument can easily be read to 0.1°. The thermograph is guaranteed by the makers (Negretti & Zambra) to be accurate to 0.1°. The instrument can be securely locked.

Our first experiment with this instrument took place on May 26, 1926, with Stella. As a control, an ordinary recording thermograph (thermocouple) and a minimum thermometer were placed on the mantelpiece of the séance room, the cooper bulb of our special instrument being placed in the interior of the gauze cage, the top of which was used as a séance table.

Both thermographs were in situ in their respective positions for an hour before the séance commenced, in order that the normal room temperature should be measured. The clockwork was set in motion at four o'clock. At five o'clock, when the séance began, the instrument read 71.4
°, gradually rising (5.23) to 72.75°. At 5.23 (as per dictaphone record) Stella became entranced; the indicating pen at once began to drop, proving that there was a fall in the temperature of the interior of the cage table. At 5.45 the thermograph gave a reading of 72.14°. Afterwards the temperature rose gradually to 75° at 6.35 p.m. The control thermograph on the mantelpiece showed a steady rise right through the séance.

Dr. Tillyard Tests Stella

At our third experiment, at which Dr. R. J. Tillyard was present, there were several sudden changes in temperature at times when special manifestations occurred. Dr. Tillyard contributed to Nature[7] his account of the experiment and reproduced the graph of the thermal variations recorded at this séance.

[7] Science and Psychical Research, July 31, 1926.

I could go on multiplying instances when we experienced marked changes in the temperature during our experiments with Stella. A paper, which I read before the Third International Congress of Psychical Research in Paris,[8] gave complete details and many graphs were reproduced.

[8] In September, 1927. Paper published in Am. SPR Journal, November, 1927.

I want to emphasize that every possible precaution was taken against any tampering with the transmitting thermograph; also that the séance-room was never heated prior to or during the sittings. At least two control instruments were always placed in various parts of the séance-room and always showed a steady rise during the experiments, which, of course, was normal.

Our experiments proved the objective nature of the cold breezes and present a purely physical problem. As Dr. Tillyard remarked in Nature:[9] 'It is not an extravagant hypothesis which finds an explanation for the production of "supernormal" physical phenomena in the withdrawal of heat from the circle of sitters, such heat being turned into some other form of energy, possibly of a kind not yet investigated by science.' Normally, when a number of people sit in a closed room, the temperature mounts steadily upwards, owing to the heat radiation and combustion products of the persons present.

[9] Op. cit.

Assuming our experiments to be as perfect as we thought they were, it seems almost certain that some sensitives - such as Stella - are transformers of energy rather than a source of energy. Mr. E. E. Dudley has computed[10] that the transformed energy at one of Willi Schneider's séances was sufficient to lift one ton through a height of ten feet for each minute that the séance continued.

[10] 'Energy transformation at Séances', Journal, Am. SPR, July, 1926.

Some other psychics appear to have the power of transforming caloric energy. In my experiments with Willi Schneider I report[11] a considerable drop in temperature during two séances. The late Professor Karl Gruber of Munich, wrote me that he had obtained a definite drop in temperature with the same medium. Professor Christian Winther, of Copenhagen, has experienced a fall in temperature during his experiments with Anna Rasmussen, and probably there are other workers who have achieved the same results. One thing is quite clear: the thermal variations during the entranced state of a psychic is a phenomenon of considerable importance, and worthy of the attention of all research workers who are striving to elucidate the laws underlying psychic phenomena. But the tests, to be really convincing, should be held in a calorimetric chamber equipped for measuring variations in electrical energy.

[11] Journal, Am. SPR, January, 1926.


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


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
The Mechanics of Spiritualism
Poltergeist Mediums
Can we Explain the Poltergeist?

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

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