OF BOSTON, famous American medium, wife of Dr. L. R. G. Crandon, for sixteen years Prof. of Surgery in the Harvard Medical School and author of a standard textbook on surgical after-treatment. The doctor read
W J Crawford's book on the
Goligher Circle, and partly as a joke, partly out of curiosity, he commenced to experiment in his home. His wife, in a chance visit to a clairvoyant, received a communication from the alleged spirit of her brother, Walter Stinson, five years her senior, who was killed in a railroad accident years before and was now anxious to prove his survival.
The first sitting in the Crandon house was held in May, 1923. Out of six sitters Margery alone was found to have the power of animating the table. Answers were tilted out and slowly but gradually she developed as a medium. Raps came as the second stage and trance as the third. Chaining hands replaced table contact and Margery withdrew into a cabinet. But the trance was only intermittent. She remained normal for the better part of the sitting and only went off when Walter, the spirit, had a lot to say. He was in full charge of the proceedings. Messages of lesser spirits had to be relayed through him. Automatic writing, psychic music and finally direct voice completed the development of the mediumship. With the advent of the latter phenomenon the trance phase was abandoned. Power ran high and the cabinet, as a demonstration, was wrecked by invisible hands. Clocks were stopped at the announced time and a general spread of the range of Walter's activity was noticed all over the house.
At this stage the first of the many trying scientific investigations began. It was conducted by a Harvard group, consisting of Prof.
William McDougall, Dr. Roback, Dr.
Gardner Murphy, lecturer in psychology at Columbia and research fellow at Harvard and his assistant, Harry Helson. Anxiously trying to find a normal explanation for the puzzling phenomena a carpet thread, discovered near a piano stool which was seen moving about without anyone touching it, was seized upon and Margery was accused of cheating. The charge, however, was soon withdrawn, but though Walter was successfully reasoned with to restrict the phenomena to a single room for the purposes of better control, no progress was made.
At the end of 1923 Margery and Dr. Crandon visited Europe. In Paris Margery sat for Dr.
Gustave Geley, Prof. Charles
Richet and others. With the strictest control excellent phenomena were produced. Still more successful was a sťance before the
SPR in London. Harry
Price's famous fraud-proof table was, in white light, twice levitated to a height of six inches. Other sittings at the British College of Psychic Science and psychic photographs obtained with
William Hope and Mrs.
Ada Deane established Margery's powerful mediumship without question.
Returning from Europe Margery resolved to develop materialisation. Psychic lights signalled the first phase, ghostly fingers lit up the darkness and produced contacts, curious forms, called by Walter his psychic pet animals, were observed, independent writing developed on a phosphorescent background. Materialised hands performed pick-pocketing stunts and, as a further evolution in vocal phenomena, whistling and syncopated raps, rendering tunes, followed.
On April 12, 1924, the widely discussed investigation of the Scientific American Committee commenced. Scientific instruments were introduced and recorded brand-new phenomena. Effects were produced in a sealed glass jar, on scale and electric bells under a lid. A paraffin glove was manufactured by an invisible hand, but owing to internal friction, despite many striking and excellent demonstrations, the committee came to a deadlock and the only thing approaching a verdict was a series of individual statements published in the November, 1924, issue of the
Scientific American. Hereward
Carrington pronounced the mediumship genuine, Houdini fraudulent, Comstock wanted to see more,
Prince said he had not seen enough and William
McDougall was non-committal. Malcolm
Bird, the secretary of the committee, was satisfied, after 10-12 sittings that the phenomena were genuine. Prince and McDougall, however, even after further sittings, refused to make a definite statement. Another Harvard Committee, with Dr. Shapley, the astronomer, followed suit and precise conclusions were absent from the report of Dr. E. J. Dingwall
(SPR Proceedings, Vol. XXXVI.) as well. He had many sittings in January and February, 1925, in Boston. He admitted that:
"phenomena occurred hitherto unrecorded in mediumistic history ... the mediumship remains one of the most remarkable in the history of psychical research,"
but obsessed with fear of hoax and fraud he made strenuous efforts to throw doubt on his own observations and concluded that the mediumship
"may be classed with those of Home, Moses and
Palladino as showing the extreme difficulty of reaching finality in conclusions, notwithstanding the time and attention directed to the investigation of them."
In answer to an attack on the mediumship by Dr.
J. B. Rhine, Dr. Walter Franklin Prince and others, Dr. Crandon published a pamphlet,
Margery, Harvard, Veritas, in 1925.
Two important experimental apparatus were introduced in the later sittings: a Voice-Cut-Out Machine which conclusively proved that Walter's voice was independent of the medium and sitters and a glass cabinet which resembled a telephone booth and had small holes on the sides for the hands which, together with Margery's ankles and neck, were wired to screw eyes. Much excitement was produced by a series of thumbprints obtained in wax which experts pronounced to be fraud-proof and partially identified with the remains of the thumbprints of Walter, discovered on a razor. It was partly by such fingerprints that Dr. R. J. Tillyard, the famous Australian entomologist, became convinced, in a
solus sitting with Margery on July 13, 1928, of survival. These experiments were repeated. On March 11, 1931, William H. Button, President of the American
SPR, obtained a thumbprint which he described as one of the best Walter prints yet obtained. Later developments, however, have considerably clouded this part of
Bulletin XVIII (Fingerprint Demonstrations) of the Boston
SPR, which contains a foreword by Dr. Prince and three articles by Mr. E. E. Dudley, Dr. Hereward Carrington and Mr. Arthur Goadby, the disclosure is made that the Walter fingerprints correspond exactly with those of Mr. "Kerwin," an early sitter of the Margery circle. As the chances of the fingerprints of two persons being identical are said to be nil, the inference is drawn by Mr. Dudley that they cannot be those of
Walter. Beyond this Mr. Dudley did not go, but as the promised investigation by the
ASPR has been drawing out without a definite answer Dr. Prince, in
Bulletin XIX, January, 1933, raised definite allegations of fraud, saying:
"For six years
Walter has been claiming that the scores of issuing thumbprints, with a few exceptions, were his own, explaining the processes employed. In the light of the proved facts that claim is fraudulent."
The cross-correspondences, devised by Walter and reported by Dr. Mark Wyman Richardson in the May-September issues of
Psychic Research, 1928, have proved less vulnerable and of greater importance as their fraud-proof technique bars any eventual objection of a collusion between experimenters and automatist. In March, 1928, some Chinese scripts came through. R. F. Johnson, of the
SPR, concluded that:
"whoever the communicator on this occasion may have been, he was certainly not the great Chinese sage (Confucius) whose name he adopted. It is also too obvious to need emphasis that the style of the writing is not ancient, that the whole contents of the script consist of ordinary modern Chinese written by a very poor scribe; that both pages of the script contain not a single word or line (barring a trifling exception) that is not a quotation."
Psychic Research, August, 1929, Malcolm Bird, then research officer of the
ASPR, answers this criticism and points to important, unconsidered facts. First, it was never said that the scripts were actually the work of Confucius. Walter himself never put in such a claim. He declared that Chinese spirits, the disciples of Confucius, helped him to get the test through. The important point for the circle was that the scripts were supernormally produced. Margery delivered the first Chinese script on March 17, 1928, in red light, with closed eyes. She does not know Chinese, nor did the sitters. The very reason of the test was to demonstrate that minds other than the Medium and sitters are at work. At the next sťance, on March 22, two columns of Chinese had been written in total darkness, on specially marked paper. Walter announced that he would try a Chinese-English cross-correspondence with Dr. Henry Hardwicke, of Niagara Falls, a distance of 450 miles from Boston. He asked Malcolm Bird to pick out a sentence which should be given through Hardwicke in Chinese. Malcolm Bird chose "A rolling stone gathers no moss." Hardly was the sitting over when a telegram arrived from Niagara Falls. A few days later it was followed by the original witnessed copy of Dr. Hardwicke's script. It showed a Maltese cross within the circle, a rectangle enclosing the name Kung-fu-tze, the symbols for Bird and Hill, and the Chinese sentence, the general meaning of which is: A travelling agitator gathers no gold. Johnson's analysis revealed a further important element. On the left hand column the words are found: "I am not dead, Confucius." The duplicate of this is in the right hand column of the Margery script of March 17. Besides Dr. Hardwicke, cross-correspondences were effected in Chinese through Mrs. Sarah Litzelmann, who knows no Chinese either and sat at Ogunquit, Maine, a distance of eighty miles from Boston. Never before had she been in trance. On November 17, 1928,
George Valiantine and Mrs. Litzelmann figured in cross-correspondences with Chinese numbers.
In The Story of Psychic Science, 1930, Carrington thus sums up his own opinion of Margery:
"It certainly is one of the most baffling and extraordinary cases in history - and this is true, no matter how we choose to regard it. For my own part I occupy the same position as I did when rendering my formal Report in the Scientific American, which is that, despite the difficulties involved in arriving at any just estimate of this case, and despite the uncertainty of many of the phenomena and the complicated social, ethical, personal, physical and psychological factors involved, a number of seemingly genuine, supernormal manifestations yet remain, which are of the profoundest interest to psychical, as well as to ethico-sociological science."
The history of Margery's mediumship from its inception in May, 1923, to the end of 1924 is ably told in Malcolm Bird's
Margery, the Medium. A continued record of developments was published in
Proc. ASPR, Vol. XX-XXI, 1926-27. The reprint of many later interesting articles on the mediumship appeared in a volume:
"The Thumbprint and cross-correspondence experiments made with Margery during 1927 and 1928." The issues of Psychic Research contain reports of all consecutive events, among which the ante-mortem fingerprints of Judge Hill furnish conclusive proofs of survival.
Source (with minor modifications):
An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science by Nandor Fodor (1934).