BEFORE and during the First World War psychical research was in a more or less, moribund condition in Great Britain, so upon the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, I determined to devote my entire energies to reviving the interest in the scientific aspect of the subject, and to persuading the universities and official science that the time had arrived for academic recognition of the paranormal powers of certain gifted persons who bore the ridiculous name of 'mediums.' It is true that the War had induced many people to flock to the psychical and spiritualist societies, but it was emotion - not a scientific interest - that caused them to do this. As I have pointed out, when the emotional excitement due to the War had subsided, the psychical societies began to lose members.
Another reason why I was anxious to put psychical research on a scientific footing in this country was because of the horde of charlatans who had been battening on the credulous, the bereaved, and the morbidly curious during the War years. I was more than ever determined to found a national or international laboratory where all psychics, genuine or otherwise, could be tested. Those mediums approved by such a body would themselves be benefited and the public would benefit too.
During the years 1919-1923 I made several journeys to the Continent to ascertain what the universities were doing in the way of psychical research, what psychic laboratories were available, and how they were equipped; what was the feeling generally in academic circles as to psychic matters; and what mediums were available. I found that Germany was the most advanced in scientific psychical research, due principally to a very few enthusiasts, chief among whom was the late Freiherr Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, at whose palatial residence in the Max Josefstrasse, Munich, in 1922, I witnessed the most superb and convincing physical phenomena through the Austrian medium, Willi Schneider. This notable event in my psychic experiences will be described in a later chapter.
I exploded one myth during these exploratory trips abroad. I was in Leipzig on April 13, 1922, and after I had concluded my business at the University, I thought I would have lunch at the famous Thüringer Hof restaurant where Professor Zöllner, the German astronomer, habitually took his meals in the old black carved oak-panelled Speisesaal.
It was at Leipzig that the American slate-writing medium, Henry Slade, assisted Zöllner in demonstrating the latter's theory of a fourth dimension during some séance experiments of the 'matter-through-matter' type. Slade had just fled from London after an abortive prosecution by Sir Ray Lankester, assisted by J. N. Maskelyne, who declared that they had caught him cheating at a séance. He probably did, as he was a notorious faker.
Zöllner sat with Slade at a number of séances and many 'miracles' occurred, including the spontaneous removal of a jointless wooden ring that had been threaded on to a loop of cord, the ends of which were sealed. This was, of course, a trick, and astronomer Zöllner was no match for conjurer Slade. I know how the trick was done.(1) But the American Seybert Commission on Spiritualism in its Report (1887) gratuitously declared that Zöllner was mad when he experimented with Slade!
When I entered the Thüringer Hof restaurant, I made some inquiries concerning Zöllner, and was immediately introduced to an old gentleman who was lunching at one of the tables. I was informed that, at the time of the Slade experiments, this man was Zöllner's young assistant. He declared that the astronomer was absolutely sane and normal to the day of his death, and that Slade merely deceived him. After this piece of information the Oberkellner moved our things to another table - the identical one at which Zöllner used to make notes, during his meals, for his Wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen. Perhaps as an indirect outcome of Zöllner's psychic activities, Leipzig University established, in 1926, a sort of 'chair of conjuring' under the direction of Professors Klemm and Kolhmann. The object of the lectures was stated to be 'the spread of scientific conjuring entertainments based on the latest devices of psychological experience.'
The year 1922 was not only remarkable for my first séances with Willi Schneider, but also for my unmasking of the notorious spirit photographer, William Hope, whom I saw deliberately change a marked dark-slide containing my own X-rayed test plates for another slide which enclosed his own plates, complete with faked 'spirit' portrait. This case involved me in a long and bitter controversy with Sir A. Conan Doyle. However, Doyle's own supporters finally gave Hope the coup-de-grâce in another crushing exposure, which left no room even for controversy. It was my exposure of Hope that led to the Scientific American inquiry in 1922, when the public first heard of 'Margery,' the Boston medium.
This question of mediumistic fraud was very much to the fore
1. For details, see Fifty Years of Psychical Research (Price), London, 1939, p.203
in 1922, as in that year I jointly edited The Revelations of a Spirit Medium, a work embracing the whole gamut of séance-room artifice, written by an American medium named Donovan. The book was published originally in 1891, but only a very few copies got into circulation and most of these were destroyed by the fake mediums. The book became excessively rare. I had two copies in my collection and I sacrificed one of them in order that a facsimile edition could be produced. This was issued with notes, introduction and glossary - my first psychic work.
The following year was a red-letter one for me and for psychical research, as early in 1923 I 'discovered' that brilliant physical medium, Miss Stella C. I met her in a curious way. I was travelling in my usual afternoon train to Sussex and in the opposite corner to me was seated a young lady on her way to her home at Southsea. Bv the time we had arrived at Horsham, both she and I had exhausted our respective piles of literature. She then asked me whether I would lend her my copy of Light that I had placed on the seat beside me. As I handed her the journal, I inquired what her interest was in psychic matters. She told me that she was not particularly interested in such things, but that she, herself, was, on rare occasions, the focus of curious manifestations which were perhaps of a psychic nature.
To say that I was interested would be putting it very mildly. I plied her with questions, and the upshot of our chance meeting was that she consented - very reluctantly - to place herself in my hands for some tests. I had hopes that the spontaneous physical phenomena that she had described to me might be induced, under scientific conditions, in the séance-room. Actually, she eventually became one of the most brilliant physical mediums with whom I have ever experimented and our séances with her made history.
The advent of Stella prompted me to push on with my scheme for a national laboratory, and I began to look around for some place that could be fitted up with the necessary apparatus for testing the girl. Finally I was offered a room in the old offices of the London Spiritualist Alliance in Queen Square, W.C.1, and I started to form a group of suitable persons who would provide that sympathetic 'atmosphere' so requisite for successful work in the séance-room. I do not think it is sufficiently realised - especially among the scientists - how important this psychological factor is. The fact that one is dealing with a personality, soul, or ego of extreme sensibility makes it imperative that the medium be treated as a human being, and not as a machine.
The first series of séances with Stella lasted some three months
and were productive of the most unusual, beautiful, and convincing phenomena, which will be described in this volume in due course. I invented many pieces of special apparatus with which to test the more important manifestations, and both Stella and the phenomena successfully survived these instrumental controls. I wrote up the full report of my experiments and was considering how best to publicise it when I received a cable from the American Society for Psychical Research, New York, asking if I would permit them to publish the report in their Journal. I cabled my consent and sent them the manuscript and a set of photographs. The report appeared in the American S.P.R. Journal for May, 1924, and was afterwards published in book(1) form in this country - my second psychic work.
The direct and immediate outcome of the publication of my 'Stella' report in the United States was a letter sent to me by Mr. J. R. Gordon, a member of the Board of Trustees and later Vice-President of the American S.P.R., asking me whether I would consider becoming their Research Officer, if the post were offered to me. Mr. Gordon was an American shipping magnate and during the First World War was chief U.S.A. Shipping Controller in Great Britain, with a suite of rooms at the Berkeley Hotel, London. I knew that he always paid one or two visits to London annually, so I replied that I would wait until his next trip and discuss the whole question with him. His reaction to that proposal was to invite me to New York for a couple of months, as his guest, travelling de luxe and en prince on both trips across the Atlantic. I was sorely tempted to accept his generous invitation to stay with him at his beautiful home on Riverside Drive, New York. The holiday would not have cost me a penny. But personal and business considerations finally decided me not to accept Mr. Gordon's hospitality, and I wrote and told him that I would see him on his next visit to this country.
Mr. Gordon was in London in the spring of 1925 and we had lunch together at the Berkeley Hotel. I pointed out that it was impossible for me to leave England. Much as I appreciated the research work that was waiting to be done in America, I could not possibly sever the ties that bound me to the old country. Moreover, I pointed out, I had made a most satisfactory beginning to reorganise psychical research in England - and had already interested a number of scientists in Stella's phenomena - and that I felt it my duty to remain in London and continue the work I had initiated. As events proved, it was a wise decision.
Mr. Gordon then made the suggestion that I should become
1. Stella C. An Account of Some Original Experiments in Psychical Research, London, 1925.
Foreign Research Officer to the American S.P.R., and I at once accepted the appointment, which was ratified later in New York. It was exactly the sort of post I wanted. The job would take me all over Europe: to the various foreign centres of psychic activity; to those universities interested in psychics and the paranormal; and would put me in contact with fellow-investigators and scientists who were working on the same lines as myself. I should also meet the principal Continental mediums. Also, the publications of the American S.P.R. would be a convenient channel through which I could publicise my own reports and observations on current research work. The appointment was an honorary one, but an allowance of £250 per annum was to be paid me for out-of-pocket and travelling expenses. This sum did not cover the expenditure that I incurred an behalf of the Society, but it helped. It will be convenient if I state here that I kept this appointment for six years, with the most satisfactory results. Then, unfortunately, the Society was influenced by a group of people who were more sympathetic to the spiritualistic and emotional aspect of mediumship, and who were not particularly concerned with the scientific side of it, as I was. The Society more or less adopted 'Margery',(1) the well-known American physical medium, and I am quite sure that they lived to regret it. The alleged mediumship of this lady caused much dissension among the members and staff of the American S.P.R., and in the general upheaval I was informed that the post of Foreign Research Officer was to be abolished, but it was hoped that I would continue to write for the publications of the Society. This was in 1931. The Society lost members and, in 1935, their chief editor, Mr. Frederick Bligh Bond, fell foul of the 'Margery group.' (2) The Board of Trustees relieved him of his post. This was another 'Margery' victim! Unfortunately, Mr. Gordon died before the 'Margery' controversy became acute. Had he lived, the Society would, I am sure, have acted differently. I had a sitting with 'Margery' in 1929, and the proceedings were fraudulent from beginning to end.
One of the first things I did in my capacity of Foreign Research Officer to the American S.P.R. was to persuade prominent European writers to contribute to the Journal of the Society. Such distinguished researchers as Professor F. Cazzamalli, of Milan; Professor Hans Thirring, of Vienna; M. René Sudre, of Paris, Scientific Editor of Le Journal; Professor Christian Winther, of Copenhagen; Dr. R. J. Tillyard, F.R.S.; Dr. C. E. M. Joad; Dr. C. R. Haines, and
1. Who died on November 1, 1941.
2. The American S.P.R. was reorganised in 1941, and is now much more scientific in its outlook.
others. I believe that not one of these contributors ever wrote for the Society after I severed my official connection with it.
I carried out investigations for the American S.P.R. in many European centres, including Munich, Vienna, Graz, Braunau-am-Inn, Berlin, Paris, Innsbruck, Copenhagen, Oslo, Rome, and a score of other places, including, of course, London. References to these inquiries will be found in future chapters. It was enjoyable work and the contacts I made among the scientists and others were valuable to me when I finally established the National Laboratory of Psychical Research. I inspected the principal séance-rooms in various parts of Europe, and I decided to incorporate all that was best in them in my own Laboratory.
When I received the invitation from Mr. J. R. Gordon to join the American S.P.R., I felt that the time was ripe for me to complete my preparations for a National Laboratory, which I intended should be as perfect as money and scientific ingenuity could make it, where every phase of psychic - or alleged psychic - phenomena could be tested by instrumental means.
Actually, the National Laboratory had been established in effect when I conducted the first experiments with Stella C. in March, 1923. But the accommodation at my disposal was then so limited that I could not permanently install the many pieces of apparatus that I deemed necessary. Moreover, the London Spiritualist Alliance were seeking a larger house, and I agreed to wait until they had found a convenient building in the hope that I might rent a portion of the premises from them.
By the spring of 1925 the L.S.A. had found suitable premises in South Kensington. There was ample accommodation for my proposed new organisation, so I decided to call a meeting of persons likely to assist me in putting the Laboratory on a permanent footing. There was no immediate hurry, as the new house would not be ready for occupation until the following Christmas. But as I had decided to make the organisation truly international, I required time in which to arrange for the appointments of the necessary foreign representatives. So I called the meeting for March 25, 1925, at the Royal Societies Club, of which I was a member, in order to formulate plans for the future, draw up a Declaration of Principles, make rules and regulations and prepare a programme for the following winter.
The only other event of importance during the post-War years, in addition to my exposure of William Hope and the classic experiments with Miss Stella C. and Willi Schneider, was my visit to Warsaw as a member of the Second International Congress for Psychical Research, in August, 1923. At that time there were some
remarkable mediums in Poland - home of mediums - and some of these offered to demonstrate to the delegates. In particular, I had seances with Anna Pilch, a young Silesian peasant girl who, clairvoyantly, told me a number of things that had happened to me in past years. Then there was a man who, from the mere spelling of a person's name, was able to duplicate his signature more or less in facsimile. I had sittings with Guzik, one of the cleverest fakers I have ever met, and I also had a sitting with Stanislawa P., another physical medium. Her tricks were rather obvious, and she was completely exposed in Paris a few years later.
One of the most interesting mediums who, in 1923, was demonstrating at Warsaw - which even then showed signs of the battering it had had from the German guns - was Rom-Romano, a local hypnotist and muscle-reader. His feats included doing certain things only thought of by the person who was holding his hand. Similar mental requests were successfully carried out when no contact between the medium (as 'percipient') and audience (as 'agents ') was made. Rom-Romano could, by auto-hypnosis, produce anæsthesia of any part of his body, so that when needles were stuck into him no pain was felt and no blood appeared. He would induce in himself a state of catalepsy for any pre-determined period, during which his pulse would vary from 100 to 200 beats a minute. Then he would do the well-known 'cataleptic bridge' trick across the backs of two chairs, which I referred to in Chapter II. Then he hypnotised a number of persons, who were unable to unclasp their hands until the hypnotist 'released' them by making passes down their arms. Rom-Romano persuaded one man that his nose had been transferred to his knee, and his efforts to 'blow' the latter with his handkerchief were ludicrous in the extreme.
Rom-Romano's 'mental tricks' (for that is all they are) I have seen duplicated by many other vaudeville hypnotists and entertainers, including Marion, Maloïtz, Dr. Gaston Haas of Zurich, Stuart Cumberland, Charles Piaux, Kennedy, and many others. These people are very clever and provide good entertainment. But there is nothing miraculous about their feats.
As for the other Warsaw mediums, I shall have something to say later about little Anna Pilch, and Guzik with his séance 'animals.' I travelled back to London from Warsaw with Dr. L. Haden Guest, M.P., the sociologist, and on the Berlin-Flushing train we met the wife of a man who had had a sitting with Guzik - and had caught him 'helping out' the spirits with the aid of an umbrella! And yet Guzik impressed a number of people, including Sir Oliver Lodge, with his 'phenomena.'
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