DURING the period that elapsed between the inaugural meeting of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research on March 25, 1925, and our taking possession of our rooms in the following December, I arranged for an 'Exhibition of Objects of Psychic Interest' to be held in London. It was the first - and only - exhibition of its kind ever staged in this country.
My connection with the Exhibition arose in a very curious way. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had arranged a lecture tour in Denmark, where he was due in January, 1925. All halls were booked, and complete arrangements had been made for his trip. At the last moment, he informed the Danish organisers that, at a séance, it had been revealed to him that he was not to go to Denmark at this juncture. There were dire 'spirit' threats to his health and other calamities in store for him if he persisted in fulfilling his Scandinavian engagements. So he resolutely declined to go to Denmark, and wrote to Copenhagen to that effect.
The first thing I heard of the séance 'warnings'(1) was in a letter from Copenhagen asking me whether I would take Doyle's place. Although I received such short notice, I agreed to go. I had a number of lantern lectures available, and all I had to do was to pack a bag and make the necessary travelling arrangements. In the letter from Denmark I was informed that a 'psychic exhibition' was to be held, and I was asked to open it.
The Psykisk Udstilling, or psychic exhibition, was held at Copenhagen, in the Metz Tea Rooms in the Østergade, from January 10 to 18, 1925: I did not arrive in the Danish capital until the early evening of the 10th, and after I had shaken off the crowd of reporters and photographers who met me, I managed to get to my hotel, change, have a meal, and arrive at the Metz Tea Rooms by eight o'clock. I formally opened the Exhibition at nine o'clock.
The Exhibition was certainly unique. It was formed by Mr. J. S. Jensen, the President of the Danish Psykisk Oplysnings Forening (Society for the Promotion of Psychic Knowledge), who for years had been accumulating various objects of interest connected with
1. In 1925 Doyle informed us that the spirits had warned him of a cataclysmic disaster of cosmic magnitude that was impending. We were promised a new Armageddon for 1928. Well, the spirits were only eleven years out of their reckoning!
mediums and psychical research. At the close of my Danish tour, in a conversation with Mr. Jensen, it was suggested that we should stage it in England.
When I arrived back in London after a most enjoyable and successful visit, during which I consumed the two best meals I ever had in my life, I at once began to make arrangements for staging the Exhibition in London. I will remark in parentheses that - as a result of a telegram - I had to curtail my visit to Copenhagen and hurry home on important private business, which might have been most serious for me. At the time I could not help thinking of Doyle's 'spirit warnings'!
It had been arranged that the London Spiritualist Alliance should hold a bazaar and fête on May 20 and 21, 1925, at the Caxton Hall, in order to increase their funds, and I thought that it would provide a good opportunity for staging Mr. Jensen's psychic relics. This was agreed to, and arrangements were made for exhibiting other objects of interest that owners of such things were invited to send in.
The Exhibition was an outstanding success. Crowds from the Metropolis and the provinces flocked to see the many thousands of exhibits illustrating the history, literature, and development of psychical research and spiritualism. I do not know how many people visited the Exhibition during the two days its doors were open, but the rooms were uncomfortably crowded most of the time, and nearly £1000 changed hands during the period of the show. Pressmen who came to scoff were spellbound at the - apparent - evidential nature of some of the exhibits, and all agreed that there is in modern psychical research a strong primâ facie case for serious scientific investigation.
Mr. Jensen sent some thousands of objects, mounted on boards that were hung on what are known as 'Spanish walls': i.e. large wooden frames, connected by angle-irons so that they can be adapted to rooms of all sizes.
The Exhibition filled one hall, two rooms, and a gallery - 5000 square feet of exhibition space. Brief descriptions of the articles filled a 36-page Catalogue, that must be unique of its kind, and which will be of some historical interest in years to come.
In a Foreword to the Catalogue I warned visitors that no guarantee could be given that every exhibit was what it purported to be, and I am sure that this point was appreciated. Fraud, folly, and self-deception were writ large on some of the articles sent in by their credulous owners, and it was quite pathetic to listen to the marvellous 'history' of some of the objects.
There were several curious happenings even in the precincts of
the Exhibition itself. I was walking up the main stairs with a gentleman(1) - who, for years, claimed that he was a sort of target for a perfect bombardment of 'apports' (objects spontaneously precipitated into the presence of a medium by paranormal means), that showered upon him at all hours of the day and night, when he gave a start and was struck on the shoe by a safety-pin 'apport.' I picked it up and it felt warm. Apparently it had dropped from the skies!
This gentleman was exhibiting his collection of apports, and they filled a couple of suit-cases. They included golf balls and cigarette cases, and an African native's leather apron that had been forwarded from nowhere, 'by easy stages,' he said, especially for this Exhibition! This same gentleman was once riding in a bus full of people when a French milliner's highly-coloured hat-box, complete with the latest creation from the Rue de la Paix, was 'apported' on to his lap! Unfortunately, the midinette from whom, presumably, the hat-box had been 'lifted,' did not appear. This same man had a similar experience in another bus. Suddenly, a large - and hot - coffee urn materialised on his lap. I have seen both hatbox and urn, so these stories must be true!
There were some remarkable exhibits on view. In the opinion of many, the most interesting of the Copenhagen items were the trance drawings by Josef Kotzian, of Priroz, Czecho-Slovakia. Mr. Kotzian is a medium who produces automatically most wonderful designs of conventional flowers. He uses a lead-pencil only, and his work is indescribably beautiful. Of quite a different type of automatic drawing was that of a couple of cats produced by a woman of weak intellect, who used her right and left hands alternately. It came from the Hague.
The Exhibition was particularly rich in 'spirit' photographs, and Sir A. Conan Doyle sent a large collection, every one of which was, apparently, a fake! Poor, dear, lovable, credulous Doyle!
There was a large collection of 'apports' alleged to have been produced at séances, passing en route through brick walls and closed doors. There was a lock of hair taken from a 'spirit'; drapery cut from a 'materialised' spirit form, that could not be distinguished from cheap cheese-cloth; a wreath of leaves from the Summerland apported to a sitter at a séance; spirit writings and drawings, and autographs of spirits; slate-writings in Greek 'produced' by the conjurer-medium 'Dr.' Slade; portraits of spirit 'guides' and 'controls' executed spontaneously at various séances; spirit writings by 'children' Who had died at birth but who had grown up in the
1. The late Mr. Iltyd B. Nicholl.
celestial spheres; various exhibits connected with mediums, most of whom had been exposed or were exposed later, and so on. It was a pathetic sight to see how some of the visitors took at their face value these 'shocking examples' of fake, credulity, and self-deception. But the Exhibition was of great interest - psychologically - and the genuine exhibits, such as the trance drawings, automatic writings, etc., were worthy of notice. The show was also worth while from the educational and historical points of view, and from this angle it was praised by the Press generally.
In my Foreword to the Exhibition catalogue I expressed my hope that the 'collection might form the nucleus of a permanent exhibition or museum of similar objects.' Sir A. Conan Doyle took the hint, and started a 'psychic museum' in the basement of his Psychic Bookshop opposite Westminster Abbey. The admission was one shilling, and the visitor was under no compulsion to believe all he saw, or was told!
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