Whenever Harry Price spoke or wrote about Stella, the girl-medium he had discovered, a note of affection and pride crept in. In some ways he considered her as the daughter he never had. It is the dream of every psychical investigator to discover a medium all by himself, to develop and test her according to his own ideas and then present her and her results to the world. And Stella C. came into Price's life when he was getting weary of fraudulent mediums.
He has told us how one day, in 1923, he was travelling home from London to his Pulborough home and found himself opposite a young woman, "a typical English girl with a charming personality and more than her share of good looks." Price had a pile of newspapers and magazines at his side. Stella had apparently exhausted her reading matter. He offered her his evening paper, which she refused - but asked whether she could have a look at the copy of Light which he had also bought.
Harry Price asked her whether she was interested in psychical matters. Stella replied that it was a purely objective, academic interest - but certain things had happened in her presence for some years which had puzzled her. Perhaps two or three times a year there were sudden strong breezes in the room though the weather was quite calm or the windows closed. Small objects seemed to move by their own volition. There were raps and occasional flashes of light. She added that the "breezes" nearly always occurred when there were flowers near her. She was passionately fond of flowers. Sometimes she sat writing or reading at a table bearing a vase of flowers - and suddenly a strong but gentle breeze would sweep across the room, bending the flowers and fanning her cheek.
There were strange, telekinetic phenomena as well. Sometimes, when Stella was about to touch a box of matches, the box would suddenly jerk itself away from her as if it had been flicked by the finger. Raps occurred on her bedstead and in various parts of the room. The rarest of the phenomena were the "lights." On two or three occasions she had been mildly startled by slight percussive sounds, accompanied by blue flashes.
All this seemed to have little or no effect on Stella. She thought them strange, but she felt little concern about them and she had no idea of their real significance. She had attended only one sťance in her life at the age of eleven - and then had to be removed from it because of a fit of uncontrollable giggling.
Harry Price listened to her story with deep interest and mounting excitement. He was convinced almost at once that he had made a real discovery - that Stella C. was a great potential medium. It had always been his ambition to secure a medium before the full development of her psychical faculties had taken place, to watch the growth of the phenomena and direct the "emanations into predetermined channels for experimental purposes." He did not find it difficult to persuade Stella to co-operate.
As a matter of fact, during the three series of sittings they held in 1923, 1926 and 1928 (one of these was under the control of Lord Charles Hope), he found her the most tractable and co-operative medium he had ever encountered. True, she did not feel enthusiastic about the whole business. Again and again Harry Price had to coax her gently to take up her work, and she broke many appointments. But once she came to the sťance room she did exactly as she was requested, made no comments - in fact she hardly spoke - and once she entered the trance state she merely relapsed into unconsciousness and gradually sank into the arms of the hospital matron Price had engaged to be at hand. But the trances took a good deal out of her - her respiration was weak, her hands icy cold - and after a while she refused to have more than one a week.
Price formed a circle of sitters and the sťances began on March 22, 1923. The very first time they obtained a remarkable set of phenomena. They discovered that Stella had a control called "Palma" - apparently an "intelligent entity" which followed requests and moved a heavy oak table in accordance with the directions given to it. Another remarkable feature of the sťance was a rapid drop in temperature.
Perhaps the most successful sitting of all was that on April 12, 1923. Curious movements of the table were observed, and answers were obtained by raps to questions. About half-way through the sťance, Stella became very sleepy. At the questions of one of the sitters, Miss Phillimore, she suddenly proceeded to describe a newspaper - the front page of the Daily Mail with the date "May 19, 1923" clearly visible. She could also see in large letters the name "Andrew Salt." In addition she had a "sensation" of seeing a boy falling, and a man who appeared to be a doctor bending over him and pouring a white powder from a bottle or tin which he was giving the boy. The details, like all the particulars of every sťance, were duly recorded, but nothing was done about this 'vision.' Then, thirty-seven days after the sitting, the Daily Mail appeared, carrying on its front page a large advertisement for Andrews Liver Salts.
Harry Price enumerated ten definite points in which Stella's remarkable prediction was correct: (1) The Daily Mail, (2) the date, (3) the name of the company - at the sťance it was thought that it referred to a man named "Andrew Salt" whom nobody knew among the sitters, (4) the name of the article, (5) the "large letters," (6) the boy, (7) the "falling" or "letting fall" - the illustration accompanying the advertisement showed a small boy spilling some liver salt, (8) the "tin," (9) the "white powder," (10) the "being poured out." Price added an eleventh verification: the suggestion of a "doctor" standing behind the boy looked very much like a symbolic visualisation of the medical nature of the article advertised.
Of course, Harry Price took immediate steps to investigate the circumstances of this strange event. The Andrews people told him that they had prepared the advertisement after the date of the sťance. As a fact, it was substituted fairly late for another layout they had intended to use. Their advertising department was in the North. Stella never had any contact with them and knew nothing of Andrews Liver Salts or newspapers. "The affair created very considerable interest in the Daily Mail office," Harry Price related, " and I believe they held an editorial council concerning what action should be taken in the matter. The editor wrote me that he was 'quite convinced by the evidence submitted,' but if he were to have the case written up, ninety per cent of his readers would put it down as an 'advertising dodge."'
It was one of the strange, inconclusive, mysterious incidents that crop up now and then in psychical research - tantalising and baffling because it seems to be without purpose. But it was only one incident in the long series of sittings. All through April, May and June the sťances continued and the results were most interesting and convincing. Now and then Stella became too exhausted and even a little frightened by her own powers. "I felt so very queer last evening," she wrote to Price in June, 1923, "that I paid another visit to the doctor. He has advised me to rest for a day or two." But she continued the sťances. In July, 1923, there was some discussion of her going to America under the auspices of the Scientific American and Price tried to find her a suitable companion as he could not go himself. He also approached a number of hospitals to get Stella a position as a nurse. The American trip came to nothing. Stella obtained a job and decided to drop her psychical work for the time being. Harry Price did not try to force or over-persuade her. In October, 1923, the first series of sťances ended.
However, in December, 1925, he met her again and a month later Stella agreed to sit for a new series. Control was tightened and improved; yet the phenomena continued to be almost as brilliant as during the firat series. Dr. R. J. Tillyard, F.R.S., the chief entomologist to the Australian Government, who had co-operated with Harry Price in various investigations, conducted a special test sťance at which only he, his wife and Stella were present. Raps and telekinetic movements were observed and a lowering of temperature was noted. Dr. Tillyard was greatly impressed, and in a long article which he contributed to Nature expressed the opinion that Stella's powers were genuine and deserved the most careful scientific investigation. Stella herself wrote to Price just before the sittings began again:
But though Harry Price had been sorry to let her go in 1923, he bore her no grudge and was genuinely happy to see her come back. The sťances went on till August, 1926, when Stella cried off again. However, she resumed for a third series in March, 1928. Professor Julian Huxley, Dr. E. B. Strauss and Professor E. N. da C. Andrade were among the sitters and many brilliant phenomena were obtained. But Stella was engaged, and as her marriage was approaching she felt she could not go on. She was busy house-hunting, and she was not really interested. These were the last sittings Harry Price had with her. To-day Stella is happily married and out of psychical research, though it is hoped to bring her back into it again.
Her mediumship was remarkable for many things quite apart from the phenomena she produced. She never dreamt of becoming a professional medium and had little interest in occult things. She had never been accused of cheating. She was one of the very few mediums in whose genuineness all the people who sat with her believed without reservations. She never turned temperamental, did not demand any special ritual, and made no stipulations. She gave Harry Price the first experience of mediumship tested under his conditions. The book he wrote about her in 1925 covered only the first series of sittings, but he reported on the later experiments in various papers and devoted chapters to her in his various books.
Perhaps no piece of research which he conducted was so much appreciated and so fully accepted as his work with Stella C. While with Rudi Schneider and Eleanora Zugun he had to endure many attacks and fight a good many battles, Stella's personality and achievements disarmed the most exacting critics. Harry Price's detailed report was published in America, France and Germany almost simultaneously. When his book appeared, it was reviewed widely and appreciatively. Stella C. brought him the first serious success in psychical research, and he remained grateful to her to the end of his life.
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