[This is taken from Arthur Conan Doyle's The History of Spiritualism.]
It is difficult within any reasonable compass to follow the rise of various mediums in the United States, and a study of one or two outstanding cases must typify the whole. The years 1874 and 1875 were years of great psychic activity, bringing conviction to some and scandal to others. On the whole the scandal seems to have predominated, but whether rightly or not is a question which may well be debated. The opponents of psychic truth having upon their side the clergy of the various churches, organized science, and the huge inert bulk of material mankind, had the lay Press at their command, with the result that everything that was in its favor was suppressed or contorted, and everything which could tell against it was given the widest publicity. Hence, a constant checking of past episodes and reassessment of old values are necessary. Even at the present day the air is charged with prejudice. If any man of standing at the present instant were to enter a London newspaper office and say that he had detected a medium in fraud, the matter would be seized upon eagerly and broadcast over the country; while if the same man proclaimed that he had beyond all question satisfied himself that the phenomena were true, it is doubtful if he would get a paragraph. The scale is always heavily weighted. In America, where there is practically no Libel Act, and where the Press is often violent and sensational, this state of things was-and possibly is-even more in evidence.
The first outstanding incident was the mediumship of the Eddy brothers, which has probably never been excelled in the matter of materialization, or, as we may now call them, ectoplasmic forms. The difficulty at that date in accepting such phenomena lay in the fact that they seemed to be regulated by no known law, and to be isolated from all our experiences of Nature. The labors of Geley, Crawford, Madame Bisson, Schrenck Notzing and others have removed this, and have given us, what is at the lowest, a complete scientific hypothesis, sustained by prolonged and careful investigations, so that we can bring some order into the matter. This did not exist in 1874, and we can well sympathize with the doubt of even the most honest and candid minds, when they were asked to believe that two rude farmers, unmannered and uneducated, could produce results which were denied to the rest of the world and utterly inexplicable to science.
The Eddy brothers, Horatio and William, were primitive folk farming a small holding at the hamlet of Chittenden, near Rutland, in the State of Vermont. An observer has described them as “sensitive, distant and curt with strangers, look more like hard-working rough farmers than prophets or priests of a new dispensation, have dark complexions, black hair and eyes, stiff joints, a clumsy carriage, shrink from advances, and make new-comers ill at ease and unwelcome. They are at feud with some of their neighbors and not liked. They are, in fact, under the ban of a public opinion that is not prepared or desirous to study the phenomena as either scientific marvels or revelations from another world.”
The rumors of the strange doings which occurred in the Eddy homestead had got abroad, and raised an excitement similar to that caused by the Koons’s music-room in earlier days. Folk came from all parts to investigate. The Eddys seem to have had ample, if rude, accommodation for their guests, and to have boarded them in a great room with the plaster stripping off the walls and the food as simple as the surroundings. For this board, of course, they charged at a low rate, but they do not seem to have made any profit out of their psychic demonstrations.
A good deal of curiosity had been aroused in Boston and New York by the reports of what was happening, and a New York paper, the Daily Graphic, sent up Colonel Olcott as investigator. Olcott was not at that time identified with any psychic movement-indeed, his mind was prejudiced against it, and he approached his task rather in the spirit of an “exposer.” He was a man of clear brain and outstanding ability, with a high sense of honor. No one can read the very full and intimate details of his own life which are contained in his “Old Diary Leaves” without feeling a respect for the man-loyal to a fault, unselfish, and with that rare moral courage which will follow truth and accept results even when they oppose one’s expectations and desires. He was no mystic dreamer but a very practical man of affairs, and some of his psychic research observations have met with far less attention than they deserve.
Olcott remained for ten weeks in the Vermont atmosphere, which must in itself have been a feat of considerable endurance, with plain fare, hard living and uncongenial hosts. He came away with something very near to personal dislike for his morose entertainers, and at the same time with absolute confidence in their psychic powers. Like every wise investigator, he refuses to give blank certificates of character, and will not answer for occasions upon which he was not present, nor for the future conduct of those whom he is judging. He confines himself to his actual experience, and in fifteen remarkable articles which appeared in the NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC in October and November, 1874, he gave his full results and the steps which he had taken to check them. Reading these, it is difficult to suggest any precaution which he had omitted.
His first care was to examine the Eddy history. It was a good but not a spotless record. It cannot be too often insisted upon that the medium is a mere instrument and that the gift has no relation to character. This applies to physical phenomena, but not to mental, for no high teaching could ever come through a low channel. There was nothing wrong in the record of the brothers, but they had once admittedly given a fake mediumistic show, announcing it as such and exposing tricks. This was probably done to raise the wind and also to conciliate their bigoted neighbors, who were incensed against the real phenomena. Whatever the cause or motive, it naturally led Olcott to be very circumspect in his dealings, since it showed an intimate knowledge of tricks.
The ancestry was most interesting, for not only was there an unbroken record of psychic power extending over several generations, but their grand mother four times removed had been burned as a witch-or at least had been sentenced to that fate in the famous Salem trials of 1692. There are many living now who would be just as ready to take this short way with our mediums as ever Cotton Mather was, but police prosecutions are the modern equivalent. The father of the Eddys was unhappily one of those narrow persecuting fanatics. Olcott declares that the children were marked for life by the blows which he gave them in order to discourage what he chose to look upon as diabolical powers. The mother, who was herself strongly psychic, knew how unjustly this “religious” brute was acting, and the homestead must have become a hell upon earth. There was no refuge for the children outside, for the psychic phenomena used to follow them even into the schoolroom, and excite the revilings of the ignorant young barbarians around them. At home, when young Eddy fell into a trance, the father and a neighbor poured boiling water over him and placed a red-hot coal on his head, leaving an indelible scar. The lad fortunately slept on. Is it to be wondered at that after such a childhood the children should have grown into morose and secretive men?
As they grew older the wretched father tried to make some money out of the powers which he had so brutally discouraged, and hired the children out as mediums. No one has ever yet adequately described the sufferings which public mediums used to undergo at the hands of idiotic investigators and cruel skeptics. Olcott testifies that the hands and arms of the sisters as well as the brothers were grooved with the marks of ligatures and scarred with burning sealing wax, while two of the girls had pieces of flesh pinched out by handcuffs. They were ridden on rails, beaten, fired at, stoned and chased while their cabinet was repeatedly broken to pieces. The blood oozed from their finger-nails from the compression of arteries. These were the early days in America, but Great Britain has little to boast of when one recalls the Davenport brothers and the ignorant violence of the Liverpool mob.
The Eddys seem to have covered about the whole range of physical mediumship. Olcott gives the list thus-rappings, movement of objects, painting in oils and water-colors under influence, prophecy, speaking strange tongues, healing, discernment of spirits, levitation, writing of messages, psychometry, clairvoyance, and finally the production of materialized forms. Since St. Paul first enumerated the gifts of the spirit no more comprehensive list has ever been given.
The method of the séances was that the medium should sit in a cabinet at one end of the room, and that his audience should occupy rows of benches in front of him. The inquirer will probably ask why there should be a cabinet at all, and extended experience has shown that it can, as a matter of fact, be dispensed with save in this particular crowning phenomenon of materialization. Home never used a cabinet, and it is seldom used by our chief British mediums of to-day. There is, however, a very definite reason for its presence. Without being too didactic upon a subject which is still under examination, it may at least be stated, as a working hypothesis with a great deal to recommend it, that the ectoplasmic vapor which solidifies into the plasmic substance from which the forms are constructed can be more easily condensed in a limited space. It has been found, however, that the presence of the medium within that space is not needful. At the greatest materialization séance which the author has ever attended, where some twenty forms of various ages and sizes appeared in one evening, the medium sat outside the door of the cabinet from which the shapes emerged. Presumably, according to the hypothesis, his ectoplasmic vapor was conducted into the confined space, irrespective of the position of his physical body. This had not been recognized at the date of this investigation, so the cabinet was employed.
It is obvious, however, that the cabinet offered a means for fraud and impersonation, so it had to be carefully examined. It was on the second floor, with one small window. Olcott had the window netted with a mosquito curtain fastened on the outside. The rest of the cabinet was solid wood and unapproachable save by the room in which the spectators were sitting. There seems to have been no possible opening for fraud. Olcott had it examined by an expert, whose certificate is given in the book.
Under these circumstances Olcott related in his newspaper articles, and afterwards in his remarkable book, “People from the Other World,” that he saw in the course of ten weeks no fewer than four hundred apparitions appear out of this cabinet, of all sorts, sizes, sexes and races, clad in the most marvelous garments, babies in arms, Indian warriors, gentlemen in evening dress, a Kurd with a nine-foot lance, squaws who smoked tobacco, ladies in fine costumes. Such was Olcott’s evidence, and there was not a statement he made for which he was not prepared to produce the evidence of a roomful of people. His story was received with incredulity then, and will excite little less incredulity now. Olcott, full of his subject and knowing his own precautions, chafed, as all of us chafe, at the criticism of those who had not been present, and who chose to assume that those who were present were dupes and simpletons. He says: “If one tells them of babies being carried in from the cabinet by women, of young girls with lithe forms, yellow hair and short stature, of old women and men standing in full sight and speaking to us, of half-grown children seen, two at a time, simultaneously with another form, of costumes of different makes, of bald heads, grey hair, black shocky heads of hair, curly hair, of ghosts instantly recognized by friends, and ghosts speaking audibly in a foreign language of which the medium is ignorant-their equanimity is not disturbed. The credulity of some scientific men, too, is boundless-they would rather believe that a baby could lift a mountain without levers, than that a spirit could lift an ounce.”
But apart from the extreme skeptic, whom nothing will convince and who would label the Angel Gabriel at the last day as an optical delusion, there are some very natural objections which an honest novice is bound to make, and an honest believer to answer. What about these costumes? Whence come they? Can we accept a nine-foot lance as being a spiritual object? The answer lies, so far as we understand it, in the amazing properties of ectoplasm. It is the most protean substance, capable of being moulded instantly into any shape, and the moulding power is spirit will, either in or out of the body. Anything may in an instant be fashioned from it if the predominating intelligence so decides. At all such séances there appears to be present one controlling spiritual being who marshals the figures and arranges the whole programme. Sometimes he speaks and openly directs. Sometimes he is silent and manifests only by his actions. As already stated, such controls are very often Red Indians who appear in their spiritual life to have some special affinity with physical phenomena.
William Eddy, the chief medium for these phenomena, does not appear to have suffered in health or strength from that which is usually a most exhausting process. Crookes has testified how Home would “lie in an almost fainting condition on the floor, pale and speechless.” Home, however, was not a rude open air farmer, but a sensitive artistic invalid. Eddy seems to have eaten little, but smoked incessantly. Music and singing were employed at the séances, for it has long been observed that there is a close connection between musical vibrations and psychic results. White light also has been found to prohibit results, and this is now explained from the devastating effects which light has been shown to exert upon ectoplasm. Many colors have been tried in order to prevent total darkness, but if you can trust your medium the latter is the most conducive to results, especially to those results of phosphorescent and flashing lights which are among the most beautiful of the phenomena. If a light is used, red is the color which is best tolerated. In the Eddy séances there was a subdued illumination from a shaded lamp.
It would be wearisome to the reader to enter into details as to the various types which appeared in these remarkable gatherings. Madame Blavatsky, who was then an unknown woman in New York, had come up to see the sights. At that time she had not yet developed the theosophical line of thought, and was an ardent Spiritualist. Colonel Olcott and she met for the first time in the Vermont farm-house, and there began a friendship which was destined in the future to lead to strange developments. In her honor apparently a whole train of Russian images appeared, who carried on conversations in that language with the lady. The chief apparitions, however, were a giant Indian named Santum and an Indian squaw named Honto, who materialized so completely and so often that the audience may well have been excused if they forgot sometimes that they were dealing with spirits at all. So close was the contact that Olcott measured Honto on a painted scale beside the cabinet door. She was five feet three. On one occasion she exposed her woman’s breast and asked a lady present to feel the beating of her heart. Honto was a light-hearted person, fond of dancing, of singing, of smoking, and of exhibiting her wealth of dark hair to the audience. Santum, on the other hand, was a taciturn warrior, six feet three in height. The height of the medium was five feet nine.
It is worth noting that the Indian always wore a powder-horn, which had been actually given him by a visitor to the circle. This was hung up in the cabinet and was donned by him when he materialized. Some of the Eddy spirits could speak and others could not, while the amount of fluency varied greatly. This was in accordance with the author’s experience at similar séances. It seems that the returning soul has much to learn when it handles this simulacrum of itself, and that here, as elsewhere, practice goes for much. In speaking, these figures move their lips exactly as human beings would do. It has been shown also that their breath in lime water produces the characteristic reaction of carbon dioxide. Olcott says: “The spirits themselves say that they have to learn the art of self-materialization, as one would any other art.” At first they could only make tangible hands as in the cases of the Davenports, the Foxes, and others. Many mediums never get beyond this stage.
Among the numerous visitors to the Vermont homestead there were naturally some who took up a hostile attitude. None of these, however, seems to have gone into the matter with any thoroughness. The one who attracted most attention was a Dr. Beard, of New York, a medical man, who on the strength of a single sitting contended that the figures were all impersonations by William Eddy himself. No evidence, and only his own individual impression is put forward to sustain this view, and he declared that he could produce all the effects with “three dollars’ worth of theatrical properties.” Such an opinion might well be honestly formed upon a single performance, especially if it should have been a more or less unsuccessful one. But it becomes perfectly untenable when it is compared with the experiences of those who attended a number of sittings. Thus, Dr. Hodgson, of Stoneham, Mass., together with four other witnesses, signed a document: “We certify that Santum was out on the platform when another Indian of almost as great a stature came out, and the two passed and re-passed each other as they walked up and down. At the same time a conversation was being carried on between George Dix, Mayflower, old Mr. Morse, and Mrs. Eaton inside the cabinet. We recognized the familiar voice of each.” There are many such testimonies, apart from Olcott, and they put the theory of impersonation quite out of court. It should be added that many of the forms were little children and babies in arms. Olcott measured one child two feet four in height. It should, in fairness, be added that the one thing which clouds the reader occasionally is Olcott’s own hesitation and reservations. He was new to the subject, and every now and then a wave of fear and doubt would pass over his mind, and he would feel that he had committed himself too far and that he must hedge in case, in some inexplicable way, he should be shown to be in the wrong. Thus, he says: “The forms I saw at Chittenden, while apparently defying any other explanation than that they are of super-sensual origin, are still as a scientific fact to be regarded as ‘not proven.’” Elsewhere he talks about not having “test conditions.”
This expression “test conditions” has become a sort of shibboleth which loses all meaning. Thus, when you say that you have beyond all question or doubt seen your own dead mother’s face before you, the objector replies: “Ah, but was it under test conditions?” The test lies in the phenomenon itself. When one considers that Olcott was permitted for ten weeks to examine the little wooden enclosure which served as cabinet, to occlude the window, to search the medium, to measure and to weigh the ectoplasmic forms, one wonders what else he would demand in order to make assurance complete. The fact is, that while Olcott was writing his account there came the alleged exposure of Mrs. Holmes, and the partial recantation of Mr. Dale Owen, and that this caused him to take these precautions.
It was William Eddy whose mediumship took the form of materializations. Horatio Eddy gave séances of quite a different character. In his case a sort of cloth screen was fixed up, in front of which he used to sit in good light with one of his audience beside him holding his hand. Behind the screen was placed a guitar and other instruments, which presently began to play, apparently of their own accord, while materialized hands showed themselves over the edge of the screen. The general effect of the performance was much the same as that of the Davenport brothers, but it was more impressive, inasmuch as the medium was in full view, and was under control by a spectator. The hypothesis of modern psychic science, founded upon many experiments, especially those of Dr. Crawford, of Belfast, is that invisible bands of ectoplasm, which are rather conductors of force than forcible in themselves, are evolved from the body of the medium and connect up with the object to be manipulated, where they are used to raise it, or to play it, as the unseen power may desire-that unseen power being, according to the present views of Professor Charles Richet, some extension of the personality of the medium, and according to the more advanced school some independent entity. Of this nothing was known at the time of the Eddys, and the phenomena presented the questionable appearance of a whole series of effects without any cause. As to the reality of the fact, it is impossible to read Olcott’s very detailed description without being convinced that there could be no error in that. This movement of objects at a distance from the medium, or TELEKINESIS, to use the modern phrase, is now a rare phenomenon in light, but on one occasion at an amateur circle of experienced Spiritualists the author has seen a large platter-shaped circle of wood in the full light of a candle, rising up on edge and flapping code answers to questions when no one was within six feet of it.
In Horatio Eddy’s dark séances, where the complete absence of light gave the psychic power full scope, Olcott has testified that there were mad Indian war dances with the thudding of a dozen feet, and the wild playing of every instrument simultaneously, accompanied by yells and whoops. “As an exhibition of pure brute force,” he says, “this Indian dance is probably unsurpassed in the annals of such manifestations.” A light turned on would find all the instruments littered about the floor, and Horatio in a deep slumber, without a trace of perspiration, lying unconscious in his chair. Olcott assures us that he and other gentlemen present, whose names he gives, were permitted to sit on the medium, but that within a minute or two all the instruments were playing once again. After such an experiment all further experiences-and there were very many-seem to be beside the point. Short of wholesale and senseless lying on the part of Olcott and the other spectators, there can be no doubt that Horatio Eddy was exercising powers of which science was, and still is, very imperfectly acquainted.
Some of Olcott’s experiments were so definite, and are narrated so frankly and so clearly, that they deserve respectful consideration, and antedate the work of many of our modern researchers. For example, he brought from New York a balance which was duly tested as correct with a published certificate to that effect. He then persuaded one of the forms, the squaw Honto, to stand upon it, the actual weights being recorded by a third person, Mr. Pritchard, who was a reputable citizen and disinterested in the matter. Olcott gives his account of the results, and adds the certificate of Pritchard as sworn to before a magistrate. Honto was weighed four times, standing upon the platform so that she could not ease her weight in any way. She was a woman five feet three in height, and might be expected to register about 135 lb. The four results were actually 88, 58, 58, and 65 lb., all on the same evening. This seems to show that her body was a mere simulacrum which could vary in density from minute to minute. It showed also what was clearly brought out afterwards by Crawford, that the whole weight of the simulacrum cannot be derived from the medium. It is inconceivable that Eddy, who weighed 179 lb., was able to give up 88 of them. The whole circle, according to their capacity, which varies greatly, are called upon to contribute, and other elements may in all probability be drawn from the atmosphere. The highest actual loss of weight ever shown by Miss Goligher in the Crawford experiments was 52 lb., but each member of the circle was shown by the dials on the weighing chairs to have contributed some substance to the building of the ectoplasmic formations.
Colonel Olcott also prepared two spring balances and tested the pulling power of the spirit hands, while those of the medium were held by one of the audience. A left hand pulled with a force of forty lb., and the right hand with fifty in a light which was so good that Olcott could clearly see that the right hand was one finger short. He was already familiar with the assertion of the spirit in question that he had been a sailor and had lost a finger in his lifetime. When one reads of such things the complaint of Olcott that his results were not final, and that he had not perfect test conditions, becomes more and more hard to comprehend. He winds up his conclusions, however, with the words: “No matter how many skeptics carne battering against these granitic facts, no matter what array of ‘exposers’ might blow their tin horns and penny trumpets, that Jericho would stand.”
One observation which Olcott made was that these ectoplasmic forms were quick to obey any mental order from a strong-minded sitter, coming and going as they were willed to do. Other observers in various séances have noted the same fact, and it may be taken as one of the fixed points in this baffling problem.
There is one other curious point which probably escaped Olcott’s notice. The mediums and the spirits who had been fairly amiable to him during his long visit turned suddenly very acid and repellent. This change seems to have occurred just after the arrival of Madame Blavatsky, with whom Olcott had struck up a close comradeship. Madame was, as stated, an ardent Spiritualist at the time, but it is at least possible that the spirits may have had foresight, and that they sensed danger from this Russian lady. Her theosophical teachings which were put forward in a year or two were to take the shape that, although the phenomena were real, the spirits were empty astral shells, and had no true life of their own. Whatever the true explanation, the change in the spirits was remarkable. “So far from the importance of my labor being recognized and all reasonable facilities afforded, I was kept constantly at a distance, as though I were an enemy instead of an unprejudiced observer.”
Colonel Olcott narrates many cases where the sitters have recognized spirits, but too much stress should not be laid upon this, as with a dim light and an emotional condition it is easy for an honest observer to be mistaken. The author has had the opportunity of gazing into the faces of at least a hundred of these images, and he can only recall two cases in which he was absolutely certain in his recognition. In both these cases the faces were self-illuminated, and he had not to depend upon the red lamp. There were two other occasions when, with the red lamp, he was morally certain, but in the vast majority of cases it was possible, if one allowed one’s imagination to work, to read anything into the vague moulds which rose before one. It is likely that this occurred in the Eddy circle-indeed, C. C. Massey, a very competent judge, sitting with the Eddys in 1875, complained of the fact. The real miracle consisted not in the recognition but in the presence of the figure at all.
There can be no doubt that the interest aroused by the Press accounts of the Eddy phenomena might have caused a more serious treatment of psychic science, and possibly advanced the cause of truth by a generation. Unhappily, at the very moment when the public attention was strongly drawn to the subject there came the real or imaginary scandal of the Holmeses at Philadelphia, which was vigorously exploited by the materialists, helped by the exaggerated honesty of Robert Dale Owen. The facts were as follows:
Two mediums in Philadelphia, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Holmes, had given a series of séances at which an alleged spirit had continually appeared, which took the name of Katie King, and professed to be the same as that with which Professor Crookes had experimented in London. On the face of it the assertion seemed most doubtful since the original Katie King had clearly stated that her mission was ended. However, apart from the identity of the spirit, there seemed to be good evidence that the phenomenon was genuine and not fraudulent, for it was most fully endorsed by Mr. Dale Owen, General Lippitt, and a number of other observers, who quoted personal experiences which were entirely beyond the reach of imposture.
There was in Philadelphia at the time a Dr. Child, who plays a very ambiguous part in the obscure events which followed. Child had vouched for the genuine character of these phenomena in the most pronounced way. He had gone so far as to state in a pamphlet published in 1874 that the same John and Katie King, whom he had seen in the séance room, had come to him in his own private offices and had there dictated particulars of their earth life which he duly published. Such a statement must raise grave doubts in the mind of any psychic student, for a spirit form can only manifest from a medium, and there is no indication that Child was one. In any case one would imagine that, after such an assertion, Child was the last man in the world who could declare that the séances were fraudulent.
Great public interest had been aroused in the séances by an article by General Lippitt in the Galaxy of December, 1874, and another by Dale Owen in the ATLANTIC MONTHLY of January, 1875. Then suddenly came the crash. It was heralded by a notice from Dale Owen, dated January 5, to the effect that evidence had been laid before him which compelled him to withdraw his previous expressions of confidence in the Holmeses. A similar card was issued by Dr. Child. Writing to Olcott, who after his Eddy investigation was recognized as an authority, Dale Owen said: “I believe they have been latterly playing us false, which may be only supplementing the genuine with the spurious, but it does cast a doubt on last summer’s manifestations, so that I shall probably not use them in my next book on Spiritualism. It is a loss, but you and Mr. Crookes have amply made it up.”
Dale Owen’s position is clear enough, since he was a man of sensitive honor, who was horrified at the idea that he could for one instant have certified an imposture to be a truth. His error seems to have lain in acting upon the first breath of suspicion instead of waiting until the facts were clear. Dr. Child’s position is, however, more questionable, for if the manifestations were indeed fraudulent, how could he possibly have had interviews with the same spirits alone in his own private room?
It was asserted now that a woman, whose name was not given, had been impersonating Katie King at these séances, that she had allowed her photograph to be taken and sold as Katie King, that she could produce the robes and ornaments worn by Katie King at the séances, and that she was prepared to make a full confession. Nothing could appear to be more damning and more complete. It was at this point that Olcott took up the investigation, and he seems to have been quite prepared to find that the general verdict was correct.
His investigation soon revealed some facts, however, which threw fresh lights upon the matter and proved that psychic research in order to be accurate should examine “exposures” with the same critical care that it does phenomena. The name of the person who confessed that she had personated Katie King was revealed as Eliza White. In an account of the matter which she published, without giving the name, she declared that she had been born in 1851, which would make her twenty-three years of age. She had married at fifteen and had one child eight years old. Her husband had died in 1872, and she had to keep herself and child. The Holmeses had come to lodge with her in March, 1874. In May they engaged her to personate a spirit. The cabinet had a false panel at the back through which she could slip, clad in a muslin robe. Mr. Dale Owen was invited to the séances and was completely taken in. All this caused violent twinges of her own conscience which did not prevent her from going to greater lengths and learning to fade away or re-form by the help of black cloths, and finally, of being photographed as Katie King.
One day, according to her account, there came to her performance a man named Leslie, a railroad contractor. This gentleman showed his suspicions, and at a subsequent interview taxed her with her deceit, offering her pecuniary aid if she would confess to it. This she accepted, and then showed Leslie the methods of her impersonation. On December 5, a mock séance was held at which she rehearsed her part as played in the real séances, and this so impressed Dale Owen and also Dr. Child, both of whom were present, that they issued the notices in which they recanted their former belief-a recantation which was a staggering blow to those who had accepted Dale Owen’s previous assurances, and who now claimed that he should have made some thorough investigation before issuing such a document. It was the more painful as Dale Owen was seventy-three years of age, and had been one of the most eloquent and painstaking of all the disciples of the new dispensation.
Olcott’s first task was to sift the record already given, and to get past the anonymity of the authoress. He soon discovered that she was, as already stated, Mrs. Eliza White, and that, though in Philadelphia, she refused to see him. The Holmeses, on the other hand, acted in a very open manner towards him and offered him every facility for examining their phenomena with such reasonable test conditions as he might desire. An examination of the past life of Eliza White showed that her statement, so far as it concerned her own story, was a tissue of lies. She was very much older than stated-not less than thirty-five-and it was doubtful whether she had ever been married to White at all. For years she had been a vocalist in a traveling show. White was still alive, so there was no question of widowhood. Olcott published the certificate of the Chief of the Police to that effect.
Among other documents put forward by Colonel Olcott was one from a Mr. Allen, Justice of the Peace of New Jersey, given under oath. Eliza White, according to this witness, was “so untruthful that those to whom she spoke never knew when to believe her, and her moral reputation was as bad as bad could be.” Judge Allen was able, however, to give some testimony which bore more directly upon the matter under discussion. He deposed that he had visited the Holmeses in Philadelphia, and had assisted Dr. Child to put up the cabinet, that it was solidly constructed, and that there was no possibility of any entrance being effected from behind, as alleged by Mrs. White. Further, that he was at a séance at which Katie King appeared, and that the proceedings had been disturbed by the singing of Mrs. White in another room, so that it was quite impossible that Mrs. White could, as she claimed, have acted an impersonation of the spirit. This being a sworn deposition by a justice of the Peace would seem to be a weighty piece of evidence.
This cabinet seems to have been made in June, for General Lippitt, an excellent witness, described quite another arrangement on the occasion when he experimented. He says that two doors folded backwards, so as to touch each other, and the cabinet was simply the recess between these doors with a board over the top. “The first two or three evenings I made a careful examination, and once with a professional magician, who was perfectly satisfied that there was no chance of any trick.” This was in May, so the two descriptions are not contradictory, save to Eliza White’s claim that she could pass into the cabinet.
In addition to these reasons for caution in forming an opinion, the Holmeses were able to produce letters written to them from Mrs. White in August, 1874, which were quite incompatible with there being any guilty secret between them. On the other hand, one of these letters did relate that efforts had been made to bribe her into a confession that she had been Katie King. Later in the year Mrs. White seems to have assumed a more threatening tone, as is sworn by the Holmeses in a formal affidavit, when she declared that unless they paid a rent which she claimed, there were a number of gentlemen of wealth, including members of the Young Men’s Christian Association, who were ready to pay her a large sum of money, and she need not trouble the Holmeses any more. A thousand dollars was the exact sum which Eliza White was to get if she would consent to admit that she impersonated Katie King. It must surely be conceded that this statement, taken in conjunction with the woman’s record, makes it very essential to demand corroboration for every assertion she might make.
One culminating fact remains. At the very hour that the bogus séance was being held at which Mrs. White was showing how Katie King was impersonated, the Holmeses held a real séance, attended by twenty people, at which the spirit appeared the same as ever. Colonel Olcott collected several affidavits from those who were present on this occasion, and there can be no doubt about the fact. That of Dr. Adolphus Fellger is short, and may be given almost in full. He says under oath that “he has seen the spirit known as Katie King in all perhaps eighty times, is perfectly familiar with her features, and cannot mistake as to the identity of the Katie King who appeared upon the evening of December 5, for while the said spirit scarcely ever appeared of exactly the same height or features two evenings in succession, her voice was always the same, and the expression of her eyes, and the topics of her conversation enabled him to be still more certain of her being the same person.” This Fellger was a well-known and highly respected Philadelphia physician, whose simple word, says Olcott, would outweigh “a score of affidavits of your Eliza Whites.”
It was also clearly shown that Katie King appeared constantly when Mrs. Holmes was at Blissfield and Mrs. White was in Philadelphia, and that Mrs. Holmes had written to Mrs. White describing their successful appearances, which seems a final proof that the latter was not a confederate.
By this time one must admit that Mrs. White’s anonymous confession is shot through and through with so many holes that it is in a sinking condition. But there is one part which, it seems to the author, will still float. That is the question of the photograph. It was asserted by the Holmeses in an interview with General Lippitt-whose word is a solid patch in this general quagmire-that Eliza White was hired by Dr. Child to pose in a photograph as Katie King. Child seems to have played a dubious part all through this business, making affirmations at different times which were quite contradictory, and having apparently some pecuniary interest in the matter. One is inclined, therefore, to look seriously into this charge, and to believe that the Holmeses may have been party to the fraud. Granting that the Katie King image was real, they may well have doubted whether it could be photographed, since dim light was necessary for its production. On the other hand, there was clearly a source of revenue if photographs at half a dollar each could be sold to the numerous sitters. Colonel Olcott in his book produces a photograph of Mrs. White alongside of the one which was supposed to be Katie King, and claims that there is no resemblance. It is clear, however, that the photographer would be asked to touch up the negative so as to conceal the resemblance, otherwise the fraud would be obvious. The author has the impression, though not the certainty, that the two faces are the same with just such changes as manipulation would produce. Therefore he thinks that the photograph may well be a fraud, but that this by no means corroborates the rest of Mrs. White’s narrative, though it would shake our faith in the character of Mr. and Mrs. Holmes as well as of Dr. Child. But the character of physical mediums has really only an indirect bearing upon the question of the reality of their psychic powers, which should be tested upon their own merits whether the individual be saint or sinner.
Colonel Olcott’s wise conclusion was that, as the evidence was so conflicting, he would put it all to one side and test the mediums in his own way with out reference to what was past. This he did in a very convincing way, and it is impossible for anyone who reads his investigation (“ People From the Other World,” p. 460 and onwards) to deny that he took every possible precaution against fraud. The cabinet was netted at the sides so that no one could enter as Mrs. White claimed to have done. Mrs. Holmes was herself put into a bag which tied round the neck and, as her husband was away, she was confined to her own resources. Under these circumstances numerous heads were formed, some of which were semi-materialized, presenting a somewhat terrible appearance. This may have been done as a test, or it may have been that the long contention had impaired the powers of the medium. The faces were made to appear at a level which the medium could in no case have reached. Dale Owen was present at this demonstration and must have already begun to regret his premature declaration.
Further séances with similar results were then held in Olcott’s own rooms, so as to preclude the possibility of some ingenious mechanism under the control of the medium. On one occasion, when the head of John King, the presiding spirit, appeared in the air, Olcott, remembering Eliza White’s assertion that these faces were merely ten cent masks, asked and obtained permission to pass his stick all round it, and so satisfied himself that it was not supported. This experiment seems so final that the reader who desires even more evidence may be referred to the book where he will find much. It was perfectly clear that whatever part Eliza White may have played in the photograph, there was not a shadow of a doubt that Mrs. Holmes was a genuine and powerful medium for material phenomena. It should be added that the Katie King head was repeatedly seen by the investigators, though the whole form appears only once to have been materialized. General Lippitt was present at these experiments and associated himself publicly (Banner of LIGHT, February 6, 1875) with Olcott’s conclusions.
The author has dwelt at some length upon this case, as it is very typical of the way in which the public has been misled over Spiritualism. The papers are full of an “exposure.” It is investigated and is shown to be either quite false or very partially true. This is not reported, and the public is left with the original impression uncorrected. Even now, when one mentions Katie King, one hears some critic say: “Oh, she was shown to be a fraud in Philadelphia,” and by a natural confusion of thought this has even been brought as an argument against Crookes’s classical experiments. The affair-especially the temporary weakening of Dale Owen-set the cause of Spiritualism back by many years in America.
Mention has been made of John King, the presiding spirit at the Holmes séances. This strange entity would appear to have been the chief controller of all physical phenomena in the early days of the movement, and is still occasionally to be seen and heard. His name is associated with the Koons’s music saloon, with the Davenport brothers, with Williams in London, with Mrs. Holmes, and many others. In person when materialized he presents the appearance of a tall, swarthy man with a noble head and a full black beard. His voice is loud and deep, while his rap has a decisive character of its own. He is master of all languages, having been tested in the most out-of-the-way tongues, such as Georgian, and never having been found wanting. This formidable person controls the bands of lesser primitive spirits, Red Indians and others, who assist at such phenomena. He claims that Katie King is his daughter, and that he was himself when in life Henry Morgan, the buccaneer who was pardoned and knighted by Charles II and ended as Governor of Jamaica. If so, he has been a most cruel ruffian and has much to expiate. The author is bound to state, however, that he has in his possession a contemporary picture of Henry Morgan (it will be found in Howard Pyle’s “Buccaneers,” p. 178), and that if reliable it has no resemblance to John King. All these questions of earthly identity are very obscure.
Before closing the account of Olcott’s experiences at this stage of his evolution, some notice should be taken of the so-called Compton transfiguration case, which shows what deep waters we are in when we attempt psychic research. These particular waters have not been plumbed yet, nor in any way charted. Nothing can be clearer than the facts, or more satisfactory than the evidence. The medium Mrs. Compton was shut up in her small cabinet, and thread passed through the bored holes in her ears and fastened to the back of her chair. Presently a slim white figure emerged from the cabinet. Olcott had a weighing platform provided, and on it the spirit figure stood. Twice it was weighed, the records being 77 lb. and 59 lb. Olcott then, as prearranged, went into the cabinet leaving the figure outside. The medium was gone. The chair was there, but there was no sign of the woman. Olcott then turned back and again weighed the apparition, who this time scaled 52 lb. The spirit then returned into the cabinet from which other figures emerged.
Finally, Olcott says:
I went inside with a lamp and found the medium just as I left her at the beginning of the séance, with every thread unbroken and every seal undisturbed! She sat there, with her head leaning against the wall, her flesh as pale and as cold as marble, her eyeballs turned up beneath the lids, her forehead covered with a death-like damp, no breath coming from her lungs and no pulse at her wrist. When every person had examined the threads and seals, I cut the flimsy bonds with a pair of scissors, and, lifting the chair by its back and seat, carried the cataleptic woman out into the open air of the chamber.
She lay thus inanimate for eighteen minutes; life gradually coming back to her body, until respiration and pulse and the temperature of her skin became normal. I then put her upon the scale. She weighed one hundred and twenty-one pounds!
What are we to make of such a result as that? There were eleven witnesses besides Olcott himself. The facts seem to be beyond dispute. But what are we to deduce from such facts? The author has seen a photograph, taken in the presence of an amateur medium, where every detail of the room has come out but the sitter has vanished. Is the disappearance of the medium in some way analogous to that? If the ectoplasmic figure weighed only 77 lb. and the medium 121 lb., then it is clear that only 44 lb. of her were left when the phantom was out. If 44 lb. were not enough to continue the processes of life, may not her guardians have used their subtle occult chemistry in order to dematerialize her and so save her from all danger until the return of the phantom would enable her to reassemble? It is a strange supposition, but it seems to meet the facts-which cannot be done by mere blank, unreasoning incredulity.
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