THE READER may have gotten the impression from the earlier experiments entered in this journal that Victorian
Britain took these reports from its leading physicist in stride. It is a tribute to
Crookes that he makes small reference to the religious and scientific storm that swirled around him because of his investigations. He was regarded by many as a sort of Jekyll and Hyde, contributing monumental scientific discoveries on the one hand, and on the other, plunging into the depths of irrationalism. But nothing was comparable to the furious response that followed the first reports of his investigations with
Florence Cook and the
Katie King materialization. He and Florence Cook were bitterly attacked. This part of the journal begins with his reply to his critics.
If this criticism had any constructive purpose at all, it was to increase the vigilance of the observers and the numbers of witnesses requested to view and testify to the validity of the phenomena. It made Sir William and his associates more determined than ever to prove beyond doubt the objective reality of Katie King. It was known at this time that Sir William (he wasn't Sir William Crooks yet) was being considered for knighthood, and the outraged members of the scientific community and press militated against the conferring of this honour. They accused him of fraud, and of philandering with Florence Cook. But in 1897 despite the tumultuous controversy, be was knighted by the British Empire. It was a cutting blow to his critics.
Florence Cook (1856-1904) was one of three sisters. At fifteen, having attended a spectacular séance with her mother at the home of a friend, she resolved to be a medium. She had demonstrated abilities before, and with her new determination began to achieve dramatic results. After a few séances, to the utter astonishment of those present, the phantom form of a woman began to appear beside her. The materialization was alarmingly complete and, not surprisingly, Miss Cook was accused of trickery. To demonstrate her honesty she allowed herself to be bound, the knots of the cords were sealed, and she was placed in a tiny niche that restricted her movements. Still the phantom appeared and walked among those present. Word of the phenomenon spread quickly, and it was thus that Florence Cook came to the attention of Sir William Crookes. She was willing to submit to his controls, and they began their three-year series of experiments.
Cesare Lombroso spoke of the phenomenon.
"The case of Katie King, which was for three years under the observation of the most eminent English experimenters, seems to me
free of all suspicion ..."
Marryat, another of the investigators, gave this testimony:
"Katie King stood by the wall of the room, with both arms extended, as if crucified. Three gas jets threw a bright light upon her. The effect was stupefying. She remained so for about one second, then began to disintegrate, her features becoming nebulous, the eyes retreating into their orbits, the nose disappeared, and then the brows, then the limbs seemed to drop apart to the floor. At last only part of the bead and some white garments remained, then all vanished."
At a séance in the home of Mr. Luxmore, a participant without warning seized Katie by the wrist as she moved among them. He cried, "It's the medium!" Suddenly Katie lost her arms and legs. She dissolved in the captor's grasp, leaving no trace. Immediately after this episode, Miss Cook was examined and found still tied with the knots intact.
In an experiment Crookes conducted with Miss Cook, Mr. Tapp,
an assistant, took hold of Katie's wrist. He said of this:
"Her wrist gave way under my grasp like a piece of thin card or paper, and my fingers met through her arm as if it were fluid."
No one knew who Katie King was. She claimed to be the daughter of John King (the spirit contact of yet another medium,
Eusapia Paladino), said she had lived in India, had been married and had slain her two children. None of this information was ever verified, and was of less interest to Sir William and his associates than' establishing her existence as an actual
As the sensational nature of the Katie King phenomena unfolded, and the testimony of credible witnesses plus the nature of the scientific controls were divulged the Episcopal Church entered the picture. Far from doubting the phenomenon, they accepted it as real, and attacked it on scriptural grounds, declaring it to be a positive proof of Satanism. Crookes, his colleagues and witnesses were accused of trafficking with the devil. The press, which had at first supported Crookes in anticipation of his exposure of "spiritist" manifestations, now swung to the popular opinion that Crookes was himself a hoaxster, possibly using the bizarre circumstance of Miss Cook's mediumship as a cover-up for an affair with her.
Actually, to dispose of the situation of Miss Cook's mediumship by explaining it in terms of Sir William's emotional susceptibility to her has its weaknesses. It implies that Sir William, who had heretofore displayed intelligence and discipline in his scientific pursuits, had suddenly become less than reliable. Most important, it does not take into account the objective observations of
Wallace or the highly sophisticated controls that were set up before each séance in the presence of critical witnesses, who also confirmed the reality of the manifestations.
Katie King was photographed many times while the medium was in a trance. The entrance and exit of a second person (an accomplice) was made impossible by the precautions taken. We cannot suppose that these investigators were for three years the witless victims of a trick such as the secret entrance and exit of a confederate working with Miss Cook. This was the first assumption against which precautions were taken. Furthermore, even the most skilled confederate could not dissolve bit by bit before the eyes of creditable witnesses viewing the event in gaslight. Nor could a confederate make her wrist so fluid that a thumb and forefinger could pass through it. Katie King's white robe is typical of ectoplasmic entities.
Schrenck-Notzing, during materialization with another medium, retained a small amount of ectoplasm. On analysis, it was composed of protein, fat and other organic substances. Very likely, it is this ectoplasmic formation that had led to the classic "sheet' which is presumed to enshroud all ghosts.
It might be well at this point to consider the matter of ectoplasm in more detail. The word, invented by Dr.
Charles Richet, is derived from the Greek ektos (without) and plasm (form). Dr. Richet, one of many critical observers of materialization phenomena, states:
"I have clearly seen in conditions of good light, the ectoplasmic forms in the process of organization. Fraud under the conditions imposed was impossible. Rectilinear extensions emerge from the medium's body terminating and acting like a living hand ... at first the ectoplasmic limbs appear thin and stiff. Little by little they thicken, taking the form of more or less solid limbs.
"I personally in good light have seen the first lineaments of ectoplasm emerge as a kind of liquid or pasty jelly from the mouth or the breast of the medium. It organizes itself by degrees into the shape of a face or limb. Under these same conditions of good visibility I have, along with
Schrenck-Notzing, Dr. Geley, Mine. Bisson,
Oliver Lodge, seen this paste spread on my knee and slowly take form so as to show the rudiments, of the radius, cubitus or metacarpal bone whose increasing pressure I could feel on my knee. The ectoplasmic cloud would seem to become living substance while at the same time veils develop around it that conceal the mechanism of its formation into ephemeral living tissue."
A microscopic analysis of a sufficient residue of this ectoplasmic substance was obtained by
Schrenck-Notzing. It indicated epithelial cells, bacterial forms and substantial evidences of fat. It appeared entirely organic in nature, comprising matter equivalent to living tissue.
In the case of Katie King we have the extraordinary extension of the ectoplasmic form into an entity entirely separate from the medium. While this type of materialization is not unique it is, in the matter of documentation, one of the most important on record. We must not forget, however, that in many instances Katie King was a far from perfect materialization, particularly when she appeared only to the waist in the remarkable incident reported at one séance. Mr. Varley had attached a galvanometer to Miss Cook, who was entranced on the sofa, so that any movement by her would be indicated on the galvanometer by a deflection of the needle. But there was no such deflection when Katie King appeared with only the upper part of her body materialized, though Mr. Varley was able to grasp her hand for all to see in the full view of the electric light.
The methods used to preclude fraud were far in excess of anything the average reader might be able to devise. With the aid of Varley and Wallace, Crookes set snares that made Miss Cook a virtual prisoner during the séances, though Sir William refers to them simply as "proper precautions." Reports by Varley go into greater detail. Let's examine the arrangements employed, none of which were ever explained to Miss Cook. First, before any of the controls were set, Miss Cook was inspected by a female member of the investigators to ensure that she had nothing on her person but the clothes she wore. Second, she was then admitted to the library, where she was situated for the duration of the séance, The room was thoroughly searched, the windows were closed and sealed with thread secured by imprinted wax over the knots. The door to the library was then closed, locked and secured in a similar manner. Third, Miss Cook, reposing on the couch, was wired by each wrist with a fragile platinum wire that ran from a battery source to a galvanometer in the laboratory. Any movement of the wire over the skin
surface - or its removal - would change the resistance of the current flow and would be immediately detectable by the galvanometer. In some instances, she was even bound hand and foot with stout cord in addition to these other precautions. Fourth, the curtained entrance to the laboratory was crossed with fine wire, making it impossible to pass through without breaking a circuit connected to another galvanometer. Fifth, the windows and doors to the laboratory were sealed in the same fashion as those in the library, and the room was searched by each investigator.
"The medium was treated like a telegraphic cable. An electric current passed from her right wrist along her arm to her left wrist, as well as another circuit across the door into the laboratory. Despite all this the half-materialized form of Katie King appeared down to the waist only, the remainder of the body being missing or invisible. I held the hand of this strange being, and at the end of the séance, Katie told me to go and awaken the medium. I found Miss Cook entranced as I had left her, and all the wires intact. I then awakened Miss Cook."
In studying the room diagram, the reader may properly ask why the separate room and curtain were necessary to the phenomena; they tend to make the demonstration suspect. The answer to this must be that the arrangement appeared to facilitate the generation of the force. The medium had to feel secure to achieve a trance condition.
Sir William satisfied his misgivings by entering the library with Katie King and seeing both the medium and the apparition together. In order for this to have been possible, the phenomenon must either have been real, or Miss, Cook must have had an accomplice. The latter possibility was ruled out by the precautions taken against just such an eventuality. Further, an accomplice would have been in a fine position eventually to profit handsomely from the exposure of the
hoax - but no such claim has ever come to light.
We are left then, if we do not accept the facts, with one alternative; we must conclude that all the investigators, regardless of their characters and prominence, were co-conspirators in a senseless fraud, the interception of which would have ruined them socially and professionally. It does more violence to one's common sense to believe this than to accept the phenomena as genuine.
To attack Crookes and his associates as frauds leaves much unanswered. How are we to consider his crucial lever experiments done in the presence of distinguished witnesses - was this fraud? Is it reasonable to suppose that after stating that he intended to expose men such as
D. D. Home, Sir William would then resort to chicanery in the presence of skilled observers, and scientifically establish the powers that Home had claimed? What about the accordion experiments - was this mal-observation? Conspiratorial fraud? In the Katie King experiments were Varley and Wallace co-conspirators? If so, what were their reasons?
An examination of the record shows us that:
1) By the nature of the controls and the evidence of photographs and witness testimony, Florence Cook herself could not have produced Katie King fraudulently.
2) These same controls made participation of an accomplice impossible.
3) The premise of fraud requires the cooperation of all who were present. Motivation is not sufficient to support this theory.
4) This narrows the field to Crookes, Varley and Wallace, but there still isn't enough reason to suspect any involvement on the part of Varley and Wallace. (All three of them couldn't have been engaged in an affair with Miss Cook.)
5) This leaves Crookes, but it is still necessary to establish motivation. The only plausible one was a consuming passion for Miss Cook. But Crookes was aware of the insinuations and with the first sproutings of gossip, he saw to it that the supervision of the controls, the processing of the photographs, the inspection of the medium, etc. were all conducted independently of his immediate supervision. His only invariable condition was that unannounced violent action would not be tolerated. Other than this, his collaborators were free to act and impose the most stringent controls.
It is reasonable to assume that his associates we aware of the rumour, and were human enough to keep a watchful eye during the séances to circumvent any involvement in what could, if it were true, explode into a spectacular scandal.
6) If the affair were conducted in the brazen fashion claimed we would have to credit Mrs. Crookes with unsurpassable naiveté. Any woman, no matter how devoted, would make certain such a situation could not exist in her home.
7) And lastly, how do we account for the later sittings of Florence Cook, in which Crookes had no part. These listed are just a few of the hundreds she gave until the time of her death in 1904. In the séances mentioned, the controls were such to preclude the possibility of fraud, but still spectacular phantom forms other than Katie King appeared.
- Sittings under the direction of Prince Emil Sayn Witthenstein (London)
- Sittings under the direction of Professor Robert Friese (London)
- Sittings under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Le Mesurier Taylor (Cheltenham)
- Sittings under the direction of Dr. E. Andreack (Berlin)
- Sittings under the direction of Captain F. N. Bennett (Gloucestershire)
Aside from Sir William Crookes' delightful style, wry humour and dignified restraint in describing even the most astounding occurrences, we can, perhaps, best determine the measure of the man by his address before the British Association, which follows his account of Miss Florence Cook's
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