Science and the Medium: The Climax of a Famous Investigation

[THE case of ‘Margery,’ a subject of widespread comment during the past year, offers unusual opportunity for the application of scientific method to study of supernormal phenomena. The article which follows seems to the Atlantic to deserve attentive reading. ‘Margery’ is the name familiarly given in spiritualistic circles to the wife of a prominent Boston surgeon, Mrs. L. R. G. Crandon, who apparently developed mediumistic powers about three years ago. According to Dr. and Mrs. Crandon, ‘Walter,’ the spirit of the medium’s deceased brother, is the so-called ‘control’ or communicator in the spirit world, endeavoring to get messages ‘through.’ He is credited by them with producing telekinesis, or movement of objects without visible contact, as well as with giving utterance to a voice independent of that of the medium, and with producing other supernormal phenomena, such as ectoplasm — or, more accurately, teleplasm — the visible ‘stuff’ of materialization. It should be borne in mind that since the beginning of her mediumship Mrs. Crandon has never been known to receive any material reward whatsoever for her powers.

In April 1924, in response to an invitation from Margery, a committee was appointed by the Scientific American which undertook to investigate her, and did so in a series of some ninety sittings. This committee was composed of Dr. William MacDougall, Professor of Psychology at Harvard, Dr. Walter F. Prince, Dr. Daniel Comstock, Mr. Hereward Carrington, and Mr. Harry Houdini, known to many of our readers in a very different sphere of human activity.

The investigation was not satisfactory. A verdict was rendered of ‘super-normality not proved.’ Specifically, Dr. Comstock found the evidence scientifically inadequate. Dr. Prince and Dr. MacDougall agreed with Dr. Comstock and further maintained that there had been much to indicate normal production. Mr. Houdini, on what seemed to many people inadequate ground, charged deliberate and conscious fraud. Mr. Carrington definitely pronounced in favor of super-normality, and Mr. J. Malcolm Bird, secretary of the committee, wrote a book in which he defended the same position.

In December 1924, Mr. Eric Dingwall, research officer for the English Society of Psychical Research, came to America, studied the case for about six weeks, and was very favorably impressed. However, he reserved his final pronouncement until he could examine the phenomena in his London laboratory. Finally, further investigation was made under rigorous scientific conditions, of which the following gives a detailed and accurate account. — THE EDITORS]


MY serious interest in psychic research dates only from last winter, and was excited primarily through various indirect contacts with the Margery case. I was first, introduced to Dr. and Mrs. Crandon by Mr. Foster Damon during the latter part of Mr. Dingwall’s visit, and by good fortune was invited to attend several séances in company with four friends from the Harvard English Department, who had known the Crandons for some months. My attitude at the time was highly skeptical regarding the supernormal character of the phenomena, in spite of the fact that both Dr. and Mrs. Crandon seemed to be in every way most sincere in their belief. These sittings took place in the Crandons’ séance-room at 10 Lime Street, Boston.

It was customary for guests to arrive at the house about an hour before the séance began. Dr. Crandon especially desired new sitters to come early so that he could talk to them about the case, outline its development, and prepare them for the evening’s phenomena. In this connection the visitor was shown numerous photographs and a cast of Walter’s psychic hand. Dr. Crandon’s large library on occultism was also at his disposal, and material from the literature was often referred to. Prior to the sitting, Mrs. Crandon was in and out of the room, retiring about fifteen minutes beforehand in order to put on the customary bathrobe and slippers.

On entering the séance-room on the top floor of the house, the visitors were generally urged to make an examination of the place. They were then seated and arranged by the Doctor, the victrola was started, and the lights were turned out. The purpose of this victrola, according to Walter, was to soothe and calm the sitters, and to prevent nervous tension. It took, on an average, seven minutes for Walter to manifest himself, and during that time conversation was carried on in low tones, dealing with Walter’s exploits and the phenomena to be expected. Mrs. Crandon was usually advised by her husband not to talk, since her quiet seemed to speed Walter’s coming. Dr. Crandon invariably sat at Mrs. Crandon’s right, and newcomers were placed at her left. Mrs. Crandon wore luminously painted elastic bands on her ankles and a luminous tape on her forehead, and these were conspicuously visible. Sometimes during the phenomena Dr. Crandon would give the psychic’s right hand to the member of the group sitting on his right, along with both of his hands. In addition, he would place this observer’s hands in his lap and his head on the observer’s shoulder so that all of his bodily extremities were controlled. On certain other occasions, the circle between Dr. and Mrs. Crandon would be broken entirely, the observer on Mrs. Crandon’s left holding both of her hands while the one on the Doctor’s right held both of his hands. These two methods were called double control and, at later sittings when both the Crandons wore luminous marks on head, wrists, and ankles, consisted of tactual control of Dr. Crandon’s head, hands, and knees and Mrs. Crandon’s hands, and visual control of their heads, hands, and feet by way of the luminous bands. However, as stated before, at these early sittings the only luminous controls were on the medium’s head and ankles.

Walter’s first manifestation was usually in the form of a whistle, followed by his voice, a hoarse whisper, coming from the direction of the cabinet, a simple three-sided board structure forming a sort of alcove in which the medium sat. From this stage on, Walter was master of ceremonies, dictating the nature of the phenomena he would produce and the time to assume the double control described above. However, he was most obliging to us and would comply with requests for phenomena within his repertory for the evening. Small luminous objects were levitated from the low séance-table in front of the medium and moved rapidly through the air within a radius of several feet of her, theoretically by armlike processes of teleplasm sprouting from the medium’s body. Luminous objects were even picked up from the floor and lifted two or three feet above the table-top. Furthermore, fingerlike processes were frequently visible silhouetted against these luminous objects. During the sittings Mrs. Crandon was apparently quite normal, and she sometimes took part in the conversation.

Though the Crandons have always maintained that the Walter voice was distinct from that of the medium, I never saw supporting evidence for this. The only time that the voice seemed to travel about the room was when a small nonluminous megaphone was obviously used to make it appear to do so. This megaphone voice was never observed to occur under the double control mentioned above, and it functioned only when the Crandon link was uncontrolled. Furthermore, on one occasion, when Mrs. Crandon’s headband was unusually bright, we observed its reflection on the megaphone directly in front of Mrs. Crandon’s face. It was also observed that the intensity of the Walter voice correlated precisely with the position of a line connecting the headband and its reflection, leading one to infer that the megaphone was reflecting light cast by the headband as it was held to the medium’s mouth. However, the Crandons’ interpretation of the megaphone, as given by Walter, was that Walter used it to talk through for amplification purposes and, since his teleplasm ic voice apparatus was made and suspended from near Mrs. Crandon’s face, he preferred to hold the megaphone in this position. Furthermore, this megaphone could not be luminously painted, as was the one used for levitation, because the light would tend to cause his voice-making apparatus to disintegrate — it being especially sensitive to light because of its necessary delicacy. On all other occasions when the megaphone was not used, the Walter voice, as a hoarse whisper, came directly from the medium, as near as I could judge, and, though differing in certain qualities, resembled her own in many respects.

The Crandons welcomed our criticisms and suggestions, and several of us were quite frank in our skepticism. We pointed out to them the futility of trying to prove the truth of their hypothesis to the scientific world as long as they insisted on conducting the séances in their own house with so many of the conditions preëstablished. We felt it necessary to put the investigation on a laboratory basis, and consequently suggested to the Crandons that they should go over to the psychological laboratory at Harvard for sittings. They readily acquiesced in this arrangement.


Since from this time forth our investigation took on a more serious aspect, it would be well to describe our method of procedure. In the first place let us deal with the conditions imposed on us by Dr. Crandon. We were not to touch or pull any teleplasmic arm without Walter’s permission, nor were we permitted any light, white or red, during the seance. Further, we must not without Walter’s consent expect to be able to use new methods, apparatus, or controls. I suggested that Dr. Crandon absent himself from these sittings, but he refused on the ground that Mrs. Crandon needed him to establish the necessary feeling of confidence and protection. He also averred that he had some psychic powers, and maintained, owing to the abnormal nature of the physiological processes involved, that he, as a medical man, should always be in attendance. He was entirely willing to submit himself to search and control along with the medium. Another condition maintained by him was that Mrs. Crandon should not be required to submit to an internal medical examination for the purpose of detecting concealed apparatus. This was imposed on the ground that in order to make such a procedure thoroughly satisfactory it would be necessary to examine the digestive tract, which would be a painful inconvenience to the medium. He did permit us, however, to supply tights securely covering the medium’s body. This procedure was adopted on one occasion with no change in the phenomena observed at the previous sitting.

Since the importance of supernormality, if true, was beyond question, we determined to proceed with scientific rigor to establish the nature of the facts by correlating them with the rest of experience.

Let me make it clear that we were not investigating spiritism, but rather supernormal physical phenomena — that is, the apparently rapid growth of certain tentacles from the medium’s body, and the accomplishment of physical work by these structures or by other methods — at the time uncorrelated with the physical or biological sciences. The agency of spiritism was merely one hypothesis to cover the empirical facts, and at all times we were careful to distinguish between the observed facts and the causal interpretation thereof. Both the Crandons and Walter himself were careful to emphasize the importance of this distinction, and in no way resented our meticulous attitude on the point, although Walter frequently jibed us good-naturedly about it. In fact Walter insisted that we were investigating psychic phenomena and not spiritism. However, in the reports of all our sittings we accepted Walter at his face value for purposes of convenience, along with the technical verbiage of psychic research, with the understanding that this usage implied no hypothesis on our part as to the nature of the phenomena.

Our examination was aimed primarily at determining the properties of the teleplasmic structures. The investigation of the voice was for the time being postponed, and we concentrated on measuring physically the effects produced by the teleplasm. Our aim was to collect as many data as possible, correlate them, formulate an hypothesis, and then proceed to check the validity of our hypothesis by the laboratory method.

In addition to this direct attack on the specific nature of the manifestations, we tried to arrange controls that would effectually eliminate the probability of the production of the phenomena by normal means — that is, by the use of the medium’s normal anatomy, by apparatus, or by an accomplice. In order to assure proper weight to our evidence, whatever its nature might be, I arranged with Dr. Crandon to introduce, one at a time, certain distinguished scientists who would sit merely as impartial observers, but who would record their observations and criticisms in our official notes, with any addenda or corrections they might wish to include. These notes, limited to empirical observations, were, by the way, taken down on a dictaphone by a controlled member of our own group, sitting in the circle, and contained detailed descriptions of the phenomena as they occurred.1

The Harvard Psychology Department kindly lent us a small square room on the third floor of Emerson Hall. This room is only large enough to accommodate the circle of chairs, a table in front of the medium, a cloth cabinet which we had prepared, a table for apparatus, and a dictaphone. The room has no windows, and the only door was locked during the séances. In order to render superficial conditions as similar as possible to those at the Crandons’ house, a victrola was supplied. Our object was to obtain optimum conditions for psychic phenomena as outlined by the literature, and at the same time render our procedure as rigorous as possible. Walter’s usual playthings were supplied chiefly by us, consisting of several varieties of bell-boxes both mechanically and electrically operated, paper ‘doughnuts,’ megaphones, and a small basket. All of these things, except the voice-projecting megaphone, were conspicuously marked with luminous paint. In addition to these objects new pieces of apparatus were introduced from time to time.

Our first Harvard sitting occurred on May 19, 1925. Dr. Crandon, the medium, and also Dr. Fawcett, since she was not tactually controlled in the circle at this first sitting, wore luminous elastic bands on ankles, wrists, and foreheads. Dr. Crandon sat on the medium’s right and Mr. Damon on her left, controlling her left hand. Most of the phenomena occurred with double control. I tactually and visually controlled Dr. Crandon’s hands and Mrs. Crandon’s right hand, as well as the Doctor’s knees and head; another investigator was assigned the task of visual control of the feet; and a third concentrated primarily on watching the headpieces. Satisfactory control as reported to the dictaphone, therefore, meant visual control, by way of the illuminated bands, of both the Crandons’ heads, arms, and legs, with tactual control of Dr. and Mrs. Crandon’s hands, Dr. Crandon’s knees, and frequently his head. Under these circumstances phenomena similar to those of 10 Lime Street occurred. Apparently something resembling an arm, presumed to be teleplasm, came from the lower portion of the medium’s body and moved objects within a radius of several feet of her. This terminal was silhouetted against the luminous surfaces of objects picked up, and showed variations in shape from time to time. Owing to the deleterious effect of light on the teleplasm, Walter would never allow us close scrutiny of the terminals over a large, wellilluminated plaque which we provided. Our only view of this teleplasm at the Harvard sittings was its silhouette over small portions of bright surfaces or over very dimly illuminated large surfaces, and from these glimpses, from the nature of the movements of objects, and from the apparent rigor of control, the possibility of the Crandon hypothesis as to the supernormal nature of the teleplasm stood out in hold relief.

Additional Harvard sittings occurred on May 27, June 3, June 10, June 24, and June 30. Since Walter declined to go to Harvard more than once a week, owing to the strain on Mrs. Crandon from the heat and discomfort of our windowless laboratory, I suggested that he give an extra weekly sitting at my house. This he consented to do. These sittings occurred on June 22 and June 29, with the Harvard group and most of the usual Harvard conditions.

Since it was natural that an unbiased person would prefer to believe that one of our committee was manifesting the phenomena rather than to accept them as supernormal, we all, as well as the Crandons, wore luminously painted bands on heads, ankles, and wrists at all sittings after the first two, in order to inspire confidence in our outside observers and reduce to a minimum the probability of conscious or unconscious fraud on the part of any of our own group. At most of our Harvard sittings we had an apparatus arranged to pass a slight electric current through the entire circle of sitters, the circuit being closed by the joining of hands and instantly registering with the observer in the hall if anyone broke the circle. We did not bind the medium’s limbs for three reasons. In the first place, it has been objected that a clever magician can slip off apparently secure bonds of this kind, and therefore tactual and visual control were considered more effective. In the second place, Mrs. Crandon was quite willing to have us bind her securely, but Dr. Crandon objected on the grounds that, since the psychic was in trance, forced inhibitions of her limbs would tend to waken her, as she was quite restless at times. Thirdly, we were primarily interested, not in concentrating too heavily on controls, but rather in obtaining data as to the nature of the phenomena, from which we could build up a correlating hypothesis. Whatever else happened, we desired phenomena.


With the above visual, tactual, and electrical controls established, it became apparent that the problem was reduced to the determination of the nature of Walter’s terminal, which obviously came from the direction of the medium and manipulated the apparatus. On several occasions I arranged a separate electric circuit through a d’Arsonval galvanometer to test the electrical conductivity of the teleplasm. A metal electrode was strapped to the middle of the medium’s back after she was seated in her chair. Her hands, incidentally, were never released during the time that elapsed between Dr. Fawcett’s search and the beginning of the séance. On the table in front of her was placed another electrode marked with luminous paint. If now, while electrically insulated from the rest of the circle, this table electrode were touched by any portion of the medium’s normal anatomy or by a conducting substance attached to her body, the galvanometer in the hall would show a pronounced deflection to an observer stationed there to record it. During the sitting when, on request, Walter touched the electrode with his teleplasmic arm, an electrical connection was found to be established through this arm and the medium’s body. This interesting experiment indicated several things. In the first place, the fact that the teleplasm conducted electricity showed it was not made of rubber, leather, cloth, or other artificially produced, dry, nonmetallic material; and further, it was a strong bit of evidence that the effects were not dependent in any way on an accomplice, since the current passed from the table electrode to the electrode on the medium’s back.

We measured the reach of the teleplasmic arm in various directions by having it push illuminated riders along ropes running away from the medium’s chair-seat at varying angles. Fortyfive inches was found to be the maximum reach from the chair, and this reach fell off considerably in planes having an elevation greater than fortyfive degrees with the horizontal plane of the chair-seat. This was in keeping with what we were led to expect from Walter, since he had once said, when we saw his tentacle swaying to and fro across the medium’s ankle bands, that most of his force was concentrated below the medium’s thighs, especially in the vicinity of her feet. At this point it would also be well to mention the importance of the very low séancetable invariably used. On several occasions we requested to have this table done away with to facilitate observation, since it was apparent that Walter could pick things up from the floor. However, though Walter gave us permission to do this, no phenomena started until the table was put back, on the ground that he needed a foundation on which to rest the teleplasm in the beginning and would later tell us when to remove the table. Unfortunately we waited in vain for our permission.

By the use of spring balances we found that the tentacle could exert forces of from thirty to forty pounds in various directions, provided the correct gripping-surfaces were furnished. Of these forces the downward and forward thrusts were maximum and could be exerted against any flat surfaces at right angles to the direction of force, while the pull-back or lifting forces, when large, required loops through which the tentacle could pass and grip. On one occasion we mounted the medium’s chair on a balance and had Walter pick up various weights, ranging up to sixteen pounds, in a basket, the order of presentation of these weights being unknown to anyone in the room save a certain professor attending his first séance. The order registered on the scales was afterward found to correlate with the order of weights presented, showing that actually the force downward of the weights was transferred to the medium’s body on the platform; and the scales could not have been tampered with by any possible accomplice in the room aside from the above-mentioned professor. Incidentally it is interesting to note that the extension of Walter’s teleplasmic arm caused no alterations in the weight of the medium. On no occasion was the tentacle observed to cut through material bodies interposed between the levitated object and the psychic. It was impossible, for instance, to levitate to a point above the table-top an object from the floor on the side of the low séance-table away from the medium, and it was obvious at all times that the teleplasmic rod acted mechanically as a solid material substance coming from the medium’s body.

At one sitting I devised a machine for testing the ability of the rods to perform physical work by raising known weights over pulleys through measurable distances. It was found that a weight of six and a quarter pounds could be lifted two feet in about one half-second by the tentacle pulling the cord toward the medium. This is approximately .05 horsepower. In doing this we observed by the illuminated handle of the weight machine that the tentacle did not contract as would an elastic body, but described an arc from the far side of the table from the medium, backward and upward.

Sitters were occasionally touched by the teleplasm on the backs of their hands or on their heads. The sensations are described in our dictaphonic notes. Code remarked that it felt like the fleshy part of a hand, rather rough. At the sitting of June 3, Walter, at request, pulled Dr. Boring’s hair when the latter put his head on the table. The pull was given horizontally by a fumbling object with a force estimated at about five pounds. On June 29, Dr. Day, with his head on the table at Walter’s request, described being rapped on the head with something feeling like the palm of a hand; and on this same occasion another observer said that the terminal resembled a heel pressing on his head. Walter had a great aversion to touching human skin, though he would touch the hair and clothing of sitters quite freely. On a few occasions when he touched my hand I described the sensation as that of pressure from a soft leatherlike object. Walter said at the time that this was a good description.

At the séance of June 22, I introduced a cöordinate board, 16 × 24, ruled off in inch squares by fine lines of luminous paint. Our object was to have Walter put his terminal out over this dimly luminous field and leave it so that we could read the coördinates to the dictaphone and thereby later reproduce dimensional drawings of the teleplasmic silhouette. Waiter was most obliging in this respect, sometimes showing us as many as three different structures on the board at once, although at an earlier sitting, in response to a question from Mr. Damon, he said he had only two arms. However, of these only one at a time was active, the others apparently being motivated by the active arm. This particular active arm always moved rapidly over the coördinate board, and prior to the sitting of June 29 we were never able to get an adequate idea of its dimensions except that it was long, reaching the full length of the board on occasion, tapered away from the medium, and possessed a sort of crook or hockey-stick formation on the end away from the medium. The other objects on the board varied in shape and were described in the notes as starfish and general irregular forms. One very common shape, however, was that of a rectangle, rounded and somewhat pointed at the front end and about eight inches long and two to three inches wide.

Another interesting aspect of our data was obtained by the use of plastic substances against which the teleplasm left its imprint. Of these, plasticine modeling clay was by far the best. Walter, on being asked the nature of the print we might expect, declared that the teleplasm would leave coarse skin-prints — a correct prediction.


Prior to our sitting of June 29, we were led to infer that some strong tentacle-like structures were operating from the lower part of the medium’s body as locus, and acting within the general range and limitations of the medium’s own well-controlled limbs. The whole thing was extremely baffling, in view of the fact that we were unable to clinch the matter by seizing the teleplasm, cutting a portion of it off, or turning on a light of any kind. Since if the phenomena were to be accounted for by physiological processes, however strange, it seemed probable that principles of light adaptation might apply to them, I prepared an automatic rheostat for the red light, which was to turn this light on very gradually over as long a period of time as could be desired, in this way adapting Walter to red-light conditions by slow degrees. Though this device was present at several of our sittings, I was never permitted to use it at any time, though we were led to expect that red light might be used in the future.

The sitting of the twenty-ninth occurred at my house in the presence of Dr. and Mrs. Crandon, Dr. Day, Professor Shapley, a certain visiting professor from a Mid-Western university, Mr. Code, Mr. Damon, and myself. A nurse in my employ at the time performed the usual search of the medium before and after the séance, and I searched Dr. Crandon. The trance came on rapidly as usual, and the Walter voice manifested itself. Before the occurrence of physical phenomena I requested Walter to permit me to put someone of our group permanently in Dr. Crandon’s position on the medium’s right. At all our previous Harvard sittings there had been only one at which Dr. Crandon was elsewhere in the circle, and in this case a member of our group had exchanged places with the Doctor after the séance had started. This, however, was relatively unimportant from our point of view, since we were sure that Dr. Crandon did not materially aid Walter during the double control. However, Walter readily accepted the suggestion and said that we might put Code in Dr. Crandon’s place at our next sitting.

In a short time, as usual, Walter’s terminals were observed silhouetting against his various playthings. He rang the bell-boxes, tried but failed to put his terminal through a series of holes varying from an inch and a half down, and played with an illuminated spool. It was at this sitting also that he manipulated the work-machine previously described. He further made impressions in plasticine for us, and tried but failed to tie a knot in an illuminated rope. Though a pail of hot paraffin was provided at Dr. Crandon’s suggestion, in order to make paraffin gloves similar to those obtained abroad, Walter would have none of it.

At the end of about an hour Mr. Code at the dictaphone made a most crucial observation to the effect that the psychic’s right ankle band was off. That is to say, he could see a complete circlet on the floor where before only a semicircle was visible, owing presumably to the eclipsing of the rear of the band by the medium’s leg. Walter immediately denied that the band was off, though most of us had verified Code’s observation, and instantly proceeded to cover portions of both bands apparently with his teleplasmic rod. After this the band had evidently been replaced, since by its elongated shape it seemed to be around the instep and heel of the medium’s slipper. This discovery was of so much importance that I shall here quote directly from our notes the passage dealing with it: —

‘At 10.22 Code reports psychic’s right ankle band off. Walter says, “No, ‘t is n’t,” and covers part of the complete circle on the floor. The rope is left hanging over Dr. Day’s fingers. Walter calls attention to the anklets. They apparently are partially obscured from some sitters in the circle. At 10.23 Walter directs Code’s attention to anklets. The left one seems normal, the right one slightly elongated, as if over both instep and heel. Walter says, ”I can hide them from you any time I want,” and obscures most of the right anklet from Code. It was clearly not the left foot that obscured the right anklet.’

At the end of the sitting both the ankle bands were found on the feet around the instep and the heel, but not around the ankle as at the beginning of the sitting.

The next important episode was the usual silhouetting on the coérdinate board, which occurred successfully with several terminals as above described. Professor Shapley then asked to have Walter levitate the doughnut from the coérdinate board. We first observed an indescribably shaped object fall on the board near the doughnut, and lie inert. A moment later a second terminal was seen to pass quickly over the coördinates to the right of the first, and to draw the doughnut to the edge of the board and pick it up. It is interesting to note here that Walter’s usual method of picking up the doughnut was by gripping it against the edge of the séance-table or the coördinate board, and thrusting his terminal through the hole. Now it so happened that the visitor from the Middle West had, during the course of the evening, said certain things that greatly annoyed Walter, though he had come with the understanding that he would not deliberately offend Walter or the Crandons. As a skeptical stranger he was anxious to be sure that none of his colleagues should believe him to be taken in by the phenomena. Unable to explain them, and frankly puzzled, he proceeded to make remarks that called forth sharp and stinging retorts from the ever-ready and delightfully witty Walter. When Walter levitated the doughnut and brandished it in the air, it happened to pass very near to the Professor, who blew at it violently as it went by, causing Walter to drop the doughnut from the end of his terminal. Immediately, however, he regained the paper and thrust it back at the stranger insisting that he blow again. This time Walter’s grip was firmer and the Professor’s blowing was of no avail. This process was repeated three or four times, the doughnut being held out for a few seconds over the coördinate board while the Professor endeavored to blow it away. This was the opportunity I had long been wanting, since it gave me a fairly extensive silhouette of the terminal against the coördinate board, as it held the doughnut in the air for some seconds.

What I saw holding the doughnut appeared to be a human right foot, the toes clamped over the periphery of the disc, creasing it in a way verified by examining the doughnut after the sitting. Further, by shifting my position I clearly saw the ankle and leg silhouette to a point above the knee, and since the operation was successively repeated I was able to check my observations several times.

At the conclusion of the sitting, we obtained from Mrs. Crandon plasticine imprints of her feet and hands to compare with our teleplasm prints. At this point it should be made clear that the medium had not worn stockings at any of the Harvard sittings. Mrs. Crandon laughingly remarked how dreadful it would be if these skin-prints corresponded to the teleplasm. Dr. Crandon, however, assured her that this was more to be expected than otherwise from the literature on the subject, the psychic limbs of other mediums having been replicas of the mediums’ flesh limbs, in Crawford’s experiments and others.

Immediately after the sitting, when all but Code and Damon had left the house, Code, who is a clever magician, undertook to duplicate some of Walter’s physical phenomena on the hypothesis suggested by the slipping of the ankle band and the sight of the leg silhouette over the coördinate board. In the dark room, with his unstockinged feet in sneakers and the usual luminous controls, with Mr. Damon and me each controlling a hand, he found it possible, with a little practice and under cover of an assumed trance-restlessness, to remove his sneakers from his feet and take off the right ankle band with his left toes. He then quickly covered the rear half of the ankle band as it lay on the floor with one of his sneakers, giving the impression that it was still on his ankle. With his right foot now uncontrolled, he proceeded to duplicate Walter’s various effects. He rang the bellboxes, levitated the doughnut, operated the weight machine, pulled hair, untied my shoe, and produced silhouetting on the coördinate board. In all cases the effects of Code’s legwork produced phenomena apparently identical with those of Mrs. Crandon. He further showed two terminals silhouetting on the coördinate board at once, by the use of his leg and a sneaker, the sneaker producing the same effect as that of the rounded rectangular or oblong object previously described, an effect such as might have been produced by the medium’s slipper. In addition to this, by holding the sneaker extended from his foot Code gave the impression of increased reach. The toe of the sneaker thrust through the hole of the doughnut gave the effect of exceptional reach that we had observed on several occasions, when the doughnut had apparently been supported by the rounded end of Walter’s terminal. Later, with practice, Mr. Code was able to reproduce three objects silhouetting against the board, by using his leg, the sneaker, and a part of the robe he wore. Presumably some of Walter’s shapeless exhibits on the board could readily have been produced by a corner of the medium’s robe.

Mr. Code’s impromptu performance duplicated the effects in so many incidental details as to leave little doubt that such means actually could have been employed by Mrs. Crandon. If independent movement of the feet were called for to identify foot control, Code provided the correct effect by moving the band covered by his sneaker with his right foot. Light touches by Code’s foot or heel gave sensations identical with those of Walter’s terminal, while the silhouettes of toes gave the effect of stubby, illformed fingers.

Subsequent examination of Walter’s plasticine imprints showed, as mentioned before, coarse skin-marks of whorls identical with those on the human foot. It was impossible, however, for us to identify them with the medium’s, because in each case the teleplasmic prints had been stamped over several times by toes and heel, and therefore identity had been lost. However, one of the most interesting things of all was shown by these prints. Traces of lint were found freshly pressed into the plastic surfaces, which in color, texture, length of fibre, and material corresponded exactly with the lint of the medium’s slippers. Further, under the microscope tiny traces of sand, presumably picked up from the floor, and the microscopic skeleton of an insect were found freshly pressed into the plasticine. The discovery of the correspondence of the lint was greatly furthered by the fact that the medium, on leaving the house after the sitting, dropped one of her séance slippers in the yard. I found it in the morning soaked with rain and mauled by my dog and so we were able to identify the lint carried into the plasticine by Walter’s teleplasmic arm.


Dr. Crandon has since accused me of deliberately giving Mrs. Crandon bands that were too large for her, so that they would fall off and thereby betray her. The facts are these: At our fourth Harvard sitting, on June 10, Professor Shapley had pointed out the fact that Mrs. Crandon was in the habit of bringing her own ankle bands with her. These bands had always troubled us because they were much dimmer than those we had prepared, and after Professor Shapley’s remark, for the sake of rigor of procedure, we suggested to Mrs. Crandon the advisability of wearing bands which we supplied, at random, from others all of the same size, and which consequently may have been larger than hers by several inches. These bands were worn without complaint at four sittings. On the sitting of June 29, Mrs. Crandon tightened the bands with safety pins to a circumference of ten inches, the exact circumference of her own bands. At the end of the sitting the pins were still in place, and Dr. Day observed that the bands across instep and heel on both feet were so tight as to cause skin-marks.

We found out on subsequent examination of the medium’s own ankle bands that they were luminously painted on the outside only, so that they appeared as semicircles of light to observers even when off and lying uncovered on the floor. We resolved to do away with the medium’s ankle bands altogether. Instead we would paste luminous surgeon’s plaster on the medium’s legs, which could not be removed and replaced, and which, while not interfering with genuine phenomena, would safeguard our control. We accordingly made two predictions: (a) that there would be no physical phenomena, or (b) that the phenomena would change.

We were now certain that all the phenomena of the Harvard sittings during double control could have been produced by Mrs. Crandon’s right leg, though we combed through our records to find exceptions to this generalization. The argument that duplication of phenomena does not prove identity, though logically sound in itself, we believed was no longer of significance, owing to the nature of our data. These data all supported our hypothesis: the reach of the teleplasm in various planes, the unwillingness to start the phenomena without the cover of the séance-table, the magnitude of forces in different directions and their corresponding gripping-surfaces, the method of clumsy manipulation, the horsepower developed, the arc described by the handle of the weight machine, the nature of the silhouettes in which the crude fingers resembled toes, the feel of the teleplasm when touched, Walter’s aversion to touching skin, the fact that only one of the three silhouetting terminals had ever been active, Walter’s distaste for light, — even the luminous controls being frequently objected to, — the electrical conductivity, and some of Walter’s own remarks, especially that his force was concentrated around the medium’s feet. There had been the discovery that the ankle band was entirely removed, leaving the leg free to operate undetected — a fact at first denied by Walter, in order, according to him, to save us from the scorn of the visiting professor from the Middle West, but later admitted at the séance of June 30. I had seen the silhouette of the leg in action, toes gripping the ‘doughnut’; foot, ankle, and leg to above the knee. Traces had been left of lint in every respect similar to that of the medium’s slipper. Finally, Code’s reproduction of Walter’s phenomena put Walter’s modus operandi beyond question in our opinion. Our hypothesis embraced and covered all the phenomena of the Harvard sittings.

Though the spiritualists might contend that we had seen Mrs. Crandon’s psychic leg, it is hard to understand why such a leg should have to slip off the control band from her normal leg in order to operate, should leave skinmarks, should carry lint from the medium’s slipper, sand and an insect skeleton presumably from the floor, and should look, feel, and operate in precisely the same way that her normal leg would look, feel, and operate. It might be a psychic leg, but from all possible structural and functional objective considerations — which after all are the only considerations whereby experiences in the physical world can be classified — Walter’s ‘tentacle’ and Mrs. Crandon’s normal right leg were the same thing.

However, conclusive as was our evidence, we were willing to give Walter one more chance, and it may therefore well be imagined that we looked forward with much interest to the events of the following evening, June 30, our last sitting, expecting either a blank séance or a fundamental change in the phenomena. VI

On arriving at Harvard, Mrs. Crandon reproached us for having supplied her with inadequate controls on the previous evening, and even suggested our use of surgeon’s plaster to prevent the bands from falling off, as she expressed it. Mr. Code sat at the medium’s right, Professor Shapley at her left, with Dr. Crandon on the opposite side of the table from his wife and controlled by Dr. Osterhout and Dr. Wilson. Four other persons were present, as well as an assistant in the hall to operate the victrola and listen for breaks in the hand circuit of the circle.

Walter ‘came through’ promptly with the medium in trance, and reproached Code, Damon, and me for our lack of faith in him the previous evening, though he admitted that the ankle band had been off on that occasion. He further showed an uncanny knowledge of what had happened the night before, after the Crandons had left my house, telling us in a general way of Code’s duplication of his phenomena, and of our conversation. After warning us to control the medium’s feet, not only by watching, but also by holding them, he proceeded, much to my amazement, to produce what at first seemed to be his usual teleplasmic terminal on the table, and rang the bell-box. I must confess at this point that Walter, by the scintillating skill of his attack and his caustic sarcasm, was on the top of the heap through the early part of the sitting. However, it soon became apparent that the teleplasm of this evening was not the same as that exhibited on previous occasions. Its reach was only about a third of that formerly manifested. The silhouettes further showed long, tapering fingers instead of the stubby formations previously described. Walter showed comparatively little aversion to touching flesh, and did so frequently by allowing members of the circle to reach over and feel his hand. The hand felt cold, moist, and flabby. The fingers were long, cordlike structures, and articulation was very poor in a hand-shaking process with one of the examiners, who described the hand as feeling like a fly-swatter. It did not fundamentally resemble that of previous sittings, either in silhouette, feeling, or movement, except in the fact that it performed some of Walter’s usual manipulations. It was further observed that there were slight but distinct movements of Mrs. Crandon’s right arm band correlating with the movements of Walter’s hand, leading to the inference that an artificial object was in some way being manipulated, in spite of Code’s apparent control of her hand. Plasticine imprints of the teleplasm on this occasion were most instructive in that they showed no skin-marks of any kind, but rather the smooth imprint of fingerlike processes. In addition, the plasticine showed plainly the impress of a small, chainlike structure, presumably used to aid in the mechanical manipulation of the artificial hand. Besides the silhouette of the hand on the board, the previous shapeless shadow was seen, which we believed to be part of the medium’s robe. This belief was strengthened by the fact that Professor Shapley subsequently said that a piece of cloth had brushed against his controlling hand in the medium’s lap, immediately preceding the silhouetting. Professor Shapley further noted that, during a portion of the phenomena Mrs. Crandon worked his controlling hand to her wrist, and apparently used the fingers of her left hand to aid the phenomena. This was done under cover of trance-restlessness.2

However, the ultimate and final bit of evidence for the natural means of production used at this sitting was furnished by Mr. Code. After our sitting he reported the following story. On the evening of the twenty-ninth, feeling confident that the means of production of the phenomena were known, he began to look with concern on the human problems involved. He felt a genuine friendship for both Dr. and Mrs. Crandon and, being something of a psychologist, realized full well that either one, or possibly both, might sincerely believe in the reality of a supernormal Walter, despite the paradox of such a situation. The Crandons at all times had shown the utmost in good will toward us and faith in the phenomena, and the most likely hypothesis seemed to be that the Doctor, at least, was sincere. Further, the possibility of hypnotic trance automatism on the part of Mrs. Crandon made it seem possible that she too might be genuine in her belief in spiritism.

Therefore, in order to avoid a collapse of the mediumship, with possible deleterious consequences to the Crandons, Mr. Code visited Mrs. Crandon on the afternoon of the thirtieth, prior to our sitting, told her of our discoveries of the night before, and our expectations for the evening. As a result of his conversation Code became more convinced than ever of Mrs. Crandon’s sincerity and good faith, and of the probability that the Walter personality was a hypnotic dramatization developed under powerful unconscious suggestion on the part of Dr. Crandon, the psychic literature, and her circle of sympathizers. He therefore resolved to help Walter to prevent the coming séance from being a blank, in order to avoid a catastrophe at the time. The source of Walter’s seemingly supernormal information at the last sitting is therefore apparent, since it came directly from Mr. Code. In addition, Mr. Code testified that he acted as Mrs. Crandon’s accomplice on the evening of the thirtieth, and permitted her in trance to work her right wrist band up her arm, and free her right hand from his control. Code further stated that she then proceeded to remove various objects from the region of her lap with her right hand, the bathrobe being thrown open in the dark, and to manipulate them on the table. Once or twice she used her own hand to produce silhouetting on the coördinate board, though the artificial hand was usually employed. In this way tire slight correlating movements of the luminous right wrist band previously described were accounted for. At the end of the sitting the medium returned these artificial objects with her right hand. The search made by Dr. Fawcett before and after the seance of course revealed nothing. The things displayed on the table must have been stored away internally, and no internal examination has ever been permitted.

After the sitting, Dr. Crandon, whose general attitude has always seemed to me sincere, demanded a statement from us to the effect that the séance of the thirtieth obliterated all the suggestions of fraud arising from the discoveries of the twenty-ninth. Unless such a statement were forthcoming, he threatened to stop the series. We gave him a statement that we were sure the phenomena of the thirtieth were not produced by the right foot, and since we were satisfied, after Code’s additional evidence, that all supernormality had been explained away, we concluded the investigation. We were unanimous in accepting the hypothesis here described. After such an investigation, where the phenomena and controls were arranged under almost ideal conditions, we felt justified in inferring that all supernormal physical phenomena can probably be explained by normal means.

Since the conclusion of our series of sittings, we have heard that Mrs. Crandon has developed new phenomena. From their description Mr. Code was able to duplicate them satisfactorily under control conditions. Further, Mr. Code has duplicated all of Mrs. Crandon’s other phenomena, excepting only some of the earliest, most obvious. His duplication includes the ringing of the bell-box in the red light and the photography of teleplasm under precisely the same control conditions as those used by Mrs. Crandon, in the presence of ex-Crandon sitters who were quite bewildered at his methods of manipulation.

And now we come to the most paradoxical and interesting part of all: the question of motives and reasons for the development of this case. It is the belief of everyone on the committee that Dr. Crandon is sincere in his belief in Walter as a supernormal reality — as the returned spirit, in fact, of his dead brother-in-law. The specific evidence for our belief in the Doctor’s sincerity was accumulated through private conversations and social contacts with the Crandons, and need not be dwelt on here. We believe that a large number of Mrs. Crandon’s phenomena have been produced by automatisms aided by high sensitivity to suggestion and a certain amount of amnesia. It seems reasonable that Walter was born through experimental functioning, such as automatic writing, table-tipping, and the like. Incidentally Mrs. Crandon’s mother revealed certain automatic powers. In answer to a question of mine, Dr. Crandon specifically denied at my first sitting that Mrs. Crandon had ever shown hysterical symptoms. Though from the start I was inclined to look upon all mediumship, except the deliberate tricksters, through the windows of abnormal psychology, dissociation, automatisms, and the like, I saw little hope of an adequate correlation of this field with the Crandon case, until some of Mr. Code’s observations and deductions shed new light on the situation. Anyone who is familiar with ouijaboard activity knows that one can write all sorts of surprising things without deliberately frauding. For a highly suggestive person, the progression from this functioning of the subconscious to more complicated activities is an easy matter.

As Mr. Code has ably pointed out in a contribution to the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, the similarity in the conditions determining mediumistic trance and hypnotic trance is most striking. The atmosphere of either séance is charged with suggestion. A narrowing of consciousness is obtained by darkness or by concentrating on some simple sensory stimulus. In the ordinary hypnotic trance, the subject is urged to render his mind passive. He is then lulled to sleep by the operator, who should have his confidence, with the parting suggestion to do what he is told. Then, in the trance, the subject is apparently bereft of a will of his own. Under the proper suggestions, amnesia may follow this state, as in the case of Mrs. Crandon’s mediumistic trances. Furthermore, the repetition of hypnosis tends to render the trance-production easier until a comparatively simple technique may be employed. In my experience, I have seen a light trance produced in suggestible persons who had never before attended a sitting.

Without the actual influence of a trance, subconscious activity may manifest itself and become highly developed through automatism. It is possible for a heavy table to be moved rapidly about a room by a group of people, all sincerely believing that their fingers no more than rest on its surface, although by physical methods it actually can be demonstrated that they have exerted considerable force. Such automatism as this may become highly developed. It must always be borne in mind that the effect on a person of his own automatic action is profoundly impressive. The natural interpretation for such a person with a supernatural bias is that a spirit must certainly be moving him and using his body as a ‘medium’ of communication. This belief renders the person still more susceptible to further suggestion.

Walter seems to most of us to be a delightful and wholly dramatic impersonation — witty, tactful, obliging, entertaining, full of wonders and tricks, swaggering with confidence, joking with the most boisterous joker, and then in a moment all sympathy and wisdom, ready with advice and counsel. Of course, with a belief in the reality of a supernormal Walter established, it becomes a rather easy matter for the medium and sympathetic attendants to help him consciously at times as one would help any friend to demonstrate important truths, although this is not in the spirit of the scientific method. Into the psychological relations existing between Dr. and Mrs. Crandon, we are, of course, unable to venture. What bonds of affection, reciprocating interest, and power of mutual suggestion may have influenced Walter must remain subject to speculation.

Although we have here stressed the importance of certain functions of medical psychology as a possible explanation of the motives of the Margery case, and though we believe that the application to mediumship in general is very broad, we do not wish to give the impression that we think this is the only explanation of all supernormal phenomena. There are, of course, countless deliberate tricksters who could not come under such a category, and in addition there may well be a general nucleus of truly supernormal phenomena, telepathy and the like, which still defies classification and justifies all the efforts of serious research to correlate them with the rest of human experience.

  1. Professor Boring of the Harvard Psychology Department, Professor Wolbach of the Harvard Medical School, Professor Osterhout of the Rockefeller Institute, and Professor E. B. Wilson of Technology each attended a sitting at various times. Professor Harlow Shapley, director of the Harvard Astronomical Observatory, was kind enough to attend five sittings with us, while Dr. Hilbert F. Day, the surgeon, was present on two occasions. Mr. J. M. Bird, research officer for the American Society for Psychical Research, also attended a sitting. The medium was examined disrobed by Dr. Deborah Fawcett or another woman before and after each sitting, and the gown and slippers worn into the room were also carefully inspected; on no occasion was anything of a suspicious nature disclosed by these examinations.
  2. Professor Shapley consistently doubted the genuineness of the trance; he believed that the alleged trance-state was used advantageously to cover irregular movements, and to keep the male sitters sympathetic.