Boston Herald January 26, 1925
Using the methods of deduction made famouus in his Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle analyzes the phenomena shown by Mrs. Le Roi G. Crandon, the famous medium "Margery" and vigorously defends their authenticity in a statement which he sent to The Herald yesterday. He finds after a minute examination of the proceedings of the Scientific American investigating committee, which held more than 90 seances with the wife of the Boston surgeon, that the charges of fraud made by Houdini, the magician, were entirely groundless, that the other experts, with the exception of C. Malcolm Bird and Hereward Carrington, were derelict in remaining silent after the handcuff king's attack. He also declares that Dr. Crandon was entirely too forbearing in permitting the tests to continue after his wife's honesty was impugned.
Counter-charges against the members of the committee
who opposed Bird's and Carrington's proposal of a favorable report
and a sense of amazement at their stubborn incredulity characterize
Sir Arthur's message. He states that a cabal, headed by Houdini,
was undoubtedly organized against Bird and finally resulted in
his removal as secretary of the body. He is particularly bitter
in his criticism of Houdini and states that "he left Boston
a very discredited man so far as psychic research is concerned.."
In conclusion he expresses his "amazement" that the
committee, consisting of "honorable gentlemen" should
permit this attack on the reputation of a lady and permitted a
man "with entirely different standards to make this outrageous
attack," and adds that by doing so they practically make
themselves responsible for it.
By SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
It is Christmas morning and I sit at a table which is heaped with documents and photographs. They are the dossier of the Crandon case. Perhaps one should not work on Christmas day, and yet surely there is no day so holy that one may not use it for the fight for truth, the exposure of evil and the defense of the honor of a most estimable lady. The Margery case will live in history and perhaps it is fitting that I should have some hand in the record since the matter was in a double sense of my begetting. In the first place the committee of the "Scientific American" newspaper was instituted in consequence of my psychic lectures of 1923. In the second it was I who, with her consent, introduced Margery to their notice.
Margery is a most charming and cultivated lady. A year or two back she found that she possessed certain psychic powers which ran in the direction of physical phenomena. Her husband, as a man of science, was naturally interested in this development. Hearing that the committee of the "Scientific American" found it hard to get the services of professional mediums, Margery took the heroic resolution of presenting her powers for examination.
I say "heroic" because no one can command psychic phenomena. They may take questionable shapes or they may fail to appear at all. In either case the medium is at the mercy of any malevolent critic, who, not getting what he expected, judges all the results of others by his own failure, imagines that his own personal acuteness has prevented their appearance, and tries to conceal his own self-importance, or possibly his self-advertisement, by raising a cry of fraud against the helpless medium. Such has been the so-called "exposures," and as we shall see, it was destined to reproduce itself upon this occasion.
The original committee consisted of Dr. Prince of the American Society for Psychical Research, a gentleman of considerable experience, whose utility was seriously impaired by the fact that he was very deaf, so that he could hardly check those direct voice phenomena which were an important feature of the case. Next came Dr. Carrington, who had written several books on psychic matters and had bravely defended the mediumship of Eusapia Palladino, though for some inexplicable reason he could never be convinced of any American medium. With them was Prof. McDougall, the English professor of psychology at Harvard University, who can claim an advantage over most professors of psychology in that he has devoted some attention to psychic matters, whereas most of them have not. Next came Dr. Comstock, lecturer on physics at the Massachusetts Institute. Finally there was Houdini, the conjurer, with Mr. Malcolm Bird as secretary. Mr. Bird is an honest and clear-headed man, but so cautious that he certainly very much understated his results in those European experiences, which came to him under my own supervision. The committee sound imposing on paper, but it was impracticable. It had certain very bad qualities, including an entire lack of harmony and confidence. Houdini will not trust Dr. Carrington or Mr. Bird, Carrington and Bird return the compliment. At one sitting, Dr. McDougall assures the circle that he has perfect control of the medium's left arm, whereupon Dr. Prince says: "Of course, I know nothing of that."
As every spiritualist knows, harmony is the first essential for psychic success, so one can imagine how powerful was Mrs. Crandon's mediumship when she got results with such a hopeless crowd, who acted as psychic researchers and yet broke every psychic law. It would indeed be interesting to see what results Margery (as she was called) could get with a normal sympathetic circle.
BEHAVED WITH GENEROSITY
Margery from the first behaved with extraordinary generosity. She announced that if the prize of $2500 offered by the paper for any well attested phenomena , was won, it would be handed over for psychic research. She paid in part the expenses of the members of the committee in coming to Boston and entertained them while they were there. This was no small matter, when it is recorded that it took 90 sittings before these gentlemen could form an opinion as to whether the phenomena which were going on under their noses were genuine or not. Finally, this self-sacrificing couple bore with exemplary patience all the irritations arising from the incursions of these fractious and unreasonable people, while even the gross insult which was indicated upon them by one member of the committee did not prevent them from continuing the sittings. Personally, I think that they erred upon the side of virtue and that from the moment Houdini uttered the word "fraud" the committee should have been compelled to disown him or to cease their visits.
The control of the medium--that is, the spirit influence which worked through her and regulated the proceedings, professed to be her dead brother Walter. Walter was a vigorous and virile personality, whose whispered voice was heard throughout the room, often at some distance from the medium, and continued equally loud when the medium's mouth was filled with water. One would have imagined that this alone formed a fairly well-marked psychic phenomena. But no less than 30 different phenomena were presented for the inspection of the committee. So ill arranged, however, was the procedure that the award could not be made without the unanimous decision -- or at the best a vote of four out of five of the committee. As the members attended irregularly, however, it was possible that a diligent member, like Carrington, or the secretary, Bird, would get all the requisite evidence, while a backward one, like Prince or Houdini, who attended comparitively few meetings would have failed to get the results which had already convinced their colleagues. This was manifestly most unfair to the medium. Phenomena might be, and where produced which no one could deny were psychic, and yet because a full committee were not assembled they counted for nothing, so far as the final award went.
LONG SERIES OF RESULTS
I have before me the long series of results, each of which was signed by the sitters as being correct. They include lights, the movement of objects, touches on the sitters when both the doctor and his wife were under strict control, and various minor phenomena. The chief tests, however, centered round an electric apparatus which consisted of two dry cells and a bell inside a padlocked box. On the box lid was a hinged piece of wood held up by a spring. If this flap were pressed down it established an electric contact and the bell rang.
It is manifest that if the hands and feet of the medium were controlled, and her husband was under equally strict supervision, than the ringing of the bell would be a true psychic phenomena, and must be done by some supernormal force. When I say this was done, not once, nor a hundred times, but more likely a thousand times, that it was done when out of all possible reach of the medium, that it was done in the darkness, in the red light, and in subdued daylight, and finally it was done in Dr. Prince's lab while, in defiance of the laws of ectoplasm, he waved his arms all around it, one realizes how invincible was the prejudice which the Crandons had to overcome. We must all applaud the scientific caution, but it may be pushed to the point where it becomes unscientific obstruction. Occasionally an ordinary common-sense citizen takes a hand in the business and then one gets a clear judgement. Hearing that Mr. DeWycoff, who is known as a rather strict critic, was present, I asked him for his impression. It was as follows: "In good effective light, playing directly upon the contact box, I have known the electric bell to ring to my order long and short rings when the medium was at a clear distance of several feet and I controlled her hands and feet, all the other sitters being at the time plainly visible. I am prepared to make a sworn affidavit to this effect, Joseph DeWycoff." That single paragraph utterly demolishes all the theories afterwards put forward by Houdini.
All the committee were not equally obdurate. Dr. Carrington, and the secretary, Mr. Bird, yielded to the evidence of their own senses and declared their conviction. The result was a cabal against them by the other members of the committee. Prince and Houdini seemed to have invented the monstrous theory that their own secretary was helping to produce the results which they could not explain away. The fact that they appeared equally when Bird was not present does not seem to have influenced them. As a result, Bird was forced to resign his secretaryship, and Prince took his place. No attempt seems to have been made by the rest of the committee to sustain their own official against this dishonorable charge, which was not supported by a tittle of proof and yet is repeated in Houdini's pamphlet.
By the end of August, the members of the committee presented an interim individual report, Carrington, who had been the most diligent and had attended 40 sittings, said: "I am convinced that genuine phenomena have occurred here." Dr. Prince had been to only six sittings, in spite of the constant entreaties. He said: "Thus far the experiments have not scientifically and conclusively proved the existence of supernormal powers." Dr. Comstock had got so far as "rigid proof has not yet been furnished, but the case is interesting, and should be investigated further."
Oliver Lodge and William Barrettes do not abound. But at the same time, one may fairly ask is it a moral decision to take part in an investigation where one is prepared to agree with negative evidence, but knows in advance that no positive evidence can persuade one. On one occasion (May 12) Prof. McDougall, in the face of some phenomena declared, "If that happens again I shall leave this house an altered man." It did promptly happen again, but the alteration was not apparent.
OPINION OF HOUDINI
There remained one other opinion which we must now examine. It is that of Houdini, the eminent conjurer. Houdini was present at two sittings on July 23 and July 24, the records of which lie before me. A long series of phenomena occurred. It may be explained that everything done or said was recorded by dictaphone and stenographed in the next room. The details then, may be taken as correct. Houdini passed them at the time, raised no objection, and signed the accounts as being correct. None the less, though he could say nothing before the Crandons, he wrote the people at a distance who had no means of checking his statement to say the program was fraudulent. Thus, my friend Mr. Gow, editor of "Light," received a letter to that effect, saying that an exposure was immanent. I cannot quote the letter, as it is marked private, but it is to the last degree defamatory, and winds up by the curious argument that the medium had nothing to gain in any way, and that therefore her action was suspicious--a curious inversion of reason.
THEORY PUT FORWARD
The theory put forward afterwards in Houdini's pamphlet is that when the contact-bell rang at the time when it was placed between his own feet, it was rung by the medium advancing her foot and pressing the board with it. This is merely assertion and disregards the fact that the box on other occasions, as shown by DeWycoff's testimonial, rang when it was entirely out of reach of the medium. Houdini can not expect us to believe that the medium had one method for dealing with him and other methods for everybody else. As this assertion that the medium used her head in order to move the table, she could hardly use her head in order to crumple up the cabinet, and her other limbs were under control, yet this disturbance of the cabinet was the most prominent phenomena in these sittings. Houdini's attempted explanations are utterly inadequate, and were clearly recognized as such by Prince, McDougall and the others, since they continued their investigation in spite of them.
It should be remarked that Houdini signed the account of these sittings, which stated that the controls were all right. all the time. The controls apply to sitters as well as to mediums, and by his own admission, he, with the collusion of Mr. Munn, had one hand free which he was feeling round in the dark. It seems to me that some explanation is required from both these gentlemen upon this point, as it would appear upon the face of it, that they signed a report that they knew to be false.
ONE DRAMATIC FACTOR
The letter to Mr. Gow shows that Houdini had committed himself in advance to make the mediumship appear fraudulent and with his ingenuity it would appear an easy matter. There was one dramatic factor, however, that he had not reckoned, and that was the spirit Walter, who was not going to see "the kid" as he called his sister, placed in a false position. The story from now onwards is one which no novelist would dare to invent, but I take it straight from the record.
On Aug. 25 Houdini arrived for a final test. Two days before Walter warned the circle that some trick would be attempted. "What I think he will do is to slip a die into the contact-box. If you search his pockets you may find the rest of the dice." With such anticipations it is remarkable that any psychic power could manifest. When Houdini arrived he brought with him a portentous box into which the lady was to be shut and fastened in with eight padlocks. Her arms were to be extended at two side holes and her head at the top. This clumsy apparatus was put into use, and the forces present showed what they thought of it by at once bursting the front open, bending the metal staples.
Houdini endeavored to explain this away by saying the lady could have done it by muscular effort. Neither he nor Dr. Prince, who controlled the two hands, could assert that there had been any evidence of strain or effort, nor could he explain why after all this fuss the box which he had brought, with its eight padlocks, was so flimsy that a woman could smash it open. He would have been wiser had he at once recognized that he was playing the fool with forces which were infinitely stronger than himself.
PRESENCE OF MUNN
After a considerable wrangle, which did not make for harmonious conditions, the circle was resumed. The contact would ring when the medium was in the box with her hands controlled. It is obvious that this feat could be made difficult, or even impossible, by anything which would prevent the upper flat from descending and making contact. The room was dark. Houdini's right hand was grasping the left hand of the medium. His left was held by Mr. Munn. proprietor of the Scientific American, who really should not have been present as he was not one of the committee and this was a crucial sitting.
It is a pity that it was permitted, for since he had obviously a large money stake in the discrediting of the medium he might have been held to have purposely relaxed his hold upon Houdini's left hand, as is admitted on the previous occasion. Personally, I do not believe Mr. Munn would connive at a trick, for my short acquaintance with him led me to think that he was a gentleman. It is possible that Houdini released his own left hand by the old device of making one hand take the place of two. Walter, the control, was less charitable, for about the first word he said was, "Houdini, how much art they paying you to stop these phenomena?"
Whatever the cause the result was dramatic. The voice of Walter was suddenly heard calling out, "Comstock, take the box out in the white light and examine it.." This was done by Dr. Comstock and, shocking to relate, the rubber erasure from an ordinary pencil was found to have been inserted into the angle so as to prevent the upper board descending and ringing the bell. Who placed it there? It was there to prevent phenomena--that is obvious. Who was it that had declared against the phenomena and who had therefore an interest in stopping them? Does the point need elaborating? A cruel trick had clearly been played in order to discredit the medium. It took some deftness to fasten that rubber into the right place. Who was there present who might have had this cleverness of touch? These questions answer themselves and it is suggestive that Houdini's pamphlet suppresses the whole incident.
I cannot myself understand why, then and there, Dr. Crandon did not close his house to these investigators, or himself leave Comstock's rooms, in which this incident occurred. It was enough to put up with stupidity but when trickery was also done I would have thought it was time to make a stand. Again I blame him for his leniency. He could not have imagined after so gross an experience that worse was still to come.
SECOND HOUDINI SITTING
The very next night there was a second Houdini sitting. On this occasion the medium was to be enclosed with only her head and arms out of the box, with its egregious eight padlocks and all the rest of the hocus-pocus. A very deadly plot seems to have been laid for her, which was only frustrated by the ever-watchful care with which Walter guarded "the kid." After entering the box and before it was closed the medium, as if inspired, asked that it be examined. Houdini replied. "Oh no, that is not necessary." Had the medium taken anything into the box it is clear that she would not suggest examination. Having fastened her in, Houdini felt up along her left arm with his own right hand until it passed through the hole in the box. No intelligible reason can be given for this action. An instant later the voice of Walter was heard. "What did you do that for, Houdini? he cried. "You (expletive deleted) There is a ruler in this cabinet you unspeakable cad!"
Houdini cried, "Oh, this is terrible! I don't know anything about any ruler. Why should I do a thing like that?" After a short conversation the lights were turned on and Houdini was found with his head in his hands in a state of prostration, which is certainly not to be wondered at after so unnerving an experience. "I am not well. I am not myself!" he cried. The cabinet was examined and sure enough there was found within it a folded two foot rule with six-inch segments. "I am willing to forget this, if you are!" cried Houdini. I do not think it should be forgotten, or that it will be forgotten.
It might have been a deadly discovery for the medium, but owing to Walter's care it was really deadly to the man who placed it there. For consider the facts. The next experiment was to be one in which the medium's arms were drawn inside the holes. Suppose the contact-bell had been rung, it would have been a final proof of psychic power. But this ruler was the one thing one could think of which, if held in the mouth, would extend nearly two feet and so possibly reach the board. It has been suggested that it had been left there by some careless carpenter, but can any man imagine such a coincidence as that he should leave, not a hammer or a brad awl, but the one implement that would discredit whatever the medium would do? Can one not see the tremendous triumph and world-wide advertisement of the investigator who, in the moment of the medium's success, should suddenly dive his hand into the cabinet, produce the ruler and expose what all the world would have believed a fraud? Is not the whole transaction as clear as noontide, and has not the man fallen into the pit which he had dug? The facts have only to be clearly stated to carry absolute conviction.
Let me define the position again, for it is critical. Either that ruler was placed in the box by (1) Dr. Crandon, (2) the medium, or (3) by a member of the committee. (1) Dr. Crandon was never near the box in the light and was put under control before it was dark. (2) After the medium entered the box she demanded a second search, and the box was searched. Houdini replied, "It is not necessary." So she stands acquitted.(3) Therefore, it is absolutely sure that the ruler was placed in the box by a member of the committee in order to inculpate the medium. It is in the official records that Houdini put his right hand through the armhole in the box.
And yet, incredible as it may appear to my readers, Houdini, in spite of this complete fiasco, none the less accused the long-suffering lady of fraud, and so got his advertisement after all. It may not prove a very valuable one when all the facts are ventilated. He says, "Summing up my investigations of the five seances I attended of 'Margery,' in view of the fact that I deliberately caught her manipulating with her head, shoulders, and left foot . . . and the blank seances and the incidents which took place at the seances which I attended was deliberate and conscious fraud."
CITES TERM "DELIBERATE"
He uses the term "I deliberately caught her." That would convey to my impartial mind the idea that he had exposed the matter at the time. We know, as a fact, that nothing of the sort occurred. In all of the 90 sittings there had never been one word attacking the honor of Margery. It was only when these new personalities were present that trickery became manifest. Far from exposing anyone, Houdini left Boston a very discredited man so far as psychic research is concerned. His friends will hope that he will confine himself in future to the art in which he is famous and leave a field in which his strong prejudices and unbalanced judgment entirely unfit him.
Thus the matter now stands. Houdini has pushed self-advertisement and defamation to the point of issuing a pamphlet explaining how his skill and his wonderful box had stopped all phenomena, with many entirely irrelevant pictures of himself in the box. An inch of wood is always likely to stop phenomena, just as an inch of porcelain would stop an electric current. In each case natural laws are involved. The investigator who imagines that he disproves phenomena by checking or stopping them, only proves his own ignorance of the subject, though in Houdini's case that had already been amply shown by the innumerable errors in the book to which he has put his name.
The amazing thing to an outsider is, that the
committee, consisting of honorable gentlemen, should without audible
or public protest, have permitted this attack upon the reputation
of a lady who had entrusted herself into their hands. They had
no fault to find or they would have said so. Yet, knowing her
complete innocence, as they must do, these American gentlemen
allowed a man with entirely different standards to make this outrageous
attack. By doing so they practically made themselves responsible
for it. Surely they cannot leave the matter where it stands.