A Joking Spirit

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Daily Mail (7 december 1929, p. 11)

Sir A. Conan Doyle and Margery / A Joking Spirit is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in the Daily Mail on 7 december 1929.

Sir A. Conan Doyle and Margery




The greatest interest continues to be shown in the presence in this country of Margery, the world-famous American medium, and the invitation extended to her by The Daily Mail to give a test seance in London in the presence of a small group of distinguished men and women.

As already stated, this Daily Mail panel has been constituted, and the names of its members will appear in these columns on Monday.

Many expressions of approval of the Daily Mail proposals have been received, and the hope is widely voiced that in the interests of spiritualism Margery will accept it. Margery in private life is Mrs. le Roy Crandon, the wife of a distinguished surgeon of Boston, Massachusetts, who is in England with her. In the following article, written specially for The Daily Mail, Sir A. Conan Doyle, the ardent champion of spiritualism, describes his personal impressions of Margery and her powers.

A Joking Spirit

Daily Mail (7 december 1929, p. 11)



It was during my second lecture tour in America in 1923 that I received a letter from an unknown correspondent. He said that he was a doctor in Boston, that he had never believed in psychic phenomena, but that there had been inexplicable happenings in his own family circle which had shaken his incredulity. That was my first contact with Dr. Crandon.

Since then I have watched with admiration and amazement the patience and courage with which Dr. Crandon and his wife have continued their researches, each equally admirable, she as a medium and he as recorder.

There may in the history of psychical research have been other mediums as strong as Mrs. Crandon, but never has any medium had so competent and careful an observer at her elbow. His loving sympathy is no doubt helpful to her, but it has been repeatedly shown that his presence is not essential for a full exhibition of her powers. Professor Tillyard, among others, was granted a test sitting all alone and was fully satisfied with the result.


Margery, to use her seance name, has other claims to distinction, for she is a beautiful and charming woman. She is witty, too, as anyone who reads her occasional articles must admit. Her stories of the absurdities of a certain type of psychical researcher are very amusing.

She tells, for example, how upon one occasion she allowed her nose and mouth to be momentarily stopped in order to show that the direct voice still continued. "Now are you satisfied that I do not do it?" She asked. "Not at all," said the researcher, "you may be able to talk through your ear."

The spirit control who manifests through the medium is her dead brothers Walter Stinson. His is a most energetic, and breezy personality, and he enlivens the sittings by many amorous remarks delivered in the direct voice.

He is a conspicuous confirmation of the spiritualistic teaching that death makes no change at all in the individual, and that he carries on with the same mentality and modes of expression as before. Some of his jovial interruptions are really very funny.

For example, when some sitter quoted the saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, Walter chipped in with the remark, "But an onion a day would keep everyone away."


At the same time, he has his sterner moments. Upon one occasion a conjurer in the dark tampered with, the apparatus which was being used for an experiment. No human eye could have seen it, but the terrible, menacing voice of Walter broke out in such a roar of anger that the transgressor shrank appalled. "The kid," as he calls his sister, should not be treated unfairly while he stood by.

The range of the Margery phenomena covers almost every phase of known manifestation save the complete materialisation. Partial materialisations of Walter's body have been so exact that his posthumous finger-print, as recorded in dental wax in the séance room, is identical with the print left upon the metal handle of his razor upon the morning of his death.

This was verified by several experts. I myself sent the two prints to an ex-finger-print official of the London police and had his certificate that they were the same. This identification forms, so far as I know, a new departure in psychical research.

Among the more familiar phenomena, the direct voice, produced at times when the medium is artificially prevented from speaking, the movements of objects at a distance, the ringing of an electric bell far from the medium's reach, moulds of spirit hands and apports have all found a place.

Far from shunning difficulties, Walter loves to meet them and to suggest new avenues to be explored — some of them of the most difficult and instructive nature.


As an example, it was prearranged that seances should be held simultaneously in Boston, Niagara, and a third place.

At Boston, Walter asked the circle to suggest any proverb. Mr. Bird, of the Scientific American, suggested "A rolling stone gathers no moss." When Margery came out of trance she scribbled down some Chinese characters. Next day two other Chinese characters were received, one from each of the other circles. The three were then submitted to a Chinese expert, who declared that when put together they meant "A travelling preacher gathers no gold."

This is, I think, one of the most remarkable examples of a cross-correspondence upon record.

I have only once had the privilege of sitting with the Crandons. That was when they came to London some years ago and the séance was held in our own drawing-room. It is impossible and unwise from a single experience to form any final personal judgment upon a medium's powers, but I can only say that my wife and I were delighted with Walter's personality, and that we saw a series of minor phenomena which were obviously super-normal in their nature.

Up to a point they correspond with those which are reported from Ruth Schneider, but they go far beyond that point and reach a higher spiritual level. We have to remember that the latter is the important thing and that the mere phenomena in themselves are but an extended materialism.

It is the spiritual inferences which may be drawn from the phenomena which are of real importance.

In conclusion, let me say that I look upon Mrs. Crandon as one of the bravest women, and Crandon as one of the most self-sacrificing men who ever visited this country.