The Reflectograph

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Reflectograph is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in the magazine Light on 21 september 1929.

The Reflectograph

Light (21 september 1929, p. 449)

Sir, — I promised Mr. Kirby of Skegness that I would give some account of my experiences with the instrument which he calls "The Reflectograph" but several interruptions have caused some delay.

Mr. Kirby had for some time been in correspondence with me over this instrument and I had read accounts in the Skegness and Norwich papers which showed that he had demonstrated it to several small audiences to their satisfaction.

The idea as he explained it to me was that of a series of keys, not unlike those of a piano, each of which would represent a letter. They are connected with a screen by electric wires and each key is poised with extreme delicacy. If the key is depressed, the result is that the corresponding letter in crimson appears upon the screen.

Such an instrument as this must obviously be of extremely delicate construction and I am sure that Mr. Kirby does not exaggerate when he says that it was very costly. The idea of the machine was, according to Mr. Kirby's account, given to him by a deceased Spiritualist in posthumous communications and this spirit presided over every stage of the construction.

On the 1st of August, on my invitation, Mr. Kirby came to London, bringing with him the machine and also Mrs. Singleton, his medium. The idea seems to be that the ectoplasmic rods proceed from the medium and touch the sensitive notes. The message would then appear letter by letter upon the screen.

On the first day a sitting was held at the offices of the Marylebone Society in Tavistock Square, Mr. Hawken being present with several other members of that Society. The proceedings were not satisfactory. The machine had been somewhat jarred in transit and the keys stuck.

We were in total darkness and though the medium's cabinet was at least eighteen inches away from the machine, none the less it would not have been impossible for her to lean forward and control the keys. Mr. Kirby also was not under control. Under these circumstances the fact that red letters did appear upon the screen could not satisfy the minds of any researcher, though I would add that there was not the least evidence of foul play upon the part of anyone. The mere possibility, however, was enough to negative the experiment. Next day we were able to have a second sitting where the control was much fuller.

Mr. Hawken was again present as was Mr. Horace Leaf, Mr. Hunt of Johannesburg, and Mr. Theron Pierce of the American Society for Psychic Research. A low red light was used and the cabinet was placed in such a position that no one could approach the machine which stood about eighteen inches in front of it. Mr. Kirby was controlled by Mr. Hawken and myself, The medium at the outset was not under control. In these circumstances a message was spelled out to me in red letters upon the screen. It certainly had a significance though somewhat vague in its terms. Nothing could be final however unless the medium was also under complete control. To this end a piece of thick muslin or similar material was nailed with drawing-pins all round the mouth of the cabinet. This being thoroughly done and Mr. Kirby being still held by Mr. Hawken and myself the conditions seemed to be such as to give a definite result. To our great satisfaction red letters flashed out upon the screen. They gave no message and came in spasmodic fashion, but none the less, their appearance bore out Mr. Kirby's claim. At the end of the proceedings I appealed to the company as to whether any possible normal explanation of the phenomena could be given. Mr. Pierre suggested that a piece of thin wire might be passed through the holes in the muslin and touch the keys of the machine eighteen inches in front.

The machine was so delicately balanced that a thin wire would certainly be enough to depress the notes, but I pointed out that meshes of the veil were so fine that any wire which was worked through them would certainly show some dilation. We examined the material carefully with this idea, but no such dilation was visible. We also examined the nails all round the cabinet and none of them had been disturbed. Mrs. Singleton when taken out of the cabinet appeared to be in a deep trance from which it took her some time to emerge. Before the end of the proceedings her control who had only uttered a few words in a rather deep masculine voice said that if any other materialising medium could be found the same result could he obtained and therefore a third meeting was held on the Saturday, at which unfortunately I was unable to be present.

At this meeting Mrs. Henderson whose development is proceeding in a most satisfactory manner took the place of Mrs. Singleton in the cabinet. In these circumstances and with full control, Mr. Hawken assures me that the letters were again reproduced upon the screen.

These are the plain facts and in face of them I cannot resist the conclusion that Mr. Kirby has established his case and has opened up what seems to me to be a new path in Psychic research and demonstration.

The next stage as it seems to me should be that Mr. Kirby should be invited by some responsible committee to come again to London and to demonstrate before a larger selected audience, which might include some well-known scientific men. It seems to me that so long as you had upon the platform a small committee for the purpose of control and so long as that committee had the complete confidence of the audience there is no reason why the result should not be appreciated simultaneously by a considerable number of people. It is in this direction I think that the value of the machine may lie.

I should add that Mr. Kirby is not a rich man, though he has spent much over the invention and that it he comes to London arrangements must be made to defray all his expenses. He seems to me from the beginning to have acted in a very unselfish fashion. — Yours, etc.,