The World's Happiest Museum
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The World's Happiest Museum
Through a Room of Miracles with Sir A. Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle thought "The World's Happiest Museum" a happy title for these pages when I mentioned it. "If," he added, "it is not too much like propaganda." For, when assenting to the Editor's request that he should act as my guide through the Psychic Museum, he wished it made clear that the interview was not to be considered as propaganda for Spiritualism and psychic phenomena. That was not his object in giving me this interview for the Magazine with which he has been associated as a leading contributor since the year of its foundation.
Why the world's happiest museum? The answer will be plain when you have read about its contents.
To reach this room of miracles you enter the Psychic Book Shop and Library, facing Westminster Abbey. Sir Arthur is proprietor of this shop, and beneath it is the long room in which he has arranged hundreds of objects, photographs, pictures – a thought-provoking record of certain phases of Spiritualist activities, and of the results of psychic research (between the two is an important difference), for the past fifty years or so.
"My Museum may be the smallest in London," Sir Arthur said, "but it is as large as any museum ever need be, for the visitor will have to give several hours to its exhibits if he wishes really to examine them all thoroughly. It is, also, unique. We can give the history of every single thing in it, and I do not think the most hardened sceptic could go over the exhibits and retain any doubt as to the continuity of our life after physical death. That is surely the core of every religion, and my little Museum must be doing good work if it proves our survival of bodily death. What is there even in our big brother in Bloomsbury which is so important as that?"
It should, perhaps, be explained that the exhibits may be divided into two sections: one, those with a definite evidential value; two, those which, although non-evidential, are of interest for the stories attaching to them or – as in the case of a number of paintings – because they illustrate vividly certain dramatic aspects of psychic phenomena, the scientific accuracy of which can be tested elsewhere by all who care to seek advice in the Library above the Museum.
Let us, then, examine first some of the things which can be labelled evidential. To me the most dramatic exhibit of this class is the enlargement of the actual photograph of Sir William Crookes, F.R.S., arm-in-arm with the materialized spirit of Katie King. (No. 1).
Sir Arthur's remarks on this wonderful exhibit were: "This photograph is an enlarged copy of the one taken by Sir William Crookes in his own laboratory more than fifty years ago. It is one of the forty-four which Crookes took. Here is another one in which Katie is seen entering the room, together with a letter of Crookes' in which he shows that Katie and the medium, Florence Cook, were two separate and distinct people. When one considers that Crookes' observations of Miss Cook extended for over three years and were conducted in his own house, I cannot imagine how any reasonable being can doubt the truth of them."
Dipping for a moment into Crookes' "Researches," we find the following paragraphs regarding this vivid photograph on the Museum walls:—
"One of the most interesting of the pictures is one in which I am standing by the side of Katie; she has her bare foot upon a particular part of the floor, Afterwards I dressed Miss Cook like Katie, placed her and myself in exactly the same position, and we were photographed by the same cameras, placed exactly as in the other experiment, and illuminated by the same light. When these two pictures are placed over each other, the two photographs of myself coincide exactly as regards stature, etc., but Katie is half a head taller than Miss Cook, and looks a big woman in comparison with her. In the breadth of her face, in many of the pictures, she differs essentially in size from her medium, and the photographs show several other points of difference. I have the most absolute certainty that Miss Cook and Katie are two separate individuals so far as their bodies are concerned. Several little marks on Miss Cook's face are absent on Katie's. Miss Cook's hair is so dark a brown as almost to appear black; a lock of Katie's which is now before me, and which she allowed me to cut from her luxuriant tresses, having first traced it up to the scalp and satisfied myself that it actually grew there, is a rich golden auburn.
"On one evening I timed Katie's pulse. It beat steadily at seventy-five, whilst Miss Cook's pulse a little time after was going at its usual rate of ninety. On applying my ear to Katie's chest I could hear a heart beating rhythmically inside, and pulsating even more steadily than did Miss Cook's heart when she allowed me to try a similar experiment after the séance. Tested in the same way, Katie's lungs were found to be sounder than her medium's, for at the time I tried my experiment Miss Cook was under medical treatment for a severe cough."
Well may the great scientist conclude that chapter with the words:
"To imagine, I say, the Katie King of the last three years to be the result of imposture does more violence to one's reason and common sense than to believe her to be what she herself affirms." Next in dramatic as well as evidential value I place the now famous wax moulds or "gloves" of spirit hands. (No. 2.)
"You will see," Sir Arthur explained, "that the wrists are smaller than the breadth of the hands, so that the hands could not have been extricated from the moulds save by dematerialization. I defy anyone to suggest any other way. Houdini, the conjurer, and Sir Arthur Keith, a great anatomist, have both tried their skill, and the results, laboriously produced, have only served to accentuate the unique character of that which they tried to copy. And, of course, it must be remembered that men of scientific repute – Richet, Geley, and the Count de Gramont – superintended the whole experiment. On the wall there is a picture illustrating the occasion on which these wax moulds were obtained. The medium was an amateur, Franek Kluski, of Warsaw. When you have the palpable proof of the wax ‘gloves’ on the one side, and the evidence of such expert witnesses as Richet, Geley, and de Gramont on the other, I think the case is proved."
There is space to tell only very briefly and incompletely how these wax gloves, and others, were obtained. Dr. Geley, of the Institut Metapsychique, Paris, and Professor Richet had prepared a bucket of warm paraffin, and upon the appearance of a materialized figure – that of a smallish man – the request was made that the spirit should plunge his hand into the bucket and then withdraw it, so that when it dematerialized a cast of the hand would be left on the table, like a glove of solidified paraffin, so narrow at the wrist that the hand could riot have been withdrawn by any possible normal means without breaking the mould. Dr. Geley writes, after proving that none of the sitters made the gloves:—
"Finally, there is the hypothesis that the gloves were brought by the medium. This is disproved by the fact that we secretly introduced chemicals (Cholesterin) into the melted wax, and that these were found in the gloves. The report of the expert modellers on the point is categorical and final..." While I have been making my notes on the gloves, my guide has been fingering the large vase illustrated on the next page. (No 3.)
"This room is full of incredible things," he said, when I rejoined him. "Things which, in the old days, would have been called miracles, or the results of miracles. A miracle, now and always, is simply the intrusion of some natural force which we do not yet understand. That is why it is incorrect to use the words ‘supernatural’ or ‘supernormal’ in connection with these manifestations of powers of whose methods we are as yet ignorant. Everything in Nature is ‘natural’ and ‘normal,’ whether we understand it or not. We can show you results here before we can accurately explain their causes."
(I was not quite sure whether or not we were touching on that propaganda, so I took the vase without comment.)
"Yes, now examine this big jug, or vase," Sir Arthur continued. "It came down suddenly, inexplicably, on a séance table.
"This is what we call an apport – the French word for something brought. Apport phenomena are the bringing of objects – live birds and fish, fresh fruit, dew-laden flowers, coins – all manner of things! – from a distance, through walls, closed windows, locked doors, and so on, into the midst of a group of sitters. Darkness is not always essential, neither is a professional apport medium necessary.
"No one could say that the medium had this large jug hidden upon her person," Sir Arthur continued. "I happen to know a good deal about the medium. She was an amateur. From first to last she – or, rather, the spirits who used the psychic power she supplied – brought through about two thousand objects of various kinds – Chinese and Indian lamps, amulets, Tibetan pots – all manner of queer things – and among them all I do not think there was one that could have been got in England. This jug, for example, is Syrian ware. She was quite a poor woman, but she would not sell her apports. She just left them with the sitters. Of course, it is all very fantastic, but it is true."
Sir Arthur next called my attention to a number of smaller apports which appeared in his own presence under test conditions. We are, be it remembered, still considering only the exhibits of evidential value.
"This pile of Turkish pennies," said Sir Arthur; "there are about thirty of them. They all crashed down on the table during a test sitting I arranged in Melbourne. Now, you might hunt Australia from coast to coast and you would not find a Turkish penny. How, then, could the medium have got these? We asked the question of the medium's 'control' and were told that they had been brought from a well in Asia Minor. They had been hidden behind some bricks and were part of the hoard of some poor peasant who had probably been murdered. Such was the story; but, of course, there was no proof at all of their origin except, perhaps, the very slight corroboration provided by the fact that some of the coins have, as you see, got verdigris upon them, which seems to show that they had been in a damp place.
"The only thing that is perfectly certain is that they were not on the medium's body, for I stripped and searched him; also, such coins, as I have said, could not be got in Australia. "It is easy to make fun of such things, but facts are facts, and it is impossible to explain them. "This other exhibit – a Babylonian clay tablet – fell upon the table during the same sitting. The inscription on it is, I think, correct. The control seemed to be a very wise spirit, who discoursed in a most learned manner upon Assyrian and Roman antiquities and psychic science, so I asked him how an apport was brought. The spirit's answer was:—
"'It involves some factors which are beyond your human science and which could not be made clear to you. At the same time you may take as a rough analogy the case of water which is turned into steam. Then this steam, which is invisible, may be conducted elsewhere to be reassembled as visible water.'
"I should add that I had the tablet tested at the British Museum and that it was pronounced to be a forgery. Upon further inquiry it was ascertained that these forged tablets are made by certain Jews in a suburb of Bagdad, and, so far as is known, only there. The matter is not much further advanced, therefore. To the transporting agency it is at least possible that the forged tablet, steeped in recent human magnetism, is more easily handled as an apport than a genuine one taken from a mound. This same medium had, at one time or another, brought not less than a hundred of these imitation Babylonian tablets through.
"But that is enough about apports. Of course, one has to look out for frauds. That applies to every form of mediumship – and to other human activities. Take your own profession; we have had dishonest journalists. You are a journalist, but, so far as I know " – here Sir Arthur thoughtfully collected those Turkish coins and replaced them under lock and key - "you are an honest man. Still, the other day the Spiritualists caught an apport 'medium,' whose claims were being investigated, with small stones stuck by plaster behind his ears. We've no use for that sort of 'apport' merchant; the conjurers can have him!
"One must not be credulous. But one must not be too incredulous. The man who believes nothing is just as foolish as the man who believes everything. Test and ponder each case for yourself, comparing it with the results of others. There are rogues in psychic circles, as there are in more mundane circles, but the true mediums amateur and professional, far outnumber them. By the way, one of the best apport mediums in this country will never accept payment for a sitting. If he could do by trickery the marvellous things he does through his psychic power he would be making a large income on the stage. Curious, isn't it?
"But in these days the gifts of the Spirit are becoming more mental and less physical. They are refining all the time. The coarser phenomena were mere signals to attract our attention. We have hardly a single good materialization medium in England now, while we have many excellent clairvoyants.
We next turned our attention to some finger-prints recorded, by request, by spirits who rapped with materialized fingers on a piece of smoked glass. This exhibit is of evidential value owing to the fact that the finger-prints of everyone present were carefully taken immediately after the Séance. Finger-prints do not lie, and if you visit the Museum and compare the spirit finger-prints with those of the sitters you will find proof of the fact that the former were not made by any of the sitters. Who, then, did imprint them upon that piece of smoked glass?
Sir Arthur next told me the facts concerning some of the most striking of the many spirit photographs in his Museum.
But to digress for a moment, I feel I should first report this; you ought to know it. "Those spirit photographs, now," said The Strand photographer, as we drove away. "I know how they're done! I've examined some through my magnifying glass. They superimpose another portrait on the negative before they use it. I've seen the marks."
Well, well, well! Now, here is a man with knowledge that some of the best scientific brains in the world are searching for, and he lets it out calmly, casually – just like that – in a taxi! I have urged him to send a full report of his discovery to every important scientific body! And he will, doubtless, also explain how it is that the spirit faces are so often recognized by sitters as those of dead relatives!
So now that at last we know exactly how spirit photographs are produced, let us examine one or two of those in the Museum.
Sir Arthur handed me a group photograph of Mrs. Hewat McKenzie, Hon. Secretary of the British College of Psychic Science, Mr. Stanley de Brath, M.Inst.C.E., and Miss Scatcherd, all for many years experienced investigators. (No.4.)
"Dr. Gustave Geley, who had probably gone as deeply as anyone into psychic science – his great book, 'From the Unconscious to the Conscious,' will probably stand the test of time – had arranged to sit with Mr. Hope, the photographic medium of Crewe, for a portrait on which he hoped to obtain what is called a spirit 'extra.'
“Immediately before the date fixed for the sitting, Dr. Geley was killed in an aeroplane accident. That was on July 15th, 1924. The séance with Mr. Hope was nevertheless held on the appointed day, and, as will be seen, Dr. Geley, too, kept his appointment, for his face can be very clearly seen above the sitters. In the top right-hand corner can be seen also part of the secret mark made by the manufacturers on the negatives before they were packed, in order to prove that the same negatives were used, and there is a certificate that the medium was never allowed to handle them. Readers desiring the full details will find them in Psychic Science of October, 1924, and in the Revue Metapsychique for the same month."
Two large photographs which every visitor to the Museum should inspect closely are of a Mr. Walker of Derbyshire. One shows him as he was on earth and one as a spirit; the features are identical. This Mr. Walker was a friend of W. T. Stead, and he went with the great journalist to bid him good-bye before his voyage on the doomed Titanic. Stead's last words to Mr. Walker were: "I will try to keep you posted." After the sinking of the Titanic, and the drowning of Stead, Mr. Walker went to be photographed by Mr. Hope of Crewe. In the portrait then taken can be seen, written round Mr. Walker's head, the last words be heard Stead utter : "I will try to keep you posted," followed by the signature W. T. Stead. And the writing is undoubtedly the same as Stead's.
Sir Arthur related the sequel to this. Mr. Walker died and his family then assembled at Mr. Hope's studio, hoping for a spirit portrait of him. They got it. Inspection will show that the spirit head is an almost exact "double" of the photograph of Mr. Walker taken during, his life here; and round which Stead wrote his evidential message.
Sir Arthur called my attention to one of the many interesting documents framed on the walls. "Here is a letter from Oscar Wilde written to me in his lifetime. Below you see a written communication from him many years after his death. It came by automatic writing through the hand of Mrs. Hester Dowden, the psychic daughter of the eminent Shakespearean scholar. Now look at the signature: look at the fine points of resemblance in the two scripts. When, in addition, one learns that the complete manuscript, which your readers can get under the title of 'Psychic Messages of Oscar Wilde,' is full of characteristic prose, and contains numerous little-known allusions to his own life, one surely must admit that it is difficult to explain the facts save by the hypothesis that it is actually Wilde who is behind it.
"Over there you can examine portions of the original automatic script given through the hand of the Rev. G. Vale Owen and published in his wonderful volumes, 'The Life Beyond the Veil.'" This slate, on the other hand, bears evidential testimony to the fact that there is such a phenomenon as direct spirit writing. The passage is ancient Greek, and was produced on the slate in the presence of the medium Slade in 1876. Slade was not well-educated and knew no Greek. Authorities on Greek assert that only a great scholar could have placed the accents correctly, as they are placed on this slate. (No. 5)
"Now look at these complex flower designs." Sir Arthur pointed to the beautifully coloured wreath. (No. 6.) "This design is a specimen of yet another phase of psychic phenomena called precipitations."
“How long do you suppose this intricate design took to do? A matter of hours, certainly, one would say. Well, as a fact it was done completely in seventeen seconds! Naturally, we cannot expect everyone to believe that! Still, when we look at the corner of the paper we see the names of all the witnesses - reputable people in their day.
"By some power which we can only vaguely call psychic, the whole picture was thrown in those few seconds upon the paper. Incredible, of course but perfectly true none the less! In the top left-hand corner of this "precipitation" the following is written:-
"We whose names are hereto appended do certify that we were present and witnessed the production of the picture in seventeen seconds. Done on Saturday, April 13th, 1861, through the mediumship of Mrs. E. J. French in New York."
Among the five signatories was judge Edmonds, of the Supreme Court of New York.
"Now this,” said Sir Arthur, pointing to a striking seascape (No. 7), "is what I should call a specimen of the higher mediumship. This watercolour was done by a woman who had no knowledge of art, but who was controlled or obsessed from time to time, according to her own account, by the spirit of a Dutch water-colour painter. I came across her in Los Angeles. She is not allowed to sell the splendid results of her obsessions, but she gave me this picture. Did you ever see such a sense of movement in a seascape? And yet normally she could hardly draw or paint at all."
There are, unfortunately, limits to the length of this report; and it must, of necessity, be somewhat scrappy. Accounts of some of the most outstanding exhibits having evidential value have been given; from a mass of notes I find it difficult to choose: things which thrill me may leave you cold.
Reference should undoubtedly be made to the illustration of one of D. D. Home's miracles. (No. 8.) The picture is non-evidential, of course; but evidence enough to satisfy most people capable of forming a judgment on the considered statements of others will be found in the Earl of Dunraven's book, "Experiences in Spiritualism with D. D. Home." Home, while entranced, told his friends not to be afraid, and then went out of the room, which was on the third floor. He was heard to throw the window up in the next room, and presently he was seen to be floating in the air outside. He then opened the window and walked in quite coolly. A few moments later he repeated the manifestation, going through the open window "head first, quite rapidly, his body being nearly horizontal and apparently rigid. He came in again feet foremost."
These extraordinary happenings took place at Ashley House, Victoria Street, on Sunday, December 13th, 1868. The witnesses were Lord Adare (afterwards Earl of Dunraven), the Hon. the Master of Lindsay, and Captain Charles Wynne. "All honourable men," as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle remarked. "And," he added, "there are more than a hundred instances of Home's levitation. It is strange how a Christian can say such things are utterly impossible and yet, easily accept the account of St. Peter walking on the waves two thousand years ago. These psychic facts greatly reinforce the Biblical miracles, and some day the New Testament will be believed in, not in spite of but on account of the miracles."
I was looking through one of many albums of thought-provoking photographs when I came upon enlarged prints of the world famous photographs of fairies which The Strand Magazine introduced to an incredulous public.
“Fairies?” Sir Arthur echoed. "Well, we don't reckon them to be a part of Spiritualism, do we? But they are a part of the Universe, although they have no connection with human evolution. These, little creatures are separated from us only by a very slight difference of vibration, which can readily be pierced by the clairvoyant, and occasionally – as in the instances when these photographs were taken by those small girls – needs no piercing at all.
"The Cottingley fairies have held their own entirely and there has never been any damaging criticism at all. The two girls were perfectly honest and the photographs are unquestionably genuine. The negatives have stood every expert test.
"Here you see another fairy photograph (No. 10), which came from an adult source. It was taken in Devonshire a couple of years ago. The queer little fellow seen leaning against the tree is a tree spirit. We have always been told that 'they draw their strength from trees while leaning against them, also that they preserve a semi-wooden appearance. You get both conditions in this photograph."
We left the fairies and returned to our talk of things spiritual and psychic. We both for a moment forgot our resolution against propaganda when I asked Sir Arthur for a word or two which I could pass on to those who sometimes ask me urgent questions by no means easy to answer. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's words will form a fitting epilogue to this account of my visit to the World's Happiest Museum:-
"Fresh evidence for our survival of bodily death and for Spirit return, under certain conditions, is not needed. If only the existing evidence is examined it will be found to be overwhelmingly on the side of the angels. Unlike every hypothesis put forward by those who have proved the phenomena but are in doubt as to their origin, Spiritualism alone covers all the facts satisfactorily."