Accounts of Those Who Met with Leonora Piper

The case of Leonora Piper is one of the most astonishing cases in the annals of psychic phenomena.  Witnesses who met with her repeatedly claimed that she seemed to have knowledge that could not have been acquired through any well-understood means. For many years Piper would fall into a trance, and then begin speaking in a different-sounding voice, often a voice of someone identifying himself as someone other than Piper. Such a mysterious "control" would often seem to know things that Leonora Piper could not possibly have known.  In later years under such trances Piper would produce writings called automatic writings. 

Leonora Piper

The first mention of this case in the literature of parapsychology comes in pages 436 to 650 in Volume 6 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research.  The account is mainly written by Richard Hodgson, who investigated Piper for years. On page 438 we read this: "Mr. Hodgson has been in the habit of bringing acquaintances of his own to Mrs. Piper, without giving their names; and many of these have heard from the trance-utterance facts about their dead relations, etc., which they feel sure that Mrs. Piper could not have known."  On page 440 we read this introductory remark by Frederic Myers:

"On the whole, I believe that all observers, both in America and in England, who have seen enough of Mrs. Piper in both states to be able to form a judgment, will agree in affirming (1) that many of the facts given could not have been learnt even by a skilled detective ; (2) that to learn others of them, although possible, would have needed an expenditure of money as well as of time which it seems impossible to suppose that Mrs. Piper could have met ; and (3) that her conduct has never given any ground whatever for supposing her capable of fraud or trickery. Few persons have been so long and so carefully observed ; and she has left on all observers the impression of thorough uprightness, candour, and honesty."

On page 443 we have this statement by Professor Oliver Lodge:

"By introducing anonymous strangers, and by catechising her myself in various ways, I have satisfied myself that much of the information she possesses in the trance state is not acquired by ordinary commonplace methods, but that she has some unusual means of acquiring information. The facts on which she discourses are usually within the knowledge of some person present, though they are often entirely out of his conscious thought at the time. Occasionally facts have been narrated which have only been verified afterwards, and which are in good faith asserted never to have been known ; meaning thereby that they have left no trace on the conscious memory of any person present or in the neighbourhood, and that it is highly improbable that they 
were ever known to such persons. She is also in the trance state able to diagnose diseases and to specify the owners or late owners of portable property, under circumstances which preclude the application of ordinary methods....Concerning the particular means by which she acquires the different kinds of information, there is no sufficient evidence to make it safe to draw any conclusion. I can only say with certainty that it is by none of the ordinary methods known to Physical Science."

On page 449 Hodgson refers to medical statements often issued by Leonora Piper in a trance state. He states, "The medical statements, coinciding as they do with truth just as well as those of a regular physician, but given without any ordinary examination and sometimes without even seeing the patient, must be held as part of the evidence establishing a strong prima facie case for the existence of some abnormal means of acquiring information."

Beginning on page 465 we have long, detailed records of the statements Leonora Piper made in a trance state, while interacting with various people.  Since Hodgson frequently wrote down everything said, these pages read like a tape-recorded transcript.

There is a way in which the pages that follow debunk the explanation given by skeptics that mediums such as Piper got information through a technique of "cold reading." Whenever such a "cold reading" technique is used, there is always a very high percentage of questions spoken by the person trying to be a medium, and very few specific factual assertions made by such a person.  If I used "cold reading" to try to persuade you of some medium ability on my part, a large fraction of my statements would be questions; and rather than making very specific factual assertions (such as "your mother is named Joan"), I would mainly use vague assertions that might apply to large fractions of people -- such as saying something like "you hope to be rich one day" or "you worry about the health of an old parent." But in the conversations recorded by Hodgson, the number of specific detailed factual statements made by Piper is many times greater than the number of questions asked.  

On page 486 we have some comments by a G.H.R. who sat with Leonora Piper:

"The knowledge connnunicated by medium appeared to me to extend beyond the possibility of chance coincidence. The names of all my four brothers were given correctly, and also death of my mother, eldest brother, and (vaguely) death of infant sister....Compared with the correct statements, the inaccuracies were slight."

On page 1 of Volume 8 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, we have the beginning of a long account by Richard Hodgson, an investigative inquiry by him regarding Leonora Piper. You can read from that link to read introductory information about such an investigation. 

Richard Hodgson

On page 59 we have the beginning of a long appendix entitled "Detailed Reports of Sittings."  I will quote some passages from this appendix, which is the real meat of the evidence Hodgson presents.  When the text refers to "Phinuit," it is actually referring to words spoken by Leonora Piper in a trance state, while allegedly under the "spirit control" of another individual named Phinuit. 

On page 60 Hodgson narrates the following: 

"Phinuit mentioned the name 'Fred.' I said that it might be my cousin. 'He says you went to school together. He goes on jumping-frogs, and laughs. He says he used to get the better of you. He had convvulsive movements before his death, struggles. He went off in a sort of spasm. You were not there.' [My cousin Fred far excelled any other person that I have seen in the games of leap-frog, fly the garter, &c. He took very long flying jumps, and whenever he played, the game was lined by crowds of school-mates to watch him. He injured his spine in a gymnasium in Melbourne, Australia, in 1871, and was carried to the hospital, where he lingered for a fortnight, with occasional spasmodic convulsions, in one of 
which he died.]"

On page 64 Hodgson gets some information purportedly coming from this Fred, including a reference to a Harris that they knew at school, whose father was Hodgson's mother's brother.  This information was correct. On the same page Hodgson gets some very specific information regarding some female named Q. that he interacted with, information that only the two of them should have known. On page 65 Hodgson is told that he lost his keys in the mountains, which was correct. 

On page 96, an A. Y. from Boston narrates his sitting with Leonora Piper:

"At the first interview several remarkable phenomena occurred. Although I was introduced by another name, my true name was early given and some incidents of my life stated, which by no conceivable way could have been known to the medium, even if she had known who I was. The persons seeking communication with me were described by name and by person, with much particularity, and the inquiries made were such as they would have made if in conscious comniunicaticm with me. I was told that I was about to make a journey to a distant part of the country, which I had no intention to make, and which, indeed, had never been in my mind, but which soon afterwards it became necessary for me to make, and I did make it. One thing prominent at this interview and very unusual, so far as I know, was the concurrent descriptions of persons in life and in the other world and their relations with each other. For example : It was said to me that there was an elderly gentleman in the spirit-world, who was very desirous of speaking with me, and a full description of his person, and of his occupation, while in this life, was given, also a like description of an elderly lady, as to her person, and what she was at that moment doing. After a moment it was said that the lady is in the flesh, and that the gentleman was her husband, and in the spirit-world, and that he wshed me to give his love to lier. A moment later I was told that I am his son-in-law, which is correct, as all of the other circumstances were."

On page 97 a Mr. E. D. C. of Boston states the following:

"The communication I had through Mrs. Piper was of such a nature that I should hardly like to put it on paper. I will say, however, that I went there totally unknown to her, and the names she called and the facts she spoke of, known only to myself and those who are no longer here, astonished me beyond measure, for I had never before visited a medium or seen anything of the kind."

On page 100, an M. J. Savage sitting with Mrs. Piper is told that there are spirits present, and that one is his father, and that his father calls him Judson. Savage confirms that this is his middle name, and that in his family only his father called him by such a name.  Savage states this:

"During this same sitting Mrs. Piper's control also said, 'Here is somebody who says his name is John. He was your brother. No, not your brother ; your half-brother. ' Then, pressing her hand on the base of her brain, she moaned, as she swayed to and fro. Then she continued, 'He says it was so hard to die away off there all alone! How he did want to see mother!' She went on to explain that he died from a fall, striking the back of liis head. Her whole account of this was realistic in the extreme. My half-brother John, the son of my mother — for both father and mother had been twice married — died several years previous to this sitting. While building a mill in Michigan he fell, striking the back of his head on a 
piece of timber. He was far from all friends ; and was a most tender lover of his mother. I was not thinking of him until told that he was present. Many other things occurred during the sitting. But I mention only these, because, though simple, they are clear-cut and striking, and because I see no way by which Mrs. Piper could ever have known them."

On page 124 a Lillian Whiting states the following:

"As a test I asked her to describe my rooms at the Brunswick. This was done in several particulars. One thing described was a photograph of the novelist, Edgar Fawcett. 'What does that man do?'' I inquired. 'He writes books,' was the reply. In my room are several pictures of Miss Kate Field. This was noted by the medium as 'so many pictures of one lady —oh, a great many !'  'Tell me about that lady," I said. 'She appears before the public in some way. Yes, I see ! she lectures. She has a very strong intellect—a brilliant mind. One of these pictures I do not like. It is not good of her. You should put it away. Turn the back to the wall.' [This is true ; the largest picture I have of Miss Field being one that does her injustice.] The prophecy was made that I should go abroad within a year to remain indefinitely, and that hereafter my life would be spent mainly in England. The place was described ; a country estate, north of London. We can see whether this will be verified. At this time nothing could seem more improbable and all but impossible to me. This I said to the medium, stating that I had not money enough to dream of doing such a thing, but she replied that it would come. My writing methods and many personal details were correctly given."

On page 125 a Doctor C. L. states the following:

"I saw Mrs. Piper October 31st. She did not know me before. She reminded me of an accident by which I, as a seven-year-old boy, was very nearly drowned. It is very seldom that my thoughts occupy themselves, with the incident. I did not at the time fully realise the danger. The trance person and I spoke French two or three times during the sitting. He did not seem to be desirous of talking it a long time. He would very soon translate my answer into English, and then go on in English. Asked if he could tell me which gentlemen I had dined with the previous day, he described both of them in a surprisingly accurate way, their appearance as well as their character. He told me how many we were at home, described my sister, and gave even her name, Marie. She is in Norway. He saw me surrounded by books and papers. He told me that my stomach and nervous system had been broken down, and described my illness at the time very well."

On page 127 an artist describes his setting with Leonora Piper:

"My profession (painting) was described, and my particular talents and mannerisms in design were mentioned...At this interview my mother was clearly described ! She was 'beside me, dressed as in her portrait (painted a year or two before her death), and wearing a certain cameo pin, the portrait of my father.' Two living aunts, who are very dear to me, my brother and his wife 'Nellie' weve well described, and in such a way as to have made it impossible for Mrs. Piper to have so minutely informed herself about them.... At this sitting the 'Doctor' told me of my niece being frequently 'in my surroundings,' and that she was then at my side. Up to this time I had not heard my name mentioned so I asked of it from my niece. The 'Doctor' was again puzzled and said, "What a funny name — wait, I cannot go so fast !' Then my entire name was correctly spelled out but entirely with the French alphabet, each separate letter being clearly pronounced in that language. My niece had heen born, lived most of her short life, and died in France....On placing in Mrs. Piper's hands the marriage register of my grandfather, she gave a veiy minute description of it, although she could not possibly have seen it or its contents."

On page 285 of Volume 13 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, we have this statement by Richard Hodgson:

"I had several sittings myself with Mrs. Piper, at which much 
intimate knowledge, some of it very personal, was shown of deceased friends or relatives of mine ; and I made appointments for sittings for at least fifty persons whom I believed to be strangers to Mrs. Piper, taking the utmost precautions to prevent her obtaining any information beforehand as to who the sitters were to be. The general result was the same as in my own case. Most of these persons were told facts through the trance-utterance which they felt sure could not have become known to Mrs. Piper by ordinary means. For several weeks, moreover, at the suggestion of one of our members, detectives were employed for the purpose of ascertaining whether there were any indications that Mrs. Piper or her husband, or other persons connected with her, tried to ascertain facts about possible sitters by the help of confederates, or other ordinary methods of inquiry ; but not the smallest indication whatever of any such procedure was discovered. My own conclusion was that — after allowing the widest possible margin for information obtainable under the circumstances by ordinary means, for chance coincidence and remarkable guessing, aided by clues given consciously .and unconsciously by the sitters, and helped out by supposed hyperfesthesia on the part of Mrs. Piper, — there remained a large residuum of knowledge displayed in her trance state, which could not be accounted for except on the hypothesis that she had some supernormal power; and this conviction has been strengthened by my later investigations."

In the paper in Volume 13, we read that Leonora Piper started practicing automatic writing, in which someone in a trance-like state holds a pen, and produces writing that may seem to come from some other person, perhaps a person who had died. We learn that not long after a George Pelham known by Richard Hodgson died, Piper's trance writings claimed to be coming from George Pelham. 

Hodgson then starting bringing to Leonora Piper people who George Pelham had known, who did not identify themsleves, mixed with other people who George Pelham had not known.  He found that in the trance writings, the people who Pulman had known were correctly identified.  Hodgson states this on page 328 of Volume 13 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research: "There are thirty cases of true recognition out of at least one hundred and fifty persons who have had sittings with Mrs. Piper since the first appearance of G. P., and no case of false recognition."  On page 330 Hodgson states,  "I may say generally that out of a large number of sitters who went as strangers to Mrs. Piper, the communicating G. P. has picked out the friends of G. P. living, precisely as the G. P. living might have been expected to do, and has exhibited memories in connection with these and other friends which arc such as would naturally be associated as part of the G. P. personality."

Several books on the topic can be read online by going to and typing "Leonora Piper" in the search box (which yields this set of books). One of these books is the 1922 book “Past and Present with Mrs. Piper” by Anne Manning Robbins, a friend of Leonora Piper. On page 49 of the book we start to read an interesting sketch of life after death, told in trance on May 24, 1904 by Leonora Piper through automatic writing (which the book states was used almost exclusively by Piper between 1903 and 1908, rather than verbal trance speaking). The source dictated as if it were some deceased spirit.

Asked about the transition to life after death, the source stated this:

"You know the actual passing out of the body, there is a little feeling of, sort of depression, as it were, and then when 
I passed out, just as I passed out, I began to feel uplifted. I felt as though the air was filled with perfume, and I was [soaring], rising, rising, rising above my body until I passed behind simply a veil. It is thin. It blinds your vision. It obstructs the vision for a moment from the earthly world. Then after we have passed beyond it, why the music, the flowers, the trees, the birds, the lakes, the rivers, the hills, the gardens, the walks, are perfectly magnificent, perfectly magnificent, and nothing in the earthly world hardly can even correspond to them."

The source later describes seeing those he or she recognized, but being unable to speak their names, until he or she apparently discovered telepathic communication was possible:

"And the feeling of ecstasy is beyond description, and no spirit that ever returned to earth could begin to describe it for the understanding of the mortal mind. And then I was surrounded by friends, by acquaintances, by old war veterans, by my intimate friends whom I know, members of my family and all, surrounded by them, welcoming me. Why, I felt as though I should be enveloped by them, the delight was so great, but when I tried to call them by name I was at a loss to do so. They had to tell me who they were. I knew their faces, not one failed to me. I knew them and understood them well. I saw them and recognized them, but to call them by name, believe me, I could not. And when I tried to speak I found instead of it being an effort and difficult for me to speak, I found that my thoughts were understood, actually understood, and their thoughts were returned to me. There was a perfect communion between us."

The source then describes a pleasant welcome:

"And then I was taken — would you believe it if I should tell you? I was taken to an actual mansion. It would be what you would call a palace. There is a garden, walks about it. It is divided into rooms, actual compartments. I was taken to that and [they] said: 'Here is your home; occupy it, live in it; have what friends you choose with you, what relatives you choose with you, and as those whom you have left behind follow you, you may welcome them to this home as you may see fit...I went in and looked about me. I said: 'Where does this music come from?' I walked through a corridor and turned into a room at the right and actually walked without fatigue, without effort; I simply glided in. I saw beautiful pictures upon the walls, I saw beautiful flowers that we called in the body palms, growing about me. I heard this beautiful music. I stepped along to a window and looked out, and under the window there were fifty young, beautiful faces, all playing, — an orchestra. That was my welcome, that was my serenade, as it were. And they said: 'This is heaven, this is the spiritual world. We greet you.' I went to the window and as I looked out upon the orchestra they each one bowed and waved their hands, and yet the music continued. They were playing upon instruments, actual instruments, all in harmony, and I never heard anything like it in the earthly world. The music was divine." 

The source then describes a very pleasant situation in which wishes can be quickly translated into reality:

"I said: 'Now I would like to see if it is possible, I would like to see flowers about me.' I went to the window, and would you believe, the flowers appeared to me in masses, en masseI might say, and I never saw such flowers. There were lilies, roses, violets, geraniums, carnations, azaleas, hyacinths, tulips, poppies, of every conceivable description, not all intermingled, but each one in its own place. What could you find, what could one wish for better than that? I said: 'Now if it is wise and right that I should seek it, I would like to hear something that sounds like the voice of a bird.'...In a moment the air was filled with the music of the different birds. Well, you have no conception of what that melody was like. I saw the birds. The birds were just as distinct, much more so than your own. The flowers are real, and as I go back to the mortal life and see the crudeness of it and see how I lived, the active energy and the active life that I then led, the energy which I put into that life, I wonder that I ever existed in it at all. Now you are not living in the real life. You are living in a dream, as it were. When you awaken from the dream you will live, in the eternal life."