When World-Class Scientists Saw Ghosts (Part 1)

If you bring up the topic of paranormal activity as dramatic as levitation or ghosts to the average scientist, you might well get some claim along the lines of: while individual witnesses may have claimed to have seen such a thing, nothing like that has ever been observed by a scientist under controlled conditions. Such a statement is actually not at all true. Paranormal activity as dramatic as levitation and spectral appearances have been observed by some famous scientists under controlled conditions.

The most reliable way for us to get evidence of such things is to read an account written very close to the time of the alleged occurrences, preferably by the person who observed them. We have such an account in writings of Sir William Crookes, an eminent scientist of the nineteenth century. Crookes did fundamental investigations into cathode rays that helped to pave the way for the later invention of television. He also discovered the element thallium. If the Nobel Prize for physics had existed in his time, Crookes would probably have won it.

Crookes' first hand account of his observations of the paranormal is found in his 1874 book Researches in the Phenomena of  Modern Spiritualism, which is available online at this link or at this link. Below are some relevant passages.

Crookes personally tested the psychic medium Daniel Dunglas Home, after a great number of people over quite a few years had reported paranormal marvels when Home had visited their homes. On page 6 Crookes writes the following:

"Among the remarkable phenomena which occur under Mr. Home's influence, the most striking, as well as the most easily tested with scientific accuracy, are –(1) the alteration in the weight of bodies, and (2) the playing of tunes upon musical instruments (generally an accordion, for purposes of portability) without direct human intervention, under conditions rendering contact or connection with the keys impossible. Not until I had witnessed these facts some half-dozen times, and scrutinised them with all the critical acumen that I possess, did I become convinced of their objective reality."

On pages 6-10 Crookes describes an experiment done at Crookes' home, using an accordion Crookes bought himself. There were four other witnesses, including William Huggins and Edward William Cox, both fellows of the Royal Society, the leading scientific organization in England. The accordion was placed in a cage, and Home merely touched one end of it, the end on the opposite side of the keyboard. The accordion was heard to play by itself. On page 9 we are told this:

"But the sequel was still more striking, for Mr. Home then removed his hand altogether from the accordion, taking it quite out of the cage, and placed it on the hand of the person next to him. The instrument then continued to play, no person touching it and no hand being near it."

Crookes notes on page 10 observing an apparent levitation:

"I and two of the others present saw the accordion distinctly floating about in the cage with no visible means of support. This was repeated a second time, after a short interval."

Page 13, 14 and 15 of the book contains letters from two of the other witnesses of this paranormal activity. The letter from William Huggins to Crookes states that Crookes' account (as quoted above) was “a correct statement of what took place in my presence in your house.” The letter from Edward William Cox to Crookes, referring to Crookes account quoted above, states, “Having been present, for the purpose of scrutiny, at the trial of the experiments reported in this paper, I readily bear my testimony to the perfect accuracy of your description of them, and to the care and caution with which the various crucial tests were applied.”

On page 15 Crookes gives some more details on his claim that Home could produce a paranormal alteration in the weight of bodies. Crookes states the following:

"I tested with a weighing machine the phenomenon on two subsequent occasions when I had an opportunity of meeting Mr. Home at the home of a friend. On the first occasion, the increase of weight was from 8 lbs normally, to 36 lbs, 48 lbs, and 46 lbs, in three successive experiments tried under strict scrutiny. On the second occasion, tried about a fortnight after, in the presence of other observers, I found an increase of weight to be from 8 lbs to 23 lbs, 43 lbs, and 27 lbs, in three successive trials, varying the conditions."

Clearly Crookes claim of a paranormal alteration in the weight of an object was not some kind of fuzzy impression but instead a carefully measured result involving a dramatic variation of up to 600%.

After taking quite a few pages to very carefully describe some of his scientific equipment, pages which include exact diagrams and graphs, Crookes states this on page 23:

"These experiments confirm beyond doubt the conclusions at which I arrived in my previous paper, namely, the existence of a force associated, in some manner not yet explained, with the human organisation, by which force, increased weight is capable of being imparted to solid bodies without physical contact."

On page 34 Crookes begins listing some classes of paranormal phenomena that he has personally observed. Class II is paranormal sounds. Crookes mentions that he repeatedly observed a rich variety of paranormal-seeming sounds occurring around medium Kate Fox, often very loud. Class IV involves the paranormal movement of heavy objects. Crookes states on page 37, “On three successive evenings a small table moved slowly across the room, under conditions which I had specially pre-arranged, so as to answer any objection that might be raised as to the evidence.”  Class V is the levitation of tables and chairs off of the ground, without contact with any person. Crookes states on page 40, “On five separate occasions, a heavy dining table rose between a few inches and 1 ½ feet off of the ground, under special circumstances, which rendered trickery impossible.” He also states on page 41, “At another time two children, on separate occasions, rose from the floor with their chairs, in full daylight, under (to me) most satisfactory conditions; for I was kneeling, and keeping close watch upon the feet of the chair, and observing that no one might touch them.”

Class VI is the levitation of human beings. Crookes states the following on page 38:

"The most striking cases of levitation which I have witnessed have been with Mr. Home. On three separate occasions have I seen him raised completely from the floor of the room. Once sitting in an easy chair, once kneeling on his chair, and once standing up....There are at least a hundred recorded instances of Mr. Home rising from the ground, in the presence of as many separate persons."

Crookes noted three other prestigious witnesses to Home's levitations (the Earl of Dunraven, Lord Lindsay, and Captain C. Wynne). Class VIII was luminous appearances. Crookes records various paranormal lights that he saw floating about. Class IX is luminous hands floating about. Crookes records seeing numerous such cases. Class X is direct writing, which Crookes defines as writing not produced by anyone present. He states on page 43, “A luminous hand came down from the upper part of the room, and after hovering near me for a few seconds, took a pencil from my hand, rapidly wrote on a sheet of paper, threw the pencil down, and then rose up over our heads, fading into darkness.”

Does this qualify as a ghost sighting? While ghost sightings often involve reports of full human forms, in many ghost sightings it is reported that only part of a human was seen, perhaps only half a body or an arm or hand. We can define a ghost as a human form, full or partial, that appears and disappears mysteriously. Under that definition, the account just quoted qualifies as a ghost sighting (and I will soon cite much more dramatic cases).

Class XI is phantom forms and faces. Recounting what must be called a ghost sighting, Crookes states this on page 44:

"A dark, shadowy, semi-transparent form, like that of a man, was then seen by all present standing near the window, waving the curtain with his hand. As we looked, the form faded away and the curtain ceased to move."

The climax of the book is the sensational case of Florence Cook, who was a teenage girl Crookes tested extensively at his own home in 1874, after numerous observers had reported in 1873 astounding inexplicable phenomena connected with her. Cook repeatedly seemed to produce what is called a full-form materialization. In a typical occurrence, Cook would go into what is called a “cabinet,” but which was typically just a small area of a room closed off by a curtain. There would then mysteriously emerge a seemingly different figure who identified herself as Katie King. Katie King kept showing up numerous times in the sessions at Crookes' home, until May 21, 1874 (previously announced by her as the last day she would appear).

Could this figure have simply been Florence in disguise? Some observations of Crookes conflict with such a claim. On page 104 he states, “When Katie was outside the cabinet, standing before me, I heard a moaning noise from Miss Cook in the cabinet.” On page 105 he says not more than three seconds passed between him seeing Katie in a white robe and seeing Florence Cook in black clothes. On page 107 Crookes recalls seeing Katie and Florence in separate places of the room. On that page he also notes physical differences between the two, such as: Katie being between four and a half inches taller and six inches taller than Florence (even though Katie was barefoot and not tip-toeing); Katie having a very fair complexion that differed from Florence's dark complexion; and Katie having much longer fingers than Florence, and a much larger face. The numerous people seeing Katie King (such as Crookes) reported her being barefoot, so the substantial difference in height between Katie and Florence (also reported by other sources) seemingly rules out the idea of Florence masquerading as Katie.

Using the exact parapsychology terminology, we would call Katie King a “full-form mediumistic materialization,” but using my previous definition of a ghost (as a human form, full or partial, that appears and disappears mysteriously), we can call Katie King a ghost. Crookes took some clear photographs of the mysterious figure, which can be seen by doing a Google image search for "Katie King." The image below is from this archive. 

Crookes notes on page 66 that Florence Cook agreed to every test he proposed, and that "I have never seen anything approaching the slightest symptom of a wish to deceive."

Some have tried to write off the case of Katie King by suggesting that it was all a fraud cooked up by Crookes and Florence Cook. No one has ever presented a plausible reason for such a fraud, and there is no evidence for the claim of fraud. An 1876 book entitled “The Proof Palpable of Immortality” by Epes Sargent (which can be read using this link to see the third edition or this link to see the first edition) quotes at great length (pages 50-70) the testimony of quite a few witnesses who testified to the mysterious and paranormal appearances of the phantom Katie King in many different seances of Florence Cook in 1873, before Crookes even started his investigation (which began in 1874). These witnesses include Emily Kislingbury, Dr. J. M. Gully, Benjamin Coleman, a Dr. Sexton, Prince Emile, Amelia Corner, Caroline Corner, J. C. Luxmoore, G. R. Tapp, and W. H. Harrison. On page 58 of the book Coleman is quoted as saying Katie King “glided about rather than walked.” Some report Katie appearing even though Florence Cook was tied to a chair. On page 54 of the book, Dr. J. M. Gully is quoted as saying this in 1874:

"To the special question which you put regarding my experiences of the materialization of the spirit-form, with Miss Cook's mediumship, I must reply that, after two years' examination of the fact and numerous séances, I have not the smallest doubt, and have the strongest conviction, that such materialization takes place, and that not the slightest attempt at trick or deception is fairly attributable to any one who assisted at Miss Cook's séances."

Gully asserts on page 54 of the book that the Katie King materialization was something that came on quite gradually over several months in the years 1872-1873, with the full form appearing only after partial human forms had been seen. He says this:

"That the power grows with use was curiously illustrated by the fact that, for some time, only a face was producible, with, occasionally, arms and hands ; with no hair, and sometimes with no back to the skull at all-merely a mask, with movement, however, of eyes and mouth. Gradually the whole form appeared-after, perhaps, some five months of séances once or twice a week. This again became more and more rapidly formed, and changed, in hair, dress, and color of face, as we desired.“

The book also cites numerous witnesses to the Crookes sessions with Florence Cook in which Katie King appeared, and cites their testimony that the phenomenon was authentic. For example, on page 106 a Mrs. Ross-Church states the following:

"Whatever Katie King was on the evening of the 9th of May [1874], she was not Miss Cook. To that fact I am ready to take my most solemn oath. She repeated the same experiment with me on the 13th, and on that occasion we had the benefit of mutual sight also, as the whole company were invited to crowd around the door whilst the curtain was withdrawn and the gas turned up to the full, in order that we might see the medium, in her blue dress and scarlet shawl, lying in a trance on the floor, whilst the white-robed spirit stood beside her."

The average reader probably has never heard of any of these cases, although he or she may have read numerous articles on the topic of ghosts. What we must remember is that when mainstream thinkers discuss the paranormal, they usually keep us in carefully filtered information bubbles, hiding from us all the better cases of paranormal phenomena. There is a slogan “history is written by the winners.” Gaining predominance in universities, today's dogmatic professors are the winners who present their own biased accounts of what happened long ago, passing everything through the distortion prism of their own prejudices. To find out what actually happened decades or centuries ago, always go back to the original accounts of those who witnessed things. 

In the next part of this three-part series of blog posts, I will report on some ghost accounts perhaps even more astounding than those reported by Crookes. Interestingly, the reports I will discuss were made by an eminent scientist who was one of the two co-founders of a theory that is supported with great zeal by the type of people who are least likely to believe in ghosts. Part 3 of this 3-part series can be read here

Postscript: The book by Sargent I mentioned above is good evidence that the Katie King sightings do not merely rest on the testimony of Crookes, but were attested to by quite a few other eyewitnesses. Further evidence of that can be found in pages 15 to 18 of Alexander Aksakof's very interesting book "A Case of Partial Dematerialization of the Body of a Medium," which can be read in full here.  Aksakof describes in detail how he witnessed a session with Florence Cook on October 22, 1873, in a small dining room of a house where a curtain had been raised.  He recalls seeing Florence being very carefully tied up with cord, knots and seals, and that within 15 minutes Katie King appeared.  His account then states that just after he saw Katie King vanish,  he saw Florence Cook tied up behind the curtain.  He states he then saw Katie King reappear again, before disappearing.  He reports that at the end of the session Florence Cook was found to be tied up in knots just as she was at the start. He says this:

"Mr. Luxmore requested me to make a careful examination of the cords, knots and seals. All were intact, and when he asked me to cut the bands I could hardly introduce the scissors beneath them, so tightly were the hands tied. My confidence in the genuineness of this manifestation is absolute." 

Further testimony to the reality of the Katie King apparition or materialization can be found in Chapter XVI of the interesting book There Is No Death by Florence Marryat, which can be read here or  here.  Marryat says on page 140 that Katie King was sometimes much taller than Florence Cook.  She says on page 141: "I have seen both Florrie and 'Katie' together on several occasions, so I can have no doubt on the subject that they were two separate creatures."

Marryat describes various conversations she had with Katie King, including one in which she saw Katie King naked. On page 143 Marryat describes seeing the form of Katie King gradually disappear:

"Then three gas-burners were turned on to their full extent in a room about sixteen feet square. The effect upon 'Katie King' was marvellous. She looked like herself for the space of a second only, then she began gradually to melt away. I can compare the dematerialization of her form to nothing but a wax doll melting before a hot fire. First, the features became blurred and indistinct; they seemed to run into each other. The eyes sunk in the sockets, the nose disappeared, the frontal bone fell in. Next the limbs appeared to give way under her, and she sank lower and lower on the carpet like a crumbling edifice. At last there was nothing but her head left above the ground—then a heap of white drapery only, which disappeared with a whisk, as if a hand had pulled it after her—and we were left staring by the light of three gas-burners at the spot on which 'Katie King' had stood."

On page 213 of Volume 8 of the Annals of Psychical Science (1909), we read the following about Florence Cook and the "Katie King" phantom or materialization:

"The most elaborate scientific test made concerning them is published in The Spiritualist of March 2oth, 1874 (p. 134), by Cromwell Varley, F.R.S., the Atlantic cable electrician. The object of the test was to establish the separate identity of the medium and the materialised form. It was made in the presence of Mr. J. C. Luxmoore, J.P., Mr. William Crookes, Mrs. Crookes, Mrs. Cook, Mr. G. R. Tapp, Mr. Harrison and Mr. Varley. The medium [Florence Cook], who sat in a small cabinet, was put in circuit with an electric battery and galvanometer, by means of electrodes placed over pads of moist blotting paper attached to her arms a little above her wrists. Matters were so arranged that the medium could not leave the cabinet without the fact being instantly detected. Katie appeared outside the cabinet and went through various motions as requested, showing both her arms. The galvanometer remained practically undisturbed. In many instances Katie was only partly materialised. If "the power" was failing her legs would dissolve away, and her head would remain to the last, while she would go on speaking. In another case the back of her head was wanting, but on the fact being pointed out to her she quickly completed it."