THE LAST OF KATIE KING
Taken from Gilbert Roller's book "Voice From Beyond" 1975 (Popular Library, New York)
This letter from Sir William Crookes appeared in Spiritualistic journals, probably in April, 1874. The precise date is unknown.
Having taken a very prominent part of late at Miss Cook's séances, and having been very successful in taking numerous photographs of Katie King by the aid of the electric light, I have thought that the publication of a few of the details would be of interest to the readers of the "Spiritualist".
During the week before Katie took her departure she gave séances at my house almost nightly, to enable me to photograph her by artificial light. Five complete sets of photographic apparatus were accordingly fitted up for the purpose, consisting of five cameras, one of the whole-plate size, one half-plate, one quarter-plate, and two binocular stereoscopic cameras, which were all brought to bear upon Katie at the same time on each occasion on which she stood for her portrait. Five sensitising and five fixing baths were used, and plenty of plates were cleaned ready for use in advance, so that there might be no hitch or delay during the photographic operations, which were performed by myself, aided by one assistant.
My library was used as a dark cabinet. It has folding doors opening into the laboratory; one of these doors was taken off its hinges, and a curtain suspended in its place to enable Katie to pass in and out easily. Those of our friends who were present were seated in the laboratory facing the curtain, and the cameras were placed a little behind them, ready to photograph Katie when she came outside, and to photograph anything also inside the cabinet, whenever the curtain was withdrawn for the purpose. Each evening there were three or four exposures of plates in the five cameras, giving at least fifteen separate pictures at each séance; some of these were spoilt in the developing, and some in regulating the amount of light. Although I have forty-four negatives, some inferior, some indifferent, and some excellent.
Katie instructed all the sitters but myself to keep their seats and to keep conditions, but for some time past she has given me permission to do what I liked - to touch her, and to enter and leave the cabinet almost whenever I pleased. I have frequently followed her into the cabinet, and have sometimes seen her and her medium together, but most generally I have found nobody but the entranced medium lying on the floor, Katie and her white robes having instantaneously disappeared.(3)
During the last six months Miss Cook has been a frequent visitor at my house, remaining sometimes a week at a time. She brings nothing with her but a little hand-bag, not locked; during the day she is constantly in the presence of Mrs. Crookes, myself, or some member of my family, and, not sleeping by herself, there is absolutely no opportunity for any preparation even of a less elaborate character than would be required for enacting Katie King. I prepare and arrange my library myself as the dark cabinet, and usually, after Miss Cook has been dining and conversing with us, and scarcely out of our sight for a minute, she walks direct into the cabinet, and I, at her request, lock its second door, and keep possession of the key all through the séance; the gas is then turned out, and Miss Cook is left in darkness.
On entering the cabinet, Miss Cook lies down upon the floor, with her head on a pillow, and is soon entranced. During the photographic séance, Katie muffled her medium's head up in a shawl to prevent the light falling upon her face. I frequently drew the curtain on one side when Katie was standing near, and it was a common thing for the seven or eight of us in the laboratory to see Miss Cook and Katie at the same time, under the full blaze of the electric light. We did not on these occasions actually see the face of the medium because of the shawl, but we saw her hands and feet; we saw her move uneasily under the influence of the intense light, and we heard her moan occasionally. I have one photograph of the two together, but Katie is seated in front of Miss Cook's head.(4)
During the time I have taken an active part in these séances Katie's confidence in me gradually grew, until she refused to give a séance unless I took charge of the arrangements. She said she always wanted me to keep close to her, and near the cabinet, and I found that after this confidence was established, and she was satisfied that I would not break any promise I might make to her, the phenomena increased greatly in power, and tests were freely given that would have been unobtainable had I approached the subject in another manner. She often consulted me about persons present at the séances, and where they should be placed, for of late she had become very nervous, in consequence of certain ill-advised suggestions that force should be employed as an adjunct to more scientific modes of research.
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.
Having seen so much of Katie lately, when she has been illuminated by the electric light, I am enabled to add to the points of difference between her and her medium which I mentioned in a former article. I have the most 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.(5)
One evening I timed Katie's pulse. It beat steadily at 75, whilst Miss Cook's pulse a little time after was going at its usual rate of 90. On applying my ear to Katie's chest I heard 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.
You readers may be interested in having Mrs. Ross Church's and your own accounts of the last appearance of Katie supplemented by my own narrative, as far as I can publish it. When the time came for Katie to take her farewell I asked that she would let me see the last of her. Accordingly when she had called each of the company up to her and had spoken to them a few words in private, she gave some general directions for the future guidance and protection of Miss Cook. From these, which were taken down in shorthand, I quote the following: "Mr. Crookes has done very well throughout, and I leave Florence with the greatest confidence in his hands, feeling perfectly sure he will not abuse the trust I place in him. He can act in any emergency better than I can myself, for he has more strength." Having concluded her directions Katie invited me into the cabinet with her, and allowed me to remain there to the end.
After closing the curtain she conversed with me for some time, and then walked across the room to where Miss Cook was lying senseless on the floor. Stooping over her, Katie touched her, and said: "Wake up, Florrie, wake up! I must leave you now." Miss Cook then woke and tearfully entreated Katie to stay a little time longer. "My dear, I can't, my work is done. God bless you," Katie replied, and then continued speaking to Miss Cook. For several minutes the two were conversing with each other, till at last Miss Cook's tears prevented her speaking. Following Katie's instructions I then came forward to support Miss Cook, who was falling on the floor, sobbing hysterically. I looked round, but the white-robed Katie had gone. As soon as Miss Cook was sufficiently calmed, a light was procured and I led her out of the cabinet.
The almost daily séances with which Miss Cook has lately favoured me have proved a severe tax upon her strength, and I wish to make the most public acknowledgment of the obligations I am under to her for her readiness to assist me in my experiments. Every test that I have proposed she has at once agreed to submit to with the utmost willingness, she is open and straight-forward in speech, and I have never seen anything approaching the slightest symptom of a wish to deceive. Indeed, I do not believe she could carry on a deception if she were to try, and if she did she would certainly be found out very quickly, for such a line of action is altogether foreign to her nature. And to imagine that an innocent school-girl of fifteen should be able to conceive and then successfully carry out for three years so gigantic an imposture as this, and in that time should submit to any test which might be imposed upon her, should bear the strictest scrutiny, should be willing to be searched at any time, either before or after the séance, and should meet with even better success in my own house than at that of her parents, knowing that she visited me with the express object of submitting to strict scientific tests - 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.
It would not be right for me to conclude this article without also thanking Mr. and Mrs. Cook for the great facilities they have given me to carry on these observations and experiments.
(3) The ability of a second person attempting deception to disappear instantaneously would, under the control conditions imposed, be a feat beyond even a master magician. When Sir William uses the term "instantaneously" we may be sure he does so as a scientist.
(4) This is a highly important paragraph since it reduces the matter to the possibility of an accomplice - who, we must not forget - was able to disintegrate before the eyes of witnesses, appear with Varley invisible from the waist down, allow fingers to pass through her wrist, and entrance and exit through an electrified curtain - or the alternate possibility - a phantom.
(5) Before we proceed further, we should consider another important aspect of the journal. The nature of the writing affords us the opportunity to judge the character of Sir William Crookes. Perhaps no other investigation in the field of psychic phenomena has caused such a tempest as the Katie King séances. For almost one hundred years, these phenomena have been a scientific hornet's nest, evoking violent hostility and equally vehement support. Nowhere in the journal does Sir William give an indication of the magnitude of the controversy that raged about him and his associates during the release of the information and the photographs concerning these experiments. It was not until long after the death of Sir William and all of those involved with this investigation that the attacks began in earnest.
There is a rather interesting corollary aspect to this. German law forbids libel and slander against a deceased person. Those related to that person may bring suit to recover damages, unless the allegations can be proven beyond a doubt. English law provided no such protection.
In 1949 these attacks against Sir William reached their climax with published charges that not only had he indulged in a love affair with Florence Cook, but had participated in the fraudulent demonstrations of Katie King. These claims were based on the statements of a man of no particular achievement, in his late seventies, that he had been a lover of Florence Cook. He alleged that Florence, in a moment of passionate confession, had divulged to him that she had been the mistress of Sir William, and together, they had arranged the Katie King occurrences. These revelations, whatever their motivation, conveniently provide the background for a spicy book at the expense of one of the world's great scientists and a woman whose only impropriety, until the appearance of this book, was mediumship. Florence Cook, dead some forty-five years, and Sir William, thirty years, had no opportunity to defend themselves. His surviving family preferred to make no comment on the book or its allegations.