The Campaign for Philosophical Freedom
 News  Articles  Correspondence  Recommended  Links  About    
 Background  Ronald Pearson  Scientists  Religion  Mediums 

Articles: Scientists

Printer-friendly version of this article

Sir William Crookes

  Sir William Crookes Proved Survival

  Miss Florence Cook's Mediumship


  The Last of Katie King

  The Researches of Sir William Crookes

Sir Oliver Lodge

  The Mode of Future Existence

  Psychic Science

Thomas Edison: The Philosophy of Paine

Michael Roll: Thomas Paine

Alfred Russel Wallace

Louis Essen

Albert Einstein

Michael Hanlon: B D Josephson

© The Campaign for Philosophical Freedom


Taken from Gilbert Roller's book "Voice From Beyond" 1975 (Popular Library, New York)

This letter from Sir William Crookes appeared in Spiritualistic journals in March 1874.

In a letter which I wrote to this journal early in February last, speaking of the phenomena of spirit-forms which have appeared through Miss Cook's mediumship, I said, "Let those who are inclined to judge Miss Cook harshly suspend their judgment until I bring forward positive evidence which I think will be sufficient to settle the question. Miss Cook is now devoting herself exclusively to a series of private séances with me and one or two friends ... Enough has taken place to thoroughly convince me of the perfect truth and honesty of Miss Cook, and to give me every reason to expect that the promises so freely made to me by Katie will be kept."

In that letter I described an incident which, to my mind, went very far towards convincing me that Katie and Miss Cook were two separate material beings. When Katie was outside the cabinet, standing before me, I heard a moaning noise from Miss Cook in the cabinet. I am happy to say that I have at last obtained the "absolute proof" to which I referred in the above-quoted letter.

I will, for the present, pass over most of the tests which Katie has given me on the many occasions when Miss Cook has favoured me with séances at this house, and will only describe one or two which I have recently had. I have for some time past been experimenting with a phosphorus lamp, consisting of a 6-oz. or 8-oz. bottle, containing a little phosphorised oil, and tightly corked. I have had reason to hope that by the light of this lamp some of the mysterious phenomena of the cabinet might be rendered visible, and Katie has also expressed herself hopefully as to the same result.

On March 12th, during a séance here, after Katie had been walking amongst us and talking for some time, she retreated behind the curtain which separated my laboratory, where the company was sitting, from my library which did temporary duty as a cabinet. In a minute she came to the curtain and called me to her, saying, "Come into the room and lift my medium's head up, she has slipped down." Katie was standing before me clothed in her usual white robes and turban head-dress. I immediately walked into the library up to Miss Cook, Katie stepped aside to allow me to pass. I found Miss Cook had slipped partially off the sofa, and her head was hanging in a very awkward position. I lifted her onto the sofa, and in so doing had satisfactory evidence, in spite of the darkness, that Miss Cook was not attired in the "Katie" costume, but had on her ordinary black velvet dress, and was in a deep trance. Not more than three seconds elapsed between my seeing the white-robed Katie standing before me and my raising Miss Cook on to the sofa from the position into which she had fallen.

On returning to my post of observation by the curtain, Katie again appeared, and said she thought she would be able to show herself and her medium to me at the same time. The gas was then turned out and she asked for my phosphorus lamp. After exhibiting herself by it for some seconds, she handed it back to me, saying, "Now come in and see my medium." I closely followed her into the library, and by the light of the lamp saw Miss Cook lying on the sofa just as I had left her. I looked round for Katie, but she had disappeared. I called her, but there was no answer.

On resuming my place, Katie soon reappeared, and told me that she had been standing close to Miss Cook all the time. She then asked me if she might try an experiment herself, and taking the phosphorus lamp from me she passed behind the curtain, asking me not to look in for the present. In a few minutes she handed the lamp back to me, saying she could not succeed, as she had used up all the power, but would try again another time. My eldest son, a lad of fourteen, who was sitting opposite me, in such a position that he could see behind the curtain, tells me he distinctly saw the phosphorus lamp apparently floating about in space over Miss Cook, illuminating her as she lay motionless on the sofa, but he could not see anyone holding the lamp.

I pass on to a séance held last night at Hackney. Katie never appeared to greater perfection, and for nearly two hours she walked about the room, conversing familiarly with those present. On several occasions she took my arm when walking, and the impression conveyed to my mind that it was a living woman by my side, instead of a visitor from the other world, was so strong that the temptation to repeat a recent celebrated experiment became almost irresistible.(1) Feeling, however, that if I had not a spirit, I had at all events a lady close to me, I asked her permission to clasp her in my arms, so as to be able to verify the interesting observations which a bold experimentalist has recently somewhat verbosely recorded. Permission was graciously given, and I accordingly did - well, as any gentleman would do under the circumstances.(2)

Katie now said she thought she would be able this time to show herself and Miss Cook together. I was to turn the gas out, and then come with my phosphorus lamp into the room now used as a cabinet. This I did, having previously asked a friend who was skilful in shorthand to take down any statement I might make when in the cabinet, knowing the importance attaching to first impressions, and not wishing to leave more to memory than necessary. His notes are now before me.

I went cautiously into the room, it being dark, and felt about for Miss Cook. I found her crouching on the floor. Kneeling down, I let air enter the lamp, and by its light I saw the young lady dressed in black velvet, as she had been in the early part of the evening, and to appearance perfectly senseless; she did not move when I took her hand and held the light close to her face, but continued quietly breathing. Raising the lamp, I looked around and saw Katie standing close behind Miss Cook. She was robed in flowing white drapery as we had seen her previously during the séance. Holding one of Miss Cook's hands in mine, and still kneeling, I passed the lamp up and down so as to illuminate Katie's whole figure, and satisfy myself thoroughly that I was really looking at the veritable Katie whom I had clasped in my arms a few minutes before, and not the phantasm of a disordered brain. She did not speak, but moved her head and smiled in recognition. Three separate times did I carefully examine Miss Cook crouching before me, to be sure that the hand I held was that of a living woman, and three separate times did I turn the lamp to Katie and examine her with steadfast scrutiny, until I had no doubt whatever of her objective reality. At last Miss Cook moved slightly, and Katie instantly motioned me to go away. I went to another part of the cabinet, and then ceased to see Katie, and did not leave the room till Miss Cook woke up, and two of the visitors came in with a light.

Before concluding this article I wish to give some of the points of difference which I have observed between Miss Cook and Katie. Katie's height varies; in my house I have seen her six inches taller than Miss Cook. Last night, with bare feet, and not "tiptoeing", she was four-and-a-half inches taller than Miss Cook. Katie's neck was bare last night; the skin was perfectly smooth both to touch and sight, whilst on Miss Cook's neck is a large blister, which under similar circumstances is distinctly visible and rough to the touch. Katie's ears are unpierced, whilst Miss Cook habitually wears earrings. Katie's complexion is very fair, while that of Miss Cook is very dark. Katie's fingers are much longer than Miss Cook's, and her face is also larger. In manners and ways of expression there are also many decided differences.

Miss Cook's health is not good enough to allow of her giving more of these test séances for the next few weeks, and we have, therefore, strongly advised her to take an entire rest before recommencing the experimental campaign which I have sketched out for her, and the results of which I hope to be able to record at some future day.

William Crookes, 20 Mornington Road, London NW. March 30, 1874


(1) On December 9, 1873, Florence Cook held a séance at the home of Mr. Luxmore for the Earl and Countess of Caithness. Among the guests present was a Mr. W. Volckman. As the materialized Katie King moved among the guests, Mr. Volkman became suspicious and grabbed her by the wrist, exclaiming it was the medium. A struggle ensued, of which there were two versions. Volkman claimed that she was forcibly freed; Henry Dumphry, another guest, and a well-known lawyer, stated that she dissolved from Volkman's grasp and glided away leaving no trace. The gossamer cloth to which Volkman clung during the struggle also seemed to disappear from his grasp. At any rate, the incontestable fact to which all agreed, including Volkman, remains that moments later to settle the matter, the cabinet was opened and Miss Cook was found moaning and unconscious, as she had been placed, in her black dress and boots, with tape tightly wound about her waist and the chair, the knot sealed in wax bearing the mark made with the signet ring of the Earl of Caithness. She was searched and no trace of the voluminous white drapery could be found. Miss Cook, upon awakening, became seriously ill from the ordeal.

Crookes always regarded this type of seizure as a treacherous and unscientific procedure. Crookes, on request, was permitted to handle and examine the apparition, even take the heartbeat. Dr. G.H. Tapp, who assisted him at the séances, attempted on one occasion to take the pulse of the phantom, but his fingers met through the nebulous wrist.

Varley held Katie King by the hand as she materialized from the head to the waist only. (It might be said that for proof, half a phantom is better than a whole phantom.) In all cases, Crookes required that any intention to touch the apparition first be announced, and that the medium, if conscious, or the phantom acquiesce. He felt that this assurance to the medium helped generate more powerful manifestations. Miss Cook was always willing to submit to any controls that the investigators chose to impose, but she pleaded strongly against unpredictable violence.

Gilbert Roller

(2) The report of this incident regarding embracing the phantom brought immediate and violent repercussions. Crookes was accused of an emotional involvement that was seriously affecting his objective judgement. Alarmed by the intensity of the reaction, he refrained from further demonstrations that might provide opportunity for such comment.

Gilbert Roller