(more commonly known as Margery) is, perhaps, the most controversial
medium in the history of Spiritualism. In her heyday, in the
she spurred comments from some of the most noted Spiritualists and
B. Rhine, father of modern-day parapsychology, once said:
the main value of the Margery case was in the great stir it made
in bringing together people from different parts of the world
who saw the possible significance of such claims if verified."
one of this country's most noted pioneer psychic investigators,
"As a result
of more than forty sittings with Margery, I have arrived at the
definite conclusion that genuine supernormal phenomena frequently
occur. Many of the observed manifestations might well have been
produced fraudulently . . . however, there remains a number of
instances when phenomena were produced and observed under practically
surrounding the Margery mediumship were as diverse as the phenomena
themselves. While the novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was saying,
"The phenomena . . . are perhaps the best attested in the whole
annals of psychic research," America's psychic investigator, Dr.
Walter Franklin Prince, was saying, "Now, in my judgment, the Margery
case will in time come to be considered the most ingenious, persistent
and fantastic complex of fraud in the history of psychic research."
Let us take
a brief look at the Margery mediumship and see what the facts indicate.
Mina Stinson was born in Canada, in 1888, and moved to Boston at
an early age. In 1918, after one unsuccessful marriage, she married
Boston surgeon Dr. Le Roi Goddard Crandon, a man whose family dated
back to the Mayflower. They purchased the house at Number 11 Lime
Street, on Beacon Hill, and became well established in Boston society.
The Crandons were the perfect Beacon Hill couple. Dr. Crandon was
a prestigious instructor at Harvard Medical School, and Mina Crandon
was piquant, witty, and "too attractive for her own good."
In 1923, Dr.
Crandon became seriously interested in Spiritualism and psychic
research. In May of that year, the Crandons, along with some friends,
decided to sit for a table-tilting seance. The table, apparently
controlled by a spirit, indicated that Mina, herself, was a very
powerful medium. Within a few months, the spirit communicator identified
himself as Walter, Mina's brother who had died in a train crash
in 1911. Shortly thereafter, Walter was able to entrance Mina and
speak directly through her. Then, having mastered the ability to
produce a voice box, he began speaking via the direct voice process.
was not the most spiritually-minded personality. He often used off-color
language and refused to be stumped. During one sťance, a sitter
asked if his was the language of the "Fourth Dimension." Walter
promptly retorted, "No, I am talking in a language for you to understand."
Walter felt that his mission was to help demonstrate, through his
sister, the creative process of mind, via telekinetic effects, rather
than deliver inspirational messages or addresses. In this respect,
abundant production of phenomena, because of Dr. Crandon's position
with Harvard and the closed-minded attitude toward psychic matters,
attendance to the sittings with Mina Crandon was by invitation only.
formal investigation of Mrs. Crandon's mediumship was conducted
in 1923 by a committee from Harvard, arranged by Professor William
McDougall, head of Harvard's Department of Psychology. The committee
put Mrs. Crandon through intense observation and experimentation,
hoping to verify either the validity or the fraudulence of the mediumship.
After five months of observation, the committee decided that a majority
of the telekinetic phenomena were fraudulently produced. They made
no formal opinion on the trance utterances associated with the mediumship.
At the same
time the Harvard investigation was being conducted, the Scientific
American magazine was offering a prize of $2,500 to anyone who could
provide conclusive evidence of any paranormal psychical phenomena.
The judging committee was comprised of Dr. Walter F. Prince, Hereward
Carrington, Dr. D. F. Comstock, Dr. William McDougall, and Harry
Houdini. The secretary of the committee was J. Malcolm Bird, editor
of the prestigious magazine. Because of their conservative, yet
daring, personalities, the Crandons decided to enter the contest.
It was J. Malcolm Bird who adopted the Margery pseudonym, in order
to avoid attracting unnecessary attention to the distinguished Dr.
sittings began in January, 1924, under Dr. Crandon's general supervision.
The control conditions of the sťance room were produced at just
about every sitting; however, the committee wished to exert even
more control over the proceedings, to be absolutely sure that there
was no room for fraud. Despite the lack of full agreement between
the committee and Dr. Crandon, J. Malcolm Bird began writing articles
favoring the mediumship, and the newspapers were quick to pick up
the stories. Headlines soon read:
Boston Medium, Passes all Psychic Tests
Scientists Find No Trickery in a Score of Sťances
Boston Medium Baffles Experts
Houdini the Magician Stumped
magician, Harry Houdini, was infuriated. The Scientific American
was just about ready to hand over the money, and his reputation,
as an exposer of mediums, was challenged. He promptly constructed
a cabinet, with steel bolts and padlocks, and stuck Margery in it,
defying her to produce any paranormal phenomena. The cabinet was
hot, cramped, and stuffy; but Margery agreed to sit in it for a
seance. On this occasion, no telekinetic effects were produced,
and Walter accused Houdini of planting something in the cabinet
in order to frame Margery. A heated argument ensued, with Walter
blurting out, "Houdini . . . get . . . out of here and never come
back! If you don't, I will!"
abruptly ended, and, after the cabinet was opened, a collapsible
ruler was discovered beneath the floor. Houdini accused Margery
of using this ruler with her mouth, in order to produce the telekinetic
effects which normally would have been produced. Harry Houdini had
apparently exposed Margery as a fraud; or so it seemed from 1924,
until 1959, when William Lindsay Gresham published a book which
included the following account of that evening:
later, when the Self-Liberator (Houdini) was dead, Jim Collins
(Houdini's assistant) was asked about the mysterious ruler. Collins
smiled wryly. 'I chucked it in the box meself. The boss told me
to do it. He wanted to fix her good.'"
Was Jim Collins
telling the truth here? Only he and Harry Houdini know for sure.
To us, the
most astounding aspect of the Margery mediumship was the diversity
of phenomena which occurred. They ranged from breezes, raps, trance
and trance writing in several languages, to materializations, independent
voice, apportations, and the production of paraffin gloves and finger
prints. Anyone interested in researching the phenomena may do so
by consulting the Journal and Proceedings of the American Society
for Psychical Research. Despite the range and abundance of phenomena,
many of which were produced under extremely tight control, and despite
the great support given to Margery by local Spiritualists, her mediumship
was shrouded, for the most part, by an ominous cloud of skepticism.
deathblow to the Margery mediumship occurred when it was discovered
that a psychic thumb print, allegedly produced by Walter, was identical
to the print of a Boston dentist, Dr. Frederick Caldwell. This revelation
was brought about when Dr. Caldwell admitted giving Margery a bit
of wax in which his own print had been pressed.
Here, we have
just a glimpse of the controversy which surrounded the Margery mediumship,
right from its inception. It was this controversy which made Mina
Margery Crandon the most talked-about medium during the 1920√s.
On the one hand, Spiritualists looked upon her as a martyr who had
put up with an amazing complex of test devices for the sake of demonstrating
paranormal phenomena. On the other hand, there were the psychic
researchers who, for the most part, were convinced, often before
sitting with her, that she was a fraud. Finally, there was Dr. Crandon,
himself, who, quite frankly, was more concerned over his reputation
within Boston society than with his wife's abilities.
At the expense
of sounding naive or gullible, we must contend that there was a
great deal about this medium and her activities which were buried
with her. People frequently have a tendency to judge a person's
whole life based on a few isolated facts; it is here where, we feel,
we must be fair with Margery Crandon. She was under a great deal
of pressure from many sources. Furthermore, she was investigated
by researchers who, quite honestly, had many preconceived ideas
about her and who knew next to nothing about physical mediumship.
There is a
psychology and a very delicate balance of sensitivity which must
be fully appreciated, in order to investigate mediumship, especially
physical mediumship. So often, people fail to recognize the acute
sensitivity of a medium, let alone that of the spirit workers. The
success of mediumship depends upon many factors, most of which we
simply do not understand. Here is where, in our opinion, many Spiritualists
and parapsychologists failed miserably with respect to the Margery
mediumship. Over 50 years later, we cannot help but feel that the
real implications behind Margery Crandon's mediumship were severely
neglected and have eluded us.
Was Mina Margery
Crandon a fraud? This, only the reader can answer? Personally, we
do not feel the question of fraudulence or honesty is even the cardinal
issue here. After extensively researching this case, we have formulated
our own opinions. We can only hope that you not judge Margery, or
any medium, solely on the basis of superficial facts. When dealing
with mediumship, facts can be just as eluding as fantasy; furthermore,
truth is, very often, stranger than fiction. Let us not look only
at the stated facts and opinions. Let us look at what these facts
have to say about mediumship.
Crandon died in her sleep on November 1, 1941. She died without
any reconciliation concerning her work as a medium. Mark W. Richardson,
a friend of the Crandons, wrote of her:
and disillusioned as to the value of her work, she was pursued
first by Dr. Crandon's long illness and then by her own . . .
But Margery was wrong. Her fame has spread to all corners of the
earth, and the facts, astounding in their nature, brought out
through her and Walter, are bound to have an epoch-making influence
upon the physical and spiritual thought of the future."
There is a
wonderful book, written by J. Malcolm Bird, entitled "Margery"
The Medium. It was published by Small, Maynard & Company, Boston,
in 1925. It contains a complete investigation and analysis of the
Margery mediumship. We highly recommend it.
2001 First Spiritual Temple. All rights reserved.
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First Spiritual Temple
The Ayer Institute
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Telephone 617 566-7639
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