The Margery Mediumship

In 1922, Scientific American offrered to pay $2,500 for any objective demonstration of psychic phenomena ans appointed an investigating committee of five prominent persons interested in this subject. Among the members was Dr. William MacDougall, president of the American Society for Psychical Research, Dr. Hereward Carrington, the author and psychic experimenter who had tested the European medium Palladino; and Harry Houdini, the magician and escape artist. During 1924,in the course of the committee’s investigations, three articles by Mr. Bird essentially favorable to Margery appeared in Scientific American.

At this stage, a Harvard group conducted the first of many trying scientific investigations into Margery’s mediumship. Anxiously trying to find a normal explanation for the puzzling phenomena, the group accused Margery of using a carpet thread to make a piano stool appear to move by itself. ”Houdini was shocked and traveled to Boston to witness a séance for himself. What happened next remains shrouded in mystery — although it is clear that Crandon did not trust Houdini and the magician himself had stated that he was determined to expose the medium as a fraud.

During the sessions, Houdini claimed to have seen Margery performing a number of tricks like making noises with her feet and lifting objects which were said to have moved on their own. In spite of this, he did not expose her publicly and asked that more stringent tests be performed. It was rumored that Margery had somehow outwitted Houdini — and rumors also flew that perhaps her powers were genuine after all.

The following month, Houdini placed the medium in a wooden box with a hole in the top for her head and holes on each side so that her hands could be held during her entire séance. According to reports from the session, Margery’s spirit control, Walter, took such a dislike to Houdini that the top of the box was allegedly ripped off by an invisible force.

The séance continued the next evening and Margery was placed back in the box. Shortly after she went into her trance and her spirit guide came through, the committee asked that she ring the bell which had been placed in the box with her. Immediately, Walter (the spirit guide) exclaimed that Houdini had done something to the bell so that it would not ring. An examination of the bell revealed that a piece of rubber had been wedged against the clapper so that it would not ring! However, there was no proof that Houdini has tampered with it.

A short time later, Walter also said that Houdini had placed a ruler inside of the box so that he could later accuse Margery of cheating. The ruler too was found and later, Houdini’s assistant, Jim Collins would say that he had been instructed to place it there in case Houdini could not find another way to prove she was a fraud. Whether true or not is not readily verifiable either, as this appeared in a 1959 book by William Lindsay Gresham after Collins had died. However, at the time,It certainly appeared that Houdini had been caught cheating and he was widely discredited for it, leading many to doubt the integrity of some of his earlier investigations.

In this case, the committee scheduled further tests of Mrs. Crandon but they were later cancelled. The decision on Margery’s abilities was split and because of this, the money was never awarded. Houdini further outraged the Crandon’s and their supporters when he published a small book called Houdini Exposes the Tricks Used by the Boston Medium Margery. He was as adamant about the fact that Margery was doing nothing more than offering clever tricks as her supporters were that what she was doing was genuine.”

Other investigations were conducted. At a series of seances with an English representative of the Society for Psychical Research, Margery produced varieties of ectoplasm including

The charge was soon withdrawn, but though Walter agreed to restrict the phenomena to a single room for the purposes of better control, no progress was made. At the end of 1923 Margery and Dr. Crandon visited Europe. In Paris Margery sat for Gustav Geley, Charles Richet, and others. With the strictest control, excellent phenomena were produced.

Still more successful was a séance before the Society for Psychical Research in London. Harry Price’s famous fraud-proof table was, in white light, twice levitated to a height of six inches. Other sittings at the British College of Psychic Science and psychic photography obtained with William Hope and Ada Emma Deane established Margery’s reputation as a powerful medium.