Researches into the Phenomena of Modern Spiritualism

by William Crookes

Excerpt from The Spiritualist, June 5th 1874

Sir William Crookes is seen standing arm in arm with Katie King, materialized spirit.During the last six months the medium, Miss Florence 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 other member of my family, and, not sleeping by herself. 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. Katie King, an ectoplasmic shape, then materialises. 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. 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.

Katie 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 wholeplate 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.

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.
During the time I have taken an active part in these séances Katie's confidence in me gradually grew. 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 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.

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. I have the most absolute 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.


Katie King and medium Florence Cook are photographed together.This photograph taken by the physicist and chemist Sir William Crookes, used magnesium light.
Having entered into a trance state, the medium Florence Cook (left) has slumped from the couch over the arm of the chair.

The towering ectoplasm shape behind her is just beginning to compress into a fully materialised form. She called herself "Katie King".

Sir William Crookes said 7 or 8 viewers in the laboratory saw Miss Cook and Katie at the same time under the full blaze of the electric light. Both the medium and the materialised figure can be seen at the same time--- demonstrating they were two separate entities.


Sir William CrookesWilliam Crookes was born on 17 June, 1832 in London. He studied at the Royal College of Chemistry and became one of the most important scientists of the XIX century, both in the field of Physics and in Chemistry. He combined private experimental research with business. He also edited several photographic and scientific journals. Having inherited a large fortune from his father, he devoted himself from 1856 entirely to scientific work of various kinds at his private laboratory in London. In 1861, he discovered the metallic chemical element thallium. This led him indirectly to the invention of the radiometer in 1875. He later developed a vacuum tube (the precursor of the X-ray tube). His studies of cathode rays were fundamental in the development of atomic physics. He was knighted in 1897 and received the Order of Merit in 1910. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society, becoming its president between 1913 and 1915.

Spiritist phenomena were very much in evidence at the end of the XIX century. After the events involving the Fox sisters of Hydesville, in 1854 in the United States, there appeared several mediums displaying the most incredible phenomena like, levitations, rappings, the spontaneous playing of instruments, materializations, etc. Therefore, William Crookes, as a scientist of international repute, decided to investigate Spiritualism. He was initially very sceptical about it. He explained the reasons for his inquiry: 'I consider it the duty of scientific men who have learnt exact modes of working to examine phenomena which attract the attention of the public, in order to confirm their genuineness or to explain, if possible, the delusions of the dishonest and to expose the tricks of deceivers'. By his own account Crookes had originally, 'like other men who thought little of the matter and saw little', taken Spiritualism to be superstition and trickery; he stressed that his aim would be to substitute a strictly scientific appraisal 'for the loose claims of the pseudo-scientific Spiritualists'.

He began by studying one of the most famous mediums of all time, Daniel Dunglas Home, and was soon convinced that Home was endowed with a powerful psychic force. Many believed that Crookes would expose the phenomena he witnessed, but this rapid conversion to the ranks of believers surprised the public and shocked his scientific colleagues. Yet he undertook all his experiments under strict scientific conditions, whenever that was possible. He devised instruments to preclude any possible claim of forgery. For example, he had a wire cage made and inside it, he put an accordion he had bought himself. Home just placed his hand on the cage and the instrument started to play a well-known tune.

The experiments that made him really famous were with the medium Florence Cook, at the time, only a teenager. Through her mediumship, there occurred a series of materializations of the Spirit Katie King, which lasted almost three years. Just before the Spirit stopped appearing, Crookes obtained a total of 44 photographs, among which were, according to him, 'some inferior, some indifferent, and some excellent'.

When Crookes started to report about his experiments to the scientific community, he found unrestrained hostility. He was even accused of complicity with Florence Cook, and of having an affair with her. Yet, he never changed his mind about the reality of Spirit phenomena. In his presidential address to the British Association, in 1898, he said: 'Thirty years have passed since I published an account of experiments tending to show that outside our scientific knowledge there exists a Force exercised by intelligence differing from the ordinary intelligence common to mortals. I have nothing to retract. I adhere to my already published statements. Indeed, I might add much thereto."

Sir William Crookes died in London on 4 April 1919.