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Michael,

An interesting post. Thank you. What amazes me is that so many people will accept Randi's "might haves" and "could haves" while assuming that Crookes and other highly respected scientists were complete dupes. If Crookes had witnessed the Home phenomena one time only, maybe, but 28 times under good light is something else.

Besides the three people you mentioned, there were many other scientists who witnessed the Home phenomena, though most of them refused to go on the record and support Crookes's report.

Michael,

James Randi has retracted his claim of the mouth-organ for at least 18 years now. He retracted this claim in a public letter published in the journal of parapsychology. He has admitted to being wrong.

Ben Steigmann a psychical researcher has this letter online somewhere in a pdf. I will ask him for the link. As for Randi's current view which I have spoken to him in the past about, it is a music-box that Home had hidden in his trousers. Frank Podmore and many magicians held this view.

As for the cheating episodes that were not made public directly at the time, they are discussed also on the 'Wiki' entry. Frederick Merrifield, Robert Browning, General Felury and Delia Logan all observed Home in fraud at different séances. Gordon Stein in his book "The Sorcerer of Kings" also contains other second-hand exposures. Stein also presents interesting information that Home himself was not a spiritualist, nor a believer in spirits.

The question isn't so much what Randi does as why he does it. What does he gain from deliberately twisting the truth? Could it be just a matter of character - or, rather, lack of? I don't understand people like that, but I do know that they have the power to make me angry by their sheer perversity. Is that what it is? A game intended to twist the minds of more genuine souls?

A few years ago, someone wrote a fascinating book about the nature of evil. While I can't remember the details off hand, I do remember the gist was that evil people are severely twisted characters. This they know and accept. But what they can't bear is the presence of 'untwisted' souls. Thus their aim is to damage innocent minds, the more severely the better.

M Scott Peck wrote something similar in 'The People of the Lie', but that's not the book I'm thinking of.

Michael the letter from James Randi is here, my mistake this was not published in the journal of parapsychology it was in the SPR journal, also it is not a complete recantation.

It was uploaded by Ben Steigmann, here it is in pdf

https://ia800307.us.archive.org/20/items/NotesonSpiritualismandPsychicalResearch/RandiCommentsOnHisHomeMouthOrganTheoryJsprVolume62_pg188to189.pdf

Make of that what you will. This was published in 1997.

In Houdini's "Magician Among The Spirits", the escapologist very much paints Home as a notorious society conman and sponge, living off gifts from his wealthy friends suggested by the "spirits". He claims a number of attested instances of being unmasked as a fraud.

"He was the author of two pretentious books whose chief purpose seems to have been to establish the impression that while all other mediums cheated at times Home was strictly honest on all occasions, and in proof it was said that he was never exposed and never recieved a fee for his sittings.
Never-theless one charge of fraud was proven against him in court. It may or may not be true that he was never completely exposed but many of his manifestations were discovered to be fraudulent and everyone of them can be duplicated by modern conjurors under the same conditions. The principle reason why he was never completely exposed was that he gave no public sittings, always appearing as the guest of the family where hewas living and as one write expressed it, "one would no more think of criticising his host's guest than he would his host's wine."

On one occasion Robert Browning the poet, attended one of Home's seances. When a face was materialized and said to be that of a son who had died in infancy, Browning seized the supposed matrialized head and discovered it to be the bare foot of Mr Home. Incidentally , Browning had never lost an infant son. The living son , R Barrett Browning, in a letter to the London Times, December 5, 1902, referring to his occurrence said, "Home was detected in a vulgar fraud". In the same letter he tells of the modification of his mother's belief after having been decieved by a "trusted friend" and his closing words were: "The pain of the disillusion was great, but her eyes were opened and she saw clearly."


Houdini, quoting a Stuart Cumberland, claims in the Russian royal court in St Petersburg "the spirits" made a stunning chain of emeralds dematerialize, but sadly fail to rematerialize..(Home's personal fondness for collecting extravagant precious stones having been pointed out in detail). The chief of police, its claimed, was less trusting that the nobles he worked for and searched Home on the way out were the necklace was of course found inside his coat, which - houdini or his source sneer - he blamed on an evil spirit.

It's far too long to go into here but the court case referred to was apparently his conning an elderly widow - via the spirits - to sign over her fortune, house etc to him and put him in her will, somethign in the tune of 70,000. When she began to feel duped and took him to court she won the case and the judge said the transaction had been the result of fraud.

Finally in a footnote Houdini writes "It is quite unnecessary for me to repeat the many proofs of fraud perpetrated by Home, but if the reader is interested he will find many such casee reported by Mr Frank Podmore in "modern Spiritualism", London, 1909, and "Newer Spiritualism", London 1910. Mr Podmore was a Spiritualist himself and a member of the society of psychical research."

Nice work Michael!

So the defenders of truth, sanity and scientific logic represent none of these qualities themselves, again.

When you have to resort to lying and propaganda to keep your cause alive you are near the end of its life span.

Thanks for the link to Randi's letter, Bill. This link may work better:

https://goo.gl/CDetMH

I was unaware that he'd withdrawn his claim, but I'm still unimpressed with his reasoning. He asserts that only the absence of any harmonicas among Home's posthumous effects led him to rethink his theory, but as I think I showed, the idea was never viable to begin with, and most of his claims about the experiments were factually wrong.

Further, the Home article was online as recently as 2009 as part of Randi's encyclopedia (which remains on sale at Amazon), and it was and is referenced in the Wikipedia article on Home, with no mention, even now, of a retraction. Randi could easily have updated the online version of the article, which was hosted on the JREF website, but he didn't.

Finally, if Randi now claims that the results could be explained by Home concealing a music box in his pants, this theory is no more convincing than the harmonica idea. For one thing, a music box does not sound like an accordion. For another, the accordion under the table was observed to be playing (and floating inside its cage) in the light of a torch, at close range. And finally, Crookes and his associates were not idiots.

Lawrence, I'm not sure I would trust Houdini on this, as he was obsessed with debunking mediums and sometimes cheated in order to succeed (see the Mina Crandon case; not that Crandon was necessarily genuine, but Houdini's assistant did go on record as stating that Houdini planted an incriminating item on Crandon).

Houdini wrote, "... many of his manifestations were discovered to be fraudulent and every one of them can be duplicated by modern conjurors under the same conditions." This is pure bluster, and another reason why Houdini can't be taken too seriously. It is clearly untrue that conjurers in Houdini's time or our own could duplicate Home's more spectacular feats under the same conditions. For instance, I would like to see a conjurer levitate himself high into the air in bright light before a hundred witnesses in a room he has never entered before.

Home was certainly a moocher who sponges off the rich and famous. This is not quite the same thing as being a fraud in the seance room. No one should think that mediums are necessarily of higher moral character than other people, any more than gifted athletes or gifted musicians are necessarily better people because of their prodigious skills. Indeed, exaggerated abilities in one area often go hand in hand with deficiencies in other areas. Look at all the alcoholic, drug-addicted, and abusive artists, writers, composers, actors, athletes, etc.

The Browning controversy has been interpreted in various ways. Browning's poem "Mr. Sludge, the Medium," is an attack on Home, but his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who attended the same seance, was apparently convinced of Home's genuineness. Browning did not even publish the poem until after his wife's death, apparently in deference to her feelings. If Browning had discredited Home in such an obvious way (by exposing a "face" as Home's foot), it's doubtful his wife would have continued to believe in the medium - unless of course she was a complete fool, which hardly seems likely. It seems more plausible that Browning invented the incident; he seems to have had a personal dislike of Home, perhaps because his wife was charmed by him.

Browning's poem is linked below. To me it reads more like Browning's wish-fulfilment fantasy than something that really happened:

http://www.telelib.com/authors/B/BrowningRobert/verse/dramatispersonae/mrsludge.html

Jolly well said that last refutation, Michael!

"Home was certainly a moocher who sponges off the rich and famous. This is not quite the same thing as being a fraud in the seance room."

Indeed it isn't. It's like claiming that Mr Sponge was a poor rider because he sponged off his hunting hosts.

(Mr Sponge, from Surtees: 'Mr Sponge's Sporting Tour)

Randi’s theory that Home may have had a “music box in his pants” caused me to think that perhaps Home was a true virtuoso, endowed with melodious flatulence. Thanks for the laugh Bill!

As for the great Houdini, he is justly praised as a master of deception. It isn’t a stretch to believe that illusionists like Houdini and Randi ply their slight of hand offstage as well as on. A scorpion just has to do his sting, no matter how it defeats his self interest.

I was loathe to resurrect the ghost of Katie King in the previous blog entry as we’d already run well off the rails, but now that there is a new blog entry to abuse, it’s game on!

In the comments on the previous post, both Michael and Bill expressed as a fact, what I believe may be only hearsay. As Michael put it in an earlier comment: “Florence Cook was later exposed in fraud during a public seance…” That certainly sounds like a plain statement of well supported fact. In his cleverly titled piece Something just doesn't Sitwell … Michael describes the scandal concerning Cook (then Mrs. Corner) succinctly and well, and superficially the evidence seems rather damning. This account sums up the substance of numerous others:

As reported in the Daily Telegraph, 13 January 1880, Sitwell, one of the sitters at a séance at the BNAS, seized the materialization and found Florence to be missing from the cabinet, and declared her to be a fraud. It was admitted by one of the sitters who had the responsibility of securing Florence that it had been deliberately arranged that the medium could free herself. Supporters of Florence argued this was a case of unconscious fraud, as claimed with Eusapia Palladino in following years, while in a trance-state; there was also of course a state of confusion after Sitwell's action. The Mediumship of Florence Cook

One of the problems I have with the above story of events "as told to the author" is that it suffers from having half a who. The first half is Sitwell, the protagonist, and the missing half is an anonymous sitter who claimed to have arranged for the medium to free herself. This is the truly damning part of the indictment, yet it hangs on an unnamed and therefore possibly fabricated conspirator. And, as for the supporters of Florence, who supposedly argued it was a case of unconscious fraud, were they present when the incident occurred? And, why should we except their suppositions over anyone else's?

Every other account I’ve read of this Sitwell business suffers from the same dubious authority of a third person describing events allegedly witnessed by others. What doesn’t sit well with me is how poorly sourced this allegation is. That this story with half a who appeared in the Daily Telegraph is more a demonstration of gossipy, thinly sourced, yellow journalism, than an accurate recounting of fact. In fairness to the Telegraph, the lack of quotes in the retelling suggests that we are getting an abridgment or imaginative recreation of the Telegraph story. So, now we have a 4th person retelling a third person account. I think we can guess that there may be a few other people along this twisted chain of storytelling, such that our distance from the facts is not simply one of time but the distortion of embellishment in the retelling.

There is an enormous difference between first person accounts, affidavits sworn to by the author, and third person and up accounts recalling the experiences or testimony of others. One is admissible in a court of law, the other usually not. We can do nothing about the shabby state of public opinion, but our private opinions can be held to a higher standard. If the alleged facts would be thrown out of court, we should toss them too.

The problem of armchair experts claiming authority in this domain has blighted the field from the beginning. Here is Dr. Richet’s response to the bloviators who were all hat and no cattle:

“Criticism there must be ; it is a condition of science itself. The truth must appear in its full beauty, but that will not happen through the agency of incompetent and ignorant persons, who have seen nothing, controlled nothing, examined nothing ; who have not even carefully read the accounts of the sittings. But it must come through savants who have really worked, who have experimented without cessation, and who prefer truth to probability. Man is so made that he does not want to accept truth if it does not appear probable, and it is certainly not our fault if the metapsychic region shows so many improbabilities and contradictions.” Phenomena of materialisation : a contribution to the investigation of mediumistic teleplastics

Personally, I’m content to be amongst the “incompetent and ignorant…who have seen nothing, controlled nothing, examined nothing…” as being a psychic investigator is not my destiny. The authority that such men as Dr. Richet and William Crookes possessed comes from the endless hours of actual painstaking fieldwork they conducted, as opposed to the imaginative thought experiments ruminated upon by such as myself. Our opinions, and that of theorists who possess impressive academic credentials and are very well read, do matter, just not as much as we may think.

Part of Michael’s skepticism about Crookes’ investigation of Miss Cook results from the dramatic difference in Crookes’ telling of experiences with Miss Cook and that of the extraordinary details included in his account of experiments with Mr. Home. It is as though one set of accounts were carefully crafted for a professional audience, and the other intended for a popular and perhaps even sympathetic one. This was, in fact, the case, as the articles about Home appeared in The Quarterly Journal of Science, whereas his observations of Cook were contained in submissions to The Spiritualist. We can speculate endlessly about why Crookes didn’t mount a scientific case for the empirical existence of Katie King, but in the end it will forever be a mystery. It is safe to say, however, that Crookes was a man of diverse scientific interests who had plenty of other fish to fry.

Fraud is the final card of the skeptic, and when no conscious fraud can be detected, then the unconscious fraud of unacknowledged incompetence or outright deception is alleged. Michael has a brilliant essay on that topic which I highly recommend. Classic Prescott.

Great post, Michael!

That's quite the long poem by Browning. To put it in modern parlance: "TL;DR."

As with Eusapia Palladino, researches saw extreme paranormal phenomena up close, in sufficient or even bright light, and it seems almost impossible that they were fooled to the man.

All correct Michael with your criticisms of the mouth-organ idea. It is unrealistic. No disrepute with you there. I am no fan of Randi myself, disagreed with him on many things.

"Finally, if Randi now claims that the results could be explained by Home concealing a music box in his pants, this theory is no more convincing than the harmonica idea. For one thing, a music box does not sound like an accordion. For another, the accordion under the table was observed to be playing (and floating inside its cage) in the light of a torch, at close range. And finally, Crookes and his associates were not idiots."

It is important to point out that Dr Huggins who was present during the accordion experiment remained agnostic on the issue. He later commented in the Scientific American "While the experiments appear to show the importance of further investigation... I have no opinion as to the cause of the phenomena which took place." This is usually ignored.

But most importantly the music-box is the only valid natural explanation that fits all the facts and Frank Podmore has covered all your objections. In Frank Podmore's book 'Newer Spiritualism' (p. 50) he has put holes in Crookes accordion experiment by pointing out its flaws. Here it is:


"But (1) though the room is said to have been lighted by gas the degree of
illumination is not stated, nor the position of the table and the
investigators, and of Home himself, with reference to the source of light"

" (2) the accordion was seen to be expanding and contracting when Home's hand held it. It is reported only floating about (? swaying) when Home's hand was altogether
removed; and the accordion, as will be seen, played only in the partial
obscurity afforded by the table. I know, indeed, of no instance in which
it is recorded as playing in good light. All that is described here is
consistent with the supposition that the accordion never played at all, but that
the sounds heard proceeded from an automatic instrument concealed about Home's
person, actuated by pressure... I am not aware of any good evidence that the
keys were ever seen to move; and any conjurer in a light of his own choosing
could make the instrument contact and expand, whilst he held it, by a loop
of strong thread."

So the degree of light was not stated in detail or the exact position of the table in the room, and most importantly the observer under the table did not actually see the keys on the accordion move. Why was a table even needed?

As we can see from the most likely realistic explanation. Home got some thread (black thread) which is easily concealed in dark conditions and that explains the 'floating' accordion.

The two songs heard were not from the accordion but a small music-box activated by pressure, concealed in his trousers or tied to his leg. Note: the only songs that were heard are common songs on music-boxes (Home Sweet Home etc), why were different songs not played? Other fraudulent mediums of this period were caught utilizing the same trick (Henry Slade etc). Home was no different.

Skeptics like Joseph McCabe also cited Podmores criticisms:

"As Mr. Podmore, most ingenious of
critics, points out, no one saw the keys move. The music may have come from a musical box in Home's pocket, or placed by him on the floor. The degree of light or darkness is not stated. The opening and
shutting of the accordion could be done by hooks, or loops of black silk. So with the crowning miracle, when Home withdrew his hand, and the accordion was seen suspended in the air, moving about in the cage (under the dark table). It was probably hooked on to the table." (Joseph McCabe)

So this experiment has not got the skeptics shaky. It was debunked by a fellow psychic believer called Frank Podmore. If you ask me it was nothing more than a flawed experiment and a clever conjurer (Home) with a hidden music box in his trousers... But I know that will not go down too well here with your regulars invoking the spirits :)

Michael, but surely "Houdini was obsessed with debunking mediums" is of no greater value than someone from JREF or wikiskeptic (or whatever its called) advising us to not trust information coming from Michael Prescott because he "is obsessed with justifying mediums" as they might see it. The only issue is whether the specific sources and instances of apparent contemporary debunkings of Home listed by Houdini exist or whether he's invented them. I quoted the passages as they seemed to answer your query about the claim he had been unmasked many times.

Specifically the court case against him in which he was labelled a fraud, the books by podmore listing "many such occassions" of being found out, and the letter from the Brownings' son to the Times repeating the tale and stating, in Houdinis quote, that it had indeed diminished his mother's belief. Do these documents actually all exist - in which case that answers your question - or has Houdini invented/grossly misrepresented them? I have no idea!

As it happens in searching to see if the younger Browning's letter to the Times exists online, I found a much longer account of the whole saga. It is, inevitably, more complicated and confusing than either Houdini's or your own summaries.

"Mr. Browning asked to be allowed to bring a friend for another séance, but the arrangements of the Rymers, with whom Home was staying, made this impossible. Later, Home, with Mrs. Rymer, called on the Brownings in town, and Mr. Browning declined to notice Home; there was a scene, and Mrs. Browning (who was later a three-quarters believer in 'spirits') was distressed. In 1864, after Mrs. Browning's death, Mr. Browning published Mr. Sludge, the Medium, which had the air of a personal attack on Home as a detected and confessing American impostor. Such is Home's account. It was published in 1872, and was open to contradiction. I am not aware that Mr. Browning took any public notice of it.

[Footnote 19: Incidents, ii. 105.]

In July 1889 the late Mr. F.W.H. Myers and Professor W.F. Barrett published, in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, p. 102, the following statement: 'We have found no allegations of fraud' (in Home) 'on which we should be justified in laying much stress. Mr. Robert Browning has told to one of us' (Mr. Myers) 'the circumstances which mainly led to that opinion of Home which was expressed in Mr. Sludge, the Medium.' It appears that a lady (since dead) repeated to Mr. Browning a statement made to her by a lady and gentleman (since dead) as to their finding Home in the act of experimenting with phosphorus on the production of 'spirit lights,' 'which (so far as Mr. Browning remembers) were to be rubbed round the walls of the room, near the ceiling, so as to appear when the room was darkened. This piece of evidence powerfully impressed Mr. Browning; but it comes to us at third hand, without written record, and at a distance of nearly forty years.'

Clearly this story is not evidence against Home.

But, several years ago, an eminent writer, whom I need not name, published in a newspaper another version. Mr. Browning had told him, he said, that, sitting with Home and Mrs. Browning (apparently alone, these three) in a darkened room, he saw a white object rise above the table. This Home represented as the phantasm of a child of Mr. and Mrs. Browning, which died in infancy. Mr. Browning seized the phantasm, which was Home's naked foot.

But it must be remembered that (1) Mr. and Mrs. Browning had no child which died in infancy; and (2) Mrs. Browning's belief survived the shock. On December 5, 1902, in the Times Literary Supplement, a letter by Mr. R. Barrett Browning appeared. He says: 'Mr. Hume, who subsequently changed his name to Home' ('Home' is pronounced 'Hume' in Scotland), 'was detected in a "vulgar fraud," for I have heard my father repeatedly describe how he caught hold of his foot under the table.' In the other story the foot was above the table; in the new version no infant phantasm occurs. Moreover, to catch a man's foot under a table in itself proves nothing. What was the foot doing, and why did Mr. Browning not tell this, but quite a different story, to Mr. Myers? We 'get no forrarder.'

On November 28, 1902, Mr. Merrifield, in the Times Literary Supplement, published a letter on August 30 (?), 1855, from Mrs. Browning to Miss De Gaudrion, as to the séance with the Brownings at Ealing. Mrs. Browning enclosed a letter from Mr. Browning, giving his impressions. 'Mine, I must frankly say, were entirely different,' wrote Mrs. Browning; and Home says: 'Mrs. Browning was much moved, and she not only then but ever since expressed her entire belief and pleasure in what occurred.' In her letter, Mrs. Browning adds: 'For my own part, and in my own conscience, I find no reason for considering the medium in question responsible for anything seen or heard on that occasion.' But 'I consider that the seeking for intercourse with any particular spirit would be apt to end either in disappointment or delusion,' and she uses the phrase 'the supposed spirits.'

This lady who wrote thus at the time cannot conceivably have been looking for the ghost of a child that never was born, and been deceived by Home's white foot, which Mr. Browning then caught hold of--an incident which Mrs. Browning could not have forgotten by August 30, 1855, if it occurred in July of that year. Yet Mr. ---- has published the statement that Mr. Browning told him that story of Home's foot, dead child, and all, and Mr. ---- is a man of undoubted honour, and of the acutest intelligence.

Mr. Browning (August 30, 1855) assured Miss De Gaudrion that he held 'the whole display of hands,' 'spirit utterances,' &c., to be 'a cheat and imposture.' He acquitted the Rymers (at whose house the séance was held) of collusion, and spoke very highly of their moral character. But he gave no reason for his disbelief, and said nothing about catching hold of Home's foot either under or above the table. He simply states his opinion; the whole affair was 'melancholy stuff.' How can we account for the story of Mr. Browning and Home's foot? Can poets possess an imagination too exuberant, or a memory not wholly accurate?

But Mr. Merrifield had written, on August 18, 1855, a record of an Ealing séance of July 1855. About fourteen people sat round a table, in a room of which two windows opened on the lawn. The nature of the light is not stated. There was 'heaving up of the table, tapping, playing an accordion under the table, and so on.' No details are given; but there were no visible hands. Later, by such light as exists when the moon has set on a July night, Home gave another séance. 'The outlines of the windows we could well see, and the form of any large object intervening before them, though not with accuracy of outline.' In these circumstances, in a light sufficient, he thinks, Mr. Merrifield detected 'an object resembling a child's hand with a long white sleeve attached to it' and also attached to Home's shoulder and arm, and moving as Home moved. A lady, who later became Mrs. Merrifield, corroborated.[20]

[Footnote 20: Journal S.P.R., May 1903, pp. 77, 78.]

This is the one known alleged case of detection of fraud, on Home's part, given on first-hand evidence, and written only a few weeks after the events. One other case I was told by the observer, very many years after the event, and in this case fraud was not necessarily implied. It is only fair to remark that Mr. F.W.H. Myers thought these 'phantasmal arms instructive in more than one respect,' as supplying 'a missing link between mere phantasms and ectoplastic phenomena.'[21]

[Footnote 21: Human Personality, ii. 546, 547. By 'Ectoplastic' Mr. Myers appears to have meant small 'materialisations' exterior to the 'medium.']"

If you managed to wade through all that, the online source quoted is this long account of Home's life..
http://www.online-literature.com/andrew_lang/historical-mysteries/8/

Houdini's book is also available free online here
http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/A-Magician-Among-the-Spirits-1.pdf


Michael

Communications with famous modern skeptics such as Ruth Brandon, Joe Nickell, Richard Wiseman, Massimo Polidoro, and Barry H. Wiley (magic historian and biography of a book on Crookes and state magician Anna Eva Fay) say the Crookes experiment with accordion was most likely done with a music-box. They do not buy into the mouth-organ idea. I have not emailed Chris French but maybe I will ask him as well.

Randi has not written on this experiment in a long time or updated his website but I know he no longer entertains the mouth-organ idea because I met him in the past and have questioned him about it. Not sure if any of this is useful, just letting you know what modern skeptics think. Can you tell me any of your objections with the music-box idea? If it is such an untenable idea in your view why do all these magic historians or skeptics hold it?

So many of the “exposures” of various physical mediums, including Home, as frauds turn out to be assumptions by the debunkers that the particular phenomenon had to be a trick as it could not be understood in terrestrial terms. The materialization did not look like the person when alive; the spirit who materialized was still alive; the handwriting of the spirit differed; the materialization looked like a rubber doll; the materialization was two dimensional; the medium was seen to move her hands or feet; the materialized spirit looked something like the medium; the spirit photo looks exactly like an old portrait of the person; etc., etc. But every one of these situations can be explained without fraud being involved. That is not to say there were not frauds, just that many of claims of fraud are simply the result of ignorant investigators and the willingness of ignorant people to accept their claims. My next book will discuss all of these things and more, but it is still a year or so away.

I sometimes wonder about dear old Randi ....
He is a self-confessed 'honest liar' and former professional magician/illusionist.
I reckon he just loves fooling people and getting away with it. But more than that, I think he loves fooling people who profess to be critical thinkers!

If that's true, then what could be more satisfying for him than setting up his own skeptics' society, and then seeing how many of his own membership he can deceive with completely invented material? Duping self-proclaimed critical thinkers would be the biggest available buzz for someone who has repeatedly and honestly said that he's in the business of fooling people.

Bill,

>> As for Randi's current view which I have spoken to him in the past about, it is a music-box that Home had hidden in his trousers. <<

Except (a) Crookes watched Home get naked and then dressed again. Nothing was hidden. (b) Crookes purchased a brand new accordion specifically for this occasion and didn't let Home see it until the session began. It was *that* new accordion that was seen (by the witnesses) to play melodies *while* inside of a wooden and cooper cage.

Home held his hand at the end of the accordion (while still in the cage), but away from the keys, and it continued to play. Then, and here's the extreme part, Home removed his hand from the cage and an electric current (!) was ran through the cage, but the accordion was still seen moving and still heard playing music. That's not so easy to explain away with cheap sleight of hand tricks.

*Unless* all of the witnesses were in on it and lying (certainly possible!), or unless all of them were experiencing the exact same hallucination (implausible but I suppose it's possible), fraud seems unlikely.

So many skeptical pieces leave out important details. I don't think it's on purpose. I think most skeptical authors just don't read the original/primary research.

"Communications with famous modern skeptics such as Ruth Brandon, Joe Nickell, Richard Wiseman, Massimo Polidoro, and Barry H. Wiley (magic historian and biography of a book on Crookes and state magician Anna Eva Fay) say the Crookes experiment with accordion was most likely done with a music-box. They do not buy into the mouth-organ idea. I have not emailed Chris French but maybe I will ask him as well." - Bill

Bill, have you ever thought of thinking for yourself and making up your own mind about things? You remind me of so many pseudo-skeptics who run to their cult leaders for the answers.

I now begin to understand what the likes of Randi get out of all this.

"Except (a) Crookes watched Home get naked and then dressed again. Nothing was hidden."

Again this has been faulted by Frank Podmore.

"Sir W. Crookes having called at Home's apartments to fetch him for the experiments, the medium actually changed his dress in Sir William's presence. But what was there to prevent Home's slipping into the pocket of his overcoat a small musical box, a loop of black silk, and a hook with a: sharp end? No further apparatus " would be required."

(New Spiritualism p. 51)

Home was not personally searched.

"It was *that* new accordion that was seen (by the witnesses) to play melodies *while* inside of a wooden and cooper cage."

As pointed out in my previous posts, the keys were not seen to have moved. There is no solid evidence the accordion was played at all. No witness observed the accordion keys move. As stated in my previous post this experiment is faulted for a number of reasons. There was absolutely no reason for a table at all. Perfect conditions for trickery.

I am 100% convinced the accordion experiment with Home was a music-box - Frank Podmore, Ruth Brandon, Milbourne Christopher etc have all said the same thing in their books. There is not really much more I can add on this. The experiment has been studied in depth and there is many faults with it.

Lawrence B thanks for your interesting posts, do you have any contrary evidence that disputes the exposure of Home by Delia Logan? Something about Home having hidden a bottle of phosphorus during the séance. There are very few books that discuss this incident.

BTW you might be interested in this:

http://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1038/367422a0

It is a review of Stein's biography of Home which concludes he was a fraud.

copper*, not "cooper". LOL

Bill wrote, "It was debunked by a fellow psychic believer called Frank Podmore."

Podmore was mostly skeptical, though he conceded there might be some instances of telepathy. Yes, he was a member of the SPR, but the organization was not closed to people who wanted to debunk psychic phenomena; on the contrary, Eleanor Sidgwick and other prominent members were quite eager to debunk frauds, and were especially critical of physical mediumship.

Regarding the music box, n/a reminds me of a salient fact. Crookes wrote in his original report:

"It may, perhaps, be worth while to add, for the purpose of anticipating some critical remarks which are likely to be made, that in the afternoon I called for Mr. Home at his apartments, and when there he suggested that, as he had to change his dress, perhaps I should not object to continue our conversation in his bedroom. I am, therefore, enabled to state positively that no machinery, apparatus or contrivance of any sort was secreted about his person."

Evidently "famous modern skeptics such as Ruth Brandon, Joe Nickell, Richard Wiseman, Massimo Polidoro, and Barry H. Wiley," as well as Randi, haven't read the original report. Note that the possibility that Home might conceal a device on his person occurred to Crookes at the time; evidently Crookes was not quite the hopeless dunce he's been made out to be.

More from the report:

"Whilst this was going on [i.e., while music was playing], my assistant went under the table and reported that the accordion was expanding and contracting; at the same time, it was seen that the hand of Mr. Home by which it was held was quite still, his other hand resting on the table.
Presently the accordion was seen by those on either side of Mr. Home to move about, oscillating and going round and round the cage, and playing at the same time. Dr. Huggins now looked under the table, and said that Mr. Home’s hand appeared quite still whilst the accordion was moving about emitting distinct sounds."

How can the hidden-thread theory be made to work if the accordion was expanding, contracting, and moving about while both of Home's hands were "quite still"? Would it in fact even be possible to make an accordion expand and contract by means of a thread? Perhaps some elaborately tied and very strong thread might do the trick, but Home would have no chance to attach it in a complicated way; the accordion was newly purchased (by Crookes) and Home had no contact with it until he was seated at the table, at which point the accordion was already in its cage and could be grasped only on one end.

"[The accordion] then commenced to play, at first chords and runs, and afterwards a well known suite and plaintive melody, which it executed perfectly in a very beautiful manner."

Hard to see how a hidden music box could be made to start and stop when Home's hands were being controlled. Also hard to see how a music box could produce "chords and runs," when presumably the mechanism was made to produce only a single recognizable melody.

Lawrence B, that's an interesting and somewhat bewildering account. I'd say it's most likely that Browning told a good story about exposing Home, whom he personally disliked, but there does not seem to be any good evidence that it actually happened. His wife's continued belief in Home would seem to count against the claim that Home was decisively exposed as a fraud in her presence.

"Michael, but surely 'Houdini was obsessed with debunking mediums' is of no greater value than someone from JREF or wikiskeptic (or whatever its called) advising us to not trust information coming from Michael Prescott because he 'is obsessed with justifying mediums' as they might see it."

True, but I did point to Houdini's attempt to frame Mina Crandon by planting a folding ruler on her, something reported by Houdini's assistant. And then we have Houdini's claim that Home's phenomena could be reproduced under the same conditions by any modern conjurer, which is clearly false. On this basis, I would not trust everything he says, though I certainly concede that in many cases he did expose fakes.

Is it really plausible that black thread could have been used to make the accordion "float"? It would have been a swinging pendulum, which looks nothing like an object floating.

In order for them to have been fooled by such tricks, we would have to assume that people in the 19th and early 20th centuries could be duped by easy tricks, and that we, for whatever reason, are less prone to be fooled. Evidence for such a proposition is not entirely lacking. Arthur Conan Doyle was fooled by the fairy cutouts, after all. It's mind-blowing that he was, since it's utterly obvious to us what they are. We've also talked here on this blog about photos of "ectoplasm" that looked like cheesecloth, etc.

Nevertheless, in order to be fooled by a simple trick, it needed to have been possible for the alleged huckster to have produced the trick. And many of the alleged tricks involve such gross physical phenomena that it is difficult to imagine them being pulled off, especially since the mediums had no access to physical premises prior to the experiment.

The example that pretty much proves to me that at least some physical medium phenomena were real is the case of Palladino and table levitation in broad daylight in a room with the experimenters grabbing onto her hands and feet. There is no way that it could have been a trick. The only explanation that could jibe with the materialist worldview is that the account was a complete falsification.

Michael I see what you are saying. If Home's hands were not free then how could he have attached a piece of thread or string to the accordion during the experiment.

If you look closely at the report there is a flaw here. I am not claiming to have found this flaw myself. An early skeptic who did read the Crookes report start from finish was J. P. Earwaker. He published this in the scientific journal Nature:


"Firstly, with regard to the accordion, we are not told why the cage was constructed at all, and why, moreover, when constructed it was placed under a dining-room table of all places in the world... why was not the cage placed openly in the room..."


"The accordion was confessedly placed in Mr. Home's hands before it was placed in the cage under the table-this was certainly unnecessary and is very unsatisfactory. Then it is obvious that to play the accordion the keys must in turn have been depressed. Yet Mr. Crookes does not volunteer a single word to show that he noticed whether the keys were successively pressed down or not, in fact, he rather leaders us to infer that they were not. Again, it is clearly a physical impossibility for the accordion to have gone round and round the cage if Mr. Home's hand was quite still, for if he held the
accordion at all, his hands must have followed it movements, and what is there
to show that the accordion moved his hand or his hand the accordion?"

(J. P. Earwaker, Nature Journal, 1871).

Ok so important point for me is the accordion was put in Home's hand before it was put under the table? I think this is a major loop-hole in the experiment that opens up the possibility for trickery regarding the thread or string hypothesis. I need to do some more research on this, so I will get back to you.

"Hard to see how a hidden music box could be made to start and stop when Home's hands were being controlled. Also hard to see how a music box could produce "chords and runs," when presumably the mechanism was made to produce only a single recognizable melody."

Yes agreed this is unlikely, but what becomes likely if the music-box was attached to his leg and activated with pressure. This is also an old magicians trick I will try and find a photograph for you, so you understand what I am talking about. But Thanks for this interesting post and all your commentary.

The Music-Box for me is no problem, the question for me is how the thread was attached to the accordion and how this was attached to the table by a small hook. I believe Home did this very cleverly, obviously when Crookes was not holding his hand.

BTW, I have no reason to believe the experiment was rigged. Historian Barry Wiley thinks Home had a secret accomplice Charles Henry Gimingham (Crookes personal assistant) who was the man who built the cage for the experiment. That is nonsense in my opinion.

There is also a statement online that says "Home was daily in and out of Crookes's laboratory, and it appears that he closely watched the development of the tests and was prepared in advance."


n/a writes: "So many skeptical pieces leave out important details. I don't think it's on purpose. I think most skeptical authors just don't read the original/primary research."

Because they are lazy and prefer to rely upon hearsay and the opinions of others?

But I must say that I am more than impressed with Michael's forbearance here. I could never find the patience to engage at such depth with someone who relied solely upon propaganda as his source of reasoning.

Michael , I can seen on re-reading one obvious piece of misdirection in Houdini's summary or the younger Browning's letter. He refers to Mrs Browning's credulity having been diminished after being conned by a "good friend" and we are clearly left to infer that this is a continued reference to the incident already described involving Home. It may well be but the choice of phrase in quotation marks now makes me suspect this is not a reference to Home at all, but some separate incident involving someone else. Otherwise Houdini would have simply named Home rather than extracting the nameless quote.


As for the whole affair, in summarising the sequence of events described in the paragraphs I quoted it strikes me its possible to piece it together and remove all of the alleged contradictions in Browning's account.

In summary. Mrs B was a believer and trusted Home. Mr B was not. Subsquent to her death he publishes a barely disguised attack on the medium in verse, damning him as an unmasked fraud. In conversation with Myer he explains the origin of his conviction that Home was a fake by repeating an account told to him of Home preparing phosphorous as part of his trickery before a seance. Years later an unnamed gentleman of repute reports Browning had told him a different account of his animosity..that Browning had personally caught Home in the act of fakery by "seizing" an alleged phantom and finding it to be Home's foot. This claim - that is the account of Browning Senior telling this story - is confirmed by the younger Browning later still, in a letter to the Times in which he says his father spoke of this incident many times. [the suggestion by the author of the passages I quoted that the son's use of the preposition "under" rather than "over" the table makes it a third story strikes me as ludicrous. It's highly improbable the younger Browning was expecting his brief summary as part of a letter in a newspaper to be taken as a verbatim reproduction of his late father's exact testimony]

So that in essence is the sequence of events as far as we are, at this moment, aware. The case for Home's defence rests on invalidating Browning's claim by pointing out a) he did not report the personal unmasking when talking to Myer and b) Elizabeth Browning made no mention of the incident and retained her faith in Home which seems unlikely if she'd witnessed such a scene.

These seem reasonable arguments. But they are surely based on a - as far as we know - unsubstantiated inference the reader undoubtedly makes. When we read that Browning "seized" the foot, in the words of the author of the account quoted earlier ("caught hold of" it in the words of the poet's son) an image surely passes through everyone's mind. An image which neither testimony ever actually describes. We're doubtless all picturing some variation on an overturned table, a triumphant exclamation, a pointed finger, a show down in front of Elizabeth. But no one has actually quoted Browning as saying any such thing happened. All we are told is that he grabbed what he discovered to be Home's foot. All else is a product of our imagination, certainly as far as the material available in this thread is concerned. What Browing said to Home and how Home responded is not here recorded..unless that is, in that awful poem....

So if we are allowed to make such assumptions we can surely make alternative ones which would do away with all the seeming, or rather presumed, contradictions in the saga.

Let's have a go. Already convinced from the phospherous story that Home is a fraud, Browning gets his chance to prove it to his own satisfaction when he reaches out and finds the phantom to be Home's foot. But he does not make any kind of scene there and then in front of his wife, nor draw attention to the discovery - after all as you said he acted with concern to his wife's feelings - so instead of assuming there was a show down/accusation in front of Elizabeth, let's assume it occurred immediately afterwards in private between the two men. Elizabeth Browning's apparent lack of knowledge and continued faith is suddenly accounted for.

I didn't read beyond the first few lines of that monumental and rather turgid verse, Mr Sludge, but it begins with an unmasked fraudulent medium begging the narrator not to publicise what's just happened. Suppose then this is an accurate representation of what actually occurred that night. The combination of pleading, excuse making, promises of it being a one off and reluctance to upset his wife leads to Browning reluctantly giving his word on this occassion.. a decision he later and increasingly resents but, being a Victorian gentleman, feels honor bound to keep.

Here then we again account for Elizabeth's continued faith in Home's veracity, and Robert's failure to give this story to Myer. However he finds a way to out Home without breaking his word by doing so in the barely disguised tale of Mr Sludge. In private conversation with close friends and his own son he can be open in telling what he himself witnessed that night when he found Home employing his foot at the seance.

By simply substituting one assumption (there was an actual showdown and accustion in front of Elizabeth) with another (there was a showndown/accusation privately, away from Elizabeth) all the contradictions vanish. Is that an unreasonable substition, given the more satisfactory accounting for all the data that follows from it?

One might object that I'm making more than one unsubstantiated assumption - I'm throwing in the fantasy of a private gentlemen's agreement to keep shtum, publically at least. Absolutely. But again is it any more presumptive or unreasonable to do so than to assume instead that Browning was so eaten with irrational hatred of an innocent man that he fell into a mental delusion about an incident that never occurred, or else concocted an outright fiction repeated many times even in private to his own son?

The truth of course is that we don't know. Or at least I don't! I've never heard of this saga before, so there may be plenty more information available that does away with my suggestions entirely. But based on what's available in the passages I've quoted during this thread it does strike me that there is less need to doubt Browning is being sincere and accurate in claiming he caught Home red-footed that night than Home's defenders might insist.

One would have thought that Michael's two attempts, in answer to Bill, concerning why the musical box theory is untenable would be enough. But, just in case...

Bill, mate...a 'musical box' is an automated percussion instrument that makes a 'ploink ploink' sound by virtue of teeth on a rotating drum striking the teeth of a comb.

A concertina, on the other hand, makes a sound by blowing air from a bellows mechanism across a 'reed' - a sort of (predictably, reedy)'wheeze, wheeze, toot, toot' sound.

Having the balls to suggest that one could be mistaken for the other is really quite something. That's about the most charitable thing I can think of saying about the idea. It makes the miniature mouth organ theory(idiotic though it is, IMO), sound positively sensible.

Well put, Steve. My knowledge of both music boxes and accordions is limited, but as far as I know, they do not sound at all alike. All the music boxes I've heard make a plinkety-plink sound, like a miniature piano, while an accordion produces, as you say, a breathy, wheezing sound - usually pretty loud.

I'm also not clear on how Home could have operated a music box, since his hands were watched and his feet were held.

We keep hearing that the room was dark, or at least not well lit, but Home was contemptuous of mediums who worked in darkness, and Crookes seems to have had the gaslight turned up to its normal level. It was Crookes' own dining room, after all. No one reported any difficulty seeing anything in either this experiment or another one performed in the same room. If Home had hung the accordion from a hook, this should have been easily visible, since people did look under the table.

Laurence, it's possible that Browning discovered Home in fraud, but it's also possible that he merely liked to say (or imply) that he had. Home was tested pretty thoroughly over the course of his career, so it would be surprising if Browning, with no special knowledge of magic, unmasked him when so many experienced conjurers failed.

For a discussion of the repeated efforts to expose Home, see this article cited by Vitor in a comment on an earlier thread:

http://goo.gl/fb8Do8

By the way, I don't think Home's abilities necessarily had anything to do with spirits. Though he ascribed the phenomena to spirits, he seems to have been (unconsciously) using PK.

I wondered if Victorian music boxes might have had a markedly different sound than modern ones.

If this YouTube video is any indication, they did not:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arDFEB1IlDw

For comparison, here is some accordion music I selected at random:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rg1LhiTQ8MQ&list=PLmogBlvtk6orbGEhrsYcF_9LHee0YCgsw

To me, the two kinds of music sound very dissimilar. I find it unlikely that one could be mistaken for another.

You can read Frank Podmore’s assesment of D. D. Home and critique of Crookes' experiements here. For those wanting to bypass the biographical details and jump to his remarks on the experiments conducted by Crookes, it begins with: “It is to the experiments and observations made by the distinguished physicist that we must now turn our attention.”

Before branding Crookes a booby, Podmore lifts up the “conjuror's” cape and shows us how some of his tricks were supposedly accomplished:

“It may be conceded that many of the performances were held in a better light than was commonly the case with his rivals; and that the medium's hands were frequently at rest on the table during the performance, even though the only proof offered of this latter fact may have been the presence of ‘a faint white heap’ where his hands should be. The medium's feet were probably responsible in most cases for the playing of bells and guitar under the table, the spirit touches, spirit hands, peregrination of chairs, floating of tables, and the rest of it. His knees and other parts of his person could give substantial help in the feats where more muscular action was required”.

If Houdini could slip out of a locked trunk, I’m sure that a lesser “conjuror” like Home could slip out of his shoes and socks. And, it’s possible to play a guitar with your feet and presumably ring bells and so forth. But, from the descriptions of moving chairs, tables, etc., it seems very unlikely that Home could control these with his lower extremities. And, to do all of this under lighted conditions with vigilant observers would be quite a trick. So, possible, perhaps. Plausible, no.

Here’s another of Home’s alleged feats of deception:

“In the accounts of the early physical phenomena in America I have quoted a description of a séance with Home, during which the table was tilted at a precarious angle, without the displacement of various small objects which rested on its polished surface. Lord Adare (the present Earl of Dunraven*) was favoured with one - and only one - unequivocal example of this manifestation. But I can remember no other detailed account of a similar feat in all the records of Home's séances in this country. This extremely effective exhibition was, I take it, dropped from Home's repertory for prudential reasons. The articles were probably, it may be suggested, held in position when the table was tilted by means of hairs or fine threads attached to Home's dress. If the illumination and background are properly arranged, a dark thread is practically invisible in such a case, even to eyes that know what to look for.”

OK, so Hume attaches threads to objects on the table. How he does that without detection is a mystery. But let’s grant that he’s managed to get all the bits and bobs attached to threads. As the table is moving about, how does Home keep them fastened to the table surface and not swinging about him from the attached threads? There's a basic fact of physics not being accounted for here. Podmore goes on to presume that this thread trick may have been used with Crookes and his associates, to fasten on to some part of Crookes’ apparatus, at which point Sir William dope slaps himself and exclaims “By Jove, why didn’t I think of that!”

The contorted logic of Podmore is difficult to follow, but in the end his argument boils down to this:

”It seems possible, therefore, to explain the great bulk of the marvels recorded of Home by a combination of trickery on the one side and unconscious misinterpretation on the other. But it is not easy to see how the investigators of a generation ago could have been deceived, and repeatedly deceived, by any device of the kind suggested; and if we find ourselves unable to accept Mr. Crookes' testimony, we are guided to an adverse decision less perhaps by any defects which have been demonstrated in the particular evidence here presented than by that general presumption against the operation of the supposed new physical energy which, as already shown, inevitably follows from an analysis of all the cognate evidence accumulated down to the present day.”

So, Podmore admits that “it is not easy to see how the investigators of a generation ago could have been deceived, and repeatedly deceived, by any device of the kind suggested” But, we should throw out their testimony because “all the cognate evidence accumulated down to the present day” argues against the existence of a psychic force that could cause the manifestations witnessed. One of the things science does is overturn universally held conceptions, such as the belief in a flat earth and the circling of the cosmos around it. Crookes offered data gathered in a controlled setting to confirm some of the phenomena that spiritualists had reported and that has been the stuff of ghost stories down through the ages. As Dr. Richet observed: “Man is so made that he does not want to accept truth if it does not appear probable, and it is certainly not our fault if the metapsychic region shows so many improbabilities and contradictions.”

Frank Podmore’s objections were expressed in the journal of the SPR, which requested a reply from William Crookes. To sum it up, 35 years later he had nothing to retract.

Bill wrote,

"I am 100% convinced the accordion experiment with Home was a music-box"

Is that good epistemology? Or good skepticism?

There *may* have been music boxes at the time based on blowing air and using reeds that could have sounded like an accordion, but that would need to be proved. Plus, I highly doubt such a device could be concealed in someone's pants!

I think it's safe to say that a music box as we know them today simply could not have played chords and runs *while* being concealed in someone's pants. Some 19th century music boxes I've seen that are very large (about the size of a gramophone) use large metal discs that can hold a lot of musical data, so to speak. I can imagine such a disc containing a custom program to start off with chords and runs and then progress into the song(s) proper. But a small music box just can't have that long a program.

I'm now learning more about music boxes than I ever thought I would. Is there anything this blog *can't* teach us?

Matt's comment about the possibility of a music box blowing air and using reeds intrigued me. Wikipedia's entry on "music box" says:

//The term "music box" is also applied to clockwork devices where a removable metal disk or cylinder was used only in a "programming" function without producing the sounds directly by means of pins and a comb. Instead, the cylinder (or disk) worked by actuating bellows and levers which fed and opened pneumatic valves which activated a modified wind instrument or plucked the chords on a modified string instrument. Some devices could do both at the same time and were often combinations of player pianos and music boxes, such as the Orchestrion.//

So it was possible to produce a music box using bellows that ultimately controlled a wind instrument. But these devices (as Matt suggested) seem to have been pretty large. This page discusses one:

http://www.museums.iastate.edu/MusicBoxes.pdf

The bellows type is music box #8, manufactured in 1899. It's described as being "closer to a player organ than to a traditional cylinder type music box. ... Due to the size of this box as well as the space needed to play each key this box plays only one song per cylinder. ... This box needs constant cranking to operate the double bellows and to push enough air through to create tones."

It appears to have been the music-box version of this device:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organette

Clearly not something that could be concealed in Home's trousers. We can imagine Crookes's reaction: "Is that an Organette in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?"

Here is a video of an 1894 Organette being played. It does sound very much like an accordion. It is also large and bulky and requires continuous cranking to push air through the bellows.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMCNXwi0Yzs

The music box version was undoubtedly smaller, but perhaps not a great deal smaller. Would it have required continuous cranking, or could it be wound up in advance? I don't know.

Here's an 1880s bellows-type music box on eBay. It measures 12" X by 12" X by 9 3/4".

http://goo.gl/w5Uori

Another 1880's bellows-type music box measures 15" X 18" X 12".

http://goo.gl/tO5hGX

One more, from 1900. This one is even bigger: 24 3/4" x 16" x 13"

http://goo.gl/7rnJ4N

If there were small, easily concealable bellows-type music boxes in that period (or any period), I haven't found them.

Going off the immediate topic, but not in an unrelated way, I might just mention here in advance that tomorrow I'll be attending the local Spiritualist church for only the second time (the first was two and a half years ago). I don't know how it is in the US but here in Britain the movement still survives as a practicing, if low key, religious denomination in most major towns and cities. The last time I went it was certainly interesting to witness first hand, though the visiting medium's offerings were very hard to distinguish from warm reading (I believe that's the correct term.. saying things that might universally apply but seem specific to the individual addressed). Tomorrow however a different, apparently well regarded, medium will be in attendance and I will be with different company. So I'll see how it compares and if this time anything is directed my way. I'll report back here if anything interesting happens.

This is beginning to read like a scene from 'Allo Allo' - English comedy series based on the earlier (and very serious) drama series 'Secret Army' depicting the role of the French Resistance during WWII.

We've had the the harmonica in the tash, the music box in the pants, the face on the foot. Whatever next, the nickelodion in the knickers? And whatever happened to Occam's Razor? Or does that only apply when it points to a mundane verdict?

Steve Hume I understand what you are saying, an accordion does not sound exactly like a music-box. But you are forgetting this experiment was conducted as a Victorian séance in a darkened room (only a single gas light lit the location not given) under heavy suggestibility by Home and under a dark dining room table of all places. The séance sitters wanted to believe.

It is a well known fact people hear all kinds of things during séances that are not really there.

Eric Dingwall in his book "Human Oddities" gives an example of a séance he attended where a sitter claimed to have heard music such as a full-blown orchestra, yet he was there and heard nothing himself.


In the SPR journal there is an old séance report by Professor Harlow Gale where a witness came forward and said the sounds of a harp was heard.


Harlow Gale (1901). A Study in Spiritistic Hallucinations. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 15: 65-69.

Of course no such harp was actually heard, the sitter had imagined the events. There is also another paper in the SPR journal "The Psychology of Testimony in Relation to Paraphysical" by Theodore Besterman that reveals individual testimony from séances can easily be mislead.

Lastly the magician Stuart Cumberland demonstrated with persons in darkened rooms that by clicking or rolling coins in different parts of the room they had no idea of the locality of the sounds and were often wrong.

If the séance sitters, (some of them already convinced believers in paranormal) were expecting to hear an accordion then it is likely their minds would run astray and hear what they were expecting to hear. Instead it was most likely actually a music-box or similar device as various researchers have been saying for over 100 years. And I will do my best to try and find dimensions of the smallest.

I think it's likely you haven't found them, Michael, because they don't exist. Such a device would have to work the bellows both ways (imagine the effect of THAT on Home's trousers lol) and, given the small size, would almost certainly have to be powered by winding up a sprimg with a key.

Also, as I think someone (maybe yourself) mentioned earlier, Home would have had to have been able to STOP the device at will.

Or maybe we're wrong and (as suggested by Tom Ruffles on the SPR FB page when I mentioned your post there earlier) Home's constant trouser manipulations were a major reason for his popularity with the ladies! No wonder Browning didn't like him! Perhaps Crookes was bi? Let's face it, if we were to believe everything Skeptics have written about the man, then he was bonking his way through the female mediums of Victorian London as well.

I'm all for speculation about possible normal causes. But there comes a point where offering up daft theories like this (without thinking them through) just gets Skepticism a bad name. When will they learn?

"Clearly not something that could be concealed in Home's trousers. We can imagine Crookes's reaction: "Is that an Organette in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?"

lol, yes that is unlikely as it would be sussed out too easily, but I think if this was to work it would be something very small. Maybe he used no box?

I am thinking something like an old take of this:

http://s10.thisnext.com/media/largest_dimension/EA4561B7.jpg

Steve have you heard about John Grant's new book "Spooky Science: Debunking the Pseudoscience of the Afterlife", it just been released. I will have it in a few days. I will let u all know what he says about the accordion.

Bill wrote, "It is a well known fact people hear all kinds of things during séances that are not really there."

Well, in that case there was no need for Home to smuggle in a music box. He could just suggest to the gullible sitters that they heard an accordion playing, and they would believe him.

"... this experiment was conducted as a Victorian séance in a darkened room (only a single gas light lit the location not given) ..."

I can find no reference to only a single gaslight being lit. Crookes writes: "The meetings took place in the evening in a large room lighted by gas."

Later he writes, "I have said that darkness is not essential. It is, however, a well-ascertained fact that when the force is weak a bright light exerts an interfering action on some of the phenomena. The power possessed by Mr. Home is sufficiently strong to withstand this antagonistic influence; consequently, he always objects to darkness at his seances. Indeed, except on two occasions, when, for some particular experiments of my own light was excluded, everything which I have witnessed with him has taken place in the light. I have had many opportunities of testing the action of light of different sources and colours, such as sunlight, diffused day light, moon light, gas, lamp and candle light, electric light from a vacuum tube, homogeneous yellow light, etc. The interfering rays appear to be those at the extreme end of the spectrum ... My readers will remember that, with the exception of cases specially mentioned, the occurrences have taken place in my own house, in the light, and with only private friends present besides the medium."

Since Crookes repeatedly stresses that the experiments took place "in the light," I don't think it is correct to say that they took place in "a darkened room." Unless of course Crookes was too dumb to know the difference between good light and near-darkness ... Well, who knows? We've already been told that he was elderly (he was about 40), nearsighted (rebuttal: https://goo.gl/eCXkVG ), and suggestible to the point of hearing wholly imaginary sounds, so why not go whole hog and say that he thought light was dark and dark was light?

If we assume total imbecility on the part of all the investigators, then of course their conclusions must be rejected. But we would not make this assumption about investigators in any other field - or even about Crookes himself in his work in chemistry and physics. It begins to look like special pleading to say that otherwise intelligent and accomplished persons are reduced to sheer idiocy when exploring this one particular controversy.

Bill, the cage was made to help rule out fraud; having the accordion under the table was suspicious to Crookes, and that's why he had the cage designed. I'd argue that Home had a naive idea about how the phenomena worked. You might want to say that Home was trying to cheat by having it under the table, but your concern is dealt with by the fact that the accordion was placed inside of the cage.

Yes, Home touched the brand new accordion. So what? Crookes and the witnesses would have noticed if Home tied a string to it! This strikes me as skeptical desperation. Remember that people were shining light on the cage. And people were observing Home. Neither his feet nor his hands were moving in a way that could have caused the accordion to play music and move around hands-free inside of the cage.

Under these conditions, the accordion was seen to move around "on its own". IMHO there are only two natural explanations that have any chance of working: either (a) all of the witnesses were lying or (b) they were all hallucinating. To me, both of those options are possible but implausible. Claims about hidden music boxes, Home quickly and covertly tying strings to the accordion, etc. are just ridiculous, and I say that without any desire to offend.

Crookes was sloppy with other mediums in other situation, but the accordion experiment was pretty well controlled. It's an awkward situation for diehard skeptics--the results seem to suggest the existence of an effect that strikes skeptics as prima facie implausible, but they in turn offer alternative "explanations" that are also implausible. For me, as a shoulder-shrugging "maybe"ist about these things, I can simply let the chips fall where they may.

Appealing to known mechanisms in current models of physics -- i.e. claiming that macro PK can't be accounted for in our current models -- is backwards reasoning. Our models are supposed to be informed by (and often changed in response to) *data*; we don't throw out data when they don't fit our models. Instead, we should modify models when they fail to account for the data.

Having said that, I really wish other scientists had conducted the accordion experiment under the same conditions. I doubt that Crookes and the witnesses were lying, but it's possible.

I am not sure why skeptics feel the need to address the evidence when they are going to handwave it away so easily. Why not just declare the phenomena impossible and be done with it?

Bill, an accordion does not sound ANYTHING like a musical box, certainly of the type in the illustration you provide a link to. I'm a reasonably experienced recording and mix engineer. I therefore also have a pretty good appreciation of psycho-acoustics, because they're probably the biggest barrier to someone like me turning out a decent mix (assuming, of course that the material was recorded and performed well in the first place). I also have a lot of experience of sitting in dark séances (and some not so dark). It sounds to me, as though you have none. I'm also guessing that John Grant is probably in the same situation, though if he does have something more plausible to say about this business then, naturally, I'm all ears.

Although it is true that the average listener (in many situations), is often rather over-optimistic about their ability to ascertain the source of a sound, this is not a blanket handicap. If a sound is rich in mid-range frequencies (the human speech comprehension band - around 3000 to 4000 Hz), we're actually very good at locating a sound source, even in the dark. But we tend to be a lot worse - with low end stuff, particularly in the absence of visual cues. That is why - if you place a sub-woofer in the 'right' location in a particular space you will still 'hear' the low end coming from slap bang in the middle of the stereo image from a pair of monitors right in front of you, even if the sub-woofer is situated six feet to your right, or even behind you. It's because your 'hearing' accurately latches on to the mid-range grit ( of, say, fret buzz from the bass guitar, or the slap of the kick drum beater) and that fools your brain into 'hearing' the low end as coming from the same place as the mids (i.e. the satellite speakers in front of you), purely because the two are correlated.

In terms of the séance room this means that, even under red light sitters will be pretty hopeless at telling where a low frequency thump has come from, especially if it causes midrange vibrations from somewhere else and the sound is of short duration. They MAY even be similarly be inadequate at telling the source of short duration higher frequency sounds, such as the clinking of coins in complete darkness. But I would expect even the average sitter to be able to place reasonably accurately the source of a concertina (plenty of mid-range content there) playing a tune, especially if the conditions were not totally dark. And there is good reason to believe, as Michael has pointed out, that Crookes' experiments with Home were conducted under relatively well lit conditions.

So. Much as I respect Dingwall and Podmore (and I do a great deal), I'm afraid I don't feel under any special obligation to take undue notice of their opinion on this, or that of anyone else, to be frank. Dingwall once sat with someone who was so deluded that they imagined they heard sounds that simply weren't there - so what? I'm struggling to comprehend the relevance of that in the present context.

We must also take into account the fact that Crookes purchased the accordion himself. So presumably, Home would have somehow have had to imitate the sound of that instrument from the depths of his trousers with another instrument that would have been (by virtue of its small size) incapable of producing the same timbres as the 'squeezebox' provided by Crookes - even if such a tiny wind-driven 'musical box' had have been available at the time. BTW - most popular tunes are contained within one octave, or less. The crucial factor here is, which octave?

Yes, many people are gullible in séances, and elsewhere. Yes, human beings tend to take 'hearing' and the other senses for granted somewhat, and are rather over confident as to their own cognitive abilities. But that doesn't make this theory about D.D. Home's alleged musical box concealing trousers any less silly than it is.

I begin to realise that I'm more like my old grandma than I ever imagined. If she were here today, following this thread, she would say exactly what's going through my mind right now: 'Much more of this and we'll all be as daft as each other.'

She had an almost uncanny way of getting straight to the heart of the matter. :)

Notwithstanding the above, I can think of a very good reason why Robert Browning took so powerfully against Home. It's not altogether uncommon for husbands to resent other men who seriously impress their wives.

Browning was not in any way sympathetic to the spiritualist cause and, therefore, would not have been willing to accept that Home's skills could possibly be genuine. And even if ever he suspected they might be then that would only increase Browning's resentment against Home. Thus I suspect that the real force behind Browning's anger - as expressed in that crude and hideous poem - was based in simple, good old fashioned jealousy. Home, with his mysterious abilities, was likely a most fascinating and engaging man - especially in the eyes of the spiritualist ladies of the time and not least his own wife.

Ps. I meant to add that, from what I recall (not that I was there at the time, you understand) Browning rather liked to think of himself as something of a ladies' man. Two ladies' men together is not generally a happy mix.

Anyway, I'll leave it at that. My grandma was right. All this fuss and palaver about a cage, an accordion and a badly-written poem. All that's needed now is a knockwurst sausage and a German spiked helmet . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . I think I'll go and have a lie down. :)

n/a writes: "So many skeptical pieces leave out important details. I don't think it's on purpose. I think most skeptical authors just don't read the original/primary research"

Just catching up with this thread, and I don't know whether to laugh or cry at that comment. Skeptics "leave out important details", and "don't read the primary research"? Then why, oh why, do they call themselves skeptics?

Why not just call themselves "blokes on the internet who've got opinions about stuff"?

Steve I agree with you, the accordion sounds nothing like a music-box.

Here is Home Sweet Home on an accordion

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRc9PeGaf10

Compared to a version on a music-box

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8falnpve1Uw

I am going to email your and Michael's objections to some magic historians or skeptical writers and I will see what they say and get back to you all in a few days, regards.

"For me, as a shoulder-shrugging "maybe"ist about these things, I can simply let the chips fall where they may."

This is where I am as well. I actually respect that a good deal of these cases have naturalistic explanations but what disgusts me about the materialist cults - and what caused me to abandon them for genuine/legitimate skepticism - is their desire to stop all research into these phenomenon.

Yet many of these materialist fundies are happy to continue to search for the multiverse despite the lack of data, likely b/c it offers a way to argue against fine tuning and intelligent design (which is not to say either of those are real or would necessitate God.)

Bill wrote,

||I am going to email your and Michael's objections to some magic historians or skeptical writers and I will see what they say and get back to you all in a few days, regards.||

The magic historians could be interesting. Skeptical writers, not so much.

Well before Crookes studied Home, other men of some repute observed him. Robert Bell, a journalist, reported on his experiences with Home in the August 1860 edition of Cornhill Magazine. He wrote of seeing a large hand floating before him. “Somewhat too eager to satisfy my curiosity, I seized it, felt it very sensibly, but it went out, like air, in my grasp,” Bell wrote, going on to report on a floating accordion playing music. “We listened with suspended breath,” he continued. The air was wild, and full of strange transitions, with a wall of the most pathetic sweetness running through it. The execution was no less remarkable for its delicacy than its power. When the notes swelled in some of the bold passages the sound rolled through the room with an astounding reverberation; then, gently subsiding, sank into a strain of divine tenderness…Our ears, that heard it, had never before been visited by ‘a sound so fine.’ It continued diminishing and diminishing and diminishing, and stretching far away into distance and darkness, until the attenuated thread of sound became so exquisite that it was impossible at last to fix the moment when it ceased.”

In an introduction to Bell’s article, William Makepeace Thackeray, a renowned British author, told of his observations of some Home phenomena, including Home floating in the air above the heads of those in the room at a dinner party and of the heavy dining room table, covered with dishes, decanters, and glasses, rising a full two feet above the floor.

If the spirit hypothesis is accepted, Home did not levitate. He "was levitated" and the tables "were levitated" -- levitated by the spirit entities using Home's od, psychic force, ectoplasm, whatever name you want to give it, although there were likely others in the room contributing to that psychic force. In one sitting at the Crookes's home, one of the sitters was levitated and floated over the large table, and dropped on the other side. Also, Mrs. Crookes was levitated in her chair.

Reports on Home being levitated were that it appeared that he was being raised up by invisible hands, as his arms were raised over his head and his hands seemingly grasping invisible hands. When levitated in the horizontal position, it was as if support were in the middle of his back. I inferred from this that his legs and head were drooping below the center of his body. I can't find the reference on this off hand, but that is my recollection of how it was described.

There was also much spirit communication coming through Home, although Crookes and others seemed more interested in the physical phenomena and did not record much of the communication.

If Bill comes up with some theory from a know-it-all magician as how the accordion "trick" was performed, he still has to explain all the other phenomena. It seems likely that if at least one phenomenon, such as the levitation, was genuine, then the other phenomena were probably not magical tricks. Moreover, concerning Michael's comment that it might be ordinary PK without spirits being involved, it makes some sense that if spirits were involved in levitating Home and communicating through him, they were likely involved with the accordion as well. I say "likely," or "probably," not necessarily. I invoke Occam's Razor. The point is that Bill has to consider all the phenomena, not just one phenomenon.

n/a wrote,

||For me, as a shoulder-shrugging "maybe"ist about these things, I can simply let the chips fall where they may.||

And Spatel wrote,

||This is where I am as well. I actually respect that a good deal of these cases have naturalistic explanations [...]||

And they are not all or nothing, either. A case could comprise both "natural" and "paranormal" phenomena. As Michael said, it could be spiritual and/or PK. And it could even be fraud combined with real phenomena.

Unless you were there yourself and convinced with your own eyes and perhaps other precautions that no fraud took place, then one is always required to believe someone else's testimony, video evidence, etc. This is true of laboratory science as well, and researchers are regularly caught fudging numbers or outright lying. Experiments are often done with a 5% confidence level (or even higher in the social sciences), meaning that there is a 1/20 chance that the results obtained were due to chance. Would a skeptic ever countenance such a 1/20 chance with respect to a "paranormal" phenomenon. Of course not.

That is why we need to look at the aggregate data. Materialism can withstand any single experiment, but it certainly can't withstand them all. I consider materialism to be fully "debunked."

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