In a previous comments thread, Amos Oliver Doyle linked to a lengthy article by William Crookes titled "Notes of Séances with D.D. Home." I've now had a chance to read this fascinating document, and I'd like to excerpt some of the more interesting material.
What I've done is to classify the various occurrences under different headings. This may give a better sense of the variety of phenomena that were observed. Please note that each quoted paragraph exists in isolation from the ones before and after. In order to see each event in context, you'll have to read the original document.
As Crookes notes, not all of the phenomena were necessarily impressive or particularly evidential:
Many incidents, – as slight movements of the table, etc., – were obviously and easily producible by Home's hands or feet. Such movements, etc., I have recorded, – not as in themselves proving anything strange, – but simply as forming part of a series of phenomena, some of which do prove, to my mind, the operation of that "new force" in whose existence I still firmly believe.
He goes on to say that these "petty details" make the notes "tedious to read," but he was not interested in sensationalism. Insead he wanted as complete a record as possible.
The lighting conditions varied considerably throughout the many séances, and even during individual séances as candles were lit or snuffed out.
One candle on table, two on mantelpiece, one on side table … A wood fire, somewhat dull, in the grate.
It was now proposed to put out the candles and sit by the light coming in from the windows, which was quite sufficient to enable us to see each other, and the principal articles of furniture in the room.
Lighted sometimes by one gas burner, sometimes by salted spirit lamp, sometimes by light from street.
Lighted by means of two spirit lamps with soda flames.
During the former part of the evening the gas was lighted; during the latter part the room was illuminated by two spirit lamps.
The gas was now turned out, and three spirit lamps were lighted.
There was a good fire in the room, which, however, got low towards the end of the sitting, and a gas light was burning during the greater part of the time. When that was put out there was still light enough in the room from the fire and the street to enable us to distinguish each other, and see the objects on the table.
TABLE LIGHT OR HEAVY
Crookes affixed a spring balance to his dining room table by means of a hook, and then measured the weight of the table in response to commands such as "Be light" or "Be heavy." Significant variations in weight were recorded. At times the table levitated.
Whilst this was going on, each person's hands were noticed. They were touching the table so lightly that their aggregate downward pressure could not have been many ounces. Mr. Home once lifted his hands for a moment quite off the table. His feet were tucked back under his chair the whole time.
At the same time Mr. O. R. took a candle and stooped under the table to see that no one was touching the legs of the table with their knees or feet. I also stooped down occasionally to verify Mr. O. R.’s statement that all was fair beneath.
The table now rose completely off the ground several times, whilst the gentlemen present took a candle, and kneeling down, deliberately examined the position of Mr. Home's feet and knees, and saw the three feet of the table quite off the ground. This was repeated, until each observer expressed himself satisfied that the levitation was not produced by mechanical means on the part of the medium or anyone else present.
During this experiment Mr. Home's hands were put on the table, the others being under as at first.
This time Mr. B. took a lighted candle and looked under the table to assure himself that the additional weight was not produced by anyone’s feet or otherwise.
During this time Mr. Home was sitting back in his chair, his hands quite off the table and his feet touching those on each side of him.
Mr. H now took a candle, and stooping down looked under the table to see that no one was touching it there, whilst I was observing the same at the top. Mr. Home's hands and feet were the same as before.
Various raps were heard, sometimes communicating messages via simple codes.
Raps were heard from different parts of the table and the floor.
We heard loud raps on the table.
The raps then commenced loudly all over the room.
Afterwards at my request the Morse alphabet was given distinctly by taps on the table.
MOVEMENT OF SMALL TABLE
A small table frequently moved by itself. Crookes, becoming aware of its peripatetic tendencies, took pains to ensure that it was kept far away from Home and was not tampered with, but the movements continued.
Three loud raps were immediately heard from the small sofa table about 2 feet behind Miss Douglas, and this table then slowly guided up to within 5 inches of Miss Douglas and Mr. Home … When it stopped, Mr. Home drew attention to the fact that both his feet were under his chair and all hands were on the table. He moved a little nearer to Mr. O. R. and turned his legs and feet as far away from the table as he could, asking the sitters to make themselves quite certain that he could not have produced the movement of the table. While this was being noticed, the small table moved again, this time slowly and a quarter of an inch at a time, until it was again close to Mr. Home and Miss Douglas.
The small sofa table came up to within about 6 inches of Miss Douglas. It glided along with a quick, steady movement … Just before I sat down to the séance, remembering that this table had moved up to the circle apparently of its own accord the last time we had a séance here, I pushed the table a little away from its usual place, putting it just about 2 feet behind Miss Douglas's chair. I took notice then that there was no string or anything else attached to it. After I had so placed it no one else went near it, so that its movement on this occasion was entirely beyond suspicion.
Just before sitting down, remembering that the table had been moved on the last occasion, I went to it and pushed it into the furthest corner of the room.
The table was now heard to be moving, and it was seen to glide slowly up to the side of Miss Douglas ... about 3 feet.
The small table which had already moved up to Miss Douglas ... had traveled right across the room, a distance of 9 feet, and, thumping against the door, had produced a noise we had all heard.
INTERACTION WITH SITTERS
The "spirits" — if such they were — interacted with the sitters in various ways. Some sitters claimed to see spirit hands (Mrs. William Crookes was especially prone to seeing them, which could mean either that she was unusually psychic or that she was unusually suggestible), while others saw only a vague luminescence.
The sleeve of Miss Douglas’s dress was pulled up and down several times in full view of all present.
Miss Douglas's chair moved partly round. On attempting to replace it as before she said she could not move it, as it was firmly fixed to the floor. I attempted to pull it along, but it resisted all my efforts.
Her [i.e., Mrs. William Crookes's] chair was tilted up till she was jammed between the back of the chair at the table we were sitting round, and her chair resisted all efforts to press it down.
We then heard a rustling noise on a heliotrope which was growing in a flower-pot standing on the table between Mr. Home and Mrs. William Crookes. On looking round Mrs. William Crookes saw what appeared to be a luminous cloud on the plant. (Mr. Home said it was a hand.) We then heard the crackling as of a sprig being broken off, and then a message came: – “Four [sic] Ellen." ... Immediately the white luminous cloud was seen to travel from the heliotrope to Mrs. William Crookes's hand, and a small sprig of the plant was put into it.
Miss Douglas cried out, “Oh! Oh! How very curious! I have had something carried around my neck. It is now put into my hand. It is a piece of heath.”
The accordion played, and we then saw something white move from the chair close to Miss Douglas, pass behind her and Mr. Home, and come into the circle between him and Mrs. William Crookes. It floated about for half a minute, keeping a foot off the table … We then saw that the floating object had been a china card plate with cards in it, which had previously been on the table behind Miss Douglas.
The chair in which I had been sitting, which was standing near the apparatus, was seen to move up close to the table.
Whilst this was going on I held the bell under the table, and it was taken from me and rung round beneath.
I saw something white moving about in the further corner of the room (diagonal to door) under a chair … [It turned out to be handkerchief belonging to one of the ladies.] The place where I picked up the handkerchief was 15 feet from where she had been sitting.
A flower was then seen to be carried deliberately [through the air] and given to Mrs. Wr. Crookes. [Not to be confused with Mrs. William Crookes.]
For a description of the accordion experiments, see this post. It is interesting to note the variety of tunes and sounds produced by the accordion—very difficult to explain if a music box was somehow used. (For additional and insuperable problems with the music box theory, see the comments thread of the post linked immediately above.)
Whilst it was playing in Mr. Home's hand (his other hand being quietly on the table) the other gentlemen looked under the table to see what was going on. I took particular notice that, when the instrument was playing, Mr. Home held it lightly at the end opposite the keys, that Mr. Home’s feet had boots on and were both quiet and at some distance from the instrument, and that, although the keyed end was rising and falling vigorously and the keys moving as the music required, no hand, strings, wires, or anything else could be seen touching that end.
Mr. Home then moved his hand away and the instrument continued playing for a short time in Mr. O. R.’s hands, both of Mr. Home’s hands being then above the table.
Each of the gentlemen in turn looked at the accordion under the table while it was playing.
Mr. A. R. Wallace then asked for “Home, Sweet Home."
Mr. Home had one hand on the table and was holding the top end of the accordion, whilst Mr. A. R. Wallace saw [a ghostly] hand at the bottom end where the keys were.
It would be impossible to give any idea of the beauty of the music, or its expressive character. During the part typifying summer we had a beautiful accompaniment, the chirping and singing of the birds being heard along with the accordion. During autumn, we had “The Last Rose of Summer" played.
Mr. Home then put the accordion on the floor, and placed both his hands on the table. In a short time we all heard the movement of the accordion under the table, and accordingly Mr. Home placed one hand in Mrs. William Crookes's hands, the other in Mrs. Wr. Crookes's hands, and placed both his feet beneath my feet. In this manner it was physically impossible for him to touch the accordion with hands or feet. The lamp also gave plenty of light to allow all present seeing any movement on his part. The accordion now commenced to sound, and then played several notes and bars.
Mr. Home brought the accordion over the top of the table and held it opposite to Dr. Bird. We then all saw it contracting and expanding vigorously, and heard it emitting sounds, Mr. Home part of this time supporting the instrument on his little finger tip by means of a string I had tied around the handle.
We then were favored with the most beautiful piece of music I ever heard. It was very solemn and was executed perfectly: the “fingering” of the notes was finer than anything I could imagine. During this piece, which lasted for about 10 minutes, we heard a man’s rich voice accompanying it in one corner of the room, and a bird whistling and chirping. [Later the "man's voice" was determined to be something else; see below.]
Whilst it played Mrs. I. looked beneath and saw it playing. Mr. Home moved his hand altogether from it and held both hands above the table. During this Mrs. I. said she saw a luminous hand playing the accordion.
The accordion, which had been left by Mr. Home under the table, now began to play and move about without anyone touching it. It dropped onto my foot, then dragged itself away, playing all the time, and went to Mrs. I. It got on to her knees.
Mr. Home got up and stood behind in full view of all, holding the accordion out at arm's length. We all saw it expanding and contracting and heard it playing a melody. Mr. Home then let go of the accordion, which went behind his back and there continued to play; his feet being visible and also his hands, which were in front of him.
The accordion was both seen and heard to move about behind him without his hands touching it. It then played a tune without contact and floating in the air.
We then saw the accordion expand and contract and heard a tune played. Mrs. William Crookes and Mr. Home saw a light on the lower part of the accordion, where the keys were, and we then heard and saw the keys clicked and depressed one after the other fairly and deliberately, as if to show us that the power doing it, although invisible (or nearly so) to us, had full control over the instrument.
A beautiful tune was then played whilst Mr. Home was standing up holding the accordion out in full view of everyone [i.e., holding it by the end, in such a way that he could not play it].
[The accordion was given to Crookes himself.] In this position, no one touching the accordion but myself, and every one noticing what was taking place, the instrument played notes but no tune.
Sounds were heard on the accordion, which was on the floor, not held by Mr. Home.
The sound as of a drum was heard on the accordion.
Mr. Home then brought [the accordion] from under the table …, playing all the time, and at last held it hanging down at the back of his chair in a very constrained attitude, his feet being under the table and his other hand on the table. In this position the instrument played chords and separate notes, but not any definite tune.
There was a sound as of a man's bass voice accompanying it. On mentioning this, one note, “No," was given, and the musical bar repeated several times slowly, till we found out that it was caused by a peculiar discord played on the base note. [This apparently also applies to the "man's voice" heard earlier.]
Mr. Home took the accordion, and it played “Auld Lang Syne."
LEVITATION OF HOME
Home was best known for his purported ability to rise into the air at will and to float horizontally.
Mr. Home’s chair then moved several times, and tilted up on two legs, whilst Mr. Home's feet were up in the air in a semi-kneeling posture, and his hands before him not touching anything.
He then said, "I'm rising, I'm rising"; when we all saw him rise from the ground slowly to a height of about 6 inches, remain there for about 10 seconds, and then slowly descend ... Mr. Wr. Crookes, who was sitting near where Mr. Home was, said that his feet were in the air. There was no stool or other thing near which could have aided him. Moreover, the movement was a smooth continuous glide upwards.
Mr. Home nearly disappeared under the table in a curious attitude, then he was (still in his chair) wheeled out from under the table still in the same attitude, his feet out in front off the ground. He was then sitting almost horizontally, his shoulders resting on his chair. He asked Mrs. Wr. Crookes to remove the chair from under him as it was not supporting him. He was then seen to be sitting in the air supported by nothing visible. Then Mr. Home rested the extreme top of his head on the chair, and his feet on the sofa. He said he felt supported in the middle very comfortably. The chair then moved away of its own accord, and Mr. Home rested flat over the floor behind Mrs. Wr. Crookes.
Crookes designed a simple apparatus to see if Home could move a horizontal board while touching it very lightly. See the full article for a diagram. At several points he moved the board while not touching it at all.
He then got up and gently placed the fingers of his right hand in the copper vessel E, carefully avoiding coming near any other part of the apparatus. [The vessel labeled E in Crookes's diagram was not in direct contact with the board.] Mrs. William Crookes, who was sitting near the apparatus, saw the end B of the board gently descend and then rise again. On referring to the automatic register it showed that an increased tension of 10 ounces had been produced.
The gas was turned up and we sat as before. Presently the board was seen to move up and down (Mr. Home being some distance off and not touching the table, his hands being held), and the index was seen to discern 7 lbs, where the register stopped. This showed a tension of 7-5 = 2 lbs.
Mr. Home thereupon moved his chair to the extreme corner of the table and turned his feet quite away from the apparatus close to Mrs. H. Loud raps were heard on the table and then on the mahogany board, and the latter was shaken rather strongly up and down … On going to the spring balance it was seen by the register to have descended to 9 lbs, showing an increase of tension of 4 lbs.
MOVEMENT OF OBJECTS ON THE TABLE
Miscellaneous small objects were seen to move, float about, and engage in more complicated activity. A skeptic might say that Home had tied threads around them. But since his hands were not observed to move while the objects did, and it would have been impossible for him to tie threads onto the items without being noticed, this explanation seems hopeless.
Presently the end of this lath, pointing towards Mr. William Crookes, rose up in the air to the height of about 10 inches. The other end then rose up to a height of about 5 inches, and the lath then floated about for more than a minute in this position, suspended in the air, with no visible means of support. It moved sideways and waved gently up and down, just like a piece of wood on the top of small waves of the sea. The lower end then gently sank till it touched the table and the other end then followed ... The lath began to move again, and rising up as it did at first, it waved about in a somewhat similar manner ... Mr. Home was sitting away from the table at least 3 feet from the lath all this time; he was apparently quite motionless, and his hands were tightly grasped, his right by Mrs. Wr. Crookes and his left by Mrs. William Crookes. Any movement by his feet was impossible, as, owing to the large cage being under the table, his legs were not able to be put beneath, but were visible to those on each side of him. All the others had hold of hands.
I could see that a volume (“Incidents in my Life”), which was resting on the leaves to keep them down, was gradually sliding over it in jerks about an eighth of an inch at the time. The motion was visible to all present.
The pencil was moved and lifted up two or three times, but it fell down again.
A piece of ornamental grass about 15 inches long here moved out of the bouquet, and was seen to slowly disappear just in front at the position (eight) on the plan, as if it were passing through the table … It was then told us that the grass had been passed through the division [i.e., a crack] in the table. On measuring the diameter of this division I found it to be barely 1/8 inch, and the piece of grass was far too thick to enable me to force it through without injuring it. Yet it passed through the chink very quietly and smoothly and did not show the least signs of pressure.
The lath lifted itself up on its edge, then reared itself upon one end and fell down. It then floated up 4 inches above the table, and moved quite round the circle, pointing to Mrs. William Crookes. It then rose up and passed over our heads outside the circle.
Whilst the lath was moving around the circle, the accordion played the tune in Mr. Home's hand whilst Mrs. William Crookes's hand was also on it.
A glass water bottle which was on the table now floated up and rapped against the planchette.
The water and tumbler now rose up together, and we had answers to questions by their tapping together whilst floating in the air about 8 inches above the table, and moving backwards and forwards from one to the other of the circle.
The lath, which on its last excursion had settled in front of the further window, quite away from the circle, now moved along the floor four or five times very noisily. It then came up to Mr. T., and passed into the circle over his shoulder. It settled on the table and then rose up again.
The lath then went to the water bottle and pushed it several times nearly over, to move it away from the opening in the table. The lath then went endways down the opening.
The lath moved up through the opening in the table and answered “Yes" and “No" to questions, by bobbing up and down three times or once.
One of the glass flower troughs was seen to move along by jerks, till it had traveled about 2 inches
The wooden lath now rose from the table and rested one end on my knuckles, the other end being on the table. It then rose up and tapped me several times.
I've omitted an experiment in direct writing, some tests done with a device called a phonautograph (which I don't quite understand), and Home's ability to handle hot coals, as well as most of the spirit messages received by raps.
In conclusion, I'd like to point out that these experiments with Home are only a small piece of the evidence for physical mediumship (or psychokinesis, or however we choose to interpret it). The Home-Crookes sittings are certainly of interest in their own right, but for me, their greatest fascination lies in the attempts by capital-s Skeptics to discredit Home without even attempting to deal with the range, variety, and complexity of the phenomena described.
Remember that James Randi at one point opined that the accordion music could have been simulated by a harmonica concealed in Home's mouth. Reread the accordion section above and ask yourself if this was ever a remotely plausible explanation. Did Randi even read the original documentation or was he relying on an inaccurate and sketchy summary?
More generally, how many Skeptics have really engaged with the parapsychological evidence? How reliable are their explanations? Can any of them offer a plausible (not ridiculously far-fetched) account of experiments such as these without insinuating that the experimenters were liars or halfwits?