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It didn't happen in James Randi's office, therefore it didn't happen at all. . .

I should have added that all three (or more) sitters tried to push the levitating table down. Their combined strength was unable to do it. I doubt very much that Palladino could have kept the table off the floor by precariously balancing it on one foot if three men were simultaneously pushing down.

Mr. Prescott

here is the end of the article (note that Polidore was honest giving the references to articles that given another point of view):

Even much easier was the substitution of a foot: when, as it often happened, each of the two experimenters felt a medium's foot on top of his, it could have been only one foot, pressing with the heel on the shoe of one esperimenter and with the toes on the shoe of the other.

Only rarely, according to the transcripts, one of the experimenters thought to check with a hand under the table and feel whether the medium’s knees and legs were both where they were supposed to be. The medium, then, after freeing one foot, slipped it out of the shoe (which remained at its place and could be mistaken for the foot) and could use it, as we shall see, to produce the phenomena.


Eusapia’s secret weapon was precisely her left foot. It is with it, even during these séances, that she accomplished her best demonstrations: see, for example, the final part of Séance VI, when there happened the phenomena that looked as the more impressive to the experimenters.

The substitution of the foot was much easier to accomplish than that of the hand because it happened under the table, where the light was extremely dim, furthermore there was the cover of the large skirt. The structure of the table also helped in many ways. Sitting at the narrow end not only did allow Eusapia to move it about by slightly opening her legs; but also, being so narrow it caused the two experimenters sitting on the sides to have the toes of their feet very close one another: the ideal position that allowed Eusapia, with just one foot placed sideways, to keep contact with both the experimenters’ feet.

The main advantage, however, rests in the fact that the three experimenters did not suspect that she could use a foot to produce the majority of the phenomena they were experiencing. In fact, they could think that she could use the foot to raise the table, but it never crossed their mind that she could also move with it the objects in the cabinet behind her, or produce the bulges on the curtain behind her at the height of her head, or touch the experimenters on the face. Eusapia was, by then, 54 and was quite heavy: she didn’t look at all like a contorstionist. Thus, it never dawned on the experimenters, as it appears many times from the Report, that Eusapia could have a hip so articulated to allow her such movements while she was sitting with her bust still. For example, when they see a bulge in the curtain (being formed from the inside to the outside of the cabinet) they think of a thread, but then they have to discard the hypotesis since there are no threads and since the bulge is rounded and not pointed, like it would be if there was a thread attached to the curtain. Sometimes, Eusapia allows them to touch or feel, through the curtain, that something that produces the bulges; they then feel that there are fingers and nails on the fingers, and conclude without a doubt that it’s a hand; then, they immediately check for the medium’s hands and, finding them both on the table, they surrender to the evidence of an inexplicable phenomena.

It also happens that Eusapia lets her feet come slightly out of the curtains (with a very dim light, obviously), and then the experimenters think they are watching some kind of monster which they describe like... a small head with a long neck. Never they think to check where her feet are.

That Eusapia’s secret weapon was the articulated hip is not something which we are conjecturing about, it is a proven fact. It is understandable that given her age and size this supposition could look ridiculous, but the proof that Eusapia was still very active and agile came the year following the Naples séances, during the disastrous American tour. Here, conducting the experiments, were three experimenters much more cunning than Feilding, Baggally and Carrington. We shall soon discuss this. For the moment, it is interesting to note a forgotten curious episode.

Warnings from “Gurney” and “Myers”

It happened a few months before the séances in Naples and is related by Alice Johnson (1908). Those were the years when the leaders of the SPR, and in particular Johnson, where discovering the concept of “cross correpondence”. One of the main “automatists” was Mrs. Holland. In some of the messages received by Mrs. Holland in 1905 there were references to Eusapia and the problems posed by the control of her phenomena. The “entities” communicating where usually those of Edmund Gurney and Frederic Myers, who sent to Johnson, through Mrs. Holland, suggestions on the subject. Here is a suggestion by “Gurney” (Johnson, 1908, p. 276): “Her [Eusapia’s] feet are very important -- Next time can’t Miss J [Johnson] sit with the sapient feet both touching hers -- Let her fix her thoughts on the feetand prevent the least movement of them”. (Eusapia was often also called Sapia, and Sapient Foot was quite a nice word-play). And here is a suggestion by “Myers” (Ibid., p. 277):

“Ask her [Eusapia] to allow you to secure each foot in a slight card-board box -- case or cover -- She will refuse for the instep does most of the phenomena of raps and movement”.

Probably Mrs. Holland was writing such phrases because she had read some papers dealing with the discussions being held at the time on Eusapia’s phenomena; or because she knew that Johnson was quite sceptical; it’s certain that the leaders of the SPR, so anxious to obtain messages from their dead founders, could take these in better consideration.

The American Incidents

After the exhalting Naples séances, Carrington went back to America where he became an impresario and organized Eusapia, in 1909-1910, a tour for a very handsome cachet (some 125 dollars for a single séance: quite a lot of money in those days). It is well known what happened during that tour, but it is worthy to report in full a couple of episodes, as described by the American witnesses. We’d like to point out that in the Report of the Neapolitan séances the phenomena repeatedly described are exactly the same as the ones Eusapia produced in the American séances, when the “sapience” of her left foot was discovered - the only difference being that, in Naples, not one of the experimenters ever suspected that the phenomena might be produced by a foot.

The first description is by Hugo Münsterberg, the famous psychologyst and philosopher of Deutch birth, who worked at Harvard University. It refers to a séance held on the night of December 18, 1909 (quoted in: Hansel, pp. 240-241):

One week before Christmas, at the midnight hour, I sat again at Madame Palladino’s favorite left side and a well-known scientist on her right. We had her under strictest supervision. Her left hand grasped my hand, her right hand was held by her right neighbor, her left foot rested on my foot while her right was pressing the foot of her other neighbor. For an hour the regulation performance had gone on. But now we sat in the darkened room in the highest expectancy while Mr. Carrington begged John [King, Eusapia’s spirit control] to touch my arm and then to lift the table in the cabinet behind her and John really came. He touched me distinctly on my hip and then on my arm and at last he pulled my sleeve at the elbow. I plainly felt the thumb and the fingers. It was most uncanny. And, finally, John was to lift the table in the cabinet. We held both her hands, we felt both her feet, and yet the table three feet behind her began to scratch the floor and we expected it to be lifted. But instead, there sudddenly came a wild, yelling scream. It was such a scream as I have never heard before in my life, not even in Sarah Bernhardt’s most thrilling scenes.

It was a scream as if a dagger had stabbed Eusapia right through the heart.

What had happened? Neither she not Mr. Carrington had the slightest idea that a man was lying flat on the floor and had succeeded in slipping noiselessly like a snail below the curtain into the cabinet. I had told him that I expected wires stretched out from her body and he looked out for them. What a surprise when he saw that she had simply freed her foot from her shoe and with an athletic backward movement of the leg was reaching out and fishing with her toes for the guitar and the table in the cabinet! And then lying on the floor he grasped her foot and caught her heel with firm hand, and she responded with the wild scream which indicated that she knew that at last she was trapped and her glory had shattered.

Her achievement was splendid. She had lifted her unshod foot to the height of my arm when she touched me under cover of the curtain, without changing in the least the position of her body. When her foot played thumb and fingers the game was also neat throughout. To be sure, I remember before she was to reach out for the table behind her, she suddenly felt need of touching my left hand too, and for that purpose she leaned heavily over the table at which we were sitting. She said that she must do it because her spiritual fluid had become too strong
and the touch would relieve her. As a matter of course in leaning forward with the upper half of her body she became able to push her foot further backward and thus to reach the light table, which probably stood a few inches too far. And then came the scream and the doom.

Notwithstanding the damning exposure, Carrington kept Eusapia in America and had her continue giving séances for the following months. In one of these, however, unknown to her, three professional magicians, W. S. Davis, J. L. Kellogg, and J. W. Sargent, together with J. L. Rinn, an amateur magician and friend of Houdini, participated and detected the exact methodology used by her to produce the phenomena. A report on these exposure was published in Science(Miller, 1910). Rinn and a Columbia student, Warner C. Payne, had been hiding under the chairs of the experimenters during this séance held on April 24 at Columbia University. From this position they had been able to witness the substitution of foot: they saw the medium free her left leg by maneuvering her right foot so that her heel rested on Davis’ toe and her toe on Kellogg’s toe. What happened then is the usual repertoire of phenomena, identical to those observed in Naples (quoted in: Hansel, p. 242):

In a few moments, after some ejaculations in Italian from the medium, the table began to wobble from side to side; and a foot came from underneath the dress of the medium and placed the toe underneath the leg of the table on the left side of the medium, and, pressing upward, gave it a little chuck into the air. . . . A short time after the lights were lowered she swung her left foot free from her dress at the back and kicked the curtain of the cabinet quickly, which caused it to bulge out toward the sitters. This was done several times so daringly that under the chairs where I lay it seemed almost impossible that the people above the table could not have observed it.

Later the medium placed her left leg back into the cabinet and pulled out from behind the curtain a small table with certain articles upon it, which was dashed to the floor in front of the cabinet on the left-hand side. It remained there in varying positions and was kicked by the medium a number of times. At one time the medium juggled the table that had been kicked out from behind the curtain on the end of her left toe in a very clever manner, so that it gave the appearance as if the table was floating in the air.

It was the end of Eusapia’s American tour and also of her career. Carrington did admit that sometimes the medium cheated, but he insisted that in other occasions she was completely genuine; he stayed with his claim until the end of his long life in 1958.


Let’s now go back to the Naples séances to understand what kind of attitude the experimenters had toward the medium in the occasions when they caught her while she was trying to cheat. It is indicative of their real degree of “scepticism” the fact that, even when they had under their eyes the evidence for the fraud, they still conceded her every extenuating circumstance and tried in every way to save her presumed good faith.

In Séance III Eusapia was caught after having freed a hand after a substitution, and also the control for the feet was not satisfactory. This notwithstanding, in the introductory remarks to the séance, it is stated that “no deliberate conscious fraud was proved” (p. 378), and in
a further note, pertaining to this séance, but written at the end of the entire cycle, Feilding writes (p. 397):

I have come, therefore, to feel it possible that, so far as our own series of experiments is concerned, the cases of hand-substitution practised were innocent in intent, though obtaining our previous consent, she otherwise frequently did, - touch the curtain or pull it over the table, - and did it, half automatically and without consulting us, though without any intention of producing a spurious phenomenon. It is necessary to say that never once, in the course of hundreds of phenomena, did we detect a single case of undoubted fraud, and it is my personal belief at present that though there were many phenomena which must be classed as non-evidential, there were in fact none which we should be justified in thinking to be probably spurious.

After Séance X, still in relation to the substitution of hand, Feilding writes (p. 535):

My own experience on this occasion, however, leads me to think it is not impossible that it is often, in the darkness, thought she had resorted to it when, in fact, she has not, and that her hands have, through weariness or carelessness, got into what may be called the “substitution position,” without its being taken practical advantage of. I noticed that I only had half her hand, and immediately felt for the other half, and found it on B.’s [Baggally’s] left hand. I at once jumped to the conclusion that she must have produced the touches on B.’s back with her other hand. In accordance with my promise I told her my control was not good. She agreed; but lifted my hand to feel her other hand, which I found was under B.’s right.

Eusapia was really lucky in dealing with such experimenters: she could boldly try to cheat and, in the event that she was caught at it, not only the episode was attributed to innocent distraction, but she was at once informed that the control was not good, so that she may immediately reestablish it. A phrase in the previous passage, definitely needs to be underlined: “in accordance with my promise”. It will appear odd, but the fair-play of these getlemen streteched to the point of promising the medium (and keeping the promise) that, in their own words (p. 437), “if ever we actually caught her tricking, at once to tell her”. Eusapia, then, enjoyed the incredible advantage of being able to proceed coolly with her moves, because if no one spoke she knew that no one had noticed anything.

In another occasion, at Séance XI, discussing an accurately performed substitution of hand, the comment is (p. 541): “It seems difficult to suppose that her intent was fraudulent, as she must have known that in the light which prevailed a trick would have been detected”. To sum up: if the trick is not detected, everything’s good for the medium; if, however, the trick is detected, still everything’s good for her, because the conditions were such that “a trick would have been detected”, and so her intent could not have been fraudulent!


An incident which occoured at 11.06 p.m., during Séance IX, can well represent the state of acquiescence and subjection of the experimenters toward the medium.

Baggally and Carrington were sitting at the sides of the table, B. at the left and C. at the right of the medium, Feilding was sitting in front of her. At 11.06 p.m. Feilding, dissatisfied with the foot “control”, seeks to verify their actual position and goes with a hand under the table. Eusapia prevents this: she wakes up from the condition of “semi-trance”, in which it is said she was at the moment (p. 514), and gets very angry. A long discussion, or better a sceneggiata, follows which lasts about 40 minutes before the séance can be started again! A further confirmation that it was the medium, not the experimenters, who directed the séance.

On this incident, and on what happened in the minutes preceding and following it, there are various observations which can be made and that can better show the reliability of the experimenters.

1. The sitting had started at 10.12 p.m. At 10.27 p.m. strange phenomena happen which would require the use of a foot on the part of the medium, in particular for the repeated movement of the small stool placed on the ground, at medium’s left (it is interesting to note that the stool was always placed at her left, the side where she preferred to do her foot-work). From that moment, ‘till the incident of 11.06 p.m., that is for 40 minutes, not one of the three experimenters performs a real verification of the position of her feet. These are the conditions of “control” of her feet as transcribed from the stenographer’s notes on the Report (p. 511) (B. stands for Baggally, C. for Carrington):

10.27 p.m.: B. Her left foot on my right foot.

C. Her right foot pressing against my left foot, her right knee in contact with my left knee.

10.30 p.m.: B. Her left knee is against my right knee. Her left foot against my right foot.

C. Her right knee pressing against my left knee; her right foot pressing against my left foot.

10.33 p.m.: B. her left foot is resting on my right foot.

C. I can feel her right knee against my left. Her right foot is in contact with mine.

10.34 p.m.: B. her left foot distinctly held on my right foot.

C. My left knee in contact with her right knee. Her right foot pressing against my left foot.

10.37 p.m.: B. My right knee pressing against her left knee, and my right foot under her left foot.

C. The control of feet as before.

10.40 p.m.: B. I distinctly felt her left leg against my right leg.

C. Control exactly the same as before.

10.41 p.m.: [no mention of controls, altough there had been a phenomena].

10.42 p.m.: [no mention of controls].

10.44 p.m.: B. I can feel her left foot against my right foot, and her left knee against my right knee.

C. [no mention of controls].

10.47 p.m.: B. [no mention of controls].

C. My left knee and foot in contact with hers.

10.47 p.m.: B. Same control of feet.

C. Control of feet as before.

10.48 p.m.: B. Same control.

C. Same control here.

10.57 p.m.: B. Her left leg against my right leg.

C. [no mention of foot].

11.00 p.m.: B. Synchronizing with these tilts [of the table] she presses her left foot slightly [on mine]. Owing to the position of her left leg against my right leg she was not able to touch the table leg with it.

C. Her right foot clearly on my left foot.

And here we are at the incident of 11.06 p.m. The previous phrases were extrapolated from the Report (pp. 511-13) where, of course, the control of hands and the following one another of phenomena were reported too. For all this time the light was pretty dim. In reading the preceding controls, it appears clearly that Eusapia could very easily have freed her left foot and be keeping contact with both experimenters by use of her right foot and leg. In consideration of what happened at 11.06 p.m. the experimenters could have suspected that in those preceding 40 minutes the controls were not good and that all the phenomena had to be discarded as non evidential - it goes without saying that the experimenters do not discard those phenomena.

2. That same night, as in the previous séance, the medium’s feet were tied up with a cord. They were not immobilized, since there was about four feet of cord between each foot and the chair to which it was fastened. It is not explained in detail what was the geometry of the disposition of the chairs, the exact distance in inches are not given so it is not easy to establish how many of the phenomena (like the movement of the stool) could have been performed even with the foot fastened to the rope or would require that the foot be free from the cord. We’d say, however, that there were phenomena who could only, or much better, be performed with a free foot.

That Eusapia had unfastened her foot from the cord (as she also did in Séance VIII, pp. 499-500, as already described) appears evident from the fact that, as soon as one experimenter tries to check the control of the feet, she bursts into a temper tantrum for a long period of time; during all this time - with the light still dim - she could have re-tied the cord and pretend she had never unfastened it. The experimenters don’t check immediately, when the 11.06 p.m. incident takes place, whether Eusapia’s feet are fastened or not. It’s only at 11.40 p.m., more than half an hour later, that Eusapia allows the light to be raised and lets her feet to be checked. Not even later will the experimenters suggest that she had freed herself.

3. The person who, at 11.40 p.m., did check the cord was not one of the experimenters: it was the stenographer. He hadn’t in any way participated in the controls and had no experience at all in sitting with mediums; he was just a stenographer, hired in Naples for this specific task. Furthermore, he was always engaged in writing down what was being dictated to him and couldn’t have participated to the experiments.

It was Baggally (the expert knot-maker) who did tie Eusapia’s feet at the beginning of the séance, helped by Feilding; it’s them then that should have checked if everything was still the same as when they started. Considering that at that moment, as for the last 34 minutes, they had been idle since the séance had been interrupted (they did not have to check the hands, etc.), there is no reason why it was not them who did check on the cord. Actually, one can easily imagine, even if it is not said, that it was Eusapia who prevented them.

4. What seems surprising - or, better, what shouldn’t surprise, considering the attitude of trust in the innocence of the medium by the three experimenters - is that in front of such an incident, not Feilding, not Baggally, not Carrington think that there had been some hanky-panky and that the exaggerated reaction of the medium had only been a ruse to hide it. This is evident from their notes preceding and following the séance. In the preceding remarks, two pages long, the only reference to the incident arrives only after stating the the phenomena that happened until that moment had been quite noteworthy (p. 506):

. . . it seems probable that some further and more startling manifestations might have followed, had it not been for the unfortunate ‘misunderstanding’ that took place at 11.6 p.m. and to which further reference is made in C.’s and F.’s notes. The discussion which arose in
consequence lasted nearly three quarters of an hour.

Carrington is held responsible for the “misunderstanding”, as he himself admits in his final notes (p. 523):

This séance started most propitiously, and it was possibly owing to what was perhaps a blunder on my part that we did not get many more startling phenomena than we did.

It was Carrington, then, who had committed a blunder in trying to check by putting a hand under the table! He apologizes by saying that he had forgotten that the medium’s feet were tied and that there was no reason then to doubt - in other words: should he have remembered that her feet had been tied he would have not tried to check. Still trying to apologize, he explains that one of the reasons for his actions was to keep the promise already discussed above: “We had agreed to tell the medium at once as soon as any laxness of the control became apparent” (p. 523).

As for Baggally, in his notes he doesn’t even mention the incident. He only states that when the stool was moving: “I was sure I had a good control of her left leg. My right foot was not only against her left, but the whole lenght of my right leg was between hers and the stool” (p. 524). He never suspects for a second that what he was checking could be the right leg, not the left.

Feilding, who appears to admit (opposed to Carrington, who doesn’t) that Carrington had found something irregular in the position of the feet when he tried to check, believes that this is the only incident of the kind in the whole set of séances, and doesn’t suspect that the phenomena preceding it should be discarded. He also appears to believe in Eusapia’s story about the sensitivity of her left foot and of her hands (p. 521-22):

I have complained to her more than once that she ought to allow her hands to be fully enclosed [in the hands of the experimenters]. She said that during a séance she became very hyperaesthetic and nervous, and that the touch of certain people’s hands, especially if these are at all moist or hot, is so acutely unpleasant to her that she cannot endure her hands being held inside them. She said that this sensation had no connection with her liking for people otherwise, and that there were certain persons to whom she was greatly attached in her normal
condition who were profoundly antipathetic to her as neighbours during a séance, and vice versa. As regards her feet, especially her left foot, she said she was still more sensitive. Her left foot, she told me, had once been run over by the wheel of a cab, and she cannot stand pressure on the instep, while both her feet have a tendency to go to sleep, so that she gets a sensation of pins and needles in them, and has to press violently every now and then with them so as to restore sensation.

For a foot run over by a cab, her left one seemed to be working still fine, as the American records have shown.

5. Feilding in his notes gives another interesting detail (p. 522) when he says that Eusapia wanted to know what the others were saying and be thus informed about their suspicions. Here is how Feilding relates the incident of 11.06 p.m.

During this séance, however, C. did notice a change, and forgetting that, owing to the fastening, she had only a certain range of action, he stooped down to feel, and found that Eusapia had crossed her feet. He told me in English that the foot control was not good. Eusapia, who detests English, and is always annoyed when she does not know what is being said, yet has a flair for the meaning of things so remarkable as to amount almost to the dignity of telepathic perception, was furious. She worked herself up into a passion and covered us with rich Neapolitan reproaches for our suspicion and inexperience of her phenomena. The storm raged for about an hour, and when at lenght calm was, to a certain extent, restored, and we all expressed unfeigned astonishment at the activity of the stool, which performed a pas seul outside the cabinet, she said sarcastically: “You have spoiled all the better phenomena, and now you are amazed at a straw (paglia) like that”.

Also in another point (p. 514) it is said that after the incident the medium said: “Better phenomena are spoilt for the evening”. Obviously, she needed such threats to keep the experimenters quiet at her feet: if they thwarted Eusapia’s wishes the phenomena would have gone.

As to how much the experimenters were preoccupied not to irritate her, and how much Eusapia was in charge of the game, can also be understood from a trivial episode that happened during the night of Séance VI. The medium arrived late at the hotel, blaming her cab driver. Then she went up, along with Feilding, the five stories of stairs to the séance room. It took 25 minutes to reach the fifth floor: she kept on stopping along the stairs to chat with Feilding - she told him about a theft that she had once suffered. She speaked in strict Neapolitan dialect, which he did not understand, but he was not able to tell her that she was being paid to keep the séance, not to chat. We would have really loved to be flies on the wall and hear what Eusapia really did say to Feilding in Neapolitan dialect in those 25 minutes.


There are various psychological aspects to be considered, to have a better idea of the conditions in which the Feilding group operated. We have already discussed of the submission of the experimenters to the medium, and of their wish never to irritate her. This of course, had an influence on the kind of control they were “allowed” to apply: “The degree of control permitted by her varied very much, and appeared to depend upon her mood” (p. 323).

Eusapia, however, did use various other psychological ruses. For example, a much longer treatise would be needed to discuss her use of sexual calls: “as a rule she is apparently overwhelmed by sleep, throws herself often into the arms of her neighbours” (p. 324); “sometimes she encircled the leg of one of the controllers tightly between her own or rested both her legs across his knees” (p. 327); “Medium asks us to put our hands on her legs” (p. 352); “my right hand was then also grasping her tigh” (p. 364). It is clear that such behaviours could be used in many ways by a medium to her advantage.

Interesting is also her use of misdirection; Eusapia, for example, would frequently hold an experimenter hand high, toward the curtain, and while the attention was on the hand she could kick the curtain below, thus producing movements and bulges on it: “Medium holds my right hand towards the left curtain with hers and makes two slow movements which are reciprocated by movements of the curtain” (p. 353).

Here is a description of an attempt at misdirection to cover a feet substitution, which was detected by the skilful experimenters at Columbia University; the one talking is W. S. Davis (Houdini, pp. 56-57):

We were next favored with responsive raps, - doubling up her hands she beat the air with her fists in a jerky, spasmodic way when we heard the light noises on the wood. The exhibition above board did not occupy our entire attention. Every one in the party was interested in the theory of using a foot as a lever to raise the table. As she beat the air with her clenched fist, she correspondingly slid her feet away until we felt the pressure on the toe end of our feet only, whereas there had previously been pressure on the insteps. Kellog and I both suspected that she had succeeded in removing one foot and was making the other do duty for two.

The two magicians hiding under the table, later confirmed that this was what had exactly taken place.

Finally, Eusapia tried hard to appear cooperative and ready to do her best to make the experimenters happy; she would, for example, ask for better light only to have her ‘control’, “John King”, refuse it:

In the early stages of trance the directions for diminuition of the light are usually given through tilts or levitations (sometimes apparently without contact) of the table. Eusapia herself frequently opposes these directions, but as a rule the table continues, by repeated series of five tilts, often of great violence, to demand a reduction of light to which she ultimately gives way. (p. 325).

“John tilts five times for less light. Medium is annoyed and says “No.”

The tilts continued to ask for less light and eventually she yelded. (p. 467).

Throughout the report, there are many instances that show where she appears to cooperate only to have then things go her way: “Eusapia was in a nervous, anxious mood, perpetually interrupting to ask if the control was satisfactory, and perpetually rendering it as difficult as possible for us to make it so” (pp. 325-6).


Since this paper has also been written to point out the various pitfalls of one of the most famous psychic investigations, and thus furtherly stress the need for future investigations to be carried out and reported in such a way as to minimise retrospective counter-explanations, in closing we would now like to offer a few suggestions as to what the experimenters may have done to prevent being tricked (or, at least, be coscientious of what happened).

First of all, as we have seen, F. C. and B. go to great lenghts to ensure that every request of Eusapia be satisfied. Since the main reason for a new SPR’s investigation was “merely to attempt to determine whether the phenomena were due to trickery or not” (p. 319), it would have been wise to attempt testing her under “controlled conditions”, sometimes. They do not do this since, as they explain (p. 322): “our time in Naples was limited”, and “we preferred to adopt conditions to which the medium was used and in which therefore it was probable that the effects would be produced, rather than impose others which might possibly impede the production of what we had gone to study”.

To let Eusapia act under the conditions she was used was not a bad idea: this is the best way to see how “usual conditions” and “test conditions” that would prevent fraud differ. However, after a few of these tests, where phenomena were produced under the usual conditions, new tests with stricter controls had to be tried. Should nothing have happened under these conditions, what conclusions had to be drawn?

Luckily, somebody did attempt exactly this kind of test on Eusapia: it was the same committe of the Columbia University who had hidden two persons under the experimenters’ chairs to observe Eusapia’s substitution of feet. Their plan, in fact, was to allow Eusapia to go
through her act in the first part of the séance, so that they could see exactly what she did. After thirty minutes, however, at a given signal the experimenters (two magicians) sitting on her sides tightened the controls. Eusapia’s hands and feet were completely controlled, and they would not allow her to shift or get free either. She cursed and shrieked, of course, but during this period of thight control nothing else happened. Then again, at the agreed-signal, the controls were loosened for 30 more minutes and manifestations were again produced by
the skillful use of a free hand or foot. In the end they tightened controls and again nothing happened. In this way they had been able to establish a kind of conditional relationship: whenever the controls were loosened, phenomena occoured. When they were securely tightened, there were no manifestations (Rinn, 1950).

In Naples the experimenters did not follow this kind of action:

“We felt”, they explained (Report, p. 322), “that if, in a reasonable number of experiments, persons specially versed in conjuring tricks and already forewarned concerning, and familiar with, the particular tricks to be expected, were unable to discover them, it would not be presumptuous to claim as a probable consequence that some other agency must be involved”. Quite a wrong consequence, as we have seen. Even at the Columbia University sittings, the two professional magicianssitting at Eusapia’s sides were not at all sure whether she had substituted her feet or not (Davis, quoted in Houdini, 1926, p. 56): “Kellog and I both suspectedthat she had succeeded in removing one foot and was making the other do duty for two”[italics ours]. However they were not sure of what really had happened until, after the séance, the two persons hiding under the chairs confirmed that she had actually been able to substitute her foot in that way.

Eusapia complained that her limbs were too sensitive to be kept too tight, and we know how the Feilding group was careful not to hurt her sensitivity. However, just once, they could have tried a couple of very simple controls: 1) move the séance table 5 ft. away from the curtains on the back; 2) rotate the table, so that Eusapia would sit at the centre of the longer side. If anything still happened inside the cabinet, or if the table still levitated on all four legs in such conditions thensomething interesting would have really been observed. To be honest, they did try this second control during Séance VII, but after almost an hour, where there were only partial levitations of the table, mainly tilts toward the medium, Eusapia said that “she did not like the table that way” (p. 471) and it was again turned back in the usual position for good.

They could have also asked her to dress white clothes, which could have allowed the experimenters to better see her movements; also, she could have been asked to dress trousers, instead of ample skirts; or to have her seat on a creacking chair (notice that the chair, on which she is shown sitting in the picture facing p. 321, is different from the other one shown in the same picture and from those shown in the picture facing p. 375; these chairs were obviously the ones already present in the hotel room: but did Eusapia also bring her “tested/silent” chair, along with table and curtains?). Ironically, many other suggestions of this kind were proposed by Count Perovsky-Petrovo-Solovo in the same Proceedingsissue which contained the Feilding Report.

The only new test they try is to put “stocks” on the legs of the table to prevent the medium’s feet in levitating the table. However, they then discover that she can still move the table by using her hands. Being the experimenters now aware of this, she has to present different phenomena but, this time, she is caught at the substitution of hands. Not to worry, however, since the experimenters, as usual, decide that “no deliberate conscious fraud was proved” (p. 378).


We don’t know whether Eusapia Palladino was a genuine medium or not, however we observe that: 1) her best demonstrations were those held with no real controls and before people incompetent of tricks; 2) whenever she was observed by competent reseacher she was invariably seen to be using fraud. It has often been claimed that the best experiments done on Eusapia are those by the Feilding group; from what we have seen, however, we can consider the Feilding committee a group of highly incompetent researchers. On the basis of these observations, we strongly suspect that Eusapia Palladino was only a very good magician, who depended on her highly polished and reharsed methods of deception for her living and who, probably, didn’t need any accomplice to accomplish any of the 470 phenomena described in the Report. The gullibility of her experimenters was enough.


Barrington, M. R. (1992) Palladino and the invisible Man Who Never Was. JSPR 58, 324-340.

Barrington, M. R. (1993) Palladino, Wiseman and Barrington: ten brief replies. JSPR 59, 196-198.

Feilding, E., Baggally W. W. and Carrington, H. (1909) Report on a series of sittings with Eusapia Palladino. ProcSPR23, 309-569.

Fontana, D. (1992) The Feilding Report and the Determined Critic. JSPR 58, 341-350.

Fontana, D. (1993) Palladino (?) and Fontana: the errors are Wiseman’s own. JSPR 59, 198- 203.

Hansel, C. E. M. (1989) The Search for Psychic Powers. Buffalo: Prometheus Books.

Hodgson, R. (1895) The value of supernormal phenomena in the case of Eusapia Palladino. JSPR 7, 36-79.

Houdini, H. (1924) A Magician Among the Spirits. New York, Harper & Brothers. (reprint: Arno Press, 1972).

Jastrow, J. (1910) Unmasking of Palladino. Collier’s Weekly 45, (May 14), 21-22; quoted in: Hansel, C. E. M. (1989) The Search for Psychic Powers, p. 242.

Johnson, A. (1908) On the automatic writing of Mrs. Holland. PSPR55, 276-277.

Miller, D. S. (1910) Report on an investigation of the phenomena connected with Eusapia Palladino. Science 77.

Münsterberg, H. (1910) Report on a sitting with Eusapia Palladino. Metropolitan Magazine, February; quoted in: Hansel, C. E. M. (1989) The Search for Psychic Powers, pp. 240-41.

Rinn, J. F. (1950) Sixty Years of Psychical Research. New York: Truth Seeker Company.

Wiseman, R. (1992) The Feilding Report: A Reconsideration. JSPR 58, 129-152.

Wiseman, R. (1993a) Palladino and Barrington: ten major errors. JSPR 59, 16-34.

Wiseman, R. (1993b) Palladino and Fontana: nine major errors. JSPR 59, 35-47.

Wiseman, R. (1993c) Martínez-Taboas, Francia and Palladino: nine major errors. JSPR 59, 130-140.


When this work originally appeared in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Researchit created quite a stir among its readers and contributors. Here is a selection of the articles and counter-criticism to our work that was published in the Journal:

Barrington, M.R. (1998) Palladino, and Those Who Know How She Did It. JSPR 63,56.

Fontana, D. (1998) Polidoro and Rinaldi: No Match for Palladino and the Feilding Report. JSPR 63, 12-25.

Keen, M. (1998) Palladino and Her Critics. JSPR 63, 56-57.

Martìnez-Taboas, A. (1998) Some Critical Comments on the Thesis of “Eusapia’s Sapient Foot”. JSPR 63, 26-33.

"For example, when they see a bulge in the curtain (being formed from the inside to the outside of the cabinet) they think of a thread, but then they have to discard the hypotesis since there are no threads and since the bulge is rounded and not pointed, like it would be if there was a thread attached to the curtain. Sometimes, Eusapia allows them to touch or feel, through the curtain, that something that produces the bulges; they then feel that there are fingers and nails on the fingers, and conclude without a doubt that it’s a hand; then, they immediately check for the medium’s hands and, finding them both on the table, they surrender to the evidence of an inexplicable phenomena."

Um, hands are quite different from feet. I would think the investigators could tell the difference.

Thanks very much, Vito, for providing this information. I read the rest of the Polidoro article, and also reviewed several summaries of Palladino's seances. While there is absolutely no doubt that she did cheat when she could, a fact that was known and publicized at the time, I still think that much of the phenomena observed cannot be accounted for by the "sapient foot" hypothesis.

For instance, in tests at Ile Rambaud in 1894, conducted by Charles Richet, Palladino's feet were sometimes placed in boxes, from which they could not be removed without activating an electric bell. Despite this precaution, which precluded the use of her foot, the usual phenomena were observed, sometimes in good light.

At the same location, a table weighing more than 40 pounds was levitated. It then turned upside down in midair.

Again at Ile Rambaud, when the table levitated, investigators would go beneath the table and hold Palladino's ankles, sometimes also using a night-light.

Palladino, in her chair, was levitated onto the table in full view of the sitters.

Various musical instruments would play in different parts of the room simulataneously - something she could not have done with her one foot, no matter how dexterous it was. Sometimes the music was accompanied by table tilting.

There were cold breezes in the room that emananated from no apparent source.

In a separate examination, the investigator Cesare Lombroso heard a bell ringing in midair in the dark. He struck a match and observed the ringing bell "up in the air" without visible support.

Another investigator, Morselli, strapped Palladino to a cot with the heavy restraints used on mental patients. A variety of phenomena occurred. Intermittently Morselli checked the straps; they were always intact.

The investigator Botazzi saw a hand on his forearm. He touched it, felt the fingers, observed its coloration. As he watched, it dissolved away. Palladino's hands were controlled throughout.

In Turin in 1907, a table levitated over the sitters' heads, drifted behind the curtain, began to be smashed, then emerged from the cabinet and continued to be pulled apart as the sitters watched. The table ended up in a "disintegrated" condition.

Multi-colored lights were often seen in the seance room.

Various hands were observed. Carrington said they were sometimes large, sometimes small, sometimes white, sometimes black, sometimes invisible. Like Botazzi, he also reports holding such a hand and having it slowly dissolve in his grip.

In Naples, the experimenters reported being touched by invisible hands. The hands could not be seen even though Palladino herself was visible. (The light was "sufficient to see the medium's head and hands clearly" and her hands were held.) Had she been using her foot to accomplish these touches, surely her upraised leg would have been seen.

The point is that while some of the phenomena undoubtedly were fraudulent, and this fact was well known at the time and emphasized even by Palladino's defenders (such as Carrington), there were many occurrences that cannot be explained by the "sapient foot" idea. Yes, she used her left foot to fool people when she could - no one denies this, or ever did deny it; it was known from the beginning, and Polidoro is not saying anything new. But she could not have faked all or even most of the more interesting phenomena this way.

David Fontana sums it up in his book Is There an Afterlife?, writing, "It is all too easy to fasten upon one apparent weakness in the methods of investigation and use it to discredit the whole endeavor, conveniently ignoring a range of reported happenings to which it could not possibly apply."

For more details, search this page for the keyword "Palladino":

Mr. prescott

you said:

"In Naples, the experimenters reported being touched by invisible hands. The hands could not be seen even though Palladino herself was visible. (The light was "sufficient to see the medium's head and hands clearly" and her hands were held.) Had she been using her foot to accomplish these touches, surely her upraised leg would have been seen".

These phenomena can be explained by normal ways. The sensation of being touched can be reproduced just by ... sugestion. You can see a lot of these phenomena with magics and in people who search for spiritual healing. The last have the feeling of an "energy" through their bodies in an seance of this kind. This is very common, indeed.

What I would like to know is if you think Polidoro's explanation of the seance in Naples a good one and can explain all the facts in Naples by normal ways or not.

I will search for the experiences in Turin in 1907 (do you know ih there are photos of the table levitating?).

Best wishes.

>What I would like to know is if you think Polidoro's explanation of the seance in Naples a good one and can explain all the facts in Naples by normal ways or not.

I do not think Polidoro's explanation covers all the facts in Naples.

>I will search for the experiences in Turin in 1907 (do you know ih there are photos of the table levitating?).

Photos exist of Palladino levitating a table, but I don't know if these are from the Turin case. There are some from the Naples tests. Offhand I don't remember where I've seen them - maybe in The Limits of Influence, by Braude, if there is a photo section (I don't recall).

>do you know if there are photos of the table levitating?

As luck would have it, I just bought a book called The Spirit of Dr. Bindelof, by Rosemarie Pilkington (published by Anomalist Books). It includes a brief review of Palladino's career - and two photos of her table levitations. Unfortunately the photos are not of very high quality, and don't prove much, although one of them does show an investigator "controlling" her knees and (apparently) her feet, while another investigator stands beside Palladino watching her.

Thank you!

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