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Interesting stuff Michael, especially the “radiograph” of Duncan’s head which is labeled as taken “during the fourth séance on May 28, 1931.” I wonder how it happened that an x-ray machine was brought into a séance room and Duncan agreed to this. I suppose x-ray machines were highly portable in those days as there used to be one in every shoe store in the ‘30s and ‘40s to see if shoes fit properly but an x-ray of the head is another thing.

Maybe the x-ray machine was set up at a laboratory of the “National Laboratory of Psychical Research”. Although not specifically stated but the picture was included with other “stereograms” taken there.

And I wonder why Duncan’s stomach was not x-rayed if that ability was available as her stomach was the only part of her body that was not physically examined prior to the séances and thought by Price to be the place where she hid the material and from which materials were regurgitated either from her mouth or her nose. (It must be quite a feat to regurgitate six feet of cheese cloth from one’s nose. Really now, think about all of this. How could Duncan breathe with six-feet of rolled-up cheesecloth in her pharynx and then blow it all out in a sheet of material.)

And why in the pictures is Helen Duncan(?) blindfolded? I don’t understand the reason for the blindfold when Duncan was sewed in a sack and tied to a chair. The blindfold does obscure the identity of Duncan or an imposter though.

And what is a “control photograph showing six feet of Woolsworth’s cheese cloth showing selvage and rents”. Is this a picture of Duncan during a séance or a reenactment with a model and Woolsworth’s cheese cloth? Somebody apparently knew that six feet of material was purchased from Woolsworth!)

I have to say that it is difficult for me to follow all of these photographs as some of them seem to be ‘reenactments’ and use other people to demonstrate what Duncan might have done. I have to take all of this about Duncan with a ‘grain of salt’ From this vantage point it is difficult to really know what is true or false about Helen Duncan when the credibility of the reporter(s) is in question. At this point I am tending to believe that at least some of the photographs of Price were staged. I don’t know of course but I am suspicious of them all. - AOD

From Price's book:

//Of course there are several ways in which medical men can examine a person's stomach. There is the "stomach camera," a tiny photographic apparatus which gives us pictures of our internal economy. There is the stomach pump (rather crude); a violent emetic (which is not pleasant); a medical exploration under a light anesthetic; and the X-rays.

So at the fourth séance we decided to use the X-rays. We knew that the rays would not reveal the cheese-cloth, as the stuff casts no shadow, but we hoped for a safety-pin or something similar. We also knew that the psychological effect of the apparatus on the medium would be valuable, and in this we were not mistaken.

At the conclusion of the fourth séance on May 28th, 1931, we led the medium to a settee in the séance-room and gave the signal for the X-ray apparatus to be wheeled in from an adjoining room. At the sight of the apparatus the medium seemed scared, and promptly went off' into another alleged trance, from which she soon recovered. She refused to be X-rayed. Her husband advised her to submit, telling her that it was quite painless and merely a matter of seconds. The approach of Mr. Duncan seemed to infuriate her, and she became hysterical. She jumped up and dealt him a smashing blow on the face which sent him reeling. She then made a lunge at Dr. William Brown, who fortunately avoided the blow.

The medium then said she wanted to retire to the lavatory, so Mrs. Goldney, a Council member, and Dr. William Brown accompanied her to the hall, in which was the door leading to the street. Then the medium found that she did not want to use the lavatory and sat down on a chair. Suddenly, without the slightest warning, she jumped up, pushed Mrs. Goldney aside, unfastened the door, and dashed into the street, where she had another attack of alleged hysterics and commenced tearing her séance garment to pieces. Her husband dashed after her, followed by the other sitters. She was found clutching the railings, screaming, and Mr. Duncan was trying to pacify her.

It was a most extraordinary scene. If the reader can visualise a woman weighing more than seventeen stone, clad in a one-piece black satin garment, locked to the railings and screaming at the top of her voice, he will have a fair idea of what we witnessed that evening. Pieces of séance garment were found in the road the next morning.

Of course, crowds collected and the police arrived. The medical members of our Council explained to the constables what had happened, thus preventing their fetching the ambulance, which they threatened to do.

At last we got her into the laboratory again, and then the unexpected happened. She demanded an X-ray examination! But it was now too late, as our control had been broken owing to the fact that the medium had been alone in the street with her husband for a minute or so and we formed the theory that during that time she had passed the cheese-cloth to her husband. To test this theory Dr. William Brown asked Mr. Duncan to turn out his pockets. The medium's husband refused point blank to be searched.//

Also from the book:

//Miss McGinlay's story is an amazing one, and sheds some light on our experiments. She states that she purchased pieces of butter-muslin for Mrs. Duncan and that these pieces "appear to be identical" with those which I photographed at the séances. She recognised tears in the fabric as being the same.//

Presumably Miss McGinlay said she purchased the cloth at Woolworth’s.

Cheesecloth can be wadded up to be incredibly compact. Six yards can be compressed into a wad not much larger than a big pill. Some people are able to swallow it, though I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home. It’s a special skill.

I don’t know the circumstances under which the X-ray of Duncan’s head was taken. I can’t find any explanation in Price's book, though I may have missed it.

I should add that Harry Price seems to have been a rather slippery character, so it’s reasonable to treat some of his claims with skepticism. Still, I think the weight of the evidence is against Mrs. Duncan.

Thanks Michael. It truly is a puzzlement. - AOD

I must admit that over the years I have blown-off the Helen Duncan mediumship primarily because of the photographs taken and published by Harry Price which I thought were legitimate. I just didn’t give much thought to Duncan after that. But I see now that there seems to be too many debatable statements provided by Price for me to take Price’s word for everything about Duncan. Like so many of these older cases of mediumship they get muddled-up over time as more and more people comment and write about them as the years go by.

An example is a nebulous account given by Price concerning passing of the cheesecloth to Duncan’s husband in the street:

“ [T]he medium had been alone in the street with her husband for a minute or so and we formed the theory that during that time she had passed the cheese-cloth to her husband. To test this theory Dr. William Brown asked Mr. Duncan to turn out his pockets. The medium's husband refused point blank to be searched.”

So,---Price “formed the theory” and tested it by asking Duncan’s husband to “turn out his pockets” Since Mr. Duncan refused then I guess that proved Duncan swallowed cheesecloth, regurgitated it and passed it to her husband in the street in a minute or two.

This is not evidence of anything. Price has absolutely no evidence that Duncan swallowed cheesecloth and regurgitated it. There are too many questions about the photographs published by Price to accept them as solid evidence.

Another example: Price failed to provide an authenticated statement from Miss McGinlay who Price just states that she purchased pieces of butter-muslin for Mrs. Duncan and these pieces ““appear to be identical” with those which I photographed at the séances. She recognised [sic] tears in the fabric as being the same.””

Well, a signed statement by Miss McGinlay would be more reliable evidence and we have to take Price’s evaluation that the cheesecloths were “the same”. I just think it is very difficult for me to accept all of Price’s pictures and statements as legitimate and true without more authentication.

Over the years I have read many of these cases regarding mediums and paranormal happenings and most of them eventually get gargled-up with inaccurate information. I have to say again that the one paranormal case that is difficult to refute is the case of Patience Worth. That case has not yet been contaminated by serious research or by opinions of psychic debunkers of any repute because the physical evidence of the case is available to anyone who takes the time to read and seriously consider it. Dr. Walter Franklin Prince did a good job of laying-out the evidence in his academic study of the case in “The Case of Patience Worth”. It is difficult to be critical of his year study of Pearl Curran. - AOD

One thing I find suspicious about Price's account is that serendipitously he came across Miss McGinlay, who remembered Mr. Duncan removing cheesecloth from his pocket and giving it to her with the explanation that his wife had passed it to him in the street. This *could* have happened, but if so, Price was the luckiest guy in the world to have met the one person who could confirm his theory in such detail. Why would Mr. Price even tell the girl that his wife had passed the cloth to him in the street? It just seems too good to be true.

Price has been criticized in other cases and accused of unethical behavior, so it’s impossible to really know what went on with Duncan. Was there even such a person as Miss McGinlay, or did Price invent her to improve his story?

I still strongly incline to the view that Duncan was a fake, especially if the puppet photos were arranged by her at her home (which seems to be the case). But who knows? In a situation like this, with an investigator and a subject who both seem less than credible, I'm with Mercutio: "A pox on both your houses!"

I agree, Michael. AOD

I just want to say one more thing. I have always been suspicious that some of the ‘ghost’ or ectoplasm pictures like the Helen Duncan pictures were re-enactments. It hasn’t been very many years that almost everyone had an iphone camera. Years ago not many people carried around a camera with them and the ones that were available used film that had to be exposed in bright light and that had to be sent out to be developed or in the earlier days of photography career photographers used larger photographic plates in a large camera that used a lycopodium flash for indoor shots and developed their own photos.

Well, I noticed that one of the photographs in the Psypioneer Journal explained that it was a re-enactment. The description below the photo explained that, “This photograph was part of a set of Esson Maule’s re-enactment of the events below, on the back in her own hand is stated:
Séance Room – as it was on night of 5th January 1933 – Showing actual position and attitude of Mrs. Duncan at moment when light was put on endeavouring to hide “Peggy” – Note – Armhole seam – Stocking soles & shoes near wall. “Electric power plug is seen at my [Esson’s] right hand and spring board runs along the floor there – The “peculiar noise” heralding “Peggy’s arrival was Mrs. Duncan going down on her knees and causing spring board to make a screeching noise. E.M.”

Apparently Esson Maule was modeling as Helen Duncan in a “set” of pictures and there was some conjecture going around that Esson Maule was the woman in the pictures supposedly of Helen Duncan as Esson Maule was of similar build and appearance. With the blindfold on them it is hard to tell who is who. Since photographs in the early days may have been re-enactments for one reason or another, I don’t take any of them seriously. - AOD

"Apparently Esson Maule was modeling as Helen Duncan in a 'set' of pictures and there was some conjecture going around that Esson Maule was the woman in the pictures supposedly of Helen Duncan as Esson Maule was of similar build and appearance. With the blindfold on them it is hard to tell who is who."

I’ve read that theory, but I doubt that the puppet photos are of Maule. It’s one thing to reenact the seance by crouching in the position occupied by Duncan, and another to get tied up and blindfolded and pose with puppets. Maule never claimed Duncan used puppets anyway; her claim (which I believe) was that Duncan used an undervest with a picture of a child’s face pinned or glued onto it.

Still, there are knowledgeable people who believe it is Maule in the puppet pix, and no one can really say.

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