How Science Traps Ghosts

It is 1922 and psychic investigators say they have the latest scientific tools to catch or discover ghosts. Granted, these tools include bells, pendulums, and other odd gizmos.

The below article shows how seriously our recent ancestors took the supernatural.

How Science Traps Ghosts

Interesting Instruments and Curious Appliances Devised to Reveal the Approach of a Spook in a House Reported to Be Haunted

EXACT scientific methods have now been perfected of testing the genuineness of “ghosts,” recording all their activities, exposing them if fraudulent and proving anything about them that may be supernatural.

When Dr. Walter Franklin Prince, the distinguished director of the American Society for Psychical Research, proved that the mysterious fires and disturbances at Antigonish were caused by a young girl and not a spirit, he was aided by a system of skillfully arranged bells. He also employed the mental methods of the philosopher, the lawyer and the trained psychologist.

More elaborate scientific instruments are used for different cases of supposed spirit manifestations. A special type of phonograph is hidden where it may catch the mysterious rapping and noises so often reported, and preserve a permanent record of them. In another class of experience a psychic researcher will wait with his ears to a telephone connected with an electric instrument that howls with increasing force as a person comes within its field.

There are a score of instruments that are placed at the disposition of disembodied forces that wish to communicate with the earth, If these instruments are activated when placed beyond the known influence of any living person, then the activity must be regarded as supernormal. The oscillograph, which shows characteristic oscillations on the approach of every person, is a type of instrument that can be employed in this way.

Electric lights that flash and vibrators that rattle when a person comes within an electric circuit are planted along the track of spirit manifestations. If a fraudulent person is playing tricks he will be trapped, and if an unseen force can excite these effects then the supernormal is evidenced.

If a medium is suspected of trickery her emotional reactions are recorded by a galvanometer without her knowledge.

And what is the main result of all this earnest scientific inquiry? It is evident that the leading psychic investigators, in eluding Dr. Prince, are now convinced of the genuineness of many supernatural phenomena, although they will not say that they believe in “ghosts,” because that suggests so much that is legendary and superstitious. They believe that persons are today possessed by strange external forces like the men “possessed with devils” in the Bible. They believe that there are “veridical hallucinations,” which are sometimes apparitions of the dead — and these are really the “ghosts” of popular legend. They believe that agencies unexplained by any scientific law cause rapping, move tables, throw objects about, and even throw persons down.

Dr. Prince, who is a Doctor of Philosophy of Yale University, has been investigating this subject for twenty years and gained considerable celebrity by explaining and curing the amazing case of Doris Fischer, who was possessed by five distinct personalities. After his recent return from Nova Scotia Dr. Prince said:

“We have proved the occurrence of supernormal phenomena, which cannot be explained by any recognized scientific laws. The facts which we accept are better proved than many of the facts which physical science accepts.

“I have, for instance, recently seen the apparition of a dead man, and received such a mass of information from him that I cannot reject the evidence of a supernormal agency.

“It occurred in a house I formerly occupied in New Jersey. One day my daughter, who has a psychic tendency, called my aptitude to a man in the house. I looked up and saw the man looking at me with a friendly expression, apparently taking an interest in a peculiar bathrobe of English make I was wearing.

“The man had wet hair and clothes and his appearance suggested that he had been drowned. That was the beginning of a great number of visits from this man, during which he told us many curious facts and most of his history. This information was taken by my daughter through automatic writing, and also by ’scrying’ in a crystal ball.

“One day she said, ‘He is putting out his finger to touch you.’ I did not see the man at this moment, but I had felt a peculiar sensation of cold in my left forefinger. I asked my daughter, ‘Where is he touching me”’ She answered, ‘On your left fore finger.’

“Our visitor was a comparatively little known English author, who had lived in this house and had died eight years before I first saw him. I had heard of him, but never knew much about him.

“He told us that he had drowned himself. He described the peculiar weeds in the pond where he died, which twined themselves tightly about a person who struggled so that he could only escape from them by lying still.

“I went to England and found everything he described. I found the peculiar weeds he described in the pond. I found that he had told me many facts which had not been published in London at the time of his death and which I could only confirm in the locality where he died.

“I am only stating a few features of this very interesting and complicated case, of which I am making a detailed report to our society.”

The supposed ghostly disturbances at Antigonish, N.S., which Dr. Prince investigated, proved to be a comparatively simple case, although here again the thoroughness of psychic investigation methods was demonstrated. In this case a simple farmer, Alexander MacDonald, and his wife had been so worried by thirty-eight mysterious fires in the house, rappings, untying of cattle in the barn and other occurrences that they were no longer able to stay in the home. These simple people could imagine no cause for the disturbances but the agency of spirit hands, and their neighbors agreed with them.

Dr. Prince, when called in, slept six nights in the house. He hung six light bells, that ring on the slightest agitation, in different parts of the premises.

The bells were hung from the doorknobs, the window frames, the chairs and the bedsteads in the house. Any material person groping about the house in the dark could not have failed to ring one of these bells.

“The theory of employing these bells,” explained Dr. Prince, “was that is a human being had caused the fires in the house he might ring the bells, and that if a spirit caused the fires it could equally well ring the bells. In either case, some interesting fact would be elected.”

The bells were not rung by any psychic or unexplained agency. By reasoning and questioning the household, Dr. Prince established the fact that the fires must have been caused by Mary Ellen Macdonald, the sixteen year old adopted daughter of the Macdonalds, though without her conscious knowledge.

“The disturbances were of the ‘poltergeist’ type,” said Dr. Prince.

“In such cases a boisterous spirit appears to be at large, taking delight in slapping people, pushing them over, making loud noises and causing minor mischief. In a hundred ‘poltergeist’ cases investigates the agency was found to be a human being, and in the great majority of these cases a female human being. Further, these girls were, in most instances suffering from a certain type of hysteria.”

Mary Ellen, of Nova Scotia, was held to be unconscious of her strange acts, because she said so and because her character was amiable truthful and generally good. The doctor found, moreover, that she was in the habit of falling into “trance states,” in which she would naturally be subject to obsessions.

The discovery that Mary Ellen caused the fires and rappings by no means eliminated the possibility in Dr. Prince’s opinion that a supernormal or ghostly agency was working through her. An experiment with “automatic writing” was then made which suggested the possible origin of her obsession.

Harold Whidden, a man of psychic tendency, who was interested in the investigation, was placed by Dr. Prince in a trance condition suitable for automatic writing. He then wrote unconsciously a series of messages which purported to come from a man fifteen years dead who had long known the Macdonalds. This man was unknown to Dr. Prince or Mr. Whidden, but on enquiry the Macdonald’s said they knew him.

“Mr. Whidden entirely changed his character when writing,” says Dr. Prince. “From a good tempered, amiable man he became very imperative.”

One of these automatic messages from the dead read:

“Tell the Macdonalds that people can return from beyond the grave. Spirits can act and move things in the world.”

“These messages,” said Dr. Prince, “furnish a basis for the hypothesis that a dead man wished to send the Macdonalds proof that spirits could affect the material world and that he acted through Mary Ellen, because she was a person of nonresistant will. He did not use methods which an educated man would have chosen, but it is not reasonable to expect always dignified and thoughtful conduct from discarnate agencies.”

The use of scientific instruments for the receipt of supernormal communications and the detection of fraud is now being practiced on a large scale by Dr. Hereward P. Carrington, the well known psychic investigator, director of the American Psychical Institute and Laboratory, No. 40 West Fifty-seventh street, New York.

Dr. Carrington is now experimenting with the instrument called the oscillograph, which registers the vibratory activity of the human body. Science has proved that the body gives out high frequency vibrations, analogous to the X-rays, the write less radiations and the ultra violet rays. They are not directly perceptible to the human sight and other sense.

In the oscillograph a glass cone, having a small opening at the top, stands upon a circular graduated disc. The opening at the top of the glass cone is closed by a flat nickel disc, to the center of which is attached a fine thread. To the lower end of this thread is attached a small ball, which is thus free to swing equally in all directions.

A person under experiment is requested to place his hands upon the flat plate near the top of the instrument and to keep them as steady as possible.

Soon the ball is seen to begin swinging in a certain curve. This curve, according to Dr. Carrington, will vary, according to the sex, temperament, chemical, electric and psychic constitution of the subject. In some subjects the ball swings with a direct to and fro motion; with others it will move in a circle; with still others in an ellipse; in others, again, in a eight-shaped figure.

This ball, it will be noted, is moved by a force not perceptible to human senses. If, as so many reports indicate, spirits are capable of exerting physical force, then it is reasonable to believe they can influence this exceedingly delicate instrument. Furthermore, there is a hypothesis that the vibratory force is that part of the body which survives after the tangible portion dies.

Dr. Carrington is conducting an exceedingly interesting experiment with this instrument, the object of which is to obtain a message from a deceased investigator of psychic phenomena. The results, checked by scientific witnesses, will be published when completed.

Another interesting instrument used is the voltmeter, invented by Professor Sydney Alrutz, of Upsala University, Sweden. This is a balance, on one end of which a person places his hands lightly. By natural law the farther end can only move upwards, but Professor Abrutz has found that when certain persons concentrate their minds upon it it records a slight downward pressure. Here, again, is an instrument apparently suited to recording psychic force.

Suppose that a medium appears to be under the influence of a disembodied spirit and deception is suspected. She is connected with the mirror galvanometer, an electric instrument which records ordinary emotional reactions with a flash. If when the spirit is talking, the medium does not betray her ordinary emotional responses to remarks, then there is some evidence that an external force is speaking through her.

Mysterious rappings, peculiar noises, voices unlike those of living persons, are commonly reported psychic phenomena. The psychic dictaphone, a phonographic instrument that magnifies small sounds many hundreds of times, is placed where these are reported, and thus permanent records of such supernormal sounds are being collected.

Every trained investigator provides himself with a photographic camera when seeking evidence of psychic phenomena. With the camera Professor Charles Richet, of the Paris Academy of Sciences, obtained his remarkable photographs of the Arab called Bien Boa, who materialized himself apparently out of nothing before the professor, who not only saw, but felt the vision.

With his camera Professor Baron von Schrenck Notzing, the Munich scientist, obtained more than 225 photographs of curious supernormal materializations, which he has published. These photographs were taken in the presence of scientists of standing, and the honesty of the investigator is not questioned.

In Schränk Notzing’s experiments the photographic plates revealed many different human figures emerging from the body of the medium, Eva Carriere. In some experiments pictures seen by other persons not present were projected from her body. Schrenck Notzing has advanced an interesting theory that such materializations are telepathically projected from the minds of persons concerned in the experiment, using the body of one medium, and that they actually consist of body tissue of immeasurable lightness.

A very peculiar instrument is the “ululometer,” or “psychic howler,” which produces a wailing sound when any living being comes within its field.

The lastrometer is an apparatus containing a sulphide of zinc screen, which glows when a person approaches. The glow varies according to the psychic energy of the person, and it is reasoned that a spirit or discarnate agency might reveal its presence through this glow.

These are but a few of the instruments now being employed in abundance to trap the footsteps and catch the voice of the elusive “ghost.” 

Source: The Washington Times. Newspaper. April 09, 1922.