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The Medium Had The Message:
Mrs. Piper and the Professors
February 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 2
The conversation then veered to personal acquaintances, mention of a letter box, and other subjects. Howard attempted to ask G. P. two test questions he had devised, but after several false starts in the voice of G.P., Dr. Phinuit pushed his way into the séance.
Although Howard later verified most of the incidents and details revealed during the séance, he remained in a quandary, torn between his natural doubt and his belief in what seemed impossible. After ten more sessions with Mrs. Piper he was suddenly convinced of G.P.’s reality when, on a winter night in 1892, Mrs. Piper became submerged in a deep trance, her body apparently lifeless. The right hand began to twitch, jerk, then to write with great speed in answer to Howard’s demand for proof. “Tell me,” he insisted, “something known only to G.P. and myself.”
That evening, Dr. Hodgson was recording the events. He took up several sheets of paper on which Mrs. Piper had written and read them aloud to Howard, who agreed that the statements were correct. Suddenly the medium wrote, “Private,” and gently pushed Hodgson away.
I retired to the other side of the room, and Mr. Howard took my place close to the hand where he could read the writing. He did not, of course, read it aloud and it was too private for my perusal. The hand, as it reached the end of each sheet, tore it off from the block book, and thrust it wildly at Mr. Howard, and then continued writing. The circumstances narrated, Mr. Howard informed me, contained precisely the kind of test for which he had asked, and he said that he was ‘perfectly satisfied, perfectly.’
We do not know, of course, what was written on the pages. Obviously it was the story of some private conversation or experience that Howard and Pelham had secretly shared. At any rate, it was enough to convince James Howard.
G.P. began to replace Dr. Phinuit, although at times they shared the medium in a remarkable manner: while Phinuit was speaking, G.P. would use Mrs. Piper’s hand to write about an entirely different subject. Phinuit’s vividness, which had so impressed William James, waned as the power of G.P. waxed. More and more trance communications were in writing. Mrs. Piper, after trembling violently, would fall forward onto the table, where cushions had been placed to protect her. An invisible presence then seemed to seize her right hand and arm, using them to produce automatic writing, often at such a furious speed that the entranced lady could hardly keep up with the torrent of words.
Hodgson, feeling that more proof of the G. P. phenomenon was required, arranged for one hundred and fifty persons to attend sittings. They were carefully screened, and as far as anyone could determine none of them had ever met Mrs. Piper. Of this group, thirty had been friends or acquaintances of G. P. and the remaining one hundred and twenty had not. The first task of the ghostly George Pelham was to identify which sitters had been his friends during life. The odds against a correct guess in any given case were four to one. Since Hodgson was familiar with Leonora Piper’s uncanny talent, he fully expected that the number of correct identifications would be well above the mathematical probabilities of guesswork, but he was hardly prepared for the astonishing thing that happened.
When the shade of G.P. was asked to single out his friends, his score was exactly thirty out of one hundred and fifty. There was not one mistake!
Further, G. P. not only mentioned shared experiences to his friends, but in every case he treated the sitters with the same degree of intimacy George Pelham would have shown in life. He was polite to casual acquaintances, more relaxed with those he knew better, and cordial to old friends.
It was the most remarkable case of “something” ever recorded, although what the “something” might be remained an open question. The advocates of ESP declare that Mrs. Piper unconsciously read the minds of the sitters. If this is so, she must also have read their memories, for G.P. frequently mentioned incidents from the past which were accurate but which were not in the conscious minds of the sitters until G. P. talked about them.
There are others who feel that the G. P. control was exactly what he claimed to be: the spirit of George Pelham.
One of Mrs. Piper’s triumphs was the conversion of Dr. Hodgson. As evidence accumulated, Hodgson’s skepticism suffered one blow after another. He at last became convinced that Mrs. Piper was in touch not only with living minds through ESP, but with departed personalities as well. James disagreed. Although he accepted a version of immortality, James believed that Mrs. Piper’s ghosts were creations of her own unconscious mind, and that her amazing fund of information came via telepathy.