Parapsychological Assn. 55th Annual Convention & Other Links

I’ve been so behind posting here I have a few links I want to share. First up, the Parapsychological Association is holding their 55th Annual Convention. “Leading scientists and other academics from around the world will gather to present the latest parapsychological research into psi and related phenomena, such as extra-sensory perception, psychokinesis, psychic healing, altered states of consciousness, mediumship and possible survival of bodily death. Hosted by the Rhine Research Center and Atlantic University, the event will be open to the public and academics alike.”

There’s going to be a panel honoring the work of Dr. William G. Roll (pictured below, in a photo by Susan McWillams).

I also wanted to link to this blog post on the Scientific American’s website, titled: Brilliant Scientists Are Open-Minded about Paranormal Stuff, So Why Not You?

In the comment section there was a reference to another blog post titled: An alternative take on ESP which seemed thorough and fair to me, but I would love to get a take on it from someone who is more knowledgable about these things.

There was also a reference to this piece in frontiers in quantitative psychology and measurement, but I didn’t read this one yet. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence: the case of non-local perception, a classical and Bayesian review of evidences.

Dr. William G. Roll

What is the deal with the ASPR?

While I was researching my book about the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory I repeatedly tried to explore the ASPR archives (American Society for Psychical Research) but I was never granted access. For a year and a half they put me off and I finally accepted that they just didn’t want me to see anything. They wouldn’t even tell me what they had. I’ve since learned I’m just one in a long line of people who had similar experiences with the ASPR.

Why? What a shame it is, because I imagine they house a valuable treasure trove of parapsychology history. Why don’t they want anyone (or few people?) to actually use their collections? Maybe there’s a problem. When I wrote about the NYPD’s cold case squad it also took a long time to be given access to the Property Clerk Division warehouse, and when I finally got inside I could see why. Much of what was supposed to be there was missing, and some of what was there was poorly maintained.

My dealings with the ASPR is so contrary to every other experience I had researching parapsychology. The people at the Rhine Research Center, the Parapsychology Foundation, the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia, and of course the Special Collections Library at Duke, couldn’t have been more professional, encouraging and helpful. They want people to use their collections.

What is going over there at the ASPR? Their website looks like it hasn’t been updated in years. Perhaps someone who has made it inside or who used to work there can explain why the ASPR is so determined to prevent researchers from accessing their archives?

This is me at the Special Collections Library at Duke doing what I love best.

Stacy Horn at Duke Special Collections Library

A Relatively Untapped Gold Mine

I wanted to talk about the Parapsychology Laboratory Records which are housed at the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library of Duke University. There are over 700 boxes of records there and it was impossible for me to go through them all. It just kills me, thinking of all the stuff I must have missed.
I employed my version of something called data sampling. I learned this in my telecommunications days. For every decade of records, I looked at a certain number of boxes, and then within those boxes, I looked a certain number of papers. I hoped my sampling rate was high enough to give an accurate picture of the history of the Parapsychology Lab.

But I know I must have missed tons of great finds. For instance, had I picked up a different folder I would have missed the letter from Einstein. Or the one from the priest in the Exorcist case. What is in all the boxes and folders I didn’t look at??

I copied much of what I looked at and brought it all back to New York. Then I started making timelines, lots and lots of different timelines, some general, some focusing on different areas. Here’s one where I was highlighting letters from the military and business.

This is just one decade, and focusing on one area, and yet look at the richness of activity. And that was just a sample!! What was in the thousands and thousands of letters I didn’t look at??

1956. Scientists at the Army’s Cambridge Electronics Laboratory become interested in testing the practical communications possibilities of ESP.

1957. A colonel from the Army’s Intelligence Board writes Rhine about a psychic girl in Virginia who gave them a demonstration. Rhine says she is a fraud. [I plan to do a post about this girl later. The FBI investigated her too.]

1958. An engineer from Convair’s Radio Astronomy Project asks Rhine if he’s “ever attempted to correlate the variation in the ability of good ESP subjects with the variation of sunspot numbers?” Rhine’s response: No.

1958. A chemist from the Army’s Ordinance Missile Command writes about a guy making claims in Italy. Rhine doesn’t take the Italian’s claims seriously.

1958. General Precision Laboratory invites Rhine to confer with them about ESP possibilities.

1959. Vernon Walsh, the Vice President of Communications at General Dynamics, says that ARPA called him about using parapsychology for defense. Walsh visits Rhine.

1959. Rhine speaks at NYU’s Institute of Philosophy. “I was one of the discussants of a paper given by Norbert Weiner. The audience was mostly philosophers, mathematicians, and computer experts. I do not think I made much impression on them. On the other hand, there was no show of opposition or criticism. I suppose one could say they have their own bonnets full of their own bees.”

1959. Rhine addresses the American Institute of Electrical Engineers on ESP, at the Western Union Telegraph Company auditorium, 60 Hudson Street. It was part of a night all about communications.

1960. Pratt meets briefly with a Colonel in the Air Force, Rhine follows up with a proposal for an Air Force ESP test.

1961. In response to repeated letters from Rhine, a colonel from the Office of the Chief of Research and Development for the Army says they can’t find any evidence of any contract with Puharich. But Rhine responds that he has found out and there is a contract, but he was sworn to secrecy.

1961. Someone from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory tells Rhine that Charles Radar said his intention was to disprove Rhine’s results.

1961. IBM conducts an ESP experiment in Canada. Rhine works with them as a consultant. [I’m going to do a post about this test later.]

1961. Rhine addresses the Institute of Radio Engineers in California. A colonel from the Air Force is in attendance and says he’s going to try “to stir up something there.” He talks about their work with drugs.

1961. Hughes Aircraft writes about this computer they’re using to calculate missile hit probabilities. He’s concerned that PK could affect missile guidance systems.

1962. A psychologist from Army Recruiting who had discussed hypnosis and ESP with Aldous Huxley writes Rhine at Huxley’s suggestion.

1962. The Defense Academy of Japan sends an assistant professor to the Lab.

1965. Sylvania Electronic Systems, then a subsidiary of General Telephone & Electronics Corporation, contacts Rhine. They want to set up a parapsychology research program and could he suggest someone to manage the project which would emphasize techniques to enhance ESP.

1965. Rhine hears about Bob Monroe, who would go on to found the Monroe Institute.

You could pick any decade, or any year, and get a wonderful snapshot of activity. I would have loved to have spent a few more years looking. There is just so much in there. You can see for yourself here!

The picture is of the building that houses Special Collections. It’s a beautiful place. And, the librarians there are some of the nicest, most helpful librarians in the world (but all librarians are saints, though).

Another Psychic History Mystery

I was exploring the collection of digitized images at the New York Public Library, and I came across this picture of what was called The International School of Psychic Science at 135 West 124th Street. It’s dated 1932.

A quick search of Proquest only turned up a couple of ads. One for an astrologist who’d give a 14 page report for a $1 and another that called it by a slightly different name. It was The International Psychic Science Center, and they had two buildings, 133-135 West 124th, and Thomas R. Hall is listed as the director. “The ideal center for spiritualists, psychics, mediums and occultists” the ad reads. “Noted speakers and messages daily at 8 p.m.”

Just going by this one page of ads in 1932 you’d think everything to do with spiritualism was happening in Harlem.

Charles Ozanne, the Parapsychology Lab and the Psychical Research Foundation

I originally had a lot more in the book about one of the lab’s contributors, a retired history teacher from Cleveland, Ohio, named Charles Ozanne.

For a long time Ozanne was glad to give money to the lab. He was looking for a purpose in life and he was drawn to parapsychology and the survival question. Like Rhine and John Thomas before him, Ozanne had sittings with the medium Mrs. Soule. Ozanne had been close with his mother and the sittings with Mrs. Soule were in order to communicate with her. But he often wrote Rhine about how the medium only got in the way of his connection to her. “Those who communicate, communicate enveloped, as it were, in the atmosphere of the medium’s personality.” How frustrated the dead must feel, Ozanne believed, at not being able to communicate more directly. One day, however, when Mrs. Soule was coming out of her trance, “there burst through with almost explosive emotion, the words, ‘My boy!’” Ozanne wrote Rhine. It was because his mother’s need to speak to him directly was so strong, he believed, that for a second she came through. “… just as when electric voltage gets high enough the electric spark leaps over the intervening distance, so the direct emotion broke through the usual mechanisms and expressed itself in that outburst.”

Ozanne was excited by the papers they’d started publishing in the forties about psychokinesis (aka PK). His mother had once communicated to him through a medium that it was “easy to influence the mind, but hard to move the hand.” In other words, PK was hard. Ozanne thought Thomas Edison’s attempt at building a machine to communicate with the dead indicated that Edison agreed with his dead mother. According to Ozanne, Edison thought that if spirits existed, they “could exercise some slight power over matter, but very slight indeed; so he devoted himself to construction of a machine that could be moved with an almost incredibly small expenditure of energy. That is exactly in line with your PK effect.”

Then, in 1952 Charles Ozanne moved to Durham to be closer to their work. The last remaining relative that he was close to had died, and he was now 85 years old. At loose ends at the twilight of his life, Ozanne came to live out his last years where he felt his contributions were making a difference. “The giving that you make possible for me I consider and opportunity and a privilege,” he wrote. The problem was he wanted that contribution applied much more directly to finding proof of life after death. Moving to Durham only brought nearer the conflict that had always dogged his relationship with Rhine.  (More below …)


Two years after moving to Durham Ozanne made a list of every contribution he had ever made to the Lab since 1936 and confronted J. B. Rhine. He’d given them just under $47,000.00, which would be worth $324,000.00 in 2005. And for what, he asked. Survival “is the very core of my life and the one supreme thing that I am working on with every power of my being,” he wrote. “Yet so far as I can see, at no time did you make any serious effort to understand it.”

All Ozanne wanted was some shred of proof that the messages he believed were from his dead mother were, in fact, real. “You want science to come to the aid of this belief,” Rhine responded, arguing that Ozanne’s difference was not “with me, but with the scientific standards to which I, along with thousands of others, are devoted.” But Ozanne became convinced that only Rhine’s stubbornness stood between him and his ability to fully embrace immortality. He wrote back in anguish, “You stand with your armed guard beside the Pearly Gates to see that nobody gets in without the proper scientific uniform on!”

Rhine invited him and anyone else to “go over the record of the past twenty-five years and see what great thing there was which we ought to have seen how to do and ought to have done which we did not do.” And “to come forth with a just appraisal of our efforts to find evidence of the spirit world you firmly believe exists and show wherein we have been neglecting our opportunities to discover and record important evidence.” On another occasion he said, “We are not addicted or limited to experiment, or statistics, we are searching for new ways, or old ones we had forgotten,” but they weren’t having much luck. Rhine repeatedly suggested that Ozanne might be happier if he contributed his money elsewhere, but as frustrated as Ozanne was with Rhine he had the most faith and trust in him and the Parapsychology Lab.

But the complaints continued and eventually Rhine just couldn’t continue to take Ozanne’s money when he wanted it spent so differently. He wrote Ozanne and listed a half a dozen capable people Ozanne could give his money to instead. He also suggested setting up an endowed survival research project within the university, and recognizing Ozanne’s disappointment with him over the survival issue, Rhine said it was best to leave him out of it.

On New Year’s Eve, 1959, Ozanne arranged to have the funds he had given to Duke moved into the newly established Psychical Research Foundation, Inc. in order to support the Survival Research Project (the Foundation would be formally established the following summer). Duke University was now disinclined to be involved with a project that was so unambiguously about life after death, and so the Foundation and the project were run independently of the university. (Although later they became “a sponsored program” within the Duke Department of Electrical Engineering, because of their work with Electrical Engineering professors John Artley and William Joines, and the interest in psi by the Electrical Engineering Dean at the time, Dr. Alexander Vesic.) Bill Roll was made the project director, and Gaither Pratt was appointed as the head the board of directors.

Ozanne, who would be turning 95 in 1960, finally had what he always wanted. Every last cent of his money would be devoted to research on post-mortem survival and nothing else. They’d investigate mediums, families of mediums, hypnotism, reincarnation, and poltergeists. The pearly gates between life and death were open to everything he always thought was possible. Ozanne was exhilarated and Rhine was relieved. “If any more potential donors appear over the horizon, I’m about ready to pop them off with a shotgun before they get near the Lab,” Louie wrote that year.

Charles Ozanne died on April, 5, at 95 years old, just a few months after establishing the Psychical Research Foundation. He must have felt that his dreams of answering the survival question were finally within reach, and then he was gone.

(The first picture is of Charles Ozanne, the second is Rhine conducting a PK test with dice.)

Immortal Longings: FWH Myers and the Victorian Search for Life After Death by Trevor Hamilton

I came across so many interesting people while researching my book, more people than I could possibly research myself. Among them was Frederic W. H. Myers, from the Society of Psychical Research.  It always bothered me that I couldn’t spend more time looking into Myers, mostly because of his book with the tantalizing title, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, which was published in 1903.

Like the 700 boxes of Parapsychology Lab archives at Duke University, I was sure investigating Myers and his work would be like getting to go through buried treasure. All that largely forgotten history, from someone who believed he found evidence of life after death—just what did he come up with?  

I know from my experience researching the Parapsychology Lab that just because most of us have never heard about his results doesn’t mean he didn’t come up with anything worth looking at, even if there are other ways of interpreting his findings today.

So I was excited to see this new biography by historian Trevor Hamilton.  Hamilton has done all the work, and now I can finally learn what Myers discovered.  I’ll also to be curious to see what Hamilton makes of it.  Did Myers’ insights leave clues that might be worth revisiting today?  The book can be purchased here.  (I skipped ahead to a couple of sections and what I read showed honesty, intelligence and compassion.)

(The picture of Myers was taken by his wife Eveleen.  I found it at the National Portrait Gallery, where the author is going to give a talk on June 18th.)

Ethel Johnson Meyers – The Medium at Bank Street

I wasn’t able to find out a lot about Ethel Johnson Meyers, the medium who accompanied Hans Holzer to Bank Street (the story I tell below). But as I say in the preface to the book, it always comes back to a love story, and this was true of Ethel Johnson Meyers.

Meyers, a former opera singer, was a trance medium and her control—the person who essentially used her body to become a guide between the living and the dead—was her dead husband, a musician named Albert.

Albert had died when his pharmacist made a mistake with his medicine and poisoned him. Ethel was going to walk into the sea and join him, but Albert came to her and stopped her. If she killed herself she wouldn’t be with him, he warned. Just the opposite. “It would separate us.” He told her that there was another way they could be together. Ethel went to a psychiatrist about the apparition and he rather surprisingly suggested that she contact J. B. Rhine.

Soon after Ethel found herself at the American Society for Psychical Research, which eventually led to her becoming a medium.

Whenever she went into a trance, Albert appeared. However, it was a bittersweet and ultimately unsatisfying reunion for Ethel and Albert. They weren’t really together again. Ethel was unconscious when Albert appeared, and when she awoke she remembered nothing. Hans Holzer spent more time with Albert than Ethel did. Even though Albert’s spirit was inside her, somehow suffused throughout her body in order to communicate with whoever required his afterlife services, Albert was still as far apart from Ethel as he was the day he died.

I called Hans Holzer to ask him what Ethel and Albert were like, but he wasn’t able to tell me anything. I had also intended to ask him if he ever tried to mediate any kind of exchange between his faithful medium and her beloved and deceased husband. IE, “Hey Albert, as long as I’ve got you, any messages for Ethel?” But Holzer didn’t seem to be feeling well and so I thanked him and got off the phone more quickly than I had planned.