The Medium Who Committed Suicide

I had intended to write about Ted Serios, the man who was said to be able to take pictures with his mind. But while reading through some 1962 letters about Serios between Dr. J. B. Rhine and Pauline Oehler, who had written an article about Serios for Fate Magazine that year, I got side-tracked by a reference to a medium who killed herself in 1911, and the man who had conducted experiments with her the year before, Dr. Tomokichi Fukurai.

Thank heaven for Google and the internet! The medium was a young woman named Chizuko Mifune and Fukurai wrote about the experiments (and others) in a 1931 book titled Clairvoyance and Thoughtography. I didn’t read the whole book, but they were basically ESP card experiments. Could Chizuko tell what characters were on the cards without seeing them? Fukurai reported that she could at first, but then her abilities declined. There was talk of cheating and scientists became skeptical about all her results. At around this time her sister developed abilities. On January 18th Chizuko killed by taking poison. She was only 24 years old.

Kyohei Iseri, her former school principle and the one who introduced Chizuko to Dr. Fukurai, wrote to Fukurai afterwards. He mentioned that Chizuko’s sister had become clairvoyant, hinting that this was an issue, and that Chizuko’s reaction was, ‘I have now become of no use of the world.’

“She looked very pitiful and I solaced her with all my heart. She confessed: ‘I feel it already hard to read a card in a single envelope …’”


Fukurai talks about her death in the book, and says it could be due in part to “family affairs,” without explaining what those were, and the fact that she was losing her abilities. He also writes a little about her psychological history, saying she was sensitive and temperamental, had trouble sleeping, and perhaps she had an eating disorder, but he downplays one symptom that I found very interesting.

“She began to hear singing in the ears since about twelve years of age, and this became continuous.  She was, however, fond of music by nature, and, especially after the clairvoyant force appeared, she began to enjoy herself by playing the koto, a Japanese instrument.  She did not find it so difficult to hear music as to hear others talking.”

I’m currently researching a book about singing and the composer Robert Schumann had a similar disorder and it worsened. It drove him crazy and he ultimately tried to kill himself as well, but he didn’t succeed and he was committed voluntarily to an asylum which he never left.


Chizuko Mifune’s story is a sad one. But apparently she has captured the imagination of the Japanese public. According to Wikipedia, “Chizuko Mifune has recently grabbed the attention of Japanese horror filmmakers and has in some way been acknowledged in such films as Yogen and Ringu.” She has also been the inspiration for various Japanese novels and anime, I’ve read.

In 1919, as a result of his work, Fukurai was forced to resign from the Imperial University of Tokyo, but he continued to study psychic phenomena, and he died in 1953.

“Yes, it is too bad about Professor Fukurai,” Rhine wrote in one of the letters to Oehler. “The poor man was not very careful. I have had several inquiries made about him and what he left. Friends have visited his institute. Had he been more of a scientist he might have made great headway for parapsychology in the Japanese culture, which is much more favorable than ours. But then, too, he might not have found what he claims to have found had he been more careful. Who can tell?”

Dr. Michael Persinger

There’s a relatively recent interview at the Scientific Paranormal Investigative Research Information website with Dr. Michael Persinger, a cognitive neuroscience researcher at Laurentian University.

Persinger has been doing some interesting work over the years. There’s a series of lectures of his on the topic of Psychotropic Drugs and the Nature of Consciousness on YouTube, beginning here [the video has since been removed].

I wish I could have taken his class!

Persinger appears briefly in my book. At one point Persinger noticed that areas associated with hauntings tended to be “electromagnetically noisy,” and he did some research in this area. From my book:

When asked if there was any possibility that the EMF fluctuations in the field might represent an intelligent presence, Persinger answered, “Stan Koren and I wrote a chapter for Houran and Lange (Hauntings and Poltergeists, 2001) where we discuss the possibility that configured magnetic flux lines within a small space (such as the luminosities seen in haunt and in ghost light areas) might have the energy density, intraspatial complexity (e.g., similar to trillions of synapses in the human brain) and timing to allow “intelligence” to emerge, at least transiently. Of course this intelligence could be suspended, just like ours when we enter deep sleep at night, only to return when the functional reconfiguration occurs again. This is a hypothesis well worth pursuing.” In an earlier paper he wrote, “there is some evidence that some paranormal experiences may be transformations of information not normally accessible.” The answer appears to be “maybe.” A fleeting apparition might simply be an intermittent signal or information, available only to those with the proper tuning or filtering mechanism.

The Study of Human Experiences Project

Two people who helped me with my book, Dr. Carlos S. Alvarado and Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone, have set up a new research website called the Study of Human Experiences Project.

In addition to a project they’re working on with residents of Richmond, Virginia, they’re conducting a new online survey which you can participate in by clicking the link in the above paragraph.

Drs. Alvarado and Zingrone are both Assistant Professors of Research at the Division of Perceptual Studies in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences of the University of Virginia. (I got the picture of them from their website, as you’ll see!)

Update: Drs. Alvarado and Zingrone have also recently taken positions at the Atlantic University in Virginia Beach! Dr. Zingrone is the new Director of Academic Affairs and Dr. Alvarado is the Scholar in Residence.

Adam Linzmayer

I always felt bad about cutting Adam Linzmayer from my book.  But there were so many people in the first draft it was hard to keep track.  Adam was the lab’s first ESP star, however.  From the Fall of 1930 to the Spring of 1931 he was the young man who energized their work and he is featured in Rhine’s first book, Extra-Sensory Perception (1935).

Adam was a working class kid from New Jersey.  He grew up in the kind of neighborhood where if you studied or went to college, “this was not good,” he said.   Unfortunately, Adam never finished his education at Duke due to the Depression. That always bothered him. “It still hurts,” he said in an interview four decades later. He was a sensitive man. “Failure affected him deeply,” Rhine once wrote of Adam and sadly, after that one spectacular year of testing Adam never scored well again. Rhine paid for him to return to Duke one more time for more tests, but he did not do well.

“Doing those tests was extremely exhausting,” Linzmayer said in a 1974 interview with Seymour Mauskopf. “Very tiring.” He said that he felt rushed and that he had told Rhine that, “I could do better if I could take my time.  I can’t turn it off and on.”

But Adam was always proud of his work at Duke and the Parapsychology Laboratory and he kept in touch. He sent the Rhine family Christmas cards every year. At one point Rhine gave a lecture in New Jersey without telling Adam, who lived in the area. When Adam found out he wrote Rhine that he felt bad, and to let him know next time. In 1954, Rhine was once again in New Jersey, giving a lecture and this time Adam proudly attended with his wife and each of his three children.

Adam believed his extraordinary talent came from his mother, who sometimes had a feeling about things. She once had a bad feeling when his brother went to the dentist. A few hours after coming home Adam’s brother fell sick. They took him to the hospital, but he died that very day. His parents were so out of their minds with grief they left Adam at the hospital. Having just lost his brother, he had to walk seven miles home alone in shock. Poor little guy. By the way, a number of people I researched for this book said their mother had abilities. Hubert Pearce said it, and Carl Jung said the same about both his mother and grandmother.

Another interesting thing came out during the 1974 interview. Adam said he was lucky, that he grew up lucky. He liked to shoot craps and he always did well. “I’m a winner always.” Adam told Rhine that he could throw more 7’s than chance, but Rhine didn’t believe him. Rhine bet Adam he couldn’t do it and according to Adam he proved that he could.

It’s well known that the Lab got their idea of doing dice experiments to test psychokinesis from a gambler. Could it have been Adam? (To test whether or not people could affect the movement of objects with their minds, a subject would roll a pair of dice and either they got the roll they tried for or not.  I am greatly simplifying the experiment in this description.)

Oliver Lodge

One June 29, 1940, just under two months before he died, the physicist Oliver Lodge wrote J. B. Rhine. The first half of the letter is typed and the rest is handwritten with a very shaky hand.

Dear Dr. Rhine,

I have heard so much about your experiments in telepathy that I rejoiced to get an authoritative account, and especially to know that a University Professor of Psychology was taking up the subject. And now I find that you were aware of my own work in the same direction, although it was carried on in a back-stairs manner and had no University status At the same time I was personally convinced of the reality of what you have rechristened E.S.P.

I desire no more evidence; only now the subject is on the way to becoming respectable, treated in a handsome volume, published by Henry Holt, & vouched for by several Professor as a branch of Psychology.

Yours faithfully,
Oliver Lodge


Lodge is referring to the book Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years, which was co-written by J. G. Pratt, J. B. Rhine, Burke M. Smith, Charles E. Stuart, and Joseph A. Greenwood. I double-checked and was happy to see that Rhine had credited all the telepathy experiments that Lodge had undertaken before Rhine. The Lodge letter was very gracious and Rhine was thrilled and proud to get. He wrote a very admiring and grateful letter back.

Ah, the last paragraph from Rhine says this: “I hope, as most Americans do, that the Nazis can be kept from carrying out their threat of destruction of English civilization. I heartily wish we were allied with you on this as we were in 1917.” A year and a half later he would get his wish.

Harry Houdini

This is just a snippet from a 1954 letter from J. B. Rhine to his daughter Sally, where he briefly mentions a meeting with Houdini. His letter seems to indicate that the encounter was completely friendly, respectful and civil. Since Houdini died in 1926, this meeting would have taken place when Rhine was just starting out in parapsychology.

“I do not think Houdini ever claimed he was doing anything but magic. When Mother and I had our talk with him he showed a serious attitude toward the scientific investigation of psychical matters. That might have been because our sponsor, Dr. Walter Franklin Prince, was with us and he and Houdini were old friends. Dr. Prince claimed that Houdini was really quite open-minded on telepathy and was not sure had had not had some such experiences himself.”

In 1926, Houdini and William McDougall (Rhine’s soon to be mentor) had arranged for a psychical research symposium at Clark University. So that would have taken place just before Houdini died. I remember reading the address McDougall made at Clark. It included this:

“ … it [parapsychological research] runs the risk of leading its students into a slough of despair, or entangling them in a quagmire where no sure footing is found, where will o’ the wisps gleam fitfully on every hand, provoking hopes that are destined to disappointment and emotions that blind us to the dangers of this obscure region … Let it be admitted then that this is no field for the causal amateur … It is a field of research which at every step demands in the highest degree the scientific spirit and all around scientific training and knowledge.”

Not very hopeful! 1926 was also the same year that the Rhines had attended a seance conducted by medium Margery. Shortly after they would publish a paper declaring her a fraud. Houdini had come to the same conclusion two years before. So they had that in common.

Commander McDonald to Captain Rickenbacker

On November 1, 1943, Commander Eugene F. McDonald, the founder and president of the Zenith Radio Corporation, sat down and wrote WWI hero Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, who was then working for Eastern Airlines.

My Dear Eddie:

“… I am enclosing a copy of my letter to Dr. [Joseph] Banks Rhine of Duke University written in March of this year. This letter I wish you would stick in your pocket and read at your leisure. I wrote the letter to encourage Dr. Rhine to carry on in his work and not be stopped by scientific scoffers.”

“In 1923 I put on the first program that was ever produced for radio on the subject of telepathy on our radio station WJAZ. I did this with the cooperation of Dr. Robert Gault, head of the Department of Psychology of Northwestern University, and Dr. Gardner Murphy of Columbia.”

“In 1938 I put on a program on extra-sensory perception which program was supervised not only by Dr. Gault but also by Dr. [Joseph] Banks Rhine, who was then starting his work at Duke University on extra-sensory perception. This program I put on the national chain and carried it on for nearly a year. There was no faking. It was a sincere attempt to make extra-sensory perception a subject which should be discussed …”

“Before I used Dr. [Joseph] Banks Rhine I called a number of scientists out on my yacht each Sunday to interview him and ascertain whether or not in their opinion they thought he was conservative.”

“I’ll never forget what our great physicist, Dr. Arthur Compton, said. After he talked with Dr. Rhine for over three hours on my yacht he said, “Rhine, I was asked out here to ascertain whether or not you were conservative enough. My answer is going to be that you are too conservative. You’re trying to explain everything by the laws of science. You can’t do that. There are too many facts which we must accept cannot be explained by the now known laws of science.”

McDonald then closed his letter by asking Rickenbacker to keep his letter to Rhine confidential.
Rickenbacker said he read the letter to Rhine with interest, but I have to say, he doesn’t sound very enthusiastic in his answer. He sounds like he was just being polite.

But after googling him for a while I see he had a few psychic experiences during the war (and near-death experiences) so he was definitely open-minded about the subject.

Also, McDonald mentions a recent American Magazine article of Rickenbacker’s titled: When a Man Faces Death. McDonald said it was one of the most inspiring articles he has ever read, but he makes an interesting correction. He says Rickenbacker made a mistake that “so many people make in referring to the science as ‘mental telepathy.’ All telepathy, as we know it, is mental.” So Rickenbacker must have written about telepathy in the article.

I want to add that I love the story McDonald told about Compton saying Rhine was too conservative. Years later Rhine would say that Compton was too credulous.