Mina Crandon aka Margery

I’ll be posting more about the sad story of Mina Crandon later, she was a well-known medium who lived in Boston (and in New York for a time).   But I found a reference to Margery (the name she went by in order to protect her identity) in a May 10, 1947 Saturday Evening Post article about Bell Labs by Milton Silverman titled, Ma Bell’s House of Magic.

“In a purely extracurricular study, they observed the famous medium, Margery, as she attempted to send thought messages from New York to another medium on Boston.”  After the seance the engineers dryly reported, “As a means of communication, the method does not hold much promise at this time.  It will probably not replace the telephone in the foreseeable future.”

Before writing this book I would never have believed that Bell Labs would have shown an interest in Margery, (even as a matter of idle curiosity, as they seem to imply in this article) but I was always on the lookout for things like this—any interest in the paranormal from labs, universities, the military and businesses—and I found them often.

The photograph is courtesy of the The Libbet Crandon de Malamud Collection.

Life at the Parapsychology Lab

The presence of the women in the Lab changed everything.  The affection that had always been there, but largely repressed, blossomed.  Gaither Pratt and Charlie Stuart, for instance, had always addressed their letters very formally to “Dr. Rhine.”  Betty Humphrey, however, addressed hers with appellations like, “Dear Puny, I mean Bully,” or “You Poor Little Folks.”  The 1940’s was when the small group at the Lab truly became a family.

The was from chapter four in Unbelievable.  After I wrote my book I couldn’t wait to talk to Robert Jahn and Brenda Dunne at the PEAR laboratory at Princeton, where they came up with different experiments to look at the same effects.  I wanted to see how much their experiences matched the Rhine’s (very).  The thing I picked up on immediately was their description of life in the lab in The PEAR Proposition.  One section reads:

“At this point let us again interrupt the technical reportage to weave in a few of the softer interpersonal fibers of the composite PEAR tapestry that in our opinion have not merely embellished, but significantly strengthened it, and very possibly have enabled our continuing progress in constructing this intellectual web. We refer here to the cheery, relaxed, even playful ambience that has characterized the laboratory operations from its beginning. Under the intuitive conviction that the anomalous phenomena being sought are somehow nurtured in the childlike, limbic psyche and therefore could well be suppressed or even suffocated by an excessively clinical or sterile research environment, the facility has been decorated with homestyle furniture, symbolic and entertaining visual art, including many cartoons, and an exponentially expanding assortment of stuffed animals, most of which have been gifts from our operators and visitors. Most of the experimental devices themselves embody attractive, stimulating, sometimes whimsical features, not only in their feedback characteristics, but in the operational apparatus, as well. Casual reading material, background music, and light snacks are available for the operators, who are frequently invited to participate in the ongoing technical, philosophical, and social conversations among the staff. In short, the laboratory presents itself more as a scientific salon than as a clinical facility, and many of its operators, interns, and visitors have remarked on the comfort, sense of welcome, and resonance they feel with the place and the work that is being pursued therein.”

The picture above is a group shot of the Parapsychology Lab staff at one of their many weekend softball games.  It wasn’t dated, but because one of the men is in uniform I’m guessing it was taken sometime in the 40’s.

Parapsychology Foundation Host Book Presentation/Launch Party

In case you haven’t heard, the Parapsychology Foundation is hosting a presentation/party for my new book. We had such a good response we had to change the location in order to get a larger room. This also resulted in a different time. The new details:

March 13, 6 – 7:30pm
New York Open Center
The Teahouse
83 Spring Street

It’s early enough that you can stop by after work and then go off to party or home to relax! Please note this is Friday the 13th.  Woo!  (That’s a picture of me at the book party for my last book.)

This event is sponsored by the nonprofit Parapsychology Foundation as part of their Perspectives Lecture Series. It’s free, but donations to the fully tax deductible Parapsychology Foundation will be very gratefully accepted.

Trumpet Mediums

This is a photograph I scanned at the Rhine Research Center.  I didn’t know what was going in this picture at the time, but the name Ed Wood was attached to it.  When I later read about trumpet mediums, I guessed that this might be the explanation for that thing in the picture leaking ectoplasm.  Trumpets were primarily used to amplify what was believed to be the voices of the dead, but they were used in a variety of ways, so maybe.

UPDATE: I’m told that the medium in this picture is Leonard Stott.

Harold Sherman

Another one of J. B. Rhine’s correspondents that I came to like was writer and ESP researcher Harold Sherman. He came across as such a sweet, sweet guy in his letters. The scientists at the lab gave a lot of thought to how ESP worked, what was behind it, and Harold Sherman’s take was similar to Eileen Garrett’s, a medium who helped fund the lab and who worked with Rhine from time to time.

Harold wrote that feeling “generates the power behind thought, and whatever effects you emotionally, you broadcast, automatically, with greater feeling intensity. This explains why men and women get more impressions of tragic happenings from the minds of friends and loved ones, because they carry more ‘feeling impact’ behind them.”

Harold Sherman appears in a chapter about psychics trying to help a California family find a missing boy in 1960.  The father of the child wrote Rhine asking him to refer him to psychics. Rhine didn’t like to give out the names of psychics because “We do not know enough about the abilities we are studying to be able to apply them reliably … The worst part of it is that there is no adequate assurance that the impressions that come to the mind are due to ESP and are reliable even when they actually are.”

But the boy had been missing for months and Rhine didn’t want to take away what this father felt was his only hope.  So Rhine gave him the names of three psychics, and one of them was Harold Sherman.  I think this is my favorite chapter in the book, but it was also painful and sad to research.  Not because of Harold, though. Harold was the only psychic in this case to show enormous compassion for the family, and he was also the only one to get anything right. Unfortunately what he saw was not what the family wanted to hear and so they didn’t listen to him.  They went with the other psychic who had a prettier vision.  Which made a horrible situation worse.

Harold actually got it even righter than I thought when this book went to press. Information came out too late to include in the book, but witness descriptions of the man who was last seen with the boy fit Sherman’s description pretty much exactly.  I hope to get that into the paperback!

Getting Things Ready

My book comes out next month, so I’m gearing up!  

Below is a picture of a few of the scientists from the Lab:  Bill Davidson, Betty McMahan and Betty Humphrey, aka “the Bettys.”  I love this shot.  It’s so atmospheric. I was able to interview Betty McMahan, (called BettyMac to distinguish her from Betty Humphrey).

I came to love the Bettys.  There was over 700 boxes of archives at the Special Collections Library at Duke, and the ones dealing directly with the experiments often went over my head. So I focused on the correspondence instead, where the scientists wrote about what they were doing.  The Bettys were the best letter writers.  The guys were just so formal, and the Bettys were more fun and human, and long with descriptions of how their work was going they talked about what was going on with the people in the lab.  Thank you, Bettys!