"Margery" Crandon (1888-1941)
Mina Crandon (more commonly known as
Margery) is, perhaps, the most controversial medium in the history of
Spiritualism. In her heyday, in the 1920's, she spurred comments from some
of the most noted Spiritualists and parapsychologists.
Dr. Joseph B. Rhine, father of
modern-day parapsychology, once said:
"I think the main value
of the Margery case was in the great stir it made in bringing together
people from different parts of the world who saw the possible significance
of such claims if verified."
Hereward Carrington, one of
this country's most noted pioneer psychic investigators, wrote:
"As a result of more than
forty sittings with Margery, I have arrived at the definite conclusion that
genuine supernormal phenomena frequently occur. Many of the observed
manifestations might well have been produced fraudulently . . . however,
there remains a number of instances when phenomena were produced and
observed under practically perfect control."
The opinions surrounding the
Margery mediumship were as diverse as the phenomena themselves. While the
novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was saying, "The phenomena . . . are
perhaps the best attested in the whole annals of psychic research,"
America's psychic investigator, Dr. Walter Franklin Prince, was saying,
"Now, in my judgment, the Margery case will in time come to be
considered the most ingenious, persistent and fantastic complex of fraud in
the history of psychic research."
Let us take a brief look at
the Margery mediumship and see what the facts indicate. Mina Stinson was
born in Canada, in 1888, and moved to Boston at an early age. In 1918,
after one unsuccessful marriage, she married Boston surgeon Dr. Le Roi
Goddard Crandon, a man whose family dated back to the Mayflower. They
purchased the house at Number 11 Lime Street, on Beacon Hill, and became
well established in Boston society. The Crandons
were the perfect Beacon Hill couple. Dr. Crandon was a prestigious
instructor at Harvard Medical School, and Mina Crandon was piquant, witty,
and "too attractive for her own good."
In 1923, Dr. Crandon became
seriously interested in Spiritualism and psychic research. In May of that
year, the Crandons, along with some friends,
decided to sit for a table-tilting seance. The table, apparently controlled
by a spirit, indicated that Mina, herself, was a very powerful medium.
Within a few months, the spirit communicator identified himself as Walter,
Mina's brother who had died in a train crash in 1911. Shortly thereafter,
Walter was able to entrance Mina and speak directly through her. Then,
having mastered the ability to produce a voice box, he began speaking via
the direct voice process.
Walter characteristically was
not the most spiritually-minded personality. He often used off-color
language and refused to be stumped. During one sťance, a sitter asked if
his was the language of the "Fourth Dimension." Walter promptly
retorted, "No, I am talking in a language for you to understand."
Walter felt that his mission was to help demonstrate, through his sister,
the creative process of mind, via telekinetic effects, rather than deliver
inspirational messages or addresses. In this respect, he excelled.
Despite the abundant
production of phenomena, because of Dr. Crandon's position with Harvard and
the closed-minded attitude toward psychic matters, attendance to the
sittings with Mina Crandon was by invitation only.
The first formal investigation
of Mrs. Crandon's mediumship was conducted in 1923 by a committee from
Harvard, arranged by Professor William McDougall, head of Harvard's
Department of Psychology. The committee put Mrs. Crandon through intense
observation and experimentation, hoping to verify either the validity or
the fraudulence of the mediumship. After five months of observation, the
committee decided that a majority of the telekinetic phenomena were
fraudulently produced. They made no formal opinion on the trance utterances
associated with the mediumship.
At the same time the Harvard
investigation was being conducted, the Scientific American magazine was
offering a prize of $2,500 to anyone who could provide conclusive evidence
of any paranormal psychical phenomena. The judging committee was comprised
of Dr. Walter F. Prince, Hereward Carrington, Dr. D. F. Comstock, Dr.
William McDougall, and Harry Houdini. The secretary of the committee was J.
Malcolm Bird, editor of the prestigious magazine. Because of their
conservative, yet daring, personalities, the Crandons
decided to enter the contest. It was J. Malcolm Bird who adopted the
Margery pseudonym, in order to avoid attracting unnecessary attention to
the distinguished Dr. Crandon.
The official sittings began in
January, 1924, under Dr. Crandon's general supervision. The control
conditions of the sťance room were produced at just about every sitting;
however, the committee wished to exert even more control over the
proceedings, to be absolutely sure that there was no room for fraud.
Despite the lack of full agreement between the committee and Dr. Crandon,
J. Malcolm Bird began writing articles favoring the mediumship, and the
newspapers were quick to pick up the stories. Headlines soon read:
Boston Medium, Passes all Psychic Tests
Scientists Find No Trickery in a Score of Sťances
Boston Medium Baffles Experts
Houdini the Magician Stumped
The great magician, Harry
Houdini, was infuriated. The Scientific American was just about ready to
hand over the money, and his reputation, as an exposer of mediums, was
challenged. He promptly constructed a cabinet, with steel bolts and
padlocks, and stuck Margery in it, defying her to produce any paranormal
phenomena. The cabinet was hot, cramped, and stuffy; but Margery agreed to
sit in it for a seance. On this occasion, no telekinetic effects were
produced, and Walter accused Houdini of planting something in the cabinet
in order to frame Margery. A heated argument ensued, with Walter blurting
out, "Houdini . . . get . . . out of here and never come back! If you
don't, I will!"
The seance abruptly ended,
and, after the cabinet was opened, a collapsible ruler was discovered
beneath the floor. Houdini accused Margery of using this ruler with her
mouth, in order to produce the telekinetic effects which normally would
have been produced. Harry Houdini had apparently exposed Margery as a
fraud; or so it seemed from 1924, until 1959, when William Lindsay Gresham
published a book which included the following account of that evening:
"Years later, when the
Self-Liberator (Houdini) was dead, Jim Collins (Houdini's assistant) was
asked about the mysterious ruler. Collins smiled wryly. 'I chucked it in
the box meself. The boss told me to do it. He
wanted to fix her good.'"
Was Jim Collins telling the
truth here? Only he and Harry Houdini know for sure.
To us, the most astounding
aspect of the Margery mediumship was the diversity of phenomena which
occurred. They ranged from breezes, raps, trance and trance writing in
several languages, to materializations, independent voice, apportations, and the production of paraffin gloves and
finger prints. Anyone interested in researching the phenomena may do so by
consulting the Journal and Proceedings of the American Society for
Psychical Research. Despite the range and abundance of phenomena, many of
which were produced under extremely tight control, and despite the great
support given to Margery by local Spiritualists, her mediumship was
shrouded, for the most part, by an ominous cloud of skepticism.
The final deathblow to the
Margery mediumship occurred when it was discovered that a psychic thumb
print, allegedly produced by Walter, was identical to the print of a Boston
dentist, Dr. Frederick Caldwell. This revelation was brought about when Dr.
Caldwell admitted giving Margery a bit of wax in which his own print had
Here, we have just a glimpse
of the controversy which surrounded the Margery mediumship, right from its
inception. It was this controversy which made Mina Margery Crandon the most
talked-about medium during the 1920√s. On the one hand, Spiritualists
looked upon her as a martyr who had put up with an amazing complex of test
devices for the sake of demonstrating paranormal phenomena. On the other
hand, there were the psychic researchers who, for the most part, were
convinced, often before sitting with her, that she was a fraud. Finally,
there was Dr. Crandon, himself, who, quite frankly, was more concerned over
his reputation within Boston society than with his wife's abilities.
At the expense of sounding
naive or gullible, we must contend that there was a great deal about this
medium and her activities which were buried with her. People frequently
have a tendency to judge a person's whole life based on a few isolated
facts; it is here where, we feel, we must be fair with Margery Crandon. She
was under a great deal of pressure from many sources. Furthermore, she was
investigated by researchers who, quite honestly, had many preconceived
ideas about her and who knew next to nothing about physical mediumship.
There is a psychology and a
very delicate balance of sensitivity which must be fully appreciated, in
order to investigate mediumship, especially physical mediumship. So often,
people fail to recognize the acute sensitivity of a medium, let alone that
of the spirit workers. The success of mediumship depends upon many factors,
most of which we simply do not understand. Here is where, in our opinion,
many Spiritualists and parapsychologists failed miserably with respect to
the Margery mediumship. Over 50 years later, we cannot help but feel that
the real implications behind Margery Crandon's mediumship were severely
neglected and have eluded us.
Was Mina Margery Crandon a
fraud? This, only the reader can answer? Personally, we do not feel the
question of fraudulence or honesty is even the cardinal issue here. After
extensively researching this case, we have formulated our own opinions. We
can only hope that you not judge Margery, or any medium, solely on the
basis of superficial facts. When dealing with mediumship, facts can be just
as eluding as fantasy; furthermore, truth is, very often, stranger than
fiction. Let us not look only at the stated facts and opinions. Let us look
at what these facts have to say about mediumship.
Mina Stinson Crandon died in
her sleep on November 1, 1941. She died without any reconciliation
concerning her work as a medium. Mark W. Richardson, a friend of the Crandons, wrote of her:
disillusioned as to the value of her work, she was pursued first by Dr.
Crandon's long illness and then by her own . . . But Margery was wrong. Her
fame has spread to all corners of the earth, and the facts, astounding in
their nature, brought out through her and Walter, are bound to have an
epoch-making influence upon the physical and spiritual thought of the
There is a wonderful book,
written by J. Malcolm Bird, entitled "Margery" The Medium.
It was published by Small, Maynard & Company, Boston, in 1925. It
contains a complete investigation and analysis of the Margery mediumship.
We highly recommend it.
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