Florence Cook

(1856 to 1904)

florence-cook-picFlorence Cook, the famous physical medium investigated by Sir William Crookes, had seen spirits and heard voices from childhood, and, as so often happens, these events were dismissed as resulting from a vivid imagination.

When Florence was 15 years of age, while at a tea party, some friends suggested that they experiment with table-tilting. Florence refused to participate. At a later date, with her mother’s permission, Florence consented to sit at the table. The table became unmanageable and young Miss Cook was levitated off the floor.

Later, she and her mother began sitting regularly by themselves. It was then that Florence’s hand began to write. A message came forward, in mirror writing – writing that can only be read by looking at it through a mirror – indicating that she should go to a certain bookseller and, there, she should inquire about the Dalston Association, as a meeting would be taking place in a few days. There, she would make the acquaintance of the editor of The Spiritualist.

Florence followed the guidance, met the right people, and began offering sittings for the Dalston society. In the meantime, she had attended a few materialization sittings with various mediums, most notably Herne and Williams. Finally, she sat with Herne in her father’s house.

She soon gave up attending the Dalston meetings, as the phenomena became just too strong and, quite frankly, embarrassing for the public. At some of these meetings, she was carried over the heads of the sitters and invisible hands stripped her clothing and replaced it. With these strange events taking place, Florence’s mother stepped in and permitted young Florence to sit only at their home and with herself.

katie-king-picIt was at this time that she began to become overshadowed by a spirit calling herself “Katie King,” the daughter of John King, alias Henry Owen Morgan, the buccaneer. Katie King promised to speak through Florence for three years and, during that time, to reveal many strange things. The promise was kept.

In time, a formal circle was set up, consisting of the parents, the two sisters of Florence, who were also mediumistic in their own right, and Mary, the household maid. This circle was called the Hackney Circle and soon became renowned for the phenomena which took place at its meetings. Mr. Charles Blackburn, a wealthy citizen of Manchester, England, guaranteed an annual retaining fee for Florence so that she would be free to offer her services when required.

The phenomena were amazing, and Florence was considered the first English medium to exhibit full materialization in good light. The first attempt at materializing was made by Katie King in April 1872. A face, similar to a death-mask, was seen between the curtains of the cabinet. It is interesting to note that in a letter written by the medium, earlier that day, Katie King “told us that we must give her (the medium) a bottle of phosphorescent oil because she could not get the phosphorous that was necessary from my body because my mediumship was not yet sufficiently developed.” The bottle of oil was used in the place of psychic light and lit up Katie’s face. At this stage of development, the medium was still conscious; in time, she passed into a trance condition in order for the phenomena to take place.

With increased work and practice, Katie King was able to show herself more clearly. People were allowed to feel her face and found it to be hollow at the back. Later, it filled out, with the ectoplasmic drapery becoming less abundant. In a year’s time, Katie King was able to walk from out of the cabinet. Not long after this, she allowed herself to be photographed with flash photography. Above a photograph taken by Sir William Crookes of the materialized Katie King.

As often happens with materialization mediumship, in the initial stages of the mediumship, Katie King’s face resembled that of the medium. She said that she could not help this. In order to prove that she was, in fact, separate from the medium, Katie often produced a face of chocolate brown or black. As further proof, the medium was often tied up in the cabinet by the sitters and, sometimes, by the spirits themselves. Moreover, Katie King was quite different in stature, manner, and personality.

sir-silliam-crookes-picIt was the famous scientist, Sir William Crookes (above) who would furnish decisive proof that Katie King was, indeed, a separate entity from Florence Cook. After lengthy and exhaustive research in his laboratory, Sir William Crookes found the mediumship to be quite genuine, and he published his findings in 1874. His book, Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism, aroused a storm of ridicule, sarcasm, and protest. His reputation as an astute scientist and researcher was questioned by many people, both from within and from without the scientific community. As for myself, I find the book fascinating and highly informative.

On March 12, 1874, Katie King, after materializing, came to the opening of the cabinet, pushed aside the curtain, and summoned Sir William to the assistance of the medium. Katie was in white. Sir William immediately went into the cabinet and found Florence Cook, clad in her customary black velvet dress, lying across the sofa. Katie had vanished.

Later, in May, Sir William actually saw the two forms together during a photographic experiment. In order to protect herself from the injuries of the flashlight, Florence Cook, lying on the floor, muffled her face with a shawl. The account of Sir William states:

“I frequently drew the curtain on one side when Katie was standing near, and it was a common thing for the seven or eight of us in the laboratory to see Miss Cook and Katie at the same time under the full blaze of the electric light. We did not on these occasions actually see the face of the medium, because of the shawl, but we saw her hands and feet; we saw her move uneasily under the influence of the intense light and we heard her moan occasionally. I have one photograph of the two together, but Katie is seated in front of Miss Cook’s head.”

It was common, during those days, to set up test devices in order to assure that the medium was not contributing, in any fraudulent manner, to the materialization. One such device used by Sir William was an electrical set-up. The medium was placed within an electric circuit connected with a resistance coil and a galvanometer. The movements of the galvanometer were shown in the outer room to the sitters on a large, graduated scale. Had the medium removed the wires, the meter would have shown violent fluctuations. Nothing suspicious ever occurred, during those sittings, yet Katie King appeared, waved her arms, shook hands with her friends, and wrote in their presence.

Another test was conducted by having the materialized Katie King plunge her hands into a chemical solution which, had the wires been on her, would have caused an increase in electrical current, thus registering on the galvanometer. Absolutely no fluctuation on the meter was noticed, clearly indicating that the hand which had been placed in the chemical solution was not that of Florence Cook.

On May 21, 1874, Sir William Crookes witnessed the farewell meeting between Florence Cook and Katie King. Katie woke the medium from her trance. According to his records, this farewell meeting was very moving and emotional. Both medium and materialized spirit talked to each other with great affection, and Florence shed many tears. She never saw Katie King again.
Shortly thereafter, another Spirit control came forward. She called herself Marie and did much singing and dancing.

There is one incident which bears mention concerning Florence Cook and her new control, Marie. On January 9, 1880, during a materialization sitting, one of the sitters, Sir George Sitwell, reached into the cabinet and grabbed Marie. She did not dissolve. She was found to be the medium wearing only her corsets and flannel petticoat. The captured pieces of garment were brought out of the cabinet by another sitter. This time, the medium did not fall ill. It is said that the medium was enveloped in white drapery when Sir George grabbed her.

One explanation of this incident was that it was an optical illusion created by the darkness. Personally, I do not feel this explanation bears any weight. Did Florence Cook cheat at this sitting? Only she knows for sure. To me, the evidence indicates that she did. But, as with the famed Boston medium, Margery Crandon, we must not assess a medium’s whole career based upon one isolated sitting. To be sure, cheating is cheating, and that cannot be excused. But, to dismiss all the genuine phenomena because of one incident would be unwise, even though it may cast doubt on the whole.

Regardless of what happened on that evening, the result was that Florence Cook decided not to sit for materialization, unless someone was in the cabinet with her. Florence Marryat, author of “There is No Death,” was to be that person. To assure integrity, Ms. Marryat tied herself to the medium and remained fastened to her throughout the proceedings. During such gatherings, Marie appeared, sang, and danced, all with great overture.

As so often happens with physical mediums, owing to the many trials she had undergone, Florence Cook who, since 1874, was known by marriage as Ms. Elgie Corner, gave up public mediumship for quite some time. Then, in 1899, at the invitation of the Sphinx Society, she agreed to sit, under test conditions, in Berlin. It was Florence Cook’s chance to clear her tainted reputation and to set the record straight.

And that she did! Marie materialized and produced some of the most astounding phenomena ever witnessed through her mediumship.

Thus, we have the mediumship of Florence Cook. The question whether she occasionally cheated is, indeed, a delicate one. The Sitwell exposure is really the only incident which would indicate fraud on her part. Psychic researcher and author, Camille Flammarion, writes in satiric style that the famous physical medium, D. D. Home:

“Gave it to me as his personal opinion that Miss Cook was only a skillful trickster and has shamelessly deceived the eminent scientist, and as for mediums, there was only one absolutely trustworthy and that was himself, Daniel Dunglas Home.”

Sir William Crookes, in his extensive research with this amazing medium and her control, Katie King, never found the least indication of deception on the part of Florence Cook. When he was notified of the death of the medium, he expressed, in a letter dated April 24, 1904, his deepest sympathy and declared that the belief in an after-life owes so much of its certainty to her mediumship.

Skeptics claim that Sir William Crookes became infatuated with Florence Cook and, especially, with Katie King, and this tended to bias his investigations.

Here is a glimpse of what he wrote:

“Photography was inadequate to depict the perfect beauty of Katie’s face, as words are powerless to describe her charm of manner. Photography may, indeed, give a map of her countenance; but how can it reproduce the brilliant purity of her complexion, or the ever-varying expression of her most mobile features, now overshadowed with sadness when relating some of the bitter experiences of her past life, now smiling with all the innocence of happy girlhood when she has collected my children round her, and was amusing them by recounting anecdotes of her adventures in India?”

Research into the mediumship of Florence Cook certainly convinces me that she was genuine, and that Katie King was a materialized spirit. Yes, the above quote from Sir William Crookes does indicate a certain degree of infatuation; but, of far greater impact, is that this quote clearly indicates that the true spirit and personality of this young girl, known as Katie King, managed to transcend the barriers of life and step across the veil of death in a most profound and in a most charming way. Isn’t that what mediumship, of any form, should endeavor to accomplish?

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