Crandon, Mina Stinson ("Margery") (1889-1941)
Crandon, Mina Stinson ("Margery") (1889-1941)
Famous American medium of Boston, whose phenomena became the focus of a major controvery over fraud and physical mediumship. Mina Stinson was born July 29, 1889 on a farm in Princeton, Ontario. She moved to Boston in 1904 and worked as a secretary to the Union Congregational Church. In 1910 she married Earl P. Rand, a local grocer, and bore him a son. They were divorced in 1918, and soon afterward Mina married Dr. L. R. G. Crandon, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and author of a textbook on post surgical treatment. "Margery" had met Crandon when he performed surgery on her in 1917.
Crandon was a materialist, but one day he read W. J. Crawford 's book on the Goligher Circle, and partly as a joke, partly out of curiosity, he began to experiment in his home. His wife, in a chance visit to a clairvoyant, received a communication from the alleged spirit of her older brother Walter Stinson, who was killed in a railroad accident years before. The first sitting in the Crandon house was held during May 1923. Out of six sitters Margery alone was found to have the power of animating the table. Answers were "tilted out" and gradually she developed as a medium.
Raps came as the second stage and trance as the third. Joining hands replaced table contact and Margery withdrew into a cabinet. But the trance was only intermittent. She remained alert for the better part of the sitting and only went into a trance when "Walter," the spirit, had a lot to say. He was in full charge of the proceedings; messages of lesser spirits had to be relayed through him.
Automatic writing, psychic music, and finally direct voice completed the development of Margery's mediumship. With the advent of the latter the trance phase was abandoned. Power ran high and the cabinet, as a demonstration, was wrecked by invisible hands. Clocks were stopped at announced times and Walter's activity was noticed all over the house.
At this stage, a Harvard group conducted the first of many trying scientific investigations into Margery's mediumship. Anxiously trying to find a normal explanation for the puzzling phenomena, the group accused Margery of using a carpet thread to make a piano stool appear to move by itself.
The charge was soon withdrawn, but though Walter agreed to restrict the phenomena to a single room for the purposes of better control, no progress was made. At the end of 1923 Margery and Dr. Crandon visited Europe. In Paris Margery sat for Gustav Geley, Charles Richet, and others. With the strictest control, excellent phenomena were produced.
Still more successful was a séance before the Society for Psychical Research in London. Harry Price 's famous fraud-proof table was, in white light, twice levitated to a height of six inches. Other sittings at the British College of Psychic Science and psychic photography obtained with William Hope and Ada Emma Deane established Margery's reputation as a powerful medium.
It appeared that while in Europe, Margery learned some of the tricks of fraudulent mediumship and upon her return to America, she resolved to develop materialization. Psychic lights signalled the first phase; ghostly fingers lit up the darkness and produced contacts; curious forms, which Walter called his psychic pet animals, were observed; and independent writing developed on a phosphorescent background. Materialized hands performed pickpocketing stunts and—as a further evolution in vocal phenomena—tunes were produced by whistling and raps.
On April 12, 1924, the widely discussed investigation of the Scientific American committee began. Scientific instruments were introduced and recorded brand new phenomena.
Despite many striking demonstrations, however, the committee came to a deadlock and the only thing approaching a verdict was a series of individual statements published in the November 1924 issue of the magazine. Hereward Carrington pronounced the mediumship genuine; Harry Houdini fradu-lent; Walter Franklin Prince, William McDougall, and another fraudulent member were noncommittal.
J. Malcolm Bird, the secretary of the committee, was satisfied after 10-12 sittings that the phenomena were genuine. McDougall and Prince, however, even after further sittings, were unwilling to make a public commitment, though Prince had become convinced privately that Margery was a fraud, an opinion he would soon publish.
Another Harvard Committee also refused a final decision, and precise conclusions were absent from the report of E. J. Dingwall published in the Proceedings of the Society Psychical Research. From his sittings in January and February 1925, in Boston, Dingwall observed that "phenomena occurred hitherto unrecorded in mediumistic history … the mediumship remains one of the most remarkable in the history of psychical research," but troubled by the possibility of undetected hoaxing, he concluded that the mediumship "may be classed with those of Home, Moses and Palladino as showing the extreme difficulty of reaching finality in conclusions, notwithstanding the time and attention directed to the investigation of them."
Finally, J. B. Rhine, Prince, and others published an attack on Margery's mediumship. Dr. Crandon defended his wife in a pamphlet Margery, Harvard, Veritas published in 1925. The controversy over Margery had become so intense within the American Society for Psychical Research that the society was split. Those who had become her detractors, including Murphy and Prince, withdrew and founded the Boston Society for Psychic Research.
Sittings and experiments continued through the late 1920s, however, and two important experimental apparatus were introduced. One, a voice-cut-out machine offered evidence that Walter's voice was independent of the medium and sitters. The second, a glass cabinet, resembled a telephone booth and had small holes on the sides for the hands, which, together with Margery's ankles and neck, were wired to screw eyes.
Much excitement was produced in these sittings by a series of thumbprints obtained in wax that experts pronounced to be fraud-proof. They were partially identified with remains found on a razor of the thumbprints of Margery's dead brother Walter.
It was partly by such fingerprints that R. J. Tillyard, the famous Australian entomologist, became convinced—in a sitting alone with Margery on July 13, 1928. These experiments were repeated. On March 11, 1931, William H. Button, president of the American Society for Psychical Research, obtained a thumbprint he described as one of the best Walter prints yet obtained.
Later developments, however, considerably destroyed this part of Walter's achievements. Bulletin 18 (Fingerprint Demonstrations ) of the Boston Society for Psychical Research, which contained a foreword by Prince and three articles by E. E. Dudley, Hereward Carrington, and Arthur Goadby, disclosed that the Walter fingerprints corresponded exactly with those of a Mr. Kerwin, an early sitter of the Margery circle. As the chances of the fingerprints of two persons being identical are said to be nil, Dudley inferred that Kerwin was "Walter." As the promised investigation by the American Society for Psychical Research continued without a definite conclusion, Prince, in Bulletin 19 (January 1933), alleged fraud, asserting, "For six years Walter has been claiming that the scores of issuing thumbprints, with a few exceptions, were his own, explaining the processes employed. In the light of the proved facts that claim is fraudulent."
The cross-correspondence, devised by Walter and reported by Dr. Mark Wyman Richardson in Psychic Research (May-September 1928) provided more evidence for evaluation, as they seemed to be methodologically sound and provided a fraud-proof technique to bar any eventual allegation of a collusion between experimenters and automatist.
The cross-correspondences occurred in March, 1928; several Chinese scripts came through. R. F. Johnson, of the Society for Psychical Research, attacked them and concluded that:
"whoever the communicator on this occasion may have been, he was certainly not the great Chinese sage (Confucius) whose name he adopted. It is also too obvious to need emphasis that the style of the writing is not ancient, that the whole contents of the script consist of ordinary modern Chinese written by a very poor scribe; that both pages of the script contain not a single word or line (barring a trifling exception) that is not a quotation."
Johnson's critique was answered by Malcolm Bird, who was research officer of the American Soceity for Psychical Research (ASPR). In an article in Psychic Research (August 1929), he pointed to important, unconsidered facts. First, he noted that the scripts did not identify their author as Confucius. Walter never made such a claim. He declared that Chinese spirits, the disciples of Confucius, helped him to get the test through. The important point, he said, was that the scripts were supernormally produced.
Margery delivered the first Chinese script on March 17, 1928, in red light, with closed eyes. She did not know Chinese, nor did the sitters. The very reason of the test was to demonstrate that minds other than the medium and sitters were at work. At the next séance, on March 22, two columns of Chinese were written in total darkness, on specially marked paper. Walter announced that he would try a Chinese-English cross-correspondence with Henry Hardwicke, of Niagara Falls, a distance of 450 miles from Boston. He asked Bird to pick out a sentence, which should be given through Hardwicke in Chinese. Bird chose "A rolling stone gathers no moss." The sitting was hardly over when a telegram arrived from Niagara Falls. A few days later it was followed by the original witnessed copy of Hardwicke's script. It showed a Maltese cross within the circle, a rectangle enclosing the name Kung-fu-tze, the symbols for Bird and Hill, and the Chinese sentence, the general meaning of which was, "A travelling agitator gathers no gold." Johnson's analysis revealed further important element. In the left hand column are found the words, "I am not dead, Confucius." The duplicate of this is in the right hand column of the Margery script of March 17.
In addition to that of Hardwicke, cross-correspondences were effected in Chinese through Sarah Litzelmann, who knew no Chinese either and lived in Ogunquit, Maine, a distance of 80 miles from Boston. Never before had she been in a trance.
In The Story of Psychic Science (1930), Hereward Carrington thus summarized his own conclusions about Margery:
"It certainly is one of the most baffling and extraordinary cases in history—and this is true, no matter how we choose to regard it. For my own part I occupy the same position as I did when rendering my formal Report in the Scientific American, which is that, despite the difficulties involved in arriving at any just estimate of this case, and despite the uncertainty of many of the phenomena and the complicated social, ethical, personal, physical and psychological factors involved, a number of seemingly genuine, supernormal manifestations yet remain, which are of the profoundest interest to psychical, as well as to ethico-sociological science."
As parapsychology has moved forward in its appraisal of Margery and other materialization mediums, however, Carrington's hesitancy appears to be a mixture of credulity and a will to believe.
Few today would attempt a defense of Margery. Possibly the final blow to her reputation came when it was revealed that in 1930 J. Malcolm Bird had submitted a report to the American Society for Psychical Research indicating that he was not only convinced that a measurable portion of the phenomena were fraudulently produced, but that he had been asked to participate in creating it. Shortly after producing that report, Bird resigned and disappeared. The American Society for Psychical Research, which had become committed to Margery, suppressed the report and published another in its place.
Mina Crandon died on November 1, 1941.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.
Bird, J. Malcolm. Margery the Medium. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1925.
——. Psychical Belief. Worcester, Mass.: Clark University, 1927.
Tabori, Paul. Companions of the Unseen. London: H. A. Humphrey, 1968. Reprint, London: Souvenir Press, 1972.
Tietze, Thomas R. Margery. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.