Ford, Arthur A(ugustus) (1896-1971)

views updated

Ford, Arthur A(ugustus) (1896-1971)

American Spiritualist medium and founder of the International General Assembly of Spiritualists. Ford was born January 8, 1896, at Titusville, Florida. As a youth he followed a pilgrimage that took him from Episcopalianism to the Baptists to Unitarianism and finally to the Disciples of Christ. He attended Transylvania College, a Disciples of Christ school in Lexington, Kentucky. Ordained as a Disciples minister, he served a church in Barbourbville, Kentucky.

Ford realized his psychic abilities during World War I. While in the army he would "hear" the names of people he served with, and those names would appear on the casualty lists several days later. In the years after the war he investigated psychic phenomena and eventually joined the Spiritualists. Around 1921 Ford emerged as a trance medium, and "Fletcher," his control for the rest of his life, made his first appearance in trance sessions. He developed a popular following and in 1927 traveled to Great Britain. One of his lectures was attended by veteran Spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who enthusiastically a told people the next day, "One of the most amazing things I have ever seen in 41 years of psychic experience was the demonstration of Arthur Ford."

Ford founded a congregation in New York City, but soon experienced conflict with the National Spiritualist Association, the main Spiritualist organization of the time. Ford had come to believe in reincarnation, a belief the association rejected. After many years of tension, in 1936 Ford led in the founding of the General Assembly, which had a more open perspective on reincarnation.

Ford achieved fame far beyond the Spiritualist community in 1928 by allegedly breaking the secret code between the late Houdini and his wife Beatrice. Houdini had arranged with his wife that if he died before she did he would attempt to communicate through a secret code known only to them. Arthur Ford is credited with revealing that code through his control, "Fletcher."

As a result of a tragic auto accident in 1931, in which his sister died, Ford was severely injured and became addicted first to morphine and then to alcohol. In his autobiography Nothing So Strange (1958) he states that it took him 20 years and much suffering to overcome his addiction. (In fact, he never over-came his addiction and suffered from alcoholism until the end of his life.)

In spite of his affliction he impressed numerous people with his abilities, including prominent researchers William McDougall and William G. Roll, Jr. of the Psychical Research Foundation. He also traveled widely to demonstrate his mediumship and in Britain visited the Churches' Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies. In 1955 Ford was active in the formation of a similar organization in the United States, the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, now the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship.

In 1967 Ford again came into public prominence during a television discussion on life after death, when he went into a trance and delivered several messages to Episcopal bishop James Pike. One claimed to be from Pike's son and another from the prominent theologian Paul Tillich. Duly impressed, Pike later publicly affirmed his belief in the reality of psychic phenomena in his book The Other Side (1968). The television program also revived public interest in Spiritualism and psychic phenomena, and within a month Ford received more than 12,000 letters. It was only after Ford's death that Allen Spraggett and William Rauscher, while compiling materials for his biography, discovered his notes for the session among his papers, revealing the fact that he faked the famous séance.

Ford died in Miami, Florida, January 4, 1971. Shortly after his death, Ruth Montgomery claimed to have received messages from Ford, which were later published in her book A World Beyond (1971).

The most decisive incident in evaluating Ford's medium-ship seems to be his relationship to the Houdini code. The evidence for the authenticity of the code message from the deceased Houdini received through Ford's mediumship is contradictory. The message itself involved a secret code that was supposed to have been known only to Houdini and his wife. The stage magician Dunninger, however, claimed that the code had been published earlier.

The testimony of Houdini's widow is contradictory. She was said to have told a reporter that she did not know what the message would be, although she later wrote an impassioned private letter to columnist Walter Winchell stating emphatically that the message received from Ford was definitely the one agreed upon with Houdini and that she had not previously revealed it to Ford. She insisted it was not a fraud, as some had claimed.

However, New York Graphic reporter Rea Jaure, in a story headlined "Houdini Message A Big Hoax!" (January 10, 1929) stated that Ford had come to her apartment for an interview and admitted that Mrs. Houdini had supplied the code to him. Jaure produced two witnesses who confirmed her story with sworn statements. Ford's attorney produced three witnesses who affirmed that Ford had been elsewhere at the time of the claimed interview. An anonymous man stated that he had been paid to impersonate the medium.


Christopher, Milbourne. Mediums, Mystics & The Occult. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.

Ford, Arthur. The Life Beyond Death. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1971.

. Nothing So Strange. New York: Harper, 1958.

. Spiritual Vibrations. New York: H.P.B. Publishers, 1926.

. Unknown But Known. New York: Harper, 1968.

. Why We Survive. Cooksburg, N.Y.: 1952.

Montgomery, Ruth. A World Beyond. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1971.

Spraggett, Allen, with William V. Rauscher. Arthur Ford, The Man Who Talked with the Dead. New York: New American Library, 1973.

Tribbe, Frank, ed. An Arthur Ford Anthology: Writing By and About America's Sensitive of the Century. Nevada City, Calif.: Blue Dolphin, 1999.