Jonson, Mr. (1854-?) and Mrs. J. B. Jonson

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Jonson, Mr. (1854-?) and Mrs. J. B. Jonson

Celebrated American mediums of Toledo, Ohio, who later moved to Altadena, California. Jonson was a painter and paperhanger who, with his wife, sat for materialization and direct voice phenomena. He was born October 16, 1854, in Akron, Ohio. His father was said to be a lineal descendant of the British poet Ben Jonson and his great-grandmother a descendant of Thomas Paine. Both his parents were Spiritualists and held a séance on the evening before his birth. His own psychic talents developed at age seven, when, while playing with his sister, he ran right through a burly black-whiskered man on the steps of the house. His sister also saw the phantom. She died soon after the incident, but manifested at a séance with Jonson when he was only 18.

Beginning in 1876 Jonson sat regularly in a home circle with friends, and physical manifestations occurred, including materializations. He also became a trumpet medium. He married in 1901, and his wife was usually present at séances. Both usually sat outside the cabinet, and Jonson went into trance. His wife was reputed to be a good direct voice medium.

Homer Taylor Yaryan, chief of the secret police under the Grant government, watched the mediums carefully for years and assured Admiral Usborne Moore that they were genuine. The admiral himself, in his book Glimpses of the Next State (1911), reached the same conclusion. He saw 15 to 16 phantomsin circumstances that apparently excluded confederacyemerge from the cabinet in a single sitting. Some of them dematerialized into the floor and it was possible to follow their heads with the eye until the shoulders were level with the carpet; some came too far out into the light, doubled up and collapsed; some dissipated after falling over on one side.

Each phantom had a distinctive movement of the limbs and carriage by which, in successive séances, they were identified. They were mostly etherealizations; the faces and heads alone were tangible. The admiral put his arms around the waist of a phantom relative and found nothing.

A white-robed figure with a bright silver band on her forehead and bracelets and jewels on her arm gave her name as "Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt"; another form claimed to be "Josephine."

In 1923 the Jonsons were visited in California by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was greatly impressed by their materialization phenomena, which he believed genuine. He describes the séance in his book Our Second American Adventure (1923).

The Jonsons, however, did not live up to the favorable reputation that the experiments of Yaryan and Moore established for them. Considering the experiences of J. Hewat McKenzie in Toledo in 1917, those who accused them of fraud apparently had grounds for doing so. Writing in Psychic Science (April 1927), McKenzie notes:

"I proved on this visit, that the daughter of the Jonsons' masqueraded as a spirit, and would appear from the back room to dance as a materialised form in highly illuminated garments, the illumination for these being produced in an adjoining room with the help of magnesium wire used on clothing impregnated with phosphorescent paint. The smoke from the magnesium wire was seen by me in clouds in the room where she danced, and my sense of smell also recognized the well-known odour. Here we have a striking instance of what the abuse of spirit intercourse may lead to."


Yaryan, Homer T. "An Investigator's Experience of Materialization Phenomena." Psychic Science (October 1926).

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Jonson, Mr. (1854-?) and Mrs. J. B. Jonson

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