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Reese, Bert (1851-1926)

Reese, Bert (1851-1926)

American-Polish medium with whom remarkable experiments in clairvoyance were conducted by Baron von Schrenck-Notzing, Thomas A. Edison, Hereward Carrington, and Felix Hollaender. Reese was said to have manifested extraordinary psychic faculties at the age of six. According to Felix Hollaender, writing in the Annals of Psychic Science (September 1913), these abilities so terrified the people of the little town where he was born that they deserted the shop where his father sold miscellaneous goods, and to avoid ruin he had to send his son away to Posen. The people of the country town were filled with horror. They considered the child a wizard and possessed by the devil.

In America, Reese was arrested and condemned for disorderly conduct. Appealing against his sentence he appeared before Judge Rosalsky and proved his powers to him. He asked the Judge to write something on three different pieces of paper, to fold them up and place them in three different pockets, mixing them in such a way that they could not be recognized.

Then Judge Rosalsky took one of the pellets and pressed it against Reese's forehead. He immediately answered: "You have fifteen dollars in the bank mentioned in your question." He continued by reading the second paper, which contained the name of a Miss O'Connor, a former governess to Judge Rosalsky's children. He also read the third paper, whereupon Judge Rosalsky acquitted him.

Schrenck-Notzing considered him one of the most extraordinary men of the time. Thought reading could not sufficiently account for his performances as the experimenters mostly took care that they themselves should not know which piece of paper contained which question. In certain performances, "X-ray clairvoyance" also fell short as an explanation; his success must have been due to psychometry. According to the account of Felix Hollaender, he indicated to a commercial firm the pages on which there was a fraudulent entry. He was given five percent of the amount of the fraud.

However, Harry Houdini claimed Reese was a fraud, and that he knew his methods. In a letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini wrote: "I have no hesitancy in telling you that I set a snare at the séance I had with Reese, and caught him cold-blooded. He was startled when it was over, as he knew that I had bowled him over. So much so that he claimed I was the only one that had ever detected him."

Reese was at one time an assistant to Thomas A. Edison, who held séances with him. In his later years, Edison worked on apparatus to communicate with the dead. Reese also had a reputation for dowsing and was said to have discovered valuable oil deposits for the Rockefeller company.


Ernst, B. M. L., and Hereward Carrington. Houdini and Conan Doyle. New York: A & C Boni, 1932.

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