Welcome. This is my blog, and you're my most coveted guest. If I seem a bit too intense, it's only because I have so much that I want to share with you, and I can see that you're eager to begin as well. So, please...make yourself at home, sip an East India cocktail (I blended the pomegranate juice myself), and sample some of my domestic and imported Arcana: useless, but fascinating information about Victoriana, Steampunk and other favoured topics; music which evokes that dark, lost Lenore sensibility; and other pleasant or, perhaps, unsettling non sequiters whispered in a darkened room. Linger long or short, leave a comment or refrain, but remember to come back soon to play a (shhhh) parlour game.
Velkommen. Dette er min blog, og du er min mest eftertragtedegæst. Hvis jeg synes en smule for intenst, det er kunfordi jeg har så meget at jeg vil dele med jer, og jeg kanse, at du er ivrig efter at begynde så godt. Så kan du ...føl dig hjemme, sip et East India cocktail (jeg blandetden granatæble juice mig selv), og prøve nogle af mine indenlandske o importerede Arcana: ubrugelig, menfascinerende oplysninger om Victoriana, Steampunkog andre begunstigede emner; musik der fremkalderdenne mørke, mistede Lenore sensibilitet, og andrebehagelige eller måske foruroligende, ikke sequitershviskede i et mørkelagt rum. Linger lang eller kort,efterlade en kommentar eller afstå, men husk at komme tilbage snart til at spille en (Shhhh) selskabsleg.
- I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
Nocturne in G Flat major
Chopin, darkness, light, sand and wind, starlight tread. Beethoven, love, fear, madness, redemption in the night. Liszt, waltzing widows, desperate bargains, pleasure's secret plight. Now, then, before, always, forever. Promises made on lonely beaches, celestial summer's perfect kiss, passions quenched in salty breezes, the lure of distant mist-draped heights. Bitter interlude. Final, private nocturne. Burned down like a candle. Doomed bleeding beauty. Fated sacrificial night.
We love all things dark and mysterious, macabre and obscure, odd and unfathomable. Nothing is too strange or bizarre for our little blog. And although we would never presume to offer definitive answers to the great questions of life, we shall do our best to enlighten, inform and delight our visitors with our whimsical potpurri of facts, anecdotes, trivia and informational outpourings. We strive not to offend, but to edify those who wish to reach beyond their comfort zone and touch the fabric of another time and place, and of distant, but genuine worlds and lives. As Victorian-themed blogs go, ours may not be the most austere, nor the most comprehensive, but we know what we like, and if our readers like it as well, then all is as it should be in this ramshackle corner of our own personal Victorian empire.
A Musical Note
A Musical Note: We feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by one or more of the following musical selections. Then again, we also feel that our blog is best viewed when accompanied by a glass of absinthe, a bite of lemon cake, and a foot massage (preferably by someone you know). So, to paraphrase the otherwise completely irrelevant-to-our-blog Mr. Aleister Crowley, "Do what thou wilt...but be open to Chopin."
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Monday, March 19, 2012
LUSTFUL SPIRITS? THE STORY OF WILLIAM CROOKES AND FLORENCE COOK
Florence Cook, known as "Florrie" to close friends and family members, was born on July 3, 1856, in Hackney, a section of East London populated at that time mainly by respectable working class families. Given to bouts of ill health throughout most of her childhood, Florence had, by the time she reached her middle teens, developed into what one contemporary account described as "a beautiful young woman, with expressive dark eyes, a full, expressive mouth, and a gentle, deferential manner designed to make a stranger, especially one of the male persuasion, feel at ease in her presence." To modern eyes, however, and knowing what we now know (or believe we know) about Miss Cook, the above photograph, taken when she was around 17, seems to radiate artifice and the subtle confidence bordering on diffidence that is characteristic of a highly skilled, professional con woman. How can we be so certain that she was a con woman and not the genuine spirit medium she claimed to be? Well, we can't, to be perfectly honest. But, then, despite the fact that we've never actually been to Antarctica, we'd be willing to bet our life savings on the distinct probability that we'd need to take along a sweater and a pair of mittens if we ever did happen to go there. Still feeling argumentative? Read on.
Florence was 14 when she first began making claims of mediumistic ability. Her claims were supported by what appeared to be her propensity to slip into sudden trances in front of friends and family members, during which loud knocks and raps reverberated in the room around her. Objects were also said to move of their own volition when Florence was in trance, a situation that reportedly resulted in her being fired from her job as an assistant teacher in a local school. Given to sudden trances, unable to work as an assistant teacher, what was poor Florrie to do but answer the paranormal call and officially declare herself a spirit medium once and for all? And that's exactly what she did. At the age of 15, Florence Cook began holding seances, with a special emphasis on the manifestation of "spirit faces", which appeared in a small aperture at the top of the wooden spirit cabinet inside of which she sat with her arms and legs bound securely to a chair. After the seance, sitters were invited to look inside the cabinet where they would see Florence still sitting limply in her chair, her limbs still bound, her face ashen white, supposedly a result of the draining nature of the psychical energy she had been required to employ in order to produce the manifestations.
Florence's mediumistic star continued to rise at a steady, but relatively uneventful pace until the summer of 1872, when the sudden appearance of "Katie King" at one of Florence's seances caused a stir among members of the spiritist community. Seasoned seance-goers were already familiar with Katie King, who was something of a spirit celebrity, having been a frequent guest at many American seances ever since first appearing at seances held by the notoriously sullen and persistently enigmatic Davenport Brothers in Buffalo, New York and in the famed spirit room of the music-loving Koon family of Athens, Ohio in the 1850s.
Her sudden materialization at one of Florence Cook's seances was the first time she had been seen outside of the United States, which, considering her purported history, was a bit strange. According to Katie (yes, she talked as well), she was the spirit of Annie Owen Morgan, the daughter of a Welsh pirate called Henry Owen Morgan (known as John King in the spirit world), who had died at the age of 23 in the 17th century after a life of crime and disregard for her fellow human beings. To make up for her wicked ways while in the flesh, she was now spending her afterlife making the rounds at various seances in an effort to convince the world of the reality of spirits and a life beyond this one. Why she had taken the name "Katie King" after shedding her earthly flesh is anyone's guess. But that question was probably the farthest thing from the minds of the sitters who witnessed her unexpected appearance in the aperture of Florence's spirit cabinet that long ago summer night in Hackney. Gazing out at them with shadowed eyes, her face deathly white, Katie explained that she would remain with Florence for three years during which time they could expect many extraordinary things to take place. Even so, it was almost another full year before sitters were treated to the sight of a fully manifested Katie, outside of the spirit cabinet, a lapse that Katie claimed was necessary in order to allow Florence time to develop her mediumistic skills to the proper degree required for such a feat.
Once Katie made her first full-form appearance, the former pirate's daughter began appearing regularly at seances, walking among the sitters, stopping to talk with a fortunate few, and even touching them and allowing them to touch her. Photographs of Katie King show the figure of a young woman draped in what look like linen bedsheets, her hair obscured by an awkwardly shaped headdress that also seems to be made out of a linen bed sheet. They also show a young woman whose face bears a remarkable (if not exact) resemblance to that of Florence Cook's. Sitters noticed the likeness between spirit and medium as well. One sitter, in particular, took active issue with the similarity. Londoner John Volkman, who later married another well-known medium, Mrs. Samuel Guppy, was attending one of Florence's seances when Katie King appeared, as she almost always did, and began to walk and talk among the sitters. As Katie passed him, Volkman leapt from his chair and grabbed her around the waist, setting off a wild struggle, in the process of which the supposed spirit managed to leave several bloody scratches on his face. Other sitters intervened, allowing Katie to escape from Volkman's grasp, at which point, according to one witness, she "simply disappeared." However, upon opening the door of the spirit cabinet, those who looked inside saw Florence slumped, as usual, in her chair, although he clothing was in an uncharacteristic state of disarray.
The incident with Volkman precipitated a definite downward turn in Florence's popularity. Never mind that Volkman's future wife, Mrs. Guppy (as she is always referred to in spiritualist literature) was one of Florence's most rabid rivals and most likely had foreknowledge of what Volkman intended to do, if not a hand in the actual orchestration of the event. The careers of 19th century mediums were tenuous at best, rising and falling in accordance with public perception, and the scuffle between Katie and Volkman cast strong doubts on the spirit's authenticity. But Florence was not about to let one unfortunate incident destroy the success she had worked so hard to achieve. Ever resourceful, she responded to Volkman's salvo with a most ingenious defense: she invited well-known scientist and part-time psychical investigator, William Crookes to investigate her mediumship.
Crookes, who was later knighted and awarded the Order of Merit, was best known at the time for his discovery of the element thallium. Twenty two years later, he would also go down in history as the man who identified the first known sample of helium as well as the inventor of, among other things, the Crookes tubes, which were used for investigating cathode rays. But in 1873, he was apparently more interested in investigating psychical phenomena and Florence Cook in particular. His interest in psychical matters had been sparked by the death of his younger brother, Philip, who died of yellow fever whilst involved in the laying of telegraph cable between Cuba and Florida in 1861. However, despite extant letters Crookes wrote to friends and family members, which reflect what seems to be his mostly favorable view of spiritualism, Crookes was still a scientist at heart and insisted on conducting his investigations within rigid strictures that precluded any attempts at fraudulence on the part of his subjects. By the time he met Florence Cook, Crookes had already investigated some of the most famous mediums of his day, including former Rochester rapper Katie Fox and English levitation medium Daniel Dunglas Home. Crookes' interest in the psychical field was great enough to prompt him to join both The Society for Psychical Research and The Theosophical Society, on behalf of the latter of which he served as president from 1907 to 1912.
No record exists of the details of the first meeting between Crookes and Florence, but things must have gone relatively well because, shortly thereafter, Crookes agreed to conduct an extended series of test sittings with Florence at his house in Camden Town. During the course of the tests, Florence often stayed at the house with Crookes and his wife, Ellen, sometimes on her own, other times accompanied by her mother and sister. As could be expected, Crookes kept copious notes of the tests he conducted with Florence, notes which indicate that the scientist was absolutely convinced of the medium's authenticity. At one point, Crookes went so far as to enlist the aid of electrical engineer Cromwell Varley in order to ascertain whether Florence changed her physical position during the appearance of Katie. Connecting a galvanometer to a resistance coil, Crookes and Varley soldered two gold sovereigns to platinum wires and attached them to Florence's wrists, making it impossible for Florence to move without the movement registering on the galvanometer, which was visible outside of the spirit cabinet. According to Crookes, the galvanometer showed no significant fluctuations. Not only that, he claimed, but during one of Katie's appearances, he held her hand, which he described as "cold and clammy" while Varley checked in on Florence, whose hand he also felt and found to be "small and dry, and not long...like Katie's."
For Crookes, this seemed to be proof enough that Florence and Katie were indeed separate entities, one a flesh and blood young woman, the other a spirit from the other side of the veil. But others remained unconvinced. It has been suggested that Crookes and Florence worked together to deceive Varley, whose credulity was necessary in order for Florence to pass the test and thus repair the damage that had been done to her career. But if that's true, what would compel a man of Crooke's reputation to risk his standing as a scientist for the sole purpose of helping a young medium to continue bilking the public? Well, one needn't be a scientist or a medium to answer that question, of course. It's the next one that requires some pondering. If Crookes and Florence were having an affair, how did they manage to carry it out, in Crookes' own house, with his wife almost always present, several children living at home, and frequent visits from Florence's mother and sister?
It bears noting that, at the time of the tests, Florence was married to a man by the name of Edward Corner, who doesn't seem to have been suspicious of anything untoward going on between Crookes and Florence, or if he was, apparently made no attempt to stop it. And Crooke's wife, Ellen seems to have been somewhat fond of Florence, maintaining a friendship with her even after the tests were completed. Perhaps, if there was something between Crookes and Florence, it never actually reached the physical stage. It's entirely likely that Florence, a young woman used to doing what she had to do in order to get by, simply played on an older man's weakness for the charms of a pretty girl and reaped the benefits of his infatuation. Whatever occurred or didn't occur between them, Crooke's support of Florence and Katie wasn't enough to sustain the medium's career at its former level. A year after completing her tests with Crookes, Florence held a seance at which Katie appeared and broke the news that she was going to be leaving the medium
side for good. Witnesses reported that they could hear Florence sobbing softly inside the spirit cabinet as Katie said her sad good-byes. However, her departure from Florence didn't stop the spirit from showing up at numerous other seances across the globe, at one of which she was even supposedly photographed. Unfortunately, no extant copy of the photograph remains.
Crookes maintained an interest in psychical investigations, but devoted himself mainly to science in the ensuing years, lauded until the end for his many achievements and contributions to the field. He died in 1919, two years after his wife.
Florence descended deeper and deeper into ignominy, eventually becoming a prostitute in Battersea, where she died of pneumonia in 1904, still only in her 50s. A few years before her death, prior to her final move to Battersea, a reporter visited her and found her "sadly resigned, but nonetheless amiable" in her reduced circumstances. During the course of their conversation, he claimed, the former mediumistic star mentioned that she always slept with the light on. "She said it was because she had pretended to be a spirit so often," he wrote, "that, now, in her old age, she was afraid of a real spirit coming to punish her."
NEXT POST: MADAM HELENA BLAVATSKY AND THE THEOSOPHISTS