Dorothy Stella Cranshaw,Stella Cranshaw,Dorothy Cranshaw,Leslie Deacon,Mrs Leslie Deacon,Stella C,
Medium Dorothy Stella Cranshaw
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Dorothy Stella Cranshaw Medium
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Seances with Stella C
During the first half of the 20th century it was the ambition of many psychical investigators to be the first to discover what they believed to be a Genuine Medium. To experiment with whatever particular psychic ability the person claimed to possess, to attempt to develop the ‘psychic facilities’ and test them in accordance with their own ideas, and then submit the medium and the results to the world. In this, Harry Price, later to become famous for his Borley Rectory investigations, was no different to any other investigator of psychic phenomena at the time.
A Natural Psychic?
When Stella C came into Price’s life he was tired of false mediums and shams. On a day early in 1923, he was travelling home by train from London to his Pulborough home, and found himself sitting opposite a charming and attractive young woman, ‘a typical English girl’ as he was to say later. This was the 22 year-old Dorothy Stella Cranshaw. She had been born in 1900 in North Woolwich, London, the daughter of a charcoal burner, and was at the time working as a nurse in a London hospital. Price had a pile of newspapers and magazines next to him, and Stella, having nothing to read, asked to have a look at his copy of Light, a magazine concerning psychic phenomena.
In the conversation that followed Stella displayed a mild, merely objective interest in psychic matters, though she did have some puzzling experiences to relate. She told Price that sometimes whilst sitting in a quiet room on a calm day, with the windows closed, there would be a breeze and small objects such as match-boxes would move around in the air, accompanied by raps and flashes of light. She said that these ‘breezes’ almost always occurred when there were flowers around. She was extremely fond of flowers and occasionally, when she was seated at a desk with a vase of flowers on it, there would be a gentle breeze which fanned her cheek and made the flowers bend in the vase.
Psychic Abilities Tested
Price was naturally excited at the discovery of someone who apparently possessed mediumistic / psychic abilities, and persuaded her to take part in a series of sittings. Stella had previously been present at only one seance in her life, when she was eleven years old, and then had to be taken out because of a fit of giggling. The first of the three series of sittings (in 1923, 1926 and 1928) began in March 1923 at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research.
Numerous physical phenomena are alleged to have occurred, including raps, flashes of light, messages, levitations of tables and other objects, the violent destruction of furniture and on one occasion, an instance of precognition, were recorded over the five-year period. The original records of these remarkable sittings are now held in the Harry Price Library at the University of London.
Security in the Seance Room
The Circle of sitters was carefully chosen by Price, and included Eric J. Dingwall, at the time Research Officer of the Society for Psychical Research, and Eileen Garrett, a gifted Irish Medium. It was Price who also made meticulous arrangements that the room be as fraud-proof as possible. Throughout the sittings the medium herself would be carefully monitored and her hands and feet controlled by other sitters. The door of the seance room was always locked and the key removed.
Various ingenious apparatus, many designed by Price himself, were used at various times during the sittings to aid in secure full-proof testing of the Medium’s psychic abilities. One of these was a specially-designed double table (consisting of an outer and an inner part). The inner table had a shelf almost the same size as the top, and this shelf was surrounded on all sides by fine mesh gauze, so that the only access to the enclosed space was through a trap door in the top of the table, which could be opened easily from within but not from the outside. A selection of musical instruments were placed on the protected shelf, and thus sealed off, should have been practically impossible to play by any normal means.
However, a mouth-organ and autoharp were played several times during different sittings, often accompanied by flashes, crackling noises and blue lights in the vicinity of the Medium.
Another of Price’s apparatus used was the ‘telekinetoscope’. This consisted of an electric telegraph key in a brass cup, connected to a red light under a tightly sealed glass shade. A soap bubble was blown over the cup covering the telegraph key and covered by a glass shade. Only when the telegraph key was pressed would the red light flash on. The whole device was placed on the shelf inside the double table. During the sittings the telegraph key was repeatedly pressed, though at the end of the seances the soap bubble was still unbroken.
A further device, called a ‘shadow apparatus’, consisting of a battery and lamp in a metal box, with a telephoto lens as a projector and a ruby filter to direct a pencil of light onto a luminous screen, was used to reveal the shape of whatever manipulated the bell or the trumpet inside the double table. When the light on this apparatus was switched on, the shadow of whatever was moving the objects would be shown on the screen. One of the results of an experiment using this device was quite remarkable.
To quote the sceptical Eric J. Dingwall (who was present): ‘When the red light was switched on under the table I lay down on the floor and looked through the passage towards the luminous screen. From near the Medium’s foot, which was invisible, I saw an egg-shaped body beginning to crawl towards the centre of the floor under the table. It was white and where the light was reflected it appeared opal. To the end nearest the Medium was attached a thin white neck, like a piece of macaroni. It advanced towards the centre and then rapidly withdrew to the shadow.’
Psychic Phenomena at the Seances
There were many other highlights at the sittings with Stella C. At Sitting Number 4, on 12th April, 1923, the sitters witnessed the table moving around and spinning on one leg. When they attempted to communicate with the ‘Spirit, or whoever or whatever was responsible for this using raps on the table it was revealed that Stella was being ‘controlled’ by an ‘intelligent entity’ called ‘Palma’. At a later sitting clairvoyant Eileen Garrett claimed that she saw ‘an ectoplasmic cloud’ hovering above Stella’s head, which soon culminated in a blue flash. Mrs. Garrett stated that she then saw ‘a tall girl, of Italian aspect, with two plaits hanging down her back, and wearing a bright robe.’ It was suggested that this was Stella’s Spirit Guide Palma herself, though seems to have been an entirely subjective vision on the part of Mrs. Garrett, and the evidence for the presence of any Spirit Guide is non-existent.
At a further seance, if we are to believe the records, a table apparently levitated above the heads of the sitters and hit Price on the chin, then proceeded to smash itself into pieces. In a sitting of 3rd May, 1923, an apport in the form of a large sprig of lilac (16 ½ inches long) ‘in full bloom, with leaves and flowers quite fresh and un-crumpled’ fell onto the table from nowhere. At the same sitting the table levitated upside down for up to six seconds.
An Instance of Precognition?
One of the most successful sittings of all was held on 12 April, 1923. There had been some unusual movements of the table and communication with the 'Control' Palma via raps. About halfway through the seance, Stella fell into a semi-trance and stated to one of the sitters, a Miss Phillimore, that she could clearly see a newspaper -- the front page of the Daily Mail, dated '19 May, 1923' . She added that she could also see the name 'Andrew Salt' written in large letters. In addition she also felt a 'sensation' of seeing a boy falling, and a doctor bending over him, pouring out a white powder from a bottle or tin which he was giving the boy. At the time little importance was attached to the vision.
Then, thirty-seven days later, the Daily Mail appeared, and its front page bore a large advertisement for Andrews Liver Salt, featuring a picture of an upset boy who has spilt salt onto the floor from a plate he is holding. When contacted the makers of the salt asserted that they had not shown the poster to anyone until May and the Daily Mail stated that they had not received the picture until three weeks before the advertisement ran (28 April).
An as yet unexplained feature of the Stella C seance was the rapid drops in temperature, sometimes accompanied by cool breezes. These variations began from the very first seance and were recorded by a self-registering thermometer. Often the temperature of the seance room was found to have been permanently lowered, the biggest drop in temperatures usually accompanying the strongest or most violent telekinetic activity. At Sitting No. 5 on 19th April, 1923, extremely violent table movement (including the pinning of one sitter, Colonel Hardwick, up against the wall) was accompanied by acute drops in temperature (form 63.5 at the start to as low as 43 degrees at one point).
Harry Price subsequently read a paper on these thermal variations before the Third International Congress for Psychical Research in Paris, entitled: ‘Some Account of the Thermal Variations as Recorded During the Trance State of the Psychic Stella C.’
John L. Randall (see sources below) has recently used statistical methods to analyse the data from the Stella C sittings. Among other things his work has suggested that the significant decline in activity in between Series I and Series II may have been due to the presence of the well-known Medium Eileen Garrett, in Series I only. Her presence, he suggests, ‘may have helped to enhance the phenomena in this series’.
Though how exactly this would have happened is not stated. Garrett was not one of the sitters during Series II or III. Randall’s work also supports Price’s contention that in Series I there was a very significant connection between the physical phenomena and the drops in temperature, and also that when there was an equal number of men and women sitting more violent ‘paranormal’ activity would take place.
These days, mainly due to the work of Trevor Hall, anything connected with Harry Price is treated with derision by a many people. However, if records of the seances and the actions of Stella herself are to be trusted, much of the phenomena witnessed during the Stella C sittings remain unexplained, despite Price’s reputation. Even if most of the raps, flashes, and musical instrument playing are disregarded as tricks (though this has never been proved or even suggested) we are still left with perhaps the most convincing ‘psychic’ phenomena of all - the temperature fluctuations recorded during the sittings. Although it is relatively easy to send a thermometer up, it is almost impossible to send it down.
Stella C seems to have been an almost ideal subject, a normal young girl without any particular interest in the paranormal, who in Price’s opinion possessed psychic abilities she didn’t understand, and eventually lost interest in. From the beginning she was almost blase about the sittings, Price often having to persuade her to begin work again, and she broke many appointments. In the end the trances she entered during the sittings took a good deal out of her physically and mentally, and by the time of the second series of sittings, which began on 10 February 1926, it was clear that Stella’s ‘powers’ or her perhaps her interest, were on the wane. The third series began in 1928, and though there were some phenomena recorded, it was to be the last collaboration between Harry Price and Stella C, who married in 1928 and became Mrs Leslie Deacon.
Fodor, Nandor. Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science, New York, University Books, 1966, p369.
North, Anthony. The Supernatural, London, Blandford, 1998, pp145-6.
Turner, J. Stella C. London, Souvenir Press, 1975.
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