CIRCLES & SEANCES THROUGHOUT THE AGES    page 8 

                                                                     

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Pierre L O A Keeler  May 27  1885

On May 27th, The Seybert Commission held a meeting at the house of Mr. Furness, at 8 P.M., to examine the phenomena occurring in the presence of Mr. Pierre L. O. A. Keeler, a professional Medium.

There were present on the part of the Commission, Dr. Pepper, Mr. Furness, Dr. Koenig, Dr. White, Dr. Knerr, Mr. Sellers and Mr. Fullerton. The following friends of the Commission were also present:

Mr. F. Furness, Mr. W. B. Furness, Mr. J. Foster Kirk, Mr. Yost, Mrs. E. D. Gillespie, Miss Gillespie, Mrs. Dr. Mitchell, Mrs. C. B. Rossell, Mrs. Dr. Pepper, Mrs. Sellers, Mrs. A. L. Wister, Mrs. Dr. Knerr, Miss Agnes lrwin, Miss M. M. Logan.

There were also present, as introduced by the Medium, the Medium's wife, Mrs. Keeler; Col. S. P. Kase and Mrs. Kase, and Dr. Annie D. Bamburger.

The Medium, Mr. Keeler, is a young man, apparently about thirty years of age, with well cut features, curly, brown hair, a small, sandy moustache, and rather worn and anxious expression; he is strongly built, about five feet eight inches high, and with rather short, quite broad, and very muscular hands and strong wrists. The hands were examined by Dr. Pepper and Mr. Fullerton after the seance.

The seance was held in Mr. Furness's drawing-room, and a space was curtained off by the Medium in the north-east corner, thus:

The curtain is represented by a, b; c, d and e are three chairs placed in front of the curtain by the Medium, in one of which (e) he afterwards sat; g denotes the position of Mrs. Keeler; f is a small table, placed within the curtain, and upon which were a tambourine, a guitar, two bells, a hammer, a metallic ring; the asterisks show the positions of the spectators, who sat in a double row--the two marked (1) and (2) indicate the positions taken by Mrs. Kase and Col. Kase, according to the directions of the Medium.

The curtain, or rather curtains, were of black muslin, and arranged as follows: There was a plain black curtain, which was stretched across the corner, falling to the floor. Its height, when in position, was 53 inches; it was made thus:

The cord which held the curtain was 1, 2, and the flaps which are represented as standing above it (a, b, c, etc.), fell down over a', b' c', etc., and could he made to cover the shoulders of one sitting with his back against the curtain. A black curtain was also pinned against the wall, in the space curtained off, partly covering it. Another curtain was added to the one pictured, as will be described later.

The Medium then asked Col. Kase to say a few words as to the necessity of observing the conditions, need of harmony, etc. And then the Medium himself spoke a few words of similar import. He then drew the curtain (shown on the preceding page) along the cord (1,2) and fastened it; placed three wooden chairs in front of the curtain, as indicated in the cut, and saying he needed to form a battery, asked Miss Agnes Irwin to sit in chair (d), and Mr. Yost in chair (c), the Medium himself sitting in chair (e). A black curtain was then passed by Mrs. Keeler over Mr. Keeler, Miss Irwin and Mr. Yost, being fastened at g, between e and d, between d and c, and beyond a; thus entirely covering the three sitting in front of the stretched curtain up to their necks; and when the flaps before mentioned were pulled down over their shoulders, nothing could be seen but the head of each.

Before this last curtain was fastened over them, the Medium placed both his hands upon the forearm and wrist of Miss Irwin, the sleeve being pulled up for the purpose, and Miss Irwin grasped with her right hand the left wrist of Mr. Yost; his right hand being in sight to the right of the curtain.

After some piano-music, the Medium said he felt no power from this 'battery,' and asked Mrs. E. D. Gillespie to take Miss Irwin's place. Hands and curtain were arranged as before.

The lights were turned down until the room was quite dim. Those present sang.

During the singing, the Medium turned to speak to Mr. Yost, and his body, which had before faced rather away from the two other persons of the 'battery' (which position would have brought his right arm out in front of the stretched curtain) -- his body was now turned the other way, so that, had he released his grasp upon Mrs. Gillespie's arm, his own right arm could have had free play in the curtained space behind him. His left knee also no longer stood out under the curtain in front, but showed a change of position.

At this time Mrs. Gillespie declared she felt a touch, and soon after so did Mr. Yost. The Medium's body was distinctly inclined toward Mr. Yost at the time, Mrs. Gillespie said she felt taps, but declared that, to the best of her knowledge, she still felt the Medium's two hands upon her arm.

Raps indicated that the Spirit, George Christy, was present. As one of those present played on the piano, the tambourine was played in the curtained space and thrown over the curtain; bells were rung; the guitar was thrummed a little. At this time the Medium's face was toward Mrs. Gillespie, and his right side toward the curtain. His body was further in against the curtain than either of the others. Upon being asked, Mrs. Gillespie again said she thought she still felt two hands upon her arm.

The guitar was then thrust out, at least the end of it was, at the bottom of the curtain, between Mrs. Gillespie and the Medium. Mrs. Keeler drew away the curtain from over the toes of the Medium's boots, to show where his feet were; the guitar was thrummed a little. Had the Medium's right arm been free, the thrumming could have been done quite easily with one hand.

Afterwards the guitar was elevated above the curtain; the tambourine, which was by Mrs. Keeler placed upon a stick held up within the enclosure, was made to whirl by the motion of the stick. The phenomena occurred successively, not simultaneously.

When the guitar was held up, and when the tambourine was made to whirl, both of these were to the right of the Medium, chiefly behind Mrs. Gillespie; they were just where they might have been produced by the right arm of the Medium, had it been free.

Two clothes-pins were then passed over the curtain, and they were used in drumming to piano music. They could easily be used in drumming by one hand alone, the fingers being thrust into them.

The pins were afterwards thrown out over the curtain. Mr. Sellers picked one up as soon as it fell, and found it warm in the split, as though it had been worn. The drumming was probably upon the tambourine.

A hand was seen moving rapidly with a trembling motion -- which prevented it from being clearly observed -- above the back curtain between Mr. Yost and Mrs. Gillespie. Paper was passed over the curtain into the Cabinet and notes were soon thrown out. The notes could have been written upon the small table within the enclosure by the right hand of the Medium, had it been free. Mrs. Keeler then passed a coat over the curtain, and an arm was passed through the sleeve, fingers, with the cuff around them, being shown over the curtain. They were kept moving, and a close scrutiny was not possible. Mr. Furness was then invited to hold a writing-tablet in front of the curtain, when the hand, almost concealed by the coat-sleeve and the flaps mentioned as attached to the curtain, wrote with a pencil on the tablet. The writing was rapid, and the hand, when not writing, was kept in constant tremulous motion. The hand was put forth in this case not over the top curtain, but came from under the flap, and could easily have been the Medium's right hand were it disengaged, for it was about on a level with his shoulder and to his right, between him and Mrs. Gillespie. Mr. Furness was allowed to pass his hand close to the curtain and grasp the hand for a moment. It was a right hand.

Soon after the Medium complained of fatigue, and the sitting was discontinued. It was declared by the Spiritualists present, to be a fairly successful seance. When the curtains were removed, the small table in the enclosure was found to be overturned, and the bells, hammer, etc., on the floor.

It is interesting to note the space within which all the manifestations occurred. They were, without exception, where they would have been had they been produced by the Medium's right arm. Nothing happened to the left of the Medium, nor very far over to the right. The sphere of activity was between the Medium and Mr. Yost, and most of the phenomena occurred, as, for example, the whirling of the tambourine, behind Mrs. Gillespie.

The front curtain -- i. e., the main curtain which hung across the corner-was 85 inches in length, and the cord which supported it, 53 inches from the floor. The three chairs which were placed in front of it were side by side, and it would not have been difficult for the Medium to reach across and touch Mr. Yost. When Mrs. Keeler passed objects over the curtain, she invariably passed them to the right of the Medium, although her position was on his left; and the clothes-pins, paper, pencil, etc., were all passed over at a point where the Medium's right hand could easily have reached them.

To have produced the phenomena by using his right hand, the Medium would have to have passed it under the curtain at his back. This curtain was not quite hidden by the front one at the end near the Medium, and this end both Mr. Sellers and Dr. Pepper saw rise at the beginning of the seance.

The only thing worthy of consideration, as opposed to a natural explanation of the phenomena, was the grasp of the Medium's hands on Mrs. Gillespie's arm. The grasp was evidently a tight one above the wrist, for the arm was bruised for about four inches. There was no evidence of a similar pressure above that, as the marks on the arm extended in all about five or six inches only. The pressure was sufficient to destroy the sensibility of the fore-arm, and it is doubtful whether Mrs. Gillespie with her arm in such a condition could distinguish between the grasp of one hand, with a divided pressure (applied by the two last fingers and the thumb and index) and a double grip by two hands. Three of our number, Mr. Sellers, Mr. Furness and Dr. White, can, with one hand, perfectly simulate the double grip.

It is specially worthy of note that Mrs. Gillespie declared that, when the Medium first laid hold of her arm with his right hand before the curtain was put over them, it was with an under-grip, and she felt his right arm under her left. But when the Medium asked her if she felt both his hands upon her arm, and she said yes, she could feel the grasp, but no arm under hers, though she moved her elbow around to find it -- she felt a hand, but not an arm, and at no time during the seance did she find that arm.

(This write-up was taken from notes made during the seance and immediately after it on the 27 May 1885)

 

 

Keeler, Pierre L. O. A. the American slate-writing Medium who sat for physical phenomena before the Seybert Commission in 1885. The committee did not find the phenomena unexplainable by normal means and came to no definite conclusion except that it could "dismiss the theory of a spiritual origin of the hand behind Mr. Keeler's screen."

Alfred Russel Wallace describes in his book My Life (2 vols., 1905) some remarkable sittings with the Medium in 1886 in the company of Elliott Coues, one General Lippitt, and a Mr. D. Lyman. In good light Wallace examined the enclosed space, the curtain, the floor, and the walls. After various telekinetic demonstrations, a hand appeared above the curtain, the fingers moving excitedly. Wallace narrates:

"This was the signal for a pencil and a pad of notepaper, then rapid writing was heard, a slip of paper was torn off and thrown over the curtain, sometimes two or three in rapid succession, in the direction of certain sitters. The director of the seance picked them up, read the name signed, and asked if anyone knew it, and when claimed it was handed to him. In this way a dozen or more of the chance visitors received messages which were always intelligible to me and often strikingly appropriate…. On my second visit a very skeptical friend went with us and seeing the writing pad on the piano marked several of the sheets with his initials. The Medium was very angry and said that it would spoil the seance. However, he was calmed by his friends. When it came to the writing the pad was given to me, over the top of the curtain, to hold. I held it just above the Medium's shoulder, when a hand and pencil came through the curtain and wrote on the pad as I held it."

At another seance, according to Wallace,

"… most wonderful physical manifestations occurred. A stick was pushed through the curtain. Two watches were handed to me through the curtain, and were claimed by the two persons who sat by the Medium. The small tambourine, about ten inches in diameter, was pushed through the curtain and fell on the floor. These objects came through different parts of the curtain, but left no holes as could be seen at the time, and was proved by a close examination afterwards. More marvellous still (if that be possible) a waistcoat was handed to me over the curtain, which proved to be the Medium's, though his coat was left on and his hands had been held by his companion all the time; also about a score of people looking on all the time in a well lighted room. These things seem impossible, but they are nevertheless facts."

Later in his career Keeler concentrated solely on slate writing, which he combined with pellet reading. A. B. Richmond, in his book What I Saw at Cassadaga Lake (1888), describes a sitting in which Keeler received an answer to a slate pellet inside a pair of locked slates, the key to which was in his pocket.

Admiral Osborne Moore, in his book Glimpses of the Next State (1911), writes of a successful seance in which, on five slates, 474 words were written and two pictures drawn in a period not exceeding ten minutes. The letters signed by names on the pellets were very commonplace. They contained no proof of identity. Still, Moore believed that the sitting was a striking exhibition of Spirit power because there was full light and the slates were held above the table with no cloth or covering of any sort over them. He knew the reports of past slate writing through William Eglinton, S. T. Davey, and others, and said he thought that no explanation he had read was applicable to Keeler's case.

Hereward Carrington, during his investigations in the Lily Dale camp in August 1907, came to a different conclusion. He admitted that Keeler's slate writings were the most puzzling phenomena of their kind he had ever witnessed, but, as pointed out in his report (Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research, vol. 2), there was sufficient evidence of fraud. In the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (July 1908) an instance is mentioned in which Keeler was seen writing on a slate held on his lap under the table.

Carrington also stated that Richard Hodgson, Henry Ridgely Evans, David P. Abbott, and others thought that Keeler was a clever trickster, yet he said he did not wish to be dogmatic on the point since he was unable to explain many stories told to him by apparently good observers. Carrington reported only on his own sittings, saying that both the slate writing and direct voice were certainly fraudulent.

Keeler was also exposed by Walter F. Prince in 1921. In retrospect it seems doubtless that Keeler's phenomena--like those of so many other exponents of slate writing--were fraudulent.


Sources with additions. Prince, Walter F. "A Survey of American Slate Writing Mediumship." Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research 15 (1921).

Please remember that many of these researchers in the past, if they could not prove that the Medium was fraudulent they would put it around that they thought they were. It is that word thought that makes all the difference. Yes, there were some tricksters BUT NOT as many as the Christian and blinkered religious community would like to make out. Look at the finding of the Church of England; their findings was hushed up. BUT there again some genuine Mediums did cheat when their energies waned.

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