LONG BEFORE ghost boxes, EVP, and the popularity of ghost hunting, the method of choice for communicating with the spirit world was the séance. In the traditional séance, a small group of people would sit around a table and join hands. They were usually led by a spirit medium, who would channel the spirits and relay their messages to the living. In the heyday of the Spiritualist movement at the end of the 19th century, séances were all the rage, complete with ectoplasm, floating trumpets, table tilting, and other special effects. Séances were even conducted in the White House by Mary Todd Lincoln, who longed to contact her dead son.
It’s questionable how many of these séances actually succeeded in contacting the spirit world. Many mediums were exposed as frauds. Séances are held rarely these days; the closest we get to them, perhaps, are sessions with the Ouija board (which also produce questionable results).
Occasionally, people still do conduct séances. Usually, the Halloween season gets them in the mood. And many have reported extraordinary, sometimes terrifying experiences. For example....
GROSS POINT SÉANCE
“It's hard to believe that it has been over 50 years since that night in Grosse Point, Michigan that so changed my life,” says Bradford A. At the time he was a young college student, just out of the army, and studying psychology under the G.I. Bill at a college in Detroit, Michigan.
“I had mastered the art of hypnotism and, in fact, was considered one of the leading men in the field,” Bradford says. “Working part-time in an Abbotts Magic store and putting on magic shows was a form of income that was not only fun, but allowed me to meet a wide range of personalities. One person, who at his request will remain nameless, was a magician of note and a close personal friend. We had fun trying out new magic tricks and routines on each other. Because of our knowledge of the so called ‘black arts,’ we were aware of all the tricks used by magicians and mediums to ply their art on the unknowing: two-way transmitters to feed information, pat routines such as ‘The Devil’s Own Method’ of mind reading, astral projection units, and, of course, the table raising gimmicks.
“The two of us, noticing the rise of fake mediums in the area, decided that it would be fun if we did ‘spook debunking’ – that is to say, we would attend a séance or medium's performance and expose their fakery to the members present. It was a riot. We slipped into homes at the request of a person's mate that felt their partner was being taken for a ride. For this we had the satisfaction of setting things right, but no money.
“Then one day, after a magic show at the old Schubert Theatre in downtown Detroit, I was approached by a very nice elderly lady who asked if we would put on a show for a few of her friends at her home in swank Grosse Point Farms, a wealthy suburb of Detroit. She said that we could use any gimmicks or tricks we wanted and she would pay us $100. (That was a lot of money to a college student in the 1940s.) I asked my partner and he said sure, let's go for it. We rounded up as much paraphernalia as we could from the magic store and planned a really scary show for them. Our plan included getting as much information as the host lady could gather about the persons who would be in attendance. (No self-respecting medium would go in without it.)
“Finally, the night arrived. We had agreed that my partner would handle the mechanical and voice parts and I would take the part of the medium at the table with the guests. My partner planned to wait in his car down the block until all of the guests were in the house and ready for the séance. He would then enter the kitchen by the back door and connect his microphone and recorders into the speaker system I had installed and concealed in the room and set up a projector. I was introduced as ‘Sregna, The Gifted’ (my last name spelled backward), and we all took our places at the table. The table had been previously rigged to emit a hanging cloud of "magic" smoke that would hover over the table for several minutes. This cloud was used as a sort of projection screen to receive images of light from a projector controlled by my partner – in short, a sort of astral vision effect.
“We all joined hands and I began my mumbo jumbo. I could feel a slight tremble in the hand I was holding. This was just what I needed. I became quite confident. I called upon the spirits to come forth and make themselves known. A few eerie sounds preceded a voice saying that he was the departed husband of one of the guests. A mist formed, as planned, over the table and a likeness of the person was seen. There were a few shudders and oohs and ahhs. She asked her husband questions and he answered. (Very well, I thought, considering the information we were given.) This scene was repeated for several of the ladies. It was an eerie success.
“When the séance came to a close, the ladies left, each with their memories. They had been treated to quite a show. The lady who hired us wrote me a check and thanked me for a wonderful evening. I then went into the kitchen to help my partner disconnect his equipment and pack up.
“When I reached the kitchen, I was unable to locate my partner or his equipment. Then I heard a pounding on the kitchen door. It was my partner. He said when he tried to get in, someone had apparently locked the door. He said he was sorry and asked if he missed anything. I may never know what really happened that night, but I can assure you, I have not played with the supernatural since!”
Next page: The Walking Table