- "'But, Sir William, you surely can't believe that
you have talked with a ghost," protested a colleague of the brilliant
English physicist, Sir William Crookes.
- "My dear fellow," Sir William answered quickly,
"not only have I talked with a ghost, I have walked with a ghost,
and I have taken more than forty flashlight photographs of the charming
- Sir William's fellow scientist shook his head in disbelief
. "And what does your ghost appear."
- "Katie is a perfect beauty," Sir William told
the skeptical colleague. "She has a brilliant purity of complexion
that photography could not hope to capture."
- When a man of stature such as Sir William Crookes announced
that he had judged medium Florence Cook's materializations of the spirit
Katie King to be genuine, it was bound to spark a violent controversy.
'Whether or not the "perfect beauty" with whom Sir William chatted
and strolled about the seance room was a ghost or a hoax is a question
which is still being debated today.
- Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), Professor at the University
of London, editor of the Quarterly Journal of Science, President of the
British Chemical Society, one of Great Britain's outstanding scientists,
discoverer of the element thallium, inventor of the radiometer and the
Crookes tube which made the later development of X-rays possible, and a
physicist and chemist of international repute, was one of the most thorough
and exacting scientific investigators of spirit contact. After many years
of painstaking research and experimentation with dozens of well-known mediums,
he became convinced a great deal of spiritistic phenomena was real and
indicated proof of an afterlife.
- Born in London on June 17, 1832, William Crookes was
one of sixteen children of a well-known and prosperous tailor and his second
wife. As well as being part of such a large family, William had five step-brothers
and sisters from his father's first wife.
- Although the young man had very little formal education,
his keen mind and natural abilities allowed him to enroll in the Royal
College of Chemistry when he was only sixteen. Upon graduation in 1854,
Crookes became Superintendent of the Meteorological Department at Radcliffe
Observatory, Oxford. A year later, he gained a post at the College of Science
in Chester, Chesire.
- In 1856, when he was twenty-four, he married Ellen Humphrey,
and because of the large fortune he had inherited from his father, Crookes
was able to establish a private laboratory and devote himself entirely
to scientific work of his own choosing. Three years later, in 1861, Crookes
discovered the element thallium and the correct measurement of its atomic
weight. In 1863, when he was only thirty-one, he was elected a Fellow of
the Royal Society.
- Just when it seemed Crookes faced only a life of one
triumph after another, he was grief-stricken when his youngest brother
Phillip died in 1867. Cromwell Varley, a close friend and fellow physicist
who was also a practicing Spiritualist, convinced William and Ellen to
attend a séance and attempt to communicate with Phillip. Whatever
spirit messages Crookes and his wife received during a series of seances
in 1867, it appears that they were convincing enough to inspire the brilliant
physicist to turn his genius toward the exploration of spiritistic phenomena.
- Florence Cook, the medium through whom the enchanting
spirit of Katie King materialized, first met the attractive entity in seances
which she attended as a child. When she was fifteen, Florence found that
she herself was capable of materializing Katie in her own home.
- After the spirit's first visit in April, 1872, when she
appeared as only a deathlike face between the gauze curtains of a seance
cabinet, Katie began to appear to Florence almost daily. The ghost's control
became more and more perfect until she could at last step out of the cabinet
and show herself in full body to those men and women assembled for young
- Katie's story was that she had been a girl of twelve
when she stood in the crowd that had watched King Charles I of England
lose his head at the chopping block. She had been married while very young,
but she was much more the violent rather than the domestic sort. She readily
confessed that the circumstances merited such action, she had "done
in" several people with her own hands. Katie herself had, according
to the ghost, died at a youthful twenty-three.
- Crookes no doubt created quite a stir among his more
conventional scientific colleagues when he told them that he had walked
with a ghost, talked with a ghost, and taken more than forty flashlight
photographs of the specter. And when he went on to describe the spirit
as a "perfect beauty" whose "purity of complexion"
could not be done justice by mere photography, tongues began to wag that
the great scientist had lost all form of objectivity and had grown much
too attached to the spirit that he was supposed to be investigating. When
a man of stature such as Crookes announced that he had judged medium Florence
Cook's materializations of the spirit Katie King to be genuine, it was
bound to spark a violent controversy.
- It has been said that the spirit of Katie King became
almost as if she were a full-time boarder at the Cook household. When Florence
married, her husband complained that it was like being married to two women.
Katie began to materialize at unexpected moments--and some nights she even
went to bed with the medium and her long-suffering spouse.
- Many people became thoroughly convinced of the validity
of Katie King's existence because of the testimony of the highly respected
William Crookes. Others whispered scandal and made much of the many hours
which the physicist had spent alone with Florence Cook and her alleged
spirit friend. Crookes, however, stood firm in his convictions that he
had not been duped and summed up his investigations by stating that it
was unimaginable to suggest that a "an innocent schoolgirl of fifteen"
should be able to devise and to carry out such a "gigantic imposture"
so successfully for a period of three years.
- Crookes pointed out to his critics that in those same
three years the fact that Florence had submitted to any test that might
be imposed upon her, that she was willing to be searched at any time, either
before or after a seance, and that she visited his laboratory for the express
object of submitting to the strictest scientific tests certainly demonstrated
her integrity. To insist further that the spirit Katie King was the result
of deceit did more "violence to one's reason and common sense than
to believe her to be what she herself affirms."
- William Crookes' experiments in psychical research did
little to prevent his receiving the Royal Medal from the Royal Society
in 1875 or from being knighted in 1897. He supported the Society for Psychical
Research when it was founded in 1882 and even served as its president in
1886, but he conducted no tests of mediumship or any other paranormal phenomena
- Some scholars of the psychic field have declared the
series of experiments that Crookes conducted with the famous medium Daniel
Dunglas Home to be the first strictly scientific tests of mediumistic ability.
- Of one such test, Crookes stated that Home went to the
fireplace and after stirring the hot coals around with his bare hands,
took out a red-hot piece nearly as large as an orange, and "putting
it on his right hand, so as to almost completely enclose it, he then blew
into the small furnace " he had made of his hand until the lump of
charcoal was nearly white hot," and then drew Crookes' attention to
the flame that was "flickering over the coal and licking round his
- A number of witnesses to the experiment were also able
to handle the hot coal without burning themselves after Home had transferred
his "power" to them. Those who handled the coal without the transference
of energy from Home "received bad blisters at the attempt."
- As a kind of summation of his views on the subject of
psychic phenomena, Sir William Crookes once said: "The phenomena I
am prepared to attest to are extraordinary and so directly oppose the most
firmly rooted articles of scientific belief--amongst others, the ubiquity
and invariable action of the force of gravitation--that even now, on recalling
the details of what I witnessed, there is an antagonism in my mind between
reason which pronounces it to be scientifically impossible, and the consciousness
of my senses, both of touch and sight...It is absolutely true that connections
have been set up between this world and the next!"
- After Lady Crookes died in 1916, Sir William began immediately
his attempts to communicate with her. According to some sources, he did
receive messages from her spirit that he felt constituted proof of contact
with his beloved wife on the other side. Others say that the alleged spirit
photograph of Lady Crookes appeared to have been manipulated in the developing
- Sir William joined his wife in the Great Mystery on April
4, 1919, survived by four of their eight children.