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Rare and special photographs of Materialisations of famous Mediums: ‘KATIE KINGS’ COMPARISON PHOTOS

Featured Image: We are in the midst of the first great scandalous controversy about the materialisation phenomena in the experiments of the physicist Crookes and the medium Cook, ca. 1874 in England! The above juxtaposition of two comparative photographs taken under the same conditions should help to determine whether the differences in the appearance of the two women photographed had enough probative value to prove that ‘Katie’ and Florence were not one and the same person! It was his own observations during these materialisation séances in his home laboratory that convinced the physicist Sir William Crookes, who was also pictured, that Katie and Florence were not one and the same, and that ‘Katie King’ was a genuine mediumistic creation.

The juxtaposition shows the well-known physicist William Crookes – once with the materialised phantom ‘Katie King’ – and once with her celebrated medium Florence Cook hooked by the arm. The case is unique above all because of the controversy that continues to this day and the professor’s unwavering stance on the authenticity of the apparition.

The focus is on the most famous full materialisation apparition of the entire era to date: the spirit persona ‘Katie King’, and her equally famous 16-year-old medium Florence Cook, who was the subject of debate throughout England …! So is this the highest class of materialisation phenomena or has a cunning and clever teenager fooled several members of the Royal Academy of Science? What would this have looked like in detail in Crooke’s own laboratory and in the regular presence of his colleagues? Could the medium Florence have successfully and unnoticedly led a high-calibre team of investigators around by the nose for months, consciously or unconsciously?

Books on this case are still being published today. However, the initial comparison photo was comparatively rarely printed in the publications, which we take as an opportunity to look again at the photo, the case, other accessible photo material of the apparition, as well as the roles of the individual actors!

A highly respected scientist, Nobel Prize winner Professor William Crookes, discoverer of thallium, pioneer of the modern television age, made claims that others considered unthinkable. Crookes had been convinced of the reality of certain spirit phenomena since his investigations at Daniel Dunglas Home. These are still known in detail today and have contributed to the physicist’s reputation through their logic and transparency.

Image: Two of the experimental environments in which Crookes examined the American Scotsman D. D. Home. At the time and to this day, he was considered an exceptional medium and was stylised as the ‘strongest (physical) medium’ of all time …

In the case of the medium Florence Cook, however, the professor became aware of a scientifically particularly controversial area of phenomena: Materialisation phenomena! His interest led him to conduct his first formal experiments with the youthful medium, which had become the talk of the town in certain circles. It was during this early period that a photographic image was taken in 1874, which is still commonly referred to today as ‘the first photograph of a materialised spirit’. Actually taken by the same Nobel Prize winner William Crookes, it was one of the decisive triggers that galvanised social forces against him and his attitude towards spiritualism.

Image: Also with the same youthful medium, Crookes achieved a photograph at the beginning of the collaboration that went down in the annals of mediumship as the ‘first photograph of a materialised spirit’ …

In puritanical England, it was considered fundamentally inappropriate for a 42-year-old professor to be involved with a 16-year-old student in the face of collegial criticism from the academic establishment. The public criticism and discussion therefore had a moral colouring from the outset.

The accusations of fraud against Katie King ranged from favouritism to complicity. Most of the experiments took place in William Crookes‘ own laboratory, and at least a handful of colleagues – and Crookes’ wife – were always present. Although the whole country was fundamentally fascinated and interested, and the materialisations of entire spirit figures were regarded – even by scientists – as the pinnacle of mediumship activity, there is also a dogmatically controlled, immovable centre whose criticism is kept alive to this day.

In the laboratory, a curtain had been drawn to separate a rear section from the seating area for the guests and observers. Crooke’s colleagues, all seasoned scientists, were asked to search the entire laboratory at the beginning of the sessions to detect any irregularities. Florence undressed in front of Crooke’s wife and – dressed again – was led into the separate part of the laboratory, where she spent the experiments lying in a trance with pillows on the floor, later on a couch.

Every so often, a small select group of guests would enter the cabinet and illuminate the sleeping Florence and retreat back to their seats! Then the curtains began to billow and in the white light of one (!) oil lamp, the white-robed apparition of ‘Katie King’ appeared before those present!

In addition to the differences in stature, we are now focussing on the faces, which reveal similarities as well as differences.

In order to counter criticism from the various parties, the experimenters took measures to safeguard the sessions against such accusations. The comparison photo, in which Florence had herself photographed in exactly the same posture as Katie was primarily intended to serve as evidence for the public, to whom any experience from the séances had been inaccessible. The author Florence Marryat was one of those who participated and saw both figures simultaneously several times in the cabinet: ‘Florence Cook, as already mentioned, is a very small, petite brunette with dark eyes, dark, curly hair and a delicate aquiline nose. Sometimes ‘Katie’ resembled her exactly, sometimes she was completely unlike her. Sometimes she was the same size as her medium, sometimes she was much taller. I have a large photo of ‘Katie’ taken with a flash. On it she appears as a double of Florrie Cook, but Florrie was watching when the picture was taken (?). I have seen the tests mentioned on this subject. I’ve seen Florrie’s dark curls pinned to the floor outside the curtain in front of the audience while ‘Katie’ walked around and talked to us. I saw Florrie being placed on the scales constructed by Mr Crookes for this purpose behind the curtain, while the display remained in view.

In these circumstances, I have seen that the medium weighed eight stone in its normal state, and that once the materialised form was fully developed, the scale increased by four stone. Also, I have seen Florrie and ‘Katie’ together on several occasions, so I have no doubt that they are two different beings. Nevertheless, I can well understand how difficult it must have been for strangers to distinguish between the medium and the spirit without surmising that they were one and the same person.’

For those who do not know from personal or convincing experience about the reality of materialisation phenomena, the complex may ultimately remain suspect. The privileged few ‘others’ know exactly what Marryat is talking about when she describes the many different degrees of resemblance, all of which occurred repeatedly and made ‘Katie’ look very much like Florence, her medium, on one occasion and not at all on other occasions. The effect is widely described in historical literature and the recurring similarities with the medium were a constant source for attacks. For the developing field of parapsychology and its findings, the fluctuating manifestations of the very human-biological type of materialisations – there are others too – have repeatedly provided an opportunity to expand their own concepts.

After the controversy surrounding him – and the accusations against him – slowly died down, William Crookes never returned to researching the macro-physical phenomena of mediumship. Nevertheless, 30 years after the events, shortly before his death, at an anniversary event, after questions from the audience about the ‘Katie King’ case, he did not miss the opportunity to make a public statement that he had always repeated in similar words in the past, and that he had ‘nothing to take back’: ‘My scientific obligation to the truth allows me to tell you today, 30 years later, that according to my observations the apparitions of Katie King were real!’