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Flying In and Out of Windows July 17, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

Forget Padre Pio fighting allied bombers and St Joseph of Cupertino who allegedly flew from the middle of a church to the high altar. The man that really stands out as the great modern levitator is the remarkable Daniel Dunglas Home playing peekaboo at a third floor window in London in 1868. Here is a detailed account from that gentleman and extraordinarily gullible prince of the imagination Arthur Conan Doyle. First Doyle wants to establish that Home had floating form.

Take this question of levitation as a test of Home’s powers. It is claimed that more than a hundred times in good light, before reputable witnesses, he floated in the air. Consider the evidence. In 1857, in a chateau near Bordeaux, he was lifted to the ceiling of a lofty room in the presence of Mme. Ducos, widow of the Minister of Marine, and of the Count and Countess de Beaumont. In 1860 Robert Bell wrote an article, ‘Stranger than Fiction’, in the Cornhill. ‘He rose from his chair’, says Bell, ‘four or five feet from the ground…. We saw his figure pass from one side of the window to the other, feet foremost, lying horizontally in the air.’ Dr. Gully, of Malvern, a well-known medical man, and Robert Chambers, the author and publisher, were the other witnesses. Is it to be supposed that these men were lying confederates, or that they could not tell if a man were floating in the air or pretending to do so? In the same year Home was raised at Mrs Milner Gibson’s house in the presence of Lord and Lady Clarence Paget – the former passing his hands underneath him to assure himself of the fact. A few months later, Mr Wason, a Liverpool solicitor, with seven others saw the same phenomenon. ‘Mr. Home,’ he says, ‘crossed the table over the heads of the persons sitting around it.’ He added: ‘I reached his hand seven feet from the floor, and moved along five or six paces as he floated above me in the air.’ In 1861 Mrs Parkes, of Cornwall Terrace, Regent’s Park, tells how she was present with Bulwer Lytton and Mr. Hall when Home, in her own drawing-room, was raised till his hand was on the top of the door, and then floated horizontally forward. In 1866 Mr. and Mrs. Hall, Lady Dunsany and Mrs. Senior, in Mr. Hall’s house, saw Home, his face transfigured and shining, twice rise to the ceiling, leaving a cross marked in pencil upon the second occasion, so as to assure the witnesses that they were not victims of imagination.

Next, to the issue:

In 1868 Lord Adare [later a Colonial secretary under Salisbury], Lord Lindsay [a later head of the Astronomical Society], Captain [Charles] Wynne, and Mr Smith Barry saw Home levitate upon many occasions. A very minute account has been left by the first three witnesses of the occurrence of December 16 of this year, when, at Ashley House, Home, in a state of trance, floated out of the bedroom [window] and into the sitting-room window, passing seventy feet above the street. After his arrival in the sitting-room he went back into the bedroom with Lord Adare, and upon the latter remarking that he could not understand how Home could have floated through the window, which was only partially raised, ‘he told me to stand a little distance off. He then went through the open space head first quite rapidly, his body being nearly horizontal and apparently rigid. He came in again feet foremost.’

Such was the account given by Lords Adare and Lindsay. Upon its publication, Dr. Carpenter, who earned an unenviable reputation by a perverse opposition to every fact which bore upon this question, wrote exultantly to point out that there had been a third witness who had not been heard from, assuming, without the least justification, that Captain Wynne’s evidence would be contradictory. He went the length of saying, ‘A single honest sceptic declares that Mr. Home was sitting in his chair all the time,’ a statement which can only be described as false. Captain Wynne at once wrote corroborating the others, and adding, ‘If you are not to believe the corroborative evidence of three unimpeached witnesses, there would be an end to all justice and courts of law.’

Let us now take some time over the witness reports themselves. This from Adare’s account published in Experiences in Spiritualism in 1870:

‘He [Home] then said to us, ‘Do not be afraid, and on no account leave your places’ and he went out into the passage. Lindsay suddenly said ‘Oh, good heavens! I know what he is going to do; it is too fearful.’ ’’ Adare: ‘What is it?’  Lindsay: ‘‘I cannot tell you, it is too horrible! Adah [the spirit] says that I must tell you; he is going out of the window in the other room, and coming in at this window.’ We heard Home go into the next room, heard the window thrown up, and presently Home appeared standing upright outside our window; he opened the window and walked in quite coolly. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘you were good this time’, referring to our having sat still and not wished to prevent him. He sat down and laughed. Charlie: ‘What are you laughing at?’ 

Home: ‘‘We [i.e. the spirits] are thinking that if a policeman had been passing and had looked up and had seen a man turning round and round along the wall in the air he would have been much astonished. Adare, shut the window in the next room.’ I got up, shut the window, and in coming back remarked that the window was not raised a foot, and that I could not think how he managed to squeeze through. He arose and said, ‘Come and see.’ I went with him; he told me to open the window as it was before. I did so; he told me to stand a little distance off; he then went through the open space, head first, quite rapidly, his body being nearly horizontal and apparently rigid. He came in again, feet foremost, and we returned to the other room. It was so dark I could not see clearly how he was supported outside. He did not appear to grasp, or rest upon, the balustrade, but rather to be swung out and in. Outside each window is a small balcony or ledge, 19 inches deep, bounded by stone balustrades, 18 inches high; the balustrades of the two windows are 7 feet 4 inches apart, measuring from the nearest points. A string-course, 4 inches wide, runs between the windows at the level of the bottom of the balustrade; and another 3 inches wide at the level of the top. Between the window at which Home went out, and that at which he came in, the wall recedes 6 inches. The rooms are on the third floor. . . .

I asked Lindsay how Adah had spoken to him on the three occasions. He could scarcely explain; but said it did not sound like an audible human voice; but rather as if the tones were whispered or impressed inside his ear. When Home awoke he was much agitated; he said he felt as if he had gone through some fearful peril, and that he had a horrible desire to throw himself out of the window; he remained in a very nervous condition for a short time, then gradually became quiet.’

Lindsay, meanwhile, wrote in 1871 to the Spiritualist (being much mocked in the British press for doing so). It is often said that his and Adare’s letters are the same. In several respects they are different though.

I may mention that on another occasion I was sitting with Mr Home and Lord Adare, and a cousin of his. During the sitting Mr Home went into a trance, and in that state was carried out of a window  in the room next to where we were, and was brought in at our window. The distance between the windows was about 7ft 6in, and there was not the slightest foothold between them, nor was there more than a 12 in projection to each window which served as a ledge to put flowers on. We heard the window in the next room lifted up, and almost immediately after we saw Home floating in the air outside our window. The moon was shining full into the room: my back was to the light, and I saw the shadow on the wall of the window sill, and Home’s feet about six feet above it. He remained in this position a few seconds, then raised the window and glided into the room, feet foremost, and sat down. Lord Adare then went into the next room to look at the window from which he had been carried, it was raised about 18 inches, and he expressed his wonder how Mr Home had been taken through so narrow an aperture. Home said (still in trance). ‘I will show you; and then with his back to the window, he leaned back, and was shot out of the aperture head first with the body rigid, and then returned quite quietly. The window is about 70 feet from the ground. I very much doubt whether any skilful tight-rope dancer would like to attempt a feat of this description, where the only means of crossing would be by a perilous leap, or being borne across in such a manner as I have described…

In another letter Wynne (the third present) wrote that he could ‘swear’ to Home having gone out of one window and in at the other.

Let us try and sum this up. Home walks down a corridor and into another room, flies out of the window, flies in through the seance room window. He walks to the table and then takes Adare to examine the first window, giving a demonstration of how he was able to squeeze through. The world is wide and deep and perhaps, sometime across the centuries, human beings have experienced levitation: perhaps, perhaps, maybe. But to trust an old stage-hand like Home is another question altogether. Here Home seems to have used a combination of suggestion and misdirection to get the effect. Note some of his shenanigans.

First, the séance took place in the dark: Lindsay was quite wrong about the moonlight; the moon was new on this day and it would have been weak – Lindsay misremembering here is a beautiful example of secondary elaboration (to get all Freudian).

Second, the sitters are warned not to move ‘on no account leave your places’.

Third, Home always told his sitters not to look directly at manifestations, with the dark this gave him a still greater latitude.

Fourth, the whisper of Adah (the spirit of an American actress) suggests what Home will do: she insists that Lindsay tells the rest of the table. This will have also provided misdirection at a crucial moment.

Fifth, Home then cements this suggestion by employing the powerful policeman image and by telling Adare to shut the bedroom window.

Sixth, no one sees Home fly from window to window because this would have been impossible from within the room. Only ‘the policeman’ on the street could possibly have seen it.

Lots of explanations have been given over the year for this dramatic event. Beach’s favourite (aesthetically-speaking) is that Home had some blackmailable information on all the sitters and was able to insist on his version of events. The most likely explanation is surely that Home will have opened the bedroom window ‘noisily’, then walked back into the room and slipped out of the sitting room window and waited there on the sill. His ‘flying’ back in will have used the same athleticism that he used to go back out through the window when Adare asked for his clarification.

Any other explanations or is Beach being too sceptical: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

Here is an enemy of spiritualism Joseph McCabe making some of the same points:

‘Probably the modern reader will be disposed to dismiss with equal contempt the claim that Daniel Dunglas Home was, in the year 1868, wafted by spirit-hands from one window to another, seventy feet above the ground, at a house in Victoria Street, But here I must ask him to pause. This is one of the classical manifestations, one of the foundations of Spiritualism… No one professes to have seen Home carried from window to window. Home told the three men who were present that he was going to be wafted, and he thus set up a state of very nervous expectation. Sir W. Barrett, who tells us that ‘nothing was said beforehand of what they might expect to see’, says precisely the opposite of the truth. Both Lord Crawford [Lindsay] and Lord Adare say that they were warned. Then Lord Crawford says that he saw the shadow on the wall of Home entering the room horizontally; and as the moon, by whose light he professes to have seen the shadow, was at the most only three days old, his testimony is absolutely worthless. Lord Adare claims only that he saw Home, in the dark, ‘standing upright outside our window.’ In the dark – it was an almost moonless December night – one could not, as a matter of fact, say very positively whether Home was outside or inside; but, in any case, he acknowledges that there was a nineteen-inch window-sill outside the window, and Home could stand on that. So there is not only not a shred of evidence that Home went from one window to another, but the whole story suggests trickery. Home told them what to expect, and he pretended, in the dark, that he was a ‘spirit’ whispering this to them. He noisily opened the window in the next room. He came into their room, from the window-sill, laughing and saying (in spite of the historic solemnity of the occasion!) that it would be funny if a policeman had seen him in the air. When Lord Adare went into the next room, and politely doubted if Home could have gone out by so small an aperture, Home told him to stand some distance back, and then swung himself out in a jaunty fashion, as a gymnast would. In fine, it is well to remember that this was the same D. D. Home who had defrauded a widow… and had been, in the previous year (1868), branded in a London court as a fraud and an adventurer.’

***

21 July 2012: AB writes: ‘Speaking as a committed Beachnut I neverthless feel duty bound to defend Daniel Dunglas Home’s honour (which’s not the same thing as saying I think he was genuinely psychic) when it comes to the conditions he needed to work under. The use of darkness as a tool to faciltate ‘states’ goes back at least as far as our caveman days and continued at least until the practises of the Ancient Greek therapeutae. After that it was gradually forgotten such artificially induced temporary blindness isn’t just capable of enhancing our hearing  but also rousing a certain ‘capacity’ which normally becomes dormant while most of us are still children (which might even explain the light source Lindsay mistook for the moon). Ditto exhorting the sitters not to leave their places induces an unnatural restriction on them in the hope this simultaneously childlike but immature ‘capacity’ [Gurdjieff's Essence  Juan Matus' Nagual  Jesus' Holy Ghost] will be stirred to resist (which’s why such severely restrictive measures as i) being interred underground ii) in sarcophagi iii) hung on flesh tearing hooks iv) lopping off fingers and breasts v) wearing animal skins or their descendant bondage suits’ve similarly been utilised since the dawn of time). Again exhortations not to look directly at manifestations serve at least two non-chicanistic purposes: 1) some people’re more easily damaged than others by looking directly into the radiation emitted by ‘spiritual’ suns and 2) perpetually switching between irresistible curiosity and fear of the consequences can also serve to stir that dormant ‘capacity’. Before I’d more fully give DDH the benefit of the doubt though I’d need to be clearer as to his status outside that seance room.  He  mentions a hypothetical policeman witnessing him floating through the air but if he was really famous then it’d much more likely’ve been the Victorian era’s equivalent of the modern tabloid press (which was as scurrilous as anything now) my point being if he was already famous/notorious by this time then the lack of a news report to the effect he was witnessed floating (or climbing!) out his window would seem to strengthen your own take.’ Invisible writes in: ‘On the levitations of D.D. Home, I read that his “ordinary” seance levitations were accomplished using the following method. This was suggested by magician and debunker of mediums Milbourne Christopher, who tried it, although, as spiritualists often say, just because a magician can duplicate a feat does not mean that it did not happen in a paranormal way on another occasion. Christopher writes: How could Home levitate himself in a room with the lights out? One method used then, and later, by mediums is most convincing. In the dark the psychic slips off his shoes as he tells the sitters his body is becoming weightless. The sitter to the medium’s left grasps his left hand, the one to the right puts a hand on the mystic’s shoes, near the toes. Holding his shoes together with his right hand pressing the inner sides, the medium slowly raises them in the air as he first squats then stands on his chair. The man holding his hand reports the medium is ascending; so does the sitter who touches the shoes. Until I tried this myself, it was hard to believe that spectators in the dark room could be convinced an ascension was being made.  I have read (although the reference escapes me, perhaps in the hostile Sorcerer of Kings, by Gordon Stein) that Home and Adare were lovers and that either Adare was blackmailed into boosting Home’s reputation, which sorely needed it after the Lyon affair, or that Adare, out of fondness for Home, colluded in the levitation fraud. The book The Enigma of Daniel Home, Medium or Fraud, Trevor H. Hall, while it is published by the partisan sceptic press, Prometheus, gives an excellent analysis of some of the questions surrounding Home and his “levitation” in front of Adare and the other witnesses. The author concludes that Home had a unique ability to influence his followers, giving examples of Home grooming the young Adare in suggestibility, and that the witnesses were in a “mildly abnormal state” throughout the experience. Heyday of a Wizard by Jean Burton, offers another useful look at Home and his tricks. Historical Mysteries, Andrew Lang (online on Project Gutenberg), has a chapter on Home The First Psychic, Dr Peter Lamont, is written by a magician and historian of magic. Here is a review of his book:  Frank Podmore, who discusses Home in several of his books, is kinder in that he says something to the effect that Home was never caught in fraud so we have to give him the benefit of the doubt.’ Thanks Invisible and AB!