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  • Spirit Photo Fakes: Katie King January 5, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    katie and florence

    The Count (a regular contributor here) is to blame. Beach had hoped to spend just a couple of thousand nano-seconds on spirit photography, but it is so extraordinarily interesting. Last time we looked at some late nineteenth-century photographs where ghostly  loved ones were portrayed with their families in the most transparent fakes.  But what about scenes where mediums materialize ghosts who are then photographed with them? There is some fabulous stuff out there, but we turn here, on the advice of the Count, to Katie King a spirit who materialized in the presence of the medium Florence Cook (obit 1904). What is really interesting about Katie is that we have almost as many photographs of her as we do of Florence. She was, in fact, without question, the most photographed ghost in history. Only, of course, the vast majority of those who have shown an interest in the case – though by no means all… – assume that Katie was Florence Cook or that she was an assistant. When it was pointed out by critics that Katie looked remarkably like Florence (see images below) the spiritualists let off a huge collective ‘d’oh!’. Of course, they looked the same. After all, spirits borrowed energy and even matter from the medium as they were materializing. This argument has a certain internal consistency but, of course, falls apart if you don’t believe in materialization. What no one should ever question is Katie’s ‘physicality’. In 1873 when one spoilsport, a cad named Richard Volckman tried to grab Katie and prove that she was a shyster he got a bloody nose, so that is one theory you might not want to mess with. Beach should also note that Katie kept coming back – there was a kind of wife swapping thing going on with spirits and mediums, by which the same spirit would manifest to different mediums in different decades.

    florence cook


    katie king

    Now as to the photographs. Most come from Sir William Crookes who examined Florence/Katie at his home to prove to his satisfaction that the phenomenon was real. He took over fifty photographs, but relatively few survive and none as negatives. There is the bizarre ‘mirror image’ where Katie appears next to Florence (whose face is not visible though) and a man who is actually in a mirror.

    katie and mirror

    There is a photograph of Katie walking with a man, arm in arm (below).


    Then there is the hilarious pulse-taking photograph: which shows the good doctor Crookes actually testing Katie’s pulse and confirming that she could not be Florence because their pulse was different. QED! Crookes, by the way, may have made the discovery of the century or may have been a poor dupe, but there is no question about his honesty in any of the sources we’ve luxuriated in this weekend. There is a lack of self knowledge perhaps. Talking of a lack of self knowledge Florence Marryat, another groupie, also falls into that category. Florence M felt perspiration on Katie’s arm and got into a long and involved discussion about spirit veins. She also had the privilege of seeing Katie naked. This passage makes me blush. The writer is out of control and doesn’t even realise it:

    On that occasion also she called me after her into the back room, and dropping her white garment, stood perfectly naked before me. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘you can see that I am a woman.’ Which indeed she was, and a most beautifully-made woman too; and I examined her well, whilst Miss Cook lay beside us on the floor. Instead of dismissing me this time, Katie told me to sit down by the medium, and, having brought me a candle and matches, said I was to strike a light as soon as she gave three knocks, as Florrie would be hysterical on awaking, and need my assistance. She then knelt down and kissed me, and I saw she was still naked. ‘Where is your dress, Katie?’ I asked. ‘Oh, that’s gone,’ she said; ‘I’ve sent it on before me.’

    This passage invites so many possibilities but Beach will just move quietly on…

    katie walking

    Perhaps the most interesting photos is though the one that heads this post that shows Florence materializing Katie. For Crookes this was a crucial photograph because it showed Katie and Florence in the same shot. Only, of course, the bath towel, or whatever it is, is not Katie: should we add ‘yet’? Any other Katie/Florence thoughts? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    5 Jan 2014: First MC writes in with some fascinating information and genealogy on Katie: I have had a long running interest in the Katie King case: not so much as because I believe in the supernatural but because, given my scientific training, I have always wondered what could have convinced Sir William Crookes to be part in this whole sorry saga. A few snippets of information you may find useful. 1)Katie King, Florence’s spirit-guide, was actually a sort of “ghost celebrity” and started her career before Florence Cook was even born.  During a seance held in 1852 by an American medium named Jonathan Koons, a spirit named John King manifested himself. He claimed to have been the famous real life privateer Henry Morgan who, upon reaching the Afterlife, realized how miserable and wretched his life had been and hence decided to both change his name and his ways, taking upon himself the task of convincing mankind of the reality of the Afterlife. In the following months, Henry King introduced a whole host of friends and relatives, including his “daughter”, Anne Owen Morgan, who had followed in his father’s footstep to atone for her wretched life (she claimed to have been an adultress and a murderer). Koons soon faded into nothingness (allegedly he was caught cheating during a seance and barely escaped being lynched on the spot) but the King Family “lived” on, appearing in a number of seances held by mediums all over the world, including such as celebrities as the Davenport Brothers. Katie proved to be the most long lived of the whole clan, putting up her last (publicized) appearance at seance held in Rome in 1974 by the well  known medium Fulvio Rendhell. 2)It is true that Sir William Crookes took 55 pictures of Katie King but both the originals and the negatives were destroyed immediately after  his death by his heirs in a desperate attempt to preserve the late scientist’s reputation (there’s a long diatribe whatever any of the Crookes Photographs we now have is actually an original). In 1880 Florence Cook came out of retirement with a new spirit guide named Marie. During a seance one of the presents, an eccentric antiquarian named George Sitweel, noticed corset stays under Marie’s flowing white gown, jumped to his feet, took hold of her and ordered the lights to be lit. Needless to say it was heavy blow both for Florence Cook and Sir William himself. 3)Florence’s career came very close at being over very soon but she was rescued by plain old good luck. The “bloody nose” seance you mentioned was actually held in December 1873 for the Earl and Countess of Caithness. William Volckmann managed to keep hold of the “full body materialization” despite being given a bloody nose but he was immediately restrained by Caithness himself, allowing the “apparition” to make her escape. Volckmann, who apparently could not be kept down even by a Peer of Scotland, managed to free himself and rushed to the cabinet where Florence Cook was found “with her dress in disarray”. There was a problem however: William Volckmann at the time was engaged with Samuel Guppy (they married two months later). Mrs Guppy was a well known medium whose services were in high demand among the high society. She had expressed a strong dislike for Florence Cook, an “upstart” who was already holding seances for the nobility, a dislike Volckmann apparently shared. This connection allowed Florence Cook and her supporters to claim the jealous Guppy had set up poor innocent Florence to discredit her in front of a Peer . 4)There have been a number of theories floating around the Crookes-Cook relationship. It’s well established that while Florence Cook was living with Crookes, another much less popular medium lived there as well. She was called Mary Showers and very little is known about her. It has been suggested she worked in pair with Florence Cook, one of them laying down in a “trance” and the other donning the white gown to become Katie King. Allegedly the two traded places according to needs, as sometimes Katie King appeared veiled by an “ectoplasmic shroud” and other times her face was well visible. It’s also worth noting the 1974 Rendhell Seance was documented by a series of pictures and in one of them Katie King’s face is well visible and she looks absolutely different from the Crookes pictures. Since Rendhell (a middle aged man) could hardly have impersonated Katie King, I’ll leave readers to make their own conclusions. It has been alleged Sir William Crookes, otherwise a well respected researcher well known for the throughness of his experimental work, was so enthusiastic about the whole business he unwittingly allowed himself to be “taken in” by a clever duo of fake mediums. In my opinion this is a much better explanation than the ridiculous theory according to which Crookes and Cook were lovers and the whole sorry saga served as a cover for their relationship.*** Next is Nathaniel:  Your reference to spirits manifesting to different mediums brought this case to mind: It’s not mentioned in the article, but I recall reading that the court held that (for legal purposes) channeling was a performance and the spirit was a character, hence the awarding of the copyright! Thanks Nathaniel and MC!

    8 Jan 2013: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books writes in: On Florence Cook/Katie King: There have been suggestions that “Katie” was Florence’s sister. I am not sure if this is her sister Katie, who was also a medium. Mrs Marryat also attended her seances and perhaps would have recognized her if she had tried to play Katie King’s part, particularly in photographs. Both Florence and her sister had pierced ears, while supposedly the spirit Katie did not. I wonder if prosthetic ears were used because so much emphasis was placed by Florence and Crookes on this physical sign of differentiation from the spirit. I have read, but cannot locate a reference for a story that Crookes was convinced of Florence’s mediumship because he had hooked her up in her medium’s cabinet to an electronic device that would register if she ceased to grip it with both hands. Apparently she confessed to one of her lovers, later in her life, that she had gripped one of the handles/connectors either between her thighs or behind her knee, by bending her leg. That way she had a hand free to shake tambourines, rap, or throw things. It is probable she had a confederate, but whether it was her sister or another medium, also living the Crookes household, is hard to say. Whether Crookes was Florence’s lover is also difficult to say, but Florence undoubtedly played on her beauty and her alleged innocent youth (she lied about her age on several occasions). Florence Marryat, so enchanted by Florence’s naked body, also reported on sittings with Florence’s sister Katie. Marryat, along with observers of both sexes, groped plump arms and rounded bosoms and clasped barely-clad spirit forms in their arms, suggesting the fevered atmosphere of the seance room so conducive to lapses in judgment.’ Thanks Chris!