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Monday, July 30, 2012

Harry Price and the Materialization of Rosalie

In parapsychological research perhaps no phenomenon is more elusive, and most highly debated, than the actual manifestation of a ghost or spirit. While reading through my recently acquired copy of Brad Steiger's Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Places I came across a fascinating account of a materialization of a child's ghost that was witnessed and investigated by famed British author and Psychic researcher Harry Price. Price wrote about the events that led up to his coming into contact with Rosalie in his 1939 book Fifty years of Psychical Research. The story that follows is interesting but, like most of the paranormal, is highly controversial. I'll leave it for you to decide what happened that night. Steiger tells us the following:

On December 8, 1937, Harry Price had just concluded a radio broadcast regarding psychic phenomena when a listener contacted him with an interesting revelation. Price was informed that the listener regularly participates in a family séance that was held every Wednesday evening, at which the family materialized the spirit of a child. (pg 234)

Harry Price, Psychical Researcher
Price was offered the opportunity to come and witness one of these weekly investigations on some conditions; according to Price in Fifty years in Psychical Research:

Of course, there were conditions, which I anticipated. But I was genuinely astonished at the simple rules to which I was asked to adhere. In the first place, if I accepted the invitation to attend a séance, I was to promise not to reveal the identity of any of the sitters, or the locality where the séance was held. I could write an account of the séance giving my candid views of it, provided I mentioned no names.

If I were impressed with the proceedings, I was 'not to seek a scientific inquiry', as the mother of 'Rosalie,' who attended each sitting, was 'terrified that her girl might be frightened away.' These Wednesday meetings were in the nature of a sacred communion with the spirit of her daughter, and would be maintained as such.

I was not to bring to the séance any light (such as a torch); I was not to speak to or touch the materialization without permission, and I was not to do anything, or make any experiment, without the sitters' consent. I would not be asked to sign any document embodying these arrangements: it was to be a 'gentlemen's agreement.'

As a part of the conditions, Price would be allowed to fully search the room and home where the séance was to be held. In his own words Price says:

I would be allowed full control of the room and the sitters up to the beginning of the séance. I could search the house from top to bottom, seal all external windows and doors, search the séance room (the drawing-room), all doors and windows of which I could lock and seal,

I could move - or remove - any furniture, ornaments, etc., from the séance room which I thought fit, I could control the room to the extent of sprinkling powdered starch or other substance round doors or windows, or place electrical contacts there (she admitted that she had gathered that this was what I did, from my broadcast from the 'haunted house'),

I could search the sitters or any person in the house immediately before or after the séance.

Price agreed and set a date in which to come see the events of the séance firsthand. When he arrived at the location, Price was given a little more background information about the child's spirit that was going to be manifested. Apparently the child was a little girl named Rosalie. Rosalie had died in 1920 from a case of diphtheria. In his notes, Price simply referred to the mother as a 'Madame Z'. In addition to the background on the child, Price was given some information detailing the circumstances by which the weekly séance began. Price notes:

In the spring of 1925 - according to my hostess - Madame Z. was awakened during the night by the sound of her dead girl's voice crying 'mother.' This occurred so frequently that Madame Z. got into the habit of lying awake at night, waiting for the 'voice.' Gradually, she thought she could see (in the dark) the dim outline of 'Rosalie' and hear her footsteps in the room. Finally, the mother declared, one night she put her arm out of bed and her hand was clasped by that of her little girl.

The séance began sometime after dinner. However it wasn't until around 10 pm that something started to happen. Madame Z suddenly said that she felt the presence of Rosalie that she was here. Rosalie's mother began weeping and sobbing. Price, meanwhile, relates that he heard nor saw anything though he did report smelling something. In fact Price says:

At the same moment I, too, realized that there was something quite close to me. I neither heard nor saw anything, but the sensation was an olfactory one - I seemed to smell something that was not there previously. It was a strange, not unpleasant smell.

Smells aside, Price seemed to infer that Rosalie had made her appearance. Finally curiosity perhaps getting the best of him, Price requested permission to touch Rosalie. According to Price:

Permission was given, and I stretched out my left arm and, to my amazement, it came in contact with, apparently, the nude figure of a little girl, aged about six years. I slowly passed my hand across her chest up to her chin and cheeks. Her flesh felt warm, though (and this may have been imagination) not so warm as one would expect to find normal human flesh. I laid the back of my left hand on her right cheek: it felt soft and warm and I could distinctly hear her breathing. I then placed my hand on her chest again and could feel the respiratory movements.

Going further:
There are no words to express how I felt at the appearance of the form before me - or rather to the left of me. A supreme scientific interest, with a feeling of absolute incredulity, would best describe my reactions. I had not bargained for anything so wonderful (or so clever!) as this.

But if I had been tricked, so had the mother, and that was unthinkable. She, at least, was not acting a part. I asked whether I could hold 'Rosalie.' I was told that I could move my chair nearer to the child and this I did. I was now able to use both hands and again felt every inch of that little form.

If it is a spirit - I argued to myself - then there is no difference between a spirit and a human being. With my right hand, I lifted 'Rosalie's' right arm and felt her pulse. It appeared to be too quick and I estimated a rate of 90 to the minute. I put my ear to her chest and could distinctly hear her heart beating.

I then took both her hands and asked X., his daughter, and Jim to speak in order to prove their presence in their respective seats. They did so. I knew that Madame Z. and Mrs. X. were on either side of me, as I had only to put out my hand to touch them.

After time spent investigating the fact that the materialized child was, at least apparently, flesh and blood, Price didn't want to miss the opportunity to speak with what could very well be an ambassador of the spirit world. So he set about to ask her some questions that he felt could give him some more information about where she came from and what 'life' was like where she resided. Price lists the questions and answers, or lack thereof, in his book as:

'Where do you live, Rosalie?' (No answer.)
'What do you do there?' (No answer.)
'Do you play with other children?' (No answer.)
'Have you any toys there?' (No answer.)
'Are there any animal pets?' (No answer.)

The only question that Rosalie was willing, or perhaps able, to answer was whether or not she loved her mother to which she replied in the affirmative. Not long after the Q & A session had ended, Rosalie began to slowly dematerialize and finally disappeared back to whatever realm she had first come from. A mere two hours after returning home wrote notes on the events that had occurred that night. He concluded with the following paragraph that shows what his opinion on the preceding events was. It reads as follows:

I feel I have not done justice in this report to the amazing events of last night, and I am still wondering if 'Rosalie' was a genuine spirit entity, or whether the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. If the latter, then the 'hoax' has been going on for years and no actress in the world could simulate Madame Z.'s poignant emotion.

And where did the 'spirit' come from? These are questions which I shall have to think about, and answer. If I had witnessed the materialization of 'Rosalie' in my own laboratory, I should not hesitate to proclaim to an incredulous world that survival was proved. It is possible - though very doubtful - that last night's historic (as far as I am concerned) séance may be repeated under better conditions in a laboratory. But Madame Z. is convinced that 'Rosalie would be frightened away.'

The sitting I have just attended is at least distinguished by the complete absence of blasphemous humbug and hymn-singing, which characterize so many pseudo-spiritualist séances run by rogues for profit. Looking at it in retrospect, I can think of several things I ought to have done that I did not do, and one of these is the taking of 'Rosalie's' finger-prints.

I had ample opportunity, but no materials. Another thing I might have done was to have ascertained who the 'medium' was. Madame Z. herself denies that she is mediumistic, but I can think of no one else. Apparently, there was no medium.

I have to say that, all things considered, Price maintains a fair amount of skepticism over what he experienced. I'm not so sure that I would have been able to retain such skepticism after what Price had witnessed. Steiger notes that after Price refused to divulge the information about the identities of those involved in the séance, his already tarnished reputation within the psychical research field was hurt even more. Investigators not only wanted to know who the séance members were, they also wished to perform their own investigations. But Price was nothing if not a man of his word and so, as far as I've been able to determine, the identities have remained a mystery. Let me know what you think of this story, and be sure to follow the links below for more information, including a link to the entire chapter of Price's book that was devoted to the case of Rosalie.

Further Reading:


Lance said...

Nice post!

You may enjoy the work of Trevor Hall on various early ghost reports and research.

I became fascinated by the early spiritualism movement and the (often bungling) efforts of pioneering researchers.


Lance Moody

Locklizard said...

I loved all of these posts. A lot of these things we have, but I got some really great ideas.

Tony Morrill said...

Hey Lance, thanks for the reply and the kind words!

I haven't heard of Trevor Hall, so I'll be doing some research on him today. I'm immensely fascinated by the spiritualism movement and some of it's overlap with the contactee movement. I still want to do a bit of a more in depth post on spiritualism in the future, but I guess we will see if I ever get around to it.

Take care!

Tony Morrill said...


Thanks for the reply! Glad you enjoyed the posts.

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