An apparition is the manifestation of a figure or part of a figure, which can be little more than a shadow or more solid, even indistinguishable from a living being. Most people associate the word “apparition” with hauntings, ghosts of the formerly living. There are also reported apparitions of people who are still living, and cases where the phantom of a person is seen a distance from where that person actually is, a phantom double or “doppelgänger.” But here we are going to concentrate on apparitions within the séance setting.
PHANTOM HANDS AND ARMS
Parts of figures are often seen and/or felt in séances. Eusapia Palladino seemed to grow limbs at times and Franek Kluski produced hands of different shapes and sizes that were dipped into paraffin wax. The molds made from the wax forms are in positions that it would be impossible for a person to get out of without breaking the wax.
D.D. HOME’S APPARITIONS
Many types of phantoms materialized at the séances of D.D. Home. These ectoplasmic manifestations were interesting in that some were seen by all present but others seemed only to be visible to certain people and to the medium. For instance, Mrs. William Crookes saw a hand and fingers touching the flower in Home’s buttonhole, then remove it and give it to a “Mrs. I.” The others only saw the flower moving through the air. However they all saw a finger protruding from the opening of the table and then more fingers coming up a second time and waving about.
INTELLIGENT PHANTOM HANDS?
Some of Home’s ectoplasmic limbs must have been quite “normal” looking. Witnesses described a variety of different sized and shaped hands. The editor of the Hartford Times, wrote that a hand he observed was a thin, pale, lady’s hand, which was peculiar in that the fingers were “of almost preternatural length,” set wide apart and unusually pointed. It also narrowed, he said, from the lower knuckles to the wrist, where it ended.
The writer relates how it then disappeared but reappeared shortly after a pencil fell on the table. The hand took the pencil and began to write. He bent his face down close to it as it wrote in order to examine it closely and it vanished. The editor ends by affirming that it was produced by no hand of anyone in the room, and that the hand returned once more to shake hands with each person present: “I felt it minutely. It was tolerably well and symmetrically made, though not perfect; and it was soft and slightly warm. IT ENDED AT THE WRIST.”
INTERACTING WITH PHANTOM HANDS
At another sitting Burr describes shaking hands with another hand produced by Home, reporting that when the hand found that it couldn’t get away, it yielded itself to him for his examination, turned itself over and back, and then shut its fingers and opened them. Burr then poked his finger through the hand forming a hole. The wound closed, leaving a scar before disappearing. Other witnesses watched hands and arms forming.
One such occurrence featured a luminous hand and arm that vanished only to begin to form again starting with the elbow. It materialized rapidly and steadily until the arm and hand rested on the table again as it had a few moments before. When the hand picked up a bell and brought it to the reporter, he described it as a “real” hand, soft and warm, with knuckles and fingernails, feeling much like an infant’s hand except for its size. But as he held it, it melted in his grasp and disappeared.
THE PHANTOM KATIE KING
Complete phantoms appeared at Home’s sittings but especially at the séances of Franek Kluski, some illuminated from within. In his early sittings they often resembled the medium until someone pointed that out to him. Thereafter they looked like departed loved ones of the sitters and observers. Kluski also materialized animals and a bird of prey, which was indistinguishable from a living one.
But the most extraordinary apparition was probably “Katie King.” Katie was an ectoplasmic phantom produced by a teenaged medium named Florence Cook. She had been investigated by a friend of Sir William Crookes and at his urging Crookes attended one of her séances. Crookes must have been impressed enough to invite the young girl to his home where he could study her mediumship in a controlled setting. Fellow scientists including Alfred Russell Wallace (who with Darwin developed the theory of evolution) and other critical observers and associates, including his wife, assisted Crookes. Miss Cook agreed to submit to his conditions and they embarked on a series of experiments that was to last three years.
Very strict controls guaranteed that no cheating could take place but the phantom, Katie, would come out of the curtained door to a locked room and walk among the observers, talk to them and sometimes start to dematerialize in front of their eyes.
THE USUAL ACCUSATIONS
Of course the debunkers came after Crookes, whom they had first urged to investigate her, declaring him the best person for the job. You will still read attacks on him although he seems to have been a totally honorable man and there was never any proof of fraud. Many years later, honored by colleagues and by the crown, he stood by his work with and with the reality of “Katie King.”