Sir William Crookes (1832-1919)

William Crookes was one of the most famous, brilliant and respected scientists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He was a chemist and physicist who discovered the element thallium, and invented the radiometer, the spinthariscope (the first radiation detector) and the Crookes tube.  He was also the first major scientist to investigate physical mediums.

William Crookes at about the time he worked with D.D. Home and Cook

William Crookes at about the time he worked with D.D. Home and Florence Cook

Donald Dunglas (“D.D.”) Home had become famous throughout Europe and the U.K. and, as was to be expected, aroused much skepticism especially among scientists, so skeptics rejoiced when they heard that Home had agreed to work with Crookes on the noted scientist’s terms. They believed Crookes was the perfect choice to unmask this fraud and send him packing.


One feat Home was known for was causing an accordion to play a melody without touching its keys.  To test this claim, Crookes devised and built a barrel-shaped cage-like structure that fit snugly under a table in his home.  He purchased a new accordion and in an adequately lighted room had Home sit in a chair next to the table, one leg on either side of the “cage.”

Crookes reported:

. . . I sat close to him on his left, and another observer sat close to him on his right, the rest of the party being seated at convenient distances round the table.

For the greater part of the evening, particularly when anything of importance was proceeding, the observers on each side of Mr. Home kept their feet respectively on his feet, so as to be able to detect his slightest movement. . .

Drawing of D.D. Home and Crookes' accordion experiment

Drawing of D.D. Home and Crookes’ accordion experiment

Mr. Home took the accordion between the thumb and middle finger of one hand at the opposite end to the keys… Having previously opened the bass key myself, and the cage being drawn from under the table so as just to allow the accordion to be passed in with its keys downwards, it was pushed back as close as Mr. Home’s arm would permit, but without hiding his hand from those next to him… Very soon the accordion was seen by those on each side to be waving about in a somewhat curious manner; then sounds came from it, and finally several notes were played in succession. Whilst this was going on, my assistant went under the table, and reported that the accordion was expanding and contracting; at the same time it was seen that the hand of Mr. Home by which it was held was quite still, his other hand resting on the table.

. . . The accordion was now again taken without any visible touch from Mr. Home’s hand, which he removed from it entirely; I and two of the others present not only seeing his released hand, but the accordion also floating about with no visible support inside the cage. This was repeated a second time, after a short interval. Mr. Home presently re-inserted his hand in the cage and again took hold of the accordion. It then commenced to play, at first chords and runs, and afterwards a well-known sweet and plaintive melody, which it executed perfectly in a very beautiful manner. Whilst this tune was being played, I took hold of Mr. Home’s arm, below the elbow, and gently slid my hand down it until I touched the top of the accordion. He was not moving a muscle. His other hand was on the table, visible to all, and his feet were under the feet of those next to him.


Crookes performed other experiments in his lab with Home using his “psychic force” as Crookes called it, involving a 36” mahogany plank, which Home, by just resting his fingers lightly on one end, caused the other end to move up and down exerting an amount of pressure that the other men in the room could not duplicate physically. 

However the physical toll it took on the medium was similar to what he and other physical mediums suffered, causing Crookes to write:

“[A]fter seeing him lying in an almost fainting condition on the floor, pale and speechless—I could scarcely doubt that the evolution of psychic force is accompanied by a corresponding drain on vital force.


Home gave séances in Crookes’ home for further demonstrations of his abilities, again under the scientist’s conditions. Besides Crookes and his wife, other scientists and investigators attended and assisted.  During these sittings, all held in good light with the medium in full view, Crookes was able to report observing Home levitate at one meeting gliding upward until his feet were about six inches from the floor, for about 10 seconds before slowly descending. 


Just before his levitation, Home had been holding an accordion out at arm’s length.  As the group watched—there were nine people present in addition to Crookes and Home—the instrument expanded and contracted as it played a melody.  Home then let it go and the accordion floated behind his back and there continued to play.  It was then that Home levitated.  While he was levitated the accordion fell heavily to the floor:  It had been suspended in the air behind Home’s vacated chair and about 10 feet away from the spot at which he was standing when he lifted off the floor. The instrument was then “both seen and heard to move about behind him without his hands touching it.  It then played a tune without contact and floating in the air.”


There were also many raps that night, a planchette (a device such as is used on Ouija boards) moved with no one touching it.  There was scribbling on paper and the touching of participants.  A bell was taken from Crookes’ hand under the table, rung, and given to a “Mrs. I.” by a hand that she described as soft and warm.  A wooden lath floated about, pointed at different people and later bobbed up and down vertically between the leaves of the open table.  Lastly, the water bottle and a tumbler levitated about eight inches above the table and, while floating, tapped together to answer questions and moved back and forth from one to another of the circle.


At this and other experimental séances held at Crookes’ home a variety of phantom hands and limbs were seen and felt and often examined closely by the participants.  Some of these were interesting in that some were seen by all present but others seemed only to be visible to Mrs. Crookes and to Home.  For instance, Mrs. Crookes saw a hand and fingers touching the flower in Home’s buttonhole, then remove it and give it to “Mrs. I.”.  The others only saw the flower moving through the air.  They all saw a finger protruding from the opening of the table and then more fingers coming up a second time and waving about.

Crookes with phantom Katie King

Crookes with phantom Katie King


Although other experienced investigators reported on the materialization séances of teen-aged medium Florence Cook, she is most associated with William Crookes. The full story is here:  [Katie King]


Crooke’s report on his investigations into this mind-boggling case rewarded him with a deluge of anger and insults.  Those same scientists who had expressed their confidence in his ability and integrity when they were convinced he would expose Home and Cook as frauds, now viciously attacked him, called him incompetent, deluded or worse.

Crookes had, during one of the phantom’s manifestations, asked if he could embrace her, since she seemed to be of flesh and bone (despite the fact that she would often disintegrate before their eyes) and reported that he did so. This incident gave his detractors an excuse to accuse him of having an affair with the young woman and using his investigation to cover it up. 

Sir William Crookes later in his life

Sir William Crookes later in his life


Despite the corroboration by the other scientists and observers at these séances, in which Mrs. Crookes was present as assistant and chaperone, the shadow of doubt hung over Crookes for many years and may have delayed his knighthood. 

He drastically reduced his involvement in psychical research in order to concentrate on his primary, mainstream scientific work that eventually made him more famous and wealthy.  In an address to a British scientific association many years later, he stated that he had nothing to retract, that he stood by his published statements and expressed optimism and confidence that science would eventually unravel the mysteries of psychic phenomena.

Read about other “outside the séance” people:
Felicia PariseGilbert RollerKenneth BatcheldorNina KulaginaSir William Crookes
Ted SeriosThe Philip ExperimentUri Geller