Abilities' of Stella C
the first half of the 20th century it was the ambition of many psychical investigators to be the first to discover what they believed to be a genuine medium. To experiment with
whatever particular psychic ability the person claimed to possess, to attempt to develop the
facilities' and test them in accordance with their own ideas, and then submit the
medium and the results to the world. In this, Harry Price, later to become
famous for his Borley Rectory investigations, was no different to any other
investigator of psychic phenomena at the time.
A Natural Psychic?
When Stella C came into Price's life he was
tired of false mediums and shams. On a day early in 1923, he was travelling
home by train from London to his Pulborough home, and found himself sitting
opposite a charming and attractive young woman, 'a typical English girl' as he
was to say later.
This was the 22 year-old Dorothy Stella Cranshaw. She had been born in 1900 in North Woolwich, London, the daughter of a charcoal
burner, and was at the time working as
a nurse in a London hospital. Price had a pile of newspapers and magazines
next to him, and Stella, having nothing to read, asked to have a look at his
copy of Light, a magazine concerning psychic
In the conversation that followed
Stella displayed a mild, merely objective interest in psychic matters,
though she did have some puzzling experiences to relate.
She told Price
that sometimes whilst sitting in a quiet room on a calm day, with the
windows closed, there would be a breeze and small objects such as
match-boxes would move around in the air, accompanied by raps and flashes
of light. She said that these 'breezes' almost always occurred when there
were flowers around. She was extremely fond of flowers and occasionally,
when she was seated at a desk with a vase of flowers on it, there would be
a gentle breeze which fanned her cheek and made the flowers bend in the
Price was naturally excited at the discovery of someone
who apparently possessed mediumistic / psychic abilities, and persuaded her to take
part in a series of sittings. Stella
had previously been present at only one seance in her
life, when she was eleven years old, and then had to be taken out because of a fit
of giggling. The first of the three series of sittings
(in 1923, 1926 and 1928) began in March
1923 at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research. Numerous
physical phenomena are alleged to have occurred, including raps, flashes of light, messages, levitations of
tables and other objects, the violent destruction of furniture and on one
occasion, an instance of precognition, were recorded over the five-year period.
The original records of these remarkable sittings are now held in the Harry
Price Library at the University of London.
The circle of sitters was carefully chosen by
Price, and included Eric J. Dingwall, at the time Research Officer of the
Society for Psychical Research, and Eileen Garrett, a gifted Irish medium. It
was Price who
also made meticulous arrangements that the room be as fraud-proof as possible. Throughout
the sittings the medium herself would be carefully monitored and her hands and
feet controlled by other sitters. The door of the seance room was always locked
and the key removed.
Various ingenious apparatus, many designed by Price
himself, were used at various times during the sittings to aid in secure
full-proof testing of the medium's psychic abilities. One of these was a specially-designed double
table (consisting of an outer and an inner part). The inner table had a shelf
almost the same size as the top, and this shelf was surrounded on all sides by
fine mesh gauze, so that the only access to the enclosed space was through a
trap door in the top of the table, which could be opened easily from within but
not from the outside. A selection of musical instruments were placed on the
protected shelf, and thus sealed off, should have been practically impossible to
play by any normal means. However, a mouth-organ and autoharp were played
several times during different sittings, often accompanied by flashes, crackling
noises and blue lights in the vicinity of the medium.
Another of Price's apparatus used was the
'telekinetoscope'. This consisted of an electric telegraph key in a brass cup,
connected to a red light under a tightly sealed glass shade. A soap bubble was
blown over the cup covering the telegraph key and covered by a glass shade. Only
when the telegraph key was pressed would the red light flash on. The whole
device was placed on the shelf inside the double table. During the sittings the
telegraph key was repeatedly pressed, though at the end of the seances the soap
bubble was still unbroken.
further device, called a 'shadow apparatus', consisting of a battery and lamp in
a metal box, with a telephoto lens as a projector and a ruby filter to direct a
pencil of light onto a luminous screen, was used to reveal the shape of whatever
manipulated the bell or the trumpet inside the double table. When the light on
this apparatus was switched on, the shadow of whatever was moving the objects
would be shown on the screen. One of the results of an experiment using this
device was quite remarkable.
To quote the sceptical Eric J. Dingwall (who was
present): 'When the red light was switched on under the table I lay down on the
floor and looked through the passage towards the luminous screen. From near the
medium's foot, which was invisible, I saw an egg-shaped body beginning to crawl
towards the centre of the floor under the table. It was white and where the
light was reflected it appeared opal. To the end nearest the medium was attached
a thin white neck, like a piece of macaroni. It advanced towards the centre and
then rapidly withdrew to the shadow.'
Psychic Phenomena at the Seances
There were many other highlights at the sittings with
Stella C. At Sitting Number 4, on 12th April, 1923, the sitters witnessed
the table moving around and spinning on one leg. When they attempted to
communicate with the spirit, or whoever or whatever was responsible for this using raps on the
table it was revealed that Stella was being 'controlled' by an 'intelligent
entity' called 'Palma'. At a later sitting clairvoyant Eileen Garrett claimed
that she saw 'an ectoplasmic cloud' hovering above Stella's head, which soon
culminated in a blue flash. Mrs. Garrett stated that she then saw 'a tall girl,
of Italian aspect, with two plaits hanging down her back, and wearing a bright
robe.' It was suggested that this was Stella's spirit guide Palma herself, though
seems to have been an entirely subjective vision on the part of Mrs.
Garrett, and the evidence for the presence of any spirit guide is non-existent.
At a further seance, if we are to believe the records, a table
apparently levitated above the heads
of the sitters and hit Price on the chin, then proceeded to smash itself into
pieces. In a sitting of 3rd May, 1923, an apport in the form of a large sprig of
lilac (16 inches long) 'in full bloom, with leaves and flowers quite fresh
and uncrumpled' fell onto the table from nowhere. At the same sitting the table
levitated upside down for up to six seconds.
An instance of
One of the most successful sittings of all was
held on 12 April, 1923. There had been some unusual movements of the table and
communication with the 'control' Palma via raps. About halfway through the
seance, Stella fell into a semi-trance and stated to one of the sitters, a Miss
Phillimore, that she could clearly see a newspaper - the front page of the Daily Mail,
dated '19 May, 1923' . She added that she could also see the name 'Andrew
Salt' written in large letters. In addition she also felt a 'sensation' of
seeing a boy falling, and a doctor bending over him, pouring out a white powder
from a bottle or tin which he was giving the boy. At the time little importance
was attached to the vision. Then, thirty-seven days later, the Daily Mail
appeared, and its front page bore a large advertisement for Andrews Liver Salt,
featuring a picture of an upset boy who has spilt salt onto the floor from a
plate he is holding. When contacted the makers of the salt asserted that they
had not shown the poster to anyone until May and the Daily Mail stated
that they had not received the picture until three weeks before the
advertisement ran (28 April).
An as yet
feature of the Stella C seance was the rapid drops in temperature,
sometimes accompanied by cool breezes. These
from the very first seance and were recorded by a self-registering
thermometer. Often the temperature of the seance
room was found to have been permanently lowered, the biggest drop in
temperatures usually accompanying the strongest or most violent telekinetic activity. At Sitting No. 5 on 19th April, 1923, extremely
violent table movement (including the pinning of one sitter, Colonel
Hardwick, up against the wall) was accompanied by acute drops in
temperature (form 63.5 at the start to as low as 43 degrees at one
point). Harry Price subsequently read a paper on these thermal variations
before the Third International Congress for Psychical Research in
Paris, entitled: 'Some Account of the Thermal Variations as Recorded
During the Trance State of the Psychic Stella C.'
L. Randall (see sources below) has recently used statistical
methods to analyse the data from the Stella C sittings. Among other things
his work has suggested that the significant decline in activity in between
Series I and Series II may have been due to the presence of the
well-known medium Eileen Garrett, in Series I only. Her presence, he
suggests, 'may have helped to enhance the phenomena in this series'.
Though how exactly this would have happened is not stated. Garrett was not one of the sitters during Series II or III.
Randall's work also supports
Price's contention that in in Series I there was a very significant
connection between the physical phenomena and the drops in temperature,
and also that when there was an equal number of men and women sitting more
violent 'paranormal' activity would take place.
These days, mainly due to the work of Trevor Hall (though this itself is
often biased and inaccurate - see Randall The Search for Harry Price in
sources below), anything connected with Harry Price is treated with derision by
a many people. However, if records of the seances and the actions of Stella
herself are to be trusted, much of the phenomena witnessed during the Stella C
sittings remain unexplained, despite Price's reputation. Even if most of
the raps, flashes, and musical instrument playing are disregarded as tricks
(though this has never been proved or even suggested) we are still left with
perhaps the most convincing 'psychic' phenomena of all - the temperature
fluctuations recorded during the sittings. Although it is relatively easy to
send a thermometer up, it is almost impossible to send it down.
Stella C seems to have been an almost ideal subject, a normal young girl without any particular interest in the paranormal, who in Price's opinion possessed
psychic abilities she
didn't understand, and eventually lost interest in. From the beginning she was
almost blase about the sittings, Price often having to persuade her to begin
work again, and she broke many appointments. In the end the trances she entered
during the sittings took a good deal out of her physically and mentally, and by
the time of the second series of sittings, which began on 10 February
1926, it was clear that Stella's 'powers' or her perhaps her interest, were on the wane. The third series
began in 1928, and though there were some phenomena recorded, it was to be
the last collaboration between Harry Price and Stella C, who married in
1928 and became Mrs. Leslie Deacon.
The case of Stella C remains an enigma today, though as
stated above, the connection with Harry Price has led many researchers to
consider the results of the experiments with her unreliable to say the least.
Sources and Further Reading
Fodor, Nandor. Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science,
New York, University Books, 1966, p369.
North, Anthony. The Supernatural, London,
Blandford, 1998, pp145-6.
Randall, John L. The Mediumship of
Stella Cranshaw: A Statistical Investigation. Online article.
Randall, John L. The
Search for Harry Price. Online article.
Tabori, Paul. Harry Price - Ghost-Hunter.
London, Sphere Books 1974. (1950), pp82-7.
Stella C. London, Souvenir Press, 1975.
Haughton. All Rights Reserved.
on Mysterious People