COMPSLA See Comparative
Psychophysiological Study of Living Adepts
Compton, Elizabeth J. (1829– )
A washerwoman of Havanah, New York, and mother of nine
children who in 1875, at age 45, was discovered to be a powerful
medium. Henry S. Olcott, one of the founders of the Theosophical
Society, in his People from the Other World (1875) describes
remarkable séances with Compton that produced
surprising discoveries.
Olcott removed the medium’s earrings, passed sewing
thread through the perforation in her ears, and sealed the ends
to the back of her chair. He impressed his private signet on the
seals, fastened her chair to the floor with thread and wax, and
left the cabinet, firmly convinced that the slightest movement
of the medium would be sufficient to snap the threads.
A young girl who called herself ‘‘Katie Brink’’ soon stepped
out of the cabinet. Her weight varied between 52 and 77
pounds (the medium weighed 121); she sat on Olcott’s knee,
caressed him, and gave him permission to go into the cabinet
while she was outside. Her only condition was that he should
not touch the chair in which the medium was sitting. Olcott
went in, found the chair, but both the medium and the fastenings
had disappeared.
After the appearance and departure of another phantom,
an Indian warrior, Olcott went in again. He wrote in his book
Community of the Beloved Disciple Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
‘‘I went inside with a lamp and found the medium just as I
left her at the beginning of the séance, with every thread unbroken
and every seal undisturbed. She sat there with her head
leaning against the wall, her flesh as pale as marble, her eyeballs
turned up beneath the lids, her forehead covered with a
deathlike dampness, no breath coming from the lungs, and no
pulse at her wrist. When every person had examined the
threads and seals, I cut the flimsy bonds with a pair of scissors
and, lifting the chair by its back and seat, carried the cataleptic
woman out into the open air of the chamber. She lay thus inanimate
for eighteen minutes, life gradually coming back to her
body, until respiration and pulse and the temperature of her
skin became normal.’’
Given the present perspective on such materialization occurrences
and Olcott’s own incompetence as an investigator, in
spite of the presence of 11 other people at the séance, there was
every reason to believe that he had simply been unable to detect
the fraud. A skeptical view would be that Compton relied
on confederates, both to impersonate spirit forms and to move
her and the chair in and out of the cabinet without breaking the
seals, using a duplicate empty chair to suggest that the medium
had been transformed.
Observers were somewhat confounded by events during the
séances. It seemed as impossible to duplicate what they saw in
a mundane manner as it was for a spirit to accomplish the task.
The body of the spirit seemed to be Compton’s. However, a
transfiguration involved complete change of stature and bulk.
She was variously elongated, compressed, became thin and
then corpulent, and her impersonation of the departed was so
perfect that the presence of the spirit was accepted, especially
since she had intimate knowledge of personal circumstances in
every such case.
Now and again, in an attempt at exposure, she was seized.
In such cases she seemed to resolve into her original form, and
became Elizabeth Compton again in a second of time. Such seizures,
however, were always followed by her collapse.
Later, Dr. John Ballou Newbrough, a Spiritualist medium
himself, reported on a séance. He used shoemaker’s wax-end
in fastening Compton to the chair and nailed the ends to the
wall and her dress to the floor. The medium, dress, and nails
disappeared during the materialization of a phantom outside.
When she was discovered in her chair again, careful measurements
revealed that the nails were in new places, the knots had
been changed or untied, and the had been seals removed and
returned to their places.
Olcott, Henry S. People from the Other World. Hartford,
Conn. American Publishing, 1875.