Cook, Florence Eliza (1856–1904)
The famous British materialization medium whom physicist
and chemist Sir William Crookes investigated. The popular
story of her mediumship opens in 1871. She claimed to have
seen spirits and heard voices in her childhood, but this was attributed
to vivid imagination. When she was fifteen years of age
and at a tea party with friends, table-turning was proposed. She
Convulsionaries of St. Médard Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
332
at first refused to participate, but later, with her mother’s permission,
consented to the experiment. Extraordinary things
were reported, including the table being unmanageable and
Cook being levitated.
Next, while she and her mother sat at home, Florence’s
hand began to write, and a message came through in mirror
(reversed) image. It said she should go to a certain bookseller
and there inquire about the Dalston Association. A meeting
would take place in a few days and there she would make the
acquaintance of the editor of the newspaper The Spiritualist.
For some time afterward she gave séances for the Dalston
Association. She attended a few materialization sittings of the
mediums Frank Herne and Charles Williams and sat with
Herne in her father’s house. She soon gave up the Dalston séances
because the manifestations became too strong and embarrassing
for a public assembly. She was said to have been carried
over the heads of the sitters, and invisible hands were said
to have stripped her of her clothing. Mrs. Cook decided to
allow her daughter to sit only at home.
Florence often became entranced and changed personalities,
calling herself ‘‘Katie King,’’ the daughter of John King
(alias Henry Owen Morgan), the buccaneer. She promised to
remain for three years and reveal many strange things. The
promise was generously kept. The Hackney circle—composed
of Florence, her parents, her two sisters who were also mediums,
and Mary, the maid—soon became famous. The young
and beautiful ‘‘Florrie’’ gave some private sittings to Charles
Blackburn, a wealthy citizen of Manchester, and he guaranteed
her an annual retaining fee so she should be free to give her
services when required.
She was the first English medium who exhibited full materializations
in good light. The first attempt by Katie King was
made in April 1872. A face like a death mask was seen between
the curtains of the cabinet. It is curious to note from Florence’s
letter to Mr. Harrison that Katie ‘‘told us that we must give her
a bottle of phosphorescent oil because she could not get the
phosphorus that was necessary from my body because my mediumship
was not sufficiently developed.’’ The bottle of oil was
employed in the place of psychic light, and lit up Katie’s face.
At this stage of development the medium was still conscious.
Later she passed into trance.
As time went on, increased facility and practice enabled
Katie King to show herself more clearly. Her resemblance to
the medium in the materialization attempts was soon noticed.
To prove that she was distinct from Florence, Katie changed
the color of her face to chocolate and then to jet black. Moreover,
Katie King was different in stature, manner and personality.
As further proof, the medium was tied by the sitters or
sometimes by the spirits, in the cabinet.
Katie’s Separate Existence
Sir William Crookes offered what was at the time considered
decisive proof of Katie’s separate existence. The report of his
long series of experiments, conducted in the Cook home and
in his own laboratory, was published in 1874. It aroused a storm
of ridicule, sarcasm, and protests.
Prior to this, Crookes felt prompted to come before the public
in defense of Florence Cook in a curious incident. On December
9, 1873, the earl and countess of Caithness and Count
de Medina Pomar had been the guests of Mr. Cook. W. Volckman,
one of the other guests present, became suspicious of
Katie King during a séance, rushed forward, and seized her
hand and then her waist. A struggle ensued in which two of the
medium’s friends went to Katie’s aid. In the testimony of Henry
Dumphy, a barrister, Katie appeared to lose her feet and legs
and made a movement similar to that of a seal in water. She
then glided out of Volckman’s grip, leaving no trace of physical
existence. According to Volckman, she was forcibly freed.
The incontestable fact, however, was that five minutes later
when the excitement subsided and the cabinet was opened,
Florence was found in black dress and boots with the tape tightly
around her waist as at the beginning of the séance, the knot
still sealed with the signet ring of the earl of Caithness. She was
searched, but no trace of white drapery was found.
As a result of the ordeal the medium became ill, and
Crookes came forward in three letters in the Spiritualist press
citing his own experiences with her. In his first letter he states
that when Katie stood before him in the house of a Mr. Luxmoore,
he distinctly heard from behind the curtain Florence
Cook’s sobbing and moaning from the pangs of trance. The
second and third letters contained accounts of séances held in
Crookes’s own house and at Hackney.
Describing how Katie took his arm when walking, he also
noted
’’. . . the temptation to repeat a recent celebrated experiment
became almost irresistible. Feeling, however, that if I had
not a spirit I had at all events a lady close to me, I asked her
permission to clasp her in my arms so as to be able to verify the
interesting observations which a bold experimentalist had recently
somewhat verbosely recorded. Permission was graciously
given and I accordingly did—well as any gentleman would do
under the circumstances. Mr. Volckman will be pleased to know
that I can corroborate his statement that the ‘‘ghost’’ (not
‘‘struggling’’ however) was as material as Miss Cook herself.’’
On March 12, 1874, Katie came to the opening of the curtain
and summoned Crookes to the assistance of the medium.
Katie was in white. Crookes went into the cabinet and found
Cook, clad in her ordinary black velvet dress, lying across the
sofa. Katie vanished.
Later, in May, Crookes actually saw the two forms together
during the photographic experiments. To protect herself from
the injuries of the flashlight, Cook, lying on the floor, muffled
her face with a shawl. Crookes’s account stated,
‘‘I frequently drew the curtain on one side when Katie was
standing near and it was a common thing for seven or eight of
us in the laboratory to see Miss Cook and Katie at the same time
under the full blaze of the electric light. We did not on these
occasions actually see the face of the medium, because of the
shawl, but we saw her hands and feet; we saw her move uneasily
under the influence of the intense light and we heard her moan
occasionally. I have one photograph of the two together, but
Katie is seated in front of Miss Cook’s head.’’
An account of a séance on March 29 furnishes further evidence
for the simultaneous appearance of the two figures.
Katie allowed Crookes to go into the cabinet. He described his
experience
‘‘I went cautiously into the room, it being dark, and felt
about for Miss Cook. I found her crouching on the floor. Kneeling
down, I let air enter the phosphorus lamp, and by its light
I saw the young lady dressed in black velvet as she had been in
the early part of the evening, and to all appearances perfectly
senseless; she did not move when I took her hand and held the
light quite close to her face, but continued quietly breathing.
Raising the lamp I looked around and saw Katie standing close
behind Miss Cook. She was robed in flowing white drapery as
we had seen her previously during the séance. Holding one of
Miss Cook’s hands in mine, and still kneeling, I passed the
lamp up and down so as to illuminate Katie’s whole figure, and
satisfy myself thoroughly that I was really looking at the veritable
Katie whom I had clasped in my arms a few minutes before
and not at the phantasm of a disordered brain. She did not
speak but moved her head and smiled in recognition. Three
separate times did I carefully examine Miss Cook, crouching
before me to be sure that the hand I held was that of a living
woman, and three separate times did I turn the lamp to Katie
and examine her with steadfast scrutiny until I had no doubt
whatever of her objective realty.’’
He also noticed that a blister on Cook’s neck was not to be
found on Katie’s neck, and that Katie’s ears were not pierced
for earrings, whereas Cook’s were.
Of the many precautionary measures taken by Crookes to
prevent fraud, the electrical test devised by Cromwell Varley
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333
was perhaps the most interesting. The medium was placed in
an electric circuit connected with a resistance coil and a galvanometer.
The movements of the galvanometer were shown in
the outer room to the sitters on a large graduated scale. Had
the medium removed the wires, the galvanometer would have
shown violent fluctuations. Nothing suspicious occurred, yet
Katie appeared, waved her arms, shook hands with her friends,
and wrote in their presence.
As an additional test Crookes asked Katie to plunge her
hands into a chemical solution. No deflection of the galvanometer
was noticed. Had the wires been attached to Katie the solution
would have modified the current.
On May 21, 1874, Crookes witnessed the farewell meeting
between Cook and Katie behind the curtain. Katie woke Cook
from her trance. The farewell was very moving. They were talking
affectionately and the medium shed many tears. She never
saw Katie again.
After Katie departed, another spirit form, ‘‘Marie,’’ took her
place. Marie, who danced and sang in a professional style, led
to Cook’s exposure. During a séance on January 9, 1880, Sir
George Sitwell grabbed Marie, and she did not dissolve. She
was found to be the medium, wearing only her underwear, corsets,
and a flannel petticoat. The discarded pieces of garment
were brought out of the cabinet by another sitter.
According to Marryat, following this exposure Cook declined
to sit unless someone remained in the cabinet with her.
On one occasion the duty fell to Marryat. She reported being
tied to Cook with a stout rope and remaining thus fastened to
her the whole evening. Marie appeared and sang and danced
the same as before she was seized.
Because of the many trials she had to undergo, Cook, who
from 1874 was known by her married name, Mrs. Elgie Corner,
for some time gave up public mediumship. During 1899, on
the invitation of the Sphinx Society, she sat under test conditions
in Berlin.
Following Cook’s death in 1904, her husband married her
sister, Kate Cook, also a materialization medium.
Assessing Cook’s Career The Question of Fraud
The question of whether Florence Cook was a fraud has
been hotly debated and is still a matter of some interest in
parapsychological circles. The Sitwell exposure was the primary
condemnatory evidence. However, much additional material
for discussion has also been uncovered. For example, French
researcher Camille Flammarion wrote in a satiric vein that the
medium D. D. Home ‘‘gave it to me as his personal opinion
that Miss Cook was only a skillful trickster and has shamefully
deceived the eminent scientist, and as for mediums, why there
was only one absolutely trustworthy and that was himself, Daniel
Dunglas Home.’’
Crookes certainly never found the least sign of deception,
and when he was notified of the death of Mrs. Corner, in a letter
dated April 24, 1904, he expressed his deepest sympathy
and declared again that the belief in an afterlife owed so much
of its certainty to her mediumship.
Cook’s phenomena, like those of Home (also investigated by
Crookes), remain a baffling enigma. If one accepts Crookes’s
careful investigations at face value, the evidence that the materialization
of Katie King was real seems conclusive yet the possibility
of a fully materialized phantom form with all the characteristics
of a flesh-and-blood human being is difficult to accept,
and suggests impersonation by one of Cook’s sisters or another
accomplice.
Over the years, increasing attention has been given to the
hypothesis that Crookes was either highly incompetent or,
more likely, infatuated with Florence Cook to a point that
weakened his judgment or integrity. This position was supported
by a new report published in 1964 by the Society for
Psychical Research in London. In it is an account of a man
who claimed to have known the medium, and said she admitted
fraud to him. He further hinted that the medium had an affair
with Crookes. Trevor Hall, in his book The Spiritualists (1962),
hypothesized that Florence Cook was Crookes’s mistress and
that the great scientist tried to cover up the affair. Cook’s supporters
responded that such an accusation was highly speculative,
and lacked firm evidence.
Crookes made no secret of his wonder at the beauty of the
phantom Katie King, which appeared to have all the attributes
of a living being. He admitted having embraced the phantom
to verify his perception of the spirit form as flesh and blood.
Obviously, these were things it would have been prudent to
conceal if there was really an illicit affair in progress. Some
have suggested that a more plausible case could be made for
claiming that Crookes at first believed in the reality of Katie
King but later had doubts.
By then he was embroiled in an embarrassing situation from
which he could only extricate himself by insisting that his experiments
Katie King was a genuine materialized spirit form.
After the final séance with Katie King on May 21, 1874,
Crookes avoided further psychical experimentation. He became
reticent about the famous materializations and devoted
himself to physics, his research culminating in his development
of the radiometer and the Crookes tube.
Hall’s book also raises valid doubts as to the genuineness of
the Cook phenomena, notably in her association with the medium
Mary Showers, a possible accomplice in fraud. Showers
also claimed to elicit materialization of spirit forms, in particular
the phantom ‘‘Florence Maple,’’ which appeared to have
the same substantiality as Cook’s Katie King. Showers and Cook
gave a joint demonstration at the Crookes home in March
1874, when the spirit forms Florence Maple and Katie King
walked around the room linked arm in arm, laughing and talking
like real human beings. The possibility of two materialization
mediums demonstrating the phenomenon jointly at the
same séance severely strains credulity.
Also present at this remarkable séance was Sergeant E. W.
Cox, who expressed his grave reservations in a letter to The
Spiritualist (May 15, 1874)
‘‘I have seen the forms of Katie [King] and Florence [Maple]
together in the full light, coming out from the room in which
Miss Cook and Miss Showers were placed, walking about, talking,
playing girlish tricks, patting us and pushing us. They were
solid flesh and blood and bone. They breathed, and perspired,
and ate, and wore a white head-dress and a white robe from
neck to foot, made of cotton and woven by a loom. Not merely
did they resemble their respective mediums, they were facsimiles
of them—alike in face, hair, complexion, teeth, eyes, hands,
and movements of the body. Unless he had been otherwise so
informed, no person would have doubted for a moment that
the two girls who had been placed behind the curtain were now
standing in propiâ personâ before the curtain playing very prettily
the character of ghost.
’’. . .But I have one piece of evidence that goes far to throw
a doubt over the whole. At a sitting with Miss Showers a few
days ago, the curtain, behind which the form of Florence
[Maple] was exhibiting her face, was opened by a spectator ignorant
of the conditions, and a peep behind the scenes was afforded
to those present. I am bound, in the interests of truth
and science, to say that I, as well as all the others, beheld revealed
to us, not a form in front and a lady in the chair, but the
chair was empty, and the lady herself at the curtain wearing the
ghost head-dress, and dressed in her own black gown! Nor was
she lying on the floor as some have surmised. When the head
was thrust out between the curtain the eyes were turned up with
the fixed stare which has been observed in the supposed Florence
[Maple], but the eyes rapidly assumed their natural position
when the exposure was made, and the hands were forthwith
actively employed in trying to close the curtain, and in the
struggle with the inspecting lady the spirit head-dress fell off.
I was witness to it all, and the extraordinary scene that followed—the
voice crying out ‘You have killed my medium!’—an
alarm which, by the bye, was quite needless, for she was neither
Cook, Florence Eliza Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
334
killed or injured beyond the vexation of the discovery. She said
in excuse that she was unconscious of what she had done, being
[in] a state of trance.’’
Another letter by Cox to D. D. Home, on March 8, 1876
(cited in the entry on Mary Showers), strongly suggests that
both Cook and her friend Showers were frauds. The evidence
suggests but does not prove conclusively that Crookes was an
accomplice.
Sources
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
D’albe, E. E. Fournier. The Life of Sir William Crookes. London
T. F. Unwin Ltd., 1923.
Dingwall, E. J. The Critics’ Dilemma. Dewsbury, England The
Author, 1966.
Hall, Trevor H. Florence Cook & William Crookes A Footnote
to an Enquiry. London Tomorrow Publications, 1963.
———. The Spiritualists The Story of Florence Cook and William
Crookes. London, 1962. Reprint, New York Helix Press, 1963.
Reprinted as The Medium and the Scientist. 1984.
Marryat, Florence. There Is No Death. New York John W.
Lovell, 1891. Reprint, New York Causeway Books, 1973.
Medhurst, R. G. Crookes and the Spirit World A Collection of
Writing by or Concerning the Work of Sir William Crookes, O.M.,
F.R.S., in the Field of Psychical Research. London Taplinger,
1972.
Medhurst, R. G., and K. M. Goldney. ‘‘William Crookes and
the Physical Phenomena of Mediumship.’’ Proceedings of the
Society for Psychical Research 54 (1964) 25.
Thouless, R. H. ‘‘Crookes and Cook.’’ Journal of the Society
for Psychical Research 42 (1963).

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