Crandon, Mina Stinson (‘‘Margery’’)
(1889–1941)
Famous American medium of Boston, whose phenomena
became the focus of a major controvery over fraud and physical
mediumship. Mina Stinson was born July 29, 1889 on a farm
in Princeton, Ontario. She moved to Boston in 1904 and
worked as a secretary to the Union Congregational Church. In
1910 she married Earl P. Rand, a local grocer, and bore him
a son. They were divorced in 1918, and soon afterward Mina
married Dr. L. R. G. Crandon, professor of surgery at Harvard
Medical School and author of a textbook on post surgical treatment.
‘‘Margery’’ had met Crandon when he performed surgery
on her in 1917.
Crandon was a materialist, but one day he read W. J. Crawford’s
book on the Goligher Circle, and partly as a joke, partly
out of curiosity, he began to experiment in his home. His wife,
in a chance visit to a clairvoyant, received a communication
from the alleged spirit of her older brother Walter Stinson, who
was killed in a railroad accident years before. The first sitting
in the Crandon house was held during May 1923. Out of six sitters
Margery alone was found to have the power of animating
the table. Answers were ‘‘tilted out’’ and gradually she developed
as a medium.
Raps came as the second stage and trance as the third. Joining
hands replaced table contact and Margery withdrew into a
cabinet. But the trance was only intermittent. She remained
alert for the better part of the sitting and only went into a
trance when ‘‘Walter,’’ the spirit, had a lot to say. He was in full
charge of the proceedings; messages of lesser spirits had to be
relayed through him.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Crandon, Mina Stinson
349
Automatic writing, psychic music, and finally direct voice
completed the development of Margery’s mediumship. With
the advent of the latter the trance phase was abandoned. Power
ran high and the cabinet, as a demonstration, was wrecked by
invisible hands. Clocks were stopped at announced times and
Walter’s activity was noticed all over the house.
At this stage, a Harvard group conducted the first of many
trying scientific investigations into Margery’s mediumship.
Anxiously trying to find a normal explanation for the puzzling
phenomena, the group accused Margery of using a carpet
thread to make a piano stool appear to move by itself.
The charge was soon withdrawn, but though Walter agreed
to restrict the phenomena to a single room for the purposes of
better control, no progress was made. At the end of 1923 Margery
and Dr. Crandon visited Europe. In Paris Margery sat for
Gustav Geley, Charles Richet, and others. With the strictest
control, excellent phenomena were produced.
Still more successful was a séance before the Society for
Psychical Research in London. Harry Price’s famous fraudproof
table was, in white light, twice levitated to a height of six
inches. Other sittings at the British College of Psychic Science
and psychic photography obtained with William Hope and
Ada Emma Deane established Margery’s reputation as a powerful
medium.
It appeared that while in Europe, Margery learned some of
the tricks of fraudulent mediumship and upon her return to
America, she resolved to develop materialization. Psychic
lights signalled the first phase; ghostly fingers lit up the darkness
and produced contacts; curious forms, which Walter called
his psychic pet animals, were observed; and independent writing
developed on a phosphorescent background. Materialized
hands performed pickpocketing stunts and—as a further evolution
in vocal phenomena—tunes were produced by whistling
and raps.
On April 12, 1924, the widely discussed investigation of the
Scientific American committee began. Scientific instruments
were introduced and recorded brand new phenomena.
Despite many striking demonstrations, however, the committee
came to a deadlock and the only thing approaching a
verdict was a series of individual statements published in the
November 1924 issue of the magazine. Hereward Carrington
pronounced the mediumship genuine; Harry Houdini fradulent;
Walter Franklin Prince, William McDougall, and another
fraudulent member were noncommittal.
J. Malcolm Bird, the secretary of the committee, was satisfied
after 10–12 sittings that the phenomena were genuine. McDougall
and Prince, however, even after further sittings, were
unwilling to make a public commitment, though Prince had become
convinced privately that Margery was a fraud, an opinion
he would soon publish.
Another Harvard Committee also refused a final decision,
and precise conclusions were absent from the report of E. J.
Dingwall published in the Proceedings of the Society Psychical
Research. From his sittings in January and February 1925, in
Boston, Dingwall observed that ‘‘phenomena occurred hitherto
unrecorded in mediumistic history . . . the mediumship remains
one of the most remarkable in the history of psychical
research,’’ but troubled by the possibility of undetected hoaxing,
he concluded that the mediumship ‘‘may be classed with
those of Home, Moses and Palladino as showing the extreme
difficulty of reaching finality in conclusions, notwithstanding
the time and attention directed to the investigation of them.’’
Finally, J. B. Rhine, Prince, and others published an attack
on Margery’s mediumship. Dr. Crandon defended his wife in
a pamphlet Margery, Harvard, Veritas published in 1925. The
controversy over Margery had become so intense within the
American Society for Psychical Research that the society was
split. Those who had become her detractors, including Murphy
and Prince, withdrew and founded the Boston Society for Psychic
Research.
Sittings and experiments continued through the late 1920s,
however, and two important experimental apparatus were introduced.
One, a voice-cut-out machine offered evidence that
Walter’s voice was independent of the medium and sitters. The
second, a glass cabinet, resembled a telephone booth and had
small holes on the sides for the hands, which, together with
Margery’s ankles and neck, were wired to screw eyes.
Much excitement was produced in these sittings by a series
of thumbprints obtained in wax that experts pronounced to be
fraud-proof. They were partially identified with remains found
on a razor of the thumbprints of Margery’s dead brother Walter.
It was partly by such fingerprints that R. J. Tillyard, the famous
Australian entomologist, became convinced—in a sitting
alone with Margery on July 13, 1928. These experiments were
repeated. On March 11, 1931, William H. Button, president of
the American Society for Psychical Research, obtained a
thumbprint he described as one of the best Walter prints yet
obtained.
Later developments, however, considerably destroyed this
part of Walter’s achievements. Bulletin 18 (Fingerprint Demonstrations)
of the Boston Society for Psychical Research, which
contained a foreword by Prince and three articles by E. E. Dudley,
Hereward Carrington, and Arthur Goadby, disclosed that
the Walter fingerprints corresponded exactly with those of a
Mr. Kerwin, an early sitter of the Margery circle. As the chances
of the fingerprints of two persons being identical are said to be
nil, Dudley inferred that Kerwin was ‘‘Walter.’’ As the promised
investigation by the American Society for Psychical Research
continued without a definite conclusion, Prince, in Bulletin 19
(January 1933), alleged fraud, asserting, ‘‘For six years Walter
has been claiming that the scores of issuing thumbprints, with
a few exceptions, were his own, explaining the processes employed.
In the light of the proved facts that claim is fraudulent.’’
The cross-correspondence, devised by Walter and reported
by Dr. Mark Wyman Richardson in Psychic Research
(May–September 1928) provided more evidence for evaluation,
as they seemed to be methodologically sound and provided
a fraud-proof technique to bar any eventual allegation of a
collusion between experimenters and automatist.
The cross-correspondences occurred in March, 1928; several
Chinese scripts came through. R. F. Johnson, of the Society
for Psychical Research, attacked them and concluded that
‘‘whoever the communicator on this occasion may have
been, he was certainly not the great Chinese sage (Confucius)
whose name he adopted. It is also too obvious to need emphasis
that the style of the writing is not ancient, that the whole contents
of the script consist of ordinary modern Chinese written
by a very poor scribe; that both pages of the script contain not
a single word or line (barring a trifling exception) that is not
a quotation.’’
Johnson’s critique was answered by Malcolm Bird, who was
research officer of the American Soceity for Psychical Research
(ASPR). In an article in Psychic Research (August 1929), he
pointed to important, unconsidered facts. First, he noted that
the scripts did not identify their author as Confucius. Walter
never made such a claim. He declared that Chinese spirits, the
disciples of Confucius, helped him to get the test through. The
important point, he said, was that the scripts were supernormally
produced.
Margery delivered the first Chinese script on March 17,
1928, in red light, with closed eyes. She did not know Chinese,
nor did the sitters. The very reason of the test was to demonstrate
that minds other than the medium and sitters were at
work. At the next séance, on March 22, two columns of Chinese
were written in total darkness, on specially marked paper. Walter
announced that he would try a Chinese-English crosscorrespondence
with Henry Hardwicke, of Niagara Falls, a distance
of 450 miles from Boston. He asked Bird to pick out a
sentence, which should be given through Hardwicke in ChiCrandon,
Mina Stinson Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
350
nese. Bird chose ‘‘A rolling stone gathers no moss.’’ The sitting
was hardly over when a telegram arrived from Niagara Falls. A
few days later it was followed by the original witnessed copy of
Hardwicke’s script. It showed a Maltese cross within the circle,
a rectangle enclosing the name Kung-fu-tze, the symbols for
Bird and Hill, and the Chinese sentence, the general meaning
of which was, ‘‘A travelling agitator gathers no gold.’’ Johnson’s
analysis revealed further important element. In the left hand
column are found the words, ‘‘I am not dead, Confucius.’’ The
duplicate of this is in the right hand column of the Margery
script of March 17.
In addition to that of Hardwicke, cross-correspondences
were effected in Chinese through Sarah Litzelmann, who knew
no Chinese either and lived in Ogunquit, Maine, a distance of
80 miles from Boston. Never before had she been in a trance.
In The Story of Psychic Science (1930), Hereward Carrington
thus summarized his own conclusions about Margery
‘‘It certainly is one of the most baffling and extraordinary
cases in history—and this is true, no matter how we choose to
regard it. For my own part I occupy the same position as I did
when rendering my formal Report in the Scientific American,
which is that, despite the difficulties involved in arriving at any
just estimate of this case, and despite the uncertainty of many
of the phenomena and the complicated social, ethical, personal,
physical and psychological factors involved, a number of
seemingly genuine, supernormal manifestations yet remain,
which are of the profoundest interest to psychical, as well as to
ethico-sociological science.’’
As parapsychology has moved forward in its appraisal of
Margery and other materialization mediums, however, Carrington’s
hesitancy appears to be a mixture of credulity and a
will to believe.
Few today would attempt a defense of Margery. Possibly the
final blow to her reputation came when it was revealed that in
1930 J. Malcolm Bird had submitted a report to the American
Society for Psychical Research indicating that he was not only
convinced that a measurable portion of the phenomena were
fraudulently produced, but that he had been asked to participate
in creating it. Shortly after producing that report, Bird resigned
and disappeared. The American Society for Psychical
Research, which had become committed to Margery, suppressed
the report and published another in its place.
Mina Crandon died on November 1, 1941.
Sources
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Bird, J. Malcolm. Margery the Medium. Boston Small, Maynard,
1925.
Murchison, Carl A., ed. The Case For and Against Psychical Belief.
Worchester, MA Clark University, 1927. Reprint, New
York Arno Press, 1975.
———. Psychical Belief. Worcester, Mass. Clark University,
1927.
Tabori, Paul. Companions of the Unseen. London H. A. Humphrey,
1968. Reprint, London Souvenir Press, 1972.
Tietze, Thomas R. Margery. New York Harper & Row,
1973.