Ford, Arthur A(ugustus) (1896–1971)
American Spiritualist medium and founder of the International
General Assembly of Spiritualists. Ford was born January
8, 1896, at Titusville, Florida. As a youth he followed a pilgrimage
that took him from Episcopalianism to the Baptists to
Unitarianism and finally to the Disciples of Christ. He attended
Transylvania College, a Disciples of Christ school in Lexington,
Kentucky. Ordained as a Disciples minister, he served a church
in Barbourbville, Kentucky.
Ford realized his psychic abilities during World War I. While
in the army he would ‘‘hear’’ the names of people he served
with, and those names would appear on the casualty lists several
days later. In the years after the war he investigated psychic
phenomena and eventually joined the Spiritualists. Around
1921 Ford emerged as a trance medium, and ‘‘Fletcher,’’ his
control for the rest of his life, made his first appearance in
trance sessions. He developed a popular following and in 1927
traveled to Great Britain. One of his lectures was attended by
veteran Spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who enthusiastiEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Ford, Arthur A(ugustus)
577
cally told people the next day, ‘‘One of the most amazing
things I have ever seen in 41 years of psychic experience was
the demonstration of Arthur Ford.’’
Ford founded a congregation in New York City, but soon
experienced conflict with the National Spiritualist Association,
the main Spiritualist organization of the time. Ford had come
to believe in reincarnation, a belief the association rejected.
After many years of tension, in 1936 Ford led in the founding
of the General Assembly, which had a more open perspective
on reincarnation.
Ford achieved fame far beyond the Spiritualist community
in 1928 by allegedly breaking the secret code between the late
Houdini and his wife Beatrice. Houdini had arranged with his
wife that if he died before she did he would attempt to communicate
through a secret code known only to them. Arthur Ford
is credited with revealing that code through his control,
‘‘Fletcher.’’
As a result of a tragic auto accident in 1931, in which his sister
died, Ford was severely injured and became addicted first
to morphine and then to alcohol. In his autobiography Nothing
So Strange (1958) he states that it took him 20 years and much
suffering to overcome his addiction. (In fact, he never overcame
his addiction and suffered from alcoholism until the end
of his life.)
In spite of his affliction he impressed numerous people with
his abilities, including prominent researchers William McDougall
and William G. Roll, Jr. of the Psychical Research Foundation.
He also traveled widely to demonstrate his mediumship
and in Britain visited the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical
and Spiritual Studies. In 1955 Ford was active in the formation
of a similar organization in the United States, the Spiritual
Frontiers Fellowship, now the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship.
In 1967 Ford again came into public prominence during a
television discussion on life after death, when he went into a
trance and delivered several messages to Episcopal bishop
James Pike. One claimed to be from Pike’s son and another
from the prominent theologian Paul Tillich. Duly impressed,
Pike later publicly affirmed his belief in the reality of psychic
phenomena in his book The Other Side (1968). The television
program also revived public interest in Spiritualism and psychic
phenomena, and within a month Ford received more than
12,000 letters. It was only after Ford’s death that Allen Spraggett
and William Rauscher, while compiling materials for his
biography, discovered his notes for the session among his papers,
revealing the fact that he faked the famous séance.
Ford died in Miami, Florida, January 4, 1971. Shortly after
his death, Ruth Montgomery claimed to have received messages
from Ford, which were later published in her book A
World Beyond (1971).
The most decisive incident in evaluating Ford’s mediumship
seems to be his relationship to the Houdini code. The evidence
for the authenticity of the code message from the deceased
Houdini received through Ford’s mediumship is
contradictory. The message itself involved a secret code that
was supposed to have been known only to Houdini and his wife.
The stage magician Dunninger, however, claimed that the code
had been published earlier.
The testimony of Houdini’s widow is contradictory. She was
said to have told a reporter that she did not know what the message
would be, although she later wrote an impassioned private
letter to columnist Walter Winchell stating emphatically that
the message received from Ford was definitely the one agreed
upon with Houdini and that she had not previously revealed it
to Ford. She insisted it was not a fraud, as some had claimed.
However, New York Graphic reporter Rea Jaure, in a story
headlined ‘‘Houdini Message A Big Hoax!’’ (January 10, 1929)
stated that Ford had come to her apartment for an interview
and admitted that Mrs. Houdini had supplied the code to him.
Jaure produced two witnesses who confirmed her story with
sworn statements. Ford’s attorney produced three witnesses
who affirmed that Ford had been elsewhere at the time of the
claimed interview. An anonymous man stated that he had been
paid to impersonate the medium.
Sources
Christopher, Milbourne. Mediums, Mystics & The Occult. New
York Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.
Ford, Arthur. The Life Beyond Death. New York G. P. Putnam’s
Sons, 1971.
———. Nothing So Strange. New York Harper, 1958.
———. Spiritual Vibrations. New York H.P.B. Publishers,
1926.
———. Unknown But Known. New York Harper, 1968.
———. Why We Survive. Cooksburg, N.Y. 1952.
Montgomery, Ruth. A World Beyond. New York Coward, McCann
& Geoghegan, 1971.
Spraggett, Allen, with William V. Rauscher. Arthur Ford, The
Man Who Talked with the Dead. New York New American Library,
1973.
Tribbe, Frank, ed. An Arthur Ford Anthology Writing By and
About America’s Sensitive of the Century. Nevada City, Calif. Blue
Dolphin, 1999.