Holmes, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson (ca. 1874)
Materialization mediums of Philadelphia who claimed
‘‘Katie King’’ and ‘‘John King’’ as their controls. The claim
was supported by Henry T. Child, another medium, who published
particulars of the two controls’ corporeal lives as privately
communicated to him in his study.
In 1873 the Holmeses—of longstanding good reputation—
traveled to England, where they were charged with dishonorable
attempts to raise money. The accounts of their powers of
mediumship varied between séances. One family recognized a
spirit face as that of a departed relative; in an account of that
experience in The Spiritualist, the Reverend Stainton Moses,
stated that the light was good and the face was only a few feet
away from the sitters. After their return to the United States,
a General Lippitt publicly endorsed the Holmeses’ mediumship
in The Galaxy in December 1874.
The Holmeses’ fall from grace is amply demonstrated in the
change undergone by their once-powerful advocate, Robert
Dale Owen, who initially wrote
‘‘I have seen Katie on seven or eight different occasions, suspended,
in full form, about two feet from the ground for ten
or fifteen seconds. It was within the cabinet, but in full view; and
she moved her arms and feet gently, as a swimmer upright in
the water might. I have seen her, on five different evenings, disappear
and reappear before my eyes, and not more than eight
or nine feet distant. On one occasion, when I had given her a
calla lily, she gradually vanished, holding it in her hand; and
the lily remained visible after the hand which held it was gone;
the flower, however, finally disappearing also. When she reappeared
the lily came back also, at first a bright spot only, which
gradually expanded into a flower.’’
On November 2, 1874, Owen additionally affirmed ‘‘I stake
whatever reputation I may have acquired, after eighteen years’
study of spiritualism, as a dispassionate observer upon the genuine
character of these phenomena.’’
Nevertheless, a month later, on December 6, 1874, he declared
in The Banner of Light ‘‘Circumstantial evidence, which
I have just obtained, induces me to withdraw the assurances
which I have heretofore given of my confidence in the genuine
character of certain manifestations presented last summer, in
my presence, through Mrs. and Mr. Nelson Holmes.’’
A similar notice was published by Henry T. Child.
The reason for the sudden change was the revelation that
Eliza White, the Holmeses’ landlady, claimed that she had impersonated
Katie King by slipping in through a false panel of
the cabinet. A demonstration of the impersonation was given
to Owen and Child. The newspapers made a great sensation of
the exposure. The Holmeses appeared to have been ruined.
Then Henry Olcott came to the rescue. He investigated and
soon discovered very serious discrepancies in White’s story. Affidavits
were given to him alleging White’s bad moral reputation
and dishonest nature. A New Jersey justice of the peace testified
to having heard White singing in another room while
‘‘Katie King’’ appeared before Owen and Child.
General Lippitt told of a thorough investigation of the cabinet
with a professional magician who was satisfied that there
was no chance of any trick. Letters were produced by the
Holmeses that spoke against the probability of any conspiracy
between them and Eliza White. On the contrary, they proved
that White tried to blackmail them much earlier by threatening
to claim that she impersonated ‘‘Katie King.’’
Additional evidence also seemed to vindicate the Holmeses
At the time of the mock séance before Child and Owen, the
Holmeses had a real séance with 20 people at which the spirits
On the basis of these facts, and allowing for the dubious part
that Child appeared to have played in the affair, Olcott concluded
that the Holmeses should be tested again without reference
to the past. This he did. He netted a cabinet to proof it
against surreptitious entry and put Mrs. Holmes into a bag tied
around her neck. The experiments were repeated in his own
room. Olcott became satisfied that Mrs. Holmes was a genuine
and powerful medium for materializations, an opinion he affirms
in his book People from the Other World (1875). General
Lippitt shared his conclusions.
Olcott, Henry Steele. People from the Other World. Hartford,
Conn. American Publishing, 1875.

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