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"The Boom in Spooks" from Saturday Evening Post

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Saturday Evening Post
The Boom in Spooks
by Ellis Parker Butler

Heretofore I have treated spooks most disrespectfully, but I am beginning to see that I have done them a great wrong. For years I did not believe in spooks at all, but in the light of recent psychic developments I am forced to believe. Some of the things I now believe about spooks are almost beyond comprehension. Since I have taken to spooking with an attuned and sympathetic mind I have reached a state of belief that would make a horse laugh. If, in the past, I have ever written anything to hurt a spook's feelings, I now apologize. The scientific spook is coming into its own. The mystery enveloping it is clearing away.

For ages the spook has been considered in a merely dilettantish and amateurish way, and looked upon as an amusement, like the moving picture, or as a mystery, like the age of Ann; but the time has come when it must be considered in a serious scientific spirit by noted scientists with billygoat beards and highly polished craniums. Let us consider the spook scientifically and seriously. While I have not a billygoat beard, I could grow one if the hair on my chin was not so thin, and while I am not bald, I would be if the hair on the top of my head was not so thick. So, by canceling the means against the extremes, as we scientists say, I average all right. In addition to this I am so credulous that I am almost childish. I feel that I have all the requirements of a first-class spook investigator.

Professor Binks Professed Himself Satisfied That it Was Really the Deal Table That Had Hit Him.

In the first place we may put aside all the old-style haunting spooks. It has been decided that they are rats in the plumbing. No genuine spook spooks without a medium.

A medium is a fat lady of doubtful tendencies. A thin lady would do, but she would have to pad considerably, and the pads would be looked upon with suspicion by the cold eye of science. The medium is so called because she is the medium of communication between the spirit world and this crass material world where the price of meat is continually going up and never coming down. The fatter the medium the more complete the connection with the spirit world, it having been discovered that fat is one of the best conductors.

In conducting my experiments I secured one of the most adipose ladies in the spooking business. The seance took place in a room with cement floor and walls. To avoid all chance of trickery, a cabinet was built in this room, lined with black and hung with curtains, and during the entire seance two friends of the medium remained in the cabinet to see that no confederates were hidden in it. To show her utter independence of the cabinet, the medium seated herself on a strong chair with her back to the cabinet, and far enough away so that she could reach in and pinch her friends, should they relax their tireless vigilance at a critical moment. That all might be in plain sight, four strong electric lights were hung just above the medium's head, and these lights were wrapped in eight thicknesses of black velvet, that their glare might not confuse the sight of the investigators. The medium's press agent and her business manager then seized her knees in a strong grip, thus preventing all possibility of fraud, and we were ready to venture into the hidden realm of disembodied souls. It was a thrilling moment. Science was at length meeting spooks on a purely scientific basis. Everything possible had been done to guard against fraud.

The medium's press agent's wife then turned out the electrics, and almost immediately the plain deal table, before which the medium was sitting, flew up in the air, turned upside down, hit my noted confrere, Professor Binks, on the top of his head, and fell with a clatter to the floor. By this time the medium was panting painfully, and the lights were turned on. An examination proved that the head of Professor Binks was uninjured, but that a large bowl-shaped dent had been made in the top of the table, exactly the size and shape of Professor Binks' cranium. By this time Professor Binks had recovered from the state of unconsciousness into which he had been thrown by this astounding manifestation, and professed himself satisfied that it was really the deal table that had hit him; but I was still doubtful, and I demanded that this same experiment be tried again.

Upon this Professor Binks retired from the room, saying that he was fully convinced that the medium could do all that was claimed for her, and that he did not care to see any more experiments on that head. He said he was satisfied and that the manifestation had been most striking.

A small tabouret, painted white, was then produced, and the medium called on a spirit to make it dance. It seems that this spirit is the spook of an ancient Roman, named Fido -- or Faithful -- and is one of the medium's most faithful controls. At the words "Dance, Fido," the tabouret began a weird cakewalk around the room, and after three revolutions it jumped upon the medium's lap. It was a marvelous manifestation. At the words "Down, Fido!" the tabouret jumped to the floor again and waltzed around the room twice, and then a most extraordinary example of spirit manifestation occurred. Without the slightest warning the tabouret rushed up to Professor Goozle and bit him on the leg. In the tenseness of his surprise, Professor Goozle put out his foot suddenly, bringing it in sharp contact with the underneathness of the tabouret. Upon this the tabouret yelped loudly and bit the Professor again, and then ran into a corner and whined.

Before it was possible to turn on the lights the translator -- for the medium was a Calabrian peasant lady and spoke no English -- remarked that a most remarkable example of materialization would be given immediately, and that the medium would materialize the spirit of an ancient Piute dog of the Silurian epoch. Instantly the lights were turned on, and we all stood transfixed with wonder, for not only was the dog in plain sight, but he was tied in an almost inextricable manner underneath the tabouret. This was evidently the work of real spirit hands, for no dog could tie itself to a tabouret. The medium then asked through the translator, if any one would like to speak to the Silurian Piute pup, and Professor Goozle availed himself of the opportunity. He advanced to the dog and asked: "So you are the gosh-dinged pup that bit me, are you?" It was evident that the question was not asked in a sympathetic manner, and the dog refused to answer, but put its tail between its legs and entered the cabinet hastily. Professor Goozle then said he would withdraw from the seance, as he felt that a man of his standing who had been bitten by a Piurian Silute tabouret needed no further proofs.

Up to this time, although we had seen no evidence of the slightest duplicity, the seance had yielded only such results as ordinary mediums produce, but her manager now said she would pass into a trance state, and that in this condition the spirits would speak by her mouth, and in English, a language of which the medium had not the slightest knowledge. As a preliminary proof he put the question to her frankly: "Can you speak English?" and she replied: "No, sir, not a word of it." Then he asked: "Can you understand what I am saying?" and she answered: "No, I cannot." This was taken down by our stenographer, and I have transcribed it exactly as it was spoken. We accepted this unquestionable proof that the medium knew no English, and she went into a trance state at once. The manager then said that he would now ask her certain questions, and that she would answer in English. As this was a very vital test the questions and answers were taken down by the stenographer, exactly as given here:

MANAGER: What spirit from the realms of the disembodied wishes to communicate with us?

MEDIUM: Billy d'Shake. I write-a de book. I mak-a de play. I Billy d'Shake-a d'spear.

MANAGER: Ah! William Shakespeare! Good! With whom do you wish to communicate?

MEDIUM: I talk-a to da profess. I talk-a to da Profess Blapp. I gotta da bone-a to pick.

At this Professor Blapp, who is our renowned Shakespearean scholar and a foremost believer in the theory that Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays, and who was chosen as one of the investigators because of his good sense on that account, arose and smiled.

"Am I the man?" he asked.

MEDIUM: Sur-a! You-a da pie-face profess. You-a mak-a me sick.

MANAGER: And why does he cause you an illness?

MEDIUM: You give-a me da pain. You --

At this point, as it seemed that we were about upon the moment of a great revelation from the spirit world, the manager begged us to notice that he and the press agent were holding the medium's knees firmly, and that her knees could not possibly take part in the revelation. At the request of the scientists I examined her knees and found that they were indeed safely held. The seance then proceeded.

PROFESSOR: And why do I give you a pain?

MEDIUM: You gotta da face like-a da monk.

Here the seance was interrupted by loud exclamations of pleasure. We were all thunderstruck. Not only were the medium's knees firmly held, but her eyes were closed, and yet the voice, speaking English, had accurately described the appearance of Professor Blapp's physiognomy. We all congratulated Professor Blapp upon having his characteristic feature so distinctly described by the spirit of the immortal Shakespeare, and Professor Blapp remarked that, so far as he was concerned, he had had all the proof he needed, and that he would withdraw.

There now remained but one test to finish the evening triumphantly for the medium and her press agent -- the materialization of a human spirit. As I was the only one of the scientific investigators remaining, every care was taken to render the test free from the slightest opportunity for collusion or fraud. The electric lights were turned out, and I was handed a microscope, a stethoscope and a telescope. The manager then said that as this test would intimately concern me, and as, unless great precautions were taken, my word might be doubted by those who were well acquainted with my past record, he would proceed to bind my hands behind my back. He then did so, and placed the three instruments I have mentioned in my hands. I was then tied to a heavy chair and ropes wound around my ankles, drawing my feet under the chair, and the ropes fastened to the chandelier. In this position it was easily seen that I could not be accused of taking anything but a passive part in what was to follow.

All was intense interest by this time. The press agent and the manager grasped the medium by the knees. The medium's two friends poked their heads out of the cabinet and said: "Are you ready?" "Yes," said the medium, in a faint voice. The two heads immediately withdrew into the cabinet, but one of them was stuck out again an instant later. "Shall we soak the old guy on the head?" it asked. The medium seemed to consider for a moment and then she answered, in a dull whisper: "No, his head is too soft. You might squash it in. If he gets gay biff him one in the jaw." She then reclined and tranced off, and the lights were turned out.

There was a moment's silence, and then a muffled voice in the cabinet said in a low but vexed tone: "Say, I can't find my nightie," and another voice said: "Well, I ain't got it, have I?" And the other replied: "Well, I can't be nobody's grandfather without a white nightie, can I? " And the other replied: "Oh, shucks! You don't need none for that goop out there."

At this the manager temporarily released his hold on the knees of the medium and stuck his head into the cabinet. "Look here!" he said in a tense voice, "if you spooks don't shut up and get busy, you get fired tomorrow, see? Now, get a move on!"

I was thoroughly in harmony with the manager in this, for I felt that some great manifestation of spirit power was about to be shown. My pulse was attuned to the mysterious. Almost immediately the manager went back to the knees, and the black curtain swelled out from the cabinet as if a wind was blowing it. I heard a weird sound like a pair of squeaky blacksmith's bellows, but it was probably the tense emotion of the medium. In the blackness before the cabinet I then saw what appeared to be a dull-white shape floating in the air toward me, at a height of perhaps a sixteenth of an inch above the floor. There was positively no room for deception. Even the manager, cold business man as he was, was moved by the sight, and I heard him utter a low exclamation to the ghost, and the first words the ghost spoke were to him, and full of mystery. As nearly as I could make them out they were: "Well, I know I look like the dickens in a shirt and drawers, but I told you I couldn't find my nightie, didn't I?" The medium then uttered three words in what I presume to be her native Calabrian tongue. They sounded like "Oshuttup an' gowan!"

At this the ghost moved toward me and pressed a cold, clammy hand upon my brow. I shivered.

"Who and what are you, O mysterious shape?" I asked.

In dull, sepulchral tones came the answer:

"I am your late ancestral grandfather on your father's side, Peter Oshkosh Diggles. Don't you recognize me? I recognize you, Philander Diggles."

"Grandfather!" I exclaimed.

"Grandson," said the spirit, "clasp me by the hand!"

"Grandfather," I said with emotion, "I can't! My hands are tied. I can't get them loose."

"Well, now, you want to be sure of that, if you want me to go ahead. You want to be mighty sure! Try them."

I made a mighty effort. I could not get them loose.

"I -- I -- I --" stammered the ghost of Grandfather Diggles, and then it seemed to look back toward the past.

"In that realm --" said the medium softly.

"That's it!" said the ghost of grandfather. "In that realm from whence I come, time has merged into eternity.

There is no time. Minutes, hours, days -- they mean nothing to us. I know no time. I -- know -- no -- time. I --"

"This very evening --" said the medium gently.

"This very evening," said the ghost of my grandfather," I was called to earth again to meet you, and the time was set. The time was set and the hour was spoken. Eleven-thirty was the time and eleven-thirty was the hour. But I was late -- late -- late --"

The voice wailed.

"I was late --" said the medium softly.

My late grandfather seemed annoyed. He turned his head toward the medium.

"Don't you butt in," said my grandfather's ghost. "I know them lines all right. You let me alone!" Then he turned to me. "I was late -- late -- late -- because in that realm there is no time nor telling of time. But I knew, O grandson! that you --"

Here grandfather hit me a strong blow on the side of the face, and immediately some mysterious hand hit me a similar blow on the other side of the same face.

There was no trickery! There was no fraud! My watch was, indeed, gone!

"That you, O grandson, would look with pity upon me, I need a watch to tell time by in the eternity where I am stopping now."

Instantly a mysterious force hit me in the stomach, and as I doubled up another manifestation of spirit power struck me on the chin with terrific force. I seemed to fall into an unconscious trance state. Probably I was overcome by the greatness of the manifestation of spirit materialization.

When I recovered my senses the manager and the press agent were congratulating me upon the wonderful seance in which I had played a part, but my natural skepticism arose in me. I feared that I might be the dupe of a mere hypnotic trick. My hands, which had been untied, felt the front of my vest. There, I knew, I would find confirmation of my skepticism, or proof of the actual existence of a spirit world. I fell back like one stunned. There was no trickery! There was no fraud! My watch was, indeed, gone! It was gone! I believed!

In a few brief, concise words I told the manager and the press agent and the medium all I thought of them and of their wonderful performance, and that I was now satisfied. I told them I knew when I had had enough proof, and I would now withdraw. I said I wished to make some notes while the seance was fresh in my mind and I still had eighteen dollars in my purse inside my coat pocket. They urged me to stay and see further proofs, but I said I guessed I'd go on home. I turned, and as I neared the door a most remarkable spirit manifestation occurred; I may say the most remarkable of the whole evening. Something seemed to strike me forcefully on the back of the head, and the blow was followed by a dull clatter on the floor behind me. It was one of the most remarkable manifestations of levitation I have ever heard about. My watch -- the very watch the ghost of my grandfather Diggles had taken to the spirit, world -- had come sailing back from the spirit world. It had come across the unfathomable unknown and had hit me on the head! And why had it thus returned? Perhaps I was still unworthy. Perhaps because it was a dollar watch with brass lids. This is one of the mysteries that offer a field for future science. The scientists of the future will concentrate their intelligences upon the question: "Why do dollar watches with brass lids come back from spirit land?" It is a fertile field for science.

I think this report of the stance in which I took part will settle, once for all, any doubt as to the actual existence of spooks. Made under the most severe test conditions, it was a complete success. But science is not easily satisfied. Science must know, not guess. But this much at least is known -- billions and billions of men and women have passed into the spirit world, if there is one. All the great minds of thousands of years are gathered there -- if they are. It is no wonder, then, that I and the other scientists stand in awe and wonder when we see the mighty marvels performed by the spooks -- when we see those billions and billions of intelligences of thousands and thousands of years gather in their might and -- tip a pine table! Caesar's ghost!

Why do dollar watches with brass lids come back from spirit land?

As a subject for the investigation of sane, able-minded men I should not take spooks. I should take boarding-house hash, restaurant pie or ancient cheese. Boarding-house hash is more mysterious as a materialization of the departed; restaurant pie is more wonderful than a spook; and ancient cheese is livelier, more genial and more mobile than test tables. No scientist ever got softening of the intelligence studying old cheese, while -- but there!

A little softening of the intelligence does not harm a scientist -- if he is going to study spooks.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:17:57am USA Central
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