November is here and for the past month the London Dungeon (one of London’s many tourist attractions) has been running a special Halloween entertainment entitled Séance! Punters were “transported” to 50 Berkley Square, thought by some to be the most haunted house in Britain, on an evening in 1873 when the world-famous materializing medium Florence Cook communed with the dead. Readers of my books may be aware that Florence provided the model for Lizzie, heroine of my Involuntary Medium series. Séance! (and, yes, that exclamation mark is part of the title) sounds like it might have been great fun—but based on fact?—I doubt it!
In 1871, when Florence Cook turned fifteen, she was serving her apprenticeship with two established mediums who worked collaboratively, Frank Herne and Charles Williams—and if they taught her anything, it was that her job was to thrill people, not to terrify them. And thrill them they did, in what I consider a very comical way. Here’s one example. Early in the June of that year, Herne and Williams were conducting a séance for eight sitters around a table at 69 Lamb’s Conduit Street, when the voices of Katie King and her father were heard in the darkness (Katie, I should explain, was Florence’s spirit guide; Herne’s was Katie’s father). Katie offered to produce a gift for the group in the form of an apport (yes, the word existed long before J. K. Rowling used it). One of the sitters suggested—half jokingly—that she bring them Agnes Guppy, an extremely stout medium who lived some miles away in the London suburb of Highbury.
Katie laughed—everybody laughed—and though her father protested that she really oughtn’t to, she agreed to try. Suddenly there was a loud thump; somebody screamed. When one of the company had the presence of mind to light a lamp, there on the table in front of them, apparently in some kind of trance, was perched the stout Mrs Guppy in a state of semi-undress, account book and pen still in hand. Not exactly scary, then, but perfectly thrilling. I certainly hope the producers of Séance! saw fit to include it in their show!
At that point in time, spirit guide Katie King was merely a disembodied voice in the dark. It took another year or so before Florence was finally able to manifest her. And when she did? Well, she talked mainly about her worldly life when she was alive, and of her mission in this world now that she was in spirit. You can read more about Florence Cook right here on my website. I’m proud to say that it’s one of the finest articles about her you will find online.
Finally, as a small token of my thanks for taking the trouble to find this page, I’d like to offer you a copy of my book Why the Victorians Saw Ghosts – An Illustrated Guide to 19th Century Spiritualism. You’ll find Florence Cook’s story there, along with many others. Download it for free from Smashwords.com. When it comes time to pay, just use coupon code: TD22X. A word of warning: opt for the ePub version if that happens to be a format you can use; for technical reasons beyond my control it is vastly superior to the MOBI on offer.
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