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Often forgotten is the interest that many well-known people had throughout the turn-of-the-century, 1900’s, with spiritualism and psychic phenomena. The biggest and most recognized names of that time are Houdini, (Skeptic) and Conan Doyle, (Believer) but Alexander Graham Bell and his wife Mabel were also highly interested in the alleged phenomena of psychic powers and ghostly apparitions. In 1875, while reading the pamphlets “Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism,” by N. Crookes, Mabel wrote to Alexander that she did not see, “how the conclusions the author arrives at can be explained away”. She felt that there must be “something” to the spirit world but openly criticized the spiritualist movement which she saw as a circus. She wrote to her husband, “(I) have never liked to think of it for it seems such a desecration of our holiest and best feelings that the spirits of the dead should return and perform such juggler’s tricks as moving and “tapping” furniture, talking and writing such nonsense as most mediums make them.”
One of A.G. Bell’s journals includes a report of what was called a “ghost” although it might have been something stranger…
— Some of the good people here have been much excited over the reported appearance of a ghost on Beinn Bhreagh Aug.13. In order to get at the exact facts of the case I requested a gentleman to interview the eye witnesses, and get an authentic account for the Recorder. The following is his report:—
Something of a very mysterious nature was seen by two young men on the evening of the 13th inst., while sailing in a motor boat along the shore opposite the graveyard on Beinn Bhreagh. This mysterious something appeared in the form of the fair sex; and the two young gentlemen, who had evidently been expecting two of the fair sex from the conversation which passed between them, were obliged to conclude, much to their sorrow, that only one was coming.
At this stage of the drama they were about 200 hundred yards distant, and they decided on having a closer observation of her. For this purpose the boat was headed in-shore, whereupon, to their great disappointment, she started to run at the speed of a race horse; and not content with that, she took wings, and disappeared out of their sight like a flash.
The “Silver-Dart” flow very fast, but she could not begin to compete with this odd thing whatever it may have been. However they are unable to say how it alighted. Perhaps it was of like nature to the last drop of the “Dart”; and for their part they hope it was, never wishing to see it again“.
The above report has been submitted to one of the eye witnesses, and he declares it is a satisfactory account.
For as skeptically interested as they both were about the phenomena in 1901 they felt the need, after hearing a strange story from a friend, to perform a small interview to see if there was indeed something to a phenomena much like that of a “Crisis apparitions”.
An accounting of the event was kept in the journal of Alexander Graham Bell and Mabel.
The interview is presented here in full.
From A.G.B. Journal – July 1901
Went to see Mrs. Kennan this afternoon. Mrs. Kennan told me that on Thursday the 25th, in the morning she had been writing a long letter to Mr. Kennan, and also to Mr. McCurdy and Mr. Stanley Brown, and that her mind was filled with Mr. Kennan. She says that she has been in a very nervous condition for sometime and has been anxious about Mr. Kennan, although she knew nothing had happened to him, but she was on a nervous strain to know what he was doing and how he was getting along. She sat down to luncheon, and suddenly as she sat there she had a strange feeling as if Mr. Kennan was trying to communicate with her. She simply had a very strong feeling indeed that he was trying to communicate with her. She does not know whether anything has happened or not, but I want s to write this down in case anything has happened at that time. She says she noted it down at the time herself (Thursday the 25th). – Mabel G. Bell.
Do not think Mrs. Kennan told anyone about this sensation until after she had received a telegram from Miss Farbell informing her that the New York papers had announced Mr. Kennan’s expulsion from Russia. The announcement appeared in the Boston Transcript last Friday evening the 26th inst.— Copy has been received here this evening — Monday July 29 1901. – AGB
I object to the first part of this statement as was being entirely fair. All Mr. Bell or I know is that Mrs. Kennan did was tell Daisy or we until Monday. She may have spoken of it to lots of people on the other side of the bay – Mabel G. Bell.
1901, July 30 Tuesday
Mrs. Kennan is here, and we can obtain from her own lips an account of her psychic experience the other day.
It was about one o’clock on Thursday, the 25th, I was reading in the dining room, and suddenly felt a spiritual influence as if Mr. Kennan was personally near me, and as if very anxious to communicate with me in some way. Of course it was over in an instant, but the sensation was strong enough to have left me feeling rather shaken up. That is all there was.
CROSS EXAMINATION BY A.G.B.
Did you make a note of this at the time?
No, but I spoke of it in a letter to Mr. McCurdy, on Friday, the 26th, and then I went and marked the calendar.
When did you first communicate the fact to another person or make record of it?
I don’t know, but I spoke of it to Daisy on Monday the 29th, and then we began to have a great deal of fun about it.
Then I understand that the first communication or record was made in your letter to Mr. McCurdy, which you think was written on Friday, July 26. Is that so?
I should have to look in my letter book to answer that.
Can you remember whether it was before or after the receipt of a telegram from Miss Tarbell that you wrote to Mr. McCurdy?
Afterward, because Miss Tarbell’s telegram came about half past eight in the morning. (I wrote to Mr. McCurdy on Thursday and Mr. Stanley Brown, and it was on that day that I felt that psychical influence, but I cannot remember whether I wrote Mr. McCurdy on Friday or Sunday without reference to my letter book).
Do I understand however correctly that you are sure you wrote this letter to Mr. McCurdy after receiving Miss Tarbell’s telegram and not before?
Did you make any note of the peculiar sensation in your letters to Mr. McCurdy and Mr. Stanley Brown written on Thursday the day the sensation was experienced?
No, because if I remember rightly it was after I had written the letters I felt so. I was writing all day until about three o’clock on Thursday, and I don’t remember the order that the letters were written in, and I don’t think that I spoke of the psychic sensation to anybody in the letters that day. My talk with Mrs. Bell was on Monday afternoon, and I spoke of writing Mr. McCurdy the day before on Sunday, when I am sure I did speak of having this feeling, and feeling a curiosity of knowing whether anything had occurred.
Now, what I want to get at is what was the date of that communication to Mr. McCurdy? You seem to think now it was Sunday.
I cannot answer that question without looking at the letter book.
Are you certain however that it was after Miss Tarbell’s telegram?
I am not certain about anything.
When did you receive Miss Tarbell’s telegram?
Saturday morning about half past eight (July 28)
What did Miss Tarbell say?
I cannot be accurate because I had the telegraph by telephone, and they have not sent me a copy although requested to. “Yesterday’s papers state Mr. Kennan expelled from Russia.” That is all.
Now let us see whether we can fix with definiteness for Mr. Kennan’s information the exact time that the sensation was experienced. I understand you to say that this happened on Thursday the 25th of July. Now what proof have you that it happened on that day?
All the circumstances of the morning impressed it upon my mind. I had letters in the morning mail from Mr. Stanley Brown, Mr. McCurdy and Mr. Kennan, and began to answer them as soon as I was up; writing a long business letter to Mr. Stanley Brown the first thing, then to Mr. Kennan and Mr. McCurdy, and it was just before, just after lunch, that I had this psychic impression.
Do you remember any item in the newspapers you were reading that day?
No, but Miss Caroline McCurdy had a tea party that afternoon, and I remember feeling that I wouldn’t go over excepting that I would meet Mrs. Bell there, and the idea floated through my mind that I would speak to her of this sensation. But when I got over to the tea I found Mrs. Bell just going home, and in a hurry, so I said nothing to her Afterwards I went home with Mrs. Carruth and had dinner and when I got back home and went to bed I had a great feeling of depression and anxiety about Mr. Kennan and did not sleep well, being awake many times with this feeling of anxiety.
Miss Lina McCurdy’s tea was certainly on Thursday July 25. If Mrs. Kennan has preserved the envelopes in which the letters came from Mr. McCurdy, Mr. Stanley Brown and Mr. Kennan, it might be a good plan to look at the date of the postmark on the envelopes and put them down here for Mr. Kennan. Mrs. Kennan’s lunch was between half past twelve and one by Halifax time; that would be half past eleven or twelve by eastern standard time. When Mr. Kennan returns we will try to find out from him whether anything special happened on Thursday, July 25 &c., &c., In the meantime for purposes of comparison it would be well for Mrs. Kennan to put down all she can think about relating to that sensation.
Read what Mabel was reading Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism (7MB PDF)