The Margery case is very well known in the skeptical community, and is important for a wide variety of reasons. The most important of those reasons are the people who were involved, and the fact that even believers in psychic phenomena indicated they thought there was fraud involved.
Scientific American, in the early 1920s, offered a prize to any medium who could demonstrate “physical” psychic ability (telekinesis) under scientific protocols and controls. One person who attempted to win it was Mina “Margery” Crandon. Crandon and her husband “discovered” her mediumship ability in the early 1920s and conducted séances for friends, family, and eventually others, for no charge as they were somewhat well-off financially. This helped add to her credibility in the eyes of some. Margery conducted hundreds of séances before the Scientific American testing began in 1924.
The Scientific American investigatory panel included Dr. William McDougall (Harvard University psychologist), Hereward Carrington (Society for Psychical Research [London]member and author), Dr. Walter Franklin Prince (American Society for Psychical Research member), Harry Houdini (magician), and Dr. Daniel F. Comstock (MIT physics professor). Editor J. Malcolm Bird and publisher O. D. Munn represented Scientific American, but, it seems, in an ex officio capacity.
After Margery conducted numerous séances for the panel, Houdini concluded she was a fraud using various tricks, and the Scientific American committee did not award her the prize. However, many others became involved with the case and this led to further testing by Harvard University, J. B, Rhine, and even the American Society for Psychical Research, which agreed with Houdini’s and the panel’s findings.
Further testing was repeated at Harvard, and the testers released a book in 1925 called Margery Harvard Veritas: A Study of Psychics (Boston: Blanchard Printing, 1925). This work was released with the statement:
“This little summary and record is handed to you as a juryman. It is not a plea of any kind. It is a dossier of facts. It contains a concise and verdical history of the Margery case…” (page 4). Upon closer examination, however, we see that this group actually supported Margery’s claims. One reason could be that her husband, L. R. G. Crandon, is one of the authors.
This work was another treasure I discovered while going through some materials that were part of Gordon Stein’s collection. It is unique and somewhat rare. Our copy was presented to author Alfred E. Martin and signed by Margery herself. Martin was a researcher in religion and psychic phenomenon, and was a critic of Christian Science.
Houdini, Harry. Houdini Exposes the Tricks Used by the Boston Medium “Margery” to win the $2,500 prize offered by Scientific American. New York: Adams Press, 1924.
Martin, Alfred W. Psychic Tendencies of To-Day. New York: D. Appleton, 1918.
Polidoro, Massimo. Final Séance: the Strange Friendship between Houdini and Conan Doyle. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2001.