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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 21.3 > When Scientific American Put Psychics to the Test

When Scientific American Put Psychics to the Test

Review of The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher
Crown, New York 2015 448 pp. $28.00 ISBN 13-978-0307451064

According to the séance record, the table pushed [a sitter] out of the den, through the dark corridor, and into the…bedroom … Were four respected physicians and their wives collectively hallucinating? (123)

CAN THE DEAD TALK TO THE LIVING? Can it happen with worldwide press coverage and with the future of psychical research on the line? In 1924, Scientific American magazine, which often exposed charlatans, offered a contest seeking proof of testable séance phenomena. Several candidates were dismissed before the magazine’s judges chose the wife of a Boston surgeon, medium Mina Crandon, known to the public as Margery. During her séances tables moved mysteriously and a Victrola started and stopped without anyone visibly touching them—all this apparently caused by the medium’s dead brother Walter, whom she channeled. Scoffers became converts. Historical context (from the Old Gold brand cigarettes nervously smoked by one of the investigators, to the hit song of the day “Yes! We Have No Bananas”), dramatic tests, and ensuing controversies are engagingly presented by David Jaher in The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. His prose brings the past to life, despite being weak when it comes to precise dates. The book seemed at first reading to be highly credulous, even though the details it presents, taken together, indicate consistent fraud by Margery.

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INTERNET PORNOGRAPHY SPECIAL SECTION: IS PORNOGRAPHY BAD FOR YOU?; How Porn Is Messing with Your Manhood; Skeptical of Porn Skeptics; Hazards of Herbal Medicine: Lessons from Aristolochia; What is Sexual Orientation?; Did a Teenager Discover an Ancient Mayan City on Google Earth?; Paleo Diets and Utopian Dreams; Does AA Work? Alcoholics Anonymous, 12-Step Programs, and What We Really Know About Substance Abuse Treatment; The Clash of Eschatologies: The Role of End-Times Thinking in World History; Nightmares from the Id: The Neurophysiology of Anomalous Psychological Experiences; Terror Attacks that Never Were; Electromagnetic Fields and Parental Panics: A Case Study in How Science Can Bring Comfort; REVIEWS: Who Invented Science?; Science and the Creation of the Modern Mind; Heaven Is Not For Real; When Scientific American Put Psychics to the Test; JUNIOR SKEPTIC: MammothMysteries! Part One. The Hidden History of Mammoths and Mastodons
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