The clash between the champions of scientific skepticism and supernaturalism.
Harry Houdini (1874-1926) was best known as the world’s most famous magician during his lifetime, and also as a tireless debunker of false mediums and dishonest claims of profit-driven supernaturalists. He followed a simple strategy, one that’s the fundamental basis of the scientific method: Work hard to falsify all new hypotheses, and maintain a mind open to all new evidence. Sadly for Houdini, this meant testing what could have been one of the most important personal relationships to the history of public understanding of science.
Much has been made of the friendship between Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur would seem to have been a man of science and rational thought, but he was a lifelong steadfast believer in the supernatural. In fact, it was something that was at the forefront of his attention much of the time. One of the most telling events in Sir Arthur’s career came when he was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, which is often criticized for being composed mainly of true believers in the paranormal, and not all that interested in objective research. In the 1920s, Sir Arthur led a mass resignation of 84 members of the Society, on the grounds that it was too skeptical. The staunchest of the resignees joined the Ghost Club, of which Sir Arthur was a longtime member. The Ghost Club made no apologies for being fully dedicated to the supernatural as an absolute fact. In addition, Sir Arthur’s wife, Lady Doyle, was a medium who often conducted séances appearing to be in communication with the dead, and Sir Arthur was absolutely convinced of the reality of her ability.
Despite a radical difference of opinion, Houdini and Sir Arthur managed to keep their friendship alive for some years, each often writing to the other of their mutual respect, their agreement to disagree, and the value of honesty and integrity in one’s own beliefs — neither man ever doubting the other’s sincerity; at least for a while.
In the spring of 1922, Houdini invited Sir Arthur to the home of his friend Bernard Ernst, a lawyer in New York, in an effort to show him that even the most amazing feats of mediums could be accomplished by skilled — albeit earthly — trickery. He had good reason to sway Sir Arthur if he could; Sir Arthur was passionately engaged in promoting the supernatural to his vast worldwide audience, a public disservice if there ever was one, as honestly intentioned as it was. Houdini prepared a magic trick, one that’s familiar to any practitioner of the art. He had Sir Arthur go outside in private and write a simple note that there’s no way Houdini could have seen; and then upon his return to the room, Houdini had a cork ball soaked in white ink magically roll around on a slate and spell out the very note Sir Arthur had written. Sir Arthur was aghast. Houdini wrote him: . . .
Also See: An Actual Recording Of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Spirit” From A 1934 Séance (io9.com)
We all have that friend. You know the one. He believes in cities on the dark side of the moon, angels, and insane conspiracy theories. Occasionally, he’ll come across a picture of the “supernatural” he found on a website and self-righteously point to it as proof that the universe runs on crazy. Well, next time he tries that, go ahead and mention these cases of the paranormal that are anything but.
10 • The Surgeon’s Photo
The surgeon’s photo is the most famous picture of the Loch Ness monster, and it almost single-handedly started the Loch Ness craze. Whenever anyone thinks of Nessie, it’s undoubtedly this image they picture. It was allegedly taken by a gynecologist and his wife who were on holiday, driving along the banks of Loch Ness. Unfortunately for all the “scientists” who’ve wasted decades investigating Nessie, the photo was 100 percent fake.
The monster in the picture is simply a toy submarine. The plot to create the fake photo was revenge for a slight by the Daily Mail. The newspaper had ridiculed a man named Wetherall after investigating what he claimed were Nessie’s footprints on the bank but turned out to be those of a hippopotamus. Wetherall and his accomplice aimed to humiliate the paper with another fake, but they kept quiet when the image captured the public imagination.
9 • Patterson’s Photo
The Patterson photo was taken by Roger Patterson and his friend Robert Grimlin. It’s probably the most famous picture of Bigfoot that exists and has been mentioned by everything from The Simpsons to Will Ferrel’s Elf. The two were on horseback in Six Rivers National Forest, where they were shooting a documentary. According to them, they just happened to see Bigfoot—while filming a documentary about Bigfoot. Unfortunately, several people have come forward to admit their complicity in the hoax. They include the man in the suit (come on, like you actually thought that was anything other than a guy in a gorilla suit), a special effects artist who created the suit, and one of the producers of the film.
8 • The Cottingley Fairies Photos
In 1917, two little girls captured the public imagination with the claim that they found fairies in their garden. Usually people wouldn’t believe such a claim from two little girls, but they had pictures to prove it. Even famous skeptic Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer of Sherlock Holmes, was fascinated by the photos. He wrote about them in his persoal magazine, claiming that they were definitely real—except they weren’t. The girls admitted (70 years later) that they used cardboard cut-outs and posed them in front of the camera. Did we mention that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes?
7 • Mulmer’s Ghost Photos
Mulmer was a jewelry engraver with a hobby in photography. Oh, and he also took photos of people with their dead relatives hovering in the background. That photo above? That just happens to be Abraham Lincoln’s widow. No prizes for guessing who the tall, bearded man behind her is. However, not everybody was convinced that Mulmer was photographing real dead people. A court case pointed out that the effect was easily achieved by double exposing film, and most of the ghostly figures were still alive and had recently sat for photos with Mulmer themselves.
6 • The Venusian Scoutcraft
The Venusian scout ship was photographed by George Adamski, who claimed he was contacted by Venusians on multiple occasions. Despite Adamski’s claims sounding like the sort of science fiction that would be rejected by the SYFY channel, Adamski wrote books and conducted lectures about the multiple contacts with the deep-space Aryans and even gained an audience with the Queen of the Netherlands. Except, of course, it was all a lie. The interstellar Venusian spaceship is just a lampshade with ping-pong balls attached to it.
- Cryptozoology – Re: Lochness Monster Captured On Google Earth (disclose.tv)
- Photos of the Loch Ness Monster, revisited (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- Sheen goes looking for Loch Ness monster (vancouverdesi.com)
- Tired of looking for Big Foot? Try the Loch Ness Monster. (planetsellas.wordpress.com)