From the book There Is No Death Florence Marryat
Her experiences with the materialized Katie King made famous by Sir William Crookes investigations
THE MEDIUMSHIP OF FLORENCE COOK
In writing of my own mediumship, or the mediumship of any other person, I wish it particularly to be understood that I do not intend my narrative to be, by any means, an account of all séances held under that control (for were I to include everything that I have seen and heard during my researches into Spiritualism, this volume would swell to unconscionable dimensions), but only of certain events which I believe to be remarkable, and not enjoyed by every one in like measure. Most people have read of the ordinary phenomena that take place at such meetings. My readers, therefore, will find no description here of marvels which-whether true or false-can be accounted for upon natural grounds. Miss Florence Cook, now Mrs. Elgie Comer, is one of the media who have been most talked of and written about. Mr. Alfred Crookes took an immense interest in her, and published a long account of his investigation of Spiritualism under her mediumship. Mr. Henry Dunphy, of the Morning Post, wrote a series of papers for London Society (of which magazine I was then the editor), describing her powers, and the proof she gave of them.
The first time I ever met Florence Cook was in his private house, when my little daughter appeared through her (vide The Story of my Spirit Child). On that occasion, as we were sitting at supper after the séances—a party of perhaps thirty people—the whole dinner table, with everything upon it, rose bodily in the air to a level with our knees, and the dishes and glasses swayed about in a perilous manner, without, however, coming to any permanent harm. I was so much astonished at, and interested by, what I saw that evening, that I became most anxious to make the personal acquaintance of Miss Cook. She was the medium for the celebrated spirit, Katie King, of whom so much has been believed and disbelieved, and the séances she gave at her parents house in Hackney for the purpose of seeing this figure alone used to be crowded by the cleverest and most scientific men of the day, Sergeants Cox and Ballantyne, Mr. S. C. Hall, Mr. Alfred Crookes, and many others, being on terms of the greatest intimacy with her. Mr. William Harrison, of the Spiritualist paper, was the one to procure me an introduction to the family and an entrance to the séances, for which I shall always feel grateful to him.
For the benefit of the initiated, let me begin by telling who Katie King was supposed to be. Her account of herself was that her name was Annie Owens Morgan ; that she was the daughter of Sir Henry Morgan, a famous buccaneer who lived about the time of the Commonwealth, and suffered death upon the high seas, being, in fact, a pirate; that she herself was about twelve years old when Charles the First was beheaded; that she married and had two little children; that she committed more crimes than we should like to hear of, having murdered men with her own hands, but yet died quite young, at about two or three and twenty. To all questions concerning the reason of her reappearance on earth, she returned but one answer, that it was part of the work given her to do to convince the world of the truth of Spiritualism. This was the information I received from her own lips.She had appeared to the Cooks some years before I saw her, and had become so much one of the family as to walk about the house at all times without alarming the inmates. She often materialized and got into bed with her medium at night, much to Florrie's annoyance; and after Miss Cook's marriage to Captain Comer, he told me himself that he used to feel at first as if he had married two women, and was not quite sure which was his wife of the two. The order of these séances was always the same. Miss Cook retired to a back room, divided from the audience by a thin damask curtain, and presently the form of Katie King would appear dressed in white, and walk out amongst the sitters in gaslight, and talk like one of themselves. Florence Cook (as I mentioned before) is a very small, slight brunette, with dark eyes and dark curly hair and a delicate aquiline nose. Sometimes Katie resembled her exactly; at others, she was totally different. Sometimes, too, she measured the same height as her medium; at others, she was much taller. I have a large photograph of Katie taken under limelight. In it she appears as the double of Florrie Cook, yet Florrie was looking on whilst the picture was taken.
I have sat for her several times with Mr. Crookes, and seen the tests applied which are mentioned in his book on the subject. I have seen Florrie's dark curls nailed down to the floor, outside the curtain, in view of the audience, whilst Katie walked about and talked with us. I have seen Florrie placed on the scale of a weighing machine constructed by Mr. Crookes for the purpose, behind the curtain, whilst the balance remained in sight. I have seen under these circumstances that the medium weighed eight stone in a normal condition, and that as soon as the materialized form was fully developed, the balance ran up to four stone. Moreover, I have seen both Florrie and Katie together on several occasions, so I can have no doubt on the subject that they were two separate creatures. Still, I can quite understand how difficult it must have been for strangers to compare the strong likeness that existed between the medium and the spirit, without suspecting they were one and the same person.
One evening Katie walked out and perched herself upon my knee. I could feel she was a much plumper and heavier woman than Miss Cook, but she wonderfully resembled her in features, and I told her so. Katie did not seem to consider it a compliment. She shrugged her shoulders, made a grimace, and said, I know I am; I can't help it, but I was much prettier than that in earth life. You shall see, some day-you shall see. After she had finally retired that evening, she put her head out at the curtain again and said, with the strong lisp she always had, I want Mrs. Ross-Church. I rose and went to her, when she pulled me inside the curtain, when I found it was so thin that the gas shining through it from the outer room made everything in the inner quite visible. Katie pulled my dress impatiently and said, Sit down on the ground, which I did. She then seated herself in my lap, saying, And now, dear, we'll have a good confab like women do on earth. Florence Cook, meanwhile, was lying on a mattress on the ground close to us, wrapped in a deep trance. Katie seemed very anxious I should ascertain beyond doubt that it was Florrie. Touch her, she said, take her hand, pull her curls. Do you see that it is Florrie lying there? When I assured her I was quite satisfied there was no doubt of it, the spirit said, Then look round this way, and see what I was like in earth life. I turned to the form in my arms, and what was my amazement to see a woman fair as the day, with large grey or blue eyes, a white skin, and a profusion of golden red hair. Katie enjoyed my surprise, and asked me, Ain't I prettier than Florrie now?
She then rose and procured a pair of scissors from the table, and cut off a lock of her own hair and a lock of the medium's, and gave them to me. I have them safe to this day. One is almost black, soft and silky; the other a coarse golden red. After she had made me this present, Katie said, Go back now, but don't tell the others tonight, or they'll all want to see me.
On another very warm evening she sat on my lap amongst the audience, and I felt perspiration on her arm. This surprised me; and I asked her if, for the time being, she had the veins, nerves, and secretions of a human being; if blood ran through her body, and she had a heart and lungs. Her answer was, I have everything that Florrie has. On that occasion also she called me after her into the back room, and dropping her white garment, stood perfectly naked before me. Now, she said, you can see that I am a woman. Which indeed she was, and a most beautifully-made woman too; and I examined her well, whilst Miss Cook lay beside us on the floor. Instead of dismissing me this time, Katie told me to sit down by the medium, and, having brought me a candle and matches, said I was to strike a light as soon as she gave three knocks, as Florrie would be hysterical on awaking, and need my assistance. She then knelt down and kissed me, and I saw she was still naked. Where is your dress, Katie? I asked. Oh, that's gone, she said; I've sent it on before me. As she spoke thus, kneeling beside me, she rapped three times on the floor. I struck the match almost simultaneously with the signal; but as it flared up, Katie King was gone like a flash of lightning, and Miss Cook, as she had predicted, awoke with a burst of frightened tears, and had to be soothed into tranquility again.
On another occasion Katie King was asked at the beginning of the séance, by one of the company, to say why she could not appear in the light of more than one gas-burner. The question seemed to irritate her, and she replied, I have told you all, several times before, that I can't stay under a searching light. I don't know why; but I can't, and if you want to prove the truth of what I say, turn up all the gas and see what will happen to me. Only remember, if you do there will be no séance tonight, because I shan't be able to come back again, and you must take your choice. Upon this assertion it was put to the vote if the trial should be made or not, and all present (Mr. S. C. Hall was one of the party) decided we would prefer to witness the effect of a full glare of gas upon the materialized form than to have the usual sitting, as it would settle the vexed question of the necessity of gloom (if not darkness) for a materializing séance for ever. We accordingly told Katie of our choice, and she consented to stand the test, though she said afterwards we had put her to much pain.
She took up her station against the drawing-room wall, with her arms extended as if she were crucified. Then the gas-burners were turned on to their full extent in a room about sixteen feet square. The effect upon Katie King was marvelous. She looked like herself for the space of a second only, then she began gradually to melt away. I can compare the dematerialization of her form to nothing but a wax doll melting before a hot fire. First, the features became blurred and indistinct; they seemed to run into each other. The eyes sunk in the sockets, the nose disappeared, the frontal bone fell in. Next the limbs appeared to give way under her, and she sank lower and lower on the carpet like a crumbling edifice. At last there was nothing but her head left above the ground-then a heap of white drapery only, which disappeared with a whisk, as if a hand had pulled it after her- and we were left staring by the light of three gasburners at the spot on which Katie King had stood.
She was always attired in white drapery, but it varied in quality. Sometimes it looked like long cloth; at others like mull muslin or jaconet; oftenest it was a species of thick cotton net. The sitters were much given to asking Katie for a piece of her dress to keep as a souvenir of their visit, and when they received it, would seal it up carefully in an envelope and convey it home; and were much surprised on examining their treasure to find it had totally disappeared. Katie used to say that nothing material about her could be made to last without taking away some of the medium's vitality, and weakening her in consequence. One evening, when she was cutting off pieces of her dress rather lavishly, I remarked that it would require a great deal of mending. She answered, I'll show you how we mend dresses in the Spirit World. She then doubled up the front breadth of her garment a dozen times, and cut two or three round holes in it. I am sure when she let it fall again there must have been thirty of forty holes, and Katie said, Isn't that a nice cullender? She then commenced, whilst we stood close to her, to shake her skirt gently about, and in a minute it was as perfect as before, without a hole to be seen. When we expressed our astonishment, she told me to take the scissors and cut off her hair. She had a profusion of ringlets falling to her waist that night. I obeyed religiously, hacking the hair wherever I could, whilst she kept on saying, Cut more! cut more! not for yourself, you know, because you can't take it away. So I cut off curl after curl, and as fast as they fell to the ground, the hair grew again upon her head. When I had finished, Katie asked me to examine her hair, to see if I could detect any place where I had used the scissors, and I did so without any effect. Neither was the severed hair to be found. It had vanished out of sight.
Katie was photographed many times, by limelight, by Mr. Alfred Crookes, but her portraits are all too much like her medium to be of any value in establishing her claim to a separate identity. She had always stated she should not appear on this earth after the month of May, 1874; and accordingly, on the 21st, she assembled her friends to say Good-bye to them, and I was one of the number. Katie had asked Miss Cook to provide her with a large basket of flowers and ribbons, and she sat on the floor and made up a bouquet for each of her friends to keep in remembrance of her. Mine, which consists of lilies of the valley and pink geranium, looks almost as fresh to-day, nearly seventeen years after, as it did when she gave it to me. It was accompanied by the following words, which Katie wrote on a sheet of paper in my presence:
From Annie Owen de Morgan (alias 'Katie') to her friend
Florence Marryat Ross-Church.
With love. Pensez a Moi. May 21st 1874.
The farewell scene was as pathetic as if we had been parting with a dear companion by death. Katie herself did not seem to know how to go. She returned again and again to have a last look, especially at Mr. Alfred Crookes, who was as attached to her as she was to him. Her prediction has been fulfilled, and from that day, Florence Cook never saw her again nor heard anything about her.
Her place was shortly filled by another influence, who called herself Marie and who danced and sung in a truly professional style, and certainly as Miss Cook never either danced or sung. I should not have mentioned the appearance of this spirit, whom I only saw once or twice, excepting for the following reason. On one occasion Miss Cook (then Mrs. Comer) was giving a public séance at the rooms of the National British Association of Spiritualists, at which a certain Sir George Sitwell, a very young man, was present, and at which he declared that the medium cheated, and that the spirit Marie was herself, dressed up to deceive the audience. Letters appeared in the newspapers about it, and the whole press came down upon Spiritualists, and declared them all to be either knaves or fools. These notices were published on the morning of a day on which Miss Cook was engaged to give another public séance, at which I was present. She was naturally very much cut up about them. Her reputation was at stake; her honour had been called into question, and being a proud girl, she resented it bitterly. Her present audience was chiefly composed of friends; but, before commencing, she put it to us whether, whilst under such a stigma, she had better not sit at all. We, who had all tested her and believed in her, were unanimous in repudiating the vile charges brought against her, and in begging the seance should proceed. Florrie refused, however, to sit unless some one remained in the cabinet with her, and she chose me for the purpose. I was therefore tied to her securely with a stout rope, and we remained thus fastened together for the whole of the evening. Under which conditions Marie appeared and sung and danced outside the cabinet, just as she had done to Sir George Sitwell whilst her medium remained tied to me. So much for men who decide a matter before they have sifted it to the bottom.
Mrs. Elgie Comer has long since given up mediumship either private or public, and lives deep down in the heart of Wales, where the babble and scandal of the city affect her no longer. But she told me, only last year, that she would not pass through the suffering she had endured on account of Spiritualism again for all the good this world could give her.