Sunday, 15 July 2012

Paranormal Investigators:Past and Present: Harry Price

The Godfather of the Paranormal
Harry Price

Born in London, England in 1881, Harry Price was to become one of the most controversial figures in London in the 1920's and 1930's.
Armed with a passion for investigating paranormal events, and exposing frauds, Harry also had a flair for getting public attention brought to his investigations, research and reveals.
He is the precursor to today’s “modern” ghost hunter, using gadgets and science to prove, or disprove, psychic and paranormal phenomena.

At the age of 15, Harry and a friend gained permission to stay overnight in an allegedly haunted house in Shropshire, in the West Midlands of England. It was this night that would shape the rest of Harry Price's life. During the overnight stay, Harry and his friend heard a number of noises that indicated a spirit or ghost may be present in the house, when Harry tried to take a photo, he found in his over-excitement that he had loaded too much flash powder into his camera, that caused the photo he tried to take of the ghost not work. This one event would change life direction.

One of Harry's earliest writings is that of a play he wrote for his own “Carlton Dramatic Society” detailing his experiences inside the house where he had an experience with the poltergeist.

It was around the same time Harry developed an interest in magic, illusion, hypnotists and fortune tellers. His obsession led him to learn whatever he could about the “magic arts”, and to become a very a very skilled magician himself. In later life this would lead to Harry becoming a member of the “Magic Circle” and “society of American Magicians”.
These skills would, in-turn, give Harry insight into debunking and exposing various acts of trickery and fraud whilst investigating phenomena.

Harry Price also had a keen interest in archaeology, in 1908 he moved to Pulborough in Sussex where he had begun writing for the the “West Sussex Gazette” and the “Southern Weekly News” about antiquities.
It was also in 1908 that Harry married his fiancee, Constance Mary Knight who would be his companion until death.

In 1920 Harry joined the “Society for Physical Research”, already known as a leader in this field, it was from here that the reputation of Harry Price grew exponentially, one case would promote him into the public eye in England and abroad.
As a representative of the “Society of Physical Research”, Harry would expose “Spirit Photographer” William hope as a fraud.
William Hope specialised in taking photos of people that would feature a dead relative in the final print, Harry Price, whilst visiting Mr Hope, Harry secretly switched the photographic plates Mr Hope was using, revealing that William hope had been using pre-prepared photographic plates for his “spirit photos”.
After making public his findings, Harry Price's became somewhat famous, whilst William Hope faded into obscurity.

It was also in 1922 that Harry, along with other notable members of the Society, travelled to the home of Baron Albert von Schrenck-Notzing in Munich, Germany to investigate the noted psychic medium Willi Schneider [1], Harry was now an International Investigator.

In 1923 Harry made an offer to the University of London to equip the university with a “Department of Physical Research”, The University of London Board of Studies in Psychology replied with a positive answer and a collection of books and equipment was loaned from the National Library, as well as Harry Prices own collection. Many years later, in 1934, the National Laboratory of Physical Research, holder of Harry Prices collection was renamed as the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, with Harry and as Honorary Secretary and Editor.

1927, Harry Price became a member of the “Ghost Club”, it was also in 1927 that Harry claimed to have Joanna Southcotts “box” [2]. Inside the box, it was claimed, were a number of prophecies written by Southcott. Harry set about opening the box only to find it contained some unimportant papers, a lottery ticket and a horse-pistol. It has since been disputed by followers of Southcott that the box Harry opened was indeed the true box of Joanna Southcott (We will be following up on Joanna Southcott in another future post)

In 1932, upon hearing Harry Price had a copy of the “Black Book” a hand written manuscript that involves many magical practices and rituals, written in the 1500's, The Harz Goethe Centenary Committee invited Harry to Germany to be involved in the centenary celebrations of poet the Goethe, recreating the ritual. The experiment became known as “ The Brocken Experiment”.
Goethe had written an intensive study based on a ritual called “Blocksberg Tryst”in the book Harry now owned. The classical scene is known as “Walpurgisnacht” in the play “Faust”.

Harry set about re-creating the experiment for Goethe's centenary. The following extract is from Harry's own writings:

Where the Bloksberg Tryst differs from similar experiments is that it can be effective only at a certain spot (on the Brocken 'neer the Granit Altar') and only during a full moon. And the apex of the triangle has to point to the Tower of Kassel and its base to the Hexentanzplatz - a famous plateau opposite the Brocken where tradition has placed the scene of the witches' orgies. So we journeyed to the Brocken as the guests of the Harzer Verkehrsverband, determined to carry out the experiment with scientific exactitude in order to forestall any criticism by the remaining devotees of the Black Art. I was accompanied by Mr. C. E. M. Joad, whose interest in magic and psychic matters is well known.”

Harry Prices work included many famous cases, he examined Helens Duncans “ectoplasm”, which would later lead to Price giving evidence in court against Duncan, he found she had swallowed cheesecloth and regurgitated it. [3]
Harry also investigated the Karachi Indian rope trick and the fire walking abilities of Kuda Bux, but he is most often remembered for his work with Borley Rectory.
Borley Rectory

The Borley Rectory investigations were to prove the most controversial for Harry Price, and the investigation he is most often known for. Accusations of misleading and falsifying evidence for public gain and acknowledgement were aimed at Harry by the media and members of the paranormal community (which continues to this day).
Harry denied any wrong doings and presented various evidence and writings to try and disprove his accusers. He wrote various reports and books about his time at the Rectory, and even rented the rectory for a year.

Harry Price produced a large volume of work in his time including the following books
  • Revelations of a Spirit Medium 1922.
  • Cold Light on Spiritualistic "Phenomena" 1922.
  • Stella C. An Account of Some Original Experiments in Psychical Research 1925.
  • Rudi Schneider: A Scientific Examination of his Mediumship 1930.
  • Leaves from a Psychist’s Case Book, 1933.
  • Confessions of a Ghost-Hunter, 1936.
  • The Haunting of Cashen's Gap: A Modern "Miracle" Investigated 1936.
  • Fifty Years of Psychical Research: A Critical Survey Longmans 1939.
  • The Most Haunted House in England: Ten Years' Investigation of Borley Rectory, 1940.
  • Search for Truth: My Life for Psychical Research, 1942.
  • Poltergeist Over England: Three Centuries of Mischievous Ghosts, 1945.
  • The End of Borley Rectory, , 1946.

Harry Price suffered a heart attack on the 29th of March 1948 and passed away in his home in West Sussex. His archives of research, reports and anecdotes were donated by his widow in 1976 to the University Of London, where they remain to this day.

The Grave of Harry and Constance Price

To this day Harry Price remains a controversial figure, with his love of media as a means to gain more cases, and his use of devices and contraptions to garner evidence, he is the Godfather of the modern Paranormal Investigator, with a legacy and style that lives on today

A video featuring Harry Price for the BBC in England

Written and Researched By:
Allen Tiller

[1] Willi Schneider A spiritualist medium from Austria
[2] Joanna Southcott (April 1750 – 27 December 1814), was a self-describe religious prophetess
[3]"Leaves from a Psychist's Case Book - Harry Price: in a chapter called "The Cheese-cloth Worshippers"

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