I was thinking about those ghost hunting TV shows recently and wondered what the oldest ghost hunting group on record was and it it turned into this post.
I started reading about Harry Price and thought I'd combine the two topics into one article since they are connected and I've been meaning to talk about Price here for a while.
I remember reading his book on Borely Rectory when I was a kid. I had discovered the paranormal/world mysteries section and checked it out of the library. It had an emerald green cover with just a typeface on the front and just intrigued me for some reason.
I read it before I went to sleep every night for about a week and it creeped the hell out me. (It probably wouldn't now, but I would like to pick up a copy and read it again.)
A while after that I when I was in England I actually managed to visit the site of the rectory.The rectory itself was sadly no longer there, which I knew, but it was cool to just check it off the list.
So here's today's post:
Nasci; Laborare; Mori; Nasci
The ghost club was officially established in England in 1862, born from the fervent discussions about the unexplained nature of mediums and alleged paranormal experiences between students at the Trinity College in Cambridge.
It’s not surprising that many writers and poets were members of the ghost club over the years, including Charles Dickens, W.B. Yeats and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (to name a few).
Although it was a gentleman’s club at the beginning, it would later change to include women under the suggestion of supernatural researcher, Harry Price.
It is thought of as the oldest paranormal group in history. The secretive and unusual club conducted investigations into so-called paranormal events, often explaining away and debunking many hoaxes in the search of truth. They exposed many charlatans including fake psychics and mediums, not even allowing magicians to escape their skeptical eye.
With the popularity of the spiritualist movement at the time, there were a lot of pretenders, and the ghost club was ready to expose them. Harry Price, well known for his investigations into the famously haunted (although arguably debunked) Borely Rectory, was also a member of the club in the late 1920’s (as well as a member of the Society for Psychical Research). His interest in and practice of magic was a useful tool in calling out fraudsters of the spiritualist scene and explaining away the phenomenon of séances, ectoplasm, spirit photography and spirit voices.
Price, however, was himself accused of inventing paranormal phenomena while writing his book at Borely Rectory. There existed, and still does, an argument over his credibility; however, he did conduct many an interesting investigation- A popular example of which was his investigation into William hope, the famous medium and specter photographer. Hope was in another English paranormal group called the Crewe Circle- a team that focused on spirit photography. Hope took and developed photographs of his subjects accompanied by veiled or misty ghostly apparitions floating above or nearby them; often they were supposedly the ghosts of deceased loved ones.
The deaths of soldiers in the aftermath of world war 1 in early 1900’s left many families missing loved ones, feeding the demand for services such as those offered by the Crewe circle.
(pic source: publicdomain. This is a great article check it out)
Although these days it’s quite easy to see that the spooky snapshots are nothing more than double exposure techniques and trickery, but back in the 1900’s this was not so clear, especially to those who wanted nothing more than to believe. Some people’s belief in the supernatural and their lack of experience with the technical side of photography left many bewildered.
Hope wasn’t completely believed of course, but nobody was able to expose his tricks until Price came along and revealed that Hope had been switching the slides in the darkness of the dimly lit room that he photographed his subjects in.
This was one of Prices first investigations for the Society for Psychical Research, and his experience with magic and sleight of hand aided him well. You can view Harry Price’s own report of his experience here [X]
You may just recognize some of the old black and white Victorian ghost photographs you’re familiar with as those taken by Hope and the Crewe circle, although they weren’t the only ones to take spirit pictures.
Harry Price, ever the skeptic in his approach, despite claiming to experience poltergeist activity in his younger years, would travel far and wide in the name of a good debunking.
One such event he attended lead him out to the highest peak of the Harz Mountains in North Germany known as “the Brocken” or “Blocksberg”. The whole thing was very publicized and probably orchestrated by Price, of course. The Brocken was often the backdrop to tales of the supernatural and folktales.
Annually on the 30th of April it is said that witches gather to meet there in an event called “walpurisnacht” (Walpurgis Night). The Brocken is responsible for the term “Brocken spectre” (Brockengespenst) which is a type of optical phenomena or illusion created on misty mountain tops that trick the seer into believing they are witnessing a paranormal being or cryptid.
Usually, they are simply seeing their own silhouette projected in front of and enlarged before them, often times with a rainbow aura around it. We’ve talked here about an example of this before in the short post about “the big grey man of Ben Macdhui” or “Am Fear Liath Mòr” as the yeti like creature is known. [X]
This could explain why the Harz peaks have been considered a supernatural landmark for the longest time. Harry Price found himself there investigating the claim that there existed a black magic ritual wherein a goat could be transformed into a boy.
Of course there was nothing to it. Price claimed to take down many infamous charlatans of the time throughout the span of his career, often paying those under his scrutinous eye to be tested under controlled conditions. (A controversially competative move at the time)
He exposed Helen Duncan and her egg white and cheese cloth ectoplasm, Prophet Joanna Southcott’s prophecy box (although many argue Price was not in possession of the actual box), Medium Rudi Schneider and his lack of supernatural skills, even Gef the talking mongoose didn’t escape a debunking. Price continued investigating and publishing books up until his death in 1948.
You can read much more about him at this website [X]
The ghost club is still active [X]
Public domain [X]
Price Wikipedia [X]
Senatehouse library [X]
crew circle wikipedia [X]