December 15, 2017
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Spirit-WorldOn this day in 1930, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died, at the age of seventy-one. Although Conan Doyle continued to write Sherlock Holmes stories throughout his last decade, many agreed with T. S. Eliot that the unstumpable hero showed evidence of "mental decay." Because Conan Doyle had devoted that decade and more not to fiction but to his obsession with spiritualism -- seances, ectoplasmic quiverings, automatic writing, etc. -- many had also begun to wonder about him. By book, pamphlet, letter-to-the-editor or lecture, across England, America, Africa and Europe, Conan Doyle had promoted his spiritualist views with missionary zeal. As early as 1918, the London Sunday Express wondered if the nation's most beloved rationalist had gone "stark, staring mad on the subject of the dead." The wonder turned to cartoons and snickering when Conan Doyle, along with many others, got hoodwinked spectacularly by the famous episode of the Cottingly fairy photographs. The father of one of the Yorkshire girls who took them knew the kids had "been up to summat," but Conan Doyle was so convinced by his photographic experts that he published a book on The Coming of the Fairies, in which he speculated on the devising of "psychic spectacles" for seeing their arrival.
Ground lost to the fairies may have been won back by the Agatha Christie case. In December of 1926, Christie mysteriously disappeared, her car found abandoned with its lights still on near her Berkshire home, her packed suitcase and driver's license inside. Though only 35, and just 5 books into her career, Christie was already famous, and heir-apparent to Conan Doyle. The mystery had made headlines for a week, and foiled all attempts at solution -- tracker dogs, spotter planes, underwater divers, civilian search (one searcher being the other heir-apparent, Dorothy Sayers) -- when Conan Doyle took action. Not by magnifying glass, or deductio findum, but by psychic. Upon pressing one of Mrs. Christie's gloves to his forehead, Conan Doyle's psychometric friend reported, "Agatha." Pressed for more, the psychic delivered this: "There is trouble connected with this article. The person who owns it is half dazed and half purposeful. She is not dead, as many think. She is alive. You will hear of her, I think, next Wednesday." He further indicated an impression of water.
And all this was true, or as provable as anything ever was about the bizarre case. Distraught over her husband's announcement that he was in love with another, Christie had found her way to a luxury spa called the Harrogate Hydropathic Hotel, where she registered by design or amnesia as Teresa Neele. The husband later reported her as extremely ill, with a three-year memory loss; the Happy Hydro Boys reported her dancing the Charleston to "Yes, We Have No Bananas." Conan Doyle reported his psychic to be correct on all counts: Christie was alive, near water, and though found on a Tuesday, revealed as so in the Wednesday papers.
Five days after Conan Doyle's death an overflow crowd at the Royal Albert Hall witnessed the medium Estelle Roberts contact him. She conveyed a message from Sir Arthur, though apparently only his wife in the front row heard it, everyone else being overmatched by a burst from an enthusiastic organist.
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