Skeptics of uber-medium Mrs Leonora Piper often raise the issue of the imaginary 'Bessie Beals'. In the first of a series of six sittings with Mrs Piper, the skeptical psychologist Professor Stanley Hall tricked 'Hodgson' (the alleged deceased former psychical researcher, who had become Mrs Piper's trance control) by asking about his (Hall's) niece, "Bessie Beals" - a supposed invention of Hall (bracketed words are Hall, unbracketed 'Hodgson'):
(Could you find two people for me, either Mr. Clark or my niece, Bessie Beals?)
One or both. Has your niece got a mother there?
(No, her mother's here.)
No, I mean in the body there. I know her. I think I know I have heard her speak about her mother there and say she wished she I could prove that she was living....to...her. I think I saw...her. Did she not have a sister?
(No, no sister.)
Who came here in infancy?
(I think not.)
Yes she did. Hardly lived. Scarcely lived at all in the body. I'll tell you about her if I see you again.
Hall certainly appears to have shown that Mrs Piper's controls were prone to creative invention, at least at times. But this was not a new discovery by the skeptics: before the third sitting, Hall asked Mrs Piper's psychical research 'manager' Mr George Dorr whether anyone had ever tried fraud or foolery, "for example, bringing in a living person as if dead.":
Mr Dorr says that many have tried foolery and sometimes have succeeded splendidly, and other times have failed. Controls are very suggestible and very willing to take up any ideas presented by the sitters, so that they can be very easily taken in.
Which makes the Hall sittings rather undramatic. Certainly, good points are raised occasionally (more in later posts). But the whole series of sittings were almost completely aimed at proving that Mrs Piper's controls were secondary personalities, with no interest in finding evidence for supernormal communication. Hall and his offsider Amy Tanner explicitly say:
...we had no desire whatever to obtain "test messages," my results from the published sittings having shown their triviality and dreariness and the impossibility of getting down all the remarks and other circumstances which might explain them.
Hall consistently deceived the Hodgson control, inventing personalities, and when 'Hodgson' presented 'outside' information and contacts (which may have offered some test evidence), Hall quite simply ignored it and didn't respond. Personally, the account of the sittings led me to one simple conclusion - that Stanley Hall was quite an obnoxious man. Most of the sittings comprise of him deceiving and misleading the control (and gloating in the final sittings). In the fifth sitting, tests were done which caused Mrs Piper harm (pressure tests on the hand, and blistering to her lips from camphor put in the mouth). But there is one final thing worth pointing out about the 'imaginary' Bessie Beals, which are in Hall's notes subsequent to the sittings:
The pseudopersonality, Bessie Beals, was accepted and she immediately appeared. What could this mean? Possibly there was a soul to be thus named awaiting birth, or one who had lived and was awaiting reincarnation, if transmigration is true. Here is indeed a plump and astonishing new fact, and I must later reconstruct my astral psychology at my leisure. To complete the confusion, a relative within three days mentioned to me incidentally one Bessie Beals, still living, as a friend, whom I may have heard her speak of before. If so, the control read the name registered in my subliminal mind. I hope that she will not be told, for such an incident might seem an uncanny prognostication that she will soon join the spirit forces. Is it possible to construct a phantom spirit out of the stuff that dreams are made of?
This doesn't change the fact that Hodgson claimed Bessie Beals as being in the spirit, when the girl was in fact alive. However, numerous questions are raised about other aspects of the communication - did the girl have a younger sister who had passed away? Was this the same Bessie Beals? And why do Hall and Tanner repeatedly refer to the 'pseudopersonality' Bessie Beals, without any footnote, until Hall mentions this in passing in his notes?
In the final sitting, as Hall and Tanner gloat over their scheming, the following exchange transpires:
...I have felt so keenly, I have felt so keenly your various whoppers all this time.
[We made some incredulous remarks to each other, laughing at his inability to explain his various mistakes, and he went on:]
I think I told you so before.
[Which he certainly had not, having been trustful to the point of credulity.]
This final statement is rather a sleight on the memory or judgement of the investigators Hall and Tanner, as Hodgson is in fact correct. In the fourth sitting Hodgson responded to Hall's deceiving and needling with:
I am interested in seeing I I I am interested in seeing how many stories you can tell in a minute. They are awfully bad. They are awful whoppers. They are awful whoppers. I never heard so many from one in a minute.
I'm hoping to OCR the sittings from Tanner's book Studies in Spiritism soon, and will put them up as individual blog posts for those interested in the full transcription.