On a cold December night of 1937, renowned Psychical Investigator Harry Price strode up the steps outside a large, Victorian house in a quiet, well-to-do London suburb. He’d come to the house to partake in a séance, invited by a woman known only as Mrs X whom in their communications leading up to the night, had guaranteed a spirit manifestation for him. Price had seen it all before, he had crafted a career from debunking such fraudsters and in all likelihood, this event was to be much the same. Or was it? What unravelled that night has been the subject of fierce debate and deep research for over 80 years and still to this day, it leaves a web of tangled leads the likes of which any Hollywood scriptwriter could only dream of conjuring.
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Harry Price & The Spirit of Rosalie
On a cold December night of 1937, renowned Psychical Investigator Harry Price strode up the steps outside a large, Victorian house in a quiet, well-to-do London suburb. He’d come to the house to partake in a séance, invited by a woman known only as Mrs X whom in their communications leading up to the night, had guaranteed a spirit manifestation for him. Price had seen it all before, he had crafted a career from debunking such fraudsters and in all likelihood, this event was to be much the same. Or was it? What unravelled that night has been the subject of fierce debate and deep research for over 80 years and still to this day, it leaves a web of tangled leads the likes of which any Hollywood scriptwriter could only dream of conjuring. This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
Psychical Research in the Inter-War Years
As advancements in both industrial processes and the scientific method rose in populist thought throughout Europe and America in the 19th Century, so too did spiritualism rise in parallel. This wild, exciting, new belief told of spirits surviving after death and contacting the living. As the numbers that believed grew, so to did the ways in which people dreamt up to facilitate the communications with the afterlife that so drove the movement forward. Séances are infamous examples of practices carried out in dark rooms, filled with people ready to explore the thoroughly modern belief system, but there were hundreds of ways devised throughout the 19th century, from table rapping, to automatic writing, materialisations, to possession and every which way in between that were explored by both genuine believers, and the people who were out to make a penny or two from those that so wanted to believe.
Whilst many spiritualists linked the religion to science, claiming it far more scientifically probable than more conventional, old religious worldview, many actual scientists distanced themselves from the movement, and groups of thinkers, philosophers, scientists and writers gathered to discuss the merits and pitfalls of a both the spiritualist belief in a transitionary afterlife and the explosion of paranormal claims that grew alongside. As these questions piled up, so to did the people looking to answer them and with this rise, organised societies of researchers and investigators began to form whose sole purpose was to scientifically analyse bold, otherworldly claims. One of the largest and oldest societies in the world, The Society for Psychical Research, was founded around these debates in London in 1882. The group boasted authors, chemists, physicists and philosophers amongst it’s membership and over the following 30 years, worked to investigate psychical and paranormal claims both within an around spiritualism. Members exposed frauds, published papers on hypnotism, poltergeists and psychics and with each paper, new controversy and debates were spawned.
In the early to mid 20th century, no one psychical researcher was more well known than Harry Price. Throughout the interwar years he had debunked handfuls of high profile mediums in the name of scientific query. Known as an “enemy of Spiritualism” by many and as a sensationalist showboater by more, he wrote dozens upon dozens of papers for various psychical institutions, including his own and built a laboratory that was the envy of the psychical research world. Both trusted and feared, nothing could get by Price. At least, that’s what everybody thought up until 1939, when he published his book, “fifty years of psychical research” which shone a whole new light onto his own beliefs.
Harry Price: Psychical Investigator
Born in Holborn, London on 17th January, 1881, Harry Price grew up in a modest, yet somewhat unorthodox family. His father, Edward Price was a Grocer who at age 41 had married his mother, Emma Price when she was just 15 years old, already 6 months pregnant with Harrys older sister Anna. Despite the questionable family background having little to do with Harry Price himself, it was a situation that caused him some grief throughout his life. Shortly after his brith, his family had worked themselves into a position where they were able to move to Chelsea and then later, on to New-Cross, both well-to-do Victorian suburbs of London. In 1892, aged 11, he attended the haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham Boys School and upon leaving, became a commercial traveller. By his mid-teenage years, he had already shown an interest in both parapsychology and conjuring, having written a play for an amateur dramatics group that he had founded aged 15 about his experiences as a young child with an alleged poltergeist in a house in Shropshire. His interest in magic and conjuring focused mainly on stage magicians, though he enjoyed practicing himself as a hobby and later joined the Magic Circle in 1922, maintaining his membership throughout his life. This interest in conjuring and magic was one of many interests for Price and he routinely joined evening classes at Goldsmiths College, studying subjects as broad as Photography, Engineering and Chemistry. His interest in magic, however, was somewhat more impactful on his life and formed a foundation from which he would refer to as a psychical investigator, which he transitioned seamlessly into after reading extensively on the subject of magic, leading to the occult and spiritualism. Price was a voracious reader and book collector and would amass books surrounding the topics of conjuring, the occult and spiritualism at every opportunity, with a specific interest in spiritual mediumship and séance circles, eventually owning a library of over 20,000 books on various spiritualist and psychical matters. It was around 1896, when Price first began to attend spiritualist meetings in London and visited many public séances. These were small gatherings, often in private houses, advertised in spiritualist pamphlets and journals and would cost anything from 1-5 shillings a throw. It was at these séances where his interest in conjuring and stage magic crossed over to the psychical realm and though he attended hundreds of such meetings throughout this period, his over-riding attitude towards them was one of disappointment and dismissal, stating that they were “All most interesting, but not convincing.”
It was also around this time, as the 19th Century was drawing to a close, that scientific research into psychical and spiritualist affairs was moving into it’s own. Interest in the practices had grown to saturation levels and with the combination of this popularity and the relatively modern enthusiasm for science and technological advancement that the late Victorian era championed so hard, scrutiny of the practices was at an all time high. The Society for Psychical Research, or the SPR, had been founded in 1882 with a purpose to bring scientific enquiry to the problem of the spiritualist debate. The society took on numerous spiritualist mediums and often found itself in the same controversial arguments as it does today, with some thinking their experiments scientifically unsound and others glad to bring a new level of integrity to a complex and often shrouded subject. The members of the SPR themselves showed similar divisions and the society was formed of a broad spectrum, from hardcore debunkers, to champions of the spiritualist movement. Throughout the societies early years, they uncovered the fraud surrounding several high profile spirit mediums, exposing their methods and in many cases, replicating them in demonstrations. In 1891, Price joined in on this lampooning when he collaborated with another investigator named Eric Dingwall on a book published in the USA titled “Revelations of a Spirit Medium”. Throughout the book, the pair ruthlessly exposed many of the tricks and fraudulent practices being carried out by the abundance of hack mediums, looking to make a few coin from vulnerable mourners and curious bystanders.
In 1902, Price’s mother died aged just 42 years old and four years later, his father too passed away, aged 71. After their deaths he moved to Brockley, in South London and whilst living there as a tenant not far from his family home, he met Constance Mary Knight, whom he formed a tight relationship with and went on to wed on the 1st August, 1908. After their marriage, the couple moved out of the smoke of the South London suburbs, to the leafy village of Pulborough in West Sussex.
The outbreak of war in 1914 brought Prices interest in spiritualism to an abrupt end, though it was only temporary as, after the conclusion of the fighting in 1918 and with so many of those who went to battle never returning, the popularity of spiritualism soared once more as families and wives flocked to séances to find answers and say their final farewells to loved ones lost in the trenches. This interest-war period between the first and second world wars was to be Harry Price’s investigatorial stomping ground and in 1920, he joined the SPR in a semi-professional capacity. Throughout the 1920’s, Price exposed many high profile mediums and spiritualist fraudsters, including the spirit photographer William Hope, who had claimed he could take photographs of spirits during séances. Price switched Hopes glass, photographic plates with substitutes secretly marked that exposed Hope when he produced his spirit photographs on entirely different sets of plates than those that Price had switched, proving that somewhere down the line, Hope introduced pre-prepared plates. Price’s name grew within the world of the psychical investigators and by 1925, he was given the honorary position of Foreign Research Officer at the American Society of Psychical Research. A year later, in 1926, price founded the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, a group which, in many ways, rivalled the SPR whom Price was forever on difficult terms with, clashing over their opinions on several psychics, including the psychic and levitation expert Rudi Schneider from Austria whom Price believed (and later proved) to be a fraudster whilst the SPR though otherwise. Price’s new group, like the SPR, also aimed to scientifically test and evaluate psychical phenomenon and to this ends, Price had a special séance room built on the top floor of the Kensington HQ.
“The National Laboratory of Psychical Research possesses the finest installation in the world for experimental research work in the field of psychic science. No expense has been spared in equipping the Laboratory with every scientific instrument which will be used in experiments capable of exact measurement.”
When Price said no expense had been spared, he wasn’t kidding. Aside from a world class laboratory, lecture theatre, workshop and Dark Room, the specially created séance room consisted of 7 cameras, 1 of which was capable fo stereoscopic photography, UV filter lighting, flashlights, daylights and spotlights, thermographic recording devices, a dictaphone, a bespoke mediums cabinet and note takers table which had been specially crafted in Paris and the whole room was wired with microphones that fed their output into an entirely separate room for recording. Perhaps this might not sound impressive in 2019, but when one considers that simply having a room wired for electricity, with several wall sockets was impressive back in the early 1920s, the scope of the operation becomes a little more apparent. Price put the room to work, continuing to test, and in the vast majority of cases, expose fraudulent spiritualists, so much so, that he became considered as an enemy of spiritualism by many. Never being one to mince words, Price himself called the spiritualist movement,
“The laughing stock of the thinking man, at it’s best, a religion; at it’s worst, a racket.”
Despite his hard nosed stance on psychical affairs, Price was dedicated to finding positive results as much as he was to debunking fraudsters. Both Danish medium Anna Rasmussen and the Romanian poltergeist case of Eleonara Zugen earned his endorsements as genuine phenomenon, gaining them a large boost in credibility. In 1931, his exposure of the previously mentioned Rudi Scheider as a fraudulent medium was one of Prices final cases focusing on spiritual mediumship, instead he bagan to work on case which many saw as populist and somewhat sensationlist, such as Fire Walking and Haunted houses. In 1936, he broadcast live from a haunted house on BBC national radio, effectively pioneering the modern ghost hunting TV shows some 70 years in advance. Price continued to write and visit séances throughout the later half the thirties, though it had become more of a personal rather than professional endeavour. Much of his professional time became slowly enveloped by what was to become probably his most infamous case researching the derelict and allegedly haunted, Borley Rectory in Essex. Throughout this period, whilst some saw his antics as dumbing down psychical research and courting popularity, he was still considered by many to be one of the most successful psychical researchers of his day and despite his enthusiasm to spread the word of psychical research to the masses, he maintained a level of integrity to his original cause and a level head.
“I must claim some authority for deciding whether fraud was possible or not, as methods of deception have been a special study of mine – from necessity and not from choice – a vital study for anyone claiming to be a scientific investigator.”
It was with this same attitude that Price stepped through the dark streets of London in December of 1937, towards a large detached Victorian house, climbing the stone steps to the front door and rapping his knuckles on the hard wood of the front door. He had been invited to attend a séance by a woman who claimed she could guarantee him a ghostly materialisation, a claim which Price himself found questionable, but nevertheless, he had accepted the invitation and now found himself at the house which would stand at the heart of heated debates for decades. A young maid answered the door and allowed him into the entrance hall, took his coat and strode of to notify the houses owners of his arrival.
The Rosalie Séance
One week earlier, on the morning of December 8th, Harry Price had received a phone call in his office from a woman who Price only ever named Mrs X, and simply described as “educated and cultured”. The caller told him that she had recently read articles concerning his exploits in debunking fraudulent mediums and thought that perhaps he might be interested in joining her in a small, private spirit circle in her home within which they held weekly séances. These séances, she claimed to Price, could absolutely guarantee a spirit manifestation, a phenomenon she knew from reading said articles that Price was sceptical of. She had been impressed with his efforts to root out the truth in such matters and as such invited him along in order to do quite the same with her own circle. The invitation did come with some caveats, a series of rules and conditions, however, Price had become accustomed to such situations as it was often common practice to place conditions upon an investigator with the justification that they needed to be in place in order to protect the medium, or not scare away a spirit, most of the time they were put in place simply to neuter the investigator and hamper legitimate practice. The caller in this case, however, surprised Price with their confidence and the level of control they would be willing to hand over in trade.
“And now came the surprise. If I accepted their invitation, I would be allowed full control of the room and the sitters up to the beginning of the séance. I could search the house from top to bottom, seal all external windows and doors, search the séance room (the drawing-room), all doors and windows of which I could lock and seal, I could move – or remove – any furniture, ornaments, etc., from the séance room which I thought fit … I could search the sitters or any person in the house immediately before or after the séance. But once the sitting had begun, I was to remain passive and ask permission if I wanted to do anything, or make any alteration during the séance.”
This, thought Price, was either an extreme level of naivety or someone who was awfully confident in their medium. The rules which price had to follow in order to gain such a free reign over the proceedings were equally simple. Price was asked not to reveal the location of the circle, nor the identity of any of the sitters, though he would be permitted to write a report on the séance, provided he ensured the groups anonymity would remain intact. If he found the event interesting enough, he would be allowed no further sittings and was asked that he not attempt to seek a further scientific enquiry, as the mother of the spirit they had guaranteed to materialise for Price was afraid that in doing so, it might scare her away for good, an outcome that all were obviously keen to avoid. In more practical terms, Price was told he could not bring any torches into the séance room and would not be allowed to touch, nor speak to the spirit unless specifically permitted. Their was to be no document or contract to be signed, Price need simply agree to the terms as a gentleman and the séance could take place with all the freedoms previously mentioned. In his book, “Fifty Years of Psychical Research, Harry Price said that these conditions “genuinely astonished” him and after concluding the phone call and turning the matter over fo the weekend, drafted a reply to the caller on the morning of Monday 13th December,
I am taking advantage of your kind offer to attend a sitting at your house, and propose being with you on Wednesday next the 10th inst. [sic], about 7 o’clock. If there is any difficulty about this I shall be grateful if you will kindly let me know immediately.
I am wondering whether you would be so kind as to allow Mr R. S. Lambert, the editor of The Listener (a journal which I know is read by you) to accompany me on Wednesday as a sort of witness. He would conform to all the conditions which you outlined to me last week, and I would personally vouch for him. If you can possibly see your way to grant my request, will you kindly telephone me or send me a telegram some time tomorrow (Tuesday) morning in order that I can communicate with Mr Lambert, who would then make the necessary arrangements?
Thanking you for your courtesy in this matter,
Price had hoped that he may be permitted to bring along fellow investigator Richard Lambert, who he had in recent years teamed up with on the Isle of Mann to investigate the case of Gef, the Talking Mongoose, however, after no further communication from Mrs X came with confirmation, he dropped the idea and decided to attend alone. Sp it was, that on Wednesday, 15th December, 1937, Harry Price made his way up the stone steps and into the home of Mr and Mrs X, to attend a séance in which he was told, would guarantee the spirit materialisation of a young girl. Arriving at 7pm, the group sat down to have dinner together before the séance would begin and Price was introduced to all the members of the group and told the backstory to their activities.
Price’s descriptions of the group he met at the house were naturally vague. Mr X was a businessman in the city and both he and Mrs X were commented on as being simply “charming, with affable personalities.” Neither were spiritualists themselves, but were both interested in psychical research and had read some of the more widely available literature on the subject. They were also joined by Miss X, their 16 year old daughter and ‘Jim’, a “cheerful young fellow” who worked as a bank clerk in the city aged around 22 years old and whom Price suspected was there out of interest in Miss X rather than spiritualism. The final member of the circle who was to sit that evening was a French lady whom Price named Madame Z. Madame Z was a nurse, who had lost her English husband during the first world war whilst he was serving in the trenches in 1916 and had lost her only daughter aged just 6 years old to Diphtheria, 5 years later in 1921. This daughter was named Rosalie and it was with Rosalie that the circle had been in communication with, Price was told, for the past 9 years. Madame Z had met Mrs X whilst helping out at a church bazaar and rented a small apartment in the same neighbourhood as the X household. The story began for Madame Z when she had woken one night to the sounds of, what she described as her dead daughter calling out to her. A confirmed spiritualist, Madame Z did not seem to find this at all perplexing and had instead coasted into the habit of lying awake at night waiting for the quivering cries of “mother”, which were apparently so frequent as to be almost every night. As this continued on, eventually, Madame Z thought she could see a dim outline of Rosalie in the dark and attested to hearing footsteps in her room. These visitations led to her casting her hands into the darkness one night, only to feel them clasped by the hands of the little girl. Confiding with Mrs X about this, both she and her husband suggested they hold séances to explore these communications in their own home, which was considerably larger than that of Madame Z, and so their spiritualist circle was born, meeting every Wednesday since the end of 1928. At first their attempts to contact Rosalie were not successful at al, and Price was told of how it took 6 months before the group had any results, though Rosalie would still visit Madame Z in her bedroom at night, she was not forthcoming in the séance room. Eventually, their perseverance paid off, when in the Spring of 1929, she materialised during one of their meetings, suddenly clasping her mothers hands in the dark room. From that evening on, the girl appeared regularly and as things progressed, so too did their methods. The group introduced hand mirrors, painted with luminous paint which they used as soft lights to illuminate the spirit and when Rosalie slowly began to speak during their communions, they began answering simple questions to the girl, though Price was told that she remained very shy and usually only answered with a simple, quietly spoken, yes or no. Over the years, the group had invited one or two new members to sit as guests and as this had not seemed to be too much change for Rosalie to deter her from appearing, it was decided that Price should be invited to see for himself.
As the story of Rosalie wrapped up and dinner was finished, the group then turned their attentions to the planned sitting and Price was given full control of both the group and the house. Mr X and Jim took a tour of the rooms with Price. The house was a large, three story affair, with the drawing room on the ground floor doubling up as the groups séance room. Price set about making the house as secure as he could, taping windows and doors to every room with sticky tape which he initialled to act as a seal. Once satisfied the house was secure, the group entered the Drawing Room, which Price “examined with great care”. The fire in the fireplace had recently petered out and instead, a small electric fireplace heated the room, in front of the glowing element, the houses dog lay asleep on the floor of the room, ignoring the group as they entered. There were 6 paintings hanging on the walls, along with a a cluster of furniture throughout, including a sofa that sat in the bay window which were fronted by large, thick curtains which the family had bought specifically for the séances, in order to shut out all light from the streetlamp outside and allowing the room to be plunged into perfect darkness. A small cabinet with radio sat in one corner, a mahogany sideboard which sat up against the wall and a small round table sat in the far corner. Ornaments lined the mantelpiece along with clock and various other clutter, whilst the floorboards were made of solid, dark hardwood, covered with four plush, Persian rugs. Price quickly decided that there was too much going on in the room and removed all of the ornaments, clock and clutter from the mantelpiece was removed and placed in the dining room. He then sprinkled starch powder in the hallway outside the door to the drawing room, closed the group inside with himself and taped and sealed the edges. In order to solve the problem of the chimney, he sprinkled more starch onto the floor in front of the fireplace and onto a piece of newspaper at the foot of the grate and used his finger to trace his initials into the powder. Happy that there was no way anyone could enter or leave the room without disturbing his controls, Price then turned his attention to the remaining furniture, searching the cushions, and undercarriage of all of the articles. The floor was inspected for trapdoors and finally, both Jim and Mr X were searched. In typical fashion, Price explained that he could not rightly search the three women and so a compromise was made by having Mrs X and Madame Z sitting on either side of Price in the circle. The young Miss X, however, pulled up her dress and displayed her gymnasium clothing, which she was wearing underneath her dress as she had returned just before dinner from a “health and beauty” class. Satisfied that he had done all he could do ensure an honest sitting, the staff of the household, a parlour-maid and cook, were told not to disturb the group whilst they were in the drawing room and to ignore both the door Ann telephone if anyone was to ring or stop by the house, the 6 chairs were laid out in a circle in the centre of the room and at 9:10pm, the lights were switched off, plunging the room into darkness.
“The arrangement of the sitters (my arrangement, by the way) was as follows: I sat with my back to the fireplace, with my hostess on my right and Madame Z on my left. Next to her was Miss X. Then Jim and Finally Mr X himself. Four of the luminous plaques, already mentioned, had been handed round, and they rested on the floor face downwards, by the sides of the chairs occupied by Madame Z., Mrs. X., Jim, and myself. The luminous surface of each plaque had been activated at an electric light bulb previous to the séance. We were informed (by Mrs. X.) that we could talk quietly unless told not to. There was neither hymn-singing nor prayers, nor any suggestion of the pandemonium which often accompanies a séance. Although it was pitch dark, I could accurately determine where a voice was coming from, and whose voice it was, and could even hear the breathing of the various sitters.”
“After chatting quietly for about twenty minutes, we were asked to stop and Mr. X. said he would put on the wireless. He left his seat and groped his way to the small table behind me, to my right. He had some difficulty in finding suitable music, which he finally received from a foreign station. The small lamps which lit up the stations panel also illuminated the room and I could see the sitters distinctly. Madame Z. appeared to be crying.”
“Within five minutes of turning on the radio, X. switched it off again and resumed his seat. Then we were asked to remain quiet. No one spoke. A little later I heard Madame Z. softly whisper ‘Rosalie!’ This was repeated, at intervals, for about twenty minutes. Sometimes Mrs. X. also called her. I could hear both Madame Z. and Miss X. sobbing quietly. I had been warned that the séance was of a sacred character, but I had not anticipated such a display of emotion. I could not help contrasting this sitting with the matter-of-fact laboratory experiments with which I was much more familiar.”
“It was a few minutes after I heard the clock in the hall strike ten that Madame Z. gave a choking sob and said something about ‘my darling.’ Mrs. X. leant towards me and whispered, ‘”Rosalie” is here – don’t speak!” At the same moment I, too, realized that there was something quite close to me. I neither heard nor saw anything, but the sensation was an olfactory one – I seemed to smell something that was not there previously. It was a strange, not unpleasant smell. Everyone was silent except for the rather distressing emotion of the mother. I sensed, rather than knew, that she was fondling her child. The next sound I heard was a sort of shuffling of feet on my left at the same moment as something slightly touched the back of my left hand, which was resting on my knee (we were not holding hands in any way). It felt soft and a little warm. I did not attempt to feel what had touched me, but sat very still. Madame Z., continued to whisper to the ‘child,’ and her sobbing ceased somewhat.”
“After a few minutes, Mrs. X. asked the mother whether I could touch the ‘materialisation.’ Permission was given, and I stretched out my left arm and, to my amazement, it came in contact with, apparently, the nude figure of a little girl, aged about six years. I slowly passed my hand across her chest up to her chin and cheeks. Her flesh felt warm, though (and this may have been imagination) not so warm as one would expect to find normal human flesh. I laid the back of my hand on her right cheek: it felt soft and warm and I could distinctly hear her breathing. I then placed my hand on her chest again and could feel the respiratory movements. My hand travelled to her thighs, back and buttocks, then traversed her legs and feet. They were the normal limbs of a normal six-year-old. I estimated her height at about three feet, seven inches. I could feel her hair, long and soft, falling over her shoulders.”
“There are no words to express how I felt at the appearance of the form before me – or rather to the left of me. A supreme scientific interest, with a feeling of absolute incredulity, would best describe my reactions. I had not bargained for anything so wonderful (or so clever!) as this. But if I had been tricked, so had the mother, and that was unthinkable. She, at least, was not acting a part. I asked whether I could hold ‘Rosalie.’ I was told that I could move my chair nearer to the child and this I did. I was now able to use both hands and again felt every inch of that little form. If it is a spirit – I argued to myself – then there is no difference between a spirit and a human being. With my right hand, I lifted ‘Rosalie’s’ right arm and felt her pulse. It appeared to be too quick and I estimated a rate of 90 to the minute (1). I put my ear to her chest and could distinctly hear her heart beating. I then took both her hands and asked X., his daughter, and Jim to speak in order to prove their presence in their respective seats. They did so. I knew that Madame Z. and Mrs. X. were on either side of me, as I had only to put out my hand to touch them.”
“At this juncture I asked my hostess if Madame Z. would allow me to use the luminous plaque. After a little discussion it was agreed that both Mrs. X. and I should shine our plaques on ‘Rosalie,’ the stipulation being that we should begin at the feet of the form, and then later illuminate the upper part of the child. I picked up my plaque and in turning it over a soft, fluorescent glow flooded the feet of ‘Rosalie.’ They were the normal feet of a normal child. Mrs. X. held her plaque to the left side of the girl, while I illuminated the front of her. I could see the soft texture of the flesh, which appeared to be without a blemish. As our plaques travelled upwards the face of the form was revealed and we beheld a beautiful child who would have graced any nursery in the land. Her features were classical and she looked older than her alleged years. Her face appeared very pale, but the fluorescence would tend to ‘kill’ any colouring in her cheeks. Her eyes (they appeared to be dark blue) were bright with an intelligent gleam in them. Her lips were closed, with rather a set expression. Madame Z. said the examination must now cease as ‘Rosalie’ was wanted.’ As a special favour, I requested that I might put some questions to ‘Rosalie’ and this was granted with the remark that it was unlikely that she would speak that night.”
“If the reader were suddenly faced with an alleged spirit, what questions would he ask it? With some preparation, a series of useful inquiries could be drawn up, but on the spur of the moment it is extremely difficult to make proper use of such an opportunity – especially when the ‘spirit’ is so young and unsophisticated. However, I suppose I must have subconsciously imagined that the child was a real one; that it lived in a real place; and that it understood perfectly what I was saying. I found myself asking ‘Rosalie’ what I should ask any other little girl, who had come from some strange place and whom I chanced to meet. I was permitted one minute only in which to question her, and this is what I asked her:
‘Where do you live, Rosalie?’ (No answer.)
‘What do you do there?’ (No answer.)
‘Do you play with other children?’ (No answer.)
‘Have you any toys there?’ (No answer.)
‘Are there any animal pets?’ (No answer.)
The questions were asked deliberately and I paused between each one. ‘Rosalie’ simply stared and did not seem to understand what I was saying. I asked her a final question: ‘Rosalie, do you love your mummy?’ I saw the expression on her face change and her eyes light up. ‘Yes,’ she lisped. ‘Rosalie’ had barely uttered this single word when Madame Z. gave one cry and clasped her ‘daughter’ to her breast. Mrs. X. placed our plaques on the floor again and asked for complete silence – rather difficult as all the women in the circle were crying. I must admit that I was rather affected myself – it was a touching and pathetic scene.”
“In about fifteen minutes ‘Rosalie’ had gone. I neither heard nor felt anything of her leaving, but as the hall clock struck eleven, Mrs. X. informed me that the séance was over. X. switched on all the lights and invited me to make any search I liked. I examined all my seals and every one was intact. I again removed the furniture and examined floor, sideboard, settee, etc., and found everything normal. The starch powder was undisturbed. Even the Airedale was still asleep in front of the cold electric fire. At least, the séance had not affected him. My host asked me to remove the seals – which I did – and he opened the door and rang for refreshments. While these were being brought, I accompanied Jim in another tour of the house. All my seals were intact. I remained at the house until nearly midnight, when I took my leave with many thanks for an extraordinarily interesting and puzzling evening.”
Harry Price left the household and returned to a nearby members club where he sat up for almost the entire rest of the night, writing his report, which you have just heard, on what was an evening that deeply disturbed him. He managed only a few hours of sleep that morning, as he penned his experiences and retired to bed, turning over his experiences, utterly perplexed as to what he just witnessed in the previous 5 hours.
The next morning, Price sat in his office according to one source, looking “deeply disturbed” and “almost distraught”, following his experiences at the Rosalie séance. Had he, the legendary debunker, finally witnessed a séance he could not explain away with cheap parlour tricks? Later that day, he write a short introduction to his report that he had written the night before, which would be included when he would eventually publish it in 1939,
“I began writing this report (which is printed verbatim and uncorrected) within two hours of the termination of the séance, in bed at the Royal Societies Club. I purposely wrote the report at once, while my impressions were still fresh. I feel I have not done justice in this report to the amazing events of last night, and I am still wondering if “Rosalie” was a genuine spirit entity, or whether the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. If the latter, then the “hoax” has been going on for years and no actress in the world could simulate Madame Z.’s poignant emotion. And where did the “spirit” come from? These are questions which I shall have to think about, and answer. If I had witnessed the materialization of “Rosalie” in my own laboratory [Price’s italics], I should not hesitate to proclaim to an incredulous world that survival was proved.”
“Looking at it in retrospect, I can think of several things I ought to have done that I did not do, and one of these is the taking of ‘Rosalie’s’ finger-prints. I had ample opportunity, but no materials. Another thing I might have done was to have ascertained who the ‘medium’ was. Madame Z. herself denies that she is mediumistic, but I can think of no one else. Apparently, there was no medium.”
This internal tug-of-war between astonishment and niggling doubt that the séance had not taken place in his own laboratory and that he may have been tricked somehow was a struggle he would have for the rest of his life and was a feeling shared by the public when the story of Rosalie was unleashed on the public when he published a book titled “Fifty Years of Psychical Research” in 1939, dedicating an entire chapter to his experiences at the Rosalie séance. When it was finally published, many reviewers and critics were quick to poke Price concerning the chapter. In the previous years, Price had courted publicity just a shade too much for some and they saw the inclusion of the Rosalie chapter in his book as a cheap, sensationalist fiction to sell copy. Price took a differing view to his popular accounts, however, seeing himself as an educator of the everyman on matters of spiritualism and psychical research. Which ever way you looked at it, the Rosalie story was certainly an incredible account and Price was not blind to the fact either. He published the work, fully aware that its inclusion would be controversial and later confessed that he had not wanted it to be in the book at all, rather it was pressed by his publisher to be included. Regardless, now that his account had been made public, it seemed that everyone wanted a piece of Price. Spiritualists derided him for being an enemy of their movement for so many years, only to turn around and propose a legitimate spirit materialisation had occurred, whilst sceptics and psychical researchers who adhered closer to the realms of science were quick to criticise his inclusion of an account that had taken place outside of the laboratory. Harry Price had been walking a fine line for many years between the spiritualist movement and the scientific community and with his publication of the Rosalie séance, he seemingly rubbed both sides the wrong way. British tabloid, the Sunday Mirror wrote a two page article on the book on 15th October 1939, and said of the Rosalie chapter,
“In the catalogue of charlatans and humbugs, unproven phenomena, unsatisfactory tests and unexplained mysteries that Mr Price gives yo pin his book there is one astonishing story that stands out above all others. It is the story of Rosalie, the six-year-old child who reappeared in her mother’s arms, in apparently, solid flesh, long years after death. Mt Price himself calls it the most remarkable case of materialisation, or alleged materialisation, that he has ever witnessed in his thirty years of investigation into spiritualism. He still feels it possible that he might have been deceived. “But if I was deceived, how was it done, and what possible motive could there have been?” Asks Mr Price.”
In 1946, Price closed the case as far as he was concerned, by writing an account for an article in a private psychical society journal named “Help Yourself”, within which he detailed his actions after the initial séance. Many had questioned why Price had not pushed harder for further séances to take place, or for him to break his initial agreement and try to gain an investigation which could take place under Prices traditional conditions and with all his available tools. Price explained that he had kept in touch with both Mr and Mrs X after the Rosalie séance, but in August of 1939, the couple had taken a holiday, driving around Europe. On the outward journey, they had taken Madame Z to Paris, dropping her off and continuing, their tour when the outbreak of the second world war promptly put a stop to their gallivant, forcing them to retire to England prematurely and at the same time, breaking their ties with Madame Z, who they had not heard from since. He concluded the article by asking,
“Is this a “true ghost” story? At the time I was convinced that it was. Then, next day, I began to wonder if “Rosalie” was a genuine spirit entity, or whether the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. If the latter, then it had been going on for years and no actress on earth could have simulated Madame Z.’s poignant emotion. And why should they cheat? No one was getting anything out of it. Neither money nor publicity nor kudos. And would any sane family fool one another every week for years on end? Hardly! And where did the “spirit” come from? Was there a revolving wall in the drawing-room or a trap-door in the very solid parquet floor? If so, could it have survived my minute and systematic search of the apartment? I suppose that this is possible, but moving floors and sliding walls imply costly, elaborate and silent machinery to operate. And what could possibly be the motive for such a stupendous fraud?”
The questions were asked, but no answers forthcoming. No members of the X family, nor Madame Z came into the limelight to out themselves, despite the popularity the case had gained and Price was never able to repeat the séance experience of Rosalie. In 1948, he sat down in his study to smoke his pipe when he died of a sudden heart attack. Price had fulfilled his promise that he would never disclose the location, nor identities of the X family, and whilst this put an abrupt end to the case in the popular eyes of the public, there were some who wanted answers and were determined to get to them if they could.
Dingwall and Hall
After Harry Prices death in 1948, his reputation took several hits from people climbing out of the woodwork with whom he had had various psychical spats with throughout his life, many looking to smear his work within the psychical society community, others simply pointing out that at times, Price did seem to court sensationalism to a certain degree, which did seem to not do his credibility and great favours. Two investigators who worked fairly hard to rubbish Prices latter work at Borley Rectory and his account fo the Rosalie séance were Eric Dingwall and Trevor Hall. Price had previously collaborated with Dingwall on publications in the past, however the two shared a rocky relationship that was rife with all the petulant drama and oneupmanship that surrounded the psychical community at the time. In the pairs instigation into the Rosalie affair, they state, quite generously, that Prices account of events seems fair and that the whole affair appears to have been relatively motiveless on behalf of the X Family,
“[It] is easier even to assume that Rosalie was a genuine materialization, than that the séance was an elaborate, costly and motiveless demonstration prepared and rehearsed with consummate skill by six people, including a young child, for a single performance, in conditions of absolute secrecy that prevented either reward or recognition.”
The séance, it seemed to Dingwall and Hall, appeared to have been genuine, provided it was written as a factual event, rather than a fictional work by Price himself, a conclusion which they certainly believe could have been possible, using the tale to create a sensational story to include in his book. Underpinning their theory was the fact, they stated, that there existed no evidence to support the fact that Price had attended the séance when he said he did at all, claiming that nobody was able to confirm if Price had gone to a séance. The problem for this theory, however, was that it was simply untrue. There did in fact exist evidence from three separate people that spoke to Price the morning after the séance and mentioned it in later writings or interviews, Dingwall and Hall ha simply not bothered to speak to them about the affair.
In the first, Prices secretary at the time, Ethel Beenham, who had been interviewed by the SPR in the year following Prices death in concern with the Borley Rectory investigation, said that she could remember Price on the morning after and that he had showed up to the office “terribly excited”, she went on,
“He appeared exhausted and said he had been transcribing his notes sitting up half the night. If this was all play-acting, it was certainly very marvellous acting!”
In the same year, whilst writing a biography on harry Price, the author, Dr Paul Tabori, had spoken to Psychical Investigator and SPR member Mollie Goldney, who had told him of the time she met Price, again, on the morning after the séance, on the 16th December, 1937,
“I happened to call in on him at his office in Berkeley Square [sic] the next morning, and found him with his hands full of a sheaf of papers; he told me he had sat up a great part of the night writing out an account of what had occurred. He was more excited and shaken than I had ever seen him”
Finally, Price had spoken to Richard Lambert before the séance had taken place, both explaining the invitation and of course, asking him to accompany him, if it was to be possible. As it turned out, Price had had further communication with Lambert after the fact,
“My next memory is of the morning of December 16, when I was called up on the telephone in my office by Price, who was obviously in an excited state of mind. I remember clearly his opening words: “Lambert, I don’t know at this moment whether I am standing on my head or my heels!” He subsequently gave me a detailed description of what had taken place the night before at the apartment of “Madame Z.”[Sic]”
With these three witnesses examined, Dingwall and Halls damning investigation into the Rosalie affair and their theory that it was simply a figment of Prices imagination is swiftly put to bed. Upon publication of their paper, Goldney said of the report,
“If my experience at their hands is a fair sample of their methods of dealing with witnesses, one cannot but have doubts as to the value of any conclusions they may have reached”
Dingwall and Hall also focused on the location of the X Family household and once again, assumed it to be a fictional house. With almost no evidence upon which to chose the locale, they investigated the South London area of Brockley, near to where Price had grown up as a child, based on a single letter written to Price where, alluding to the X family, they were called “these Brockley people”. Upon searching the area and finding no house that matched Prices description, they concluded in the report that it simply did not exist. As an investigation, it was more an attack piece rather than a serious exercise, which unfortunately for any curious onlookers, brought no new light to the table concerning the mystery of Rosalie. Fortunately, later investigations were too fare a little better.
1965 saw two separate investigations into Price and the Rosalie affair, one from the SPR and another from an independent, amateur investigator named David Cohen. Cohen was an amateur hobbyist investigator, though his dedication to his hobby did stretch the definition somewhat. In his home city of Manchester, he was the investigations officer for his local psychical society and this position saw him travel extensively throughout the North of the UK on a regular basis on his days off from work and at times, even saw him travel as far as Eastern Europe. He joined the SPR in 1957 and had read much fo the literature on Harry Price, though he admitted that he was somewhat indifferent to his investigations in general. He began to research the Rosalie séance to include the story as part of a lecture that eh was planning, however, these humble beginnings would eventually lead to a much deeper search than he ever appeared to have planned for, culminating in the release of a book on the subject, titled “Price and his Spirit Child Rosalie” in 1966. As Cohen dug deeper into the literature and documentation surrounding the case, he found that he disagreed more and more with Dingwall and Halls earlier investigation and this disagreement led to a book which saw his attitude on Price go from indifferent to ardent defender and this point of view was heavily reflected in his eventual published work. Whilst his investigations failed to uncover any fresh information or shine any new light on the mystery, it did serve as a catalyst for a more positive view on Price and the séance.
Richard Medhurst & The SPR
Whilst David Cohen was busily writing his book and gearing it up for publication. The SPR were heading their own, parallel investigation, spearheaded by investigator Richard Medhurst. Medhurst felt it important to strip back his investigation and to take it back to its rots in an attempt to view it from a fresh perspective. Part of this saw him pouring through all of Prices original papers, which had been bequeathed to the University of London after his death as part of his extensive library. Whilst trawling these papers, Medhurst made an important discovery which simultaneously drew up a new lead for the case and hammered a thick nail into the coffin of the Dingwall and Hall paper. Tucked away amongst a stash of communications, was a carbon copy of a letter written by Price to Mrs X on December 13th, 1937, two days before the séance. The contents of the letter itself were fairly unremarkable, it was simply a letter confirming the date and time that he would arrive at their house for the sitting, with a small paragraph asking for permission to bring along Lambert as an assistant. This did however confirm the accounts of Lambert himself however, and also have the date and time in writing, as hard evidence which matched with Prices account. Even more interesting than that however, was that the letter was addressed not to Mrs X, but a Mrs Mortimer, which meant that now, the X Family had a name. Medhursts spirits were greatly buoyed by this discovery, “With such a clue, the location of the “Rosalie” sitters seemed only a matter of time”, he wrote.
Medhursts plan were to cross reference every house in South London that was home to family of Mortimers in 1937 and which also had a telephone. He would then find the records for the family, and if they matched, give or take, to Prices description, he would visit and examine each house, one by one, to see if the house too was a match. Despite such narrow criteria, this was still a massive undertaking and as Medhurst dug deeper and deeper into the old telephone directories, his initial excitement began to fade. Several of the houses that homes a Mortimer family had been destroyed during the Blitz, whilst it soon became clear that if the house had decided to keep their number out o the telephone directory, then as far as he was to know, they simply didn’t exist. Still, he cracked on and eventually narrowed his search to 116 entires across London for families which fit to his specifications. He toured across London looking for houses that might match, until, in Brockley of all places, just like others had guessed in the past, he found a house which lovely fit to the description by Price at 21 Wickham Road. The place had a a few problems though. To start with, the young lady of the house would have been 15 at the time of the séance, though he felt the age range was close enough to the real Miss X, a bigger issue was that Miss Mortimer of Wickham Road, had a sister. Despite such an enthusiastic search, stemming from the only fresh lead on the case in over 15 years, Mehursts search eventually led him to nothing more than just another dead end. In his conclusions to his search, he surmised that price had potentially fudged his description of the house in order to further conceal it’s location. If this were true, then it leftest the search for the Mortimers and the Rosalie house in a grim position indeed.
The Rosalie Letter
6 months after the publication of David Cohens book in 1966, he was forwarded a letter from the publisher, postmarked from London. Cohen opened the thick envelope and began reading the lengthy communication, which very quickly revealed itself to have been written by Miss X that explained the entire Rosalie affair, from her perspective inside the house of the X Family. It is an exceptionally long letter, totalling almost 5000 words, however an edited version, with pertinent details intact is as follows,
Dear Mr. Cohen,
I have read your book about Harry Price and his spirit child with interest and; forgive me; with some amusement for I am always amused at the various guesses which are constantly being hazarded about the Rosalie ghost. But then I am in a rather privileged position being now the only living person who knows the whole truth about the séances held in our house thirty years ago. ”
“It was at this time that I was first brought into the deception. My parents asked me to take part in, what they called, “a ghost game” to be played as a harmless joke on a French lady. At first my part in this business was childishly simple. I was to slip noiselessly into the darkened room soon after the others had settled down, take up a position in the corner of the room and answer some questions in a hushed, childish lisp. I was then, at a pre-arranged signal from my mother, to slip silently out of the room before the lights were switched on. But when we started to rehearse the procedure we came up against our first snag. Although my father oiled the hinges and handle mechanism of the door, the latter could not be persuaded to act noiselessly. My father overcame the difficulty by making a small wedge which he stealthily inserted into the door catch when finally closing the door before the séance commenced. A wedge which he removed when opening the door after the séance had ended. Thus I did not have to touch the rather loose handle when entering and leaving the room”
“The second snag which my father had to contend with was Jack, our Airedale dog, who was greatly attached to us, as we were to him. Whenever any of the family were in the house, Jack was completely miserable if he could not be with us, whining and scratching at doors until he found us. My father said he could not trust the servants to keep him in the kitchen during the séances, because Jack was an adept at slipping out of any door which had to be opened, even for a second. The danger had to be overcome of his flinging open the unlatched séance door and so father decided to have him in the room during the séances where, as long as mother and father were there, he could be relied upon to remain quiet. Much later my father realized that the presence of Jack at the séances could have been a clue to an intelligent investigator, but here we were lucky for the clue was never discovered, not even, I believe, by any of the many authors who have written about Rosalie.”
“My mother was, at first, rather apprehensive about these séances and my father had to give up the idea of asking her to simulate a trance condition. She was to play as passive a part as possible and merely to ask certain questions of the spirit, commencing with, “I feel the child is in the room – are you there – are you there Rosalie?” After she had repeated this three or four times, I was to whisper, in as childish a voice as I could answer, “Yes – Rosalie is here.”
“If I remember correctly, Madame first visited our home for a sitting about two days after the Crystal Palace fire, an event which caused a great stir in our part of London. The séance went without a hitch. I waited in the hall after Madame and my parents had entered the room and I listened for the wireless to be switched-off, which was my signal to slip into the room. I was very nervous and excited at this first séance and nearly forgot to switch-off the hall light before opening the séance door, an omission which could have been fatal to our purpose. The door opened noiselessly at a slight pressure and I crept into the room and waited. I answered about five or six questions, giving the answers which had been suggested by my father: “I am very, very happy” – “I walk in meadows filled with beautiful flowers” – “I play with the other children – they are very kind to me” – “A beautiful lady in shining white looks after us” etc. After Madame had departed, my parents told me that they were very pleased with my performance – I gathered that Madame was suitably impressed.”
“After some months my father decided to ask his young brother, Uncle Jim, to help him in this ghost game. I think the reason for this was that Madame had asked whether Rosalie was the only spirit which appeared at our séances, and what had happened before the child had made an appearance. Father, who was always anxious to allay Madame’s slightest suspicion, said that several other spirits had spoken, but that her presence attracted Rosalie more than the other spirits, who would, no doubt, return when Rosalie became less insistent. Uncle Jim was a very dear person and the family was terribly distressed when he was killed, in 1942, fighting in North Africa. He was divoted [sic] to my father, as we all were, and eager to help in what he thought was “rather a lark”. So Uncle Jim, on occasions, waited in his stockinged feet in the hall with me, and we took it in turns to enter the dark room. He spoke in the voice of Big Chief Eagle of the Mohawk Tribe, or an ancient Chinese philosopher, or any other person who appealed to his imagination. I remember on one occasion he became General Gordon, I think he was reading a biography at the time, and on another, when I had a bad cold, he took the whole séance using one or two different voices. My uncle’s sense of humour caused my parents some anxiety. Listening to him from the hall, I had great difficulty in suppressing a giggle.”
“Some time before my father had thought of producing the spirit of Rosalie, he had told Madame that he had a daughter, but had not mentioned my age. Soon after the séances had commenced, Madame asked my father how old was his daughter and father, always on his guard and thinking that there might be some suspicious connection in her mind between the spirit child and myself, said I was sixteen years old.
Unfortunately, a month or two later, Madame asked why she had never met this teenage daughter and father countered that by saying that I usually attended physical training classes on Wednesday evenings but, no doubt, she would meet me before very long. I believe there were gym classes for adults much publicised at this time and the claim that I attended these classes made it seem impossible that I could have been young enough to have impersonated Rosalie.
However it was now rather imperative to produce a teenage daughter so – what to do?
My parents considered the possibility of bringing a young person into the house to play the part of their daughter, but they soon abandoned the idea as impracticable, – whom could they ask to play this part? – would it not be dangerous to allow the Rosalie secret to go outside the family? It was finally decided that I must impersonate myself, or more correctly, my elder self. I had played the part of a child some years my junior and now I must play the part of a girl, some years my senior.
My mother went to work on me and with the aid of cosmetics, a teenage dress, a padded bust-bodice, a new hair-do and high heeled shoes, brought about a fairly convincing transformation. It is true I was a little short for a sixteen year old, but the high heeled shoes and the hair-do had added some inches to my height. For several evenings I was rehearsed in my new part until I became, more or less, accustomed to moving and behaving without awkwardness. Strangely enough I felt quite at home as a teenager and seemed to put on a new personality with my new clothes. My mother was rather frightened that Madame, having seen my face during some of the séances, would recognize me, the teenage daughter, as Rosalie, but my father said that even he could not have recognized me in the peculiar light of the séance room and did not think it possible that Madame would so. As the Rosalie séances continued my parents were forced to take greater and greater risks, but they had passed the point of no return and therefore could not retract.”
“For some months after this all went well until one disasterous [sic] evening in, I think, late November. This mishap was entirely my fault. I had become, after so many successful séances, rather overconfident and ignored my father’s instructions. He had told me that if Madame asked the spirit anything about Rosalie’s life on earth, I was either to remain silent or to say I could not remember. I cannot recall the question that Madame asked me on that evening but I foolishly attempted to answer and, of course, it was the wrong answer. After the séance something like a quarrel broke out between my parents and Madame. She said she was far from satisfied that she had not been tricked and my father said that even spirits could forget instances in their earth life and that it was many years since Rosalie had been on earth. Naturally, I was not present during this altercation, but I learnt about it later, and the upshot of the dispute was, I was told, that father offered to have a séance investigated by a trained investigator and Madame suggested Harry Price.”
“For the first time since the séances had commenced my father was worried. During the past year he had been reading books on spiritualism and realized that a séance with controls would be the most difficult one we had yet given. So my parents, Uncle Jim and I went into a huddle and worked out a method of procedure. My mother was to telephone Mr. Price, invite him to a séance and extract from him an assurance of secrecy. Considering the danger of one investigation, my father did not want to risk further investigation and should Mr. Price publish our names and addresses it would be difficult, if not impossible, to avoid further investigation and enquiry. Apart from my parents, Madame and Mr. Price, I, as the teenage daughter, and Uncle Jim, as my boy-friend, were to be sitters at the séance. The importance of my being in the room if Mr. Price sealed the door, and father assured us that he would wish to do this, was obvious. There were two reasons for Uncle Jim being a sitter. One, my father thought it advisable to have an extra helper in the room to cover, if possible any minor, or unexpected mishap. Two, he would, as my boy-friend, add testimony to my assumed teenage. Although Madame had heard Uncle Jim speak in several different voices, she had never seen him and therefore he could be safely introduced to her as “young Jim”. Uncle Jim was, I believe, in his late twenties at that time but looked very much younger.”
“My father suggested that the spirit should be lighted by hand mirrors coated with luminous paint because these would not require to be concealed. Uncle Jim pointed out that, if Mr. Price wished to handle a mirror, it would be impossible to assure that he would direct its light only to the face and he might see, and recognize the dress of the girl he believed to be sitting opposite to him in the dark. My mother said that I could change into “spirit clothes” but my father very logically said that, should there be a search of the room, “spirit clothes” would be as impossible to conceal as a torch. It was finally suggested that the spirit should appear in the nude – a suggestion I didn’t much like but to which I eventually agreed.”
“On the evening of the appointed day Mr. Price arrived. He was, I thought, a charming man although rather ugly and seemed pleased at being asked to attend our séance. I believe my father told him that séances had been held in our house for a longer period than they had, and this exaggeration was, I think, in order to put the beginning back to a time before he had any financial connections with Madame – in case Mr. Price subsequently discovered these financial dealings. He also told Mr. Price that Rosalie had first appeared to Madame when she was alone and at home, thus suggesting to Mr. Price that the spirit first appeared when there was no possibility of trickery on the part of our family.”
“In the complete darkness, I was able to leave my place in the circle and undress in a corner of the room. As my mother had remarkably small hands, we had agreed on the following procedure. After Mr. Price had felt the spirit form, my father suggested that, while holding the spirit’s hands, Mr. Price might like those not sitting next to him to speak, and thus assure himself that they were in their proper places. My mother, who had rolled up the sleeves and removed her rings in the dark, then placed her hands in front of Mr. Price, which he held while I returned to my seat in the circle and spoke a few words.”
“When it came to using the luminous mirrors, my father asked Mr. Price to commence from the feet and work upwards. This was because when he came to light the face, the mirror would be beneath the chin and therefore the face would be underlighted. We had discovered, when experimenting with the torch, that a face which is underlighted is completely unrecognizable as the same face when normally lighted, and it was obviously necessary that Mr. Price should not recognize my face. But although we were reasonably sure that Mr. Price would not recognize me, we were rather afraid that Mr. Price would think that my face was not that of a six year old. I was then eleven and therefore looked older than six, but he did not comment on this so I suppose my looking slightly older than Rosalie did not occur to him.”
“I was somewhat nonplussed when Mr. Price spoke to Rosalie because my father, after my unfortunate reply to Madame, had told me that I must not speak at this séance. But as Mr. Price persisted in asking questions, I eventually ventured a “yes”, and this reply fortunately put a stop to his questions.
After the séance Mr. Price examined his seals and found them intact. He seemed very perplexed but absolutely satisfied that trickery had been impossible. Madame’s suspicions had vanished and once more she appeared to be friendly towards the family, or, at least, as friendly as she was capable.”
“My father, in the summer of 1939, had arranged to take my mother for a holiday on the Continent and meeting Madame by accident one evening at xxxxxxx [erased word] the Station, he happened to mention the holiday to her. She asked him whether she could accompany them as far as, I think, Paris, and he could see no way of refusing this request. I was spending my summer holidays with my paternal grandmother and Uncle Jim and only heard of this when they hurriedly returned to England. No member of the family saw Madame again and, to tell the truth, we were not sorry to have done with this reminder of a very worrying time.
Indeed I sincerely wish people would cease to write about the Rosalie affair. I have no intention of giving any clues which might connect me, or my family, with this sorry, and rather reprehensible, business and this I think you will understand. There is now, I believe, no other living person who knows the whole story. The servants were never in our confidence although it is rather impossible to know how much servants guess or find out. However, the cook is dead and our housemaid, I have been told, married just after the war and left England to live abroad.”
The letter was signed off, “yours Sincerely, Rosalie.” It was a damning document and upon first glance, appeared to comprehensively answer almost every question left concerning the case of Rosalie. However, things are not always as they first seem and that is true to a disproportionate degree in the case of Harry Price and Rosalie.
Rosalie Revisited: Paul Adams and the Identities of Family X
As damning as the letter from Miss X was, it confused many known facts and contradicted certain aspects of it’s story, especially within the timeline. There were many who took it to be a hoax, pointing out that Miss X, who was 12 years old at the time of the Seance, could not possibly have passed herself off as both a 6 year old and a 16 year old in the same evening to the same man. Others pointed out, however, that price had said in his account himself, that the girl had “looked older than her alleged years.” But how much older? Surely not 6 or 12 years? Others pointed out that Price had had control over the seating arrangement, which meant that the whole deception had pivoted on a remarkable piece of luck on behalf of the fraudsters. The letter itself was something of a double edged sword for Harry Prices reputation. It both vindicated him from writing a fictional account, but at the same time showed him up to have been tricked by a family of amateurs. Furthermore, whilst it shone a light on a potential motive, it did nothing to explain who the X family were, or where there house had been. It was, in total, still little more than further, unsubstantiated evidence. The mystery of Rosalie had been answered fully, but only if you chose to believe one persons written account of events over another. In the same year he had received the letter, David Cohen unfortunately tased away to cancer, once again leaving the Rosalie affair shrouded in mystery, a situation it would remain within until 2007, when Paul Adams, researching the case for his book “The Enigma of Rosalie” took it upon himself to revisit the material and investigate it from a new perspective.
From the outset, he had a great deal to contend with. The investigations so far had left only muffled, uncertain conclusions that suggested that Price had invented a considerable amount of details concerning the names of the participants, as well as potentially the description of the house. If this were true, how much else had he obfuscated in order to conceal the participants and to ensure anonymity after his published account? Was the little girl herself even called Rosalie? This question was one of the earliest that Adams sought to address, and it was a question that it seemed nobody had asked before, or at least, not that they had written about. Immediately he drew a blank, finding that there weer no death records for any children named Rosalie from 1921, therefore, it was likely that even the infamous name of the spirit girl was a pseudonym. He did however, have the Mortimer name to go on and an entirely more modern setting in which to try and track both the people and the house down, with all it’s google street view and online archival records. Scouring through names, occupations and addresses from the period, Adams came across over 500 people with the surname of Mortimer that weer living in London in 1937. Housing these were 264 individual households, 19 of which were now no longer standing. Meticulously, he cross referenced the remainder, checking occupations and ages with various records, until after weeks of investigation, he had narrowed this list down to only 2 houses which he felt matched Prices description sufficiently enough to be contenders for the actual Rosalie house. The first was in Lamberth, and whilst the occupants seemed close enough, there were significant differences to the makeup of the family. The father was a labourer rather than a city businessman and the daughter, whilst being the correct age, had a brother just one year young then herself. Perhaps most difficult square away however, was the fact that it had been a household with an apartment block, which didn’t tally at all with Prices account.
The second property was in East Kensington, a well to do West London suburb and was situated at 28 Cadogan Square. It had a lot in common with Prices house, the occupants were super middle class, with the father Haliburton Mortimer working in the city as a stock broker, though from letters uncovered by Adams writer by members of the family, he was not so great at his job, which perhaps tied in with the story of Mr X’s debts. He lived in the property with his wife, Dorothy and their daughter, Joan. Whilst they also had a son, though he was serving in the military during 1937 and was posted in North Africa, so was firmly out of the picture and therefore, this didn’t necessarily go against the facts. They also employed three members of staff, a parlour-maid, cook and butler. Finally, in 1939, right about the time the Rosalie letter suggested her father had been able to pay back Madame Z and put an end to the affair for the family, it was wound that Halliburton Mortimer had inherited a large sum of money.
This all sounded really rather close to Prices description of family X to Adams, who zoned in on the Cadogan Square Mortimers family history, however, there was a few rather difficult snags. Joan Mortimer, the daughter, was 30 years old in 1937, not the mid-teen that Price had claimed her to be. If this was the correct household, then what did that mean for the Rosalie letter? It stretched conceivability to imagine a 12 year old girl could play act as a 6 year old and get away with it, but for a 30 year old to do the same was simply absurd. “Uncle Jim”, the family prankster, too did not seem to fit into the picture, and lastly, the Rosalie letter mentioned that the author was the only member of the family currently alive, however, the Cadogan Square Moritmers had several members still going along just fine. The house itself had some differing elements too, it had 6 floors rather than 4, was situated at the end of a terrace, rather than detached, however, as far as the rest of the details went, it was, again remarkably close to how Price described it.
The house appeared to fit in many different ways, but in others it differed to the extent that it left troubling questions for everything that was known about the Rosalie case. In order to put the matter to bed, Adams formed a plan to prove one way or another if the Cadogan Square house was the Rosalie location and if the Mortimers that lives there were family X. Whilst scouring through the families various papers, he had come across a draft of a will, written by Joan Mortimer, the daughter. If he could have the handwriting of this will analysed and tested against the handwriting in the Rosalie letter, he could simultaneously confirm both the authenticity of the letter and the identities of the Rosalie sitters in one swoop. And so, on the 26th June, 2016, Adams wound up holding a letter of results, written by Margaret White, a legal graphologist who he had enlisted to conduct his handwriting analysis. The letter explained the four categories with which comparison between handwriting examples could fall into, at the top of the chain was “In all probability”, secondly, there was “probable”, both of which were positive matches, that would stand as sufficient evidence in a court of law. Below these two, there was “inconclusive” and “no or little resemblance”, both of which, were naturally negative results. White confirmed to Adams that it was “probable” that the author o the will, Joan Mortimer, was one and the same with the author of the Rosalie letter, all but confirming that 28 Cadogan Square was the house that harry price had visited 89 years prior on that December night and taken part in the Mortimer family séance.
As exciting and revealing as Paul Adams conclusions were, it left the story of Rosalie in a difficult place. Given that Joan Mortimer was 30 years old in 1937, we are left with he facts that not only had Price changed her age for the sake of anonymity, but so too had Joan herself compounded the obfuscation with her account in the Rosalie letter. Prices change made a great deal of sense, he changed many of the details in order to keep his promise of anonymity to the family. Joan Mortimer alterations in the Rosalie letter however, were more troubling. Was her account filled with truths, concealed between lies? How much of it therefore, was true? And what was her motive for altering the facts in the first place? It seems quite bizarre to write a full confession with an air of finality, only to introduce several more questions to the affair. If the child was a real child and Price had been hoodwinked by the Mortimers, then who had they brought in to play the role? Likewise, who had played the role of Jim? Was he, perhaps a boyfriend of Joans, or perhaps the butler who according to Price, he had not seen on the night of the séance? Whilst looking through the records of the Mortimers staff, Adams uncovered an employment record that showed that the turnover for household staff was relatively high and at one point, the Mortimers had employed a maid with dwarfism, which leads to a compelling answer, but no dates as to her employment could be found to cross reference them with the dates of the séances, only a mention that she could play the Jazz Piano with some skill. Finally, who was Madame Z? Paul Adams introduces one final twist in his own conclusion, which in all other cases might sound controversial, however, with the case of Rosalie, as we have seen, what we are shown, is almost certainly not the truth. Searching trough death records of children in and around the Kensington area, Adams shortlisted 14 possible children who could fit the bill as Rosalie. The child that he thought fit the bill most closely, had died not of Diptheria, like Price had stated, but of Appendicitis, and had been aged 8 rather than 6. Her Mother too had died in 1927, so therefore Adams suggests that rather than Madame Z, had Price met Monsieur Z on the night of the séance? The Childs father that Adams suggests lived locally and also worked as. A stock broker in the city so was very likely to have known Haliburton mortimer socially. Was the gender of the long grieving parent that had been so central to the story of Rosalie too been switched?
With so much confusion of facts and shrouding of detail, the finer points are at times poured over whilst the wider questions are forgotten. Whatever the identities of the Mortimers, Madame Z and of the spirit child, now the existence of the family, the house and the séance are proven and no longer can be considered a fiction by price, what exactly did happen that night in the dark room? Had price seen a genuine materialisation, or had he been simply hoodwinked by the Mortimers, as the Rosalie letter suggests? Did Price himself realise he’d been hoodwinked, but use the story anyway, either through denial, or because he felt it might sell a few books? There are plenty that suggest Price would not have been hoodwinked by a room of amateurs, however, if he did suspect fraud, then why not simply expose it? He had never been one to mince his words, or tread carefully around the sensibilities of others in the past, so why would he have chosen to exercise care on that night?
The words of Dr Tabori, the first biographer of Price are as god as any at this juncture, in explaining the situation as it stands,
“Was he lying? I do not think so. He was not good at inventing tales. The few pieces of fiction (all unpublished) which I have read from his pen all show that he was utterly incapable of spinning a convincing plot. And why should he lie? What possible motive could he have had for risking the reputation of a lifetime? Psychologically and morally, this theory will not hold water…I believe that Harry Price was speaking the truth and that he was both frightened and shaken by his experiences.”
Now, 80 years on from the original séance, time only works to obstruct any answers further. As more time passes and less people linked continue to survive, the answers to Rosalie, it seems, appear to be slipping away for good. No doubt Price would have been thrilled if he could see how long he had managed to secure both common interest in his psychical research and his subjects anonymity. Summed up perfectly, the case of Rosalie is, “Perhaps the greater mystery left by that Enigmatic psychical Researcher.”