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What Katie Did

When an eminent scientist invited a celebrated young medium to live in his home, under the pretext of a rigorous investigation of her supposed abilities, was a drama more of the flesh than the spirit being played out? Peter Brookesmith enters the sexually charged world of the Victorian séance to try and provide some answers.

In that thick square book, whose pages are of granite and whose bindings are of brass, titled The True Believer’s Bible, or Ten Thousand Rules for Swallowing Rubbish Whole, there is an article of faith that runs: “If a man of science supports your claim, it must be true.” Thus, flying saucers must be real because some Americans with PhDs think so, and crop circles must be made by aliens, despite the repeated admissions of large numbers of male humans who, stoically facing middle age, can think of no better ways to meet girls and while away their weekends.

For those who regard spiritualistic mediums as providing evidence, or even proof, of life after death, one medium is unanimously acclaimed as the greatest exponent of her craft: Florence Cook, who between 1872 and 1874 regularly produced the fully materialised spirit of Anne Owen Morgan, better known as ‘Katie King’. Cook was neither the first nor the only medium to succeed in this feat. Katie King was something of a favourite with Victorian mediums, and others before and since have – according to them – generated ectoplasm of sufficient quantity and quality to support a materialised Katie King, as well as other ‘spirit’ forms. What makes the Cook-King double act so appealing to believers is the shadow cast over the case by eminent scientist William Crookes [see panel p32], who enthusiastically defended Florence’s integrity and the reality of the spirit she claimed to materialise.

Florence Cook was born into modest but respectable circumstances in then-affluent Hackney, east London, in the 1850s. Quite when she was born is obscure, although the issue becomes critical when pondering her motives and her genuineness. In 1874, Crookes believed her to be 15 years old, although Florence herself maintained that she was 16 in May 1872. If so, she was born in the first half of 1856; her birth was never registered, however, and her parents were wed in January 1856. In his classic work on Cook, Trevor H Hall considered her handwriting in June 1872 to be remarkably mature for a 16-year-old, and notes that when she secretly married master mariner Edward Corner in April 1874 she concealed her exact age on the marriage certificate beneath the words “under age”.1 She could, therefore, have been as old as 20 at that time – at least two years older than she made sure she was generally taken to be.

Another of true belief’s naive axioms has it that the younger a claimant to paranormal experience is, the less likely he or she is to be indulging in calculated fraud. Doubtless it helps not to be too ugly, as well. Florence Cook was also counting on particular presumptions and concepts of innocence and virtue among the Victorian middle classes in this deception about her age: and the idea certainly appealed powerfully to Crookes. In 1874 he expostulated that it did “violence to one’s reason and c7ommon sense” to suppose that “an innocent schoolgirl of 15 should be able to conceive... so gigantic an imposture as this, and [yet]... should submit to any test that might be imposed on her.”

Florence first came to public attention in the early summer of 1871, through an article in The Spiritualist (15 June 1871) written by Thomas Blyton, secretary of the Dalston Association of Enquirers into Spiritualism. Therein Blyton described how at a séance at his house, with him and her parents as the only sitters, Florence was floated on and off a table by unseen forces, and the table “was then thrown with great force over into the fireplace, and Miss Cook carried very rapidly about the room.” At a second séance on 2 June, Blyton wrote, furniture again moved, “a portion of Miss Cook’s dress was removed” 2 , raps were heard, and the entranced Florence engaged in dialogue with the spirits through automatic writing. As a result of this article, she was nearly famous.

Both Blyton and Cook had good reason to publicise themselves. Blyton’s group of spiritualist ‘enquirers’ was being funded by a credulous, rich, and generous businessman, Charles Blackburn of Didsbury, Manchester. It was clearly in Blyton’s interests to ‘discover’ a bright new medium, and it was in Cook’s interest to bring herself to the attention of a man of known philanthropic tendencies in the spiritualist world. 3 And Blackburn, duly impressed, obliged. In his own words he “made a little arrangement of compensation with the family”. 4 Apart from the hard cash, a huge advantage lay in Florence Cook now having no further need to charge for public séances; these could now be held strictly ‘by invitation only’, in front of sitters carefully selected for their willingness to believe, and whose decorum in not interfering with the medium or her manifestations could be relied upon. Florence could count on her good looks, youth, and (it turned out) somewhat un-Victorian lack of inhibitions to take her from petit-bourgeois Hackney to more rarified reaches of London society. In those more deferent times, the imprimatur of the nobility bestowed a certain irrational weight to the claims of the spiritualists. More than one titled gentleman was fascinated by spiritualism, and perhaps too by something less ethereal about young female mediums.

The febrile atmosphere that could arise at materialisation séances is well illustrated in a report of one such held in the 1860s in the USA:

“The spirit beckons to someone; and a series of enquiries by the various members of the audience, ‘Is it me?’ ‘Is it me?’ presently shows that a young man is wanted who goes forward nearly to the curtain and is whispered to, embraced, and very audibly kissed; and the spirit then goes back behind the curtain, but reappears again for a moment to exchange some more kisses. Then a similar performance is gone through with another sitter, a young woman, who is so excited that she nearly faints away, the kisses being very animated and prolonged again... Then comes a short delay, and a figure in man’s clothes emerges from the cabinet and seats himself affectionately in the lap of a young woman and kisses her warmly.” 5

In the summer of 1872, the ‘spirit form’ with whom Florence Cook will forever be associated made her first appearance. At a séance in the Cooks’ home that April, Katie King was first heard speaking through Florence as she lay in a trance.

She was, she said, the spirit of the daughter of John King, known in his ‘Earth life’ as the pirate-made-good Henry Owen Morgan (1635-1688) who ended his life as Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica. There is no historical record that Morgan had a daughter, but Katie King claimed to have been just that, and to have been named Anne Owen Morgan in her earthly incarnation. By the time of her death at the age of 23, her ‘spirit’ said, she had not only married and had two children but, no doubt inspired by her father’s example, pursued a life of crime that did not stop short of murder. It was said that, having repented of all this once dead, she had been charged with proving the truth of Spiritualism to redeem her former wickedness.

Katie King did not spring fully-formed from the head of Florence Cook. She had been appearing at séances all over the United States and Europe, and had first ‘come through’ in 1850, in the early days of spiritualism’s first great flush of popularity. She had appeared, looking somewhat more like a ghost than a fully materialised spirit, to judge from a contemporary illustration, in Philadelphia only a short while before announcing herself to Florence. She in turn might have been expecting Katie, for by April 1872 she was presenting séances with Messrs Frank Herne and Charles Williams, successful mediums who operated in partnership from 61 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London. Herne specialised in materialisations of both John King and his wife. At ‘the direction of the spirits’ (of course) Florence became their pupil.

Both Herne and Williams were later caught in more than one flagrant fraud, impersonating with such paraphernalia as turbans, wigs, and false beards the very spirits they had purportedly materialised. In late 1872, Cook also benefited from the tutelage of visiting American mediums Mr and Mrs Nelson Holmes, who produced a levitating version of Katie King. On their return to the USA there was uproar when their landlady in Philadelphia confessed to having impersonated King at their sittings. Some might say Florence had apprenticed herself well.

Katie King announced in 1872 that she would stay with Florence for three years, and during this time would attempt to make herself visible – that is, that her spirit form would take on material form, specifically through the medium of ectoplasm, which she would ‘draw off’ from Florence’s body. Her first attempt to do so took place in April 1872 in Hackney, and consisted of a deathly, mask-like face that peered out through the curtains of Florence’s ‘cabinet’.

It took roughly a year before the complete form of Katie King came forth. According to the Cook family, she appeared almost daily, walked about the house in Hackney, and even shared Florence’s bed with her. In August 1873, the Rev. Dr C Maurice Davies reported (under a pseudonym) in the London Daily Telegraph that the fully materialised form of Katie King, swathed in white, emerged from Florence’s cabinet while she, dressed in black, was tied up within and the knots sealed. He took some photographs of Katie King’s form, but was not entirely free of doubt: “The difficulty I still felt, with the form as with the faces, was that it seemed so thoroughly material and flesh-and-blood-like.”

So material indeed was this spirit that even the most credulous witnesses, one imagines, would have wanted to see both the medium and the materialised form together, proving that Katie was not Florence. Strangely, and despite numerous sceptical comments on the Cook-King phenomenon in the spiritualist press, no one in the Cooks’ circle seemed to consider this necessary.

Late in 1873, William Crookes, later to be knighted for his achievements in science, agreed to investigate Florence’s claims as a medium – at her request. There was good reason for her to make the appeal. She was in grave danger of losing her useful income from Charles Blackburn. For on the evening of 9 December, there had occurred a curious scene that had served to fuel already widespread speculation and suspicion that Florence Cook was cheating her sitters – that she and Katie King were, indeed, one and the same “beautifully made woman”, as the novelist Florence Marryat described her. More than one commentator had remarked on the striking resemblance between medium and materialisation. 6

At a séance that evening, one of the sitters, William Volckman, had become exasperated at the striking resemblance between Florence and Katie, and had grabbed her. Two stout parties had promptly intervened to protect Katie, there was a struggle undignified enough for the ‘spirit’ to part Volckman from a portion of his beard. Volckman maintained that he had satisfied himself that he had indeed seized none other than Florence Cook, and that in the mêlée she had slipped out of his grasp and back into the cabinet. Other witnesses maintained that Katie King had partly dematerialised, flipped herself away from Volckman, and then vanished into thin air. After a decent interval of five minutes was allowed to elapse by those in charge, Florence herself was discovered still – or once more – taped up in the cabinet, and the seals on her bonds were unbroken. These had been impressed with the signet ring of the Earl of Caithness, one of the sitters.

For objective investigators, then as now, this business of knots and tapes and seals in the medium’s cabinet guaranteed nothing. Incredibly enough, one standard practice at Victorian séances was to leave the medium alone on a chair in the cabinet with a length of rope on her lap. After a while the medium would call in some trusted aide to witness, and often to seal with lead or wax, the knots that the spirits themselves had obligingly tied. At Florence Cook’s later sessions, others did the tying, and searched the medium’s body for props. Unfortunately, Florence was habitually prepared in this way by Mrs Amelia Corner and Miss Caroline Corner, pillars of the Dalston Enquirers, and in due course her mother- and sister-in-law respectively.

There were other difficulties that spiritualists put in the way of sceptics. It was forbidden to touch a materialised spirit form uninvited, on the grounds not merely of ill manners, but because it might upset the delicate etheric and ectoplasmic balance obtaining and actually kill the medium. The literature contains no record of such a tragic demise, although it does contain many instances of grabbed ‘spirits’ who turned out to be mediums or their accomplices. Amazingly, they all lived to ripe old ages.

Once the medium was tied down in the cabinet, as long as half an hour would then pass before any manifestations occurred, a period that the sitters would while away by being ‘vehemently exhorted’ to sing psalms or spiritualist hymns, conveniently covering any suspicious shufflings and bumpings made by the medium slipping her knots, changing into white muslin ‘spirit’ garb (often concealed in her drawers), and preparing props to astonish the company. There was, naturally, another iron rule: any peeping behind the curtain at this time was forbidden, for that would entirely upset the production of ectoplasm and the process of materialisation.

Various witnesses to Cook’s séances pointed out that many objections could be disposed of were the curtain to the cabinet to be thrown wide, at least while the ‘spirit’ was abroad among the sitters. Cook however always had a red shawl wrapped around her head in the cabinet. She told Crookes, during his experiments, that Katie King herself “muffled her medium’s head up in a shawl” to protect her from the flash of his photographic lights, but it is apparent, from Crookes’s own account of a Cook-King séance he had attended prior to the Volckman fiasco, that this business of the shawl was standard practice at a Cook performance. 7 Crookes himself referred to the Volckman episode as “a disgraceful occurrence” and Florence as “young, sensitive and innocent”. Clearly, he too was suitably primed.
By the time Florence Cook approached Crookes, he had investigated DD Home, the ‘sorcerer of kings’, to his own satisfaction at least, and was convinced of the reality of psychic forces (but not that everyone who claimed to possess them actually did so). He claimed to have tested Florence rigorously, the experiments taking place between mid-December 1873 and 21 May 1874. What really happened is anyone’s guess, but the most worldly interpretation of the known facts leaves Florence’s reputation as a medium in tatters and makes Crookes’s claim to be objective a sad joke.

It was ostensibly in the interests of maintaining control over his experiments that Crookes, having been to several séances at the Cook family home, brought Florence to live in his own house, the better to ensure that she would be out of reach of any accomplices. In such circumstances, if he could witness Katie King and Florence together at the same time, there would be no doubt that Florence was neither impersonating Katie nor using a stand-in. That, at least, was the theory.

Crookes did indeed witness the two together, but there was no sure proof that Florence did not have a collaborator, even in the Crookes household. Florence’s sister Kate, presumably in the role of chaperone, also moved into the house in Mornington Road, Camden Town. Less happily for all concerned, so did one Miss Mary Rosina Showers, who also professed to produce materialisations of a spirit called Florence Maple. These two, and the Cook sisters’ mother, Emma, along with Crookes’s eldest son (aged 14) and one Dr James Manby Gully, seem to have been the main, and most regular, witnesses of the experimental séances. At least once, the two girls’ spirit forms appeared together and paraded “with their arms entwined, schoolgirl fashion” about the place. Crookes apparently accepted this exhibition as genuine, until Mary Showers confessed to the professional medium Mrs Fay that she had been cheating, and Mrs Fay informed Crookes. At about this time, too, Showers was caught out at a public séance standing on a chair in her cabinet, wearing a ghostly headdress purporting to be the ‘spirit form’ of Florence Maple. It is exceedingly difficult to imagine that Florence Cook was either ignorant of Showers’s mountebankery or was producing genuine phenomena in concert with a confessed fraud. In such an unlikely case, wouldn’t it have been in Katie King’s own best interests to denounce the impostor?

Worse, and indeed weirder, was to come. In June 1874, somewhat before she was expected to leave, Katie King announced that her time was up and she was parting from Florence. Crookes described in extraordinary terms the final séance in which he saw – and as it transpired, felt – Katie King materialise. At this last session, Katie put her arm through his.

“Feeling... that if I had not a spirit, I had at all events a lady close to me, I asked her permission to clasp her in my arms, so as to be able to verify the interesting observations which a recent experimentalist [i.e. Volckman] has recently somewhat verbosely recorded. Permission was graciously given, and I accordingly did – well, what any gentleman would do in the circumstances... the ‘ghost’ (not struggling, however), was as material a being as Miss Cook herself.”

This veritable mish-mash of Victorian doubletalk (what would a true gentleman have done ‘in the circumstances’? – surely not what we can only imagine Crookes did) becomes more suspect in the light of Crookes’s other remarks on Katie’s person. As he appreciatively wrote: “Photography was inadequate to depict the perfect beauty of Katie’s face, as words are powerless to describe her charm of manner. Photography may, indeed, give a map of her countenance; but how can it reproduce the brilliant purity of her complexion, or the ever varying expression of her most mobile features?”

Others noticed Crookes’s unusual interest in Katie King. One was the Rev. C Maurice Davies, who remarked: “The Professor acted all the time as Master of Ceremonies, retaining his place at the aperture [to the cabinet]; and I fear, from the very first, exciting suspicion by his marked attentions, not to the medium, but to the ghost.” 8

Whatever the frame of mind in which Crookes thought he began his investigation of Florence Cook, by the end he seems clearly to have become infatuated by Katie King. This is an important distinction, and bears strongly on the issue of whether Crookes colluded in Florence Cook’s fraudulence or whether he was duped by her – and on the identity of Florence’s collaborator who impersonated Katie King, if indeed that was the manner in which she created her illusions.

So, was Katie really Florence, as has often been proposed? Trevor Hall suggested that Florence seduced Crookes and that he responded by becoming so besotted with the lovely young medium that he colluded in her fabrications. Psychical research became a cover for a clandestine affair: distinctly more a matter of weak flesh than willing spirit. Alternatively, Crookes may have been besotted indeed, but only to the extent that he could not bring himself to tell her that he had found her out. As a result he publicly presented as good evidence what he knew to be insupportable.

But what if ‘Katie King’ was actually neither herself nor Florence, but another young lady? In light of Crookes’s gushing panegyrics on Katie King’s personal charms, it was this person, not Florence, who was the object of the eminent scientist’s sprightly lust. The obvious question is: Who was the ‘Katie King’ ‘materialised’ by Florence?

The testimony of EW Cox, Serjeant-at-Law, is useful here. Cox was no unbeliever, but as an eminent jurist he did demand high standards of proof for the reality of séance phenomena. He was one of the few to witness Katie King and Florence Maple together, “coming out from the room in which Miss Cook and Miss Showers were placed, walking about, talking, playing girlish tricks, patting us and pushing us. They were solid flesh and blood and bone. They breathed, and perspired, and ate, and wore a white head-dress and a white robe from head to foot, made of cotton and woven by a loom. Not merely did they resemble their respective mediums, they were facsimiles of them – alike in face, hair, complexion, eyes, teeth, hands, and movements of the body. Unless he had been otherwise so informed, no person would have doubted for a moment that the two girls who had been placed behind the curtain were now standing… before the curtain playing very prettily the character of ghost.” 9

It does not require an exceptionally expert eye to discern the striking likeness between Florence Cook and Katie King in the surviving photographs of the latter. The believer’s standard rationalisation for this – that materialisations take on the medium’s form at first, while the medium gradually gains the power to generate the spirit’s own true features – can be dismissed on its own terms alone. Mediums always materialised spirit faces first, and Florence Cook had been performing this trick for two years by the time the photographs were taken. She had surely logged the requisite practice hours.

At least some of the time, then, we can be certain that Cook managed her own impersonations. Hall considers her most likely accomplice, at Crookes’s house in Mornington Road and at King’s final appearances in Hackney in Spring 1874, to have been Mary Showers. Unfortunately, we don’t know what she looked like. And it does seem unlikely that, even if Crookes was prepared to be fooled, others would not have recognised her and spoken up. One such might be Maurice Davies, 10 who was present at the last series of Hackney séances orchestrated by Crookes, and who recognised that this time medium and spirit had “no resemblance”. He spoke to those who were led, by the dim glow of a phosphorus lamp, into the cabinet to lay a hand on the recumbent medium, “and their opinion was that the ‘ghost’ was a much stouter, bigger woman than the medium; and I confess that certain unhallowed ideas of the bedroom door and the adjacent kitchen stairs connected themselves in my mind with recollections of a brawny servant girl who used to sit sentry over the cupboard in the breakfast room. Where was she?”

Crookes published his own impressions of the differences between medium and spirit form. He calculated that Katie King was between 4.5 and 6 inches (11.4 and 15.2 cm) taller than Florence. He also noted that whereas Katie’s ears were not pierced, Florence’s were, that Katie King’s fingers were longer, her face larger and her complexion fairer. At the last séance at which Katie appeared, Crookes reported, “Katie’s neck was bare... the skin was perfectly smooth both to touch and sight, whilst on Miss Cook’s neck is a large blister, which... is distinctly visible and rough to the touch.” 11 Most striking was the difference in their hair on the last occasion Katie King appeared through Florence’s mediumship. After the séance, Crookes wrote: “Miss Cook’s hair is so dark a brown as almost to appear black; a lock of Katie’s which is here before me and which she allowed me to cut from her luxuriant tresses having first traced it up to the scalp and satisfied myself that is actually grew there, is a rich golden auburn.”12

It seems indisputable that on this climactic occasion, and very likely on others, someone other than Florence Cook was playing the part of Katie King. The final séance is noteworthy, indeed, for this exposure of Katie’s hair. The usual form, for reasons that are obvious, was to keep it well hidden.

But we might consider the photographs again, and the likeness of King to Cook. The one person who might be predicted to resemble Florence Cook is her sister Kate who, interestingly enough, really was 15 years old at the time of the final appearances of Katie King. Here again we are unfortunate in having no contemporary pictures of her, although she was once described as “decidedly spirituelle in appearance”. 13

We do know something, however, about Kate Cook’s unscrupulousness. Florence’s months with Crookes paid off, in that Charles Blackburn continued to support her through the summer of 1874, but by the end of the year he had become disillusioned. Her secret marriage to Edward Corner, a growing suspicion about the nature of her relationship with Crookes, her failure to produce materialisations after the departure of Katie King, and perhaps increasing doubts about her genuineness altogether, led him to cut off her allowance. It was almost immediately, not to say miraculously, discovered that Kate too had mediumistic powers, and in due course she produced a materialised spirit known as Lillie Gordon. Her manifestations were eagerly communicated to Blackburn, who was soon persuaded to pay her a comfortable allowance. Curiously, Crookes took no interest in Kate’s mediumship, while she herself sought no publicity for her séance work. Perhaps she had learned from her sister’s experience.

Kate Cook worked hard on her relationship with Blackburn and when, in 1883, he moved to London into a substantial residence in Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill, the entire Cook family – Kate, her parents Henry and Emma, sister Edith, and brother Donald – moved in with him. Thereafter, they lived either in Blackburn’s various London houses or in ones bought with his money. By various means, but in particular by playing on Blackburn’s concern for his mentally-deficient daughter (whom they took into their charge in return for a considerable income), and with ‘Lillie Gordon’ judiciously reinforcing their case and their position in ‘spirit letters’ to him, the Cooks managed to do very well, materially, out of Blackburn. When he died in 1891, they inherited virtually all of his estate. Florence, however, received nothing in his will, although her husband benefited by £800.

Compared to this long-maintained campaign of fraud and virtual extortion by Kate, acting as stand-in for her sister would surely be small beer. If she, and not Florence, was the object of Crookes’s infatuation, and if Crookes was not in collaboration with the medium but being gulled by her, several things fall into place. One is Crookes’s specific and uncharacteristic silence on the Cook-King ‘case’ once Katie had departed – usually intolerant of critics, he refused to be drawn by objections to his research. Another is his general indifference to the spiritualist scene thereafter. Embarrassment, particularly embarrassment at having fallen for a spirit form, and an understandable desire to avoid a recurrence of such a lapse, could well have informed both decisions. Crookes’s finding in favour of Florence would then indeed be the result of a certain kind of entrapment, emotional or carnal, certainly of Florence’s creation but not requiring her indulgence. And it may have been part of the sisters’ plan that if Crookes had tasted the pleasures of Kate/Katie’s flesh outside the séance room, believing her to be a materialised spirit, he would be all the more driven to find all the evidence he could for her actuality within the séance room.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Crookes’s subsequent reticence is his failure to engage in any way with Kate Cook’s mediumship. Yet the reason he did not champion her – assuming he was not too chagrined to consider it – may not be hard to find. It is apparent that, once his final endorsement of her mediumship was published and Blackburn’s continued financial support was assured, Florence Cook dropped Crookes like a hot brick. It is equally clear that one of the reasons Blackburn finally withdrew that support at the end of 1874 was his conviction that he had been paying for sittings “under the rose”, in the quaint euphemism he used, with Crookes. 14 Kate King, hard-nosed as she was, would not want to risk arousing Blackburn’s suspicions again by associating with the man who had already betrayed his trust once.

Entertaining as it is, it is not essential to presume that Crookes actually slept with either of the Cook sisters, although he may have slept with both. He was, after all, phenomenally short-sighted 15 and may not have known the difference; and hence Florence could probably manage, if the need arose, to impersonate her sister outside the séance room while her sister impersonated Kate within it.

So why stop there? Let speculation thrive! Perhaps Crookes discovered the joys of troilism. One is led to this impression not so much by the accounts of Katie King’s remarkably free conduct in the séance room or by the fact that in June 1874 Florence astonished Crookes with the news that she had married a mariner, Edward Elgie Corner, on 29 April that year, as by one of Corner’s subsequent remarks on the nature of their conjugal relations. He told the novelist Florence Marryat 16 that he felt that he had married two women – Katie King as well as Florence – and that at times he was not sure which was his earthly wife. If it was Kate who was impersonating Katie, the mind reels at the possible implications. And when one learns that, after Florence died in 1904 Corner married her sister Kate as soon as it was legally possible, one feels justified in wondering if all of them were party to more than one kind of threesome. Perhaps Crookes was too.

It is certainly not impossible that the sisters had more adventurous tastes than might be expected in conventional young ladies of the 1870s. These were not conventional ladies, and Florence is known to have had affairs after her marriage. She told two of her lovers, Francis Anderson and Jules Bois, that her mediumship was fraudulent, and that she had had an affair with Crookes.17

Whatever the precise truth about Florence Cook and William Crookes, Katie King herself continued shamelessly to appear at séances. In 1930 she was photographed during one held by Dr Glen Hamilton in Winnipeg, Canada. In July 1974, she materialised and was photographed at a séance held by Fulvio Rendhell (sic) in Rome, in the presence of 23 people. In this picture she displays appropriately Italianate features, and resembles neither Florence Cook nor the Katie King of the Crookes photographs. And in 2002, the proprietor of the Mercuriosity Shop posted this message on his website:

“I happened to purchase a fairly large cabinet one day. I found it in an antique store, and I was drawn to it. It was old and a bit distressed, but it had a sense of rustic charm. And it was inexpensive. Once I got it back to the Shop, I kept noticing the door ajar, and assumed it had been opened by Püs, the cat that lives here. Then one night I found a woman standing at the foot of my bed (not that that is unusual). She climbed into the cabinet and closed the door behind her. I opened the cabinet, and no one was there. I did some nosing around, and found the cabinet at one time was owned by one Sir William Crookes FRS. And that’s when I discovered I had been visited by the one-and-only Katie King. Miss King, though a shy and demure ghost, occasionally visits me during the night, in my bedroom, upstairs from the Mercuriosity Shop. Incidently, after I learned the history of the cabinet, I’m just glad a damned lusty pirate didn’t show up at the foot of my bed.”18

You can’t keep a good spirit down: old or young, they don’t even fade away.

SPECIAL THANKS to Hilary Evans and Janet Bord for the loan of indispensable research material

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Victorian séance
Author Biography
Peter Brookesmith was the sinister mastermind behind the part-work magazine The Unexplained. He is the author of UFO: The Complete Sightings Catalogue (1995) and Sniper: Training, Techniques and Weapons (2001).


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