The Seybert Commission.

Preliminary Report of the Commission Appointed by the University of Pennsylvania to Investigate Modern Spiritualism In Accordance with the Request of the Late Henry Seybert online

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was sealed. The Medium had declared that the pencil was gone, but said
she did not know whether there was writing on the slate or not.

The seals were first examined and declared intact.

Then Dr. Leidy pushed a thin knife-blade between the slates at the
unprotected corner, marked by the arrow on the sketch.

Then Mr. Sellers pushed in a thick knife-blade a little to one side of
Dr. Leidy's. (The exact place is marked on the rim of the slate
itself.) Both the blades were thrust straight in - Dr. Leidy's exactly at
the corner, and Mr. Sellers's at the point marked, and neither of them
was worked about between the slates.

The slates were thus separated by the thick knife-blade about one-tenth
of an inch.

The seals were not broken by this.

While the slates were thus separated, it was noticed that the wood was
discolored and rubbed glossy on the sides of the crack.

Mr. Sellers then removed the tape, seals and screws.

The slate being opened, no pencil was found and no pencil-marks appeared
on the slate.

The rims were worn smooth and blackened at the corner where the slates
could be separated; this was very distinct.

Some soap-stone dust, which Dr. Koenig identified under a microscope as
the same with a remaining fragment of the pencil inserted (which Mr.
Furness had preserved), was found rubbed into the same corner, showing
that _the slates had been separated and the piece of pencil worked out_.

Mr. Furness then produced three slates of the same sort (with hinges,
and about 8 in. by 6.) to be used in the presence of Dr. Slade.

They were screwed up with a bit of pencil inside, in the presence of the
Commission. Each was marked on the inside by Mr. Sellers, with a scratch
from a diamond. To Mr. Furness was delegated the work of sealing them.
[As Dr. Slade, however, refused to use any of our sealed slates, our
labor was wasted.]



* * * * *

The following is a stenographic report of a meeting of the Commission,
to consider the reports offered by several members of séances with Dr.
Henry Slade, who came to Philadelphia to meet the Commission. As he
refused to sit with more than three of the Commission at a time, it was
necessary to visit him in sections. Arrangements had been made to have
all the members sit with him in turn, but it was soon decided that
continuity of observation was valuable, and certain members were
appointed to do the whole work.

(A record from the notes of the Stenographer, Mr. J.I. Gilbert.)

PHILADA., February 7th, 1885.

A formal session of the Seybert Committee was held to-day at 8 o'clock
P.M., at the residence of Mr. Furness, No. 222 West Washington Square.

The session was devoted to consideration of the séances held with Dr.
Henry Slade, from January 21st to January 28th inclusive.

The following is a compilation of written notes and verbal comments upon
the séances by members of the Committee:

Mr. Coleman Sellers (referring to notes):

The Committee met on January 21st, 1885, at the Girard House,
Philadelphia, in Room 24.

There were present: Messrs. Thompson, Sellers and Furness, of the
Committee, and the Medium, Dr. Henry Slade.

The séance was conducted at a pine table prepared by the Medium, which
was supplied with two falling leaves and stationed at a point remote
from the centre of the room, and contiguous to a wall of the apartment.
Upon the table were two ordinary writing slates and fragments of slate

The relative positions of the Medium and the Committee were as follows:
the Medium was seated in the space between the table and the wall.
Professor Thompson occupied a chair at the side of the table to the
right, and Mr. Furness one at the side to the left of the Medium. Mr.
Sellers was seated at the side directly opposite to the Medium.

After calling attention to the slates and the pencil pieces, the Medium
remarked that, as his baggage had not come to hand, he was apprehensive
that the sitting would not be a very good one. A brief, general
conversation followed, and then, complying with a direction of the
Medium, all present joined hands upon the table. Thereupon the Medium
abruptly started back, and, remarking that he had received a very severe
shock of some kind, inquired whether the gentlemen present had not
experienced a like sensation. The responses were in the negative.

The Medium next proposed to give an exhibition of "Spiritism" through
the agency of communications invisibly written upon the apparently blank
surface of one of the slates. At this point Mr. Sellers asked that the
table be examined, and, with the assent of the Medium, an examination
was accordingly made by the Committee; the only noteworthy result of
which was the discovery immediately beneath the table-top of openings
or slots into which the bars supporting the table leaves entered when
turned to permit the lowering of the leaves.

(Mr. Sellers here continued, without reference to notes):

These slots and the use to which I ascertained they might be applied are
worthy of special comment, as they played a very important part in all
the expositions that were made of the Medium Slade's manifestations. The
slot under the table into which the vibrating bar passed when the leaf
was lowered was an inch and a-quarter in depth. At a later period of the
meeting, when the opportunity was afforded, I took the slate in my hand,
and, from the table side at which I was seated (the one directly
opposite the Medium's position) passed it into the slot, allowing it to
rest there diagonally. Upon removing my hand the slate remained
suspended in its place, and in a position in which it could conveniently
be written upon. I may add that this arrangement of the slate is said to
be an essential feature of Slade's favorite method of writing. The
Medium did not fail to notice my experiment of passing the slate into
the slot, and, upon the occasion of my second attendance at the
"manifestations" (which was at the third meeting of the Committee),
having dispensed with the table I have described and prepared another,
he somewhat ostentatiously called attention to the fact that the table
then produced contained no slots such as those of which I have spoken. I
have a memorandum of the size of the slots. The dimensions of the table
last referred to are given in Mr. Fullerton's report.

(Mr. Sellers, referring again to his notes):

Taking a slate in his hand Slade held it beneath the table leaf to his
right, when almost immediately there was a succession of faintly audible
sounds such as would have been made by writing on the slate under the
table. A knock indicated that the writing had ceased. The Medium then
attempted to withdraw the slate, but in this encountered a seeming
resistance, and only succeeded by a jerk, as if wrenching the slate from
the grasp of a strong person who was below the table. Upon the slate,
which was at once inspected, appeared in a fair, running handwriting,
and as if written with a pencil held firmly in hand, the following:

"My friends,

Look well to the truth and learn wisdom, I am truly

James Clark."

(Continuing, without reference to notes):

This writing differed entirely, in general appearance, from the
subsequent writings upon the slate, having apparently been made with the
rounded point of a pencil held in an easy and natural position for
writing. In other instances the writings had a strained and artificial
appearance, and had evidently been made with a pencil point which had
been flattened before being used.

Professor Thompson (to Mr. Sellers): Do you remember that at the session
of which you now speak the Medium denied having any knowledge of James
Clark, and afterwards said that he did know of him?

Mr. Sellers: I remember distinctly that he said he knew nothing of James
Clark's affairs, and that, on another day, he presented a communication
from a William Clark.

(Mr. Sellers here resumed his reading from notes, as follows):

The writing was obliterated from it and the slate again held under the
table, when the question was asked, "Will you do more." An interval of
perhaps one or two minutes elapsed when the slate was exhibited, and
upon it appeared the word "Yes." The word had been written with a
broad-ended pencil, and neither in style nor character resembled the
first writing.

Mr. Sellers, complying with the Medium's request to write a question on
the back of the slate, wrote "Do you know the persons present?" The
response which was made to this was "Yes, we do."

No additional manifestations by writings were made at the first meeting.
During the sitting many raps were produced on the table through some
invisible agency, and as these sounds, in some instances, were such as
could be made by simple means and at the command of a person sitting at
the table, a member of the Committee reproduced the sounds. It was the
conviction of the members of the Committee present that the sounds thus
produced were similar to the sounds said to have been made by Spirits.
The Medium, however, professed his ability to distinguish between the
two classes of sounds, and remarked that some of the sounds heard by him
were such as would be made by a person touching the table and causing it
to make the raps; that such sounds were not from the Spirits; that when
the raps were genuine they caused a peculiar sensation, a sort of
tremor, in his breast, and, therefore, he could tell when the raps were

(Mr. Sellers, aside): In other words, that none were genuine but those
made by himself.

(Resuming, from notes): The Medium, in answer to inquiries, gave a
detailed description of the remarkable phenomena said to have been
produced in the presence of Professor Zoellner - which, he said, were as
unexpected to himself (Slade) as they were to any one; that they were
beyond his control, and evidently the work of Spirits under very
favorable conditions.

Mr. Sellers here read the minutes of the meeting of January 22d, 1885,
as prepared by Professor Fullerton.

(The minutes are as follows):

The Committee met on Thursday, January 22d, 1885, at 12 M., in the
Girard House, Philadelphia.

Present: Messrs. Thompson, Furness, Fullerton and the Medium, Henry

A table measuring five or four and a-half by three feet, was used by the
Medium. It was an oval table with two leaves. The Medium sat at one
side, with Mr. Furness at the end of the table to his left, Professor
Thompson at the end to his right, and Mr. Fullerton opposite. A circle
was first formed by joining hands upon the table.

A slate was passed to Mr. Fullerton by the Medium, with the request that
it be held by him under the table leaf to his (Mr. Fullerton's) left.
The slate was held by Mr. Fullerton as requested, but at no time during
the sitting was any writing produced on the slate. Toward the close of
the séance the slate was held for some time under the opposite table
leaf by Messrs. Furness and Fullerton.

Dr. Slade, after cleaning a slate, held it under the table-leaf to his
right, in the space between himself and Professor Thompson. The slate
was not held close to the table, but in a slanting position, so that a
space of perhaps four or five inches was left between the edge of the
slate farthest removed from the table and the table itself. A piece of
pencil, broken from a small pencil - about 1-16th to 1-12th in. cross
section, was laid on the slate.

A series of questions were here propounded, in each instance the inquiry
being followed by a scratching sound, and the slate being then withdrawn
from under the table and showing writing upon it. These writings were
construed as responses.

The questions and answers were as follows: -

1. It was asked: Will the Spirits answer questions?

Ans. (as above). 'We will try,'

2. Is the gentleman opposite a Medium? (Mr. Fullerton.)

Ans. He has some power.

3. Are there more Spirits than one present?

Ans. Yes, there is.

4. Another communication which appeared on the slate was 'we will do
more soon.'

5. Ques. Do you move this pencil?

Ans. We do, of course.

6. Tell us if you will play the accordion, or try to to-day?

Ans. Yes.

The accordion (a small one) was then held partly under the leaf of the
table, where the slates had been. It played a little. The members of the
Commission could not see it when in that position, or at least could not
see the whole of it. Mr. Fullerton, by looking under Professor
Thompson's arm, over the table, could occasionally catch a glimpse of it
as Dr. Slade moved it to and fro, but saw only one corner.

Dr. Slade then marked a slate with a line, and laid one of the bits of
pencil upon the line. A large slate pencil was then laid along the edge
of the slate. The slate was placed below the edge of the table beside
Dr. Slade (to his right, as usual) when the large pencil was thrown up
into the air two and a-half or three feet above the table.

When the slate was brought up into view again the small bit of pencil
was still in its place. This would, of course, be nothing remarkable if
the Medium's finger were upon the small bit of pencil at the time of the

Another slate was held by Dr. Slade on the same side of and below the
table (as far as I could judge from his arm it was nearly as low as Dr.
Slade's knee), and it was suddenly broken into many pieces, the frame
being at once held up for inspection by Dr. Slade. It did not seem to
have been broken against the table, as there was no shock felt in the
table, nor did the sound indicate it. It might have been broken by a
sudden blow upon the knee, as Dr. Slade's knees were in close proximity
to the place where the slate was held.

[The following are Notes of points which Mr. Sellers asked me
particularly to observe. - G.S.F.]

NOTE 1. - The bits of pencil placed upon the slates seemed to be used in
writing, for pieces with sharp edges were broken and put on the slates
and afterwards were found somewhat worn.

NOTE 2. - They were apparently the same pieces, as the size was the same.

NOTE 3. - The writing did not seem to have been done by drawing the slate
over a pencil at the time that the scratching was heard, for the slate
was partly in view, and though it moved somewhat, it did not then move
enough to make, for example, a line the whole length of the slate, as
was done in one instance.

NOTE 4. - The pencil was found where the writing ended, and in the case
of the line cited just above, the mark on the slate was just about as
wide as the rubbed part of the pencil. The pencil was rubbed and the end
had been flat.

NOTE 5. - I did not notice any difference in the fineness of the earlier
and later writings. The first communication began and ended with a
strong broad line.

NOTE 6. - The accordion was a small one, and I cannot say whether it
might not have been played upon with one hand if grasped in the right

NOTE 7. - In every case, what was done was done out of our sight, Dr.
Slade declaring that the object in concealing the slates, etc., was to
prevent our wills from having a negative effect upon the phenomena. My
own position opposite the Medium was a very bad one for observing what
was going on on his side of the table.

(Mr. Sellers here read, from notes taken by himself, the minutes of the
third of the series of Slade séances, as follows):

The Committee met on January 23d, 1885, at the Girard House,
Philadelphia, in Room 24.

There were present: Messrs. Thompson, Sellers and Furness, of the
Committee, and the Medium, Dr. Henry Slade.

The Medium was seated in the space between the table and the wall.
Professor Thompson occupied a chair at the side of the table to the
right, and Mr. Furness one at the side to the left of the Medium. Mr.
Sellers was seated at the side directly opposite to the Medium.

The table made use of on this occasion was much larger than the one used
at the first meeting. Attention was called to the fact that there were
no slots under the middle leaf of the table as there were in the other

Between the leaf and the centre of the table paper had been introduced
for the purpose of stuffing the crack, a rather large one, and the
explanation of the Medium was, 'This is to stop a sort of draft that
comes up through the crack and breaks the connection.' The members of
the Committee were inclined to think that the purpose was to prevent
them from observing through the crack any manipulations of the slate or
motions by the Medium under the table.

The first writing on the slate was, 'We will do all we can.'

By request of the Medium, a slate with a bit of pencil was then held by
Mr. Sellers under the table leaf next to him on his left, when the
question was put, 'Will you try to write on the slate held by the
gentleman opposite.' The response, 'We will try,' was written on the
Medium's slate. After taking the slate in his hand and cleanly wiping
it, the Medium passed it under the table leaf, when almost instantly
sounds indicating writing, such as were audible at the first session,
were repeated. Upon being exhibited the slate contained the following:

My friends, -

Paul's injunction was "add to your faith knowledge." this knowledge, has
encouraged the desponding, and given comfort to the mourner, and gives
hope to the Hopeless. I am truly

William Clark.

The appearance of this writing was much the same as that of the first
day, when another long written communication was produced, but it bore
no resemblance to the scrawls which were exhibited in answer to

A special minute is here made of observations by members of the
Committee upon certain features of the Medium's operations, which tended
to discredit the assumption of a supernatural agency in the production
of the slate writings. In the above instance a slate which had been
noted as standing against a leg of the table and behind the chair of the
Medium, but conveniently within his reach, was dexterously substituted
by the Medium for the slate taken from the table and the one upon which
ostensibly writing was to appear. This was observed by one member. In
another instance a member (Mr. Sellers) observed the same substitution,
so far as the motion of the Medium's hand and arm was concerned. By
certain private marks, adroitly applied, the same member noted the fact
that the slate on which the writing was exhibited was not, as the Medium
represented it to be, the same slate which had been taken from the

[The foregoing note by the Stenographer is somewhat incoherent, owing to
his unfamiliarity with Slade's séances; yet we prefer to let it remain
as it is. - G.S.F.]

(Mr. Sellers adds, parenthetically): That is, I watched the Medium's
operations specially with a view of informing myself whether the slate
used in both instances was the same.

(Resuming, from notes): The Medium proposed that the Committee should
retain the slate upon which the long message appeared. The slate was
accordingly retained by the Committee.

Professor Thompson (addressing Mr. Sellers): Was not that slate the one
that I held at the time referred to?

Mr. Sellers: It was. The slate was held by you at the same time that it
was held by the Medium.

Professor Thompson: Then there is an additional fact to be noted in
regard to it. That fact is this. When the sounds indicating the writing
process had ceased, I endeavored to pull the slate away from under the
table, but the Medium resisted my effort, and by powerful exertion
jerked the slate out toward himself. The substitution of one slate for
the other was probably made at this time, and the slate so substituted
was then placed on the table.

Mr. Sellers: That is true, most assuredly I saw the substitution, and
Mr. Furness also saw it very plainly. From his position Mr. Furness saw
the Medium take up the other slate.

NOTE. - An explanation was here made by Mr. Furness to the effect that
his knowledge of the substitution here spoken of was inferential, but
that at another period of the séance he did distinctly see the Medium
grasp an unused slate.

Mr. Sellers here resumed, from his notes:

The Medium then proposed to attempt the experiment of causing the chair
upon which Professor Thompson sat, to rise from the floor, without
external agency other than that of the hand of the Medium on the back of
the chair. In answer to the question, 'Will you try to lift the chair?'
the response was 'Yes.' Mr. Sellers, being requested to write a question
on the back of the slate near him, wrote the following, 'What is the
time?' After some little time, during which the Medium furtively glanced
at the slate, the answer was given, 'A little after twelve.'

Upon being requested to open his left hand and hold it thus extended in
a position beneath the top of the table to his left, Mr. Sellers
complied with the request, when a slate, which had been held by the
Medium under the opposite leaf, was passed across, and, after touching
Mr. Sellers's hand, fell to the floor. After several repetitions, the
slate was passed into Mr. Sellers's hand, but the experiment was
accompanied by a motion of the Medium which was evidently such as would
have been made if the Medium had passed the slate across by his foot.
[At his séances Dr. Slade wears slippers, into and out of which he can
readily slip his feet. - G.S.F.]

In answer to the question, 'Are you ready to lift the gentleman?' the
response, in writing, was given, 'Yes.' Clasping the back of the chair
firmly with his right hand, and approaching it close enough to enable
him to place his knee under the seat of the chair, the Medium, after
very considerable effort, caused the chair to rise from the floor an
inch or two. The physical strain on the part of the Medium was evident.

Professor Thompson, having obtained the permission of the Medium, wrote
the following upon the slate, 'Can a Spirit, still in the body, write
with a slate pencil without touching the pencil?' After some delay, and
frequent surreptitious glances at the slate by the Medium, the answer
was, 'Yes, we can tell.' This trial not being satisfactory, the same
question was repeated. The answer, which was longer delayed than the one
preceding it, was, 'We can do so, if the conditions are favorable.'

Professor Thompson (interposing): Do you remember the Medium's remarks
about the resistance of the Spirits?

Mr. Sellers: I do.

Professor Thompson: When he was pushing and pulling the slate, and
meanwhile looking at it - while moving it backward and forward - the
Medium remarked, 'There seems to be some kind of resistance; they don't
seem to know what to make of it' - meaning that the Spirits were making
some resistance to his moving the slate.

Mr. Sellers here resumed and completed the reading of his minutes, as

The experiment attempted on the second day, of causing a slate pencil to
jump from a slate without any disturbance of the slate, was here
repeated. A line was drawn upon the slate, and upon this line a small
bit of pencil was placed, the success of the experiment depending upon
this small piece remaining immovable upon the line. After several trials
this was accomplished. The experiment of playing an accordion beneath
the table was next made, and in one instance the top of the instrument
was thrown upon the table.

Mr. Sellers verbally made the following addition to his minutes:

The response to the question propounded by Professor Thompson was
attended with more than ordinary delay. Upon hearing the response, viz.:
'We can do so if the conditions are favorable,' Professor Thompson
remarked that this did not answer the question at all.

Professor Thompson: I made that statement in regard to both of the

Mr. Sellers: The statement, then, was, that neither of the responses
answered the question. Whereupon the Medium at once obliterated the
question from the slate, and remarked, 'Well, that is the best they can
do,' or something of that kind, or, 'They cannot understand that.' The
fact was that the Medium did not understand the question himself, as it
was purposely a somewhat involved question.

Professor Thompson: The fact appears to have been demonstrated that the
Medium seemed to have no difficulty in catching the purport of questions
of simple construction at a glance, and that a question of more than
average length, which he could not perceive the sense of, or which was
somewhat misleading in its terms, was not answered intelligently.

Professor Thompson here further explained that, when writing the
question spoken of, he concealed his hand from the observation of the

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Online LibraryThe Seybert CommissionPreliminary Report of the Commission Appointed by the University of Pennsylvania to Investigate Modern Spiritualism In Accordance with the Request of the Late Henry Seybert → online text (page 5 of 15)