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Thomas Bradford Experiment

February 2019 Newsletter: Silence From Beyond the Veil

Does consciousness really exist beyond death? For Thomas Bradford, a devout Spiritualist, there was only one way to prove it.

My grandfather was a practical man. Reserved, guided by reason, and seemingly fiercely opposed to the absurdities of religion if my memories of conversations during family gatherings are correct. His first wife died when their two boys were very young. He eventually met my grandmother, who herself was a single mother of two girls. They married, joining both families into one, and lived happily for 44 years. He, a high school janitor (I always think of the line from The Breakfast Club – “I am the eyes and ears of this institution, my friends”), she a nurse. In his retirement, my grandfather enjoyed a quiet life of caring for his fish tanks and gardening.

After he passed away a few years ago, my grandmother offered me his books. It was a pile of worn paperbacks I didn’t know he possessed by Edgar Cayce, Jess Stearn, and others, with titles like A World Beyond, The Search for a Soul, Legacy of the Gods, and Edgar Cayce on Atlantis.

I didn’t expect him to be interested in such subject matter. Was my grandfather, like many of us, searching for evidence of something beyond this life to cope with the emptiness of his loss?

Of course, humanity has been asking these questions since the dawn of time, filling the terrifying void with gods and monsters to explain the unknown and bring us comfort in the darkness, to find meaning and hope that there is something waiting for us on the other side. That we don’t just blink out.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Spiritualism offered a new comfort to those in mourning. The dearly departed were never far away, proponents claimed, and certain attuned individuals could channel them back into our realm for grieving families. Usually for a price, of course.

Skeptics like Harry Houdini set out to pull back the veil on those they believed were charlatans and reveal their parlor tricks to the public. But, just in case the dead really could communicate with the living, Houdini made a pact with his wife Bess. If he died, he would attempt to contact her with a coded message only they would know.

Houdini died unexpectedly on October 31st, 1926. Bess held a seance every year on the anniversary of his passing until, after ten years of silence, she gave up. Not even Houdini could escape the grave.

Houdini exposes spiritualists
Houdini demonstrates how spirit mediums would ring bells with their toes at the Hippodrome, 1925

On the other hand, some believed so strongly that they would go to great lengths to prove it. Like Detroit professor Thomas Bradford, for example, who committed suicide to prove he could send messages from the great beyond.

Bradford had put an ad in the paper looking for someone interested in “spiritualistic science.” A woman named Ruth Doran responded. “I answered his advertisement through a simple desire to know more about a thing in which I was little versed,” she told reporters later. “I am not a Spiritualist, nor a believer in the psychic.”

When the two met, Bradford explained that he believed there was only one way to prove the existence of the afterlife: “Two minds properly attuned, one of which must shed its earthly mantle.”

Bradford intended to shed his fleshy confinements and contact Doran from the afterlife.

On February 6, 1921 Bradford blew out the pilot light of the heater in the room he rented, turned on the gas, and lay in bed breathing the fumes until he was dead.

When police arrived, they found a note in Bradford’s typewriter which read, “And it is through scientific facts that I propose to demonstrate clearly the phenomena of spirits and prove that all the phenomena is outside the domain of super-natural.”

Doran said, “I am his friend. If he can cause his spirit to come back to earth I believe his spirit will come to me first.”

After two days the New York Times ran a story titled “Dead Spiritualist Silent” in which it was reported that Doran had yet to receive any transmissions from the afterlife.

Thomas Bradford experiment

Three days later, while Doran was holding a two-week-long vigil in her parlor awaiting contact, a woman named Lulu Mack claimed to hear the spirit of Bradford calling her. According to Mack, she didn’t know who Bradford was, had not heard his story, but she discovered he was trying to communicate with her when she visited her reverend medium.

During the seance, Mack heard a voice calling, “Thomas Bradford. Thomas Bradford!”

“Life has fled from the body of Thomas Lynn Bradford—but his spirit is hovering near and calling to us to hear its message,” Mack told reporters. “I have heard the call of his spirit. It is calling to me even now. But I cannot hear the message it would send, because the spirit is too weak.”

Bradford’s spirit was weak, Mack said, because he had taken his own life. It may take some time for him to be purged and purified and pass into the next sphere. He may be strong enough to communicate once he reaches the second or third altitude, Mack explained.

Spiritualist Thomas Lynn Bradford killed himself to prove the existence of the afterlife
Illustration of Thomas Bradford and Ruth Doran, The Ogden Standard-Examiner, February 21, 1921

One week after Bradford’s birth into spirit life on February 12th, Doran said she felt a strange presence which she believed to be Bradford. She had the vague notion that he would contact her that evening. But he was not strong enough to manifest on his own.

“Psychic students throughout the city agreed to concentrate at 9 that evening on the professor, to ‘accelerate the return of his spirit,'” papers reported. “Leading spiritualistic pastors urged their congregations to join the ‘concentration party.'”

At 9pm, the hour appointed by Doran’s premonition, she and three witnesses who reportedly did not believe in spiritualism gathered in her dimly lit parlor that evening. When she felt the sensation of Bradford’s presence, Doran put her hands to her temples. “Turn out the light,” she instructed.

The lamp winked out.

“I hear his voice,” Doran said. “It is faint, but it grows more distinct. It is the professor.”

Then she said, “Write this!”

In short bursts, Doran dictated a message from Bradford:

I am the professor who speaks to you from the Beyond. I have broken through the veil. The help of the living has greatly assisted me.

I simply went to sleep. I woke up and at first did not realize that I had passed on. I find no great change apparent. I expected things to be much different. They are not. Human forms are retained in outline but not in the physical.

I have not traveled far. I am still much in the darkness. I see many people. They appear natural.

There is a lightness of responsibility here unlike in life. One feels full of rapture and happiness. Persons of like natures associate. I am associated with other investigators. I do not repent my act.

My present plane is but the first series. I am still investigating the future planes regarding which we in this plane are as ignorant as are earthly beings of the life just beyond human life.

Then Bradford’s voice grew weak, the light flickered back on, and he was gone.

“Are you certain, beyond doubt, that you heard from Bradford?” one of the witnesses asked Doran.

“I am convinced,” Doran replied. “I never heard a spirit voice before. That was the professor, without a doubt.”

Weird News

Some of the strangest headlines from last month:

February Observances

February 6 – Thomas Bradford committed suicide on this day in 1921
February 15 – John Frum Day – the day cargo cults in Vanuatu believe John Frum will return
February 22 – Edward Gorey was born on this day in 1925
February 23John “Babbacombe” Lee’s failed execution happened in 1885

Send questions, photos of your favorite oddities, or share share your strange or unexplained experiences to be included in the next newsletter. Use the contact form or email info@cultofweird.com

WTFact

Saint Denis walked and preached after decapitation

Saint Denis was a third century martyr who, according to legend, picked up his head after it was cut off and walked six miles while delivering a sermon. This statue is in the crypt of the Basilique Sacré-Coeur in Paris.

Previous: January 2019 Newsletter

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The Magician and the Spirits

The Magician and the Spirits

The Magician and the Spirits
by Deborah Noyes
160 pages
Viking Books for Young Readers

It’s never too early to introduce kids to the story of Houdini’s crusade against spiritualists. From the book description:

A century ago, the curious idea that spirits not only survive death but can be contacted on the “other side” was widespread. Psychic mediums led countless séances, claiming to connect the grieving with their lost relations through everything from frenzied trance writing to sticky expulsions of ectoplasm.

The craze caught Harry Houdini’s attention. Well-known by then as most renowned magician and escape artist, he began to investigate these spiritual phenomena. Are ghosts real? Can we communicate with them? Catch them in photographs? Or are all mediums “flim-flammers,” employing tricks and illusions like Houdini himself?

Peopled with odd and fascinating characters, Houdini’s gripping quest will excite readers’ universal wonderment with life, death, and the possibility of the Beyond.

The Magician and the Spirits: Houdini and the Curious Pastime of Communicating with the Dead
Buy now on Amazon

MORE: Cult of Weird Recommended Reading

Escaping the Grave: Listen to Houdini’s Final Seance on Halloween Night, 1936

Could Houdini escape the grave? After ten years of Halloween seances, this recording was the last attempt to contact him in the afterlife.

It was said somewhere that if anyone could have escaped the afterlife, it would have been Harry Houdini. The famed illusionist could escape from anything, including straight jackets and prison cells.

Later in life, Houdini became devoted to discrediting the rising belief in spiritualism. He felt spiritualists, who claimed to be able to communicate with the dead, were doing nothing more than taking advantage of grieving family members. Houdini made a pact with his wife, Bess, that if he died he would attempt to contact her with a coded message only they would know.

The world’s greatest escape artist died on October 31st, 1926 from a ruptured appendix. Bess held an annual Halloween seance for ten years in an attempt to break through into the spirit world. The secret message never came through – Harry never made contact from beyond the grave.

After years of silence, Bess decided the October 31st, 1936 seance (heard in the recording above) would be the last. She gave up hope and wished Harry a good night.

Houdini challenging a spiritualist at the Hippodrome in 1925

The seances continued, however, and have been performed every year since. Sid Radner, a protege of Harry’s brother Theo Hardeen, resumed the tradition and kept it going through the decades. The small group of people who gather every year have reported some strange occurrences, but so far Houdini has not made his escape.