Girl History Month – Leonora Piper, Spiritualism’s “One White Crow”

Professor William James of Harvard was one of America’s greatest psychologist – philosophers and was one of the founders of the Pragmatic school of thought — that only those principles that can be demonstrated not only theoretically, by deduction, but practically, by use, deserve intelligent consideration.

And yet this unbending pragmatist was converted to a belief in psychic phenomena to such a degree that he became one of the founding members of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR).

The medium who accomplished this seemingly impossible conversion was a woman named Leonora Piper, who was the reason that Professor James coined the adage about “the one white crow that proves that not all crows are black.” She became to him the one honest Spiritualist medium whose mere existence refuted the charge that all mediums are fakes.

Born Leonora Symonds in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1859, Leonora showed mediumistic ability at an early age, her first recorded experience taking place when she was around eight and playing in the family’s garden. As she played, she heard a familiar voice whisper in her ear, saying, “It’s Aunt Sara, not dead, but with you, still.” Understandably frightened, Leonora ran into the house and told her mother what had just happened. It turned out that her Aunt Sara had just died, a fact which supposedly didn’t come to the family’s attention until some time later.
Other, similar incidents continued to occur throughout Leonora’s childhood and adolescence, but she did her best to ignore them. It wasn’t until she married Boston shopkeeper William Piper and settled into their new home in the Beacon Hill area of the city that she began to take her gifts seriously. After the birth of her first daughter, Alta, Leonora began to suffer from recurring pain which seemed to be related to an old childhood injury. The pain worsened following the birth of her second daughter, Minerva, and in an effort to relieve it, she agreed to accompany her father-in-law to the home of J.R. Cook, a blind medium who specialized in “curing” illness through psychic means.
According to Alta Piper, who wrote an extensive biography about her mother in 1929, whilst visiting Cook, Leonora slipped into trance, during which she received a spirit message from the deceased son of a local judge. Leonora dutifully passed on the message to him. On hearing it, he told her that it was the most accurate spirit message that he had received in the 30 years that he had been a follower of spiritualism.

LEONORA PIPER, CIRCA 1870s.

The incident marked the start of Leonora’s public career as a medium. She soon began giving readings in her home, the startling accuracy of which drew sitters from well beyond the city limits of Boston. Word of her reputation eventually reached the ears of William James, renowned psychologist and brother of expatriate writer Henry James (The Golden Bowl, Daisy Miller, The Bostonians) and spiritual seeker.

WILLIAM JAMES, PIONEERING PSYCHOLOGIST, PRAGMATIC PHILOSOPHER, AND LIFELONG SPIRITUAL SEEKER

James’ interest in spiritualism surfaced after his marriage to Alice Gibbens in 1878, with whom he had two sons. Following the death of their second son Herman around 1885, James, like so many bereaved parents before him, turned to spiritualism for comfort. The renowned philosopher had already begun an exploration of so-called spiritual matters some years before. A man known and even revered by some for his pragmatical approach to philosophical questions, James had always harbored a sympathetic attitude toward the idea of spirit contact, and on visiting the deathbed of his friend, Frederic Myers, who had served as the president of the American Society for Psychical Research, had asked Myers to attempt to make contact after his death. James never received the desired messages from beyond. Disappointed, he still continued to pursue his interest in spiritualism, stating that it “one needs only to find one white crow in order to prove that not all crows are black.” Soon after making that statement, he found his “white crow”…in Leonora Piper.

FREDERIC MYERS, WILLIAM JAMES’ FRIEND IN LIFE, A DISAPPOINTMENT IN DEATH

James first heard of Leonora Piper through his mother-in-law, who visited the Boston medium under an assumed name not only to maintain secrecy as to her true identity, but to prevent Leonora from digging up personal facts about her life that she might later attribute to her supposed mediumistic abilities. But her secrecy had no effect on Leonora’s abilities. On visiting Leonora, Mrs. Gibbens was astounded when the medium purportedly passed on several messages from spirit which referenced a number of her relatives, living and dead, and which contained astonishingly accurate details which Mrs. Gibbens was convinced Leonora could not have known by “any normal means.” Impressed and excited, Mrs. Gibbens returned home and gushed about Leonora to her son-in-law who, by his own account, derided her for her credulity. He called her a “victim of a medium’s trickery” and even went so far as to demonstrate to her the many ways in which someone like Leonora Piper was able to fool gullible members of the public. But Mrs. Gibbens would not be swayed, and made a second visit to Leonora’s home, this time accompanied by James’ sister-in-law, who came away equally impressed. Frustrated by the women’s insistence on Leonora’s authenticity, and now somewhat curious to meet her himself, James made his own trek to the Piper parlor for a reading.

SPIRIT TRUMPET, ONE OF MANY MEDIUMSTIC “PROPS” USED IN 19TH CENTURY SEANCES AND EVEN IN THOSE OF TODAY. BUT A PROP NOT FOUND IN LEONORA PIPER’S PARLOR.

Later, writing about that first meeting with Leonora Piper, James remarked on his surprised at finding her parlor devoid of the usual array of mediumistic props. There were no spirit trumpets or bells for spirits to talk through or to ring, no spirit cabinet, no red-tinted lamps to cast an eerie glow on the proceedings and trick sitters’ eyes into seeing things that weren’t there. There was only Leonora Piper, a demure, diminutive woman, who told James and the several other sitters present to sit wherever they wished before warning them not to expect to witness anything of a sensational nature during the reading. She was not the sort of medium who made things fly about the room, she explained, and there would be no manifestations of spirit images appearing before them. She would simply do what she always did, which was to go into trance and allow her spirit guides (or “controls”) to take over and give messages, following which she would awaken with no memory of what had taken place.

THE MEDIUM AT THE HEIGHT OF HER FAME

James was impressed with what occurred. Writing about it later on, he said, “My impression after this first visit was that Mrs. Piper was either possessed of supernormal powers or knew the members of my wife’s family by sight and had by some lucky coincidence become acquainted with such a multitude of their domestic circumstances as to produce the startling impression which she did. My later knowledge of her sittings and personal acquaintance with her has led me to absolutely reject the latter explanation, and to believe that she has supernormal powers.” Following that initial visit, James made appointments for 25 of his friends to visit Leonora, thus hoping to test her veracity regarding other sitters. He was not disappointed in his quest. For the next two years, the “pragmatic philosopher” continued to test the Boston medium, even hiring a private detective (without telling Leonora) to follow her around and make certain that she wasn’t gleaning information about her sitters through surreptitious means.

The one caveat for James throughout his testing of Leonora was her use of an alleged spirit control who identified himself as a deceased French physician called “Dr. Phinuit”, but since “Phinuit” was never able to give a satisfactory account of his earthly life, seemed to know next to nothing about medicine, and couldn’t even speak French, James concluded that the “spirit” was most likely a sub-conscious aspect of Leonora’s personality, the fact of which did not detract from his belief in the lady’s “tremendous” abilities as a medium.

WILLIAM JAMES, THE PRAGMATIC PHILOSOPHER WHO INTRODUCED LEONORA PIPER TO THE PUBLIC

In the mid-1880s, James took Leonora to England, where he introduced her to some of the great psychical researchers of the day, including Sir Oliver William Holmes, Henry Sedgwick, and FWH Meyers of the British SPR. According to all accounts, Leonora’s mediumistic performance in England was every bit as impressive as it had been back in the States, despite being kept under close, constant watch and even allowing her mail to be open and read as proof against fraudulence. Surprisingly, her success in England was met with some instances of scorn once she returned to Boston. After giving an interview in which she stated that she could not be sure whether she was actually being controlled by spirits during trance or whether her abilities were a result of ESP, The New York Herald ran a piece titled “Mrs. Leonora Piper’s Plain Statement” in which they pointed to the statement as a confession of fraudulence on Leonora’s part. At one point, in an effort to test the depth of her trance, Leonora was subjected to harsh treatment from several psychical investigators not associated with James which resulted in “a badly blistered tongue”, according to her daughter Alta’s subsequent biographical account of the incident.

Leonora returned to England in 1908 where she was one of several mediums who took part in the famous cross correspondence sessions, during which each medium (all of whom were from different areas, and some from other countries) allegedly received bits and pieces of spirit messages which made no sense on their own, but which, when connected, comprised a coherent message which was supposed to prove the validity of the respective spirit communications. The pressure of her involvement with the sessions had a debilitating effect on Leonora who returned to her home in Boston to find that she had lost her mediumistic abilities, a state which lasted until 1911. When her abilities finally did resurface, she found that she was only able to access them through automatic writing. She was never again able to go into trance.

LEONORA PIPER, POST-INVESTIGATIONS, CIRCA 1940s

Leonora Piper died in 1950, her name still associated with that of William James and the investigations she had undergone under his scrutiny. By that time, James was long dead, having passed away in 1910, but not before writing extensively about Leonora, his “white crow”, and declaring, as his final verdict on the case, that she “unquestionably displayed supernormal knowledge” of facts which could not be otherwise known to her, but that he remained unconvinced that it was the result of spirit agency.

Beautiful Beehives of the Day!

Global Beekeeping

Here are some beehives that may touch upon not just one, but two, major phobias of normal folks – bees and heights. These villagers in China decided to combine the two!

Pictures and text (translated from Chinese) published by and property of China Daily:

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Located in Shennongjia, Hubei Province (central China), at the gate of a mountain, on a cliff 1200 meters above sea level, 700+ beehives hang on the face of a cliff. From far away, they look like rows of mini coffins; this is where the bees call ‘home’. Shennongjia’s bees are considered crucial to the ecosystem of central China, considering the sharp population decline, and that in Northern China bees are mostly extinct. Shennongjia has become Shangri-la for bees. The pictured hives are in a conservation area and are hung on the side of a cliff to imitate the bees natural habitat in hopes of attracting wild bees.

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Beautiful Beehives Of The Day – Waldorf Astoria

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Honey bees are permanent guests of the Waldorf Astoria

The historic Manhattan property, known as the inn of choice for heads of state, has installed six beehives in a rooftop space on the 20th floor that also serves as a chef’s garden.

The Waldorf Astoria’s director of culinary operations, David Garcelon, spearheaded the initiative and has incorporated the honey produced by his bees into dishes served at the hotel’s restaurants.

The Waldorf is only one of a long string of hotels taking in bees. Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, for instance, has more than a dozen properties with beehives on-site.

Hotels are increasingly adding locally sourced food to their menus, and beekeeping allows them to produce organic honey for food and cocktails. The hotels also say they are helping to save the species.

Beautiful Beehives Of The Day

Hives at Kew Gardens in London

Hives at Kew Gardens in London

Kew Gardens has an educational bee habitat as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the need for a more bee-friendly planet.

Easter Dinner – Honey Baked Ham

Make your own version of this Easter favorite!

Ingredients:

1 fully-cooked shank half ham , bone in (pre-sliced is best)

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1⁄8; teaspoon paprika

1 dash ground ginger

1 dash ground allspice

Directions:

First you must slice your ham, if it is not already sliced. Use a very sharp knife to cut the ham into very thin slices around the bone.

Do not cut all the way to the bone or the meat may not hold together properly as it is being glazed. You want the slices to be quite thin, but not so thin that they begin to fall apart of off the bone.

You may wish to turn the ham onto its flat end and cut around it starting at the bottom. You can then spin the ham as you slice around and work your way up.

Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl. (I like to make double this recipe for a nice large ham).

Lay down a couple sheets of wax paper onto a flat surface, such as your kitchen counter. Pour the honey/sugar mixture onto the wax paper and spread it around evenly.

Pick up the ham and roll it over the sugar mixture so that it is well coated. Do not coat the flat end of the ham, just the outer surface which you have sliced through.

Turn the ham onto its flat end on a plate. Use a kitchen torch with a medium-size flame to caramelize the sugar.

Wave the torch over the sugar with rapid movements, so that the sugar bubbles and browns, but does not burn. Spin the plate so that you can torch the entire surface of the ham.

Repeat the coating and caramelizing process until the ham has been well-glazed (don’t expect to use all of the sugar mixture).

Serve the ham cold or re-heat.

Girl History Month – “Carolyn Keene,” Author Of The Nancy Drew Mysteries

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I was a huge fan of the Nancy Drew mysteries when I was growing up. I imagined that the author of the series, Carolyn Keene, was a sophisticated New York socialite who dashed off books for girls like me in between drinking Champagne and eating caviar.

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When I grew up, I learned that “Carolyn Keene” was the pseudonym of multiple authors who wrote my beloved mystery stories for the ominously named “Stratemeyer Syndicate”.

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Apparently, Edward Stratemeyer, the founder of the Syndicate, hired writer Mildred Wirt, later Mildred Wirt Benson, to write the manuscripts for the Nancy Drew books. Mildred was paid $125 for each book and was required by her contract to give up all rights to the work and to maintain confidentiality.

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Mildred and Harriet Adams (Stratemeyer’s daughter) are often credited as the primary writers of the Nancy Drew books.  Also involved in the Nancy Drew writing process were Harriet’s daughters, who gave input on the series and sometimes helped to choose book titles.  The Syndicate’s secretary, Harriet Otis Smith, invented the characters of Nancy’s friends Bess and George.

I still think Carolyn Keene exists out there somewhere.  🙂

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