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vol. 1, p. 47
from Adyar archives of the International Theosophical Society
vol. 1 (1874-1876)


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BOSTON, JULY 22, 1875

Msr. Holmes Caught Cheating

An important card to the spiritualist public
She swore to me in Philadelphia that if I only saved her that once she would NEVER resort to cheating & trickery again. I saved her but upon receiving her solemn oath.—And now she went out of greed for money to produce her bogus manifestations again. M ... forbid me to help her. Let her receive her fate—the vile, fraudulent liar! H.P.B.

We, the undersigned, have the painful duty to perform, of making a statement of facts and suspicious circumstances connected with the so-called spiritual manifestations of Mrs. Jenny Holmes, in both the light and dark seances. We had carefully read and weighed all the published evidence, pro and con, since the Holmeses were attacked in Philadelphia, and thinking that Col. Olcott, in his test experiments with them, had presented evidence of genuine mediumship, both separately and jointly, and reading her appeal in the Banner of Light for aid, and thinking she had been unjustly accused and was worthy of patronage, we concluded to send for her that we might witness the manifestations given through her mediumship.

The engagement was made, and Mrs. Holmes came according to agreement. A cabinet was constructed under her direction in the parlor adjoining the hall, where we have lectures each Sunday. Mrs. Holmes gave first a dark seance, as is her usual custom, and then her materialization seance, which consisted of showing hands, arms, and the faces of “John” and “Katie King.” Previous to going into the cabinet, Mrs. H. produced a bag (which was examined by different persons present), in which she proposed to give the manifestations of the light seance, and which is called the famous bag test of Col. Olcott; but unlike that used by the Colonel, which he says was heavy, unbleached sheeting, stitched and felled, the one presented by Mrs. Holmes was made of the thinnest kind of muslim, or what may be termed strainer cloth, which was carelessly run together, with some of the seams on the outside and some on the inner. This bag Mrs. H. got into and was seated in the cabinet. It was securely tied around the neck, but otherways she was not confined.

In the usual length of time, a hand appeared at the aperture, and in a moment, another, and after a little delay, two arms were thrown out, and then the face of John King appeared, with the heavy black whiskers that have been so often described. They were handled by different persons in the circle, and this was followed by the face of Katie at the aperture, who called in whispers for different ones to come to the cabinet to speak to her, touching them with her hand. At this seance, no one thought of accusing Mrs. Holmes of fraud, though there were some who did not think the bag a sufficient test unless Mrs. H. was confined within it so that she could neither rise from her seat nor use her hands; but nothing was said. At the second seance, no test conditions were applied except the bag, which we shall proceed to show was no test, and did more to abet than prevent the fraud. The usual manifestations were produced, and a lady who was called to the cabinet to look at and be touched by Katie, saw two of Mrs. Holmes’ dark curls hanging down upon her forehead, having escaped from underneath the white cloth bound about her head. This gave rise to a fearful suspicion, and a more critical examination of the bag was made, which revealed the fact that one of the seams, in putting on the bag with the tie string in the back, came just in front of the right shoulder, and which, upon examination, was found to be run up from near the neck to below the waist with a double thread, in the end of which was a large knot, which could be traced with the fingers and easily drawn out, because not fastened at the lower end, thus leaving an opening nearly half a yard in length, which could again be quickly run up on the inside, making it appear that the arms, through the entire manifestations, had been concealed within the bag.

At the third seance, numerous tests were proposed, such as requiring the medium to be searched to prove that she had no masks or napkins or other things about her person with which to produce the appearances, also to ascertain if she was provided with needle and thread with which to sew the bag, etc., but none were applied, and but one or two proposed that which had been suggested, as Mrs. Holmes appeared so disturbed as anything was said which implied a doubt or necessity for further tests. A lady asked Mrs. Holmes if she would allow some person to take her hands before the light was turned off for the dark circle. This she decliner. Another lady, who was on the committee to secure Mrs. H. in the bag, suggested that she allow her to fasten the bag the carpet by means of two or three pins, so that she could not rise from her chair, to satisfy the people that it was not her face at the aperture; this also declined, and she was allowed to proceed with the seance under no obstructions except the bag, which, under the bogus plea of being a test to prove it was not her, served as the white drapery of Katie King, without which, Mrs. Holmes never could have presented a light form in the door of the cabinet, purporting to be that of Katie King, which appeared three different times, and which those who sat upon the front seats declared emphatically to be that of Mrs. Holmes. She came sometimes upon her knees, at others crouching, and once erect, so as to make herself vary in size, and looks, as materialized spirits are said to do. Two gentlemen who were called to the cabinet, testified that they felt the warm breath of Mrs. Holmes upon their cheeks, as they bent their faces close to the aperture, and also smelt its offensive odor.

A lady who had witnessed all of the proceedings, declared that she could do, under the same conditions, everything that had been done by Mrs. Holmes. She therefore prepared bag exactly like the one used by Mrs. H., got into it, and was tied securely by gentlemen (who had more sympathy with Mrs. H. than prejudice against her) and placed in the cabinet, and in an instant after the light was turned down, her hand appeared at the aperture. We were then requested by raps, sounding exactly like those issuing from the cabinet with Mrs. Holmes, and which we interrogated, to sing, and in less than five minutes there appeared an arm, shown first nearly to the elbow, then above it, and in a few minutes, an interval not longer than that taken by Mrs. Holmes, a face was shown; the cheeks were pale, and a napkin was so arranged about the head, as to be an exact fac simile of Katie King. It called in whispers for different persons to approach the aperture in a manner so nearly akin to that of Katie in Mrs. Holmes’s cabinet, that it was declared impossible distinguish the difference. This was done, not so much to prove that Mrs. Holmes produced hers in the same way, but to create the necessity for her to prove that she did not. By this time there was so much dissatisfaction and skepticism concerning what we had witnessed, that the necessity to test the matter became apparent to every one, and a gentleman made some remarks upon this necessity, whereupon Mrs. Holmes declared in an excited manner that she had got above test conditions, that Col. Olcott had vindicated her, and that she would not longer submit to being tested. She had, she said, been before the public as a medium for seventeen years, and had never introduced fraud in any of her manifestations. She was very abusive in her remarks, and many who before believed her honest felt insulted, and wanted to see her tested.

She got into the bag and entered the cabinet, and, contrary to her custom, this me demanded the committee nail her down, which was done. She was fastened not only to the floor, but to the side of the cabinet, also; but in this position she was able to show only one hand, and that was not to the wrist. Previous to this the hands which had been shown to the aperture, had been presented with their backs to the view, but this time only the inside of the palm was shown, the reason being apparent to all observers. Mrs. Holmes’s position in her chair would not admit of her getting to the aperture to exhibit hands and arms, she had done each evening previous, and we also knew that Mrs. Holmes’s face could not that night appear; hence, we watched anxiously to see the veritable Katie King. We were requested to sing, and keep hands joined in the front circle, and upon no to break the conditions.

After waiting the usual length of time, a black face, which appeared in the uncertain light, to be that of a negro mask and a “yah! yah! yah!” issued from the cabinet, in imitation of a negro’s laugh. The light was turned down very dim, and it was only observable by those who sat nearest the cabinet. There was nothing white about in contrast with the black curtain, and we were told from the cabinet that this spirit never before materialized. In a few moments another was shown, this time a white one. Two gentlemen approached and looked at them, one of whom was willing to swear that they were masks; but instead of entering the cabinet and securing them before Mrs. H. had time to secrete them about her person, they waited until she had signified, from the cabinet, that the seance was closed. Then the gentleman who had conducted the seances for Mrs. H. arose <... continues on page 1-48 >

Editor's notes

  1. Msr. Holmes Caught Cheating by unknown author, Spiritual Scientist, July 22, 1875