Sometime around July 1937, Hamlin Garland, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and long-time psychical researcher, began investigating Sophia Williams, an amateur medium living in California. .
Williams was a “direct-voice” medium, but, unlike most direct-voice mediums, she did not require darkness and did not go into a trance. She would place the larger end of a megaphone against her breast while Garland would listen for voices at the smaller end and relay them to a stenographer. In most direct-voice mediumship, the cone or megaphone floats around the room while held by invisible hands as voices emanate from it. In his early years as a psychical research, Garland suspected direct-voice mediums were nothing more than talented ventriloquists, but he soon came to realize that not all of them were charlatans.
In his very first “sitting” with Williams, Garland was greeted by one of his oldest friends, Henry B. Fuller, who had helped him research cases of mediumship when he was alive. Always on the lookout for fraud, Garland wondered if Williams had read of Fuller in his book, Forty Years of Psychic Research. . A few minutes later, another voice was heard. The spirit identified himself as Lorado, his wife’s brother, who had died the prior year.
Garland noted that Fuller called him by his last name, while Lorado addressed him by his first name, exactly as they had done when they were alive. He further noted that the voices, which were high in vibration, sometimes seemed to be coming from the megaphone and at other times from the air above the medium’s head.
The most convincing evidence came when a voice addressed the stenographer, Gaylord Beaman. “Gay, this is Harry,” the voice was heard. When asked for a last name, “Friedlander” was given. The astonished Beaman explained to Garland that Harry Friedlander was a friend who died in a plane crash in San Francisco Bay. The spirit then gave some details concerning the crash. Garland was certain that Williams knew nothing of Beaman and could not have researched this information beforehand.
After the first few sittings with Williams, Garland devised a transmitting box with 60 feet of wire connecting with another box containing a receiver and amplifier. The purpose was to isolate Williams from his questions to the spirit communicators and thereby completely rule out mental telepathy. With Williams two rooms away and behind closed doors in Garland’s home, Williams could neither hear Garland’s questions nor see what he was pointing to or looking at, and since the spirits answered him with detailed information, Garland concluded that this was further evidence that Williams was not drawing the information from his or the stenographer’s mind.
When Garland’s “Uncle David,” who had been dead for some 30 years, communicated, Garland asked him if he remembered the old tune he used to play for him in on his fiddle. Through the amplifier, Garland then heard the tune When you and I were young, Maggie being whistled and played on a fiddle. It was not the tune Garland had in mind, so Garland ruled out the possibility that his subconscious mind was communicating with Williams’ subconscious. Moreover, if Williams were a fraud, she would have had to know about Uncle David, anticipate Garland’s question to him about the tune, and smuggle a fiddle into and out of Garland’s home.
Other spirits totally unrelated to Garland’s search continued to speak at times. One identified herself as Leila McKee, an old Wisconsin acquaintance. Another Wisconsin acquaintance, Wendell McIldowney, also came through. While Garland had by this time concluded that Williams was not a charlatan, he knew he had to be ready for claims by skeptics that Williams had done some research before meeting him. It would have been virtually impossible, he concluded, for any researcher to turn up either of these names from his past