Present in Spirit: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s First American Seance, with Nino Becoraro and Eusapia Palladino

Italian Medium Eusapia Palladino

Pay no attention to that medium behind the curtain…

We first met Dr. Hereward Carrington here in a post called The Psychic Howler, about the ghost hunting machines of the past. In 1908, he and several other researchers investigated the Italian medium Eusapia Palladino on behalf of the British Society for Psychical Research. They were all well-acquainted with the tricks of fraudulent mediums, but were impressed by Palladino’s results. Carrington wrote a book about her, Eusapia Palladino and Her Phenomena (1909), and arranged a US tour for her. Some of the bloom went off when she was detected in fraud during her tour, but I think he found her attitude, which included both frank assurances that she would cheat if given a chance and inexplicable phenomena, baffling and painfully ambiguous.

Palladino died in 1918. She supposedly returned in 1922 at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first American séance, arranged by Dr. Hereward Carrington, and where the featured medium was a young Italian medium, Nino Becoraro  This 1922 article was paired with a satirical poem about Conan Doyle’s interest in ghosts. I know that it is a parody of a popular song. I can even recall the tune, but I cannot remember the title!


 By Edward M. Thierry

New York, April 19 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has attended his first ghost party in American.

Ghostly voices and spirit noises were heard—and he talked with the shade of Madame Eusapia Palladino, world-famous medium, dead three years.

The exclusive story is given here of Sir Arthur’s first contact with spirits since his arrival in America. The séance, which Sir Arthur described as highly successful, took place at the American Psychical Institute and Laboratory in this city.

The dead Palladino apparently talked through the lips of Nino Becoraro, a young Italian medium. Spectators included Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle and a party of members of the institute headed by Dr. Hereward Carrington, research officer and secretary of the institute who arranged the séance for Sir Arthur.

Twelve persons, including the boy medium, sat around the table in the ghostly glow of a single dim red light of four candlepower. To woo the spirit of the famous dead medium the same table was used that Madame Palladino had used when she visited America. It is all metal, weighing only 12 pounds.

Musical Instruments Placed on Table.

  The table was placed directly in front of a black curtain covering an alcove, the three natural walls of which had been lined in black, covering three doors that were securely locked.

Within the cabinet was a small table on which had been placed a bell, a tambourine, and a toy piano.

Outside, at the head of the large table, the boy medium sat with his back against the curtain. All 12 persons put their hands on the table, their fingers touching. They sang hymns, “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “Nearer My God to Thee.” And a phonograph intermittently played “Ave Maria.”

The table moved! It tilted back and forth for several minutes.

The medium was slowly sinking into a trance. His face was very pale and his breathing very deep. Sir Arthur found his pulse slow and regular.

A coil of picture wire was produced and Dr. Carrington and the medium’s instructor, who also acted as interpreter, bound the medium’s legs to his chair and tied his hands at the wrists. Then he was moved into the cabinet behind the curtain.

Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle sat at the lower end of the table, their hands still on it, joining the other.

Weird Sonnets Came from Cabinet

  Uncanny sounds issued from the darkness of the cabinet—a low moaning, punctuated sharply by violent snorts. Then came a creepy sound like the rustling of cloth or silken draperies.

Faint whispers in Italian were heard.

“Aida! Aida!” murmured the medium, pronouncing the name of a dead relative.

Suddenly the curtain was blown outward as if by a strong gust of air. And the table moved violently under the hands of the spectators.

“I feel cold air on my hands,” said Sir Arthur.

Lady Doyle said she too felt the cool breeze, which Dr. Carrington later described as a ghostly herald characteristic of a séance.

Now came a curious rattling as of jangling handcuffs. Then a scratching sound, like a spirit finger faintly moving against the curtain.

Explosively came a terrific shriek—one Italian word, indistinguishable even to the interpreter. The medium’s sister-in-law, who sat next to Lady Doyle, cowered in her chair. In the dimly lighted room the faces of the people there were mere white blobs in the dark.

Tambourine Is Hurled from Cabinet

  Silence for a moment. Then the tambourine played and suddenly it was thrown out of the slit in the curtain and clattered on the outer table. A bell was heard, and then several notes on the toy piano.

Again something came hurtling out of the cabinet. It was the medium’s belt! And then a white strip—his collar!

And suddenly the little table came rolling out and fell on its side next to Dr. Carrington’s chair. Some of the spectators later said they saw tiny specks of light against the somber curtain.

“Palladino! Palladino!” cam the murmuring voice from the cabinet.

It was a whispering voice. Again it spoke: “Palladino is here. She is here. She will try to show her hands—her face—“ The voice trailed off.

And now the spirit spoke!

“I, who used to call back the spirits, now come back as a spirit myself.”

To the people sitting there in the dim light the murmuring voice was that of the great Palladino herself, spoken through the lips of the Italian boy.

Doyle Says, “We Send Our Love”

  “Is that you, Madame Palladino?” asked Dr. Carrington.

“Yes,” came the whispering reply.

Sir Arthur spoke: “The power is getting stronger. Palladino, we end you our love and our best encouragement.”

“We are glad to meet you again,” said Dr. Carrington. “You used to produce wonderful phenomena and I hope you will try to help us tonight.”

“I will,” said the murmuring voice.

But no face appeared, nor hands. Instead the curtain was blown out again and Sir Arthur and several others put their hands against the cloth where they said they felt the impact of a mysterious body, and even a grip.

The medium now was calling again for “Aida.”

Palladino had gone, it was believed. The slow moving séance had lasted two hours, and now gradually the lights were turned on.

Medium Takes 15 Minutes to Recover

  Sir Arthur and Dr. Carrington went into the cabinet and found the medium slowly coming out of his trance. The wire around his wrists was twisted as if he had writhed in his bonds. His legs were still tied tightly. After he was released it required 15 minutes for him to become normal. Sir Arthur again felt his pulse and found it slow and regular.

“It was very good for a spirit sitting,” said Sir Arthur afterward. To Dr. Carrington he added: “I hope you will follow this up with more experiments.”

Dr. Carrington said it was the boy medium’s first public séance. “It was very interesting,” he said “but I do not consider it strictly evidential from a scientific point of view.”

Other experiments are to be made at the American Psychical Institute and Laboratory, recently established to study psychic phenomena before Sir Arthur and Lady Doyle complete their American tour.


By Burton Braley

We are glad to be your hosts,

Conan Doyle, Conan Doyle;

And to hear you talk of ghosts

Who have slipped this earthly coil;

We may think you are naïve

In the things that you believe

But—you’re earnest, we perceive,

Conan Doyle


It’s a treat when you describe.

Conan Doyle, Conan Doyle;

Habits of the spirit tribe,

How in inter-planetary

Regions spirits love and marry

With a conduct exemplary,

Conan Doyle


We evince enthusiasm,

Conan Doyle, Conan Doyle;

When you speak of “ectoplasm”

And no ribaldry shall spoil

Anything you have to tell

As to spirits that may dwell

Up in heaven, down in hell

Conan Doyle


So we’re pleased to have you here,

Conan Doyle, Conan Doyle;

Far be it from us to jeer

Such a pilgrim to our soil:

For if now your fancy roams

Chasing ghosts through starry domes,

And you write deep weighty tomes

Full of spiritistic toil,

Once you gave us “Sherlock Holmes,”

Conan Doyle

Nino Becoraro/Pecoraro may have impressed Sir Arthur, but he was exposed by Houdini.

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