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Harry Price Biography


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Mauro
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I'd like to know if there's interest in a short biography of Harry Price.
I've been fascinated with the man since I was 6 and collected lot of material about him. If there's enough interest I may "get down to it" and put together something for the website.
If so I'd like to post it on the forum first as to gather corrections (usually associated with my poor spelling) and advice.

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


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Ian Topham
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Re: Harry Price Biography

Sounds like a great idea Mauro.  A lot of what is populary believed about ghosts is based upon cases wrote up in books and I think too many people ignore the the role played by the writer and the actual investigator in how the haunting is portrayed. 

At the end of his career it has been suggested he could have been exposed as a fraud.  As a child I never questioned a house being haunted by a talking mongoose, but after his credability was questioned I have wondered where all the other ghostly talking animals are hiding.

I would love to have short biographies and interviews with investigators both past and present linked to information about the cases they have been involved in.  So if anybody wishes to be put under the microscope please form an orderly que.

Throwing your draft on the forum would be a great way for us all to air our personal opinions and discuss the career of what is arguably the most famous investigator of the 20th century.

Mauro
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Re: Harry Price Biography

I'll get started then.
Personally I don't believe Harry Price to have been a downright fraud. He embellished many cases, probably invented one downright ("Rosalie") but he also "unmasked" Willi Schneider and correctly diagnosed the scars and welts appearing on Eleonora Zugan's body as psychosomatic in origins. Also his reputation suffered from his uneasy relationship with SPR and is now accepted three members of this Society were extremely active in running a "smear campaign" after his death.
But I've already wasted too much time: as Willie Wonka used to say "so much to do and so little time". ;-)

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


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Daniel Parkinson
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Re: Harry Price Biography

Sounds like a good idea - was he found with stones in his pockets that he was accused of throwing to fake ghostly activity I am sure I read this somewhere?

Mauro
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Re: Harry Price Biography

Here's the first part I've thrown together. While writing I realized that even cutting it down to the bare minimum it will be quite long, if no other reason that some of Price's antics were so amusing they deserve to be at least outlined. Please post comments and suggestions.
A suggested biography will follow and I also intend to scan some pictures on old books of magazines I have in my possession.
Enjoy!

 
Harry Price: the Original Ghost Hunter
 
Harry Price has always been surrounded in controversy. During his lifetime he was regarded both as a piooner in psychic research and an embarassement. If possible his reputation grew even more controversial after his death in 1948: many authors have poured out hefty tomes marketed as providing the “final” truth about Price, calling him everything from a downright fraud to a victim. But what about the man himself?
 
The Birth of a Ghost Hunter
 
Harry Price was born to a working class family in Holborn, London, on January 17 1881. In 1889 he saw his first perfomance by a stage magician and was so taken he became an amateur conjurer, performing before friends and relatives. Later he started to perform in front of small audiences in New Cross, where his family had moved in 1894. At 15 his interest for the paranormal started to develop: he bought the first occult tome of what was to become his massive private library (willed to the University of London) and carried out his first investigation. He obtained permission to stay in a supposedly haunted house overnight and borrowed a camera. During the night he heard “disembodied” footsteps and tried taking a picture of the “ghost”. However the inexperienced young Price had loaded far too much flash powder and the only result was he managed to blind himself and the friend who had agreed to accompany him for a few minutes.
After finishing school he took a series of jobs and became an avid coin collector. In 1908 he married Constance Mary Knight, a wealthy young woman. He settled down to manage a workshop at Pulborough and during this period his library started to grow larger and larger: there was scarcely a book on the occult he didn't consider worthy of his collection.
During the Great War Price became a manager in a munition factory in Tottenham. In London he witnessed the growing popularity of mediums: many turned to them to contact their beloved ones killed in the trenches and Price's interest in the paranormal grew by the day. He became convinced the business was riddled with fraud but was also ready, some may say willing, to accept some of the phenomena as genuine.
 
Fraudulent Mediums Beware!
 
Price started is carrer of “paranormal detective” by investigating haunted houses but it was his skill at unmasking fraudulent mediums using his keen mind and experience as a stage magician which convinced the Society for Psychic Research (SPR) to approve his request for membership in 1920. It must be understood this was quite an extraordinary event: SPR members came almost exclusively from the upper reaches of society and many of them held degrees from the most prestigious universities and colleges in the world. Price came from a working class background and was mostly self-educated. This led almost instantly to frictions which literally exploded in later years, though the SPR never refused Price's yearly requests for membership renewal.
The first high-publicity case in Price's career was the unmasking of William Hope, who had made a fortune with “Spirit Photography”. “Spirit Photography” was a business as old as the camera itself and grew to quite gigantic proportions in the heydays of Spiritualism. The concept was very simple: a photographer, either working in tandem with a medium or professing psychic powers himself, claimed to be able to take pictures of people together with their dead relatives/friends. There was a great deal of rascality associated with the business and some of these photographers gained huge sums of moneys. The Great War and the Spanish Flu epidemic proved fertile ground for them.
Price was easily able to unmask Hope as a fraud: he was simply using pre-exposed plates in his camera.
While this won him the praises of the SPR and the public it brought upon him the wrath of a good part of the Spiritualist movement and its foremost member, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed the innocent Hope had been “set up” by the cunning Price. Price and Sir Arthur remained bitter rivals until the latter's death in 1930.
 
Stella C. the “Electric Girl”
 
In 1923 Price was savoring his raising popularity. Differently from other members of the SPR he loved to be the center of attention. He had a flair for self-publicity and was a natural born showman. His unmasking of fraudulent medium Jean Guzik, widely covered by the press, was probably the straw which broke the back of his never-easy relationship with the SPR. Price understood tensions were about to explode so decided to set up his own organization devoted to psychic research, The National Laboratory of Psychical Research (NLPR). This didn't stop him from being a member of the SPR until his death.
The first case to be investigated by the NLPR happened almost by case. While traveling on a train he struck up a conversation with a young woman, Stella Cranshaw, who started describing how all her life she had been followed by strange phenomena: cold spots, flying objects and mysterious raps.
Price was immediately interested and asked her to come to the NLPR for further testing.
Stella was very reluctant. Differently from Price she was very shy and also afraid to lose her job as a hospital nurse. To convince her to partecipate in his experiments he promised her a modest payment, since she had to take time off work to come to the NLPR.
Stella (always called Stella C. by Price) proved to be an exceptionally gifted medium, producing a vast array of phenomena including poltergeist activity, all of which were observed by independent witnesses. The most notable of these phenomena, producing sparks on request in any part of the room, earned her the nickname of “Electric Girl”. However Price noted that the seances were taking a heavy toll on the young woman: after the seances she was tired to the point of fainting and she often shook incontrollably during the experiments. Furthermore she lost her job due to her frequent absences. After just eleven seances she asked Price to be “let go” because she needed to restore her health and had to find a new job.
But Price was not so easily deterred. In late 1923 he managed to convince Stella to take part in just two seances to be held at a location chosen by the SPR and in presence of SPR members. It's pretty obvious Price was set on humiliating the people who had obstracized him by showing them a genuine medium who could perform well under strict scrutiny. These two seances were less sensational than the one held at the NLPR but managed to obtain phenomena which suitably impressed the austere SPR committee. Immediately after the last seance Stella cut her relationship with Price. As much as Price was genuinely sorry of losing his “Electric Girl” he was obviously delighted at the results. But he was even more delighted at the idea of sticking one to the snobbish SPR and obviously basked in the publicity this case had brought him.
Price managed to convince Stella to two further series of seances, one in 1926 and another in 1928. It was immediately clear her powers had diminished greatly but Price declared himself “satisfied” nonetheless. The two parted on friendly terms and it appears Stella was just happy to fade into obscurity.
 

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


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Daniel Parkinson
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Re: Harry Price Biography

Looking good so far Mauro

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Ian Topham
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Re: Harry Price Biography

Hi Mauro, as Dan says, it is looking good.  We already have two cases of his in the gazetteer, Borley Rectory and Jeff the Mongoose.  We could put his other cases in the gazetter aswell and then eventually have links between the Harry Price article and them. 

Mauro
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Re: Harry Price Biography

Thanks chaps. I just got to write the aprt about the Borley Rectory years and I am thinking how not overlap the gazetteer article. Perhaps I'll just leave a blank and say "insert link". ;-)

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


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Ian Topham
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Re: Harry Price Biography

Whenever a case such as Borley is mentioned I could just make the name into a link no problem. 

Mauro
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Re: Harry Price Biography

Thanks. Here is part two.
The biggest problem when writing something about such a personality as Price is to keep it short while at the same time providing enough information on at least the higher profile cases he was involved with.

The fabulous Schneider brothers
 
In 1922 Price was introduced to a flamboyant German paranormal researcher, Baron Albert von Schrenk-Notzing. Schrenck-Notzing had a formal medical education and was one of Sigmund Freud's fellow students. He specialized in treating mental disorders and had earned his doctorate with his groundbreaking work on the therapeutic use of hypnosis.
Like many educated gentlemen of the period he had a keen interest in the paranormal. He pioneered the use of cameras to monitor seances and his photographs of the famous medium Eva C. (real name Marthe Beraud) unmasked this previosuly highly regarded psychic as a complete sham. He was also the first to expose the secrets of the mysterious “ectoplasm”. In the case of Eva C. it had been nothing more than newspaper clippings and chewed paper.
Schrenck-Notzing had recently discovered two young Austrian brothers, Willi and Rudi Schneider, who were said to be able to produce the most incredible phenomena under any condition.
Price was able to attend some of the older brother's (Willi) seances while a guest of Schrenck-Notzing in Munich. He was so impressed he called him “the most important physical medium in the world” in front of a SPR committee.
This was enough for the SPR to arrange for two seances with Willi in London. These seances were much below what Price had witnessed in Munich and he was very disappointed. Price attended three other seances held by Willi, two in his hometown of Braunau and one in Munich but it was clear Willi's powers were waning. Moreover Willi was not a professional medium: at the time he was finishing his training as a dentist and made very clear he wanted to get his degree and start a normal life.
Attention now shifted to Willi's younger sibling, Rudi, who was said to be developing even greater powers than his brother. Schrenck-Notzing was very excited about this young man's promising talent but in 1929 he suddenly died following complications during a routine surgical operation. This left the field wide open for Price to take his place as Rudi's mentor.
Price managed to convince Rudi to travel to London three times, the first in April 1929 and the last in February 1932. This led to the one of many high-profile controversies of Price's career.
While Rudi's initial seances held “spectacular” results and Price was obviously very pleased with his young protege, in May 1932 Price made a complete U-turn, publishing a photograph taken during the final seance Rudi held under his supervision a few months earlier, showing the young medium breaking control to reach for a table.
The controversy is still raging, but not for reasons we may expect (Price covering a fraud): investigators from all over Europe agreed that up to that point Rudi had been “the real deal”, performing under strict control and in front of highly-trained and often sceptical observers in his native Austria, Germany, France and Britain. Price, never an easy man to work with, had come to loggerheads with two of his leading associates, Lord Rayleigh and Lord Hope (no relationship to the fraudulent medium previously exposed by Price) and these two men had asked many times to hold private seances with Rudi Schneider to “double check” Price's work. Price released the photograph just a few days after Lord Hope had published a report of these seances proclaiming that, despite his decreasing powers, Rudi was indeed “the real deal”, able to produce genuine phenomena under extremely strict scrutiny. It's beyond doubt Price was ready to take a small loss (being already persona non grata at the prestigious SPR) to humiliate Lord Hope and Lord Rayleigh. There's also reason to believe Rudi and Price may have come up with the scheme together: like his elder brother Rudi was not a professional medium and had grown tired of being a human guinea pig. He wanted to go back to his native Austria, take up a steady job and marry his fiancee. And so he did and, like his brother, went on to lead a completely ordinary life from then on.
 
Spells, poltergeists and blimps
 
Price at this point was literally basking in his ever increasing fame. His skills for self-publicity, honed to perfection by years in the spotlight, became unparalled. To this day there are few if any “paranormal investigators” who have been able to duplicate Price's ability to attract attention from the mainstream media and the general public. He was able to exploit all the media available: his famous live radio broadcast from a reputedly haunted house was followed by hundreds of thousand all over Britain.
In 1926 he had investigated the case of a young Romanian peasant girl, Eleonora Zugan (or Zugun), who claimed to be tormented by an entity she called “Dracu” (devil), who left her with welts and scars all over her body. Price came to the conclusion she suffered from an extreme form of psychosomatic hailment linked to an underlying personality disorder though he also observed some bite marks were probably self-inflicted. Since Eleonora had been rescued from an insane asylum by an Austrian noblewoman who took pity on the poor girl, this diagnosis has always been regarded as fundamentally correct.
In 1927 he “cracked” another case, when he obtained a chest belonging to the infamous XIX century “prophetess” Joanna Southcott, who had left it with specific instructions to open it only in the presence of “twenty-four bishops” since it was said to contain terrible secrets. Price first had the chest x-rayed and then opened it himself in front of a crowd which included many journalists and one very reluctant bishop. It contained coins, a small pistol and other mundane items of no importance. He wrote a vitriolic piece on the whole thing which made him even more popular, and controversial, than before by infuriating the followers of Joanna Southcott, apparently still quite numerous and organized in The Panacea Society.
1928 saw Price tackle a poltergeist for the first time in the famous Battersea case. Price was not convinced of the whole affair but was ready concede “a few” phenomena were genuine. But being Harry Price he could not just put down the case to downright trickery or hallucinations, so he hypothesized the various pebbles, coins, lumps of coal etc which pelted the house were thrown by the inmates of a nearby private asylum, perhaps with the help of “a small catapult”. It may sound laughable today, but it was a good way to obtain publicity and media coverage nonetheless!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle passed away in 1930 and immediately after his death mediums were reporting the great writer and fervent Spiritualist was putting up appearances at seances all over the world. Price and Sir Arthur had been bitter opponents since the William Hope case eight years earlier, so Price decided to have a seance of his own to try and contact Conan Doyle.
He examined the curricula of many mediums and opted for Eileen Garrett, an Irish psychic of “untarnished” reputation. The seance was held on October 7th at the NLPR. Eileen was unable to contact Sir Arthur but during the seance a second personality made itself felt: Flight Lieutenant Carmichael Irwin, commander of the British airship R101 which had crashed just two days earlier in France, killing most of those aboard including Carmichael Irwin. Carmichael Irwin proceeded to give many details of the technical causes of the crash, causes which were later found to be coherent with the findings of the technical committee which analyzed the accident. While it's pretty obvious Garrett and Price must have known about the R101 crash since it was big news all over Europe, people still debate the origins of the detailed information provided by Eileen. It must be understood that while the committee took months to come up with their conclusions, both Air Ministry and RAF officials had been venting doubts about the safety of airships for years (confirmed by a series of dramatic accident in the early '30s) and it was common knowledge among airmen and engineers the R101 was a deeply flawed, “snakebitten” design, requiring extensive and continuos modifications just to stay in the air during tests. Whatever the case, it made headlines, and that's all that mattered to Price.
1932 saw Price engage in what is commonly regarded as the cheapest publicity stunt of his career, the Brocken Experiment. A manuscript called Blocksberg Tryst supposedly containg the English translation of a “High German” spell to turn a goat into a “youth of surpassing [sic] beauty” had been dropped at the NLPR shortly before Christmas 1931. Instead of simply throw it away or quietly add it to his vast library, Price decided to carry out the ritual, obviously in public. According to Price he was invited to the Harz Mountains to cast the spell by a committee charged with organizing celebrations for the centennary of Goethe's passing. How this was supposed to commemorate one of the greatest writers who ever lived, we are not told. Price himself said he had carried out the experiment “to prove the fallacity of trascendental magic”. The reality is this was all so much free publicity (the Goethe Committee paid all his expenses and even provided him with a goat and a “maiden pure in heart” for the experiment) and, probably more important, Price had immense fun during the whole affair: all pictures of the Brocken Experiment show him with a huge smile on his face.
1932 also saw Price's last high profile case involving a medium. The previous year Price had examined a medium, Helen Duncan, whose speciality was the production of “teleplasm”, yet another variety of ectoplasm. Despite being strip-searched, Helen managed to produce a notable quantity of “teleplasm”. Disregarding contemporary etiquette about never touching the medium or the “apparitions”, Price gathered a small sample of “teleplasm”, which he had analyzed. It turned out to be a mixture of wood pulp and egg white. Price suspected that “due to a physical abnormality” Helen Duncan was able to swallow items and regurgitate them at will to produce her “apparitions”. When he told the medium she would have her abdomen x-ray'ed before the next seance she literally went into hysterics. It was while commenting this case that Price said the phrase “Ectoplasm is nothing more than cheesecloth”, a quote that is still repeated to this day.
In 1933 Helen Duncan had was arrested during a seance by a plainclothes policewoman who had been sent to investigate fraud allegations. In the following, high publicity trial, Price was called as expert witness on the case and put up a masterly perfomance, more worthy of a consumate actor than a barrister. Helen Duncan was charged with fraud and fined £10. Two weeks later she was back in business. This is not the last we'll hear of her and Price.

__________________

"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"

-Kalevala, Rune XIII-


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Ian Topham
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Joined: 22 Jul 2008
Re: Harry Price Biography

Hi Mauro.  It's still looking good:)  Sorry for not commenting earlier but I've been really preoccupied lately.



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