Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive By William Dudley Pelley


Chapter XIV

THERE has been, of course, more deception, charlatanry, and downright humbuggery practiced in the name of Spiritism in seeking to convince grieving people that their loved ones are alive and under certain conditions can be restored to them for a bit, than any other form of film-flam that human rascality can devise. People who are attracted by Spiritism at all, seem to be sharply divided into two classes: the utterly credulous and gullible who are poignantly over ready to rationalize the faintest forms of supernaturality—and mind you, I said “forms” of supernaturality and not substance—and the die-hard skeptics who start out on the premise that every mediumistic person is a fraud, that there are no such things as communicating or manifesting spirits. Very, very finely drawn and qualified is the group of persons between these two whose members have become convinced without emotionalism either way that both communication and manifestation are facts and who pursue their unique avocation on the theory that while there are probably more fraudulent mediums than honest ones, people with the true mediumistic attribute should by no means be made to pay for the wiles of the renegades. Because anyone who would try to hoax a grieving mortal soul on this side, for gain of any sort, is just that—a renegade—and nothing less.

The field of the explores into Spiritism presents the picture of the proverbial sandwich, with the austere and inconvincible skeptics on the top, the credulous on the bottom, and in between, the meat of the balanced, restrained, discriminating investigators who approach each new sιance from the stand point of, “Let’s find out what this new medium can do that adds to our store of wisdom in these matters. If the person is fraudulent, sooner or later his hocus-pocus will find him out.”

Condemning the medium in advance, however, is entering the sιance room with a closed mind and merely inhibits our own education and enlightenment. Besides, after exploring in the psychical field over a matter of years, the rational and unbiased investigator develops a sort of instinct as to the presence of fraud. Truly great mediums, worthy to be termed such, do not fiddle around with self-banging tambourines, mysterious raps coming from the wainscoting or the

Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive

levitation of tables that hang themselves upon the chandeliers.

What value would such childish antics have to a group of scientific men who may have reason to concede that the so-called “dead” do return to life but who are far more interested in finding out what truly motivates the phenomena at the sitting of a capable, sincere and utterly bona fide medium? Mind you, I don’t say that the mediums whose work is confined to such phenomena are thereby frauds. Far from it, I mean that the dispassionate investigator is mainly interested in those mediums whose capabilities extend to the tangible materializing of those who have made the Passing out of flesh, in such manner that the latter can be identified.

The confirmed skeptic screeches at once: “There has never been such an identification made, and whosoever says there has been, is a fraud himself.” However, to close this volume of my own supernatural experiences, I want to embark on the series of great adventures I have had since 1939 with one medium of outstanding and bona fide talents, who has become an institution in the national Soulcraft work.

To write promiscuously of my contact with this or that medium’s work over ten years of psychical observation, and chart what results were gotten here or not gotten there, would be unfair to my mediumistic friends in general. It would make it appear that I was disparaging certain mediums and ballyhooing others. And I am neither disparaging nor ballyhooing in this volume. I am setting down the high lights of the altogether weird experiences that have come to me since 1928, convincing me that not only is death a misnomer but that is just as much radiant activity—although in a higher frequency of matter—among our so-called “departed” friends, as there ever is in this frequency we call the physical.

I am telling you how it has been with me. Like my Seven Minutes in Eternity experience, I don’t ask you to accredit it if you choose not to do so.

I believe the “dead” are alive and functioning, and under certain conditions may function again on this plane, because of such phenomena as I first saw, heard, and touched in a Manhattan sιance room of a Sunday night of the year in question.

First, to paint in a bit of background …

I HAD a close friend, executive in a New York publishing house, who from time to time had donated sizable sums of money that my metaphysical writings might be distributed and help others as he had been helped by them. This man, incidentally, was not a Spiritualist.

In the early part of the 1939 winter he had gone to visit relatives in Toronto, Ontario. Meeting there an elderly gentleman of recognized clairaudient powers, he was disconcerted to be advised—

“Both your father and mother are anxious to get in audible touch with you. They want you to go to an address in a city in southern Florida and inform whomsoever answers the doorbell that you have come to make contact with

Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive

your mother. They will understand and take charge of you.”

It was my publisher-friend’s confidence in the integrity of his informant that started him off on the odd adventure. He motored down to Miami, not informing me of his trip and determined to discover how he could receive word in Miami from a maternal parent who had died in Canada in 1923. It was to be the beginning of the greatest psychical experience of his life, incidentally my own as well. He found the address given him in Toronto, without difficulty, and performed as directed.

THREE days later I got a lengthy letter from my friend. He was utterly stupefied with what had happened to him. At an afternoon private sιance he had every reason to believe that he had talked long and audibly with his deceased father and a brother, discussing matters that had only been known to him and to them when they had been alive.

Among the things which his father had referred to in the direct voice were my friend’s contributions to my own work and how happy it had made all his relatives in the Higher Octave.

References had been constant throughout to family incidents, episodes and vicissitudes which none but the bona fide spirit of his dad could have known—and the same thing went for the mother. The ensuing Sunday night, my friend had attended a sιance in the medium’s small “church” where she had gone into a complete trance.

Suddenly out from the cabinet had walked his mother—a portly woman of some seventy-odd years when he had last seen her in life. She was dressed in a quaint beaded blouse waist and skirt that he recalled having purchased for her in Manhattan the last time she had gone there on a visit before her Passing. My friend—and henceforth in what is described I shall call him George—had once been a pattern-maker and designer of women’s wear, so he had more than the usual male eye for a peculiar blouse him in the outfit exactly as he had known her in life, he exclaimed at the dress.

“Yes, my son,” said his mother whimsically, “I put it on—or so you might call it—purposely so you’d have no difficulty in recognizing me.”

IF IT could be said the medium was tricking all this, then it has to be admitted that she was a particularly clever trickster, with s knowledge of George’s family life and affairs that paralleled his own …

For ten minutes his fully materialized mother had talked with him, especially about the settlement of her estate among a brood of a dozen children, and how each one had taken his share of her bequest, what he had done with the money and how he should be helped at the current moment. Not a name was miscalled. There was no fumbling for cues by the mother.

Next his sister emerged from the same cabinet. She even wore the same style spectacles that had helped her vision in life. My friend asked her if she still had need of glasses in her higher-octave existence. “Oh, no,” she answered, “I just

Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive

wore a pair of these things because you mightn’t recognize me without.” She then discussed likewise the most intimate details of the family life in Toronto when they had been boys and girls. The thing that impressed George most about his sister’s identity was a characteristic little motion made with her right hand when talking, impressing a point or gaining attention. Every little trick of speech which had distinguished her in the body was evidenced as she gave him counsel in regard to helping another sister and her husband who were in business difficulties of some sort up in Canada because of the war.

GEORGE was so flabbergasted at such a demonstration that he wrote he was coming north to get me at Indianapolis and motor me through to New York, where the same medium was due to visit in a couple of weeks. “I want you to witness this medium’s work and tell me what you think of it,” he wrote. “I found out after the sιances that she scarcely knows who you are. I think I can a rrange to slip you into her Sunday night sitting without any publicity, and let’s see what happens. If any of your relatives ‘come through’ who know as much about your affairs as my ‘relatives’ knew about mine, then we’ve just got to accept that the claim of nobody’s ever having returned to earth from beyond the grave is purest tommyrot.”

Well, more of my political persecution in Carolina was afoot and I was required to go down to Buncombe County that next week for a court hearing. So George came to Indianapolis and got me, drove me to Asheville, and when the ordeal there was over, took me up to New York through Virginia.

THE MEDIUM was Bertie Lilly Candler.

She was a handsome woman of some forty years, with a head of lovely auburn hair and sincere blue eyes. Later I was to learn that she had been raised in the Methodist denomination in Atlanta, Ga., and had begun to exercise her phenomenal powers following the death of her brother Howard, after she had married and started living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was accompanied in this New York visit by he husband Edward, who superintended her sιance work. My friend George had cleverly arranged the day before I saw the phenomena I am about to describe, that he was to arrive “with a friend” at the borrowed studio where Miss Candler—as she is professionally known—was to go into her trance, and that we were to be slipped into reserved chairs after the other spectators had assembled and just before the lights were dimmed, that any possible notoriety attendant upon myself might in nowise embarrass either medium or hostess.

Twenty persons were gathered at 8:15 when George and I pushed the bell of an apartment on the twelfth floor of a residence skyscraper overlooking the Hudson River. We were admitted just as the hostess was requesting a group of women present to accompany the medium into an adjacent room while she divested herself of her usual clothes and donned her sιance robe—a plain gown of olive satin. This to forestall any late charge of fraud, or of taking into the

Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive

cabinet with her anything that might be extraneous to unassisted phenomena. The room in which the sitting was being held was about twelve feet wide by twenty feet long. The length of it ran east and west in the building. At the western end was a small angular platform, containing a rostrum and a studio piano, raised fifteen inches from the main flooring. This flooring was carpeted with what appeared to be a heavy dark green Brussels rug.

We entered from the public corridor through the main door in the room’s southeastern corner. The room had only one other door, farther west in the southern wall, opening into a little hallway off which were chamber, bathroom, and kitchenette. These details are important in what followed. The cabinet consisted of a collapsible wooden framework with heavy red velours drapes on brass hooks. It made a little compartment about five feet square and seven feet high, inside which was nothing but a plain wooden chair turned sideways to the audience. Several people examined this cabinet beforehand, finding it absolutely empty of anything but the chair. At the right of the cabinet outside was a chair where the medium’s husband usually sat throughout his wife’s sιances. He personally greeted and interrogated the materialized people as they emerged, and made certain that no sitter who was called close to the cabinet, crossed between the materialization and the medium, thus interfering with, or cutting off, the ectoplasmic cord. To the left of the cabinet outside was a small table holding a portable victrola with a pile of sacred records, subsequently played between manifestations. At the northern corner of the platform opposite the cabinet was a small spotlight with a ruby lens, focused on the front curtains. This illumination, after the eyes became accustomed to it, was sufficient to reflect throughout the whole room and show all the sitters in silhouette. At least nobody could move in the room without its being discernible.

After a time Miss Candler came from the chamber in the satin robe, nodded to acquaintances in the room who had been at some of her sittings before, and went into the cabinet. Before the floor lamps were switched off and the ruby spotlight turned on, she sat herself o the chair, gathered the robe about her feet, lifted a corner of the front drape and called out naively to everyone, “Good night!”

Unique to add, Miss Candler’s little Pomeranian trotted after her into the cabinet and stretched near her feet. I had it whispered to me that the pet always did that, and slept soundly throughout the whole proceeding.

It certainly was there asleep, and had to be awakened, after the floor lamps were snapped on at the end of the sιance. Inasmuch as some twenty-five entities were to materialize in the ensuing three hours, of all ages and both sexes, it hardly seems possible that a dumb animal—especially a dog—would have slept soundly while they passed in and out of that cabinet, had they been mortal actors putting over any hoax …

One of them, at least, would have stepped on it!

WITH the floor lamps snapped off and the red light turned on, the woman wh

Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive

owned the apartment and acted as hostess —and who was herself one of New York’s most famous trumpet mediums—requested that we open the proceedings by reciting the Lord’s Prayer in unison. That finished, our hostess put on the first record. It was, “Nearer, My God to Thee.” The record contained three verses. When it was finished, we waited. Nothing happened. Our hostess put on another hymn, “Abide With Me.” When its three verses had finished in turn, a period of electric silence followed. Suddenly it was cut by a voice. It was a girl’s voice, possibly fourteen to sixteen years old. It came from behind the drapes.

“Hello, everybody!” it rang out, clear as a bell. “I’m Silverleaf!”

Now I had heard about Silverleaf from George. She was not so much Miss Candler’s “control”, as her mediumistic companion. Usually Miss Candler’s brother, Howard—at whose decease, as aforesaid, she had truly begun her mediumistic work—acted as her control. But Howard did not seem to be with her this night. Silverleaf took charge of the sitting. She had not only talked with George in Florida but had materialized at all of Miss Candler’s sιances, which George had attended. He had come to know her rather intimately during the fortnight spent in the South. He had described her to me as an attractive young Indian girl, who usually appeared with a band of jewels around her head, two heavy braids down her breast over an Indian jacket, and a skirt of a billowy white material resembling poplin. On one occasion George had playfully challenged her as to whether her braids were real. She had taken one of them and brushed it across his nose and face. She called him Uncle Jo-Jo. Many of those present had been at Miss Candler’s sittings before and met Silverleaf. They responded to her greeting. “I’m coming out I a minute,” Silverleaf went on. “Medie,” meaning the medium, “isn’t quite asleep yet. Hello, Uncle Jo-Jo!”

“Hello, Silverleaf,” called back George. “Do you know who I’ve got with me?’ “Sure I know who you’ve got with you,” she said with a rippling laugh. “You’ve got Uncle Billy with you. Hello, Uncle Billy!”

“Hello, Silverleaf,” I returned, having been at trumpet sittings before and not feeling inhibited at carrying on my end of such conversations.

Thereupon Silverleaf began to call out and greet other sitters personally. She never missed the correct name. Finally she called to out hostess, “Put on another hymn, Nora, then I guess we’ll be about ready.” The hostess put on “Lead Kindly Light.”

NOW understand me, what I am about to relate I saw with my own eyes, I heard with my own ears, and I touched with my own hands. There is no secondhand information to any of it. And I had my friend George for witness as to the accuracy of what I am reporting. When the final verse of “Lead, Kindly Light” had died away, the front of the drapes moved in the ruby lamp’s focused illumination. Out of the cabinet stepped an Indian girl of about sixteen years, with long braids down each side of a dark pretty face, her shoulders covered by

Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive

a beaded jacket, and a flowing white skirt billowing down from her belt. She came out without the slightest hesitancy and with a child’s delighted cry of, “Well, here I am!”

A chorus of greetings met her. Somehow it seemed, despite my clandestine presence there, that I had to be singled out for attention, though my last name never was spoken in the three hours that followed. The room was then deathly silent. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

Silverleaf came tripping over to where George and I sat, about midway between the two doors along the southern wall. She stood before us. Just what was expected of me, I wasn’t sure. George said, “I wanted Uncle Billy to meet you in person, Silverleaf.”

“I told you I knew all about Uncle Billy,” repeated Silverleaf. “See, I’ve got o the same dress tonight that I had no down in Florida, Uncle Jo-Jo.” The voice of Mrs. Candler’s husband interrupted us from across the room. “Get up, William,” he suggested. “Come back nearer to the cabinet here.” I arose. To my astonishment, Silverleaf put her hand on my forearm and held me as she backed before me toward the cabinet. It felt as the hand of any 16-year-old girl would feel. There was nothing waxen or ethereal about it. it was no papier-machι hand.

What on earth we talked about when I got in correct position facing her in front of the cabinet, where I did not obstruct the beam from the ruby lamp, I don’t for the life of me recall. If I did I would set it down. But I remember George calling out to the girl, “Smooth Uncle Billy’s face with one of your braids, Silverleaf, just to show him they’re real, the same as you did mine down tin Florida.” With a naive little chuckle, Silverleaf caught up her right-hand braid and brushed it playfully across my features. I had expected to feel coarse Indian hair. Instead it was soft as silk and delicately perfumed with lotus. I say that I smelled that beautiful scent and yet I couldn’t have done it with nostrils alone, for unknown to many of my friends I lost my sense of smell during a siege of typhoid in Vermont in 1921. Later I had it explained to me that while the “smell buds” in my nostrils were destroyed, the nerves of smell back to the brain centers were not, and it had been these that caught the s upernatural perfume. Then came another startling incident. I thought that Silverleaf had done with me and started back to my chair. To my astonishment, it seemed that she hadn't done with me, because I sensed her running after me, I felt her hand in the crook of my right elbow, and she playfully whirled me around to face her. I weigh 154 pounds. No ethereal “phantom” grabs hold of 1 154-pound man and has strength enough to turn him completely about. As I recall, it was some trivial promise about listening at times for her voice in my clairaudient ear, so that having thus met her I could identify her, that caused the whirligig. Anyhow, I got back to my seat and Silverleaf turned her attention to the rest of the sitters.

She stood in the center of the group, h alf-way down the room, and addressed practically every person there in turn, calling each one by his or her first name

Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive

and asking after personal affairs or suggesting times when they had met before. She seemed to take particular delight in her costume and showed it off with the savoir faire of the professional manikin. Her poise was adorable. Finally she said that she had to go back into the cabinet and help “build up the ray” for others. I asked “What ray?” “The materializing ray,” she answered. What she alluded to was, that to obtain such results in actuality, this was what took place: As the medium sank into deeper and deeper trance, her body began to release its ectoplasmic content, which poured out through its orifices into a sort of pool in the cabinet before her. This is one of the chief reasons for the cabinet at all, that such exhibition does not frighten or disgust the spectator. Into this flood of released ectoplasm, the more tenuous Light Body of the materializing entity steps and concentrates —with the help of “guides” like Silverleaf who are in the cabinet discarnate —on what his or her physical appearance was in mortality. This concentration acts as a sort of magnetic ray that begins to draw up the ectoplasm aroung the discarnate Light-Body like mercury filling up the glass stem of a thermometer. When the Light-Body, or pattern-self, is completely substantialized, the materialization is accomplished and the discarnate entity can leave the cabinet, to all intents a normal human being.

Don’t say, “It can’t be done!” It can be done, and is done in a thousand bona fide sιance rooms on five continents year after year. It is the operating of a law just as natural as the growth of a blood clot in a woman’s womb into a perfectly formed human being, within the first twenty-five days after conception, though too minute to be recognized for what it is. One is no more a mystery than the other.

WHEN Silverleaf had withdraw into the cabinet, out hostess put on a fresh sacred record. As its final verse died away, the front drapes rippled and parted. Another young girl stepped through—a white girl. She was dressed in a pretty lace frock with a sort of bridal net falling from her hair. Edward got her identity and called out to her father and mother who were seated on George’s left. They arose and hastened forward.

The mother gave a sharp cry, “It’s really you, dear!” Recognition was instantaneous. Gertrude, it seemed, had caught a chill at her high school graduation dance, taken to bed, and Passed Over of quick pneumonia. This, apparently, was the first time that the parents had seen her in materialization. The reunion was poignant. I had noticed the careworn father and mother seated beyond George just before the lights went off. The father had something like a fold of cardboard in his hands and I had thought it a pad of paper for taking notes. Presently I was to find out what it was. They talked swiftly, eagerly, of events that had taken place in the family since the girl’s passing. She gave them what she could of her own experiences in the octave above the mortal. Then still in the ruby light, the father opened the cardboard folder.

“I brought this along just in case we actually saw you tonight,” he explained.

Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive

And he handed it to her. The whole thing was played out not four feet from me and I could hear plainly every word that passed.

The girl took the folder, opened it herself, and held it down against her skirt in order to get the ruby light-beam upon it.

“Why, it’s me in my graduation dress!” she cried.

“Yes, dear,” the mother said. “You remember it was taken the day you went to the dance, but you left us before the photographer delivered it.” “And there’s another picture in here,” Gertrude said. She looked at it closely. “Why, it’s Tommy!” I gathered that Tommy was a younger brother. Somehow that recognition of the picture hit me as being a more accurate proof of identity of a departed soul than even the things that subsequently happened to myself.

Gertrude handed back the photographs. Suddenly, with a surge of emotions, she threw both arms around her father and mother. The three of them embraced there—like the three normal persons, which they were—loath to give each other up.

Could that father and mother ever conceive thereafter that their beloved daughter was dead, or that she had “perished”? What Mosaic numskull was it who had written back over the years, “The dead know not anything,” and ‘There is no device nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest?” Rubbish!