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Eusapia Palladino- a supernatural phenomenon or a hoax?

Tijana Radeska
Eusapia Palladino

To many she was a supernatural phenomenon while to others a clever cheater whose tricks were complex, obscure and well-performed. Eusapia Palladino was born in 1854, in Italy and claimed to be a physical medium.

Her supposed supernatural abilities were demonstrated through levitation of tables and communication with the dead.

Eusapia Palladino

Eusapia Palladino

She enchanted many spiritualists, but still couldn’t deceive skeptics and magicians and therefore was often caught in her fraud.

But whenever that happened she would continue as nothing had happened, even though she was exposed in England, France, Poland, and the States.

Alexandr Aksakov (right) "controls" while Palladino levitates table, Milan, 1892

Alexandr Aksakov (right) “controls” while Palladino levitates table, Milan, 1892

 

Cesare Lombroso and Charles Richet "control" while Palladino levitates table, Milan, 1892

Cesare Lombroso and Charles Richet “control” while Palladino levitates table, Milan, 1892

She first became known to the international public when the psychologist, Dr. Julian Ochorowicz invited her in Warsaw in 1893.

She was his guest for over two months and was introduced to Ochorowicz’s friend, the journalist and novelist Bolesław Prus. Prus attended a number of seances with Palladino and later wrote scenes inspired by these experiences in his 1895 novel –Pharaoh.

Eusapia Palladino, Warsaw, 1893

Eusapia Palladino, Warsaw, 1893

Ochorowicz and Palladino met again in the summer of 1894 in the home of the physiologist Charles Richet in the Ile Roubaud in the Mediterranean, along with Frederic William Henry Myers, and the physicist Oliver Lodge.

They were all fascinated by Palladino and she was invited the next summer to demonstrate her abilities in Myers’s home in Cambridge.

Palladino, 1894; Julian Ochorowicz (left) controls right hand; Dr. Ségard controls left hand and feet

Palladino, 1894; Julian Ochorowicz (left) controls right hand; Dr. Ségard controls left hand and feet

So, in 1895, Ochorowicz, Palladino traveled to England. There, she was once again investigated by Myers himself, Richet, Lodge, once again by Ochorowicz and she was also observed by Richard Hodgson, a psychical researcher.

Even though the group was previously convinced that Palladino’s abilities are genuine, now they were able to see her trickery.

Table levitates during Palladino's séance at home of astronomer Camille Flammarion, France, 25 November 1898. There are two women seated at the table. Palladino sits at the far short end

Table levitates during Palladino’s séance in the home of  the astronomer Camille Flammarion, France, 25 November 1898. There are two women seated at the table. Palladino sits at the far short end

 

Richard Hodgson argued that Palladino moves the objects with her hand and foot. John Nevil Maskelyne who was also involved in the investigation supported Hodgson’s argument.

Anyway, Oliver Lodge still believed that some of her phenomena were genuine.

Palladino, ca. 1900

Palladino, ca. 1900

In 1909, while Hereward Carrington, the investigator of psychic phenomena, was Palladino’s manager, visited America with Eusapia, to show the people her extraordinary abilities.

At first, the magician Howard Thurston was enchanted by her powers and judged the levitation he witnessed as a genuine one.

Mandolin (striped instrument, top, right) levitates above Palladino's head in front of the curtains at the far short end of the table during Palladino's séance in Munich, Germany, 13 March 1903

Mandolin (striped instrument, top, right) levitates above Palladino’s head in front of the curtains at the far short end of the table during Palladino’s séance in Munich, Germany, 13 March 1903

But the Harvard psychologist Hugo Münsterberg wasn’t convinced in Palladino’s supernatural abilities at all. At one point his man hid under the table and later reported that Palladino moved the table with her foot.

He also argued that the so-called medium moved the curtains in the room with a jet of air from a rubber bulb that she had in her hand.

Sketch showing the layout of a séance in a 1908 Naples investigation

Sketch showing the layout of a séance in a 1908 Naples investigation

Soon, Palladino was exposed by many scientists, skeptics, and magicians. Everyone grew suspicious towards her abilities.

The psychologist Millais Culpin described her as hysterically dis-associative and argued that she might suffered from self-deception.

Palladino with fake ectoplasm hands

Palladino with fake ectoplasm hands

The spirit medium Morris Lamar Keene noted that “observers said that Eusapia Palladino used to experience obvious orgasmic reactions during her séances and had a marked propensity for handsome male attendees.”

Finally, in 1910, while being interviewed by an American reporter, Palladino confessed that her seances were a hoax.

Talking about supernatural, we have another wacko read: The Cottingley Fairies – When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became convinced in the supernatural
The anthropologist Eric Dingwall, who was also a psychical researcher and investigated Palladino, concluded that she was “vital, vulgar, amorous and a cheat.”