Florence Cook/Katie King
The strange case of Katie King – the spirit who wanted to prove to the world the ‘truth’ about spiritulism, is a case worth looking into. Acting through the medium – Florence Cook – Katie would appear as ectoplasm. Ectoplasm is a strange substance/material, that would spew forth from the mouth, nose, or ears of the medium. In nearly all cases, the medium’s body would be used as a sort of vehicle in which the spirit of a dead person would come into the world of the living. The medium would be rendered helpless as the spirit would form before the disbelieving eyes of those present. Florence Cook was born in the year 1856, in the East End of London.
From a very early age Florence had been aware of the presence of ‘spirits’around her, saying that sometimes she would see angels.It wasn’t until Florence reached the age of 15 that her psychic abilities began to come through.
In front of her friends, who were there holding a ‘table tilting’ session, she managed to raise a table off the ground and suspend it in the air. Soon Florence began holding seances while still an adolescent, within her home. Her fame spread as news of her being able to produce spirit faces circulated around spiritualist circles.
From within a cabinet in the drawing room, Florence would sit, tied to a chair with ropes that held her down. A hole had been cut high up upon the door, there, the faces would appear. The door would close and the sitters would begin to chant to create the right mood/ambiance of the moment. After so many minutes the door of the cabinet would be opened. This wasto show that Florence was still tied down, and that trickery could not be put forward as an excuse by disbelievers.
The door would then be closed again and within a few moments the spirit faces would appear,in the opening. Upon vanishing the door would be opened again to show Florence, stilltied down, exhausted with the exertion of bringing the spirits through – as apparently – they would use her energy in order to manifest.There were still many people who disbelieved though. More than a few people noticed how similiar in looks the faces were to Florence’s own. They stated that she could just have simply escaped from the ropes that tied her down, stood on a chair and poked her face through the hole in the door. Then, they claimed, she would simply sit back down again.
But Florence’s reputation grew. Her audiences loved her. And above all, believed in her. Herfollowing began to swell in numbers, and her reputation began to go before her. So many people were impressed that Florence never ever asked them for money – or charged a feefor the sittings. It would simply be enough that they believed in her. That would be more than enough payment.
People came from far and wide to see her performances, and not just because of her abilityto bring spirits through. Other people came because Florence was a beautiful young woman too. No wonder, her fame and beauty spread like wildfire. At some sittings, the spirits hadeven taken to throwing Florrie [ for that was her nickname ] up in the air, like a rag doll.And, in one case, they actually ripped her clothing off. Florence, loved the attention that she was receiving and began to wallow in it. This made certain people uncomfortable. Indeed,her employer, and her friends had become very unsettled indeed with her psychic abilities.
One of her friends, and employer, a Miss Eliza Cliff, whose school in which Florence worked as an assistant teacher, was forced to dismiss her outright. This was done with a greatdeal of reluctance, but it was felt that she simply had to get rid of her. The girlswithin the school had become very unsettled at the strange and unnatural things thatwould happen around Florence Cook. No wonder that their parents, as well, looked upon these events with a growing sense of fear. They were afraid that their children might be somehow,affected themselves, by being near the assistant teacher. So, the school parted with her,very reluctantly, but part they did.
The Arrival of Katie King
within seances now, full materializations had become very very popular. In that same yearone dark night, a white face appeared from the darkness outside the curtains of Florrie’scabinet. The ‘mask’ floated, and announced itself as that of Katie King. The unusual thingabout this spirit, was that she was not, some sort of ethereal spirit, but she appeared ‘solid.’ Walking, talking, and even sitting with the sitters around the table. She was indeedproof of a living, breathing entity. Proof of the afterlife. A spirit who had indeed, becomeflesh. As solid as you or I. Indeed, one could not tell the difference between Katie Kingand a real life living girl.
Meanwhile the medium Florence [Florrie] would still enter her cabinet. She did preferto enter into her trances from within the confines of the cabinet. Inside, her psychic energiescould be built up. Sometimes it would take more than half an hour before the curtain wouldbe pulled back, and a figure would emerge. This figure would be dressed in white,and always
looked pale in comparison to the rest of the group. Within the cabinet, Florence would lie,unconscious. Sometimes, while Katie walked among the living, sobs and heavy breathingcould be heard coming from within the cabinet. It was like Katie was draining away the energy of her host, Florence, draining away all of her energy from her body.
Upon her very first appearance, Katie would not talk, she would simply nod her head and smile. During more sittings though, Katie would take to walking around the room [ even offering her hand, which felt strangely solid.] She would even talk to them, to the astonishment of all within. Katie, liked to touch the people she spoke too – being fond of that. On occasion, she even allowed themto touch her too. Many times after Katie would return to the cabinet from whence she came. Florence would be found, still tied to the chair, unconscious, having beendrained of all her energy.
Katie King was formed by a material called ectoplasm. This ‘material’ for want of a betterword, would and could manifest itself in different ways. It could take on any shape or size.It was well-known, in Victorian psychic circles, that interfering with the ectoplasm while it was forming, could prove to be extremely dangerous to the medium’s well-being.
The similarities between Florence Cook and Katie King could not be ignored. Both had similar facial features – although Katie looked more heavily-built than Florence. With this in mind, Florence’s life was almost put at risk. It was during the year and month of December 9,1873 that one of the sitter’s at a Cook Seance, was a man named William Volckman. This man had become annoyed and agitated [although he was an invited guest] at the fact that both Florence Cook and Katie King were so alike [which seemed obvious at the time, as Katie allegedly came from the body of Florence.] He saw red, jumped from his seat, and grabbed the ‘spirit’ Katie King, by her wrist. At the same time he shouted that this person was a charlatan, and that this was really Florence Cook in disguise.
Indeed, it was a surprise at the way that Katie put up a fight,leaving scratches and bruisesupon the man’s nose. The spirit, Katie, was finally rescued by a man called Edward Elgie Corner – Florence’s fiance, and by the Earl and Countess of Caithness, and also by the Barrister, Henry Dumphy, who were friends of the Cook family. They were indeed awareof the danger in interfering with the spirit. A fight broke out as they seized Volckman, enabling Katie King to make good her escape. Allegedly, in front of their eyes, Katie disappeared,dissolving from the ground upwards.
Volckman broke away from the grips of the people holding him down and made a dash toward the cabinet. There, he yanked open the door, but found nothing of Katie King, only Florence,still tied to her chair, her clothing though, in disarray.
Was there something more to this attack on Katie King than meets the eye? We will never know. But soon afterwards Volckman married a medium – a famous medium named Samuel Guppy, who was very jealous of Florence and the fame that went before her. The incident with Volckman did not, immediately hurt, Florrie’s reputation as a medium, but some peoples faith in Florence was shaken now. Her fortunes dipped, slightly, and she suffered a reversalof everything that went before.
Around this time, Daniel Douglas Home, a medium, was being tested by the famous and eminent scientist William Crookes. Florence decided to make contact with Crookes and get him to add her contribution to the research going on in life after death. Crookes accepted without hesitation, so delighted was he to have such a famous partnership of Florence Cook and Katie King. He did agree to a series of seances – private. Soon after, the most problematic investigations of the Spiritualist Era began in earnest.
Crookes had invited Florence – and her Mother and Sister – to stay with him, his home being Mornington Road in Northwest London. Mrs Crookes, although in the house at the time, was not really around that much. She was expecting their tenth child and was usually to be found within her bedroom.
Florrie had approached Crookes about the investigations and this was the first time that Crookes had actually had the experience of Katie King. He had taken it upon himself to visit the Cook household and experienced, first hand, the spirit matiralization of Katie. Having been part of the seance on that particular night, Katie ahd appeared from behnd the spirit cabinet, and had asked Crookes to walk with her behind it. Allegedly, according to Crooks, he witnessed the spirit Katie King, standing over the prone body of Florence Cooke. Her body was still bound down by tape.
Crooks account stated that he had checked three times, to be sure that the woman on theground was that of Florence Cook. Her body was illuminated by a gas lamp within. He then became convinced Florence and Katie were two separate individuals. Could this have been the proof needed that Katie, was indeed, a spirit?
It might have been. Yet, not everyone was as convinced as Crook. Many sitters insisted on the most extreme measures possible to prevent Florence Cook from performing any sort of trickery. Tape or cord it did not not matter which, for each time the binding were found to be still intact, with no sign of tampering whatsoever. This they would find at the end of every sitting. Even, as one point, Florence’s hair had been nailed to the ground, yet still, Katie appeared.
1874 and Crookes produces the first photographs of the spirit, Katie King. Crookes was even given permission to test her appearances in plain view. In one test, Florence Cook laid down on a sofa. She did this behind a curtain, putting a shawl over her face. Moments later, Katie King appeared in front of the curtain. Cook, who was taking all this information down, went
to check to see whether or not Florence was still lying down. He was astounded to find that she was. The one thing that is the Achilles heel in this is that Crookes NEVER REMOVED THE SHAWL FROM THE WOMAN’S FACE. So, we will never know if, truly, Florence was the one on the sofa.
55 photographs were taken of Katie King, yet only a handful have survived up to the present day. Crookes died in 1919, the remaining photographs were destroyed shortly before he passed away. Crookes used five cameras during his study of Florence Cook and Katie King. Two of the cameras
had been stereoscopic taking pictures simultaneously during the sessions. Indeed, all of the photographs can be questioned as to their authenticity, as they were poorly shot. The unbelievers had a field day, as the picutres seemed to back them up, even though many of them show Florence Cook and Katie King in the same frames.
Arm in Arm
One of the photographs clearly show Crookes walking, arm in arm with the spirit Katie King. Yet, upon closer inspection, the facial features of Katie and Florence cannot be ignored as they are so similar in appearance. In another photograph we look upon the prone body of Florence, slumped over a chair [ in a trance, apparently] in the foreground. Unfortunately the spirit Katie King’s face is hidden by a sort of ectoplasmic shroud.
Another photograph shows that of the blurred face of Katie, staring right into the camera. There is a sitter to the left of the picture who is actually reflected within the mirror in the room.Crookes was definitely questioned over all these anomalies and more. Yet he defended Florence Cook to the last, stating that she had agreed to every experimentation without argument or question. He also stated that at no point did he ever get the impression that Florence was trying to trick him, and that he did not consider her a charlatan.
To summarise, although William Crookes was absolute in his defence of the Medium, Florence Cook and the spirit Katie King, there were others that were not. One of the major stumbling blocks was the fact that Katie looked so much like Florence in every way. They skeptics came to the conclusion that this was because that is exactly who she was…Florence Cook. Yet, the doubts persist to this day.
Eyewitness accounts at that time state that although Katie resembled Florence in so many ways, in other ways she did not. Katie, was taller and heavier than Florence. Also, the colour of Katie’s hair was red, while the medium, Florence’s hair was dark, black. Crookes had also picked up the marked differences between the two. Katie King was definitely taller, and broader in the face. Florrie had pierced ears, Katie did not. At one sitting, it was noted that Florence had a large blister upon her neck. When Katie appeared, her neck was smooth.
For a serious scientist in this most interesting case, Crookes left a lot to be desired. For example, he did not seem to make any comparison notes [written notes.] Whether he did and they have not been found, we will never know. But, we have to assume that he did not. This was an unbelievable oversight of somebody that could have changed the way this subject is looked upon in the future.
And Katie King announces that she will soon leave Florence. Her time on this planet had come
to an end. Crookes had actually written an account of what he witnessed as Florence and Katie said their last goodbyes. Katie appeared one last time in the seance room. She walked over to where Florence lay, prostrate on the floor. Reaching down, she began to shake Florrie by the shoulder begging her to wake up, explaining that she had to go now. Crookes watched on as both Florence and Katie talked for a few moments. Florence was in despair, and her tears were now preventing her from talking. Katie turned to Crookes and asked him to hold Florrie in his arms, as the poor woman was falling to the ground in grief, such were her deep sobs. When they looked around the room…Katie King had gone.
To sum up, was Florence Cook a charlatan? Did she trick so many people into believingin her? My own feelings on this is no. And this is my conclusion: Florence Cook NEVERasked for one penny for her sittings, not one. It is still unexplainable how she could be tiedand bound to a chair, yet ectoplasm could be clearly seen coming from her body. Howdid that happen? Although arguments could be made – and they have done many times since – the question still remains:
WAS KATIE KING AN ACTUAL SPIRIT SENT TO SHOW US THAT DEATH IS CONQUERED AFTER ALL?
I will leave you to come to your own conclusions.