Thursday, September 15, 2011

Somnambulism in the Suburbs

If trial and error are the main catalysts towards scientific purity then doctoral candidate, Gerald G. Griffin, a part-time psychology instructor at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn and former psychologist for Oakland County schools, was well on his way to conducting the perfect experiment. During an evening session of his entry level sociology class on Friday November 12, 1965 he discussed both the merits and benefits of hypnotism to a non-believing audience. Having previously experimented with the practice in his classes, Griffin, an "amateur hypnotist", was obviously an eager practitioner despite his lack of credentials. But word had gotten out by a student to her clergyman who in turn notified the school's Dean, Ray Howe, and Griffin was reprimanded with Howe demanding that such experimentation had no relevance in a basic course. Having been warned not to repeat the incident in-class he agreed to meet some students for an off-campus session. First though, he made a pact with the class that the sessions must remain secret. While their agreement held firm the experiment soon went awry.

One of the eager to learn was 18 year old coed Cynthia Wellman of Inkster. She agreed to meet Griffin at a parking lot near the school campus for an impromptu session. While sitting inside a car Griffin put Wellman into the requested trance. It's not clear whether other students participated in the exercise or what exactly transpired during the session but when it came time to awaken Cynthia she remained spellbound. Griffin then spent several hours trying to revive her using the techniques which enabled the trance, all to no avail. Griffin then panicked, which may have led to his difficulty in returning her to consciousness, but certainly didn't help with his cause. After repeated attempts failed to rouse the girl, the married father of two children drove Wellman to his residence and attempted to let her sleep it off on the couch. When that method also failed to return results she was taken to the Wayne County General Hospital in Eloise.

Under the care of Dr. Bruce Danto she was given sodium amytal, or truth serum, a barbiturate used to relax patients or to induce drowsiness in those with insomnia. It was first used clinically to treat psychiatric patients in the late 1920s and later by law enforcement to coax suspects into confessing to a crime. The drug came under scrutiny when tests showed that patients under the influence of the drug were highly susceptible to fabrication and coercive suggestion by outside influences. When the drug began to arouse Wellman from her somnambulistic state, Griffin transferred his control over the girl to Danto, who after several hours (and 16 total hours from the start of the original hypnosis) managed to fully relieve her of the hypnotic state.

Griffin, who was later thoroughly questioned by Inkster police, was suspended from his post at the community college and later resigned the position. No charges were filed by authorities mainly due to the fact that there were no laws on the book at the time and because investigators were convinced that no improprieties took place outside of the actual act itself. Griffin was rattled by the episode but maintained a professional demeanor in asserting that he was "a scientist" and had only used the procedure in good faith and as a teaching tool despite the unfortunate results.


Instructor Suspended For Hypnotizing Coed; The Owosso Argus-Press, November 12, 1965

Hypnotism Experiment Backfires; The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 15, 1965

Hypnotist Is Suspended By A School; The Lawrence Journal-World, November 15, 1965

Teacher-Hypnotist Suspended; The Windsor Star, November 15, 1965

Classroom Hypnotist Still Under Suspension; The Victoria Advocate, November 16, 1965

In 16-Hour Trance; The Free Lance-Star, November 16, 1965

In Long Trance; The St. Joseph News-Press, November 16, 1965

Instructor Faces Suspension For Hypnotizing Coed; The Lewiston Morning Tribune, November 16, 1965

Experimenter In Hypnotics Suspended; The Titusville Herald, November 16, 1965

Hypnotist Instructor Resigned; The Owosso Argus-Press, November 17, 1965

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