Sunday, October 9, 2011

Thomas Bradford's Spirit Test

The Ogden Standard-Examiner, February 21, 1921
Hauntings have been a part of the human landscape as far back as the written word carries its history. Most instances are cold and informal happenings as if two passing figures were situated on separate planes and unexpectedly intersected without cause or warning, momentarily touching one another.

Houdini attempted to make intelligent contact between the dead and the living by sending a message to his beloved when he crossed over into the shadow world. For ten years his wife Bess held séances on Halloween hoping to hear him whisper the agreed upon phrase "Rosabelle believe" to prove that there was life after death. Despite being unsuccessful he inspired others to claim the quest as their own, with failing returns.

Perhaps Houdini himself was inspired by another gentleman, Professor Thomas Lynn Bradford, a Detroit psychic and lecturer, who not only attempted to make contact from the other side but committed suicide to hasten the act and prove that life after death was possible. And according to his assistant he did just that.

Mr. Bradford, said to have been an electrical engineer and a one time athlete and actor as well, devoted much of his last years studying and writing about the occult, particularly the after-life. He theorized in his last written words that "all phenomena are outside the domain of the supernatural." and sought to prove this theory through "scientific facts." Having conjured up the postulate he intended to prove it through experimentation with his own life as the guinea pig. First though he'd need an assistant to receive his message from beyond.

In early 1921 the professor posted an ad in a local newspaper, under the pseudonym Professor Flynn, searching for "someone interested in spiritualistic science" to which a woman named Ruth Starkweather Doran replied. Mrs. Doran, about 40 years old, was from a prominent Detroit family with deep roots in the area. She had only recently returned to the area from Duluth and was doing historical research in the city. A writer and lecturer herself, Doran's curiosity was piqued by the odd advertisement and answered it on a whim. A member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, she was neither a believer in psychic phenomenon or a spiritualist but agreed to meet with Bradford to further investigate a subject she had never breached beforehand. After several meetings--Doran herself claimed that there was no pact and that there was in fact only one brief meeting--in which Bradford presumably explained his theory and plan of action, they chose a date for the final meeting, February 5, 1921.

Shortly before Doran arrived that evening for their last conference, Bradford finished typing his final thoughts for the manuscript to an unfinished book which lay beside the machine, leaving the sheath interred in the carriage, and readied himself for the death experiment. First though, he calmly assured Doran that he would contact her and gave her instructions on how to carry out the reunion. When Doran departed he sealed off the rented room, blew out the pilot to the heater, turned on the gas jets, situated himself in bed for one last repose and eventually succumbed to the fumes.

In the days after Bradford's death, Doran and a congregation of Spiritualist leaders gathered around the parlor in her home awaiting the message. While skepticism abounded even among the sect, Doran also distanced herself from any self-aggrandizement saying that her part was more so as a human being than a Spiritualist or a psychic. While a fortnight of vigils would take place the first few evenings were rather quiet and no contact had come. Though Doran reported that she felt a strange sensation during this time, as if Bradford's spirit was hovering just waiting to call from the beyond.

If Bradford was indeed destined to call there would be competition for his attention. While Ruth Doran and her team hunkered down waiting for a missive, another spiritualist in the same city named Lulu Mack, of 300 Brady Street, claimed to have already had contact with the dead professor.

The Pittsburgh Press, February 10, 1921
On February 9th, a mere 3 days after the passing of Bradford, Mack felt that she was being urged by a passed spirit to make contact. That evening she gathered her medium for a seance. During the event she claimed to hear the faint voice of Bradford. Not calling out to her but to himself, "Thomas Bradford. Thomas Bradford."

Unaware of Bradford's story, Mack questioned her reverend medium. Who responded that Bradford had yet to pass entirely and was still aware of Earthly things, though unlikely knew of his own demise. The low murmur of his voice could be attributed to the fact that he was not yet strong enough to communicate properly from his astral body as much of his energy had been expended on death itself. She believed that as his spirit grew stronger and was purified the probability of contact would increase. Perhaps in a few years or so.

The New York Times, February 18, 1921
On February 12th, a week after his suicide and the scheduled date for Bradford's return, Doran, upon notifying certain media and spiritualist sects, gathered a small group of friends in her home at 9 o'clock that evening for the event. Other spiritualist groups across the city also joined in, forming "concentration parties" to help strengthen the expected signal.

That evening she felt a presence in her dimly lit parlor. She stood staring into a dark corner for several minutes, placed her hands upon her temples and ordered the lights to be turned out. After a few moments of silence she professed to hearing his voice. It started out quite faint and grew even more distant but discernible nonetheless. "Write this!" she directed and one of the witnesses present transcribed the message that she dictated in a low voice. After a half hour she exclaimed that "The voice grows weaker." The clock then struck 10 o'clock and the lights were turned back on.

Appearing flush she looked over the notes, signed them to authenticate that she had dictated them accurately and began to recite the jotted passages:
"I am the professor who speaks to you from the Beyond. I have broken through the veil. The help of the living has greatly assisted me. 
"I simply went to sleep. I woke up and at first did not realize that I had passed on. I find no great change apparent. I expected things to be much different. They are not. Human forms are retained in outline but not in the physical. 
"I have not traveled far. I am still much in the darkness. I see many people. They appear natural. 
"There is a lightness of responsibility here unlike in life. One feels full of rapture and happiness. Persons of like natures associate. I am associated with other investigators. I do not repent my act. 
"My present plane is but the first series. I am still investigating the future planes regarding which we in this plane are as ignorant as are earthly beings of the life just beyond human life."
Once done reciting the message she fainted but soon came to and was asked, "Are you certain beyond doubt that you heard from Bradford?

To which she responded, "I am convinced. I never heard a spirit voice before. That was the professor, without doubt."

Whether or not it was is a matter of conjecture. A betting man might be inclined to disagree with that sentiment. In a town that produced the likes of Shirley Tapp and Rose Veres he might do so against his better judgement.

Later that year Mrs. Doran wrote in an exclusive article that she had regular contact with Bradford thereafter, even in apparition form. Among the wisdom imparted by Bradford was the sentiment that life would one day be eternal on both the spiritual and physical plain:
"Through spiritualism the world will be reclaimed: sin will be vanquished, suffering will end. The physical in man will cease to be, and physical death--and that is the only death--will be no more. Men will live on earth forever, even as they live forever in the spirit world."


Detroit Student Of Spirit Communication Ends Life, Perhaps In Effort To Test Theory; The New York Times, February 7, 1921

Missed Ghost Pact, Is Sorry; The Detroit Free Press, February 8, 1921

Widow Of Spiritualist Suicide To Claim Body; The Detroit Free Press, February 11, 1921

Kills Self To Send Spirit Message; "I've Got it!" Declares the Woman; The Southeast Missourian, February 22, 1921

Waiting For A Message From The Dead; The Turners Falls Reporter, March 16, 1921

Detroit Woman's Amazing Story Graphically Told In Special Article For Journal; Syracuse Daily Journal, April 4, 1921


Anonymous said...

Nice set o facts you backed that up with. Good work.

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I call bullshit! She fainted too right, oooh that's not dramatic!

Ari said...


Thank you for this post.

Do you have any other sources for this story other than those posted above? (BTW: The Evening Telegram and Morning Leader links no longer appear to navigate to the articles listed under "Further Reading.")

Also, do you know what the exact "scheduled date for Bradford's return" was?

If you are aware of any other information on the lives of Prof. Bradford and Mrs. Doran I'd be very appreciative if you would direct me to it.

the said...

Ari, I actually have more newspaper articles that I have yet to post and will try to update that shortly.

As for the date Bradford was supposed to make contact, I believe it was February 12, a week after his death.

Ari said...

Thank you very much!

I initially discovered this story on an NPR radio program called, RadioLab (the title of the episode is "Ghost Stories"). On the program, Mary Roach (author of, Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife) claimed that Ruth Doran never successfully made spiritual contact with Thomas Lynn Bradford. Insofar as I am aware, Ms. Roach's conclusion was based on two New York Times articles dated February 6 and 7 of 1921. I've contacted Ms. Roach about subsequent articles (albeit not from the NYT) which report on Doran's successful "contact," and she intends to look through her research and will, presumably, get back to me on it.

Anyway, thanks both for the reply and the update to your Further Reading list!

the said...

Yes, I heard the NPR program recently and was pretty disappointed since it was claimed that not only did Doran hear from him but so did Detroiter Lulu Mack. Of course, there's no way to prove or disprove their statements but those accounts come from the newspapers of the time.

I'm not surprised that she was confused because I, too, had originally wrote that he had never made contact but after coming across new information realized that he did supposedly reach both Mack and Doran.

I wish the Detroit News had their historical archives online as well but perhaps I'll find a local library here in the Detroit area that have them on microfiche and see if I can dig up some more info.

Just added another article from the Free Press in the past few minutes. Enjoy.

Ari said...

Great! Thanks!

Again, I'd love to read anything else you can find on this.

It's interesting, and curious, how the Freep paints a very different picture of the relationship Doran and Bradford had. The NYT and others seem to've had the notion that these two were friends, if not at least respectful of each other.

Thank you very much!

the said...

No problem. I've been meaning to update and now that I've dug a little further I've actually found some new interesting information. Thanks for the inquiry!

the said...

And yes, the Freep does make it seem like Doran was very standoffish to the entire concept while the other publications sensationalized the story as a coven between two wackos.

Ari said...


Regarding the "Missed Ghost Pact, Is Sorry" Freep article from February 8, 1921, in the last section, under the heading "Dejected on Leaving," can you make out the second sentence of the second paragraph: "She said she told Bradford she didn't believe his class would interest her to any extent, that she had the idea his [insights][?] had to do more with phys[??????] and that her [especial][?] hobby was psychiatry.

Also, is the last word in this paragraph, "delinquency"?

Thanks so much for your help!

the said...

Your guess is as good as mine on the one you've surmised to be insight.

The second one looks like physicology (The science of nature, or of natural objects; that branch of science which treats of the laws and properties of matter, and the forces acting upon it;).

The third appears to be especial.

The last does appear to be delinquency.

I put a larger pic up for it but the original was so poor that it doesn't make much difference with the legibility.

Ari said...

Again, thank you very much! You've been extremely helpful -- even superior to the research I've sought to gather at my local library, with all its databases.

the said...

Why thank you! It was a story that I happened upon accidentally while researching other topics and was too good to pass up. If you happen upon anything new let me know.

Anonymous said...