F. C. E. Dimmick (England)

"Mrs. Dorothy Henderson. Head bent forward, hands controlled and Ectoplasm covering her lap."

Gelatin-silver print, 3.5 x 5 inches

October 2, 1928
Inscribed on verso: "The M.S.A. has a whole series of ectoplasmic photographs which I took under strict test conditions with Mrs. Henderson as the Medium." Further inscribed, "See International Psychic Gazette, December 1928."

The M.S.A. was the Marylebone Spiritualist Association, presumably named for a section of Central London known as Marylebone Village. (To read the article from the International Psychic Gazette describing Mrs. Dorothy Henderson's seances and the making of this photograph, click here.)

Dorothy Henderson may have been the subject of a play written by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, based on his experiences in spiritualism. Words Upon the Window Pane opened at the Abbey Theater in Dublin in 1930 and has as its central character a medium named Mrs. Henderson. A coincidence? We hope further research will provide an answer. For now, there is drama enough in the strange, other-worldly composition of this photograph, which some researchers find reminiscent of Japanese Noh theater--another interest of Yeats. The "ectoplasm" seen emerging from Mrs. Henderson's midsection is almost less remarkable than the seemingly disembodied hands of the "controls," maintaining contact with the medium in an effort to prevent fraud.



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Mrs. Henderson and her Ectoplasmic Manifestations.

The Phenomena in a Clear Red Light.


By Frank Hawken, Honorary Secretary of the M.S.A.


Mrs. Dorothy Henderson, one of the highly-gifted mediums of the Marylebone Spiritualist Association, is a native of Plymouth. She was born in 1896, and has two bonny daughters, aged eleven and thirteen. She first became interested in Spiritualism some five years ago. It was whilst attending the developing circle of the local Spiritualist society that she first experienced trance. These circles were held in the dark, and shortly afterwards physical phenomena commenced to take place. There was some doubt at first as to who was the medium, but this question was soon settled when it was discovered that nothing happened on the occasions when Mrs. Henderson was absent.

After a few months, a private circle was formed for her development, in which she remained until circumstances forced her to remove to London. The necessity of providing for her mother and two children brought about the professional use of her remarkable gifts. A tour of some of the North Country Spiritualist societies followed. It was on her return from this trip that, with Mrs. Hawken, I attended one of her séances, having seen it announced in the psychic press.

I shall never forget that séance. In a small room some twenty-two people were present, necessitating some sitting against the door. After this was closed, one lady fainted and had to be removed, just as the séance commenced, and later another went into hysterics. It was only on my insistence that the door was not re-opened, while the phenomena were taking place, in order to let this last disturber out. There were hymns and more hymns sung; no one was apparently in charge, and yet phenomena were taking place all the while, which, if genuine, placed Mrs. Henderson in the front rank as a powerful medium.

Shortly afterwards, a series of test séances took place at the M.S.A. rooms, which resulted in her eventually joining the staff of the Association.

In those days, dark séances were the rule; everyone held hands, and hymns were sung. The medium, however, was not contacted. She sat outside a cabinet, formed of curtains across a corner of the room, and a light table was placed inside, upon which were placed a two-piece tin trumpet, mouth organ, zither, fairy bells, and other small toys. Also face downwards on the table were two phosphorescent slates.

The medium was seated in a heavy arm-chair; a rope, placed round her waist, was tied at the back, passed round the centre rung of the chair, again tied, and the ends brought round and held by the sitters on either side. Separate bands of tape were fastened round each wrist, elbow, and upper arm, and her ankles were fastened to the legs of the chair.

Some excellent results were secured under these stringent conditions. There was levitation of various objects, the mouth organ was played very nicely, and the table was usually quickly brought into the centre of the circle. The phosphorescent slates were sometimes lifted, and by their light masses of ectoplasm could be seen. I have seen one of these slates surround a small materialised head, within eight inches of my eyes. Again masses of ectoplasm would gather over one of the slates, luminous side turned up on the table, and gradually condense into a semi-transparent mass, which would then form into hands before our eyes. Concurrently with this phenomenon the direct voice of one of her guides would be heard.

We decided to endeavour to get these séances gradually stabilized on a more scientific plan, so, slowly but surely, conditions were changed, all with the sanction and co-operation of the controls, among whom the outstanding personality was a Cornish fisherman of the name of Bill Turner, who is a great friend of mine! First of all the musical instruments were removed from the séance room, as they used up valuable power, which might be more usefully employed. Then personal contact with the medium was commenced, her right hand always being held by the official in charge of the séance. This for some little time reduced the strength of the phenomena produced, but gradually as the controls became accustomed to this condition the same excellent results were secured.

The next step was to endeavour to secure results in the light, and at the first séance held with a dim red light results were secured. A small piece of ectoplasm was then shown for about one second. It was soon found that the best results were obtained when the medium sat half in the cabinet. Then in a state of trance she would pull the two curtains together in front of her, thus shielding her body from the effects of the light. When sufficient ectoplasm had been produced the curtains would be opened and inspection of the phenomena would take place. Rapid progress was made, the medium was covered less and less by the curtains, and the period at which one could view the ectoplasm produced has increased from the few seconds at first to as long as two or three minutes at the present time. Several very good attempts have been made towards the formation of faces, on two occasions a large hand was distinctly seen, and on another occasion a miniature figure.

A special one-piece dress is kept in the séance room for the use of Mrs. Henderson, and she is always examined when changing into it by two of the ladies who may be sitting. She then goes straight to the séance chair, and her hands are held by the sitter on either side before the light is reduced to the good red light that is normally used. This is done as it takes some little time, as in a picture house, for one’s eyes to get accustomed to the reduced light. The lighting now used is from a 60-volt lamp, which is passed through a yellow and a purple panchromatic screen, with the result that we have a perfect spectrum red. The light is sufficiently powerful to enable one to read the time from one’s watch at a distance of eight feet.

When trance has been induced, Mrs. Henderson’s hands are freed, and shortly afterwards the control will tuck her thumbs into the edge of the curtain on either side. Then with the other fingers of each hand remaining distinctly in view she will draw the curtains in front of her body. Often in recent séances only one curtain has been used, and the fortunate sitter who is in the right position may see the gradual formation of the ectoplasm on the medium’s person. Before the close of the séance, the medium’s hands are again held by the official in charge, and thus all opportunity for any fraudulent manoeuvres on the part of the medium are practically eliminated. But a greater test of the genuineness of Mrs. Henderson’s work is the fact that for eighteen months, twice a week, she has been under the close observation of the officials of the Society.

Obviously the next step was to endeavour to secure records of what was happening. With the hearty co-operation of the controls, and making the first attempt only when they authorized that being done, flashlight photographic records have been taken. The shock to the medium’s system is very great, and a matter of six weeks elapsed between the first and second photograph, a month between the second and third, and now as she is being accustomed to these shocks photographs can be taken fortnightly.

A very good specimen, that of the second taken, is the one used to illustrate this article. I have no doubt, if we are able to continue these séances, that very useful work will be accomplished, and it should be possible by the aid of this medium to check the work of Baron Schrenck-Notzing, Madame Lusson, and verify the work of Dr. Crawford in the Goligher Circle, as well as reproduce some of the wonderful results being secured by Mrs. Crandon in New York at the present time.

I must here express how much I admire the wonderful pluck and fortitude of Mrs. Henderson, as the life of a materialising medium is indeed a very hard one. To secure the best results it is necessary that she should abstain entirely from food on the day that she holds her séances, and then turn up bright and well before the séance. It is usually an hour and a half to two hours after the séance is over before she is fit to travel under escort to her home, and during her connection with the Marylebone Association, in spite of ill-health at various periods, she has never failed to keep her engagements.

Source: The International Psychic Gazette (London), December 1928, pp. 37-38. Research and transcription by John Buescher. With thanks to Jeanne Rankin of the Los Angeles Public Library for this article, and to Siri Atma Khalsa of Los Angeles for research contributions.




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