COOK, Florence

(Investigator 2016, 2024 May)

The second half of the nineteenth century was the heyday of spiritualism, and one of the most celebrated mediums of the day was Miss Florence Cook, famous at first for her spirit faces and later the full form materialization of Katie King. Even more remarkable was the fact that Miss Cook achieved her fame as a medium while still a young and beautiful teenager.

Miss Cook lived in what was once the respectable suburb of Hackney in London, it was also the hot bed of spiritualism.
Her exhibitions followed the usual form, a large cupboard which served as a "cabinet" — a prerequisite of all mediums in which they would sit tied to a chair so that they could not cheat, and with a face sized hole in the upper part through which the spirit faces could be seen.
The seances would begin with hymn singing, then the cabinet door would be opened to display Florence tied neck, waist and wrists to the back of the chair. After the knots were examined to the satisfaction of those present, the door was shut. Shortly after, a spirit face draped in cloth would appear in the hole at the top of the cabinet. The aperture being much higher than that of the seated and tied Florence, it was concluded that it could not be that of the medium. Full-form materializations became increasingly popular in spirit circles and it was not long before Florence began materializing a spirit called Katie King, Katie being the daughter of John King, a male ghost reputably the famous pirate Sir Henry Morgan, who was the product of a highly successful mediumistic practice run by a Mr and Mrs Nelson Holmes. It was not long before "Katie" became the talk of London and the well-heeled spiritualists beat a path to the Cook's door in Hackney.

Katie King was certainly more than just a face at the window, she would walk among those present at the seances, hold hands, sit on laps and even engage in conversation, a very tangible entity indeed. At one seance, a Mr Volkman, an experienced investigator of spiritualistic phenomena, put his arm around a figure which had the decidedly solid physical characteristics of a living human being, and not being convinced that he was in the presence of something ethereal, would not let go. Two of the sitters rushed to the spirit's aid and after a struggle in which Katie scratched Mr Volkman's nose and pulled out some of his whiskers, hustled her back into the cabinet to join the medium. Florence was still in the cabinet but despite being dishevelled and distressed was still taped to the chair.

It would have been reasonable to expect the demise of Florence Cook after this fiasco, yet it was just the beginning of a remarkable career during which her materializations were subject to continued investigation. Among the investigators was none other than Professor William Crookes F.R.S., OM. (later Sir William), a scientist and president of the British Society for Psychical Research,1896-9. Crookes' thorough investigations were conducted over a long period of time and on one occasion he actually photographed Florence and Katie linked arm in arm. Surely evidence that they were not one and the same person.
It should be borne in mind that in the heyday of nineteenth century spiritualism many of the investigators were primarily seeking confirmation of their own beliefs. Those who examined the claims scientifically and rationally had no trouble in exposing the wholesale fakery which permeated the new religion.

Further Reading:

Brandon, Ruth. 1984. The Spiritualists, Prometheus Books, Buffalo. NY.

Edwards, Harry. 1989. "Calling all Spirits." The skeptic Vol. 9. No. 4

Houdini, Harry, 1920. A Magician Among the Spirits, New York

From:  Edwards, H. 1994 Magic Minds Miraculous Moments, Harry Edwards Publications