Vital Signs

Conan Doyle

On the evening of September 7, 1919, 60-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle sat down in a darkened room in Portsmouth, England, to speak with his son Kingsley, who had died in the Spanish-influenza epidemic ten months earlier.  “We had strong phenomena from the start,” Conan Doyle later wrote to his friend and fellow occultist Oliver Lodge:

The medium was always groaning, muttering, or talking, so that there was never a doubt where he was.  Suddenly I heard a voice . . .

I said, “Is that you, boy?”

He said in a very intense whisper and a tone all his own, “Father!” and then after a pause, “Forgive me!”

Conan Doyle, who assumed Kingsley was referring to his earlier doubts about the paranormal, ended his account by saying that he had felt a strong hand pressing down on him, followed by a kiss on his forehead.  “I am so happy,” his son assured him.

Although obviously a profound moment for Conan Doyle, it was by no means his first spiritualist experience.  As a young provincial doctor in the 1880’s, he had regularly “consulted the cards” and attended seances, some of which were accompanied by the “apport,” or materialization, of everyday household objects: There had been an occasion when a dozen fresh eggs appeared on the table in front...

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