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...