Warehouse G

Impossible Things

The Amazing Fetes Of Daniel Dunglas Home

By James Donahue

He didn’t have the newspapers of the yellow journalism days to promote him, but in his day, the late Scottish Spiritualist Daniel Dunglas Home accomplished fetes that some might have thought surpassed those of American magician Harry Houdini.

While Houdini was an accomplished trickster, who used tools of the magician’s trade to escape from what appeared to have been impossible and deadly entrapments, Home claimed to have genuine “gifts” that allowed him to levitate, speak with the dead, make objects move around the room and cause other unnatural things to occur at will.

Home’s fame grew and he has been said to have been the “most celebrated medium” of his time. It was said that during his short lifetime he conducted over 1,500 sťances and physic demonstrations throughout Europe and America. His fetes were studied by world famous scientists who were unable to show that what he was doing was a hoax.

Home was born in 1833, the son of Elizabeth (McNeill) Home, a known “seer” and daughter of a long line of people said to have been “cursed with second sight.” His father, William Home, was said to have been the illegitimate son of Alexander, the Tenth Earl of Home, thus he had a touch of royalty in his blood as well.

He was born into a large family and because his parents could not afford to raise him, an aunt raised him during his early years. When he was nine, he joined his parents, then living in Connecticut in the United States. It was after this that the family began noticing poltergeist type of events. There were knocking sounds, furniture moving around the room, lights mysteriously turning on and off. Because she was a clairvoyant, Home’s mother suspected that he was causing the strange occurrences.

When he grew to adulthood, Home began giving sťances. People said tables rose from the floor, rappings were heard on walls, and even “spirit” voices were produced. Home even levitated people against their will. Adding to Home’s credibility was that he never charged for his services and he always held his showings in well-lit rooms and always in places other than his own home so he could not be accused of staging a hoax. He made a living giving lectures on spiritualism.

They said Home even shocked strangers in his audience by telling them accurate details about their lives that he should not have known. His other fetes included an ability to elongate his body up to an extra foot in length, levitate so easily that he once floated out of a third story window and then back in again, and hold hot burning coals in his hand without burning his skin.

Sir William Crookes, noted physicist of his day, conducted controlled experiments with Home in 1871, testing his skills at telekinesis. Crookes wrote later wrote papers in which the word “psychic” was coined.

One test set up by Crooke involved an accordion locked inside an iron cage. The cage was placed on a table in front of Home. Crooke wrote that Home was not only able to levitate the instrument, but he even played a brief tune on it.

During his life Home performed before royalty of Europe and once was received by Pope Pius IX after briefly turning to Catholicism. His vans included Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Home had his detractors as well. They included the famed poet Robert Browning, and not surprisingly, the contemporary spoiler James Rande, who has written an essay in which he maintains Crooke’s research was carelessly done and that Crooke and Home were good friends. He suggests various ways in which Home might have carried out a life of trickery and believes he was even caught at it, but such events were never reported.

Homes was married twice. His first wife, Alexandria was a god daughter to the Russian Tsar. She died four years later. In 1871 he married his second wife, Julie de Gloumeline, from another affluent Russian family. They moved to the Mediterranean because Home was suffering from tuberculosis. He died there in 1886 at the age of 40.