Arthur Augustus Ford (1896–1971) was an American Medium who gained international fame for his ability to communicate with the dead through a Control named Fletcher. Once hailed by some as the greatest leader of the American spiritualist movement, Ford worked to convince mainstream churches to integrate spiritualist beliefs into their doctrines. Although he was invited to speak in many mainstream churches, he had little effect on changing doctrine.
Ford’s personality was like the moon. The bright side, always turned toward the public, was charming, witty and urbane—the life of the intellectual party. The dark side, glimpsed only by close friends and associates, was tormented, lonely and mysterious.
Like many talented mediums, Ford was drawn involuntarily to his calling. He was born into a Southern Baptist family on January 8, 1896, in Titusville, Florida, the second oldest of four children. As a child, he had no profound psychic experiences, although later in life he recalled anticipating what people were about to say, and sensing when they were lying. But his psychic visions and voices did not begin until he was a young adult.
As a boy, Ford was drawn to religion, and he liked to pray for the dead because he believed he helped them that way. But he questioned orthodox church doctrines concerning life after death, angering his Baptist church so much that he was excommunicated at the age of 16. Throughout his life, Ford opposed traditional church concepts of “heaven” and “hell.” That anyone would suffer eternal punishment for wrongdoings on earth was “blasphemous and heartrending,” he said.
He entered Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky on a scholarship in 1917, determined to become a minister, but his studies were interrupted by World War I. He joined the army in 1918 and became a second lieutenant, but he never saw action overseas.
It was during his army stint that Ford’s psychic gifts emerged. Frightening voices and visions bombarded him. As a deadly infl uenza epidemic swept through Camp Grant in Sheridan, Illinois, he dreamed the next day’s death list. Then voices began to whisper the names of soldiers overseas who soon were killed in action. Ford’s first clairvoyant experience was a waking vision of his distant brother, George, accompanied by an ominous feeling. He learned later that George had become ill with the flu on that same day, and had died shortly thereafter.
At first Ford thought he was going crazy. Back at Transylvania College, a psychology professor, Dr. Elmer Snoddy, convinced him he was psychic, not insane, and Ford slowly began to develop his extrasensory ability.
He graduated with a mediocre academic record, but an outstanding track record in leadership and preaching. In 1922, he was ordained a minister of the Disciples of Christ Church in Barbourville, Kentucky. He also married a Kentucky belle, Sallie Stewart, but the union would last only five years.
Ford’s popularity at the pulpit gained him a great deal of attention. He left the church to join the Swarthmore Chatauqua Association of Pennsylvania, doing the lecture circuit on Spiritualism topics. He moved to New York, where he lectured often to full houses at Carnegie Hall. He taught himself to enter a “half-hypnotized” state in which he could hear voices, sometimes audibly, sometimes as an “inner awareness.” The voices claimed to be people who were dead, and Ford delivered messages from them to people in the audience.
Ford’s psychic talent remained spotty until he met the Hindu Swami Yogananda, who became his guru and taught him how to achieve a Yogic trance state that enabled him to stay in control and not be helplessly bombarded by voices. Ford did his yoga exercises nearly every day, even into his 70s.
In 1924, a spirit named “Fletcher” announced he would become Ford’s control. Fletcher had been a French- Canadian boyhood friend of Ford’s and had been killed in action during World War I. Fletcher opted to be known by his middle name only in order not to embarrass his Roman Catholic family.
To communicate with Fletcher, Ford wrapped a black silk handkerchief around his eyes to shut out the light, and then did deep, rhythmic breathing to induce a trance and let Fletcher come through. He was never aware of Fletcher’s speaking with his vocal cords and could never remember anything that was said in trance.
With Fletcher’s help, Ford’s psychic ability grew more impressive. Though skeptics accused him of trickery—fraud was rampant among mediums—Ford often astounded even some of his harshest critics. He rode the crest of the spiritualism movement all over the world, hobnobbing with royalty, nobility and the elite.
In the late 1920s, Ford founded the First Spiritualist Church of New York, the first of several organizations that he would conceive or lead. He traveled to England, where he took spiritualists by storm. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a staunch spiritualist, was impressed with Ford and urged him to devote himself to Mediumship, advice which Ford took to heart.
In other countries, reaction to Ford was much the same. In Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, he drew huge audiences to his lectures and sessions with Fletcher. The press called him the “international ambassador of spiritualism.” Skeptics challenged him in public; he invariably won by delivering compelling evidence that he could, indeed, communicate with the dead.
In 1929, Ford conducted a sitting for Harry Houdini’s widow, Beatrice. Houdini had died in 1926. Prior to his death, he and Beatrice had agreed on a coded phrase, “Rosabelle, believe,” that Houdini would try to send his wife from beyond the grave, to prove that there was life after death. Until she had a reading with Ford, no medium had produced the secret message. Ford did, and Beatrice was so convinced she had communicated with Houdini that she signed a sworn statement to the fact. Later, she wavered, but she never officially denied her sworn statement.
In 1930, Ford suffered a traumatic auto accident. He was driving through North Carolina, with his sister and another woman as passengers, when a truck went out of control and struck the car broadside. The two women were killed. Ford suffered serious internal injuries, a broken jaw and crushed ribs. He was hospitalized.
His doctor, who was interested in psychic phenomena, discovered that Ford had Out-of-Body Experiences while on morphine. To experiment, the doctor gave him more and more morphine, until he was addicted. Ford’s struggle to overcome the addiction made him an insomniac. He drank to sleep, and over the course of a decade he became alcoholic.
Ford was at the height of his career in the late 1930s. He hid his personal problems from the public and most of his friends. Professionally, he kept himself aloof from other mediums, and denounced fraud. No psychic can perform 100 percent of the time, he declared. He was ac cused of trickery himself, but it was not until after his death that evidence surfaced among his private papers to indicate that he might have cheated from time to time by researching the backgrounds of famous people who came to his sittings. He was said to have a photographic memory, and he kept voluminous files of newspaper clippings and notes, which could have provided “evidential” mate rial for his readings. In 1936, Ford left the National Spiritualist Association because of his belief in Reincarnation and founded the International General Assembly of Spiritualists, of which he became president.
Ford remarried in 1938, to Valerie McKeown, an English widow he met while on tour. They settled in Hollywood, and for a time, Ford felt the happiest in his life. Then the alcohol began taking a serious toll. Ford missed lectures, suffered blackouts and appeared drunk in public. Fletcher rebuked him and threatened to go away, but Ford would not quit drinking. Soon, his psychic powers diminished and Fletcher disappeared. His wife divorced him. His health deteriorated, and he was plagued by recurring illnesses and bouts with depression. By 1949, he was hospitalized with a complete physical breakdown.
Alcoholics Anonymous helped Ford get back on his feet. Except for occasional wild benders, he managed to control his drinking but never gave it up. He kept a huge stash in a closet wherever he lived. His health was further aggravated by his tendency to plunge into fad diets. Despite his regular yoga and daily intake of dozens of vitamin pills, Ford suffered angina and heart attacks, and comas from mild diabetes. Each time he was in a crisis, he seemed to subconsciously send out psychic distress signals to friends, who got sudden urges to check up on him and rescue him.
In the 1950s, Fletcher returned and Ford resumed his mediumistic work. To his satisfaction, he began having an impact on mainstream churches, who invited him to speak to their congregations. But while the churches were willing to hear him, they still were not willing to change their doctrines to incorporate spiritualism.
In 1956, Ford helped found Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, an organization dedicated to awakening man to his spiritual nature.
Beginning in 1964, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon had several sittings with Ford. Moon’s followers were anxious for Ford to declare the charismatic Korean as the reincarnated Christ and World Savior, but Ford refused to do so. He allowed only that Moon was psychic himself and a prophet, and that God was working through Moon, as He was through many persons.
Ford was 71 when he conducted the most famous Séance of his life, on television in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for Bishop JAMES PIKE. Pike’s 20-year-old son had committed suicide in 1966, and the distraught bishop was anxious to make contact with him. At first, Ford was opposed to the idea of a televised seance, and he said afterward that if he had had any idea of the publicity it would generate, he would have turned it down fl at. But friends convinced him to proceed, and the show was taped in Toronto in September 1967. Ford delivered information that Pike considered evidential. The seance was widely debated in the press.
Ford spent the last three years of his life in Miami. He died of cardiac arrest on January 4, 1971. His last words were, “God help me.” He was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the Atlantic Ocean.
Following his death, mediums around the world claimed to receive communication from him. Author Ruth Montgomery, one of Ford’s close friends, said she received communication from him through Automatic Writing.
FURTHER READING :
- Ford, Arthur, with Margueritte Harmon Bro. Nothing So Strange: The Autobiography of Arthur Ford. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958.
- Montgomery, Ruth. A World Beyond. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1971.
- Spraggett, Allen. Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked with the Dead. New York: New American Library, 1973.
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