The Bindelof Society was a teenage sitter group of the 1930s that produced a range of physical phenomena greater than the famous “PHILIP” group, involving psychiatrist and dream researcher Montague Ullman. The name Bindelof comes from the group’s main communicator, a purported physician.
Two of the seven boys who came to call themselves the Bindelof Society began experimenting with table tilting sometime in the spring of 1932. One had been associated with Poltergeist disturbances a few years previously. His mother had once attended Séances with a physical Medium and was fascinated by psychic phenomena. He himself was interested and somewhat knowledgeable about the literature on Spiritualism and psychical research. Curious as to whether he could produce the phenomena he had heard and read about, he and a friend set about trying to get a table to tilt (see Table-Tilting), and once that was achieved, for it to levitate. At first, the table only came a few inches off the floor, but soon they had it dancing around the room so fast they had trouble keeping up with it. They showed off to a mutual friend, who joined them. With his inclusion, the phenomena became even stronger and easier to produce.
Ullman joined the group in September 1932, and gradually others joined. A regular schedule of Saturday-night meetings was established, and toward the end of 1933 the group formally organized as the Bindelof Society, with a constitution, officers, dues and even membership cards. Attendance at sittings was not restricted to the core members of the group but included various others, including girlfriends. All the regular sitters were from 15 to 17 years old.
Their usual procedure was to sit around a table, either a bridge table or a heavy night table, in a darkened room. All held hands, which rested on the tabletop, with their feet touching underneath. They sat for periods that averaged 15–20 minutes at a time. These sessions would be followed by periods of horseplay, talking or listening to music, which served to relieve the tension that had built up during the session at the table. After a 15–20 minute break, they would return to the table for another session and so on, for a cycle of three or four sessions in an evening.
It took a few meetings after the larger group started meeting together for phenomena to reach the peak they had when only three were involved, but soon the group was producing Table-Tilting, Levitation, and Rapping. They tried communicating through the raps, reciting the alphabet until a sound was heard on a particular letter.
Messages spelled out by this cumbersome method made enough sense to suggest that they were in contact with some intelligent force.
When the table Levitations and raps had become so commonplace as to be boring, the group was ready to move on. Since one of the members had an interest in photography, they decided to attempt psychic photography.
In the 1930s, the most common photographic medium was the glass plate, which had to be loaded into a plate holder in a darkroom (a bathroom serving the boys’ purpose). In their first trial, the group placed an unexposed plate in a tin case, which they put on the table with one of the boys’ hands resting on it. After several moments, thinking nothing had happened with the case, they set it aside. They returned to the table and asked the “force” to give them a message, whereupon the word P-L-A-T-E was spelled out. They developed the plate immediately and found it to have the distinct imprint of a hand. In another experiment in which Ullman had put his hand on top of the hand on the box, his thumb showed on the exposed plate. Later experiments produced photographs through thought alone.
After the psychic photography became routine, the group tried a new method of communicating with the “force.” They placed a pad and pencil on the lower shelf of the nightstand and invited communications. Soon the sound of a pencil racing across paper was heard, and when this was checked later, it was found to contain a long written passage. The communicator gradually revealed himself to be the deceased Dr. Bindelof, who found himself able to take advantage of the psychic force the boys had created in order to communicate with them. Bindelof answered questions about the process of communication and the nature of the soul and gave medical advice. The boys tried constructing a megaphone to allow Bindelof to speak directly, but all they heard was a whooshing sound. Their attempts to produce full-form Materializations of Bindelof produced a dark outline of a man. Following Bindelof’s instructions, they also managed to produce a photograph of a bearded Victorian gentleman that Bindelof said was (or had been) himself.
The Bindelof Society sat together regularly into the spring of 1934 but gradually broke up as new members joined and attendance by the core group became desultory. On some occasions, they seemed to receive communications not from Bindelof but from entities he identified as “elementals” and with whom he found it increasingly difficult to compete.
Not all the boys believed Bindelof was who and what he said he was. Some believed that the phenomena were produced entirely by a psychic force they themselves had created. However, none doubted that the phenomena were genuine, and the experience continued to affect all of them, as they discovered in a series of reunions later in life.
In 1949, six of the seven core members came together in an attempt to revive the phenomena, but without success, and attention turned to assembling materials and reconstructing the events of the Bindelof Society. The eventual product of this work was a series of articles published by Montague Ullman in Exceptional Human Experience in 1993 and 1994. A shorter account appears in Arthur Berger’s Lives and Letters in American Parapsychology. Ullman has given the Séance records, original photographic plates and prints, tapes and transcriptions of interviews conducted at reunions and related documents to the Parapsychology Foundation.
- Berger, Arthur. Lives and Letters in American Parapsychology: A Biographical History, 1850–1987.
- Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1988. Ullman, Montague. “The Bindelof Story, Part I.” Exceptional Human Experience 11 (1993): 17–28.
- ———. “The Bindelof Story, Part II.” Exceptional Human Experience 12 (1994): 25–31.
- ———. “The Bindelof Story, Part III.” Exceptional Human Experience 12 (1994): 208–21.