Mina Stinson Crandon (1889–1941) Better known as “Margery,” a Boston Medium at the center of one of the most bitter controversies in the history of psychical research. Her supporters believed she was one of the greatest mediums who ever lived; her detractors called her a fraud and held her responsible for very nearly ending American psychical research as a Scientific enterprise.
Mina Crandon was born Mina Marguerite Stinson in 1889 on a farm near Picton in Prince Edward County, Ontario. She moved to Boston when she was 16, and in 1910 she married a grocer named Earl P. Rand. She had a son by Rand and was happy with him until an operation brought her into contact with Le Roi Goddard Crandon, a prominent surgeon. She divorced Rand in 1918 and shortly thereafter married Crandon. It was her second marriage, his third. Crandon adopted her son, who became Dr. John H. Crandon (1912–2000). There was no hint in Crandon’s early life of what was to come, as there was with some other mediums, such as Eileen J. Garrett and Leonora Piper.
Her involvement in the psychic actually stemmed from her husband’s interest, which was sparked by a meeting with Sir Oliver Lodge and a reading of the works of William Jackson Crawford. Impressed by the Home Circle of the latter, Le Roi Crandon decided to set up one of his own. When the group he gathered in May 1923 succeeded in Table-Tilting, he suggested that they exit the room one at a time until they identified the person responsible. One by one the individuals left, but the table continued to tilt, until it was Mina Crandon’s turn to leave. She returned to great applause.
Mina Crandon may not have been as surprised as were the others at the Séance that night; a few days earlier, a psychic had told her she had mediumistic abilities. That same psychic had described seeing a “laughing young man” trying to contact her, a description Crandon recognized as corresponding to her brother Walter. She and Walter had been very close, but Walter had died in 1911 by being crushed to death by a train. Walter was to become Crandon’s Control as the home circle continued to meet, and his waggish personality was to become famous the world over.
The first of several investigations the Crandon mediumship was destined to endure was mounted by a team of Harvard graduate students and professors, including Gardner Murphy and William McDougall, in July 1923. This concluded, rather ominously, with McDougall trying unsuccessfully to get Crandon to confess to fraud, and it would probably have spelled the end of serious interest in the mediumship had it not been for a contest sponsored by the Scientific American.
The contest was the brainchild of J. Malcolm Bird, who was then an associate editor at the magazine. Two prizes of $2,500 each were to be given, one for a psychic photograph, the other for a Demonstration of physical mediumship. The judges were five persons well connected to Psychical Research—Walter Franklin Prince, considered by many to be America’s foremost psychical researcher; Hereward Carrington, a popular writer on the paranormal; Harry Houdini, the magician; Daniel F. Comstock, who brought technicolor to the movies; and McDougall. Bird made himself the committee’s secretary.
The Scientific American investigation got a good deal of play in the press, but it turned into something of a fi asco. Houdini stormed off the committee after a year, claiming that the Crandons had been trying to make it seem that he had been framing them, and accusing his fellow committee members of being blind to obvious fakery. The rest of the committee continued attending Séances for another six months, but eventually all except Carrington were satisfi ed that Houdini was right. The ruling went with the majority view, the contest was declared closed, and the prizes were never awarded.
The name “Margery,” by which Crandon was to be known for the rest of her life, was given to her by Bird in his articles in the Scientific American and in his book, “Margery” the Medium (1925). This book was a popular account of the mediumship and was very favorable to the Crandons.
Crandon had other supporters, many of them at the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR). Prince, the ASPR’s research officer, however, was not a supporter, and when Bird was hired to share responsibilities with him, Prince left to head a rival society, the Boston Society for Psychic Research. The ASPR, with Bird as research officer, became a major promoter of the Margery mediumship. Bird and several members of the Board of Trustees were regular sitters at Séances.
Many hundreds of pages in the ASPR’s Journal and Proceedings were devoted to the mediumship, first under Bird’s editorship, later under the editorship of Frederick Bligh Bond. But although the ASPR was always ready to defend Crandon, the suspicion of fraud never left her. Bird himself, in fact, resigned in 1930 after admitting that he had known of fraudulent activity from the start; he had nevertheless defended the mediumship, he said, because there were genuine aspects to it as well. Bond later also resigned in disillusionment; the clinching proof for him as for many others were thumbprints supposedly impressed in wax by Walter, but shown to be exact matches for the thumbprints of Crandon’s dentist.
On her deathbed, Crandon is said to have been asked by Nandor Fodor to tell him what parts of her mediumship were fraudulent and how she had accomplished her tricks. She is said to have replied by telling him to go to hell, and then said, with a twinkle in her eye, “Why don’t you guess? You’ll all be guessing . . . for the rest of your lives.” The story may be apocryphal, but it captures the flavor of this strange case. Knowledgeable researchers today believe that there may have been some genuine psychic phenomena involved, but it is now impossible to disentangle this from the trickery that was certainly also present.
Mina Crandon and her husband seemed to revel in the cat-and-mouse game they played, and their only motive may have been to tweak the nose of Psychical Research. For all Walter’s waggishness, Crandon herself was a vivacious personality who was not opposed to holding Séances in the nude (the room was dark), and who was rumored to be having affairs with more than one of her would-be investigators. The long-awaited amalgamation of the ASPR and the Boston Society occurred after the death of L.R.G. Crandon in December 1939, and shortly before the death of Mina herself on November 1, 1941.
- J.B. Rhine
- Bird, Malcolm. “Margery” the Medium. Boston: John Hamilton, 1925.
- Matlock, J. G. “Cat’s Paw: Margery and the Rhines, 1926.” Journal of Parapsychology 51 (1987): 229–247.
- Tietze, Thomas R. Margery. New York: Harper and Row, 1973.
- ———. “The ‘Margery’ affair.” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)79 (1985): 339–379.