Smith Susy

Susy Smith (1911–2001) was a Self-taught Medium and author, known for her books on Ghosts, Survival After Death, Psychical Research, and related topics. Prior to her death, Susy Smith arranged for a survival test of “afterlife codes.”


Smith was born Ethel Elizabeth Smith on June 2, 1911, in Washington, D.C. She was the only child of Merton M. Smith and Elizabeth Hardegen Smith. Merton was an army officer and the family traveled frequently, spending 10 years in San Antonio, Texas. Smith majored in journalism at the University of Texas and the University of Arizona and also attended Hunter College in New York City.

She started her writing career as a journalist, working on several newspapers, among them the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. Her interest in the paranormal led to her writing and publishing 30 books over a 45- year period. Among her topics were OUT-OF-BODY TRAVEL, Extrasensory Perception, Reincarnation, haunted houses, witches, and psychic animals.

Smith was married for two-and-half years in her 20s. On the rebound from a broken love affair—she discovered her fiancé, Henry, had married another woman—she met M. L. “Mo” Smith and married him two months later. The marriage got off to a rocky start and disintegrated when Susy became seriously ill from blood poisoning. The infection settled in her left hip and an operation left her with a left leg two inches shorter than the right. For the rest of her life, Smith dealt with chronic pain and discomfort.

Smith always considered herself a rationalist whose psychical research “just kind of happened.” In 1955, she began researching the paranormal. Eight years later, she had an experience in Salt Lake City with an Ouija board (see TALKING BOARDS) that convinced her that spirits were communicating with her. She delved into research of after-death communications and paranormal phenomena; a significant source was The Unobstructed Universe (1935) by Stewart White, which discussed the afterlife channelling of his wife, Betty.

Once Smith had an experience of sensing her dead mother’s presence and decided to try to communicate with her using the Ouija board. In 1956, after using the board for a while, she received the instruction via the board to “get a pencil” and “go into a trance.” She did, launching her Automatic Writing and regular communication with her mother. Against the advice of her mother, she began communicating with an earthbound spirit who said his name was Harvey. Harvey proved to be troublesome, even materializing as a ghostly face of an old man in Smith’s bathroom. She stopped communicating with him.

An early and long-lasting communicator was James Anderson, introduced to Smith by her dead mother. James gave Smith a great deal of material and also served as an invisible companion. A sensitive once told Smith that James was in fact William James, which the communicator himself then verified was true. Smith wrote a book about her experiences with James, The Book of James (1974). Later in life, she said she often questioned the source of her material, wondering if she had conjured it up out of her own subconscious. She accepted the source and his accuracy, noting that others throughout history who had access to the spirit world, such as Emanuel Swedenborg, received similar information.

In The Book of James Smith confessed that on two occasions she had seriously contemplated SUICIDE to escape from “unbearable anguish” over broken love affairs, physical pain, and other emotional issues. She went to her doctor to get pain pills for her arthritis, intending to overdose, but he gave her liquid medication instead. Smith proceeded with her plan and wrote out a farewell note, but gagged on the medicine. The second time occurred in 1963. Smith was on tour in Europe when she broke her foot in Italy and was forced to convalesce in a hospital. There she focused on her misery, on a failed love affair, and on “the miserable uselessness” of her life. She was grateful for getting past the crises, realizing that suicide was the wrong way out.

Smith believed in guardian angels and urged others to accept the same belief. Her research into survival led her to echo the words of poet Walt Whitman in his poem “Starting from Paumanok”: “Nothing can happen more beautiful than death.”

In 1956 Smith went to the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University, run by J.B. Rhine and his wife LOUISA RHINE, to submit to tests for evidence of survival communication and to receive training in the critical analysis of psychic experience.

She received a grant from the Parapsychology Foundation to condense Frederic W.H. Myers’s two-volume work, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, into a single volume. She received another grant to write about GLADYS LEONARD, producing The Mediumship of Mrs. Leonard (1964).

In 1965, Smith undertook a yearlong trip around the United States to research and write Prominent American Ghosts (1967), one of her most popular books. She lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 1969–1970, spending time with author Ruth Montgomery.

After publishing 26 books, Smith attended a charismatic Christian retreat and had a religious conversion. She was baptized in the Holy Spirit and became a bornagain Christian, a viewpoint often not compatible with the paranormal and survival research. Smith, who felt a need for a religious underpinning, was able to integrate both into her life and worldview philosophy.

In 1971, she moved to Tucson, Arizona, where she founded and became the first president of the Survival Research Foundation, which is still in operation. On January 11, 1997, the Susy Smith Project in the Human Energy Systems Laboratory at the University of Arizona was created by Drs. Gary E Schwartz and Linda G. S. Russek to continue her research. Russek called Smith “the matriarch of survival research.” They persuaded Smith to write her 30th book, which became The Afterlife Codes (2000), a recount of the highlights of her life’s inquiry into survival.

By her eighties Smith was mostly housebound due to the crippling and painful effects of her earlier illness. She died on February 11, 2001, at the age of 89. She had no survivors. Her books, files, and papers are on permanent exhibit in the Susy Smith Collection, Popular Culture Library, at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.

The Afterlife Codes

In the fashion of Harry Houdini, Smith created a phrase as an afterlife code by which she said she would attempt to prove her survival after death. The code, known only to her, is kept in a fraud-proof computer within the Susy Smith Project. Smith wrote that anyone could devise an afterlife code, a secret message of enough personal significance so that it can be remembered after death, yet familiar enough to the general public so that someone could pick up on it. An example she gave was “the power of positive thinking.”

Smith’s afterlife code is a phrase that has been combined with the alphabet by a computer, so that a jumbled sequence of letters is produced. Only the computer can decode it. Messages can be decoded by computer to check for a match. As a control, two telepathy codes are also enciphered on computer. The codes are known to Schwartz and Russek and were known to Smith as well. The telepathy codes test whether a living person has picked up the codes mentally rather than from the secret code Smith endeavoured to communicate from the afterlife.

Smith bequeathed a $10,000 prize for any living person who managed to discover her code. Persons who believe they have received a message from Smith can test the accuracy via a website, As of 2006, the code remained unbroken. Other people can register their own afterlife codes online at The Susy Smith Project.



  • Smith Susy. The Afterlife Codes: Searching for Evidence of Survival of the Soul. Charlottesville, Va.: Hampton Roads Publishing Co., 2000.
  • ———. The Conversion of a Psychic. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1978.
  • ———. The Book of James. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1974.
  • ———. Confessions of a Psychic. New York: Macmillan, 1971.
  • ———. Prominent American Ghosts. New York: Dell, 1967.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007

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