Daniel Dunglas Home was a Scottish physical medium with the reported ability to levitate to a variety of heights, speak with the dead, and to produce rapping and knocks in houses at will. Children: Grégoire Galian
Arguably the premier psychic medium of the 19th century, Daniel D. Home came from a humble beginning in Scotland. One of eight children, he was clearly too much for his mother to handle and at barely a year old he was farmed out to an aunt and uncle. In his new home, it was reported that his cradle rocked by itself when he was in it. Something supernatural seemed to waft around Home from an early age. There was a long line of self-proclaimed psychics on his mother’s side of the family.
If there was a single word that best fit Daniel Douglas Home (pronounced “Hume”), it was “arrogance”. Considered by many to be the most gifted medium who ever lived, Home avoided contact with other Spiritualists, declaring that he had nothing to learn from them. And perhaps he was right, or perhaps it was because he chose not to mingle among the common people for Home used his purported paranormal powers to mingle among the rich, the royal and the famous. Regardless of what he did with these skills though, he remains an enigma to many researchers today, especially those who consider Spiritualism to have been nothing more than entertainment and illusion for the masses. Home stands unique in that many of the feats that he allegedly performed have yet to be duplicated by anyone!
Home remains an enigma. He was never caught in fraud but accomplished things far beyond that which even contemporary scientific opinion admits are possible. He operated at a time when numerous others where doing similar things and were caught in fraud, often after successfully deceiving many learned and seemingly competent observers. There are two possibilities: he was either a very unusual person, capable of doing the phenomenal things reported of him, or he was one of the most clever frauds in the history of humanity.
Home was a sensitive, delicate child of a highly nervous temperament and of such weak health that he was not expected to live. Adopted by Mrs. McNeill Cook, a childless aunt, he passed his infancy at Portobello, Scotland, and was taken to the United States at the age of nine, growing up in Greenville, Connecticut, and Troy, New York. It was noticed that he had keen powers of observation and a prodigious memory.
He saw his first vision at age 13. A schoolfellow, Edwin, died in Greeneville and appeared to him in a bright cloud at night in Troy, thus keeping a childish promise with which they had bound themselves that he who died first would appear to the other. Home’s second vision came four years later. It announced the death of his mother to the hour.
One night he heard loud, unaccountable blows, the next morning a volley of raps. His aunt, remembering the Hydesville rappings that had occurred two years before, believed him to be possessed by the devil and called for a Congregationalist, a Baptist, and a Methodist minister for exorcism. This being unsuccessful, she turned him out of doors. Thenceforth, although he never asked for or received direct payment, Home appears to have lived on the hospitality of friends attracted by his curious gift.
Once on his own, he gave his first séance and it was sensational: dead relatives were contacted and a table danced around the room and could not be stopped by human intervention. Word quickly spread and Home became a sought after guest in the homes of New England’s upper-classes.
Unlike many mediums at the time, Home never directly charged for his services, although participants of his séances were generous with donations and gifts.
Home quickly set himself apart from the manner and methods of contemporary mediums. His séances generally took place in daytime or in brightly lit rooms at night. This I believe is the best way for physical mediumship to be developed and takes away from aseptic the very fuel of their fire.
His demonstrations seemed fool-proof: a table with five men sitting on it moved around the room, and séances were never held in Home’s own lodgings (where he could have had accomplices or trickery set up), but always in the homes of the sitters. Most of the observers of his séances left believing Home’s gifts to be genuine. I do ask why such prevalent demonstrations are not seen today it would certainly cause sceptics a real problem.
In early 1854, Home was diagnosed with tuberculosis and his doctors recommended he journey back to Europe for the sake of his health.
Home settled into London–living for free at the fine hotel of one of his believers–and repeated the apparently genuine séances that he had exhibited in the USA. He moved within the upper-circles of society (he held séances for Napoleon III and Queen Sophia of the Netherlands) and increased the phenomenon he was able to demonstrate. He added levitation to his repertoire and, again in well-lit rooms, Home would rise six feet off the floor in view of all present. The pinnacle of his career took place during a séance in 1868 when Home levitated, floated out a third-story window, and floated back into the room via another window.
Eventually the tuberculosis caught up with Home. After more than 1,500 séances, he died 21 June 1886, and was buried in France’s St. Germain-en-Laye cemetery.
Later debunkers would propose various theories as to how Daniel Dunglas Home performed such seemingly inexplicable feats–ranging from the somewhat possible (mass hypnosis) to the bizarre (trained monkeys moving furniture, tiny musical instruments concealed in his moustache) this is absolutely laughable and shows the extant to which so called sceptic scientists and hard line sceptics in general will go to. Daniel Dunglas Home has never ever been proved to be fraudulent in any way.
But many of his demonstrations are still unexplained and he remains one of the most enigmatic practitioners of the occult in modern history.
The first scientist to investigate Home’s phenomena was George Bush, a distinguished theologian and Oriental scholar from New York. The celebrated American poet William Cullen Bryant and a Professor Wells of Harvard University testified in a written statement to the reality of the phenomena. Professors Robert Hare and James Mapes, both famous chemists, and John Worth Edmonds of the United States Supreme Court owed much of their conversion to Spiritualism to this young man of frail health.
Home’s first levitation occurred in the South Manchester house of Ward Cheney, an eminent American manufacturer. Strains of music were heard when no instrument was near.
Nobody understood at that time the part the physical organism plays in the production of the phenomena. The demands made on Home were very heavy and the drain of nervous energy excessive. His intended medical studies had to be broken off because of illness; a trip to Europe being advised, Home went to England in April 1855. He first stayed at Cox’s Hotel in Jermyn Street, London, and was later the guest of J. S. Rymer, an Ealing solicitor.
The conversion of many of the later leaders of the Spiritualist movement in England was attributed to Home’s phenomena. When these phenomena attracted public attention Home found himself in the midst of a press war. Among the first who asked Home to attend a séance was Lord Brougham, who came to the sitting with Sir David Brewster.
Home was proud of the impression he made upon these two distinguished men and wrote about it to a friend in the United States. The letter was published in the United States and found its way to the London press, whereupon Brewster at once disclaimed all belief in Spiritualism and set down the phenomena to imposture. At the same time his statements in private supported Home, and they too found their way into the newspapers.
Lasting harm was done to Home’s reputation by Robert Browning ‘s poem, “Mr. Sludge, the Medium,” which was generally taken to refer to Home. Browning and his wife, who accepted Spiritualism, had attended séances with Home. The poem was a malignant attack, since Browning had never claimed in public to have caught Home at trickery and in private admitted that imposture was out of the question. The reason for this vicious attack may have been jealousy over his wife’s enthusiasm for Home’s phenomena. As we know sadly jealousy is rife in the profession of spiritualism as much as any other profession.
Other famous men of the day, such as Bulwer Lytton and William Thackeray, never spoke of their experiences in public. Thackeray made Home’s acquaintance in the United States when he lectured there. Both there and in London Thackeray availed himself of every opportunity of sitting with Home. He admitted to have found a genuine mystery and warmly endorsed Robert Bell’s anonymous article “Stranger than Fiction,” published in the Cornhill Magazine, which Thackeray then edited.
Bell’s account of a séance with Home starts with a quotation of a Dr. Treviranus to Coleridge: “I have seen what I would not have believed on your testimony, and what I cannot therefore, expect you to believe upon mine.” Thackeray was bitterly attacked for the publication of the article and it was said that the Cornhill Magazine dropped considerably in circulation as a consequence.
In the early autumn of 1855 Home went to Florence to visit Thomas A. Trollope. His name and fame soon spread there, too. False rumours arose among the peasants that he was a necromancer and administered the sacraments of the church to toads in order to raise the dead by spells and incantations. As we well know all kinds of accusations are placed before us the latest most daring was the Helen Duncan trail at which she was accused of, and found guilty under the witchcraft act. At this moment in time 10/2/2017, an appeal is being launched by the HelenDuncan foundation, http://www.helenduncan.org.uk
This rumour above may explain an attempt against Home’s life on December 5, 1855, when a man ambushed him late at night and stabbed him three times with a dagger. Home had a narrow escape. The attacker was never arrested, but Home was warned the following month by Signor Lan Ducci, minister of the interior to the grand duke of Tuscany, of his sinister reputation among the populace.
About this time he was told by the spirits that his power would leave him for a year. In Home’s state of seclusion from supernormal contact, Catholic influences found an easy inroad into his religious ideas. He converted to Catholicism and decided to enter a monastery. He was received by Pius IX and treated with favour. Home changed his mind, however, and left Italy for Paris, where, to the day from the announced suspension, his powers returned. The news reached the French court and Napoleon III summoned him to the Tuilleries.
The story of Home’s séance with Napoleon was not made public. The curiosity of the press was aroused, however, when the first séance was followed by many others.
An account of the first séance in Home’s autobiography, Incidents in My Life, tells how Napoleon followed every manifestation with keen and skeptical attention and satisfied himself by the closest scrutiny that neither deception nor delusion was possible. His and the empress’s unspoken thoughts were replied to, and the empress was touched by a materialised hand that, from a defect in one of the fingers, she recognised to be the hand of her late father.
The second séance was more forceful. The room was shaken; heavy tables were lifted and then held down to the floor by an alteration of their weight. At the third séance a phantom hand appeared above the table, lifted a pencil, and wrote the single word Napoleon in the handwriting of Napoleon I.
Prince Murat later related to Home that the Duke de Morny told Napoleon III that he felt it a duty to contradict the report that the emperor believed in Spiritualism. The emperor replied, “Quite right, but you may add when you speak on the subject again that there is a difference between believing a thing and having proof of it, and that I am certain of what I have seen.”
When, soon after these séances, Home left Paris for the United States, rumours were rife that his departure was compulsory. On his return to Paris, however, he was speedily summoned to Fontainebleau, where the king of Bavaria was interested in a séance. Home was in great power at the time and so much sought after that the Union Club, where fashionable sophisticates congregated, offered him 50,000 francs for a single séance. Home refused. A book, privately printed in France, recorded the strange experiences of the high society with Home’s mediumship.
Earlier, in Italy, Home had been introduced to the king of Naples. The German emperor and the queen of Holland soon joined the ranks of the curious who were besieging Home with requests for séances.
While enjoying the benevolence of crowned heads and the highest members of the aristocracy, Home had to wage a desperate struggle against the scandalmongers. Fantastic stories began to circulate as soon as he left Paris, and while he was regaining his shattered health in Italy it was even rumoured that he was in the prison of Mazas.
In Rome during the spring of 1858 Home was introduced to Count Koucheleff-Besborodka and his wife. Soon after he became engaged to Alexandrina de Kroll, the count’s sister-in-law. The wedding took place in St. Petersburg. It was a great society affair. Count Alexis Tolstoy, the poet, and Count Bobrinsky, a chamberlain to the emperor, acted as groomsmen. Alexandre Dumas, a guest of Count Koucheleff-Besborodka, was one of the witnesses.
From Home’s marriage to Alexandrina de Kroll a son was born. Shortly after Home returned to England, friends tried to bring about a meeting between him and Michael Faraday, the famous scientist and proponent of the involuntary muscular action theory to explain table movement. As the Morning Star reported, Faraday was not satisfied with demanding an open and complete examination, but wished Home to acknowledge that the phenomena, however produced, were ridiculous and contemptible. Thereafter, the idea of giving him a sitting was abandoned.
Home derived more satisfaction from his experiences with Dr. Ashburner, a royal physician, and John Elliotson, sometime president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, a character study of whom, as “Dr. Goodenough,” was drawn by Thackeray in Pendennis, and to whom the work was dedicated. When Ashburner became a believer in Spiritualism, Elliotson, who was one of the hardest materialists, became estranged from him and publicly attacked him for his folly. A few years later, however, Home and Elliotson met in Dieppe. The result was a séance, a strict investigation, and the conversion of Elliotson. On his return to London he hastened to seek reconciliation with Ashburner and publicly declared that he was satisfied of the reality of the phenomena and that they were tending to revolutionise his thoughts and feelings.
Home’s phenomena also radically changed Robert Chambers, coauthor, with Leitch Ritchie, of the anonymous Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), which startled the public by its outspoken skepticism. Chambers attended the séance Robert Bell wrote about in Cornhill Magazine.
He was as was all too common, too afraid of losing his reputation to make a public statement, although he allegedly received startling evidence of continued personal identity from his deceased father and daughter. Nevertheless, Chambers anonymously wrote the preface to Home’s autobiography in 1862. Eight years later, during the Lyon-Home trial, he abandoned his attitude of reserve and gave an affidavit in Home’s favour.
For a time during 1859 to 1860, Home gave frequent joint séances with the American medium J. R. M. Squire, an editor of the Boston Banner of Light. Squire was introduced to London society under Home’s auspices and later in the year he was presented at court.
Home’s wife died in July 1862. Six months later his book Incidents in My Life was published. It attracted widespread notice in the press. The Morning Herald remarked, “We must note also the strangeness of the fact that Mr. Home has never been detected, if indeed he is an imposter.” The book sold very well and a second edition was published in a few months.
This, however, did not relieve the money problems Home began to experience. Relatives disputed his right of inheritance to the fortune of his wife, and, looking about for a means of livelihood, he decided to develop his keen artistic perception. He hoped to become a sculptor and went to Rome to study. Home also wrote another book called Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism.
His health, however, could not stand the strain. Friends came to the rescue with the post of residential secretary at the foundation of the Spiritual Athenaeum, a kind of headquarters for London Spiritualists.
Then came the disastrous proposition of Jane Lyon, a wealthy widow, that she adopt Home, with the intention of securing his financial stability. Lyon took a fancy to Home and proposed to adopt him if he added her name to his own, in which case she was prepared to give him substantial wealth. Home assented and changed his name to Home-Lyon. Lyon transferred £60,000 to Home’s account and drew up a will in his favour. Later she repented her action and sued him for the recovery of her money on the basis that she was influenced by spirit communications coming through Home from her late husband.
While the suit was in progress, an attempt was made against Home’s life. He parried the blow of the assassin’s stiletto with his hand, which was pierced. The fantastic stories that were circulated around this incident are best illustrated by a reminiscence in the New York World on the report of his death, in which the paper stated that Lyon had a false left hand and Home actually made her believe that by mediumistic power he could create life in the artificial limb.
Lord Adare, in his privately published Experiences in Spiritualism with D.D. Home (1869), covers most of Home’s work for the period 1867 to 1869, including some 80 séances. In 1869 the London Dialectical Society appointed a committee for the investigation of Spiritualistic phenomena.
The committee, before which Home appeared, had some of the most skeptical members of the society on its list, including atheist spokesman Charles Bradlaugh. Four séances were held, but because of Home’s illness the manifestations did not extend beyond slight raps and movements of the table. The committee reported that nothing material had occurred, but added importantly that “during the inquiry Mr. Home afforded every facility for examination.”
In May 1871 Sir William Crookes began an investigation of Home and reached a very favourable opinion of what he saw. Before this investigation other important events took place in Home’s life. He won the lawsuit for his deceased wife’s fortune, became engaged to an aristocratic lady of wealth, and gave several séances in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.
During a lecture on Spiritualism he referred to some particulars of a séance held in the presence of a distinguished professor at the University of St. Petersburg. At the end of the lecture a Professor Boutleroff rose from his place and announced that he was the investigator to whom Home had referred. This dramatic scene was followed by an investigation by a committee from the university. The results were negative, since Home’s powers were allegedly at an ebb because of recurring illness.
In August 1852, Home moved beyond what many would consider to be parlour tricks (although darn clever parlour tricks!) and first accomplished the feat that would make him famous. To put it bluntly, Home managed to fly!
The séance took place in the Connecticut home of Ward Cheney, a wealthy businessman. Also present that night was a local journalist, F.L. Burr, whose assignment it was to find something incriminating against Spiritualism in general and especially about Home, who had debunkers in an uproar with his excellent reputation. However, instead of writing an article that exposed Home as a fraud, Burr wrote:
“Suddenly, without any expectation on the part of the company, Home was taken up into the air. I had hold of his hand at the time and I felt his feet — they were lifted a foot from the floor. He palpitated from head to foot with the contending emotions of joy and fear which choked his utterances. Again and again, he was taken from the floor, and the third time he was taken to the ceiling of the apartment, with which his hands and feet came into gentle contact.”
A Dramatic illustration of one of Home’s levitations. Did He really accomplish what most believe to be impossible?
But how was this accomplished? Home claimed not to know himself. He stated that an “unseen power” simply came over him and lifted him into the air. Needless to say, most readers who came upon this article (and it was re-printed many times) were skeptical, as are most who come across it today. Full-body levitation is, and always has been, considered impossible. Throughout history, only a few saints had ever been alleged to be able to lift themselves from the ground in such a manner, although some practitioners of strict meditation techniques claim to be able to manage a few inches from the floor today. Who knows? But back in America of the middle 1800’s, there was only one man, Daniel Douglas Home, who could levitate with the aid of mirrors, ropes or even a safety net.
Home was apparently at his best when it came to producing incredible phenomena. In December 1868, his most famous feat took place at the home of Lord Adare. During the evening, Home reportedly went into a trance and floated out the window of the third floor, then floated back in another window – all before the eyes of a number of stunned witnesses. The event occurred in front of three irreproachable members of London’s high society, Lord Adare, his cousin Captain Charles Wynne and the Master of Lindsay.
Skeptics contend the event was a mass hallucination or was somehow accomplished through trickery. They base this on the fact that there are slight discrepancies in the accounts of Adare and Lindsay, mostly concerning the size of the windows that Home floated out of and how high they were off the ground and whether or not the night outside was dark or moonlit. The debunkers ignore the statement of Captain Wynne, which was simple and straightforward. “The fact of Mr. Home having gone out of one window and in at another I can swear to,” he wrote. “Anyone who knows me would not for a moment say I was a victim of a hallucination or any other humbug of the kind.”
In 1872 Home published the second series of his Incidents in My Life, including the principal affidavits in the Lyon lawsuit, and in 1873 he published his Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism. His opinions on fraudulent mediumship and his protest against holding séances in the dark were bitterly resented by other mediums. They said that he had little experience of the powers of others.
Kate Fox Jencken, of the Fox sisters, was the only medium with whom he was friendly. On a few occasions he sat jointly with William Stainton Moses. After the first such sitting, on December 22, 1872, Moses wrote in his notebook:
“Mr. D. D. Home is a striking-looking man. His head is a good one. He shaves his face with the exception of a moustache, and his hair is bushy and curly. He gives me the impression of an honest, good person whose intellect is not of high order. I had some talk with him, and the impression that I have formed of his intellectual ability is not high.
Home resolutely refused to believe in anything that he has not seen for himself. For instance, he refuses to believe in the passage of matter through matter, and when pressed concludes the argument by saying ‘I have never seen it.’ He has seen the ring test, but oddly enough, does not see how it bears on the question.
Home quite strangely to my mind accepts the theory of the return in rare instances of the departed, but believes that most of the manifestations proceed from a low order of spirits who hover near the earth sphere.
He does not believe in Mrs. Guppy’s passage through matter, nor in her honesty. He thinks that regular manifestations are not possible. Consequently he disbelieves in public mediums generally. He said he was thankful to know that his mantle had fallen on me, and urged me to prosecute the inquiry and defend the faith. He is a thoroughly good, honest, weak and very vain man, with little intellect, and no ability to argue, or defend his faith.”
Home slowly broke with nearly all of his friends and spent most of his time on the Continent. In 1876 his death was falsely reported in the French press. He lived in declining health for ten more years and died on June 21, 1886. His grave is at St. Germain, Paris, and his tombstone is inscribed “To another discerning of Spirits.”
In the Canongate of Edinburgh there is a fountain erected to his memory. It is not known who erected it nor why it was placed opposite the Canongate Parish Church.
Home demonstrated every known physical phenomenon of Spiritualism except apports and direct voice. He even possessed a latent faculty of direct voice. Faint whisperings were sometimes heard in his séances, but only of single words. He was mostly in a normal state during the phenomena but went into trance during the fire test, elongations, and occasionally during levitations.
The spirit teachings delivered through Home’s mouth by his control were sometimes absurd. The control, criticising the knowledge of scientists, said that the sun was covered with beautiful vegetation and was full of organic life. When Lord Adare asked, “Is not the sun hot?” the control answered “No, the sun is cold; the heat is produced and transmitted to the earth by the rays of light passing through various atmospheres.”
Lord Adare, then earl of Dunraven, describes Home’s character in the 1924 edition of Experiences in Spiritualism with D. D. Home:
“He had the defects of an emotional character, with vanity highly developed (perhaps wisely to enable him to hold his own against the ridicule that was then poured out upon spiritualism and everyone connected with it). He was liable to fits of great depression and to nervous crisis difficult at first to understand; but he was withal of a simple, kindly, humorous, lovable disposition that appealed to me….
He never took money for séances, and séances failed as often as not. He was proud of his gift but not happy in it. He could not control it and it placed him sometimes in very unpleasant positions. I think he would have been pleased to have been relieved of it, but I believe he was subject to these manifestations as long as he lived.”
Sir William Crookes summed up his opinion as follows:
“During the whole of my knowledge of D. D. Home, extending for several years, I never once saw the slightest occurrence that would make me suspicious that he was attempting to play tricks. He was scrupulously sensitive on this point, and never felt hurt at anyone taking precautions against deception…. To those who knew him Home was one of the most lovable of men and his perfect genuineness and uprightness were beyond suspicion….”
Frank Podmore, a most skeptical psychical researcher, said of Home:
“A remarkable testimony to Home’s ability whether as medium or simply as conjurer, is the position which he succeeded in maintaining in society at this time  and indeed throughout his later life, and the respectful treatment accorded to him by many leading organs of the Press.
No money was ever taken by him as the price of a sitting; and he seemed to have had the entree to some of the most aristocratic circles in Europe. He was welcomed in the houses of our own and of foreign nobility, and had been received by the King of Prussia and the Czar.
So strong, indeed, was his position that he was able to compel an ample apology from a gentleman who had publicly expressed doubts of his mediumistic performance (Capt. Noble in the Sussex Advertiser of March 23, 1864) and to publish a violent and spiteful attack upon Browning on the occasion of the publication of Sludge (Spiritual Magazine, 1864, p. 315). His expulsion from Rome in 1864 on the charge of sorcery gave to Home for the time an international importance.”
Podmore added: “Home was never publicly exposed as an imposter; there is no evidence of any weight that he was even privately detected in trickery.”
Long after Home’s death various writers speculated on how Home’s feats might have been achieved by trickery, imputing that there must have been trickery.
It should again be noted that during Home’s entire spectacular career, he was never seriously accused of fraud (all of those accusations have come much later) and he was never caught cheating, as so many of the mediums of the day were. It is also worth noting that this feat, like his other levitation, was accomplished in the home of someone that he was visiting for the first time and was among people of limited acquaintance.
Any opportunity that he had to rig up elaborate machinery or engage the services of an accomplice to do so was nonexistent. There is no evidence to say that he ever resorted to such tricks.
And who can say that he could have even if he had wanted to? When not “entranced by the spirits”, Home was not exactly a robust character, thanks to his tubercular condition. It seems that he would be the last person to have gone fumbling about on ropes and pulleys outside of the window of Lord Adare’s mansion on a cold December night. And how could he have rigged them in place anyway?
Of course, if we listen to the debunkers, it never happened at all. Home was nothing more than a hypnotist and a cheap conjurer and he convinced everyone present that he floated out the window. But isn’t it often the case that the incredible claims of the debunkers are harder to believe than accepting that the paranormal may have actually occurred?
Attempts were also made to discredit Home’s unfortunate association with Jane Lyon and to suggest that Home tried to take advantage of a wealthy widow. The evidence suggests that Home was pressured by a foolish and unstable woman. Her claim that Home used undue influence “from the spirit world” is refuted by her transferring allegiance to a Miss Nicholls, another medium, at the time she reneged on her commitment to Home. It was also claimed that Lyon wanted Home to be “something nearer than an adopted son,” and her change of heart stemmed from his repulsing her advances.