Monday, December 08, 2008

Radio Seance?

The Who's Who in Occultism New Thought, Psychism and Spiritualism lists Reverend Mary Freeman as an Assistant Pastor at Liberty Spiritualist Church of New York. (As far as I knew "psychism" isn't a word.. but there it is in the title.) ...So why is she on the radio again?
Reverend Mary Freeman held what I think of as the radio's first séance on the radio. A séance is just an attempt to communicate with spirits. One person acts an a medium and interpreter, others are merely recipients of their imagined messages. In short it's bunk, but it can be entertaining. Especially in 1927, before the golden age of radio set some kind of standards for the media.

Rev Mary was the medium on radio station WGL at two séances held in the Hotel Majestic. one was held July 13th and the other on Aug 1st. The half hour gatherings were conducted by Studio manager Charles Isaacson and Doctor Hereward Carrington. The New York times wrote it up as seriously as they could bear to.

Rev. Freeman beckoned the spirits of Voltaire, Woodrow Wilson and murder victim Albert Snyder in these sessions. In the studio they dimmed the lights and set out instruments such as drums and a cello that were to make noise in response to the spirits. These implacable and atonal sounds were then interpreted by Ms. Freeman.

Carrington went on to be the president of the spook-hunting American Psychical Institute. From that perch in 1940 on the Mutual Broadcasting Network he tried radio again, now just telling ghost stories on the show "Who Knows?". Despite this novel programming angle, WGL was sold off the following year and changed calls to WOV. The format was never to be, though in the 1930s a series of séances were held live on the radio in attempts to contact Harry Houdini. These worked about as well as Freemans. Even as recently as 1969 the CBC held a Houdini séance live on air. While these had better ratings, the spirit was still a no-show.