- Jennifer Moore
Ordinarily the bus ride would have seemed long and boring but I had my two girl friends by my side. Mary Louise would be in my high school senior class that fall at St Agnes Academy and her friend Donna lived down the street from her. Mary Louise was my age (16) and Donna a little younger. We were on an adventure. My grandmother lived in Victoria, 120 miles south of our homes in Houston. We were on summer break and were going to spend a week visiting her. It was June and the year was 1962.
On the bus ride south I prepared them for my grandmother’s house. This house was childhood fantasies come true. It was a Victorian mansion built at the end of the nineteenth century by my great grandfather, a wealthy banker in Victoria. The house had fallen into disrepair in the century since it was built. It had never been repainted, shutters hung precariously from their hinges on the upstairs windows. But still the house was imposing and fabulous. And it was huge. Upstairs there were 6 bedrooms and 2 baths; downstairs were 2 more bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, breakfast room, dining room, sitting room and very large foyer that served as another sitting room. The elegance that once was surely there was still in evidence; tooled leather, although cracked and dried, on the banister going upstairs, the front door was cut leaded glass, the family name “Buhler” spelled out in tiles in the entryway. Three of the six bedrooms upstairs had their own private screened balconies overlooking the ample yard. Most of the bedrooms had fireplaces to provide heat. The mantles gracing each fireplace were ornate with scroll work and tile. Because of the heat in summer, the ceilings were 12 feet high, making for a comfortable house in the summer, but impossibly cold when the occasional winter storm came.
With access through one of the upstairs bathrooms was the attic. Large and spacious it contained a centuries worth of clothes, toys, books, magazines, leather tooled steamer trunk, even an antique baby carriage. Over the years my siblings and I spent many long hours perusing the attic for its wealth of treasures.
I always imagined there to be secret rooms and chambers in the house. It was a magical space to me and still appears weekly in my dreams.
Although not on a hill, but in a grand old neighborhood, Grandma’s house had that ghostly image of the haunted house on the hill with lightening striking around it. Its façade was ornate with turrets and bric-a-brac. The house was surrounded on two sides by a large sitting porch. In the evenings in the summer when I was a child we used to sit outside and watch the bats fly out of all the chimneys (which were no longer used for fear of burning down the house), thus adding to the sense of spookiness.
We took a taxi from the bus station, and as we approached the house Mary Louise and Donna both sat silent staring in disbelief. It was even more impressive looking than I had been able to describe. On the way to Victoria I had told them that I knew for certain that my grandfather had died in the house, not sure if any of the other relatives that had inhabited the old house had expired there as well. We were going to have a séance, and for some reason death in the house seemed an important criterion.
We had an inordinate fascination with the paranormal. We were always playing mind games. Once, out of boredom we decided to see if we could get a card table to levitate. It was rainy and unpleasant outside so this seemed a fun parlor game to play. Donna dragged out the card table and we set it up in the living room of her parent’s house. The three of us set around the table and told jokes and giggled like the school girls we were. We decided that we’d each lightly place our finger tips on the table top and start making our demands of the table. We commanded the table to lift off the floor. Within seconds the table started to quiver and 3 of its legs levitated. We were not shocked or spooked. We thought that some tiny involuntary muscles in our fingers were tugging at the table and causing it to rise so startlingly. We could get that table 18 inches off the ground with 3 legs, but never could make it levitate completely. After that afternoon, we played this game often, secretly fascinated at our power. We also played mind reading games. One day Mary Louise was thinking of a movie and it was Donna’s turn to guess. Mary Louise later described her visualization. She pictured in her mind a black board and was writing the name Gone with the Wind out on the smooth black slate surface. As she moved from letter to letter Donna said the letters as Mary Louise wrote them. G-O-N-E ... Mary Louise was shocked as Donna spelled out the movie title in time with Mary Louise’s visualization.
There were many other mind games we played. All of them innocent and provided us with long afternoons of entertainment. Going to visit my grandmother was merely a continuation of these games. We also saw the trip as an adventure, an escape from our families. We were looking forward to this visit. So was my Grandmother.
Grandma was delighted to see us and put us up in my Mother’s old bedroom upstairs. It was one of the largest bedrooms and was comfortable for the 3 of us. We shared the upstairs with a tenant of my Grandmother’s, Ester Ethyl Edsyl. Saying her name aloud would send the three of us into gales of giggles. She was a sweet middle aged woman who had rented a room from Grandma for years. Grandma slept alone downstairs and rarely made the long trip up to the second floor.
After several days of walking to downtown Victoria to the movies, sodas at the drugstore down the street, swimming at the local pool and secretly practicing smoking in the bathroom upstairs we decided to try the séance.
The dining room was gloomy. Its stained glass windows faced the street, but because of the dense dark green vegetation outside there was little light from them. At the opposite end of the room was a fireplace, with an ornate mantle. The dining table was a large oak table under a tiffany style light, with marbled stained glass in dark tones of blue, green and red. In the far corner was an antique secretary with shelves on one side and drawers the other. We decided it was the perfect place to have the séance and made ourselves comfortable around the table.
Joining hands I invoked the spirit of Grandpa, who had died a decade earlier. Our eyes closed as we sat silently waiting for a sign. At that point I heard my Grandmother in the kitchen, a room away. Not wanting her to know we were trying to conjure up her dead husband I went into the kitchen to distract her from coming into the dining room. We chatted briefly. Mary Louise suddenly appeared in the kitchen looking pale and startled. As not to alarm Grandma she said as calmly as she could that I should come back into the dining room.
In the dining room Mary Louise and Donna were staring at the antique secretary desk. They silently pointed at the desk and much to my amazement the top drawer was pulling out. The desk was old, the dark wood dried and dusty and the drawer was struggling to come out, it was creaking ominously as it did so. We stood with mouths open, certain that it was Grandpa.
I was standing next to the dining room table, where I had my fingers resting lightly. All at once, I felt an inner vibration in the table, as though a train were passing nearby. At the same time the lamp over the table started to sway. I had my friends touch the table to feel its inner life. Then I realized that we needed a way to communicate with my Grandfather. We asked him to make the table move to the right. To our delight the table made a dramatic swing to the right, lifting the rug as it did so. Grandpa was surely with us.
I then told the table we would ask yes and no questions and that if the answer was “yes” to make the table swing to the right and if it was “no” to the left. I then asked “do you understand” and the table immediately swung to the right. We were on our way. We were still standing around the table, but at this point each of us was touching it as we had so many times touched the top of the card table.
For the rest of our visit we sat around that table asking many silly teenage girl questions. We wanted to know who we’d marry, or date. We also asked odd questions: was Hitler in hell? Unfortunately I can remember very few of our questions. They were mostly mundane, relating to our young lives, I imagine. To make sure it was not any one of us moving the table we would periodically stand far from the table with our hands in clear view and speak to the table. Without fail it would respond whether we were in contact with it or not.
The table in the beginning said that yes indeed it was Grandpa, but as time passed the identity changed to Jesus and then to the Holy Spirit. We had them all and we were delighted. My Grandmother must have wondered why we spent so much time in the dining room, but never questioned us. We brought cards, nail polish, mirrors, tweezers (for plucking eyebrows), and movie magazines with us to appear as though we were busy being teenage girls and just found this room the most comfortable. We laughed and joked among ourselves and would ask the power moving the table if it was laughing and always it agreed that it was indeed enjoying our silliness.
One day I noticed that a candle that was on the mantle was lying beside the candle holder and we asked if the present spirit had taken it out. It said it had. So we invented another game. We asked that each time we came into or left the room that the candle would be in or out depending on where it was when we were there last. Eerily it complied. Our only fear was seeing some object levitate so we asked that it not make things levitate while we were watching. It promised not to scare us. There was a large basket on the floor by the fireplace and we requested that it be moved from right to left side or vice versa as we came and left the room. Without fail it was always in its new position. It was creepy to us knowing that sometime while we were not in the room the candle quietly floated up or down and the basket drifted, as though caught in a tide, from one side of the fireplace to the other. Now I wish we had witnessed those phenomenons.
Although not frightened in daylight, we did plead with the spirit not to come to our room at night. It agreed to stay away once the sun had set. Spookiness in the daylight was one thing, but night time shenanigans did not appeal to us. Nor did anything happen in our room in the night. We were grateful for that.
We thought for awhile that we were supposed to be teachers of God’s word, as the “spirit” made us believe we had a calling. That did not appeal to any of us. We were also instructed not to tell anyone about this experience and we promised. I do remember on our bus trip back to Houston discussing whether or not we should tell anyone about this profound encounter. The “spirits” told us not to, but we were adolescents with no ability to keep such an event contained.
In fact, as soon as I arrived home I told my father the whole story. I am still amazed that I chose to do that, but somehow I trusted that he would not ridicule me, or tell me that it was my imagination. He, from the very beginning, believed me. His first reaction was to warn me that we could conjure up “evil spirits”, ones that we should not be playing with. My father was a strict Catholic whose faith informed all his opinions and actions. I suppose somewhere in the Catholic religion there was an admonishment to not conjure up the “devil”. I felt certain that he was wrong, that we were not in touch with anything evil, if nothing else our “spirits” were benign.
After thinking about this for a few days he, being a practical man and interested in science, decided to look up telekinesis in our encyclopedia. Telekinesis is the power to move an object without touching it. I had told him about moving card tables, mind reading games etc. How we would often entertain ourselves with these activities. The article in the encyclopedia was written by JB Rhine at Duke University. Dr. Rhine had started the Parapsychology department there. My father suggested I contact Dr. Rhine and see if he could shed any light on this mystery. In the fall of that year I did just that. For several reasons Mary Louise and I decided that Donna was the one with the power. Many of the questions were answered the way Donna would have answered them and Donna had often shown more skill in mind reading games and other paranormal exercises.
Dr. Rhine responded to my inquiry and over the course of 6 months we corresponded. He sent me a set of his psi cards, his book and other information that was relevant to our experience. He was very interested in what transpired in Victoria and hoped to get his hands on Donna. He said that many young adolescents were gifted with paranormal powers, but because of their fear or ignorance chose to ignore them and the powers disappeared quickly. Of course Donna never would discuss the possibility that she was the perpetrator of the experience, nor today do I think she necessarily was. Oddly we never played mind games again, nor did we move the card table. This may have been a function of circumstance, however. I finished my senior year and went on to college and Mary Louise got married. So our lives moved in different directions and we rarely saw one another after that year.
Dr. Rhine hoped to have Mary Louise’s account of our adventure, but her parents forbade her from corresponding with him and Donna’s parents would not ever discuss the event, although they too had been told.
I do not have any idea what happened in Victoria that June, but it was a profound experience for me. It made we realize that “reality” has no organized, predictable or neat structure.
It opened my mind to possibility. After that I never doubted out of hand anything that I heard that was extraordinary. It left me open to encounter the world as a place of great mystery.
I am now in my 60s. I still have copies of all of Dr. Rhine’s letters, as well as articles about him and his wife, Louise. They were eventually forced to close the parapsychology department at Duke, but continued for the rest of their lives to research paranormal, or psi phenomenon. The letters were one sided as I did not have copies of my letters to him thus not hearing my voice in the conversation. I looked Dr Rhine up on the internet and discovered the Rhine Research Center, which is run by his daughter, Sally. It is located just off the Duke University Campus in Durham, NC. I contacted Sally wondering if the Institute wanted his original letters for their archives. She was delighted to receive them. I asked if they by chance had my letters to her father. She said that Duke had an archival library where I could find my letters. As it turned out we were going to North Carolina and I made arrangements to meet with Sally and also gain access to Dr. Rhine’s correspondence for the years 1962-1963. Under close scrutiny by the staff, I perused the files and found all my letters. They kindly made me copies and I had a missing piece of the puzzle. Where my memories of this event accurate? What had I left out? Did I talk about what our questions to the table were? Unfortunately there was little new information, but my memory was right on. I had neither embellished nor fabricated anything. It was a fascinating experience meeting myself as a 16 year old. My father had written to Dr. Rhine blessing our correspondence. Hearing his voice from the past was an added bonus I had not expected. (I had to laugh when I read where he tells Dr. Rhine that I am of “above average” intelligence. My parents were not ones to be effusive about their children’s gifts or accomplishments.) Sally was happy to have copies of my letters as well. She and a staff member sat fascinated as I related an abbreviated version of this story.
Off and on over the years Mary (Louise) and I have stayed in touch and we have exchanged our memories of this incident to make sure we have it right. We do not know where Donna is today. My grandmother never had any idea what we were up to in her dining room and in a Victoria Advocate newspaper article about our visit that summer the byline under our photograph read: “Swimming and other activities have been included during their visit.”
If only they knew.
November 1, 1962
Dear Dr. Rhine,
I have heard of your experimental research in the field of Parapsychology at Duke University, and I was wondering if you could send me some information.
A friend of mine has the strange ability of moving objects without touching them. This is not my imagination or a trick for it has been witnessed by several people. This power seems to be sub-conscious because while these objects are moving she is not concentrating consciously. However we do know she has the power, (not one of us), for several reasons. It is necessary for her to be present before the object moves and also the object will move if she is alone in the room. There are other reasons for our belief it is her power but they require long explanations. It is very hard to put down in writing all the strange things she has accomplished.
Could this be some form of psychokinesis?
I’m sure you receive many letters of this sort, some true others hoaxs (sic). We sincerely believe that she has this strange power and would appreciate any information that you could send.
Houston 25, Texas
The Parapsychology Laboratory
November 24, 1962
Miss Anne Cooper
Dear Miss Cooper:
I am very much interested in what you write about your friend. I wish you would tell me more about her and her ability. Especially would I appreciate a number of specific demonstrations, as far as you can recall them.
I will ask a number of questions just to help point up the kind of information needed for a judgment. First, what range of objects are involved; that is, how large and how varied? Or are they all of the same kind? Second, do the objects have to be in a certain position; let us say on a table in front of your friend. If so, does she have to touch the table? Third. Do the objects just move a little - let us say a few inches? Do they tip over? Do they levitate? Do they ever break? If so, do they break by falling or break where they are set? Forth, do they move in good light or does there have to be darkness or dim illuminations? Fifth, how many of you are usually present, or what is the largest number of persons present?
I should like especially to know all about your friend, how long she has had this ability, and what other abilities or unusual character she may have. What kind of person is she? Is she married? Does she have children? What of her age, education, etc? Is this ability well known? Has it been given any publicity? Has there been any scientific study made by anyone?
From time to time I get to Houston, and it is approaching the time when I must make another visit. Would it be possible for me to visit you and your friend talk over these powers and possibly let something happen if it will?
I am grateful to you for writing me about this and will appreciate all further information you can give me. As I see more about the case I should be glad to make suggestions or recommendation or give whatever interpretation seems most reasonable through our scientific stall here.
19 Jan 63
Dear Dr. Rhine:
I thought it about time I wrote you and gave my approval to the dialogue that you and Anne have been carrying on concerning the strange phenomena Donna ---- has experienced.
To bring you up to date on all I know about these strange events, I think the first I heard about it was early last summer. I know Anne gave you the background of the experiences in Victoria, Texas.
The day that Anne and her friends came back from her grandmother’s house (my mother-in-law) she was visibly shaken. She told her story and I suppose that my wife and I were a little taken aback to say the least. Anne thought that spirits or something had been present. This was a natural thought for a person who had not heard of psi or Dr. Rhine. I believed Anne’s account so I dug out your article in the Encyclopedia Americans and had her read it. She decided to write you after reading the article. We have every confidence in her veracity. She is a fine, above average in intelligence, girl.
I might mention that I am a sales engineer for the Humble Oil & Refining Co. and we have two other children. Our son, who is 19, is a third classman at the Air Force Academy and our other daughter is a sophomore in high school. My wife teaches the fourth grade in a Catholic grade school. She is a graduate of Rice University and I graduated form Michigan State U. You have our complete approval and if we can help anyway call on us.
Bromley F. Cooper