Exhibits in the Haunted
Museum are based on the work of Troy Taylor from his
book, Ghosts by Gaslight!
Click on the Cover for More About the Book!
During the heyday of Spiritualism, Florence Cook became one
of the movement’s most famous mediums. She was noted for her ability to
produce full-form spirit materializations, especially those of her spirit
guide, Katie King. Katie already had a long history before being forever
attached to the persona of Florence Cook. She first appeared during the
initial Spiritualism craze of the 1850s and often graced the séances of the
Davenport Brothers, the Koons family and others. Her early appearances
reported that her voice was shrill "like that of a person of lower walks of
life" and she had an endless supply of chatter.
Like her spectral father, John King, "Katie" was not her
real name. In life, she was said to have been Annie Owen Morgan, the daughter
of the pirate Henry Morgan, who had been knighted and appointed governor of
Jamaica. He preferred to be known as "John King" in the afterlife though and
his daughter adopted his name. In life, Annie Morgan had been a self-professed
liar and cheat, as well as a thief and an adulteress -- and all this before
she died in her twenties. Her new mission in death, was to prove to the world
the truth of Spiritualism and of course, to prove the talents of a few mediums
in particular. One of these was Florence Cook...
Florence (or Florrie, as her mother called her) was born in
the east end of London in 1856 and as a child claimed that she could hear the
voices of angels. Her mother would later state that she had always been aware
of the presence of spirits but her psychic gifts only began to manifest at age
15, when she levitated a piece of furniture during a
table tilting session with friends. When she was still an adolescent, she
began conducting séances in her home, where she became known for being able to
manifest “spirit faces”. As a cabinet, Florence would sit inside of a large
cupboard in her family’s breakfast room. A hole had been cut high up on the
door and it was here where the faces would appear.
Florence would climb into the cabinet and would allow herself
to be bound to the chair with ropes about her neck, waist and wrists. The
door would be closed and the sitters would sing a hymn to create the proper
The cabinet door would be opened again to show that Cook was
still tied to the chair, then closed again. A few moments later, the faces
would appear in the opening. When they finally vanished, the doors would be
opened again and Florence would be revealed, still tied to her chair and
apparently exhausted from allowing the spirits to use her energy and appear.
A few people noticed that the faces, which were draped with
a thin white cloth, looked an awful lot like Florence. They suggested that the
girl simply slipped her ropes, stood on the chair to stick her face through
the hole, then tied herself back up again. Nevertheless, the audience loved
her performances and she soon gained a following. Many were impressed by the
fact that she never charged a fee for her séances and others came merely
because she was an attractive young lady.
With that in mind, it's no surprise that the pretty young
girl quickly became famous. In addition to her looks, her séances had other
appeals as well, including the fact that the spirits had a habit of tossing
Florrie into the air and -- on at least one occasion -- ripping her clothing
off. While Florence basked in the new found attention, some of her friends and
her employer was becoming unsettled by her new gifts. Miss Eliza Cliff for
one, in whose school Florence worked as an assistant teacher, was reluctantly
forced to discontinue her employment. The girls in the school were unsettled
by the strange happenings that seemed to occur around Miss Cook and their
parents were afraid that the young ladies might become affected themselves.
She was quite fond of Florrie but was "compelled to part with her."
THE COMING OF KATIE KING
By 1872, full form materializations had become very popular
at séances and one night, in that same year, a white face appeared in the
darkness outside the curtains of Florrie's cabinet. The floating mask was
announced to be that of "Katie King", who was already a spirit to be reckoned
with in America. But Katie was not the mysterious and ethereal figure of
Spiritualist writings -- she was a proof of the resurrection of the dead, a
spirit made flesh and a young woman who could walk and talk among the sitters.
Her new body was almost indistinguishable from that of a living girl --- a
beautiful young lady in fact, and unfortunately very close in resemblance to
As with most Spiritualist mediums of the day, Florrie
preferred to enter her trances within the confines of her
spirit cabinet, where her psychic energies would
be built up. After as long as 30 minutes might pass, the curtain would part
and a figure, dressed all in white and looking quite pale, would emerge as
Florrie continued to lie unconscious in the cabinet. Occasionally, while Katie
was present, Florrie could be heard sobbing and moaning inside of the cabinet,
as if the manifestation was draining the energy from her. During Katie’s first
appearances, the spirit would simply smile and nod at the audience, but later,
she began to walk amongst them, offering her (strangely solid) hand and
talking to them. She was fond of touching the sitters and allowing them to
carefully touch her as well. After Katie returned to the cabinet, Cook would
be found, still tied up and drained of energy.
It was believed that spirit forms, like Katie, were
actually made up of a mysterious substance known as
ectoplasm, which emitted from the medium's body and took on unexplained
shapes. It was generally regarded during the heyday of the movement that
interfering with ectoplasm, or with the body of the entranced medium, could be
dangerous to the medium's health. If this is true, then on one occasion,
Florence Cook had a very close call...
While it was highly improper for sitters to grab at the
spirits, or the medium, during a séance, it did sometimes happen. On the night
of December 9, 1873, one of the sitters at a Cook séance was a man named
William Volckman. Although an invited guest, he apparently became quite
agitated by the "obvious" similarities between the medium and the ghost. In a
fit of anger, he jumped up and grabbed Katie by the wrist, announcing loudly
that she was Florence in disguise. For a spirit, Katie put up quite a fight
and managed to succeed in leaving several bloody scratches on the man’s nose!
Katie was finally rescued by Edward Elgie Corner, Florence’s fiancée,
and by the Earl and Countess of Caithness and barrister Henry Dunphy, who were
friends of the Cook family and aware of the inherent danger in interfering
with an apparition. They seized Volckman and a scuffle ensued, allowing Katie
to make her escape. According to Dunphy, she disappeared, dissolving from the
feet upward. Volckman was determined to follow up on his assault though and he
rushed to the cabinet. Her, he found no sign of Katie but he did find Florrie
with her clothing in disarray, but still tied up.
Was this a case of a skeptical investigator gone berserk,
or something else? It is significant that shortly after this incident,
Volckman married another famous London medium named Mrs. Samuel Guppy, who was
very jealous of Florence and her fame. The incident with Volckman did not
immediately harm Florrie's career as a medium, but it did shake the faith of
some. She suffered a slight reversal of fortune for a time and began looking
for a new angle to pursue to garner some much needed good publicity.
At about this same time, medium
Daniel Douglas Home was
undergoing testing by the eminent scientist Sir William Crookes. Florrie
quickly got in touch with Crookes and offered to add her own contribution to
psychical research. Crookes was delighted to investigate the now famous
partnership of Florrie and Katie King and happily agreed to a series of
private séances. Shortly after, what many consider to be the most
problematical investigations of the Spiritualist era began...
THE CROOKES INVESTIGATIONS
Once the investigations began, Crookes invited Florence, and occasionally her
mother and sister, to come and stay with him at his home on Mornington Road in
northwest London. Mrs. Crookes was in the house, but was not around much, as
she was expecting their tenth child at the time and was usually confined to
The first time that Crookes had experienced Katie had been when Florrie
had first approached him about the investigations. He had visited the Cook
home and took part in a séance. During the sitting, Katie had appeared from
behind the spirit cabinet curtain and had asked Crookes to accompany her
behind it. According to his account, he saw Katie standing over the
unconscious form of Florence Cook, still bound with sealed tape. According to
Crookes' account, he checked three different time to be sure that the woman on
the floor, illuminated by a dim gas light, was actually Florence and he was
convinced that she and Katie were separate individuals. Was this proof that
Katie really was a ghost?
but not all of the sitters at her séances were completely convinced. Many of
them insisted on extreme measures to prevent Florence from practicing
trickery. Customarily, before the séance would begin, Florrie would be bound
with a cord or sealed with tape. Each time, the bindings were found to be
still intact at the end of the evening. And although the indignities that were
later inflicted on mediums, such as filling their mouth with fruit juice to
prevent ventriloquism and checking all of their orifices for secreted
ectoplasm, were never pressed onto Florrie, her hair was nailed to the floor
on at least one occasion. Believe it or not, Katie still appeared.
King a spirit manifestation created by Florence Cook?
Don't too sure of that just yet...
In 1874, Crookes began test Florence and he produced a number of photographs
of Katie King and was allowed to test her appearances with Florence in plain
sight. During the test, Cook laid down on a sofa behind a curtain and wrapped
a shawl about her face. Soon, Katie appeared in front of the curtain. Crookes
checked to be sure that Cook was still lying on the sofa and he saw that she
was -- although incredibly, he never moved the shawl to be sure that it was
created 55 photographs of Florence and Katie but only a handful of them remain
today. The rest were destroyed, along with the negatives, shortly before his
death in 1919. Crookes used five cameras, two of them stereoscopic, operating
simultaneously during the sessions. Many of the photos were both poorly shot
and questionable in authenticity and while many of them purported to show both
Katie and Florence at the same time, they mainly played right into the hands
of the debunkers.
In one of the
remaining photos, we see Crookes walking arm in arm with the spectral
Katie but even the most casual observer can see the obvious facial
similarities between Katie and Florence. In another, we see Katie
standing in the background while Florence is slumped (apparently in a
trance) over a chair in the foreground. Unfortunately though, Katie's
face is hidden by an "ectoplasmic" shroud. In a third, very strange
photograph, we see a blurred Katie staring directly into the camera and
an odd sitter on the left who is actually a reflection in a mirror. On
the right side, we see one half of a medium who is supposed to be
Florrie but could be anyone. Strangest of all though is the fact that
Katie is kneeling, or appears to be, on some article of furniture that
covered to look like an extension of her dress. Katie was said to be
four inches taller than Florence but if this was to create some extra
height, it was badly done. It resulted in making her dress bunch at the
knees and legs appear ridiculously long.
Crookes was called into question about his testing but he rushed to the
defense of his subject. He stated that Florence agreed to every test
that he submitted without question and that he had never seen the
slightest inclination on her part to try and deceive him. "Indeed, I do
not believe that she could carry on a deception is she were to try,"
Crookes wrote, "and if she did she would be certainly found out very
quickly, for such a line of action is altogether foreign to her nature."
This photo shows Crookes walking arm in arm with Katie. Many have
wondered about the black garment that seems to be coming out of the top
and sides of Katie's "spirit robe". Could this be Florence's black dress
This photo was supposed to prove that Florrie and Katie were two
separate beings but unfortunately, Katie's face is completely obscured
by an "ectoplasmic" shroud.
The strangest of the Crookes photos shows a mirror image of a sitter on
the left, half of what is apparently Florence on the right and Katie
standing atop a piece of covered furniture.
have been convinced of the genuineness of the Cook-King collaboration but his
critics were not. Katie looked so much like Florrie simply because that's who
she was, the skeptics said. It was not simply good enough to cite Crookes'
integrity and his stature as a scientist to convince someone of the
authenticity of the séances. Crookes' defenders cited this however and they
still do today. They also say that it was impossible that Crookes might have
had a sexual relationship with Florrie, which would explain his willingness to
help her perpetrate fraud, just because his wife was in the house. And while
no evidence of this exists, it would be naive of us not to consider the
possibility of it.
four possible explanation for the seemingly unexplainable events that occurred
between Crookes, Florence and Katie:
1. That the
scientist became embroiled in an affair with Florence under his wife's nose
and that he colluded with her to manufacture fraudulent results for the Katie
Crookes was enamored with the girl, or her alter ego of Katie, and that he
kept up the pretense that he believed her act to save face and to keep her
close to him.
Florence employed a double to pretend to be Katie King. This is not as
outrageous as it might sound. During the investigations, a young medium named
Mary Showers stayed in the Crookes' residence while Florence was there. She
performed a double act with Florrie as the two of them would go into trances
together and would create two materializations, one of Katie and one of
"Florence Maple", who bore more than a passing resemblance to Mary. Would it
not have been possible for Mary or for Florence's sister to have simply
stepped in to pretend to be an unconscious Florrie, slumped over and usually
covered, while Florrie walked about as Katie King?
modern readers, the accounts of Katie's manifestations contain many clues
about the nature of Florence and her possible alter ego. Katie flirted and
teased, wandering about the darkened room and sitting on laps, touching and
being touched and on one occasion even stepping out of her robes to reveal her
naked form. "Now you can see that I am a woman," she said. Could Katie have
been a way for the repressed young lady of the Victorian era, as Florrie
undoubtedly was, to act out her innermost desires? And if so, was she doing it
consciously -- or had she actually convinced herself that the manifestation of
Katie was real?
4. And our
final explanation -- that Florence was a genuine medium, that Katie was real
and that Crookes' investigations were completely genuine. Although Crookes
behaved strangely for a man with a scientist's regard for detail -- such as
omitting names and addresses of witnesses from his record -- this may have
been in regard for Florrie's strict rules of secrecy.
addition, we can look to the eyewitness accounts of the séances that survive.
According to Mrs. Ross-Church, who was better known as the novelist Florence
Marryat, Katie resembled Florrie in some ways but was remarkably different in
others. She stated that Katie was taller and heavier than Florence and that
Katie had red hair, while Florrie's hair was dark and almost black. Crookes
had also noted a number of differences between the two young women. Katie was
taller, heavier and broader in the face, had a fairer complexion and longer
fingers. Florrie had pierced ears, Katie did not. One one occasion, Florence
had a large blister on her neck but when Katie appeared, her neck was as fair
and smooth as usual.
Unbelievably though, as when he failed to check under the shawl, Crookes took
no comparison photographs to show that the pierced and unpierced ears or the
length of the girls' fingers. Or if he did, he left no record of them. This
seems amazing in that Crookes was investigating a phenomenon that could
theoretically change the way the world believed!
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
In 1875, Katie sadly announced that she would soon be leaving Florence and
that her time on Earth would soon be at an end. Crookes later wrote of a scene
that he witnessed when Florence and Katie said their final goodbyes. According
to his account, Katie made one last appearance in the séance room and then
walked over to where Florrie was lying on the floor. She touched the medium on
the shoulder and implored her to wake up, explaining that she had to leave.
They talked for a few moments until "Miss Cook's tears prevented her from
speaking". Crookes was asked to come over and hold Florence in his arms, as
she was falling to the floor and sobbing hysterically, and when he looked
around, the white-robed figure of Katie was gone.
With Katie now gone, there was no point in Florrie staying
on for further investigations. In fact, she told Crookes for the first time,
she had married about two months before to Edward Corner. Florence went into a
sort of retirement for six years but then returned to the Spiritualist scene
manifesting a new spirit, this one named Marie. This new spirit partner
managed to provide even more entertainment that Katie had, singing and dancing
for the sitters at her séances. There was something about "Marie" that was
beginning to bother people though...
At a séance in 1880, Sir George Sitwell noticed that
Marie’s spirit robes covered corset stays, so he reached out and grabbed hold
of her. He held on tightly to her and when he pulled aside Florrie's curtain,
he found that the medium's chair was empty. He was not surprised to discover
that he was holding onto Florence, clad only in her underwear.
After that, Florence would only perform if someone were tied up
in the cabinet with her. On at least one occasion, a woman named Florence Marryat participated and she later testified that during Marie’s appearance,
she was firmly tied to Florence in the cabinet. This wasn't enough to keep her
audience though and Florence vanished into relative obscurity as a housewife
in Monmouthshire. She gave her last séance in 1899 and passed away in 1904.
William Crookes was stunned by the overwhelming criticism
from his fellow scientists over his investigations of Florence Cook and he
soon gave up active investigations, although he remained a staunch supporter
of psychical research until his death. He was knighted some 20 years after his
work with Florence for during his long and distinguished career he discovered
the element thallium and his experiments with vacuums led tot he discovery of
the cathode ray tube and x-rays.
As for Katie, well -- who can say? Whether or not Katie
King ever really lived and died on earth, she refuses to go away. In 1903, she
appeared at a séance conducted by Dr. Glen Hamilton in Canada and appeared
again in Rome in 1974. It's likely that she will be back again someday too,
just as she has always been, bearing a striking resemblance to her medium,
slipping out of the hands of her audience and appearing strangely elusive in
photographs. Her story has not yet come to an end!
© Copyright 2003
- 2008 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
the Haunted Museum Section