Harry Price – Was Harry Price the First Ghost Hunter?
By: Michelle McKay (founder of ColdSpot.org)
September 5, 2014.
Update: something peculiar happened to me after I released this article click here.
Harry Price was a psychical researcher from the 1920s-1940s. He hails the title for the first ‘celebrity’ ghost hunter, some say Elliott O’Donnell holds that title but I disagree (see here).
Some go so far as to say that Price was the very first ghost hunter. This is not true.
The Ghost Club was the oldest ghost research organization in the world and was formed in 1862 — almost twenty years before Price was even born!
And twenty years before that the Spiritualist Movement began. See my article titled “The History of Ghost Hunting – a timeline of the 1800s”.
Furthermore, Price wasn’t even the first person to use the term ‘ghost hunter’.
As far as I’ve researched, psychical researcher, H. Addington Bruce, was the first to use the term ‘ghost hunter’ in 1908. However, Tim Prasil did some digging and contacted me regarding a fictional book he came across titled, “The Ghost-Hunter and His Family”, published in 1833.
I think we can safely establish that Price certainly was not the first ghost hunter and wasn’t even the first to use that term. However, going from the plethora of newspaper archives during his days, I still maintain that he was the first ‘celebrity’ ghost hunter.
It has also been said that Price “contributed greatly in encouraging public interest in the psychic field”. I cannot say that I fully agree with that statement.
Price came into the picture during the end days of the Spiritualist Movement craze. So, he appeared on the scene years after everybody was already obsessed with the psychic field.
Perhaps there is more evidence to say he contributed greatly in encouraging the end of the craze, albeit unintentionally or intentionally.
If anything, all Price did was “ride” the wave that was already well in motion.
However, one thing that cannot be argued is that the name “Harry Price” still remains popular today in the ghost research community.
It is also said he was the first to use equipment at a ghost investigation. This too can be a slippery slope because that would be discrediting earlier ceremonial magicians who used ritual objects to summon spirits — John Dee, for example. (Price’s ghost hunting kit is outlined in his 1940 book “The Most Haunted House in England” on pages 31 and 32.)
I think it would be safer to say Price was the first modern-day investigator to use equipment at a ghost investigation.
Also noteworthy, in 1938-1939 Price drafted a Bill for the regulation of psychic practitioners.
All in all, Price was definitely compelling — and that can never be taken from him. I don’t know about you, but I find him absolutely fascinating and would have certainly loved to have met him.
As a side note, I’m still curious as to how he was able to afford to investigate full time and travel to his investigations. I haven’t come across any documentation of Price having a day job or an inheritance to rely on. Who, or what funded him?
Photo of Harry Price by William Hope 1922
Harry Price was born on January 17, 1881, and died March 29, 1948. Born towards the end of the Victorian era, he also lived through the Edwardian era, the First World War, and the Second World War eras.
Although he had his first ghostly experience sometime before turning 15 years old (a poltergeist in Shropshire County, England) and he joined the Society for Psychical Research at the age of 39 (in 1920), he didn’t officially start investigating until 1922 when he was about 41 years old — which was also during the last few years of the end of the Spiritualist Movement.
Price had a library of around 13,000 books on magic and the occult which today can be found at the Senate House, located at the University of London in England. He was also a member of the Magic Circle.
It has also been said that although Price started out as a believer, he eventually switched gears and became a debunker and skeptic.
This is said due to the manner in which he wrote his book, “The Most Haunted House in England”, in 1940 which apparently shows he was a believer. Versus his 1946 book, “The End of Borley Rectory”, which apparently shows he switched gears and became a debunker and skeptic.
I put together a timeline, seen below, which will likely give you way more info on Price then you care to know. However, for all my fellow ghost geeks reading this, here are the Harry Price deets:
HARRY PRICE TIMELINE:
Harry Price was born on January 17, 1881
Harry becomes a member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Harry is 39 years old this year.
Harry officially begins his paranormal investigations. He debunks the spirit photographer William Hope. He also went to Germany with Eric Dingwall (anthropologist and psychical researcher) to investigate Willi Schneider (psychic medium). Harry’s publication titled “Revelations of a Spirit Medium” was released this year. Harry became a member of the Magic Circle. The craze of the Spiritualist Movement begins to dwindle out.
Harry starts investigating Stella Cranshaw.
Harry was appointed Foreign Research Officer of the American Society for Psychical Research. This was also the year Harry met Rudi Schneider (Willi Schneider’s brother). Harry investigates Frau Maria Silbert in Austria.
Harry went to Vienna to investigate Eleonore Zugen (aka. the ‘Poltergeist Girl’). Harry founded The National Laboratory of Psychical Research. Harry begins investigating Rudi Schneider.
Harry investigated the Joanna Southcott box “in a blaze of publicity”. Harry investigates Jeanne Laplace in Paris. Harry joins the Ghost Club and remains there until it temporarily shuts down in 1936.
Harry investigated the Battersea Poltergeist in Lavender Hill, Battersea, London. He also investigated a reportedly haunted dressing room at Adelphi Theatre in London, England.
Harry visits the Borley Rectory for the first time.
Harry investigates Frau Lotte Plaat. Harry is 49 years old this year.
Harry becomes Vice-President of the Magician’s Club. Harry begins investigating Helen Duncan. The American Society for Psychical Research ends Harry’s appointment of Foreign Research Officer. Harry investigates Pasquale Erto.
Harry conducted the Brocken Experiment in the Harz Mountains. This is the case that made him internationally renowned. This year Harry also sleeps in a reportedly haunted bed at a museum in Chiswick (London, England).
The University of London Council for Psychical Investigation replaced The National Laboratory of Psychical Research.
Harry investigated Karachi’s Indian rope trick and the fire-walking abilities of Kuda Bux. Also, this was the year that Harry became the first Chairman of the National Film Library at the British Film Institute due to his interest in cinematography. Harry also investigated the infamous “Talking Mongoose” (a type of weasel) on the Isle of Man (U.K) with Richard S. Lambert (a biographer and broadcaster) this year. Also this year Harry produces a talking film called Psychical Research for Movietone News Theatre.
Harry had two books published this year, one titled “Confessions of a Ghost Hunter”, and the other was titled “The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap”. On March 10, 1936, Harry broadcasted live on BBC Radio from a reportedly haunted manor house near Meopham, Kent. The program was the first broadcast ever to be made from a haunted house. The purpose of the broadcast was “to give listeners a perfect picture of the technique employed in investigating an alleged haunted house”, wrote Harry Price in his book titled “Fifty Years of Psychical Research”. In 1936, Harry Price’s library was transferred to the University of London, followed shortly by his laboratory and investigative equipment.
Harry conducted experiments on Ahmed Hussain’s fire-walking abilities which appeared on television. He also rented the infamous Borley Rectory for one year to conduct investigations. This was also the year that Harry says he saw the spirit of a child named Rosalie during a séance at a house in London, England.
Harry re-established the Ghost Club, making himself Chairman. As per Wikipedia, he changed the Ghost Club “from a Spiritualist association to a group of more or less open-minded sceptics that gathered to discuss paranormal topics. He was also the first to admit women to the club.” He also conducted experiments on Rahman Bey who was buried alive in Carshalton. And he also drafted a Bill for the regulation of psychic practitioners this year.
Harry put together a national telepathic test in “John O’London’s Weekly”. On Feb 27, 1939, the Borley Rectory is destroyed by fire. Also this year Harry produced a Draft Bill for the regulation of psychic practitioners. Harry is 58 years old this year.
Harry excavates the ruins of the Borley Rectory cellars and discovers human remains, which he takes to Coopers Studio in London, England to be photographed.
Harry testified and gave evidence at the Helen Duncan (psychic medium) trial. During this trial, she was the last person to be convicted under the British Witchcraft Act 1735. She was found guilty and served nine months in prison. The ruins of Borley Rectory is demolished.
It is said that Price made the word ‘poltergeist’ popular in 1945 with the release of his 423-page book “Poltergeist Over England: Three Centuries of Mischievous Ghosts”. I completely disagree. Not only did the Spiritualist Movement from the 1800’s already take care of that, but just run a simple search of the word ‘poltergeist’ in old newspaper archives even from 1940-1944 and you will find many.
Harry Priced died on March 29, 1948, at the age of 67 years old.
It is claimed that in 1963 Price “spoke” onto a tape recorder from his grave at a seance — 15 years after his death. You can listen to the audio of the seance here.
A radio documentary titled “Are you there Harry Price?” about his life aired in 1981 on BBC Radio, almost 40 years after his death. Listen to it here:
LOCATIONS HARRY INVESTIGATED:
Borley Rectory (Essex, England)
Raynham Hall (England)
private home séance (London, England)
house in Lavender Hill, Battersea, London (poltergeist)
Adelphi Theatre (London, England)
museum in Chiswick (London, England)
PEOPLE HARRY INVESTIGATED:
Helen Duncan (psychic medium, declared guilty by the British Witchcraft Act)
Ahmed Hussain (fire-walker)
Kuda Bux (fire-walker)
Karachi (Indian rope trick)
William Hope (spirit photographer)
Willi Schneider (psychic medium)
Rudi Schneider (psychic medium, Willi Schneider’s brother)
Eleonore Zugen (the ‘Poltergeist Girl’)
Frau Maria Silbert (spiritualist medium, apportation & psychokinesis)
Jean Guzik (psychic medium)
Dorothy Stella Cranshaw (psychic medium. aka. Stella C, and the “Electric Girl”)
Jeanne Laplace (clairvoyant)
Frau Lotte Plaat (psychic medium)
Pasquale Erto (light emitting psychic, aka. “the human rainbow”)
ANIMALS HARRY INVESTIGATED:
“Gef” (the talking mongoose)
BOOKS & PUBLICATIONS HARRY WROTE:
“Revelations of a Spirit Medium” by Eric.J. Dingwall and Harry Price.
327 pages, published 1922. This book was originally published in 1891
by an anonymous author named “A Medium”. Dingwall and Price reprinted
and edited it in 1922. This was also one of the books in the 1890s
that inspired Harry Houdini to take up the duty of exposing fake
“Cold Light on Spiritualistic Phenomena – An Experiment with the Crewe Circle”
15 pages, published 1922.
“Stella C. A Page of Psychic History compiled from the Records of Thirteen Sittings”
32 pages, published 1924.
“Stella C. An Account of Some Original Experiments in Psychical Research”
106 pages, published 1925.
“A Report on the Telekinetic and Other Phenomena Witnessed Through Eleonore Zugen”
63 pages, published 1927.
“Short-Title Catalogue of Research Library From 1472 to the Present Day”
422 pages, published 1929.
“Rudi Schneider: A Scientific Examination of his Mediumship”
239 pages, published 1930.
“Regurgitation and the Duncan Mediumship”
120 pages, published 1931.
“An Account of Some Further Experiments with Rudi Schneider: a minute-by-minute record of 27 seances”
199 pages, published 1933.
“Leaves from a Psychist’s Case-Book”
404 pages, published 1933.
“Rudi Schneider: The Vienna Experiments of Professors Meyer and Przibram”
31 pages, published 1933.
“Official Science and Psychical Research – Compiled by Harry Price”
47 pages, published 1933.
“Exhibition of Rare Works from the Research Library of the University of London Council for Psychical
Investigation, from 1490 to the Present Day – Foreword by Harry Price”
48 pages, published 1934.
“Supplement to Short-Title Catalogue of Research Library From 1472 A.D. to the Present Day”
112 pages, published 1935.
“A Report on Two Experimental Fire-Walks”
15 pages, published 1936.
“Confessions of a Ghost Hunter”
396 pages, published 1936.
“The Haunting of Cashen’s Gap: A Modern Miracle Investigated – With R.S. Lambert“
211 pages, published in 1936.
“The Alleged Haunting at B——- Rectory – Instructions for Observers”
“Instructions for Using Telepatha Cards: Extra-sensory perception”
16 pages, published 1938.
“Fifty Years of Psychical Research: A Critical Survey”
383 pages, published 1939.
“The Most Haunted House in England: Ten Years’ Investigation of Borley Rectory”
255 pages, published 1940.
“Search for Truth: My Life for Psychical Research”
320 pages, published 1942.
“Poltergeist Over England: Three Centuries of Mischievous Ghosts”
423 pages, published 1945.
“The End of Borley Rectory”
358 pages, published 1946.
OLD NEWSPAPER ARTICLES ABOUT HARRY:
“The Sydney Morning Herald“. April 20, 1951
“The Milwaukee Sentinel“. Oct 1, 1933
“The Milwaukee Sentinel“. Oct 15, 1933
More newspaper archives, page 1
More newspaper archives, page 2
More newspaper archives, page 3
Michelle McKay is a Canadian paranormal investigator of 30+ years. Former TV host: Destination America, Discovery, A&E. Founder of ColdSpot.org. Her great-uncle, Henry McKay, was a pioneer UFO investigator and the first director of MUFON Canada.
Copyright © 2014 Michelle McKay. All Rights Reserved.