The Rosalie Séance was one of famed ghosthunter Harry Price’s most controversial investigations. COHEN MATTHEWS looks at what happened in London on that night in 1937…
December 15th, 1937, in one of the “better-class London suburbs,” Harry Price attended a séance. This was not a rare occurrence in itself, Mr Price would attend many a séance over the years – causing quite the ruckus on occasion – but this was different. According to fellow parapsychologist, K.M Goldney, the experience left Price “shaken to the core”.
So what then, caused the famous Price to be so grievously effected? What transpired that fateful December night? Let’s discuss.
Harry Price: A Brief Overview
Harry Price was born in 1881 and went on to become one of Britain’s most famous parapsychologists. He went on to research all manner of psychical phenomenon, from haunted houses to live ectoplasmic manifestations.
Although an avid investigator, Price was known to expose any and all trickery he came across. According to Gef, an extra clever talking mongoose, he was known as “the man who puts the kibosh on the spirits” for good reason.
He exposed the renowned spirit photographer, William Hope, and supposed medium Rudi Schneider, along with a host of other alleged phenomenon, however, Price was a controversial figure in his own right.
He was often accused of falsifying his own research, faking much of the “evidence” he allegedly witnessed, such as in the infamous Borley Rectory case. As such, he was a thorn in the side of sceptics and believers alike, possibly best described by magician and sceptic James Randi as a man living “a strange mixture of fact and fraud.”
This portrait of Price does muddy the waters of the man’s credibility, which goes on to make the events of the 1937 December séance even more intriguing.
Rosalie and Madam Z
Price was contacted by a lady, referred to as Mrs X, who invited him to attend a weekly séance in which the contacted ghost never fails to materialise – physically materialise. This was a phenomenon of which Price was particularly skeptical, so he agreed to attend.
There were, as he expected, conditions to the sitting, however, Price was allegedly astonished by their simplicity – guaranteed anonymity of the sitters and their location, no light and no speaking to or touching of the manifestation without the sitter’s permission, less the spirit be frightened away. However, to Price’s surprise, he was allowed full control of the room and sitters up until the moment the séance began, resuming again, the moment the séance was over. This included full permission to search the house and the individuals present, sealing of any doors, and moving of any objects or furniture as he pleased.
The spirit they would allegedly contact was that of a six-year-old girl named Rosalie, who passed away of diphtheria in 1921. The mother of the girl, a French woman known as Madame Z, was one of the sitters. The haunting allegedly began with Madame Z hearing the little girl call out to her in the night, and over time, she claimed to be able to see the girl in the dark bedroom and, eventually, was able to reach out and touch her.
Madame Z turned to her friends, Mr and Mrs X who suggested establishing a regular séance in order to contact the girl, although it took around 6 months for her to materialise.
When the evening of December 15th rolled around, the sitters consisted of Harry Price, Mr and Mrs X, their daughter, Madam Z and a 22 year old bank clark known as ‘Jim’, who Price surmised was more interested in the young Ms X thank any spectral apparitions.
After searching the house from top to bottom and sealing all doors and windows with screws and signed tape, Price sat the group in the séance room and removed all ornaments and spare furniture. He sprinkled starch powder inside and outside the door and beneath the chimney, drawing his monogram in the starch so it could not be disturbed without noticing.
Next, Price searched the two men, but unable to search the women the same way (as it would be improper to do so), was content to sit between them. Ms X, who had returned from a sports class hitched up her skirts to reveal her tight fitting knickers underneath, leaving Price quite content that nothing could be concealed about her person and, probably, blushing, and so the séance began.
The sitters sat in the customary circle and turned out all the lights. Unlike many séances of the time, there was no singing, prayers or related pomp to encourage any stray spirits to appear. Instead they sat and talked quietly amongst themselves. Every so often, Madam Z would call Rosalie’s name, softly, as would Mrs X. In the light of a small radio, which was played for a short time, Price could both see and hear Ms X and Madam Z sobbing, which moved him greatly.
Around an hour into the séance, something changed. Madam Z gasped and Mrs X leant into Price and whispered that Rosalie had arrived, and he was not to speak without permission. Price himself became aware of an additional presence in the room, and even went on to describe a strange smell that engulfed them. All were silent, except for Madam Z who continued to sob. The shuffling of feet could be heard and Price recalled a light touch on the back of his hand.
Eventually, Mrs X asked Madam Z if Price could touch the materialisation of Rosalie, and she agreed.
Upon reaching into the darkness, Price felt the body of a small child. As the ghost child wore no clothes, Price was able to feel that her skin was warm, although he wasn’t sure if he’d imagined that it was a little cooler than a living person, and that she was breathing steadily. Price would go on to describe how he moved his hands from her head to her feet and estimated Rosalie’s hight to be around three-foot-seven with long hair down to her shoulders.
Price was given permission to move himself closer to Rosalie, and took her pulse, which appeared to be rather fast, and placed his ear to her chest to hear her heart beat. Taking Rosalie’s hands, he asked the other sitters to speak in turn, as to estimate their locations. He was again given permission to utilise a series of “florescent plaques” to illuminate Rosalie, and Price did so, from her feet to her face, which he noted seemed a little older than that of an average six year old.
He then asked permission to question the girl, although there was no answer until Price asked if she loved her mother. At this, the girl smiled and whispered, “yes”, which caused Madam Z to cry out and pull the child close to her. Placing the plaques back on the floor, Mrs X asked for silence again, and within fifteen minutes, Rosalie had gone. The lights were switched on and Price searched the room and house once again, realising that nothing had been disturbed. He was convinced the apparition had been genuine.
There are, of course, conflicting opinions regarding the validity of the Rosalie séance. Price himself maintained his account, as recorded above, was legitimate and was convinced there was no conceivable way he had been fooled. K.M Goldney, who I mentioned above, had formally criticised Price’s investigation at Borley Rectory, but was herself convinced that his account was truthful.
However, with a man as controversial as Harry Price, there were many who disagreed. Amongst the neigh-sayers were fellow psychical investigators, Eric Dingwall and Trevor Hall, who believed Price had made up the entire account, with his description of the house itself being based on one in which he’d once lived.
Something I find suspicious is that this was Price’s only sitting at the Rosalie séance. If he had discovered such irrefutable proof of ghostly phenomenon, would it be feasible for an investigator to just leave it at that? Wouldn’t he be begging to return and become more acquainted with young Rosalie, trying again to ask questions of the great beyond? Or to capture further proof of the paranormal? Of course, it may be possible that he tried to do this, but was denied access by Mrs X and Madam Z. After all, the sanctity of the apparition was of great importance to them, it’s reasonable for a grieving mother to reject further examination, in fear that her daughter’s ghost may disappear completely.
Was Price Bamboozled?
From Price’s reactions and writings, it’s clear he believed the event was a genuine manifestation – that is, of course, if we take him at his word. So let’s suppose for a moment that the séance did indeed take place as Price recounts. Could it have been possible that Price was fooled? Flummoxed? Bamboozled, even?
Although Price was unfamiliar with the house, that doesn’t mean the family were. Could there have been a trap door, or secret entrance that was used to slip an actor in and out, with sounds being disguised by sobbing and the radio, which was only played directly before Rosalie “materialised”? It’s possible, but is it likely?
Price also initially requested to bring an acquaintance to the séance, however this was denied as Madam Z was afraid Rosalie would be frightened by too many people. Convenient, perhaps?
If the account is in fact genuine, Price – who had attended many a séance and exposed all manner of fake mourners – had no question of Madam Z’s authenticity.
If that’s the case, who would go to such lengths to trick a grieving mother into believing she is being visited by her deceased child. Unless, of course, it was all genuine?
Unfortunately for Madam Z and Harry Price, it may have all been a cruel hoax after all.
In 1985, Peter Underwood, parapsychologist and author, published part of an anonymous letter, allegedly from one of the séance sitters. This letter had been received in the 1960s by Society of Psychical Research member, David Cohen, and supposedly contained the confession of Ms X, who claimed she had played the part of young Rosalie.
According to the letter, Mr X had owed Madam Z some money, and rather than paying it back, took to deceiving the grieving woman. According to the letter, when Madam Z became suspicious, Price was invited to attend the séance in order to give the whole affair some credibility. In an act of hubris, they were so confident in their hoax that even the man who “puts the kibosh on the spirits” couldn’t catch them out. There are, however, those who dispute the validity of the letter.
Paul Adam’s book, The Enigma of Rosalie, explores this and the suspected identities of those involved in much more depth than I can cover in a single article, so I encourage you to check it out.
So, what do you make of the case of The Rosalie Séance? Is this another of Price’s questionable accounts, or was he fooled? Did it happen at all? Or, perhaps, something very special did take place one cold, December evening in 1938 and it was enough to shake this well seasoned investigator to the core. Maybe we’ll never know for sure.