Was Etta Wriedt the Best Medium Ever?
Posted on 31 October 2011, 12:52
Knowing that I have read many reports and books by the esteemed psychical researchers of yesteryear and have authored two books dealing with mediums, a friend recently asked me for my opinion as to the best medium ever, at least the best medium studied by the researchers. My friend apparently assumed it would be a matter of choosing between Leonora Piper, the famous Boston medium studied for more than two decades by the American branch of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), and Gladys Osborne Leonard, the equally famous British medium of the early years of the 20th Century, also studied extensively by the English SPR. But, no, while those two rank in my top five, I opted for Henrietta “Etta” Wriedt (1859-1942) (below) of Detroit, Michigan as the best ever.
Wriedt was studied and validated by such esteemed researchers as Sir William Barrett, a physics professor who co-founded the SPR, Sir Oliver Lodge, a physicist remembered for his pioneering work in electricity and radio, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the physician who created Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John S. King, a physician who founded the Canadian branch of the SPR, and Vice-Admiral William Usborne Moore, a retired British naval commander turned researcher. Lady (Dr.) Florence Barrett, Sir William’s wife, who was dean of the London School of Medicine for Women, is said to have been skeptical of all mediums until she sat with Mrs. Wriedt and heard from deceased relatives in their own voices.
Unlike Piper and Leonard, Wriedt was not a trance medium. In the trance voice type of mediumship, the spirits use the medium’s vocal cords, but in the direct voice, the spirits are said to use the medium’s ectoplasm to form an artificial larynx, allowing them to speak independent of the medium’s vocal cords. Thus, it is sometimes referred to as the “independent voice” type of mediumship and often involves a floating trumpet to amplify the voices. While skeptics claimed that direct voice mediums were expert ventriloquists, Wriedt was observed by researchers talking to people sitting next to her at the same time as spirit voices came through. It was reported that as many as four spirit voices would be talking simultaneously to different sitters and, although Wriedt knew only English, spirits communicated in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Dutch, Arabic and other languages.
The best and most interesting accounts of Wriedt’s mediumship were reported by Admiral Moore in his two books, Glimpses of the Next State, published 100 years ago, in 1911, and recently reproduced by White Crow Books, and The Voices, published in 1913.
Moore, who had investigated a number of mediums in England before sailing to the United States, first visited Wriedt in Detroit in 1909 and then again in 1910 and 1911. He arranged for her to visit England in 1912. Moore (below) noted that the spirit voices came through in broad daylight or gaslight, but they were louder in the dark. Moreover, Wriedt was open to sitting anywhere in the room so that the investigator could watch her and rule out fraud.
Wriedt’s primary spirit control was Dr. John Sharp, who was born in Glasgow during the 18th Century, but was taken to the United States as an infant and died in Evansville, Indiana. “Dr. Sharp” sometimes spoke through the trumpet and at other times without the trumpet. He would usually open the séance in a loud, clear voice and then close it.
Moore further observed that Mrs. Wriedt spoke “Yankee,” yet the voices of his English relatives and friends came through in “pure English,” while discussing very personal and family matters. It is one thing for a ventriloquist to imitate a voice, quite another for the ventriloquist to bring through evidential information. Occasionally, phantom forms would appear. At a sitting on January 2, 1911, one such form appeared to be that of William E. Gladstone, former prime minister of England, who had died in 1898. “I could never identify any spirit by its face, but I could see that there were features,” Moore explained. “I very nearly recognized the face of Mr. Gladstone; his was a tall form, and remained some two minutes. After he had disappeared, he spoke through the trumpet. I need not say how surprised I was at this apparition and voice.”
Gladstone talked with Moore for about 20 minutes, discussing political matters in England, subjects of which Moore was reasonably certain that Mrs. Wriedt knew nothing of. Professor William James of Harvard, who had died the year before, also spoke and discussed an experiment that Professor James Hyslop was to undertake in a few days. Moore also heard from Sir Richard Burton, but then something strange happened. He heard from a friend in England, who was still alive. He concluded that it was 2 a.m. in England and that she was traveling out-of-body during sleep.
Moore recorded the first hand account of Count Chedo Miyatovich, a diplomat from Serbia, who sat with Mrs. Wriedt on May 16, 1912 in England. He was accompanied by his friend, Dr. Hinkovitch. Wriedt began by telling Miyatovich that a young woman, a spirit friend of his, stood in front of them and wondered if he could see her. “I did not,” Miyatovich wrote his account of the sitting for Moore, “but my friend saw an oblong piece of illuminated mist.”
Mrs. Wriedt then said that the woman whispered to her that her name was Adela or Ada Mayell. “I was astounded,” Miyatovich continued. “Only three weeks before died Miss Ada Mayell, a very dear friend of mine, to whom I was deeply attached. The next moment a light appeared behind Mrs. Wriedt and moved from left to right. There in that slowly moving light was, not the spirit, but the very person of my friend William T. Stead (a victim of the Titanic disaster a month earlier), not wrapped in white, but in his usual walking costume. Both I and Mrs. Wriedt exclaimed loudly for joy. Hinkovitch, who knew Stead only from photos, said: ‘Yes, that is Mr. Stead.’ Mr. Stead nodded to me and disappeared. Half-a-minute later he appeared again, looking at me and bowing; again he appeared, and was seen by all three of us more clearly than before. Then we all three distinctly heard these words: ‘Yes, I am Stead. William T. Stead. My dear friend, Miyatovich, I came here expressly to give you fresh proof that there is life after death. You always hesitated to accept that truth.’”
After Stead disappeared, Ada Mayell began speaking. “She then spoke to me in her affectionate and generous manner, trying to reassure me on certain questions which had sadly preoccupied my mind since her death,” Miyatovich continued, further mentioning that she referred to letters sent to him by her sisters and niece. “Mrs. Wriedt and Hinkovitch heard every word. Then, to my own and my Croatian friend’s astonishment, a loud voice began to talk to him in the Croatian language. It was an old friend, a physician by profession, who died suddenly from heart disease. They continued for some time the conversation in their native tongue, of which I heard and understood every word. Mrs. Wriedt, for the first time in her life, heard how the Croatian language sounds. I and my Croatian friend were deeply impressed by what we witnessed that day, May 16th. I spoke of it to my friends as the most wonderful experience of my life.”
Miyatovich then arranged for Professor Margarette Selenka, a friend of Stead’s who happened to be in London at the time, to sit with Mrs. Wriedt on May 24. He accompanied her, while two others were present. “After a short time from the beginning of the séance, we all saw Mr. Stead appear, but hardly for more than ten seconds,” Miyatovich recounted. “He disappeared, to reappear again somewhat more distinctly, but not so clearly as he appeared to me on May 16.” Stead then had a long conversation through the trumpet with Selenka and a short one with Miyatovich, reminding him of an incident two years earlier in his office at Mowbray House. Then, Ada Mayell again spoke, followed by Miyatovich’s mother, who spoke in her own Serbian language. Selenka then heard from her deceased husband, Professor Lorentz Selenka, and her mother, who died a year earlier, both speaking in German. A friend of Selenka’s came singing a German song, and asked her to join him, as they used to sing together in the old days, after which a number of spirits came for the other two sitters.
Sir William Barrett set forth his testimonial in Moore’s book. “I went to Mrs. Wriedt’s séances in a somewhat skeptical spirit, but I came to the conclusion that she is a genuine and remarkable medium, and has given abundant proof to others beside myself that the voices and the contents of the messages given are wholly beyond the range of trickery or collusion,” Barrett offered.
The Rev. Charles Tweedale told of his sitting with Mrs. Wriedt on June 3, 1912. “We had a marvelous experience,” he wrote. “The sitting commenced with our singing ‘Lead Kindly Light,’ then a deep and solemn voice, which we were informed was that of Cardinal Newman, gave me his benediction, and water was sprinkled over us. Now ensued a marvelously evidential series of happening which most profoundly impressed and convinced Mr. W. W. Baggally, one of the chief investigators for the Society for Psychical Research, who was present and which dealt with intimately private affairs concerning his deceased father and fiancée. During the course of this wonderful experience a voice announced itself as Frank Woodward and enquired for my wife, and spoke to her. This astounded her, for Frank Woodward was her former music master, of whom she had not heard for seventeen years, and who lived in the extreme north of England. Enquiry afterwards revealed the fact that he had died a year previously.”
Moore recorded that there were days when no phenomenon occurred with Wriedt. He blamed fatigue on her part, lack of harmony within the sitting circle, and also adverse weather conditions, but he concluded that he had never met anyone whose mediumship had brought him so close to the next state as Mrs. Wriedt.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Michael Tymn, Thu 15 Feb, 02:22
Hi Michael, Etta Wriedt lived in Detroit and held in town meetings there I understand. Any idea where she would meet visitors in this city or where her house might have been located? I ask this, because I have been asked to write a series of podcasts on the history of Woodward Ave.—the main drag here. One of the podcasts has to do with the other worldly along this 300 year old street and I am hoping there might be a connection to the avenue or its close by surroundings. Would love to hear back from you in Feb. if possible and will use you as a source if this narrative works somehow—Chris Raab
chris Raab, Wed 14 Feb, 18:12
Thank you for that information,
Sian Burnell, Thu 17 Aug, 18:00
Little has been recorded about Wriedt’s early life, probably because she didn’t completely develop as a medium until around age 50. Her birth date is unknown, but she was apparently born in 1859, possibly 1860. Several references state that she was born in Detroit, Michigan, but she informed King that she was born in New York State, moved to Ohio at an early age, and then to Detroit, Michigan, where both Dr. John King and Admiral Usborne Moore had a number of sittings with her. Moore, a retired British naval officer turned psychical researcher, first met her in 1909, and again in 1910, but said that his experiences with her those two years did not approach the quality of the phenomena he observed in 1911. As he understood it, her mediumistic abilities were greatly enhanced during 1910 after she recovered from what was initially thought to be a terminal brain condition. Moore described her as a slightly built, delicate woman who suffered from bronchitis and neuritis. He noted that she had no servant and was assisted in the housework by her husband. As she charged US$1 per sitting, she was considered a professional medium.
Michael Tymn, Thu 17 Aug, 02:18
Her more complete bio, which I wrote, is now at the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) encyclopedia. I drew the above from it.
Hi would you have any information on Henrietta Wired. Early life before she came to England, I can only find evidence of her mediumship from the age of 50, I can’t find anything on her life. What brought her into spiritualism, How Etta was more know than Mrs Blake?
Sian Burnell, Wed 16 Aug, 10:00
Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment of Nov.14. I just saw it for the first time today.
As you probably know, most Wikipedia entries seem to be written by debunkers, who offer only the negative. They start off by saying she was paid for her sittings, as if to imply that makes her a fraud.
As for the Birkeland “exposure,” I vaguely recall reading something about that somewhere, but don’t remember the source. But I wonder how potassium chloride or whatever it is he claims being on the trumpets explains all the information that came through, as reported by some very credible researchers. It is one thing to claim some chemical was found on the trumpet, quite another to explain the evidential conversations that came through the trumpet. As for McCabe, his book attempting to say Sir Oliver Lodge was a dupe, speaks for itself. As I recall, McCabe never had any experiences with mediums and came up with all these theories on how Lodge was a victim of charlatans.
Michael Tymn, Sun 25 Jan, 02:11
I don’t know if you still respond to some of these older blogs, but having just read Moore’s The Voices and then, desiring more information on Etta Wriedt, finding the wikipedia article on her which claims, unsurprisingly, that she was a fraud, I am wondering if you have any additional insight into her experience in Norway with Professor Birkeland. In the wikipedia article there is a quote on this from a book by Joseph McCabe. If you look at page 126 of his book, the speculation that he engages in is quite revealing, but, if possible, I would like to know more. Is there any possibility of revising the wikipedia article or is this an exercise in futility, given its control by materialists?
Tom Davies, Thu 14 Nov, 18:43
Is your faith in what God is doing or who God is?Most definitely who God is. . .and becusae I am confident in who God is, I think I’m able to see more clearly what he is doing in my life. More often I see what he’s done—tracing those fingerprints back through times when I didn’t understand his plan.Are you hoping in God’s doing or God’s being?God’s being—but God being is also God doing—God is a verb—constant compassion, love, patience, wisdom, benevolence, etc.Do you trust an I DO, or an I AM?I AM. . .God is. . .God was. . .God will be—constant, eternal, faithful. Overwhelming.
Thathagath, Mon 15 Jul, 02:25
Mike, I agree that Etta is unsurpassed among mediums. Two others who would be in my top five are Leslie Flint and Geraldine Cummings.
David Claytor, Tue 31 Jan, 00:26
I’m always especially impressed by the instances like those described here in which spirits speaking a variety of languages come through.
I’ve been meaning to tell you, Mike, that I finally bought my copy of “The Afterlife Revealed,” a bit late. I appreciate your clear and straightforward writing and lack of gobbledegook! That’s all too rare, I’m afraid.
Elene Gusch, Sun 6 Nov, 08:14
I agree with you about Mrs.Etta Wriedt (Henrietta) who, by the way, was born in my hometown of Oswego, New York (way, way before my time I am sorry to say),in that she was indeed one of the greatest mediums of the age or perhaps of all time, but I want to submit the name of Elizabeth Blake, who passed to spirit in 1920, who resided in the tiny hamlet of Braderick, Ohio. She demonstrated trumpet mediumship in the light and used a ” double sided ” trumpet. It was about two feet long and did not resemble the standard seance trumpet.
It was slim on both ends and a little bit more enlarged in the middle. The sitter would put one end to his ear, and Mrs.Blake would either hold the other end in her hand or put it to her ear. Her mediumship began, without standard ‘development’ around eight years of age and she demonstrated for more than 40-45 years. The debunkers tried all they could to discredit her and, like squawking chickens running around in their ” science cage ” they all failed. The evidence given at her seances was truly astounding and of the highest evidential value. At one time, as a sitter was attending a seance with Mrs.Blake, piano music began manifesting through the trumpet and the spirit said it was the sitters childhood piano teacher. In everything I have researched, there has never been one solid, provable instance of fraud, not even close. Mrs.Blake gets my vote for the greatest trumpet medium of all time.
Jon, Wed 2 Nov, 14:39
Author, editor of The French Revelation
Mike, I agree with your choice. Several years ago I read Moore’s accounts and was impressed by them. In more modern days I might add the name of materialization medium Alex Harris to the list of top mediums but Wriedt would no doubt still remain at the top.
Dave Howard, Tue 1 Nov, 20:49
Several weeks ago I read your new book and I can only say that you outdid yourself again. It is a remarkable account. Congratulations.
Thanks, Mike. What would we do without you?
Stafford Betty, Mon 31 Oct, 22:51
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