A seance with ‘Materialisation Medium’ Mr. Miller in 1903

San Francisco 1903
Call Building at Night, San Francisco 1903

Willy Reichel’s memoir An Occultist’s Travels (1908) offers an account of his “personal experiences, especially in the occult sphere” during the first years of the Twentieth Century.  He found especially memorable the seances of Mr. C. V. Miller of 1084 Bush Street in San Francisco.  Miller’s principal ‘Control’ among many was ‘Betsy,’ whom Reichel described as “tireless and a dear, kind spirit.”  Betsy was a black woman known to have been a servant of the medium’s grandparents.  Here are excerpts from the first passages about Miller from Reichel’s book, which is comparable in scope to W. Usborne Moore’s Glimpses of the Next State (1911).

Mr. Miller must be described more fully, since my experiences with him surpassed everything that I had previously known, at least in his character as a materialization medium.  Mr. Miller then owned a business in Japanese art wares and old pictures at 568 Geary street, and his appearance, with his modest bearing, is very prepossessing.  After a long interval he had just begun again to give seances.  I mentioned neither my name, nor my occupation, because he did not ask for them.  On Thursday, October 1st, 1903, I went to him and found there twenty-five persons, both men and women.  His so-called cabinet was a bow-window of three sections, with a curtain of black material, facing directly upon the street.  When I entered, the curtain was drawn back, and I investigated everything in the most thorough manner.  To come in from the outside was utterly impossible, as Bush street is well frequented and fully lighted by lamps, so that any attempt to enter from without would be impracticable on account of the pedestrians constantly passing.  Miller first requested every one present to search this bow-window thoroughly, and he really made so pleasant, simple and frank an impression that harmony, which is a principal matter in such seances, was not difficult to establish.

. . . he placed himself before the curtain, which directly afterwards was opened , and now phantom after phantom appeared, whom he, without being in a trance, took by the hand and first asked for the name, which was instantly given.  After the appearance of the second phantom he said suddenly: “Here is a Spirit, who calls himself So-and-so”—he mentioned a name known to me—”and says that Moppel, a dog that is still alive, remembers you vividly, and is faithfully guarding your home.”  Now for the explanation.  At my temporary home in Southern California, I had a very faithful white Alaska dog, which I had left there, and to which I had given the name of “Moppel.”  No one in this seance knew me, or was aware that I was living at that time in Southern California and owned a dog named Moppel.  Besides, it is a German dog-name, and Miller does not understand a word of German!  The spirit, who said this, was, as I have said, known to me by name and seemed to be very familiar with my private affairs.

After a number of Spirits had first mentioned their names, they summoned several of those present and talked with them.  Some of those asked for were not present, upon which the spirits withdrew with words of regret.  Mr. Miller then stated that he would retire into the cabinet, because then the phantoms have more power, and from it they would go to those present.  And so it was!  Scarcely four minutes had elapsed, when the curtain opened entirely and Mr. Miller was seen asleep, with six fully developed phantoms in white robes beside him, who all clasped hands.  Gradually the different phantoms came out of the cabinet, went to those present, and talked eagerly with them; two spoke German.  As I heard later, they were conversing with Germans.  Suddenly I heard distinctly, loudly, and clearly a name which I knew very well, from a phantom who wished to speak to me.  Enough—they are private matters, concerning which I must keep silent.  Another phantom came close to me, bowed, and I recognized it; his name, which he then uttered, corresponded.  Almost at the same moment that the last phantom withdrew from our circle, Mr. Miller came out of the cabinet.  There was ample light during the whole seance.  The following phenomenon was also extremely interesting: a white ball, which looked like muslin, hovered a short time in front of the curtain, then sank before the eyes of all, and in scarcely two minutes a new spirit figure formed itself.

The dematerializations principally took place in full view, in front of the curtain.  I can only say that during many years I have seen a great deal, but nothing like this, and I only regret that Germany does not possess such a medium.  Unfortunately I was obliged to go away, but I hoped at no distant time to see Mr. Miller again.  I subsequently read in the April number of Psychical Studies, Leipzig, of 1903 (page 243) a notice of Mr. Miller; Professor Maier correctly points out in a footnote that Miller was not bound at that time, and I am of the same opinion as R. Seithel, Sr. (Psychical Studies, 1900, p. 578) that binding is by no means a humane method of control, and phenomena occurring when it is used will be no more incontrovertible than without it.  At this extremely interesting seance I only observed, and immediately wrote down truthfully what I saw and heard; I examined the cabinet thoroughly before and after the seance; I saw Miller almost constantly along with the phantoms, and perceived no sign of apparatus or trickery.

Mr. Miller visited Willy Reichel in April 1904 in Los Angeles.  Reichel commented about the visit: “On his arrival I examined him, as well as his two pieces of hand-luggage, and built a cabinet myself in my own private dwelling . . . In a word, these seances in my own residence presented the same phenomena as those in San Francisco.  In everything I am writing down here I am perfectly aware of the full significance of my words.”

Mark Russell Bell   http://blog.testament.org

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