Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Enigmatic Harry Price

In Britain the cause of poltergeist research was taken up and advanced by the controversial Harry Price. As a ghosthunter, nobody has ever approached Harry Price for either fame or spectacle. His books were carefully researched and contain a vast wealth of information. The investigations he led were lengthy and used the very latest technological gadgets. He was adept at finding natural explanations for some alleged hauntings, and did not scruple to speak out when he suspected trickery or fraud, nor was he backward in declaring phenomena to be genuine when he thought that it was. He billed himself as the greatest ghosthunter alive, and was accepted as such by the public and the media.

His fellow researchers into psychic phenomena were not so certain. In the later part of his career there were several accusations of fraud and trickery, but while many suspected Price of faking some of the phenomena he was supposedly investigating, nothing was ever conclusively proved. It is certain that he hammed up or exaggerated some of his claims in order to get the newspapers and radio interested in his work or to boost sales of his books, but that is quite a different thing from saying that he faked psychic phenomena. It is possible that some of the more diligent, careful but retiring researchers resented Price’s colourful showmanship and alleged trickery when all Price was guilty of was announcing results without having conducted the tests that others thought necessary.

Price was born in London in 1881 to a family in the lower middle classes. He received a good, but unspectacular education at the Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham Boys School. He read voraciously and his interest ranged over a vast array of subjects. He showed a liking for getting himself in the public eye as a teenager by enjoying amateur dramatics and writing article for the local press on various historical subjects. He took an interest in archaeological excavations in Greenwich Park, London, though how deeply he was actually involved is unclear.

After leaving school he worked as a paper salesman, but continued to write for the newspapers and to play an amateur role in archaeological digs. He marred young, then dropped archaeology to become an amateur conjurer, joining the Magic Circle in 1922. Inspired by the work of the escapologist Harry Houdini in unmasking false mediums, Price too began using his conjuring skills to explain how supposed mediums were fooling members of the public into believing that they could communicate with the spirits of deceased loved ones.

To further these investigations, Price established what he called The National Laboratory of Psychical Research with himself as Chairman. In 1934 the National Laboratory was to become the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, with Price as Honorary Secretary. Price continued his researches, radio broadcasts, book writing and stage shows up to his death in 1948.


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