Magician of the Week #50: Eusapia Palladino

Today’s magician is not technically a magician, but rather an Italian spiritualist and medium named Eusapia Palladino.

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Palladino’s “phenomena” referenced in Carrington’s book, above, included levitating tables and stools, bells ringing in the air, mysterious hands touching observers, sounds of ghostly tapping on furniture, and the like.

An orphan and former wife of a traveling conjurer, she was brought to public attention in 1888 by a Professor Chiaia of Naples who wrote a letter to a Professor Lombroso claiming that he had investigated Palladino’s phenomena extensively, was convinced of their legitimacy, and requested Lombroso to investigate them in turn. This led to more than a decade of investigatory seances in which various researchers (including a number from the Society for Psychical Research, and even, at one point, Pierre and Marie Curie) tried to prove or disprove Palladino’s methods. She attracted huge numbers of both skeptics and supporters.

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Wikipedia has an extensive entry on Eusapia Palladino, which I won’t summarize here, although I do highly recommend it. Instead, I offer this tidbit from Eusapia Palladino and her Phenomena, in which the author describes an incident Palladino’s early life, based on her own recollection:

The villagers took little care of the orphan. Once when she was only a year old, she was allowed to fall, so that a hole was made in her head. That is the famous cranial opening from which, in moments of trance, a cold breeze is felt to issue. On this scar has grown a tress of hair that has always been white since infancy, and which is easily distinguishable in her photographs.

I will also leave you with a quote from psychical researcher Eric Dingwall (nicknamed “Dirty Ding”, according to Wikipedia), who was not convinced of Palladino’s powers, nor awed by her apparent cranial wind tunnel, but rather thought that she was “vital, vulgar, amorous and a cheat.”

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