TYPE SEARCH REQUEST AND PRESS ENTER

The Curious Case of
Thomas Welton Stanford

How Leland's brother (accidentally) helped psychology come of age.
Panel 1: [Melbourne, Australia 1908] An old man in a blue overcoat, a wide-brimmed straw hat and a beard net stands in the middle of a greenhouse aviary with three brown sparrows resting on his outstretched arms and shoulder. His butler calls from the door: “Master Stanford, there are two men here who wish to speak with you. A Mr. Smart––” Stanford interrupts. “Send them in.”  Panel 2: Stanford is now intently focused on the bird on his left hand, which he has brought closer to his face at eye-level. The butler responds (off-panel), “Of course, sir.”   Panel 3: Two men stand on the perimeter of the greenhouse, hats in hand. Stanford does not face them, instead watching the birds fly away. On the right stands the taller of the two men, clasping his hat with both hands. He has pronounced sideburns and wears a grey suit with a green bowtie. On the left is a skinnier man, slightly balding but sporting a thick mustache. He wears a mustard brown jacket and khaki pants and lifts his hand to speak. “I am Mr. Christie and this is Mr. Smart, of the Customs Department. We’re here about your ‘collection,’ Mr. Stanford. Our office has recently come into possession of a catalog of artifacts––” “Apports.” Mr. Stanford corrects him.   Panel 4: As he takes off his hat and beard net, Stanford clarifies. “From the French. Come see for yourselves.”  Panel 5: Stanford leads his visitors out of the greenhouse. Mr. Christie responds as he follows. “Yes, well, the bulk of which it appears has been imported from… well, from all over the world.”  Panel 6: [in the collection room] Mr. Christie and Mr. Smart peruse the artifacts. Stanford, now bespectacled and clad in a mahogany suit, affirms Mr. Christie’s statement with his arms spread wide. “Indeed. From across unimaginable chasms of distance and time. Each of these a wonder, made manifest through my medium.”  Panel 7: Mr. Christie continues to inspect the items. Calmly, he reveals the reason he and Mr. Smart have come to the Stanford residence. “Our records indicate that none of these “wonders” has been assessed for import duty. Your collection represents a sizable sum of taxes owed to the commonwealth.”  Panel 8: Stanford is incredulous. He takes of his glasses. “Import duty?! Nonsense! Everything you see before you has come to me directly from the spirit realm.”  Panel 9: He continues: “Tell me, gentlemen, where in your books does it list the tax for goods ‘imported’ from the beyond?”Panel 1: [Stanford University, 1912 - the facade of one of the outer quad buildings] A voice from inside the building says: “The president will see you now.”  Panel 2: [inside an office in the building] A youthful man in a green jacket and glasses sits facing two older men, both in suits. The older man has a mustache and sits in a hit-backed leather chair behind a desk. His associate is to his left in a red felt armchair. The man behind the desk opens the conversation. “Have a seat, John.” He points the younger man to a chair. “I suppose I ought to call you ‘Dr. Coover’ now?” “Indeed, Dr. Jordan. I’m still getting used to the sound of it,” Coover responds. John Edgar Coover was on the cusp of 40 and was a former high school principal who had just earned Stanford University’s inaugural doctorate in psychology. He was reserved, meticulous and, until this moment, primarily concerned with the psychology of self-discipline.   Panel 3: Dr. Jordan broaches a peculiar topic to Coover. “A curious proposition has come across my desk and Professor Angell thinks –– and we tend to agree on most things –– that you are the right man for the job.” To Dr. Jordan’s left, Professor Angell looks on in approval.  Panel 4: Dr. Jordan goes on (off-panel): “In your research, have you ever encountered phenomena of the psychical sort?” “Physical?” Coover is perplexed.   Panel 5: Dr. Jordan is matter-of-fact in his response. “Spiritualism. Séances. Speaking with the dead.”   Panel 6: He breaks eye contact with Coover and looks on. “Nonsense, if you ask me. But nonsense that we can no longer afford to ignore.”  Panel 7: Coover continues to listen as Dr. Jordan elaborates. “A younger brother to the Late Leland, Mr. Thomas Welton Stanford –– a wealthy man in his own right and trustee to the university –– has been nudging us for a while now to embrace his esoteric interests.”  Panel 8: Hands clenched together at his chin, Dr. Jordan reached the crux of the matter. “He’s offering £10,000 to endow a new fellowship with the express purpose of conducting physical research.”   Panel 9: Coover betrays no emotion as Dr. Jordan finally explains how he is involved. “And we want you, Dr. Coover, to head up the research.”  Panel 10: [a silhouette of the front entrance to the quad with the Memorial Church facade in the background] For a man at the outset of his career in Academia, this was a rare opportunity, but for the university it presented a problem: Psychical research existed on the fringes of the relatively new discipline of psychology, hardly the kind of cutting-edge science the university was hoping to make its stock in trade. But Stanford University was a young institution, and funding was a constant struggle. The promise of an endowment was hard to pass up.Panel 1: [Melbourne - outside the Stanford residence] A voice comes from inside the house. “Pardon me, Master Stanford…”  Panel 2: A dark figure stands in the threshold of Stanford’s room. “...would you like to see the guest list for tonight’s circle?” Stanford pulls a red suspender strap over his right shoulder as he looks into his vanity mirror. “Leave it on the side table and prepare the coach.”  Panel 3: [flashback] A man and woman stand next to each other. The man is bearded and wears a shop apron. The woman is carrying a baby and wears a dress and bonnet. The couple is flanked on either side by three children. Thomas Welton Stanford was born in 1832, in Albany, N.Y., the youngest of seven boys.   Panel 4: [a prospector settlement with a store in the foreground that reads “Stanford Bros. Mercantile”] He dropped out of college to join his brothers in the California Gold Rush, where they opened hardware stores in the mining camps.  Panel 5: [back at the Stanford residence] Stanford grooms his beard in the mirror. By his 27th birthday, he had become rich and restless.   Panel 6: [a full-rigged ship on a stormy sea] In 1859, Welton –– as he would begin signing his letters –– sailed for South Australia with his brother DeWitt, where he once again capitalized on the needs of hopeful miners.    Panel 7: A younger Stanford gestures toward a sewing machine. Eventually, he secured a monopoly on Singer sewing machines.  Panel 8: [on top of a tall building] Stanford tosses a sewing machine off of the roof. In part by buying up and smashing the stock of his competitors.   Panel 9: [back at the Stanford residence] Stanford grabs a top hat from the vanity. These early years in Australia were also marked by tragedy: First, the death of his brother DeWitt, and later of Welton’s wife, Minnie, during childbirth.  Panel 10: Stanford places the top hat on his crown with a grim countenance. Somewhere between the accumulation of his fortune and the loss of almost everyone he’d ever loved, Thomas Welton Stanford found his true calling. By the turn of the 19th century, the Melbourne elite would join him every week in his office to listen to the voices of the dead.Panel 1: [somewhere supernatural] A shaggy man wrapped in wispy white rags emerges from a bright light and extends his across an abyss to a man in earthly garb, including a green cape, gold tunic and boots, a plumed helmet and blue undergarment. Some of humankind’s oldest and most enduring stories tell of our desire to breach the pale of death, to speak to the spirits on the other side. Most of these stories are ancient legends.   Panel 2: Two stern women with bob cuts stand side by side. The woman on the left wears a russet cardigan while the woman on the right is sporting a white dress and rests her right arm on the shoulder of the other. But in 1848, two girls in upstate New York made news headlines when they claimed that a ghost spoke to them through the sound of knocks on a table. Curious pilgrims were flummoxed by Kate and Maggie Fox and their “spirit rapping.” The Fox sisters toured the country, stirring in their wake a national obsession with the spirit world.   Panel 3: A man and woman sit in a dark room, together holding a chalkboard which they hope to use to communicate with their late son. The man maintains an intense gaze while the woman holds her right hand up to her mouth in grief. The son’s spirit floats between them. Even Jane and Leland Stanforc were caught up in the swell. After the devastating loss of their young son, they visited mediums whose cryptic, chalk-scrawled messages suggested that perhaps their boy’s spirit endured.   Panel 4: Four doctors and psychologists gather around a man in a chair. The man’s head is cocked back as a white smoke leaves his mouth. One of the psychologists holds the subject’s arm as a spirit appears to leave his body. Spiritualism, as this new obsession came to be known, sat at the crossroads of religion and science. It presupposed the existence of an afterlife, yet its devotees took pains to “prove” through tests and demonstrations that spiritual phenomena were authentic. By the late 1880s, psychical research societies had formed in Europe and the Americas: loose-knit networks of skeptics and true believers, poets and philosophers. For decades, investigating spiritualism was the business of zealous amateurs.   Panel 5: Coover carries a heavy box full of scientific instruments including books, a ruler and some wires. But that changed in 1912, when John Edgar Coover set to work. He transformed a corner of the physics building into a special laboratory.  Panel 6: An older woman stares at a book pulled from a cardboard box. Under the direction of Lillien Martin, a professor of psychology,   Panel 7: Two hands lower a crystal ball into a wooden retainer. It was stocked with state-of-the-art equipment, as well as the books and apports that Welton Stanford had shipped from Melbourne.   Panel 8: Coover tinkers with one of the pieces of equipment in the lab.  Panel 9: Coover and Prof. Martin sit in room strewn with boxes and books. They would soon begin to test –– on a scale and with a degree of rigor that were unprecedented –– whatever truth there was to these otherworldly claims. Panel 1: [in a séance room] Stanford opens the door to the room, inside which there is a table surrounded by a certain aura. Sometime around 1900 Welton Stanford heard rumors of Charles Bailey, the illiterate boot-factory worker prone to fits, through whom a dozen long-dead voices sang of forgotten history, by whose hand a host of Hindu shamans plucked the harmonic chords of ether that bind us all.   Panel 2: Eight men and women sit around the round table on which Bailey sits atop a red leather chair. Stanford takes his seat around the table.   Panel 3: Stanford watches Bailey from his spot at the table, to the back left of Bailey. When Stanford first met Bailey, he saw with his own keen, canny eyes, that the rumors were true.   Panel 4: [at some other time] David Starr Jordan (Dr. Jordan) listens as Stanford faces away from him, speaking about Bailey. Stanford kept Bailey on a retainer, though the tycoon’s relationship to his pet medium was complicated. He once confided to David Starr Jordan: “Bailey is a liar, a shameless grafter whose word is valueless,” Stanford says.   Panel 5: “He is simply an unconscious instrument to be played on,” Stanford continues as he closes his eyes and raises his hands up. And yet, in Stanford’s mind, the personal failings of his medium were no reason to discount his psychic abilities.   Panel 6: [back in the séance room] Bailey raises his right palm skyward with his eye closed and speaks. “Good evening, friends.” “Good evening, Dr. Whitcomb,” Stanford responds, struck with awe. “I desire to say something to you concerning more ancient places, not generally known to historians,” Bailey says. For when Bailey was overtaken by his “controls” –– the spirit of the dead, like that of one Dr. Whitcomb, a deceased physician –– he spoke so convincingly and with such eloquence that Stanford felt as if he were witness to marvels.   Panel 7: [zoom-in on Bailey’s face] Bailey opens his eyes slightly. “Mr. Stanford,” he says. “The knowledge that you are fighting for the cause of truth should make you more courageous even the Alexander.” Of course, it helped that the spirits constantly reassured Stanford that his ‘investigations’ were a worthy pursuit.   Panel 8: [zoom-in on a manic Stanford] Bailey goes on: “You fight against many difficulties, bearing the scorn of men, but realize, too, that there are more for you than there are against you.”  Panel 9: [zoom-in more on Stanford’s face]Page 1: A disembodied white head looks forward into an array of red light. In the middle of the red light is a hand holding a white cloth. Behind the head is an array of blue light, which surrounds a lighter blue frowning wisp. Coover had read transcripts of Stanford’s séances and he had read reports from France and Italy of aborted séances, of Bailey’s parlor tricks exposed. The mania of spiritualism was, as Coover put it, “adequately explained by illusion and hallucination.” In other words, it was a purely psychological phenomenon. But even if Bailey was a charlatan, Coover still had a job to do.   Page 2: [in the lab at the university] Coover sits on the long end of a rectangular table with a pen and a clipboard. On one end of the table sits a blonde-haired man holding the ace of hearts, drawn from a deck of cards in front of him. On the other end is a blindfolded man attempting to predict the card the other man has drawn. He guesses the five of spades. He embarked, with characteristic meticulousness, upon a series of experiments to test thought transference, or telepathy, a cornerstone of spiritualism. Coover ran more than 10,000 tests. Asking both Stanford students and professed “sensitives” to guess at the numbers on plating cards and lotto blocks, and to asses in them the “feeling of being stared at.”   Page 3: Coover types on a typewriter. Overlaid on the picture is a normal curve. He talks to himself: “Statistical treatments of the data fail to reveal any cause beyond chance.” He determined that it all came down to probability: even the most unnerving coincidences are eventually inevitable.   Panel 4: Coover sets up a phonograph, sliding in a new record. Again, he speaks his thoughts aloud: “To what extent does perception of words depend upon the sense of hearing? To what extent upon what the mind supplies?” A second facet of his work was to investigate some of the reasons that séance participants could be so credulous. Here, he focused on how we hear language.   Panel 5: A woman looks at a paper in her left hand while holding her right hand up to ear. She attempts to make out sounds being played from the phonographs through a wall. The phonograph says, “whether ‘tis nobler in the mind,” which comes through the wall as “however kiz modeler im vu nind.” The lady then interprets this sound as “whether in tears or in sunshine.” Coover found, after some 40,000 trials with 107 subjects, that he could manipulate a listener’s understanding of a garbled message by giving her different transcriptions of what she had heard.   Panel 6: Coover thinks to himself: “The ear cannot be trusted to report correctly names or phrases when the latter are spoken under such conditions as are deemed by the recipient satisfactory for communications yet which permit some degree of indistinctness such as is usual when ‘trumpet’ or ‘independent’ voices speak in a séance room.”Panel 1: [in the séance room] Stanford holds in his hand a small stone slab. Bailey (off-panel) explains that it is “a most curious apport, a carved table from Babylonia.” Welton Stanford didn’t need to trust his ears. He could hold truth in his hand.  Panel 2: A round loaf of bread. Bailey (off-panel): “A loaf of bread just now removed from the ovens in Calcutta.”  Panel 3: A red hat with yellow swirls with black fur lining around the rim. Bailey (off-panel): “The snow-drenched hat of a Tibetan executioner.”   Panel 4: A tattered piece of paper with a brown ribbon wrapped around it. Bailey (off-panel): “An ancient Aztec scroll.”  Panel 5: A small bird with black crown, white underneath its eyes and grey body sits in a nest of twigs. Bailey (off-panel): “A living songbird asleep in its nest.”  Panel 6: Bailey sits in his red leather chair with his eyes closed. He speaks: “The Hindus tell me that they’ve found a special gift for you tonight.” Over the dozen years that Bailey worked for Stanford, his grift was remarkably consistent.   Panel 6: [in the dark] At some point during a séance, the lights would dim,  Panel 7: In large yellow-blue bubble lettering: “Whoosh” And by some arcane manipulation of electrical vibrations,  Panel 8: In large yellow-blue bubble lettering: “THUD” An object would drop to the table.  Panel 9: [birds-eye view] Sitting on his chair on top of the séance table, Bailey plays the part of the deceased Dr. Whitcomb, assessing the value of a relic at his feet –– a bone with brown feathers sticking out of either end and another green faither chained around the middle. “Very curious. A fetish belonging to a witch doctor from the Ubangi district of the Belgian Congo.” As Stanford reaches for the artifact, he replies to Bailey. “Fascinating. Tell us more about it, Dr. Whitcomb.”  Then a spirit, speaking through Bailey, would explain to his rapt audience the exotic provenance of this most rare “apport.”  Panel 10: Various tchotchkes sit in a box with little dividers. And so, week after week, Welton Stanford’s collection grew.   Panel 11: A man pulls the top off a wooden crate and speaks to Stanford. “I quite understand any disinclination you, or any other busy man, may have to devote valuable time to psychic subjects…”   Panel 12: Holding an apport, a red spiralled triangle, up close for inspection, Stanford responds. “Time so spent is worse than lost, for it prejudices the investigator against further effort in what he believes to be will-o’-the-wisp illusion, but with a medium like Mr. Bailey, preliminary investigation is not a task but an exciting pleasure.”Panel 1: [in the street] Bailey hides behind a brick building as two shadows in the distance surrounded by a fiery aura approach. In 1914, Bailey finally fell out of favor with his patron. He skipped town for England, where he briefly held Arthur Conan Doyle in his thrall.   Panel 2: A book titled Experiment in Psychical Research by John Edgar Coover. Over the next few years, Welton Stanford pressured the university trustees to rush publication of Coover’s research.   Panel 3: Coover puts the book in a cardboard box with other books. He says: “It is not universally true that ‘where there is so much smoke, there must be some fire, for the ‘smoke’ may be but dust stirred up by artful deceivers for artless perceivers.’” Coover kept his position as fellow of psychical research, but he was done with spiritualism.  Panel 4: Coover holds a card in front of a blindfolded subject. The subject guesses that the card is the five of spades. One important by-product of his work is easy to overlook: Coover is credited with being the first to formally describe the use of randomized control groups in psychological experiments.   Panel 5: Stanford lies in a casket. He would never know what his benefactor thought of his research, for Thomas Welton Stanford died in 1918 without having commented on Coover’s work. It is not clear that he ever read it. In his will, Stanford bequeathed $750,000 –– equivalent to almost $14 million today –– to the university for the purposes of “psychical research and related phenomena.” The university took from this cryptic mandate only the words that made sense.  Panel 6: The end of a pencil is used to erase the words “psychical research.” “Related phenomena” came to mean anything within the field of psychology.  Panel 7: Stanford’s collection of apports forms a sort of collage which includes a straw skirt, a grass doll, several old documents, rocks, a satchel, and arrowhead and the witch doctor relic appraised by Bailey, among other items. The funds from Thomas Welton Stanford’s peculiar obsession propelled Stanford University to the forefront of modern psychological research, As for the apports, all but a few dozen were lost. They’re now in the university’s special collections, in a row of pale blue boxes, curious totems of an abandoned quest.
Panel 1: [Melbourne, Australia 1908] An old man in a blue overcoat, a wide-brimmed straw hat and a beard net stands in the middle of a greenhouse aviary with three brown sparrows resting on his outstretched arms and shoulder. His butler calls from the door: “Master Stanford, there are two men here who wish to speak with you. A Mr. Smart––” Stanford interrupts. “Send them in.”  Panel 2: Stanford is now intently focused on the bird on his left hand, which he has brought closer to his face at eye-level. The butler responds (off-panel), “Of course, sir.”   Panel 3: Two men stand on the perimeter of the greenhouse, hats in hand. Stanford does not face them, instead watching the birds fly away. On the right stands the taller of the two men, clasping his hat with both hands. He has pronounced sideburns and wears a grey suit with a green bowtie. On the left is a skinnier man, slightly balding but sporting a thick mustache. He wears a mustard brown jacket and khaki pants and lifts his hand to speak. “I am Mr. Christie and this is Mr. Smart, of the Customs Department. We’re here about your ‘collection,’ Mr. Stanford. Our office has recently come into possession of a catalog of artifacts––” “Apports.” Mr. Stanford corrects him.   Panel 4: As he takes off his hat and beard net, Stanford clarifies. “From the French. Come see for yourselves.”  Panel 5: Stanford leads his visitors out of the greenhouse. Mr. Christie responds as he follows. “Yes, well, the bulk of which it appears has been imported from… well, from all over the world.”  Panel 6: [in the collection room] Mr. Christie and Mr. Smart peruse the artifacts. Stanford, now bespectacled and clad in a mahogany suit, affirms Mr. Christie’s statement with his arms spread wide. “Indeed. From across unimaginable chasms of distance and time. Each of these a wonder, made manifest through my medium.”  Panel 7: Mr. Christie continues to inspect the items. Calmly, he reveals the reason he and Mr. Smart have come to the Stanford residence. “Our records indicate that none of these “wonders” has been assessed for import duty. Your collection represents a sizable sum of taxes owed to the commonwealth.”  Panel 8: Stanford is incredulous. He takes of his glasses. “Import duty?! Nonsense! Everything you see before you has come to me directly from the spirit realm.”  Panel 9: He continues: “Tell me, gentlemen, where in your books does it list the tax for goods ‘imported’ from the beyond?”Panel 1: [Stanford University, 1912 - the facade of one of the outer quad buildings] A voice from inside the building says: “The president will see you now.”  Panel 2: [inside an office in the building] A youthful man in a green jacket and glasses sits facing two older men, both in suits. The older man has a mustache and sits in a hit-backed leather chair behind a desk. His associate is to his left in a red felt armchair. The man behind the desk opens the conversation. “Have a seat, John.” He points the younger man to a chair. “I suppose I ought to call you ‘Dr. Coover’ now?” “Indeed, Dr. Jordan. I’m still getting used to the sound of it,” Coover responds. John Edgar Coover was on the cusp of 40 and was a former high school principal who had just earned Stanford University’s inaugural doctorate in psychology. He was reserved, meticulous and, until this moment, primarily concerned with the psychology of self-discipline.   Panel 3: Dr. Jordan broaches a peculiar topic to Coover. “A curious proposition has come across my desk and Professor Angell thinks –– and we tend to agree on most things –– that you are the right man for the job.” To Dr. Jordan’s left, Professor Angell looks on in approval.  Panel 4: Dr. Jordan goes on (off-panel): “In your research, have you ever encountered phenomena of the psychical sort?” “Physical?” Coover is perplexed.   Panel 5: Dr. Jordan is matter-of-fact in his response. “Spiritualism. Séances. Speaking with the dead.”   Panel 6: He breaks eye contact with Coover and looks on. “Nonsense, if you ask me. But nonsense that we can no longer afford to ignore.”  Panel 7: Coover continues to listen as Dr. Jordan elaborates. “A younger brother to the Late Leland, Mr. Thomas Welton Stanford –– a wealthy man in his own right and trustee to the university –– has been nudging us for a while now to embrace his esoteric interests.”  Panel 8: Hands clenched together at his chin, Dr. Jordan reached the crux of the matter. “He’s offering £10,000 to endow a new fellowship with the express purpose of conducting physical research.”   Panel 9: Coover betrays no emotion as Dr. Jordan finally explains how he is involved. “And we want you, Dr. Coover, to head up the research.”  Panel 10: [a silhouette of the front entrance to the quad with the Memorial Church facade in the background] For a man at the outset of his career in Academia, this was a rare opportunity, but for the university it presented a problem: Psychical research existed on the fringes of the relatively new discipline of psychology, hardly the kind of cutting-edge science the university was hoping to make its stock in trade. But Stanford University was a young institution, and funding was a constant struggle. The promise of an endowment was hard to pass up.Panel 1: [Melbourne - outside the Stanford residence] A voice comes from inside the house. “Pardon me, Master Stanford…”  Panel 2: A dark figure stands in the threshold of Stanford’s room. “...would you like to see the guest list for tonight’s circle?” Stanford pulls a red suspender strap over his right shoulder as he looks into his vanity mirror. “Leave it on the side table and prepare the coach.”  Panel 3: [flashback] A man and woman stand next to each other. The man is bearded and wears a shop apron. The woman is carrying a baby and wears a dress and bonnet. The couple is flanked on either side by three children. Thomas Welton Stanford was born in 1832, in Albany, N.Y., the youngest of seven boys.   Panel 4: [a prospector settlement with a store in the foreground that reads “Stanford Bros. Mercantile”] He dropped out of college to join his brothers in the California Gold Rush, where they opened hardware stores in the mining camps.  Panel 5: [back at the Stanford residence] Stanford grooms his beard in the mirror. By his 27th birthday, he had become rich and restless.   Panel 6: [a full-rigged ship on a stormy sea] In 1859, Welton –– as he would begin signing his letters –– sailed for South Australia with his brother DeWitt, where he once again capitalized on the needs of hopeful miners.    Panel 7: A younger Stanford gestures toward a sewing machine. Eventually, he secured a monopoly on Singer sewing machines.  Panel 8: [on top of a tall building] Stanford tosses a sewing machine off of the roof. In part by buying up and smashing the stock of his competitors.   Panel 9: [back at the Stanford residence] Stanford grabs a top hat from the vanity. These early years in Australia were also marked by tragedy: First, the death of his brother DeWitt, and later of Welton’s wife, Minnie, during childbirth.  Panel 10: Stanford places the top hat on his crown with a grim countenance. Somewhere between the accumulation of his fortune and the loss of almost everyone he’d ever loved, Thomas Welton Stanford found his true calling. By the turn of the 19th century, the Melbourne elite would join him every week in his office to listen to the voices of the dead.Panel 1: [somewhere supernatural] A shaggy man wrapped in wispy white rags emerges from a bright light and extends his across an abyss to a man in earthly garb, including a green cape, gold tunic and boots, a plumed helmet and blue undergarment. Some of humankind’s oldest and most enduring stories tell of our desire to breach the pale of death, to speak to the spirits on the other side. Most of these stories are ancient legends.   Panel 2: Two stern women with bob cuts stand side by side. The woman on the left wears a russet cardigan while the woman on the right is sporting a white dress and rests her right arm on the shoulder of the other. But in 1848, two girls in upstate New York made news headlines when they claimed that a ghost spoke to them through the sound of knocks on a table. Curious pilgrims were flummoxed by Kate and Maggie Fox and their “spirit rapping.” The Fox sisters toured the country, stirring in their wake a national obsession with the spirit world.   Panel 3: A man and woman sit in a dark room, together holding a chalkboard which they hope to use to communicate with their late son. The man maintains an intense gaze while the woman holds her right hand up to her mouth in grief. The son’s spirit floats between them. Even Jane and Leland Stanforc were caught up in the swell. After the devastating loss of their young son, they visited mediums whose cryptic, chalk-scrawled messages suggested that perhaps their boy’s spirit endured.   Panel 4: Four doctors and psychologists gather around a man in a chair. The man’s head is cocked back as a white smoke leaves his mouth. One of the psychologists holds the subject’s arm as a spirit appears to leave his body. Spiritualism, as this new obsession came to be known, sat at the crossroads of religion and science. It presupposed the existence of an afterlife, yet its devotees took pains to “prove” through tests and demonstrations that spiritual phenomena were authentic. By the late 1880s, psychical research societies had formed in Europe and the Americas: loose-knit networks of skeptics and true believers, poets and philosophers. For decades, investigating spiritualism was the business of zealous amateurs.   Panel 5: Coover carries a heavy box full of scientific instruments including books, a ruler and some wires. But that changed in 1912, when John Edgar Coover set to work. He transformed a corner of the physics building into a special laboratory.  Panel 6: An older woman stares at a book pulled from a cardboard box. Under the direction of Lillien Martin, a professor of psychology,   Panel 7: Two hands lower a crystal ball into a wooden retainer. It was stocked with state-of-the-art equipment, as well as the books and apports that Welton Stanford had shipped from Melbourne.   Panel 8: Coover tinkers with one of the pieces of equipment in the lab.  Panel 9: Coover and Prof. Martin sit in room strewn with boxes and books. They would soon begin to test –– on a scale and with a degree of rigor that were unprecedented –– whatever truth there was to these otherworldly claims. Panel 1: [in a séance room] Stanford opens the door to the room, inside which there is a table surrounded by a certain aura. Sometime around 1900 Welton Stanford heard rumors of Charles Bailey, the illiterate boot-factory worker prone to fits, through whom a dozen long-dead voices sang of forgotten history, by whose hand a host of Hindu shamans plucked the harmonic chords of ether that bind us all.   Panel 2: Eight men and women sit around the round table on which Bailey sits atop a red leather chair. Stanford takes his seat around the table.   Panel 3: Stanford watches Bailey from his spot at the table, to the back left of Bailey. When Stanford first met Bailey, he saw with his own keen, canny eyes, that the rumors were true.   Panel 4: [at some other time] David Starr Jordan (Dr. Jordan) listens as Stanford faces away from him, speaking about Bailey. Stanford kept Bailey on a retainer, though the tycoon’s relationship to his pet medium was complicated. He once confided to David Starr Jordan: “Bailey is a liar, a shameless grafter whose word is valueless,” Stanford says.   Panel 5: “He is simply an unconscious instrument to be played on,” Stanford continues as he closes his eyes and raises his hands up. And yet, in Stanford’s mind, the personal failings of his medium were no reason to discount his psychic abilities.   Panel 6: [back in the séance room] Bailey raises his right palm skyward with his eye closed and speaks. “Good evening, friends.” “Good evening, Dr. Whitcomb,” Stanford responds, struck with awe. “I desire to say something to you concerning more ancient places, not generally known to historians,” Bailey says. For when Bailey was overtaken by his “controls” –– the spirit of the dead, like that of one Dr. Whitcomb, a deceased physician –– he spoke so convincingly and with such eloquence that Stanford felt as if he were witness to marvels.   Panel 7: [zoom-in on Bailey’s face] Bailey opens his eyes slightly. “Mr. Stanford,” he says. “The knowledge that you are fighting for the cause of truth should make you more courageous even the Alexander.” Of course, it helped that the spirits constantly reassured Stanford that his ‘investigations’ were a worthy pursuit.   Panel 8: [zoom-in on a manic Stanford] Bailey goes on: “You fight against many difficulties, bearing the scorn of men, but realize, too, that there are more for you than there are against you.”  Panel 9: [zoom-in more on Stanford’s face]Page 1: A disembodied white head looks forward into an array of red light. In the middle of the red light is a hand holding a white cloth. Behind the head is an array of blue light, which surrounds a lighter blue frowning wisp. Coover had read transcripts of Stanford’s séances and he had read reports from France and Italy of aborted séances, of Bailey’s parlor tricks exposed. The mania of spiritualism was, as Coover put it, “adequately explained by illusion and hallucination.” In other words, it was a purely psychological phenomenon. But even if Bailey was a charlatan, Coover still had a job to do.   Page 2: [in the lab at the university] Coover sits on the long end of a rectangular table with a pen and a clipboard. On one end of the table sits a blonde-haired man holding the ace of hearts, drawn from a deck of cards in front of him. On the other end is a blindfolded man attempting to predict the card the other man has drawn. He guesses the five of spades. He embarked, with characteristic meticulousness, upon a series of experiments to test thought transference, or telepathy, a cornerstone of spiritualism. Coover ran more than 10,000 tests. Asking both Stanford students and professed “sensitives” to guess at the numbers on plating cards and lotto blocks, and to asses in them the “feeling of being stared at.”   Page 3: Coover types on a typewriter. Overlaid on the picture is a normal curve. He talks to himself: “Statistical treatments of the data fail to reveal any cause beyond chance.” He determined that it all came down to probability: even the most unnerving coincidences are eventually inevitable.   Panel 4: Coover sets up a phonograph, sliding in a new record. Again, he speaks his thoughts aloud: “To what extent does perception of words depend upon the sense of hearing? To what extent upon what the mind supplies?” A second facet of his work was to investigate some of the reasons that séance participants could be so credulous. Here, he focused on how we hear language.   Panel 5: A woman looks at a paper in her left hand while holding her right hand up to ear. She attempts to make out sounds being played from the phonographs through a wall. The phonograph says, “whether ‘tis nobler in the mind,” which comes through the wall as “however kiz modeler im vu nind.” The lady then interprets this sound as “whether in tears or in sunshine.” Coover found, after some 40,000 trials with 107 subjects, that he could manipulate a listener’s understanding of a garbled message by giving her different transcriptions of what she had heard.   Panel 6: Coover thinks to himself: “The ear cannot be trusted to report correctly names or phrases when the latter are spoken under such conditions as are deemed by the recipient satisfactory for communications yet which permit some degree of indistinctness such as is usual when ‘trumpet’ or ‘independent’ voices speak in a séance room.”Panel 1: [in the séance room] Stanford holds in his hand a small stone slab. Bailey (off-panel) explains that it is “a most curious apport, a carved table from Babylonia.” Welton Stanford didn’t need to trust his ears. He could hold truth in his hand.  Panel 2: A round loaf of bread. Bailey (off-panel): “A loaf of bread just now removed from the ovens in Calcutta.”  Panel 3: A red hat with yellow swirls with black fur lining around the rim. Bailey (off-panel): “The snow-drenched hat of a Tibetan executioner.”   Panel 4: A tattered piece of paper with a brown ribbon wrapped around it. Bailey (off-panel): “An ancient Aztec scroll.”  Panel 5: A small bird with black crown, white underneath its eyes and grey body sits in a nest of twigs. Bailey (off-panel): “A living songbird asleep in its nest.”  Panel 6: Bailey sits in his red leather chair with his eyes closed. He speaks: “The Hindus tell me that they’ve found a special gift for you tonight.” Over the dozen years that Bailey worked for Stanford, his grift was remarkably consistent.   Panel 6: [in the dark] At some point during a séance, the lights would dim,  Panel 7: In large yellow-blue bubble lettering: “Whoosh” And by some arcane manipulation of electrical vibrations,  Panel 8: In large yellow-blue bubble lettering: “THUD” An object would drop to the table.  Panel 9: [birds-eye view] Sitting on his chair on top of the séance table, Bailey plays the part of the deceased Dr. Whitcomb, assessing the value of a relic at his feet –– a bone with brown feathers sticking out of either end and another green faither chained around the middle. “Very curious. A fetish belonging to a witch doctor from the Ubangi district of the Belgian Congo.” As Stanford reaches for the artifact, he replies to Bailey. “Fascinating. Tell us more about it, Dr. Whitcomb.”  Then a spirit, speaking through Bailey, would explain to his rapt audience the exotic provenance of this most rare “apport.”  Panel 10: Various tchotchkes sit in a box with little dividers. And so, week after week, Welton Stanford’s collection grew.   Panel 11: A man pulls the top off a wooden crate and speaks to Stanford. “I quite understand any disinclination you, or any other busy man, may have to devote valuable time to psychic subjects…”   Panel 12: Holding an apport, a red spiralled triangle, up close for inspection, Stanford responds. “Time so spent is worse than lost, for it prejudices the investigator against further effort in what he believes to be will-o’-the-wisp illusion, but with a medium like Mr. Bailey, preliminary investigation is not a task but an exciting pleasure.”Panel 1: [in the street] Bailey hides behind a brick building as two shadows in the distance surrounded by a fiery aura approach. In 1914, Bailey finally fell out of favor with his patron. He skipped town for England, where he briefly held Arthur Conan Doyle in his thrall.   Panel 2: A book titled Experiment in Psychical Research by John Edgar Coover. Over the next few years, Welton Stanford pressured the university trustees to rush publication of Coover’s research.   Panel 3: Coover puts the book in a cardboard box with other books. He says: “It is not universally true that ‘where there is so much smoke, there must be some fire, for the ‘smoke’ may be but dust stirred up by artful deceivers for artless perceivers.’” Coover kept his position as fellow of psychical research, but he was done with spiritualism.  Panel 4: Coover holds a card in front of a blindfolded subject. The subject guesses that the card is the five of spades. One important by-product of his work is easy to overlook: Coover is credited with being the first to formally describe the use of randomized control groups in psychological experiments.   Panel 5: Stanford lies in a casket. He would never know what his benefactor thought of his research, for Thomas Welton Stanford died in 1918 without having commented on Coover’s work. It is not clear that he ever read it. In his will, Stanford bequeathed $750,000 –– equivalent to almost $14 million today –– to the university for the purposes of “psychical research and related phenomena.” The university took from this cryptic mandate only the words that made sense.  Panel 6: The end of a pencil is used to erase the words “psychical research.” “Related phenomena” came to mean anything within the field of psychology.  Panel 7: Stanford’s collection of apports forms a sort of collage which includes a straw skirt, a grass doll, several old documents, rocks, a satchel, and arrowhead and the witch doctor relic appraised by Bailey, among other items. The funds from Thomas Welton Stanford’s peculiar obsession propelled Stanford University to the forefront of modern psychological research, As for the apports, all but a few dozen were lost. They’re now in the university’s special collections, in a row of pale blue boxes, curious totems of an abandoned quest.

Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, ’05, is a graphic novelist. His most recent book is MOONBOUND: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight. Email him at stanford.magazine@stanford.edu.