Monday, 10 November 2014

Bridge Jumping

Today, the BBC put an article on its website concerning the first bungee jump from Clifton Suspension Bridge. This reminded me of another attempt to jump from this famous bridge dating from 1887.

Lawrence M. Donovan had reached a certain level of fame in the United States for jumping from famous bridges. In 1886 he’d jumped from Brooklyn Bridge and then in November of the same year, he jumped from the New Suspension Bridge over the Niagara River.

Then, in June 1887, he jumped from Westminster Bridge in London, with rumours that he was planning on jumping from the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol.

The police were on their guard to prevent this from happening, and so it was that on the 22 June 1887 the Bristol Mercury ran a story about how a man was taken into custody after an attempt to reach the bridge.

The paper informs us that Superintendent Thatcher told Donovan that “any person going to the Clifton bridge with an intention to jump from it would be regarded by all in their rational senses as contemplating suicide, and it was the duty of the police to protect him against himself.” Donovan was refused bail. On his trail the following week, Donovan gave assurances that, we he to be bailed, he would leave Bristol immediately and make no further attempt to jump from the bridge.

No more is reported on the subject until suddenly in the Spring of the following year. Donovan was back in Bristol for a fortnight and had made clear his plans to jump. The six months that he was bound to keep the peace from his previous visit to Bristol was now over, and he was free to return and try again.

First, he said he would jump on Saturday 10 March 1888. He was foiled by the presence of police, and so it was the following day when he tried again.

The Bristol Mercury for Wednesday 14 March reports that “last night, the darkness and the rain being considered favourable to the plan, which was to elude the vigilance of the police [...] Donovan resolved to achieve his object.”

According to the man who drove Donovan to the bridge, at around 8.15pm, “the American then left the wagonette, took off a heavy overcoat, which he threw into the river, climbed the balustrade and having held on for a sufficient time to steady himself, he dropped feet foremost into the water.”

There are two contrasting testimonies about what happened then. The driver said a boat on the river picked Donovan up, while Donovan himself said he swam to shore and received help from someone living in a cottage near the river.

However, the police on duty – both on the bridge and below it – said no one had made a jump from the bridge. On the following day, the Bristol Mercury ran a piece throwing doubt on Donovan’s version of events (which they printed in full) saying that the only witnesses were in the employment of Mr Baker, a local showman who Donovan had been staying with. They were unable to find anyone living by the shore of the Avon who’d seen anything.

Furthermore, the doctor who saw Donovan at the hospital reported no injuries, no bruising or anything of the sort you might expect from a jump like this. Donovan’s claim that the force of landing was absorbed by zinc plates in his boots that had been charged up with electricity was dismissed by a doctor as “simply a superstition.”

Meanwhile, the police officers on duty reported seeing no one jump. One, on duty between eight and nine in the evening, did see Mr Baker drive onto the bridge, but was sure he did not stop halfway since he followed it across. Interestingly, the officer on the shift before this one also saw Mr Baker drive across (going the opposite way) at 7.45pm.

Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, was the witness statement from the cab driver who took Donovan to hospital noticed that the American’s shirt wasn’t wet and said that “he went off the bridge about as much as I did.”

Lawrence Donovan was discharged from hospital the day after his alleged jump, but he was not to be deterred. Barely one month later, he tried again. Seven hundred people had turned up to watch, but the police presence made it impossible.

As far as I can tell, he made no further attempt on the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and his career was to come to a sudden and sad ending when, in August 1888, he died jumping from Charing Cross Bridge in London.

The National Police Gazzette: New York, 11 September 1886, p 16
“A Daring Jump,” The Canaseraga Times, Friday, 12 November 1886
“The Projected Dive From The Suspension Bridge,” Bristol Mercury, 22 June 1887
“The Hero of Brooklyn Bridge and Niagara Falls in Prison,” Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 30 June 1887
“Leap from Clifton Bridge,” Bristol Mercury, 14 March 1888
“Another Attempt to Jump from the Clifton Bridge,” Lichfield Mercury, 6 April 1888
“Fatal Dive by Donovan,” Gloucester Citizen, 08 August 1888

British newspaper clippings from The British Newspaper Archive
American newspaper clippings from Fulton History

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Guy Lyon Playfair on Project Stargate

An old website, Skeptical Investigations has recently got a new look, some new content and a new name, “Skeptical About Skeptics.” It aims to demonstrate that high-profile skeptics aren’t necessarily engaging with the data itself but are, in fact, towing a party line to maintain the status quo. It’s a wide-ranging site that covers a lot of topics, many of which I know little about. But there is one topic that I’m fairly well-read on and, in that instance, this website gets it considerably wrong.

The topic in question is the US military investigation into remote viewing as a means of gathering intelligence. During its life it went under a series of names, but is now generally referred to as Project Stargate.

There are two articles on Skeptical about Skeptics about Project Stargate. The first is Military Remote Viewing: The Story, and the other is The Stargate Conspiracy. I’d like to take some time to address the issues Guy Lyon Playfair raises.

The first of these concerns itself mostly with the unfair handling of the RV project by skeptics. Certainly, from the very beginning there have been people in the US government who were aware of the project, were not impressed by its results, and wanted it shut down. That’s not really in any doubt. But Playfair considers this behaviour to be “paradoxical.” He cannot imagine why anyone would want to shut down a program that was getting such good results. One possible explanation escapes him: they weren't getting such good results.

Guy Lyon Playfair lists a few examples of the remote viewers’ successes, and I think it’s worth looking at these in more detail. But I begin, though, I need to reply to the point that Playfair makes in both articles that only a small percentage of the remote viewing sessions have been declassified. He quotes Hal Puthoff saying “file cabinets full of data that probably won’t be declassified in our lifetime.” But Hal, speaking in 2000, was not to know that four years later the CIA would release four CD-ROMs contained about 17,000 more documents. Of course, there are still some things that remain secret (for example, none of the sessions aimed at China have been declassified) but the idea that only a small percentage has been made available is untenable.

Of the successes that Guy Lyon Playfair writes about, only one seems to be backed up by original documentation. On the “Military Remote Viewing” page, he writes that psychic was able to locate a crashed Soviet aircraft in Zaire. President Carter mentioned this in 1995 and there is a memo from May 1979 which talks about a psychic choosing a location “which appears to be a crash site.”

He mentions the case of Charlie Jordan. In this case, a team of remote viewers were given the task of locating the fugitive Customs Supervisor Charles Jordan, who’d been on the run for some years. While most of the viewers were Mexico or Florida, one remote viewer said he was in Lovell, Wyoming, which is very near where he turned out to be. This session took place on the 10 April 1989, and on the 16 June 1989 Charlie Jordan was arrested.

Playfair implies that the credit should go to the remote viewers for the arrest, but the book “The FBI” by Ronald Kessler says that he “was caught when his case appeared on America’s Most Wanted and tips came in that gave the FBI probable cause to search the home of Jordan’s parents. There, agents found a videotape Jordan had made when his wife gave birth to a baby [...] The videotape showed the couple’s license tag number. It also showed the name of the hospital imprinted on a pillow case at the hospital where Jordan’s wife gave birth.”

So, it seems that the remote viewers were not involved in the capture of Charlie Jordan, and that episode of America’s Most Wanted, aired a few months before this particular project began, could be how one remote viewer (although, to be exact, she was a psychic medium, not a remote viewer) was able to guess so close to his location. It would be useful to see the show to understand the kind of information it contained.

On the “Stargate Conspiracy” page of Skeptical About Skeptics, there are a few more examples. Playfair writes that McMoneagle gives details about projects to find the hostages Dozier, Higgins and Buckley. I’ve already written about the remote viewers’ unsuccessful attempts to remote view Gen. Dozier. As for the other two, the story that the original documentation reveals is, if anything, even worse than that.

LTC Higgins was kidnapped in South Lebanon on 17 February 1989. At first, in that same month, there was a spate of half a dozen remote viewing sessions on him, but it wasn’t until later that year that he was targetted repeatedly. Between September and December 1989 he was the target several times as part of a larger project regarding the Lebanon Hostage Crisis.

A recurring theme of these sessions was that Higgins was about to be released. Throughout these four months, it was reported that his captors would release him in two weeks’ time, or he will be the next to be released.

In the end, he was never released at all. In late August 1989, the US authorities received a video from Hezbollah apparently showing the death of LTC Higgins. On the following days, the remote viewers were asked to view Higgins and determine if he was dead or alive. Of the four remote viewers, two said he was still alive, another couldn’t tell, and the fourth didn’t answer the question.

Finally, William Buckley was kidnapped in Beirut on 16 March 1984. The remote viewing team conducted eleven sessions targeting him and, interestingly, this information was passed onto the CIA.

This positive report was written at the end of April, but it concluded by saying that the remote viewing sessions had stopped since the CIA could no longer supply the remote viewing team with any new leads. I thought the whole point of remote viewing was to avoid the need for intelligence gathered on the ground.

The next attempt at remote viewing Buckley was in July of 1984. One viewer said Buckley was in good health and would be released around the 22 (this was on the 17 July). The other also spoke about Buckley’s release, saying it would take place south of the Commodore Hotel.

Buckley was never released and was never in good health. He was systematically tortured and died in captivity, his death being announced on 4 October 1985.

Next, Guy Lyon Playfair mentions Joe’s claims regarding a Soviet submarine and predicted where Skylab was going to fall. The submarine “hit” was towards the end of six sessions with an interviewer who was not blind to the target. Joe mentioned a submarine in the first session, but it wasn’t until the fifth that he talks about a submarine again. At this point, the interviewer asks him to talk in more detail about the submarine.

Joe’s version of event is that he described a huge submarine of a type never seen before in a land-locked hangar and was ridiculed for it by officials. In the original documents, though, once he finally starts talking about submarines, he describes alterations being made to an existing one, rather than a brand new one. Also, the sketches resemble more the old Delta type of submarine than the new Typhoon class (although it could be argued it resembles neither). Finally, the US officials giving this tasking would’ve already known about a submarine being built there, due to information from satellite photographs in 1977.

Top, Joe's drawing of the submarine he viewed.
Bottom, drawings of a Delta class submarine above a Typhoon. Source.

As for the Skylab prediction, there’s no sign of it in the declassified papers. But since Joe, in his book, describes it as a task he set himself and not an official request, perhaps that’s not surprising.

I’ve written elsewhere in some detail about the US remote viewing program. While I have some admiration for the project and its attempt at trying something new, it seems clear that almost all the claims of success have been exaggerated greatly. And those few that aren't exaggerations and do appear to be accurate, well, isn’t that to be expected in twenty-three years?

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Pet wanted: Dead or alive

It is the hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War, and on Sunday 28 June 1914 the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated. I wanted to read the contemporary reports, so I looked at the Times newspaper for the following Monday. At first, I glanced over the classified adverts on page one and noticed this:

Quite why anyone would want the pet returned to them, dead or alive, baffled me. After a bit of thought, I assumed it was because they owner wanted to know its fate, even if it were dead, rather than never finding out. But for a while there I was scratching my head over the motives behind this advert.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Japanese schools in revolt

Keio University in Tokyo is one of the most prestigious in Japan. It’s also the oldest seat of further education, being able to trace its roots back to a School of Western Studies established in 1858.

But in 1888, it was one of a couple of schools suffered from student rebellions, as the students went on strike to complain about the teaching methods. One of the foreign teachers there, Rev Arthur Lloyd, wrote to a newspaper in England about the then current demonstration.

Rev Arthur Lloyd, from The Open Court, 1912

“The Tokyo students have lately taken to rebellion. A few weeks ago, the students at the Methodist School at Azabu rebelled and struck against their teachers. I believe this was owing partly to the unpopularity of their new principal and partly to alleged favouritism as between Christian and non-Christian students. However, unfortunately, after a strike the students were victorious. Several obnoxious teachers were dismissed to please the students and after several concessions had been made, the boys condescended to come back to their duties.”

Rev. Lloyd notes that this successful strike was followed by another in the same region of Tokyo: Azabu. This time, in the school where he was teaching: the afore-mentioned university, or Keio Public School as it was then known.

“Our new manager, Mr Koidzumi, is a terrible new broom; unfortunately, he has been appointed senior manager. The consequence was that he introduced all manner of new rules into the school, especially some rules about daily marking, which were most obnoxious to the students. With the exception of two classes, the whole school struck and now the conflict is raging. Forty of the ring-leaders have been expelled, more than 300 boys have already left the school, and I am not at all sure how the result is going to turn out.”

This letter, written on 21 February 1888, goes on to explain that the foreign teachers have no say in the matter: it is an issue purely between the Japanese. Whatever sympathies he had with his students, he thought the strike was worth facing down, if only to stop the rebellions spreading to other schools. He also wonders if the new younger generation, with their multi-cultural education were perhaps looking down upon their monolingual parents and their Confucian education.

Although the letter was written in the midst of the troubles, with no solution in sight, Rev Lloyd did write about this again. In his book “Every-day Japan” he explains how it ended. The book was written in 1909, and a couple of details don’t match the contemporary report, but this is what he wrote:

“The biggest affair of this kind that I remember was in 1885 or 1886, when the whole of the great Keiogijuku College, with the exception of one class, went out on strike over some grievance about class-marks, and refused for more than a month to receive the instructions of their professors. When the strike was finished, students and professors had a grand feast of reconciliation in the playground, where speeches were made and toasts drunk. A short time ago I still possessed a big photograph of this entente cordiale established between teachers and taught.”

What a shame he didn’t still have the photograph to include in the book. It would have been a beautiful reminder of a turbulent period of change in Japanese society. Rev Lloyd goes on to tell the readers of his book that this events all happened decades ago.

“School strikes on a very small scale do indeed still take place from time to time, but they are mild affairs when compared with the heroics of the past. The go-ahead student of twenty years ago is the go-ahead parent of to-day, and has succeeded in re-establishing over his children that parental authority which for the time slipped from the grasp of his old-world father ; and the crude teacher of the early days has made room for the better trained teacher of to-day, so that the whole atmosphere of the Japanese school has undergone a change for the better.”

“Rebellious Schoolboys In Japan,” Bury and Norwich Post, 1 May 1888, page 5
Lloyd, Rev. A, (1909) “Every-day Japan,” Cassel and Co. Ltd, p 272-273
Clement, E. W. (1912) "The Late Rev. Arthur Lloyd (With Portrait).," The Open Court: Vol. 1912: Iss. 4, Article 8

Friday, 20 June 2014

How to make a legend

An article in the Spring 1995 edition of The Psi Researcher describes how, in the 1950s, a group of psychical researchers got caught up in popularising an almost-certainly fictional local legend.

Tony Cornell (the author of the article) and three friends went to the Ferry Boat Inn in St Ives, Huntingtonshire, on the 17 March 1953, having heard that a ghost of a lady in white appears there every year on that date: the story being that one of the flagstones on the floor of the pub is over her grave.

They set up a Ouija board on a table in the bar, and began trying to contact the spirit, to the mild amusement of the few regulars who were in the bar at the time. During this seance, they contacted a woman called Juliet, who was hanged in 1050 because she loved a man called Thomas. As closing time approached, the psychical researchers asked Juliet if she would appear if they held another seance later that evening. She said yes and, so it was, that at 11pm another seance was begun back at their hotel.

They got more details, such as her surname (Tewslie) and that she was a Norman. She died when she was nineteen and that Thomas (whose surname was Zoul) was twenty-one at the time. Thomas finally died when he was fifty-two.

And there it would have ended. The information was vague and generic and Tony writes that he had immediate doubts about Tewslie being a Norman name. This little episode was forgotten and would’ve stayed that way had the owner of the Ferry Boat Inn not contacted Tony in January of the following year suggesting another seance.

Tony agreed, and news of this began to appear in the local press. He started getting calls from journalists, and he found himself being misquoted as the media milked the story for all it was worth. Even The Daily Mail carried the story on the 16 March.

On the 17th, the psychical researchers arrived at a pub already full of journalists and photographers, and a steady stream of customers kept arriving. At 11pm, the pub emptied out and the seance could begin in peace (although the reporters were still present and many people stayed outside and tried to watch through the windows). The local vicar arrived, claiming the legend was bunkum. All of this must have made contacting the dead a bit more difficult than usual, since it wasn’t until 12.35am that the Ouija board spelt out “I am Juliet” and the seance could begin.

Now a couple of details changed. Her death was 552 years ago, not nine hundred as before. Juliet spelt her surname as “Tewsley” this time and, considering that the seance included a stranger in the group, Tony wonders if this new spelling was due to someone pushing the glass who was unaware of the previous spelling.

The researchers asked if the river came up to this spot in her time, and she said yes, and it was 10 metres across (but metres didn’t exist until 1797). Juliet then said she would try and materialise, but nothing happened. They packed up and went home at 2am, having brought in a great deal of business for the pub, but achieved little else.

After this, the story spread through Reuters and Associated Press around the world. The local vicar wrote up a history of Juliet and Thomas based on the transcripts of the two seances with more details added, and then explained that there’s no evidence either person existed.

Tony writes that similar investigations occurred in 1955 and 1956 without him, and he comments that since then the legend has appeared in books, with one author calling it “probabaly the longest established ghost in any English hostelry.” The same book (Haunted Pubs in Britain and Ireland by Marc Alexander) also describes how the landlord of the Ferry Boat Inn had expressed a wish that he has something like the Loch Ness Monster to bring in customers, and then a customer told him about the White Lady. Tony remarks that, if accurate, this explains a lot.

Other writers have added to the story, with details about dogs not liking the bar, doors that open and close and old-fashioned music that only women can hear. By the time Guy Lyon Playfair writes about it in 1985, Juliet’s surname has a new spelling: Tousley.

As part of his initial investigation, Tony investigated the names that came through and also asked local people if they knew about the legend. Regarding the names, Juliet didn’t really exist in England until the 16th century. The surname has a Celtic root “Tew” but Tony came to the conclusion that “Juliet Tewslie” couldn’t possibly be a Norman name.

Thomas is also rare for Norman times, becoming more common in the medieval era, but Zoul is a Norman name, derived from Zouch.

When he questioned local people, none of the elder inhabitants had ever heard of the story and the person who’d apparently told the landlord, Dr Hurst, said he couldn’t remember where he’d heard it. Tony was unable to find anyone who’d heard of it before 1953.

As for the messages of unverifiable details, questionable names and a few historical inaccuracies, Tony concludes that they were answered by the people who’d asked them: the researchers: “The suggestion that there was the ghost of a woman at the Inn was enough for those who applied their minds to the question to produce unconsciously a dramatic sketch about Juliet and Thomas, which has been added to by all and sundry ever since.”

Tony wrote in 1995 that he’d recently returned to the pub and that it had been carpeted, apart from the flagstone that apparently was over the woman’s grave. Whether that’s still the case, I don’t know. One thing is noteworthy: searching for the pub on the internet, there are many sites that don’t mention the ghost at all. Maybe, now that St Patrick’s Day is more popular in England, there’s no need for a ghost to increase business on 17 March.


Cornell, T. “The Making of a Legend,” The Psi Researcher, no 16, Spring 1995

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Really Practical Poet

That was the name of an article in Crosthwaite’s Register of Facts and Occurrences for January 1861 describing the career to date of James Torrington Spencer Lidstone: an author with very particular aims and goals.

He wrote an regular (usually annual) work of poetry called The Londoniad. It contained a number of verses regarding famous personalities and establishments in London. The practical aspect of his work is this: he would approach certain businesses or people with the promise of a positive write-up if they bought fifty copies. If they did not, then a more negative, spiteful entry would be included. This landed Mr Lidstone in court for libel on a number of occasions.

In 1861, Crosthwaite's Register describe Lidstone in a faintly amused manner:

“In turning over the pages of the “Londoniad,” we are struck by the originality of the subjects chosen by the “Muse.” There is no nonsense about the moon; no running after skylarks and nightingales, in the style of Shelley and Keats; and no “pottering over” water-lillies and purling brooks. The minstrel sweeps the strings to no love-sick strain, but twangs them in shops and counting-houses to the tune of trade.”

The article goes on to list some of the titles of Lidstone's work, including the “School Furniture Poem,” the “Great Cement Poem,” the “Light Carriage Poem,” and the “Vegetable Leather Poem.”

A good example of Lidstone's work is shown below, written in honour of William Morris, a maker of Wicker chairs, baskets, etc.

A few years later, in March 1865, the London City Press has a short article describing how “two or three actions have recently been brought by a person named Lidstone, against tradesmen in Shoreditch and Hoxton” for non-payment of fees incurred by him including poetry praising their businesses in the Londoniad.

The Shoreditch Observer had more details on the case, including the revelation that, in cross-examination, Lidstone admitted that he was in a similar situation with about 100 other tradesmen.

Then in 1866, Mr R.W. Winfield and Co. took Lidstone to court over a poem published in that year's Londoniad. (NB, the copy for 1867 includes R.W. Winfield in the index, but the page itself has been removed so I can't find a copy of the poem itself.) Initially, the court proceedings were stopped after James Lidstone agreed to publish an apology, which he did so in The Times.

However, a few days later, a letter was published from Lidstone declaring that the apology was a forgery and had never been written by him.

Of course, this meant that the court proceedings begun again. The Times of 3 October 1866 has a report on Lidstone appearance in court, in which he refuses to apologise or write a new apology. By the end, he insists that his signature on the document was “surreptitiously obtained.” At this point, his own lawyer advises him to stop talking. Lidstone lost the case.

Over the years, Lidstone was no stranger to the courts, either as defendant or prosecutor. In January 1871, tried to take the newspaper The Islington Gazette to court, complaining that their reporting of a recent story concerning his appearance in court. However, the grant was not given, under the reasoning that, however much ridicule the previous story had brought Lidstone, he was receive even more were he to continue with this summons.

He had agreed a contract with a Grimwade where Grimwade would buy 100 copies of The Londoniad in return for having a poem about his shop included. This was only if Grimwade was able to approve the poem in advance.

Lidstone sent Grimwade a copy of the poem and a copy of another of his books “The Bostoniad” (a similar work aimed at American businesses). Grimwade rejected the poem and called the Bostoniad “trash” and said he wanted nothing to do with the project. However, the poem was included and the 100 copies sent out so when Grimwade refused to take delivery, Lidstone took him to court. Lidstone lost this case, too, and the London City Press contains an excerpt of the poem in question.

“My heroes' Anti-corrosion Paint 'tis just the kind we need,
And is destined every other sort thro' the world to supersede.
Gentlemen, Farmers, and all engaged in the building line;
Emigrants and Colonists, the highest place assign,
And over the Atlantic we'll take a large cargo,
From the renowned manufacturers, Grimwade, Ridley and Co.”

In October 1872, he was tried in his absence at Clerkenwell County Court in an attempt at retrieving £3 2s from Mr Naden that Lidstone felt he was owed after delivering to him several copies of the Londoniad.

Then, in 1883, a new case appeared in the pages of the Birmingham Daily Mail, where Lidstone was trying to recover £6 5s from Mr W.H. Holdom for 100 copies of the Londoniad. By now he was calling himself the Honorable James Torrington Spencer Lidstone, and claimed to have been decorated by Napoleon III and the King of Italy.

Lidstone further claimed to be the sole representative of the Aboriginal Bank of Manitoba in England and that he'd been commissioned by the Government of Canada.

When Holdom found out Lidstone was a fraud, he sent the books back by messenger. Lidstone refused to take delivery and poured water over the messenger from an upstairs window. At this point the handle broke and the jug fell on the poor man's head. When Lidstone was unable to provide any proof of his connection to the government of Canada or the Aboriginal Bank of Manitoba, he found in favour of the defendant.

The last I can find of Lidstone in the English press is a note in December of the same year, when the Huddersfield Chronicle mentions that the London Gazette has listed James Torrington Spencer Lidstone, living at Goswell-terrace, Clerkenwell, Middlesex, as having gone bankrupt.

Unfortunately, there is precious little about James Lidstone the man that I can find on the internet. He was born in Canada, and lived in Toronto and Ottawa in his early life. He moved to Buffalo, NY in 1850, and must have moved to England before 1856, which is when the first edition of The Londoniad appeared. While in England, he lived in Toquay, Devon for a time. Since this is (fairly) close to where I live now, I may try and contact a few museums and libraries to see if they know anything about him. It does seem a shame that such an interesting person should vanish so completely from history.


Hollingshead, J. “A Really Practical Poet,” Crosthwaite’s Register of Facts and Occurrences, January 1861, p90
“A Quack Poet,” Shoreditch Observer, 11 March 1865, p 3
“The Londoniad,” London City Press, Saturday 18 March 1865, p 1
Lidstone, J.T.S., “Public Apology,” The Times (London, England), Thursday, Sep 13, 1866, p 1
Lidstone, J.T.S., “To the Editor of the Times,” The Times (London, England), Saturday, Sep 22, 1866, p 10
Fox, “The Apotheosis of Puffery,” The Musical Standard, vol 5, July 1 to December 31 1866, p 228
Lidstone, J.T.S., “W. Morris,” the Fourteenth Londoniad, 1867, p 83
“Law and Police Intelligence,” Islington Gazette, 3 January 1871
“The Londoniad,” London City Press, Saturday 18 February 1871, p 6
“Law and Police Interlligence,” Islington Gazette, 18 October 1872
“Poem Advertisements,” The Birmingham Daily Mail, Saturday 17 February 1883, p 3
“Poem Advertisements,” Worcestershire Chronicle, 3 March 1883, p 3
“Local Authors,” The Buffalo Courier, Tuesday 19 March 1889, p 6

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Arizona Experiments

About half a year ago I had a discussion about The Arizona Experiments on an internet forum. Since then, the forum has closed but I kept my notes on the topic and I decided it was worth writing about again.

The Arizona Experiments were a series of ten trials designed to test the precognitive dreams of a man called Chris Robinson. They were conducted in Arizona by Dr Gary Schwartz of Arizona University. Over the course of eleven days and ten nights, Chris Robinson would write down his impressions of his dreams. In the following morning, he and Gary Schwartz would get a phone call from a third party who chose a location at random from a possible pool of twenty local destinations.

Gary receives the call in the morning telling him the location of that day's target

The results, as summarized in the published paper, were

“The primary pattern of themes of information per day matched its respective location as well as associated events for the day. The patterns of evidence indicate that selective attention and perceptual priming were insufficient to explain the complete set of findings. The data can be interpreted as consistent with CR‟s hypothesis that the presence of spiritual mediation can sometimes be inferred from the appearance of highly improbable and organized patterns of significant events in real life.” (Schwartz, 2011)

This experiment was originally carried out in August 2001 and submitted for publication in 2003 to the Journal for the Society of Psychical Research, but was rejected due to methodological flaws. This caused a (very) minor fuss on the internet at the time, to the effect that the SPR had been taken over by skeptics. Eventually it found an outlet in the pages of the Journal of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies some ten years after the experiment was carried out.

The majority of the paper describes the ten trials in some detail, as well as the similarities between the notes made overnight and the locations themselves. For example:

“On Day 4, the primary themes were “suns, mirrors, LCDs, telescopes, Mount Olympus (after his 35mm camera), airplanes, hangers, and a pitched propeller).

CR was taken to Kitt Peak National Laboratory (at the top of a huge mountain) to the world‟s largest Solar Telescope.

CR and PE ate lunch at a nearby airport restaurant with hangers that had a large pitched propeller in front. None of the other nine locations had this unique pattern of themes.”


On Day 7, the primary themes included “dust, dust everywhere, including on the floor in a building, a court room, and a train robbery.”

CR was taken to Old Tucson, a western theme park that is also used as a movie set. There is dust “everywhere” at Old Tucson, including a room purposely designed with a completely dusty floor.
A large train has been used in more than 100 movies involving train robberies.

Old Tucson includes a courtroom. None of the other nine locations contained this precise pattern of themes.” (Schwartz, 2011)

I found some of Chris Robinson’s videos that he made of the actual visits to a few of the sites. Watching them gives a little more idea about how Gary and Chris went about matching Chris’ notes to the locations.

For example, at the Old Tucson studio (day seven), the fundamental theme is “dust”, so they go around looking for dusty things, even going so far as to ask people if they’ve seen any dusty rooms. This is why they find unique examples of Chris' descriptors during the day: because they are highly motivated and actively looking for them. So when the paper says they didn't find that particular combination of descriptors on any other day, is that really because they weren't there or because they weren't looking?

About the Kitt Peak Observatory (on day four), Chris says he didn't dream on that particular night, so he relied on the notes he made in London. In the video there are two full ring binders of notes beside Chris in his room, which I assume are his notes. So the amount of data not represented in the paper is pretty substantial. Also, Chris has plenty of ways he can interpret these images and Gary Schwartz, too, is not immune to similar leaps of logic.

For example, one of the primary themes listed in Chris' notes for this day is "Pitch". This is mentioned in the footage in Chris' room, it is mentioned again in the car and finally Gary links the clue of "pitch" to the angle of the telescope. In the published paper, "pitch" does not appear. Instead it is now "pitched propeller". Also "dish" is missing from the paper and "LCD" has been added.

A number of descriptors not reported in the published paper

Also, in the video there's a close up of the page of Chris' notes that reads “Olympus – Greek – Mountain Screens – Screen Pictures” etc, and you can just about see the writing on the other side of the page. At the top of the page, it's possible to read “4th August”. But the Kitt Peak trial was carried out on the 5th of August. They are using notes that were actually meant for a different day.

This shot from a TV documentary shows a page from Day 4, which was held on August 5th.
But the words "4 August" can be seen written at the top of the previous page. 
In other words, these notes were supposed to relate to a different day.

And looking at the video, other notes for the Kitt Peak Observatory were “Ring – Diamond – Screens – TV – Projector – Not 4 Sale” and “Cake – cream.” These are all absent from the paper.

In Chris Robinson's hour-long video of the events of this day Gary asks Chris what the key words are, not in the hotel before he found out the target for that day, but in the car as they're driving along the road, after he knows the target location. Chris, too, may not be completely blind to the target by now since he was next to Gary when he got the call to find out the location, and also Gary Schwartz had already looked for the correct route on a map while sitting beside Chris. According to the long video they key words are "pitch, sun, mirror, Mount Olympus, screens, dish."

Day four is the only day when we have enough footage and knowledge of the actual prediction to make a meaningful comparison to what was written up for publication and what actually occurred. Given the disparity between the two accounts of that day, I suspect that other days have had a similar amount of interpretation. Far from being evidence of psychic functioning, I prefer the theory that, given two large sets of data (Chris’ notes and that day’s target) correspondences are bound to be found.


Schwartz, G. (2011) “Exploratory Blinded Field Experiment Evaluating Purported Precognitive Dreams in a Highly Skilled Subject: Possible Spiritual Mediation?” Journal of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies, Vol 34, Number 1, pgs 3-20.

Roll, M. (2003) "More Censorship: Gary Schwartz's Experiments with Dream Detective Chris Robinson," 21 December 2003

Chris Robinson's footage of the Arizona Experiment, day four

Chris Robinson's footage of the Arizona Experiment, day seven

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The doubt over Stanley and Livingstone

Dr Livingstone was an English explorer who, in the late 1860s, went missing in Africa. He was presumed still alive and still doing his work as an explorer by people back in Britain, but with no direct work from the doctor, and with nothing but rumour and speculation to go on, no one could be sure.

On 10 November 1871 Henry Stanley, after years of searching, finally found Dr Livingstone, who’d been lost in Africa without any communication for years. Stanley had been sent to find the English explorer by the newspaper he worked for, the New York Herald and, after two years of searching, he'd finally found his man.

However, communicating out of deepest Africa was exceedingly difficult at that time. Quite apart from the lack of technology, a war was raging that complicated things. In fact, in December 1871 newspapers were reporting on messages from Stanley that he’d sent in September, and in May 1872, newspaper relayed news of a dispatch from Dr Kirk in Zanzibar that was sent in October the previous year.

The news that Livingstone had been found was reported in the New York Herald on 2 July 1872. Americans took a certain amount of pride that they had found Livingstone, while England’s own underfunded search expedition had failed, and some journalists reacted with hurt pride that the efforts of Americans were not universally appreciated.

On 23 July, The New York Evening Telegram wrote

“There is only one phase of British character more striking than British patriotism, and that is British stupidity and snobbery in high places.”

And it continued

“Instead of joining in the general jubilee at the glad tidings of the great explorer's safety […] they sit complacently down like so many carrion crows on a carcass to pick it to pieces. President Rawlinson from his chair at the last general meeting of the Royal Geographical Society announced that instead of Stanley having found and reinforced Livingstone it was much more probable that the latter had found and assisted Stanley. Could prejudice and petty malice go further?”

However, at least Rawlinson's version of events had Livingstone and Stanley meeting. Before long, questions were being asked whether Stanley really had met Dr Livingstone at all.

On 2 August, the New York Times ran a story reporting that the French paper Les Temps had quoted a German geographer Kiepert who thought the geographical mistakes in Livingstone’s letter (brought back by Stanley) clearly indicated the narrative was invented by Mr Stanley.

These questions grew and spread until, on 20 August, the paper that had sent Stanley, the New York Herald, addressed these claims, saying that the confirmation by the Foreign Office that the letters were from Livingstone had not been reported in the German papers.

Then, on 28 August, the New York Sun reprinted one of Livingstone's letters next to a letter from Stanley to a Mr Noe on the front page until the headline “Is Stanley Anything But A Fraud?”

“If this conclusion shall be confirmed by subsequent proofs and be adopted universally, there will be no dispute that Stanley is the author of the most gigantic hoax ever attempted upon the credulity of mankind.”

Their theory was based on the testimony of Mr Noe, who knew Mr Stanley. On 29 August, the New York Sun printed an interview with Mr Noe and, after a long conversation about Stanley’s youth and roguish character, the reporter asks “What reason have you to suppose, as you have stated in your letter, that Stanley has not found Dr. Livingston?”

“Nothing,” said Noe, “except that he told me that he meant to go to Africa as the correspondent of the Herald, to get up a big story and make a sensation.”

Along with this interview, the Sun also printed more criticisms of Livingstone's geography of Africa from Colonel Grant, and more handwriting analysis. All of this was followed up on 30 August with more notes on the similarity of Livingstone's and Stanley's handwriting as well as other articles from other newspapers.

Then on Sept 2nd, the New York Sun swiftly changed their story regarding Stanley. Two reporters, one from the Sun and one from the Herald, went to interview Dr Livingstone’s brother in Canada, and heard that the brother was convinced the letters came from Dr Livingstone himself, since they referred to things that Stanley couldn’t possibly have known.

The New York Herald also published this same interview on the same day, and also took the opportunity to print a few letters and articles supporting their man, just as a final statement on the debate. After this, the two newspapers seemed to consider that the matter was settled and it was not brought up again. At least, not that I can find.

It’s a curious episode. It's interesting to see a controversy that became such a talking point and was so convincing to those who supported it, but which vanished so completely once it had been decided.


“Livingstone not dead”, Leeds Mercury, Saturday 06 May 1871
“Mr Livingstone”, North Wales Chronicle, Saturday 02 December 1871
“Dr Livingstone”, Falkirk Herald, Thursday 11 January 1872
“Expected News”, Manchester Evening News, Wednesday 28 February 1872
“Livingstone”, Huddersfield Chronicle, Saturday 06 July 1872
“The Finding of Dr Livingstone”, New York Evening Telegram, July 23 1872
“Livingstone letter”, New York Herald, reprinted in Stanley Berwickshire News and General Advertiser, Tuesday 30 July 1872
“Is Stanley Anything But A Fraud?, New York Sun, 28 August 1872
“Henry Stanley’s Exploit”, New York Sun, 29 August 1872
“Livingstone or Stanley”, New York Herald, 29 August 1872
“Livingstone or Stanley?”, New York Sun 30 August 1872
“New View of Livingstone”, New York Sun, 2 Sept 1872
“Livingstone in Canada: Interview with the Brother of the Great Explorer”, New York Herald, 2 Sept 1872

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Why Rugby is Popular in Italy

In a documentary about rugby by the theatre director and actor Marco Paolini, there’s a scene where he draws out a typical line-out, and then quickly sketches around it the coastline of Italy. It’s a remarkably good fit. I wanted to share it but unfortunately, the film doesn’t have a decent close-up of it, so I quickly put together another version.


Chi Ga Vinto?, dir. Marco Paolini, La7, 2008
Illustration of Italian line-up taken from Fanatix website

Map of Italy taken from Google Maps

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Ghostly messages in the library

Today, I was walking up to my office, which is in a floor above the Central Library, when I looked out of the window at the grim weather outside. Then I happened to look down, through a skylight, to the library below.

I noticed that there was some writing on the top of one of the bookshelves.

Where I was standing I could only make out one word, so I decided to go to the floor below for a better look.

From there I could see the message read "Beware of the ghost". This is probably something to do with the fun Hallowe'en visits that the library once did (or maybe does regularly) for visiting schoolchildren. There are still some ghostly pictures on the walls up the stairs to my office. It's odd that I haven't noticed it before, but on the off-chance that it is a genuine warning, I shall certainly be wary of any ghosts I might meet.

Friday, 7 February 2014

The ship that could not dock

In late March 1932, newspapers carried reports about an Argentine ship named the S.S. Chaco that was carrying a large number of criminals. These criminals, mostly European, were being deported and sent back to their native lands, but on arrival it was discovered that no harbour would let them land.

According to early newspaper reports, the boat held 33 “undesirables.” Mostly political prisoners: Communists and anarchists, as well as some ex-convicts. But rumours spread that the ship held many more, such as gangster, white-traffickers and spies.

Its journey was the subject of much speculation and gossip, and even reports in the newspapers were contradictory. On April 22, reports spread that the ship had vanished. It was anchored off the mouth of the Elba, near Prussia. They’d apparently contacted the harbour authorities about a passenger who was ill and needed treatment. Then, the next morning, the ship had gone. This sparked rumours of mutiny.

This would appear to be fiction, since on April 25 it was reported that the ship had docked at Barcelona on April 11 and was still there. Also, it was stated that only fifteen prisoners remained on board. It appears that, despite the media’s portrayal of this ship as hopelessly sailing from dock to dock, it had been able to relieve itself of some of its cargo.

On May 10, as the ship passed through the Kiel Canal on her way to Poland, police lined the quay to keep people away from the vessel. A communist deputy arrived and almost sparked a riot as he tried to board the ship. Finally he was allowed on, and he told the captain that the Polish prisoners would probably be shot soon after landing there, but he was unable to change the captain’s mind.

By now, it was reported that there was one Englishman on board and that, after visiting Gydnia in Poland, the Chaco was expected to leave four prisoners at Lithuania before turning to Britain.

On May 24, another newspaper carried the headline that the Mystery Ship had vanished again. Reading the story, though, makes it clear that it just hadn’t arrived at the mouth of the Thames on the day it was expected.

By May 31 it was docked in London, with two armed sentries and two policemen guarded the gangway. The Times reported that the ship was now empty of prisoners, although it had held 240 at the beginning of its journey from Buenos Aries.

The ship was then loaded up with armaments, so I suppose the authorities were confident the ship was no longer a risk.


“Warship’s Cargo of Outcasts,” Aberdeen Journal, Friday 25 March 1932
“The Modern ‘Flying Dutchman’,” Nottingham Evening Post, Wednesday 30 March 1932
“The ‘Mystery’ Ship,” Nottingham Evening Post, Thursday 21 April 1932
“Mystery of the S.S. Chaco,” Nottingham Evening Post, Friday 22 April 1932
“ ‘Deportee Ship’ Mystery,” Evening Telegraph, Monday 25 April 1932
“Argentine Prison Ship Drama,” Nottingham Evening Post, Tuesday 10 May 1932
“ ‘Mystery Ship’ at Poland,” Evening Telegraph, Wednesday 11 May 1932
“Chaco Vanishes: Mystery Ship’s Cargo of Deportees,” Gloucester Citizen, Tuesday 24 May 1932
“Argentine Ship in the Thames,” The Times (London, England), Tuesday, May 31, 1932; pg. 10

Thursday, 9 January 2014

America's Imaginary Hostage Crisis

My book is now available in the Amazon Kindle store (and in print too).

In 1979, the US military tried using remote viewers to psychically gain information about the Iranian students' occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran.

I go through the remote viewing sessions for this period, checking various claims about the hostages: where they are, who they're with, and even the remote viewers' attempts to psychically communicate with them.