The Accordion that Played Itself (Creepy History 4)



Sir William Crookes (1832-1919) was an eminent chemist and physicist who pioneered vacuum tubes, but in the 1860s he turned his attention to the study of mediums.  One of his cases was a man named Daniel Dunglas Home, who supposedly had the ability to levitate objects.  One of Crookes’s experiments with Home was published in 1871, titled Experimental investigations on physic force.

Of all the persons endowed with a powerful development of this Psychic Force, and who have been termed “mediums” upon quite another theory of its origin, Mr. Daniel Dunglas Home is the most remarkable, and it is mainly owing to the many opportunities I have had of carrying on my investigation in his presence that I am enabled to affirm so conclusively the existence of this Force…

The meetings took place in the evening, in a large room lighted by gas. The apparatus prepared for the purpose of testing the movements of the accordion, consisted of a cage, formed of two wooden hoops, respectively 1 foot 10 inches and 2 feet diameter, connected together by 12 narrow laths, each i foot 10 inches long, so as to form a drum-shaped frame, open at the top and bottom; round this 50 yards of insulated copper were were wound in 24 rounds, each being rather less than an inch from its neighbour. These horizontal strands of wire were then netted together firmly with string, so as to form meshes rather less than 2 inches long by 1 inch high. The height of this cage was such that it would just slip under my dining table, but be too close to the top to allow of the hand being introduced into the interior, or to admit of a foot being pushed underneath it. In another room were two Grove’s cells, wires being led from them into the dining-room for connection, if desirable, with the wire surrounding the cage.

The accordion was a new one, having been purchased by myself for the purpose of these experiments at Wheatstone’s, in Conduit Street. Mr. Home had neither handled nor seen the instrument before the commencement of the test experiments…

Before Mr. Home entered the room, the apparatus had been arranged in position, and he had not even the object of some parts of it explained before sitting down. It may, perhaps, be worth while to add, for the purpose of anticipating some critical remarks which are likely to be made, that in the afternoon I called for Mr. Home at his apartments, and when there he suggested that, as he had to change his dress, perhaps I should not object to continue our conversation in his bedroom. I am, therefore, enabled to state positively, that no machinery, apparatus, or contrivance of any sort was secreted about his person…

Mr. Home sat in a low easy chair at the side of the table. In front of him under the table was the aforesaid cage, one of his legs being on each side of it. I sat close to him on his left, and another observer sat close to him on his right, the rest of the party being seated at convenient distances round the table.

For the greater part of the evening, particularly when anything of importance was proceeding, the observers on each side of Mr. Home kept their feet respectively on his feet, so as to be able to detect his slightest movement…

Mr. Home took the accordion between the thumb and middle finger of one hand at the opposite end to the keys, (to save repetition this will be subsequently called “in the usual manner.”) Having previously opened the bass key myself, and the cage being drawn from under the table so as just to allow the accordion to be passed in with its keys downwards, it was pushed back as close as Mr. Home’s arm would permit, but without hiding his hand from those next to him (see Fig 2). Very soon the accordion was seen by those on each side to be waving about in a somewhat curious manner; then sounds came from it, and finally several notes were played in succession. Whilst this was going on, my assistant went under the table, and reported that the accordion was expanding and contracting; at the same time it was seen that the hand of Mr. Home by which it was held was quite still, his other hand resting on the table.

Presently the accordion was seen by those on either side of Mr. Home to move about, oscillating and going round and round the cage, and playing at the same time. Dr. A. B. now looked under the table, and said that Mr. Home’s hand appeared quite still whilst the accordion was moving about emitting distinct sounds.

Mr. Home still holding the accordion in the usual manner in the cage, his feet being held by those next him, and his other hand resting on the table, we heard distinct and separate notes sounded in succession, and then a simple air was played. As such a result could only have been produced by the various keys of the instrument being acted upon in harmonious succession, this was considered by those present to be a crucial experiment. But the sequel was still more striking, for Mr. Home then removed his hand altogether from the accordion, taking it quite out of the cage, and placed it in the hand of the person next to him. The instrument then continued to play, no person touching it and no hand being near it.

I was now desirous of trying what would be the effect of passing the battery current round the insulated wire of the cage, and my assistant accordingly made the connection with the wires from the two Grove’s cells. Mr. Home again held the instrument inside the cage in the same manner as before, when it immediately sounded and moved about vigorously. But whether the electric current passing round the cage assisted the manifestion of force inside, it is impossible to say.

The accordion was now again taken without any visible touch from Mr. Home’s hand, which he removed from it entirely and placed upon the table, where it was taken by the person next to him, and seen, as now were both his hands, by all present. I and two of the others present saw the accordion distinctly floating about inside the cage with no visible support. This was repeated a second time, after a short interval. Mr. Home presently re-inserted his hand in the cage and again took hold of the accordion. It then commenced to play, at first chords and runs, and afterwards a well-known sweet and plaintive melody, which it executed perfectly in a very beautiful manner. Whilst this tune was being played, I grasped Mr. Home’s arm, below the elbow, and gently slid my hand down it until I touched the top of the accordion. He was not moving a muscle. His other hand was on the table, visible to all, and his feet were under the feet of those next to him.

The experiment was ridiculed by the scientific community as unscientific, and it was claimed that Home used diversionary tactics.  Harry Houdini also gave his opinion of the experiment:

There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that this brainy man was hoodwinked, and that his confidence was betrayed by the so-called mediums that he tested.


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