Who was Daniel Home?
Daniel Dunglas Home, pronounced hume, was once described by Beloff as ”the most celebrated medium of all time, judging by the number and impressiveness of the séances of which we have records and by the caliber of the observers whom he attracted in the many countries he visited". Nothing less than a phenomena, Home conducted over 1500 séances and physic demonstrations. He was investigated by world famous scientists, his ‘acts’ always conducted in broad daylight, and in settings other than his own home. No proof yet exists that Daniel Home was anything less than the ‘real thing’…
Daniel Home was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 20, 1833. His parents could not afford to raise him so his Aunt took over the responsibility until his parents were better off. At the age of 9, Home was able to rejoin his parents in Connecticut in the United States.
The Strangeness Begins
Upon arriving in America, his Aunt began to recount Home’s extraordinary abilities. Beginning at the age of 4, Home was able to foresee future events. It was recorded that he once saw a friend who had died a few days earlier. His mother, herself a clairvoyant, knew that these types of abilities ran in the family, so the fact that Home was ‘special’ was not surprising to her.
As Home grew older his abilities became more acute. By the age of 17, his household was experiencing a slew of poltergeist type events – knocking sounds, furniture moving about the house on its own accord, lights mysteriously flashing off and on. Strangely, the family at first had no inkling what was going on but their suspicions grew when it became apparent that Home was always present during the strange events. The final straw came when Home’s father noticed Home smirking at the sight of a chair slithering about the house chasing his sister. His parents forced him to depart the home claiming he was demonic.
Home the Medium
Home wandered here and there, not sure what he should do with his gift. When he finally decided he could profit from them (not literally as Home never accepted payment specifically for his services), his fortunes began to pick up. Home began giving séances during which tables would raise off of the floor, rappings would be produced in the room, even spirit voices were heard. Home could even levitate persons against their will. What added to Home’s credibility was the fact that all the séances were always held in broad daylight or well lit rooms. They were never held in his own house so no beforehand ‘staging’ was ever possible.
Home astounded people by demonstrating his ability to give them accurate details on their life, some of which the person themselves had completely forgotten. In one case, a a woman was reduced to tears after Home’s startling account of the details of her life.
None the less remarkable was Home’s demonstrated ability to elongate his body, often times up to a additional foot in length. This quite visible manifestation often shocked persons to such an extreme that they would flee from the room.
In 1855, Home moved onward to Britain. Spiritualism was very big in Britain at this time so Home was well received by his peers. By this time Home had added levitation and apports (ethereal hands that would dissolve after materialization) to his routine. Prefaced by the appearance of famous mediums Mrs. Hayden and Mrs. Roberts, Home was an instant hit.
One attendant of his sessions, Gauld stated,
His sitters were quite frequently privileged to witness the most astounding events, often in good light – levitation of tables and other objects, playing of musical instruments by unseen hands, the actual materialization of spirit hands, and so forth’. Gauld further adds: ‘He never charged for his sittings, whatever gains he made from them being indirect and in the way of hospitality and gifts.
In another account, the attendee stated,
I had hold of his hand at the time, and I felt his feet- they were lifted a foot from the floor! Again and again he was taken from the floor; and the third time he was carried to the lofty ceiling of the apartment, with which his hand and head came into gentle contact.
Home’s Fame Grows
Home began traveling around the neighboring areas, possibly due to an early attempt on his life (1855), and visited places such as Holland, France, Russia, and Prussia. It is documented that he performed before Prince Murat, Napoleon III (who verified ‘direct writing’ of Napoleon Bonaparte signing his name) and Empress Eugenie (who claimed to see her dead father materialize). It was also during this time that Home briefly turned to Catholicism during which time he was received by Pope Pius IX. Other fans included Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Lord Lytton, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Ruskin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Of course Home also had his detractors – it was known that the famous poet Robert Browning furiously detested him.
In 1859 Home married Alexandria, god daughter of the Tsar, in St. Petersburg. They moved to London, England to set up permanent residence. Four years after their marriage Alexandria died, but not before she was able to birth a child they named Gregoire. Given the predicament of being a single parent, Home found it possible to support his small family by giving lectures on spiritualism.
When Gregoire was just a child, Home relocated to Rome where he could study sculpturing. His teachers soon discovered Home’s uncanny talents and forced him to leave under charges of sorcery. Home reluctantly returned to Britain and vowed to forever restrain his abilities. He soon found that the powers he possessed were not under his direct control…
Shortly after his return to Britain, his followers formed the Spiritual Athenaeum in order to provide financial support for Home. Once again, Home’s abilities provided much fanfare and he quickly became a well-known celebrity throughout Europe.
It was during this time, in 1868, that one of Home’s most legendary events occurred. During a séance at the home of Mr. S.C. Hall (at No. 15 Ashley Place), Home demonstrated his abilities before a crowd of people. Home effortlessly floated across the room, passed out an open third story window, and returned the same way he left. Lord Linksay recorded the event:
I was sitting on December 16, 1868, Lord Adare’s rooms in Asley Place, London, S.W., with Mr. Home and Lord Adare and cousin of his. During the sitting, Mr. Home went into a trance, and in that state was carried out of the window in the room next to where we were, and was brought in at our window. The distance between the windows was about seven feet six inches, and there was not the slightest foothold between them, nor was there more than a 12 in projection to each window, which served as a ledge to put flowers on. We heard the window in the next room lifted up, and almost immediately after we saw Home floating in the air outside our window. The moon was shinning full into the room; my back was to the light, and I saw the shadow on the wall of the windowsill, and Home’s feet about six inches above it. He remained in this position for a few seconds, then raised the window and glided into the room feet foremost and sat down. Lord Adare then went into the next room to look at the window from which he had been carried. It was raised about 18 inches, and he expressed his wonder how Mr. Home had been taken through so narrow an aperture. Home said (still in a trance) " I will show you," and then with his back to the window he leaned back and was shot out of the aperture head first, with the body rigid, and then returned quite quietly. The window is about 70 feet from the ground.
As word of such events spread, debunkers began their crusade to prove that Home was a hoax. One debunker, W.M.Thackeray met with Homes and afterwards stated, "It is all very well for you, who have probably never seen any spiritual manifestations, to talk as you do; but had you seen what I have witnessed, you would hold a different opinion".
Other debunkers offered various theories including the belief that Home chloroformed his sitters or used hypnosis in order to perform his events. Some claimed that Home used secret police information to obtain details on the lives of his sitters. Some even theorized that Home traveled with a hidden monkey that was responsible for the levitations and movements of furniture.
Others claimed that they could duplicate Home’s demonstrations in order to prove that a more earthly rationalization existed for his amazing feats:
Prominent stage magicians such as Harry Houdini, John Nevil Mackelyne, and John Mulholland claimed that they could duplicate Home’s feats but never did. Houdini announced he would duplicate Home’s levitation at Lord Adare’s home, but cancelled the event.
Crooke’s Scientific Studies
In 1871, Sir William Crookes, a physicist and chemist, conducted tightly controlled experiments with Home. The iron-clad results were nothing less than stunning. Despite this, Crookes published results, in which the word psychic was coined, were publicly scorned by his peers.
Crookes first tested Home’s telekinesis by having Home move a spring balance placed on the other side of the room. During these controlled experiments, Home’s feet and hands were bound to the chair he was sitting in. The chair was carefully examined before and after the experiments. If a table were used as a prop, it too was inspected before and after the tests.
Crooke’s next test involved a accordion placed in an iron cage. Situated on a table in front of Home, he was able to levitate the accordion and even play a short song on it. Lady Crooke’s, one of three witnesses present, insisted that Home’s facilities were not his own but rather the results of a second, unseen entity from ‘the other side’. Her description of the accordion experiment indicated that she saw,
a cloudy appearance which soon seemed to condense into a distinct human form, clothed in a filmy drapery…It was semitransparent, and I could see the sitters through it all the time. Mr. Home remained near the sliding doors. As the figure approached I felt an intense cold, getting stronger as it got nearer, and as it gave me the accordion I could not help screaming. The figure seemed to sink into the floor to the waist, leaving only the head and shoulder visible, still playing the accordion, which was then about a foot off the floor
In a exhibition that was quite common for Home, he demonstrated his apparent resistance to fire. Home was able to pick up a hot coal from the fire, hold it in his hand while blowing on the coal until it turned white hot, then return the coal back into the fire it came from. Crooke documented the results of one such demonstration that he himself had witnessed,
Mr. Home told me to leave my seat and come with him to the fire. He asked me if I should be afraid to take a live coal (ember) from his hand. I said, no, I would take it if he would give it to me. He then put his hand among the hot coals (embers), and deliberately picked out the brightest bit and held it in his hand for a few seconds. He appeared to deliberate for a time, and then returned it to the grate, saying the power was too weak, and he was afraid I might be hurt. During this time I was kneeling on the hearthrug, and am unable to explain how it was he was not severely burnt…. After Home had recovered from the trance I examined his hand with care to see if there were any signs of burning or of previous preparation. I could detect no trace of injury to the skin, which was soft and delicate like a woman’s.
In Crooke’s studies, he documented currents of air, quantifiable changes of temperature, percussive noises, deviations in the weight of objects, movement and levitation of furniture with no contact, levitation of Home himself, movements of objects from a distance, luminescences (points of light darting about), materializations, direct writing (hands visible of invisible taking up pens to write messages), apparitions, and demonstrations of knowledge that Home would have had no way of knowing in advance (Home could tell people specific events about their life and their future).
Other scientists and debunkers attended Home’s ‘sittings’ – none were ever able to prove that Home was a fraud.
Home’s Last Days
Shortly after these tests, Home married a second time to Julie de Gloumeline, a affluent Russian heiress. He then proceeded to cease his unearthly activities.
Two years later, in 1873, Home moved to the Mediterranean due to a recurring bout of tuberculosis. He spent the remainder of his life there until he died on June 12, 1886 at the age of 40. He was buried at St Germain-en-Laye.
After Home’s death, his wife Julie, published two books about Home. D.D.Home: His Life and Mission (1888) and The Gift of D.D.Home (1890) were published and well received by the public. Other earlier books by Home himself included My Life and Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism.
Possibly the best summarization of Home’s abilities was made by Gauld in 1868:
They could hardly have been the work of conjuring’; and with regard to hallucination/ hypnotism: It is true that not infrequently a phantom hand or a phantom figure would be visible only to some of the sitters…but so many of the other phenomena were observed on so many different occasions by so many different witnesses that the question of hallucination can in most cases hardly be raised.
It seems as if Home did indeed possess some sort of unknown power that science was, and still is, at a loss to explain…