I’m sitting in the British Library reading William Jackson Crawford’s book The Reality of Psychic Phenomena (page 28) and I came across the name of Mr T. Edens Osborne who is described as a man “who deals in large quantities of phonographs, and who knows as much about such instruments as as any man in Belfast…”
This is a nice detail I’d missed before and it’s really useful for the chapter I’m writing today, where Crawford attempts to record some of the spirit raps and voices. If you read the chapter, it confirms that he carried out this experiment in the attic room as usual, at 8pm on the 11th of June, 1915. It looks like I’m going to have to change the location and the date to fit my story but we’ll see about that.
William writes about the experiment in some detail and, while he clearly didn’t feel it was the most important moment in his career as a spiritualist investigator, it certainly came to be a reference point for both his most ardent supporters and vociferous critics. It recieved coverage in the Irish Times, as William himself records in the same chapter of TRPP (bottom of page 32/full page33):
One of William’s most vocal critics, Joseph McCabe used this fateful experiment to open a particualrly scathing attack on William’s work in his essay, titled: “Is spiritualism based on fraud?: the evidence given by Sir A.C. Doyle and others.” You can read it here, and I would encourage you to do so, regardless of whether you believe in spiritualism or not. It’s just wonderfully bitchy and the section about William’s recordings is no different. His words dripping with sarchasm, he wrote:
Mr. Crawford talks of ” sledge-hammer blows ” and ” thunderous noises.” As the mediums were never searched, the raps may have been exceptionally loud, but Mr. Crawford naively gives one detail which puts us on our guard. He one night brought a particularly sensitive phonograph. The noises that night were ”terrific,” he says. He took the record to the offices of Light, and the editor of that journal can do no more than say that the noises were “clearly audible” (p. 32). So, when Mr. Crawford tells us of strong men being unable to press down the levitated table, we will take a pinch of salt.
William makes it clear that he wanted to prove that the raps were not a product of “collective hallucination.” In fact, this was one of his very first experiments; way before he started coming up with plasmic rods or measuring weight differentials. This wasn’t about trying to catch ghosts, it was just a way of disproving one common sceptical theory: that…actually, let’s quote William:
‘One line of argument against the reality of psychic phenomena is to ascribe them to false sense-impressions received during a species of hypnotic trance induced by the peculiar conditions of the seance-room. Its advocates have it that the brain of man is so complex, so relatively unexplored, and so subject to deception, that it is incapable of dealing in simple fashion with psychic occurrences. In other words, the raps, knocks, levitations and other manifestations are not objective but are hallucinatory effects produced on the subjective consciousness.’
It’s another example of Crawford eschewing drama or spiritual intrigue in his work; rather, he focuses from the very beginning on the need to prove that the phenomena are real and not imaginary.
Returning to T. Edens Osborne then, our Belfast phonograph expert. Thomas would not have needed to watch lots of Youtube videos (see below) on how to record on an old Edison Amberol as I did but I’m not complaining because I’m a geek and I loved it!
I didn’t really expect to find out much on Thomas so imagine how surprised I was to tap him into Google and get an instant hit, complete with marriage certificate, will and the exact address and description of precisely where William went to learn how to make his own recordings! Check it out!
“p122 Osborne, Thomas Edens, Depot for Phonographs, Gramaphones, Musical Instruments (Mechanical), 39 Donegall Street.”
It’s this kind of thing that gets me so excited. I can go from William’s own book, making a passing reference to this Osborne guy in a chapter about making a recording that ended up being printed in Light Magazine and actually google streetview it and see exactly where it happened.
Now, this is Belfast, so naturally the building was knocked down to make way for something ugly (sorry Belfast, but you have zero respect for your architectural heritage) so we can’t see any sign of what was actually there. Still, it would have been more or less on William’s way home from work at the ‘Black man Tech’ on College Avenue. (So much to say about that, and I really need to add it all.)
Maybe you know more about T. Edens Osborne and you can email me with more information? I’d love to learn more. As it stands, he doesn’t actually appear in the novel because he’s not a crucial character but maybe that will change! For now, it’s just great to have another detail that helps me to get a feel for William’s world and who he got to know during his experiments.
I certainly don’t think Mr Osborne would have wasted his time teaching just anyone about recording on phonographs and William doesn’t imply that he actually bought anything from him. It seems he had the equipment or was able to borrow it and was only asking Mr Osborne to give his time as a fellow teacher/enthusiast. It’s another small sign that William was a respectable man to be taken seriously. At least, that’s what i make of it anyway.