Ectoplasm, Levitation, and Imposture: The Story of Kathleen Goligher
Not so long ago I wrote a short Twitter thread about the early twentieth-century Irish medium Kathleen Goligher. There has been a lot of interest, so I’ve decided to write a short blog about her career.
SOURCE: Portrait of Kathleen Goligher
Goligher was born in Belfast in 1898 and came to prominence among the Irish spiritualist community during the 1920s. She was famous for her physical manifestations, which included levitations and ectoplasm.
The Goligher circle, which included a group of Kathleen’s closest confidants, met regularly. It was managed by Kathleen’s brother-in-law Sam Morrison who was married to Kathleen’s older sister Rebecca.
Lots of photographs were produced during the various sittings of the Goligher circle, which captured some of the incredible phenomena to occur during Kathleen Goligher's séances. For example, spirit materializations, such as the one pictured in the image below, commonly appeared.
SOURCE: Photograph of a Goligher Circle séance
However, it was Goligher’s ability to produce ectoplasm that attracted the most attention. Her fame was solidified when the engineer and psychical researcher William Jackson Crawford verified Goligher’s ectoplasmic excretions as genuine.
SOURCE: Kathleen Goligher producing ectoplasm
For six years he had been investigating Goligher’s psychic powers and his findings were eventually published as a book titled The Psychic Structures of the Goligher Circle (1921)
Cover page to The Psychic Structures of the Goligher Circle
Many observers, however, were not convinced by Crawford’s supposed findings and there was a strong belief that the ectoplasm, which Crawford found so compelling as evidence in support of Goligher’s mediumship, was likely made from muslin.
SOURCE: Photograph believed to be showing fake ectoplasm made if muslin
The well-known British born American psychical researcher Hereward Carrington was one of those critics. He wrote in his book The Story of Psychic Science (1930) that the photographs taken during Crawford’s investigation were “dubious in appearance.”
SOURCE: Portrait of Hereward Carrington
Most importantly, however, Carrington noted that other investigators were unable to corroborate Crawford’s results by conducting their own examinations of Goligher’s professed mediumship. This was highly suspicious, and researchers therefore had to trust that Crawford got it right during his tests.
Eventually, the physicist Edmund Edward Fournier d'Albe investigated Goligher's mediumship using strict controls and determined that she was a fraud. He had held twenty sittings with Goligher, but she was unable to reproduce any of the extraordinary feats done under Crawford’s observations.
SOURCE: Portrait of Edmund Edward Fournier d'Albe
In a letter to the renowned magician Harry Houdini, d'Albe expressed how he was “greatly surprised at Crawford's blindness” and how easily he had been fooled into believing that Goligher’s physical manifestations were real.
After d'Albe published his findings, Goligher’s reputation crumbled and by the end of the decade she stopped working as a medium altogether.
In 1925 Goligher married Samuel Donaldson who was a herbalist. With her career as a professional medium over, she helped her husband operate a herbal medicine shop in Belfast.
Spirit photograph of Kathleen Goligher and Samuel Donaldson (circa 1920s)
By the end of her life, Goligher’s mediumship was scarcely remembered, and she passed away in 1972 of cancer. It was a quiet end to a fascinating life.
Edmund Edward Fournier d'Albe, The Goligher Circle, (London: John M. Watkins, 1922).
Hereward Carrington, The Story of Psychic Science, (London: Rider and Co., 1930).
William Jackson Crawford, The Psychic Structures of the Goligher Circle (New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1921).
Harry Houdini, A Magician Among the Spirits, (New York: Harper and Bros., 1924).