Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made a startling announcement in 1922.
Known for his beliefs in communicating with the afterlife, the famed creator of Sherlock Holmes put his good name behind an extraordinary discovery — the existence of ectoplasm, the ghostly goo that emits from mediums possessed with the spirits of the dead.
“Ectoplasm is a thick, vapory, slightly luminous substance which exudes from some materializing mediums,” Conan Doyle told the author Marguerite Mooers Marshall in an interview with the New York Evening World. “Immediately there comes from her body this vaperous substance which surrounds her like a fog. As the ectoplasm increases it becomes more dense. It coalesces, becomes sticky. It can be felt. It can be photographed.”
To prove the existence of this viscous residue, the Evening World published photographs of alleged ectoplasmic events on April 26, 1922.
Others blamed a series of mysterious murders and suicides in New York City during this time period on Conan Doyle’s disturbing lectures.
It was in May of that year that Conan Doyle met with Harry Houdini, magician and famous spiritualist skeptic. (We speak of the results of this encounter in our podcast Mysteries and Magicians of New York and in our latest show Harry Houdini and the Golden Age of Magic.) Among their lengthy debates regarding the spiritual realm were discussions on the existence of ectoplasm.
From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “There were photographs of dead soldiers come back to life, of Kitty King, who died 200 years ago, of an angel, of a real, honest-to-goodness ghost, and of ectoplasm, the material out of which mediums produce their spectral visitors. Sir Arthur explained ectoplasm, but admitted that scientists have not so far given it their serioius attention.
There was little applause for these views, only a dead silence.”
1913 — The medium Stanislawa emitting ghostly ectoplasm (Courtesy Univ of Sydney)
Sometimes the ectoplasm came out in the form of little people, as in this photo of Annie Mellon and an entity named ‘Cissy’, c. 1890 (Univ. of Sydney)
Conan Doyle himself could even expel ectoplasm, especially in front of a camera! This was taken in 1922, possibly while he was in New York:
The author’s lectures were so widely reported that regular newspapers were almost forced to cover the ectoplasm phenomena like real news. From the front page of the New York Times, July 8, 1922:
Below: Video evidence of ectoplasm and creatures made from the substance
(If you’re in a Ghostbusters mood, read my exhaustive breakdown from last year of all the fun New York trivia from the 1984 film classic.)