Fortunately, there are ample records detailing the extraordinary mediumship of Etta Wriedt from Detroit, Michigan. Admiral Usborne Moore’s summary is undoubtedly apt: ‘This American woman has a mysterious gift which enables those who sit in the same room with her to learn of the continued existence of those whose physical bodies have perished. The possession of this strange power is acquired by no virtue of her own; she was born with it’.
Etta, who, as Fodor notes, charged just ‘a nominal fee of one dollar for a successful seance’, travelled to England on five occasions between 1911 (when she was aged 51) and 1919.
He too gives a brief, but adequate description of Etta’s mediumship: in addition to voices heard in the daylight, he reports how, ‘there were other features to her seances as well: luminous forms, etherealisations gliding about the room in darkness.
Sometimes dogs materialised and barked….Flowers were taken from vases and placed in the hands of sitters…invisible fingers touched the sitters and rapped by the trumpet to urge a hesitating person to answer promptly when spoken to, luminous discs…were seen to move round…The sitters were often sprinkled with water, wafts of cool air were felt’.
In addition to these phenomena, while Etta spoke only English, the communicators spoke in other languages and indeed, ‘the voices know no linguistic limitation’.
M. Chedo Miyatovich, a Romanian diplomat, recorded his first-hand experience of Etta’s mediumship when he saw her on May 16, 1912.
Although Etta is usually known as being a direct voice medium, her mediumship did in fact facilitate some degree of materialization on occasions and Miyatovich’s sitting included one such instance.
Etta began the seance by stating whom the communicator was and Miyatovich’s friend saw an ‘illuminated fog’ in the room.
Etta made mention that the communicator gave her name as ‘Adela or Ada Mayell’. Miyatovich’s reaction to this was immediate: ‘I was astounded. Only three weeks ago died Miss Ada Mayell, a very dear friend of mine’.
Following this, a light appeared in the room and began to move about and Miyatovich recognized the materialized form of W. T. Stead who had died earlier that year; on a later occasion the trumpet moved towards Miyatovich and he heard Stead speaking to him, saying: ‘I myself came here expressly to give you a fresh proof that there is life after death’.
Following this, further communications took place, and one included a communicator who spoke with Miyatovich’s friend, a Croatian, in the Croatian tongue. Other communications in foreign languages also took place during the seance.
In Moore’s own account of his sittings with Etta, he describes how, after a seance had begun, ‘generally, within five minutes voices could be heard, and conversation would last for periods of between thirty and fifty minutes’. In addition to this, ‘on many occasions phantasmal forms, faintly visible, moved about between the psychic and myself’.
Moreover, lights were sometimes seen. In Moore’s own experiences, he reports that ‘several of my relatives came to talk to me through the trumpet’, although the most frequent communicator was Moore’s own guide whom he saw in the seance room.
Moore also recalls how both his relatives and guide often referred to personal matters in his life and offered advice about these; however, he wisely commented: ‘We are not intended while on this plane to regulate our lives by advice from people in the next state’, i.e. he viewed their communications as general advice and opinion only. This viewpoint actually raised an interesting feature, i.e. Moore sometimes disagreed with communicators’ statements, and as he observes, this ‘blows to atoms the over-stretched theory that our subliminal self is responsible for the information we receive in many ways through mediums’, noting that in respect of one particular subject area, the communicator’s opinions were in stark contrast to what he believed.
Moore also recounted the events that took place in a special circle that was held on Wednesdays when Etta was present as the medium.
On 6 May, 1912, one of the sitters was Stead’s daughter; during the seance of seventy-five minutes, ‘at least forty minutes were taken up by Stead talking to his daughter’. When the circle met the following week, the phenomena began almost immediately.
During this time, at least fifteen different communicators spoke to the circle and identified themselves to their friends. The seance was particularly lively as throughout the time, Moore was slapped on his back with the trumpet together with noises occurring some ten feet away from the circle. Humour was further introduced when Stead communicated and asked which of the sitters wanted the circle to continue meeting.
Although the seance room was in absolute darkness, Stead pointed out that Moore had not raised his hand as the others present had done. Moore continues: ‘To humour him I then raised my hand; my head was struck twice with a trumpet’. An important point is made by Moore when referring to the communications of Stead; of these he observed: ‘Stead’s talk on every occasion that he came was characteristic of him’.
A short time later, at another seance, Stead’s daughter was again present and her eldest brother, William Stead Jr., who had died in December 1907, communicated and spoke with her. The quality of his communication followed the same style as his father’s, i.e. as Moore notes, ‘I have often talked with him: the voice and manner of talking are always precisely the same’.
A seance held on 30 May, 1912, was particularly interesting as a clergyman who attended this noted that those who communicated were those about whom he ‘had not given a thought’, and yet those he attempted to ‘will’ to communicate, did not do so. This of course is relevant to the charge that communicators are merely a construction of the sitter’s own mind.
The sitter’s uncle communicated with him and answered his questions correctly: this was followed by a Dutch sitter being able to speak with her husband, uncle and child – in her native tongue.
When Colonel E. R. Johnson attended a number of Etta’s seances in mid-1912, these were surely quite spectacular.
He refers to how the communicators ‘were very numerous’ and ‘many of the sitters were addressed by their own friends and relatives’. In his own case, those who communicated with him ‘were identified with certainty’ and the conversations sometimes lasted as long as half an hour; furthermore, the contents ‘related to incidents and events which could not have been known to the medium’.
He also records how he ‘was also barked at by three of my dogs which had died more than twenty years ago, their barks being suited in tone and power to their respective sizes and breeds’.
Although Moore admitted that he did not find the barking to be of any real evidential quality, he notes that the barking and Etta’s speaking occurred at the same time, and from different locations.
In addition to all the different types of phenomena mentioned above, the sitters also experienced the materialization of hands during the seances. While holding the hand of the sitter either side, one sitter recalls how she would feel a materialized hand upon her head even though her back was to the wall.
She also notes how, ‘My hand was often firmly grasped by a hand of warm flesh and blood, which I am convinced was my son’. Her son had died as a nineteen-year old three years earlier. She recounts, how, on one occasion, she ‘mentally said: “If you are my boy, give three grips”. Immediately the hand gave three grips’.
She also had the opportunity to see the early stages of the materialization of her son, i.e. witnessing a ‘pillar of faint cloud’ and from this, a hand would emerge that she said began ‘caressing my face’.
One of the more amusing episodes was when she felt fatigued, and stretched up her hands, these were grasped by two hands ‘coming, as it were, from the ceiling’. At this, the hands then pulled her up until ‘I stood on tiptoe’.
One clergyman who demonstrated a keen open-mindedness towards the subject of mediumistic communications was the Revd Charles L. Tweedale. Throwing scorn on the accusation that the voices were merely Etta speaking through the trumpet, he wrote that he had ‘examined the trumpets, and so have my friends, some of them expert S.P.R. investigators, and found nothing that could in any wise account for the phenomena’.
He had attended a seance with Etta on four different occasions and describes how he had sat on one side of the medium, and an experienced investigator sat on the other.
After the seance began, the trumpets would rise and move around the circle in a manner that would be ‘quite impossible’ if Etta was handling them. He observed that the voices appeared to be coming from both ends of the trumpet; and in one instance he ensured that while a communicator was speaking through the trumpet, in this case somewhat loudly, on the other side of the circle, Etta had no connection with the apparatus at all.
Tweedale makes the salient point that it was the evidential quality of Etta’s mediumship that was the convincing feature. He relates how: ‘Details of the most private nature and of events, which took place forty years ago in my own family, and which even my wife, who was present, did not know, were given, and private matters occurring seventeen years ago in my wife’s life, which I did not know, were related, with correct names and details’.
Another sitter who attended some of the seances given by Etta Wriedt was Sir William Barrett, an investigator with a keen and analytical mind.
He records how after he had carefully examined the seance room, and with only himself, Etta and a Mrs Ramsden present, a voice whispering to Mrs Ramsden was heard: this was while Barrett engaged Etta in conversation. Of this, he says: ‘I can testify that I watched the medium and saw nothing suspicious’.
Mrs Ramsden stated that the communicator identified himself as a relative and advised her that she would be visited by someone whom he named. Mrs Ramsden added, ‘This was fulfilled on the following Monday’.
After the light was extinguished, Barrett said that he felt ‘something rather cold gently stroking my face’, and a rose was then placed in his hand. Aware of the challenges that could be made about these phenomena, i.e., taking place in darkness, he adds that ‘I can assert…that it seemed to me impossible for Mrs Wriedt to have produced them by trickery’.
The significant observation was that the voices were ‘sometimes very loud…were often heard simultaneously when Mrs Wriedt was speaking’.
Another sitter, H. Denis Taylor, a member of the S.P.R, attended seances with Etta and noted that ‘two voices talking at once’ were heard together with Etta also making ‘interjecting remarks’. He added that the voices arose from different locations and that ‘we had several little incidents proving that the entities manifesting could see perfectly well what we were doing in pitch darkness’.
Barrett also detailed how a friend, the secretary of the Irish branch of the S.P.R, attended one of Etta’s seances without notice, and was unknown to any of the sitters other than Moore.
Despite this, a communicator spoke to Barrett’s friend and ‘gave him the name, a very unusual one, of an Irish friend of his who had lately lost his wife…and told my friend correctly the exact address of a place in London where she had been staying’.
Moreover, ‘he also saw a luminous figure of a lady in front of him’. After writing this, Barrett stated that Etta was: ‘A genuine and remarkable medium, and has given abundant proof to others besides myself that the voices and the contents of the messages given are wholly beyond the range of trickery or collusion’.
One example of how impressive Etta’s seances were is surely demonstrated by the distance travelled by some sitters so that they could attend. One sitter, a mining engineer travelled nearly six hundred miles in a day in order that he might be present to witness Etta’s mediumship.
In his record, he remarks that in his work, he had trained his hearing to be able to trace noises in complete darkness and was ‘more at home’ in darkness than others would be.
In the seance attended on 25 May, 1912, after carefully noting the features of the seance room, the seance began and within a short time one of the sitters felt that she was being touched and a male sitter had a flower dropped at his feet.
The engineer felt something, fragrant and with dew, touch his forehead and upon taking hold of this, discovered that it was part of a rose: he also noted: ‘it showed no disposition to fall down while I was taking hold, nor did I feel anything supporting it’.
After one of Etta’s guides spoke, the sitter details how several voices spoke through the trumpet to various sitters, and in two cases, the communicator was recognized. After a further communication, the sitters noticed ‘ovals of light floating about above the cabinet’, that some present identified as faces.
Subsequently, the sitter spoke with his uncle and brother, and in the case of the latter, there was a ‘long conversation over the manner of his death’.
At a later seance on 18 June, he witnessed ‘discs of red light’ floating in the room that approached him; after this, he reports that his brother spoke with him again and gave further details about his death and ‘gave names of people and places only known to myself’.
This was followed by the sitter feeling something touch his foot and one of Etta’s controls advised him that it was his dog who had died some years earlier and ‘described it well’.
Etta’s mediumship was no less remarkable in a lighted environment. On 29 May, 1912, ‘the electric light was on full’, and the blossom on a flower bush in the room was seen to move. On a request for the whole plant to move, it duly did, and then the chair on which it stood ‘was twisted from right angles to a position of forty- five degrees’. After the movement had finished, the sitters ‘all felt the floor, walls and windows vibrating’ and one said that it resembled an earthquake.
The amount of light present was reduced, although some remained, whereupon ‘three violent shocks caused the windows to rattle; the crockery clattered and the walls and floor were shaken…This movement was accompanied by the sound of heavy footfalls, as of someone stamping round the room’.
When Edwin Bowers wrote about Etta, he described her as ‘one of the oldest and most honored among all mediums of this decade’.
He went on to describe a seance given jointly by her and Frank Decker; in this, Etta, not needing to go into trance, kept up ‘a running fire of conversation with the spirits, identifying them to their friends, and helping them to clarify their messages’.
He also referred to the rare nature of her mediumship at this particular seance when sitters witnessed ‘entities emerge from behind a flimsy curtain in fair and adequate ruby light, fully formed’.
Another sitter present at Etta’s seances was Mrs P. Champion De Crespigny, who admitted being ‘full of prejudice’ against mediums.
At a seance when she was the only sitter, she reports that only a short time after beginning, ‘I heard a voice…it was a physical voice…there was no question of imagination or telepathy; it was an objective voice’.
The ‘objectivity’ was demonstrated by the amusing fact that Mrs De Crespigny had to ask Etta to stop speaking so that she could hear the words being spoken as both communicator and Etta were speaking simultaneously.
However, after speaking with several communicators, Mrs De Crespigny, while having no doubts about the genuineness of the phenomena, left the seance having doubts about the identities of the different communicators. She therefore carefully ‘went over the evidence carefully bit by bit, weighing the pros and cons’.
Her interest in the phenomena facilitated by Etta led to many sittings with the medium.
Indeed, as Mrs De Crespigny admits, ‘during the years Mrs Wriedt was in England, the number of my sittings with her must have run certainly into three figures’.
After considerable examination of the data that had been forthcoming, she stated: ‘The evidence for survival of personality bearing the hallmarks of characteristics, memory, temperament and so on was given me in such abundance through the channel of Etta Wriedt’s mediumship that it is impossible to record more than a mere fraction’.
Returning to the valuable contribution and record left by Moore, one narrative that he included was that of a sitter who possessed ‘a scientific business training’.
He attended a seance with Etta, accompanied by his wife and two adult daughters and described how, after the seance had begun, ‘luminosities appeared floating in the air, visible to all the party’.
Although the sitter admitted there was difficulty in identifying the communicators and verifying their identity, he reports that in one case the test of identity ‘was so convincing and evidential’.
This seance was followed by another, and in this, the communicators included relatives who had died, including his aunt and brother. The result of witnessing Etta’s mediumship resulted in him saying that he was ‘convinced that this woman is a powerful medium.
I credit her with honesty, and assert that she has provided us with positive evidence of the survival of the human personality after death and the possibility of communication with the deceased’.
Undoubtedly, the best description of Etta and her mediumship is surely provided by Mrs De Crespigny: ‘Her kind- heartedness toward those who mourned was never-failing; she would use her gift for them freely and with a generosity that often left her tired and spent. On the rare occasions when there were no results she refused to take a fee, saying that “if you pay for a pair of boots you have the right to expect to get the boots!” and that if she gave nothing she would take nothing’.
In view of Stead’s involvement in Etta’s mediumship, it is worthwhile noting something of his background.
Stead, an editor and convinced Spiritualist, wrote a fictional story in 1893 concerning the collision of a liner with an iceberg in the Atlantic (In fact the subject of disasters at sea often occurred in his writings).
One can therefore only ponder on the fact that, he along with 1600 other people died on the fated Titanic when it sank in the Atlantic on 14 April 1912. His journey to New York on that fated trip was to give a talk in New York and bring Etta back with him to England.
Fodor continues the account by saying: ‘Two nights later, Dr. Sharp, Mrs Wriedt’s control, gave full details of the Titanic disaster, assured them of the passing of Stead and gave the names of many prominent people who went down with the ship.
The following night, three days after his passing, Stead himself spoke. He was weak in articulation at first, but was understood’. This is only one example of many that could be provided to illustrate the ability of Etta Wriedt.
Etta represented, and continues to represent something of what is so honourable in physical mediumship: the reassurance offered to those seeking evidence that human – and indeed animal – life survives physical death.
“The Voices” by Vice-Admiral W. Usborne Moore.
“This World – and Beyond” by Mrs P. Champion De Crespigny