The Mediumship of Frank Decker
The name and abilities of the medium Frank Decker were often mentioned in Spiritualist news during the 1930s and 1940s; of his remarkable mediumship, Joseph de Wyckoff said that it provided ‘direct voice, telekinesis, levitation of medium and sitters, full form materializations … in good red light, clairaudience, clairvoyance … slate writing and transfiguration.
Frank was born of Syrian ancestry in Pennsylvania, and as so often happened when a mediumistic child had Christian parents, a priest was duly summoned to ‘exorcise’ the supposedly malign cause. Needless to say, such action did not diminish the young Frank’s psychic abilities and as he became older, he became perplexed about them and presumed that he must be ill.
He then encountered a Spiritualist who explained what was happening and put the youngster’s mind at ease. Frank then joined a circle, having to save up to be able to pay the admission fee; in time, the phenomena of direct voice and apports were manifested although it was understandably presumed these occurred through the medium who conducted the circle. However, while Frank was absent for a short time, it was noticed that the phenomena ceased; consequently, it was realized that it was Frank who was facilitating the communications. Although his mediumship was initially of the mental type, it was his physical mediumship that developed and gave him prominence, and by 1928, he was establishing himself as one of America’s leading mediums.
The fact that he had struggled to find the money necessary to join the circle made him think about the aspect of payment; he decided that as ‘the guides received no pay, and they did most of the work, so why should he take any?’. He therefore derived earnings from his own business and demonstrated his mediumship in his spare time. However, his guides advised him that he should become a professional medium and if he did not, his business would fail.
Refusing to acknowledge this, Frank continued with his mediumship on a part-time basis only to witness his business failing – just as he had been warned; he then realized that he had to follow his guides’ instructions, and joined the Spiritual and Ethical Society in New York to work full-time as a medium. He demonstrated his mediumship to anyone who wished to see it, and submitted to whatever restrictions those attending sought to impose. He had several guides, one of whom was Patsy, who often made himself known in a very enthusiastic manner during the séances. He had died in an accident in Chicago when he was about twelve years of age.
The Progressive Thinker of August 16, 1930, reported how J. J. O’Neill, the science editor of the New York Herald- Tribune, attended a séance with Frank as the medium. O’Neill was taken around the darkened séance room and introduced to the other sitters by the materialized son of one of the sitters. After this, O’Neill reported, with the usual American dry humour: ‘”That is all” said the ghost. “You may go to your seat Mr. O’Neill”. He released his grip and I stood alone before the medium. “Thank you. That was very interesting” I said to my ghost escort. I felt sure that with my sense of direction and a bit of dead reckoning I could cover the distance quite accurately. But I spoke prematurely. I had scarcely gone three steps before I fell over a sitter…I made the necessary corrections in my calculations and started out again. Again I stumbled’. After a few more failed attempts, O’Neill struggled back to his seat having conceded that he required assistance from the other sitters who guided him back by their hands and voices. Apart from other evidential occurrences that caused O’Neill to realize the reality of what had taken place, he suggested that the materialized person had the ability to ‘see’ radiation from the sitters ‘not visible to human eyes’ that made it possible to function in a darkened room.
Reunion with loved ones who had died was common with Frank’s mediumship; one such occasion was when Dr Edwin Bowers, an American writer, attended a séance and testified to how ‘Adolph [his brother] appeared and, in the direct voice … announced himself by name, as is the usual custom’. Adolph then took Bowers’ hand and put this against his scalp where there was an indentation. Adolph then reminded him of a game that they had played as children when Bowers had injured Adolph’s head.
Bowers also related how Patsy had asked that one of the sitters place a harmonica in his pocket and hold it with his hand, and ‘within a few seconds, we all heard the muted sounds of this little instrument’; the sitter then told the others that he ‘could distinctly feel a warm breath on his hand’. To further demonstrate his versatility, Patsy then requested that the harmonica be placed under the sitter’s foot and once again, it was played.
Bowers also related the events of what he termed, ‘a red letter occasion’. He asked one of Frank’s controls concerning the subject of Masonry about which the control was quite bewildered. Bowers then commented that by doing this he had been attempting to determine whether the control had ever been a Mason, as he was. The control then told Bowers that he would bring a person who had been one.
After a short period, Bowers recalled that a voice whispered in his ear, indicating the speaker was indeed a fellow Mason, and he then felt a hand that by its movements further confirmed this. Bowers continued: ‘With this he gave me the grip and whispered the pass-words of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason’. Further communication took place that resulted in Bowers saying: ‘I do not believe that in all my years of experience I have ever had a clearer and more definite proof of survival of personality’.
During Frank’s séances, some communicators spoke in foreign languages, and conversations would take place between sitter and communicator in their native tongue. Bowers described one séance with twelve sitters present, and four being ‘avowed sceptics’; while Frank was in a deep trance, there were ‘a dozen or more highly evidential and satisfactory’ messages from the communicators. Following these, ‘three different trumpets were levitated simultaneously, and three different voices – one speaking in German – came simultaneously’. After this, objects in the séance room were moved and then Toby, the guide of one of the sitters present, materialized. The guide, well over six feet in height took hold of Bowers, who recorded that Toby ‘drew me to my feet as though I were a feather’.
Elizabeth Darwin, one of those present, previously a sceptic, also wrote of her experience, confirming Bowers’ account and adding how she had ‘held an astoundingly interesting conversation with my own grandfather, who recalled almost forgotten incidents of my childhood’. In addition to the communication in German, she remarked on an invocation given in Arabic, and how ‘I heard the stertorous breathing of Frank Decker, lying back in his chair in a deep trance, during all this time’.
Bowers also related an incident that must have surely been one of the most spectacular occurrences that he had experienced. On a number of occasions his mother had communicated and promised him that when it was possible, he would be given a lock of her hair; in view of this, he was asked to bring scissors with him to séances.
In one séance when both Frank and Ethel Post, another physical medium, were working together, Bowers’ brother communicated and joked about him forgetting to bring the scissors. Bowers admitted that he had forgotten this and said that he would obtain the pair that he had seen earlier. His brother told him not to bother, and Bowers related how, ‘in the fraction of a second he thrust into my hands the small scissors’; he was then told to wait. After nearly fifteen minutes, his brother materialized, slapped him on the back, told him to rise from his seat, and guided him to the middle of the room. At this point he heard his mother greeting him in her Irish accent, and by guiding his hand, helped him to secure a small lock of her hair. He reported that, ‘then she said, “I must go now Edvin” [‘Edvin’ being the way that she had addressed him]. Leaning over, she kissed me on the cheek and was gone’.
Frank’s mediumistic abilities were shared to some degree by Ruth, his daughter. In 1937, she discovered that she possessed the ability of clairaudience and soon worked as a medium herself in America; she died a few years later in 1940, and within two days she demonstrated her survival by supplying evidence of her identity during a séance.
In addition to Frank allowing himself to be tested by investigators and professional conjurors, in one instance, he allowed himself to be immobilized during a séance. This occurred on 8 December, 1932, when a Mr M. Taylor arrived at the beginning of a séance, and said that he was acting on instructions from the Magicians’ Society and produced a mail sack that he wanted Frank to enter. Frank agreed to this after allowing himself to be searched, and despite protests made by the other sitters, Frank also complied with the demand to be completely tied up within it, i.e. not even allowing his head to remain outside. Regardless of this, Patsy still communicated and in due course the sack was taken off the medium and deposited in the lap of one of those present. During this time, there was, ‘Telekinesis, strong and loud voices, playing of musical instruments, flashes of brilliant lights…levitation of sitters…and a marvellous exhibition of juggling a trumpet with luminous band…In all, some ten distinct personalities manifested and spoke’.
Frank’s abilities were also demonstrated when, in September 1937, he was conducting a séance in London, and despite the sitters being unable to prevent light from entering the séance area, there were still partial materializations and the movement of objects in the room. Furthermore, one sitter received remarkable evidence of survival when his fiancée communicated, as did another sitter when her mother spoke to both her and her sister, followed by the mother materializing and embracing the two girls. In addition to these events, three of Frank’s guides spoke, and there was also communication in foreign languages; a sitter who was present was able to identify words that were of the Arabic and Urdu tongue. Patsy materialized in addition to the materialized hands that were moving objects about in the room, and he ‘kept up a running commentary of shrewd, humorous remarks’; in view of the experiences to which Frank had been subjected, Patsy also drily commented, ‘It is about time that some of these “investigators” were investigated’.
On one occasion, when de Wyckoff stayed at Frank’s home, he was awoken during the night by someone shaking him; he looked up and saw Patsy materialized who promised him that he would witness ‘things you never saw before’. After de Wyckoff confirmed that Frank was in a trance, he was greeted by a figure that ‘began to swirl and pirouette round the room’; other persons then materialized and Patsy then suggested that they call Dr Bowers by telephone. The amazed de Wyckoff saw Patsy pick up the telephone receiver and speak to the operator; de Wyckoff noted Patsy’s annoyance on being called ‘ma’am’ by the operator, i.e. due to his child-like voice. The operator connected Patsy to Bowers’ home and Mrs Bowers later confirmed the voice was the same as that heard on an earlier occasion when Patsy spoke with Frank nearby.
The full reality of the materializations made possible through Frank’s mediumship was demonstrated by Dr Blatt: on 5 December, 1935, he attended a séance with Frank as the medium, and examined a John Benton who materialized; Blatt confirmed that in the physical form materialized, he was registering the usual characteristics of the human organism. After this, Blatt examined Frank and noted ‘the difference between this examination and that of the materialized entity was marked’. Interestingly, in contrast to Frank where rales were heard, the breathing of John Benton the materialized person was absolutely normal.
Frank’s spectacular mediumship was not only demonstrated by the restrictions that he allowed to be placed upon himself, but by the astonishing dexterity of the communicators during these occasions. When Mr and Mrs Mackay attended a séance in New York, the trumpet moved and Patsy spoke, guiding Mrs Mackay to the centre of the circle when she felt materialized hands; this was followed by her husband also being directed there by materialized hands. Instructions were then given that Frank be immobilized by the sitters. Frank’s hands were held by a sitter either side of him, a third sat on his lap, and another placed her fingers in his mouth and yet the phenomena continued. The control’s voice then moved about the room and Mr Mackay remarked: ‘The voice travelled so quickly…first at my left, next at my back and then so high in the air that I couldn’t keep pace with its travels’. The sitters also received evidential communications in addition to witnessing other phenomena.
A further example of Frank’s mediumship was when, in 1947, he held a séance in New York and a Hollywood cameraman was present, taking photographs of the events; these included seeing a ball of light appear that ‘then exploded, “like an atomic bomb”, with a white illumination that flooded the room’.
By 1956, Frank’s séances were so impressive that they were being broadcast on American radio.
Reports of Frank’s mediumship continued until he died on 8 August 1957. The notices revealed his talents, humour, dedication and how he had left this life a poor man.
Horace Leaf, when writing about Frank Decker’s mediumship, made the very pertinent observation that: ‘If we had more of this sort of mediumship, Spiritualism would soon attain the public credence to which all experienced Spiritualists know it is entitled’.