Throughout the history of the paranormal there have been those who have stepped forward claiming to have vast paranormal powers. One area in which such individuals from history are particularly abundant is in the area of psychic mediums, or those who claim to have the power to talk to and channel spirits from the other side. There is no shortage of such bizarre people, especially in the era when Spiritualism was in its heyday, and they run the range of obvious frauds, to those who have demonstrated remarkable abilities that are not really easily dismissed or explained. One such individual was a man who made quite the name for himself on the Spiritualist scene, with a very weird life and a reputation that is at once suspicious and amazing.
The man known as George Valiantine was born in 1874 in Williamsport, New York, and was a rather late bloomer as far as supposed psychics go. Where many psychics are aware of something different about them from childhood, Valiantine only first discovered his alleged powers at the age of 43, during which time he had been living a humble life as a manufacturer. His first introduction to his own psychic abilities allegedly happened quite by accident one night as he was staying at a hotel. During the night, he claimed to have heard mysterious raps on the walls and ceiling that seemed to be trying to tell him something, and which responded when asked questions. When Valiantine told of this to a friend who was into Spiritualism, she suggested that he try and hold a séance in order to invoke the spirits that seemed to be trying to communicate with him. During this séance, he would conjure up the spirit of his deceased brother-in-law, Bert Everett, who allegedly told him that the spirits had been trying to make contact with him for some time.
Valiantine would begin to hold regular séances after this, where he would purportedly regularly invoke several different spirits, including Everett, a mysterious “Dr. Barnett," as well as three Native Americans named "Hawk Chief,” "Kokum," and “Blackfoot,” all of whom had wildly different voices and speech patterns. One of his main tricks was using a trumpet, through which the spirits would occasionally speak as it floated through the air, and another draw for his seances was when he would channel spirits from various places all around the world, often speaking in foreign languages that Valiantine did not supposedly speak. This attracted the attention of a psychic researcher by the name of H. Dennis Bradley, who met with the medium in 1923 and decided to try and test out his abilities in a controlled setting.
Bradley would witness all manner of weirdness during his sittings with the medium. Valiantine would conjure up numerous spirits, both men and women, who spoke in tones that Bradley was sure could not have been faked or produced by the medium, saying “each spirit was distinct and each spoke with an accent unlike the other.” He also saw the trumpet float through the air with his own eyes, and he would often hear the voices of the spirits and Valiantine speak simultaneously. These spirits often gave information on Bradley and the other sitters that Valiantine could not have possibly known. Other phenomena reported by Bradley were floating orbs of light that would careen around the room, taps and raps on the walls and furniture, and even a few occasions where an unseen hand rested upon his shoulder. Through all of this, neither Bradley nor any of his assistants could rationally explain it, with Valiantine clearly seen to be still tied to his chair and no apparent evidence of any trickery. Even when his mouth was taped the spirits and voices would come, leading Bradley to come away from these séances convinced that Valiantine was the real deal.
In late 1923, The Scientific American of New York offered a prize of $2,500 to anyone who could provide proof of genuine spiritualist phenomenon under test conditions. Valiantine entered the contest with the full support of Bradley, after which two private preliminary sittings were arranged by Gardner Murphy of Columbia University and Kenneth Andrews of the New York World. The seances were by all accounts a success, and Valiantine moved on to the real test before the committee of The Scientific American. During these sittings, Valiantine allegedly channeled a total of eight different spirits, their voices coming from high in the air and holding conversations with those present. The trumpet was also witnessed to hover through the air, but while it was all very impressive and no one could figure out how it was being done, there were some red flags. It seems that the committee had secretly installed an electrical pressure sensor into Valiantine’s chair to measure whether he left it during the sittings, and on several occasions it registered the medium leaving the chair for short durations. Psychical researcher Harry Price would say of this:
At the final sitting, in complete darkness, on May 26, 1923, special apparatus was installed. This was an electrical circuit which included the chair on which the medium sat. When the medium rose from his seat, a light went out in an adjoining room. Dictaphone notes were taken of all that occurred. It was found that Valiantine left his chair fifteen times when he should have been in it, sometimes for as long as eighteen seconds, and that these periods corresponded with those when the sitters were touched by the 'spirits'.
Partly due to this, while much of what was witnessed was not able to be easily explained away as tricks, it was nevertheless deemed to be inadmissible as actual proof, and so Valiantine did not win the prize. Indeed, he was mostly painted as being a fraud by the Scientific American committee, yet despite this setback, he was wholeheartedly endorsed by Bradley and continued to amaze audiences with his seances. Valiantine began travelling to England and Europe to give demonstrations, often leaving audiences flabbergasted as to how the spirits he channeled knew so much about them and could speak in different languages, but there were still plenty of skeptics. One of these was a wealthy American financier by the name of Joseph de Wyckoff, who had several samples of writings channeled through Valiantine’s hand by sprits analyzed by experts. It was found that the spirit writing was most definitely written by Valiantine himself. Of course, Valiantine himself vehemently denied this, all the while continuing his séances and maintaining his believers. During one particularly spectacular séance held in 1924, Valiantine channeled an estimated one hundred different spirits in the presence of a crowd of fifty people, of which de Wyckoff was one, causing him to question whether he was wrong about the medium being a fraud, but he was still suspicious.
It seems that Wyckoff would become a constant thorn in Valiantine’s side, continuing his efforts at debunking it all, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, Bradley continued his experiments with the medium and came away convinced every time. Further tests were arranged to investigate the viability of Valiantine’s ability to channel foreign languages. When Valiantine began claiming that he could channel the spirit of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius himself, Bradley brought in Dr. Neville Whymant, an authority on Chinese history, philosophy, and ancient literature, who said of what he witnessed at the séance:
Suddenly, out of the darkness was heard a weird, crackling, broken little sound, which at once carried my mind straight back to China. It was the sound of a flute, rather poorly played, such as can be heard in the streets of the Celestial Land but nowhere else. Then followed in a low, but very audible voice the words 'K'ung-fu T'Zu.' Few persons, except Chinese, could pronounce the name correctly as the sounds cannot be represented in English letters. The idea that it might be Confucius himself never occurred to me. I had imagined that it might be somebody desirous of discussing the life and philosophy of the great Chinese teacher.
Whymant even asked questions of Confucius that only a person from that era of Chinese history could possibly know, and Valiantine passed with flying colors. On top of all of this, Valiantine demonstrated the ability to write out ancient Chinese characters accurately in near complete darkness. Indeed, Whymant came away very impressed by it all, stating that not only did the voice speak with Chinese that was period accurate for the era, but also that it had knowledge that it was seemingly impossible for Valiantine to know. Whymant would claim that there were “only about six Chinese scholars in the world whose knowledge would have been equal to the one displayed by the direct voice.” How could the medium possibly be able to fake this? It is all even more impressive when one considers that Valiantine was not particularly well-educated or even fully literate, of which Bradley would say:
He is a man of instinctive good manners but it is essential to state that he is semi-illiterate. He possesses no scholastic education whatever, beyond the ordinary simplicities; he is ill versed in general conversation and ideas. I mention these facts because many of the communications which have been made in the direct voice under his mediumship have been brilliant in their expressions and culture.
It is interesting in that one of the most bizarre aspects of Valiantine’s career as a psychic medium is just how inconsistent he was. For every amazing and truly unexplainable display, there would be another in which signs of trickery were found. For instance, one psychical researcher Ernest Palmer found after examining Valiantine’s trumpet that it was warm to the touch and had moisture in the mouth piece in exactly the way one would suspect if a human had used it and not a spirit. On other occasions, there were found fraudulent movements from the medium during sittings, and perhaps the most famous sign of trickery happened in 1931, when Valiantine agreed to produce spirit fingerprints in wax of such names as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lord Dewar, and Sir Henry Segrave. The procedure involved the imprints of these spirits’ fingerprints being put into a wax mold, but the imprints left behind were disappointing. For instance, the imprint from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was found to be a match to the print of Valiantine's big toe on his right foot, the spirit thumbprint of "Lord Dewar" was the same as that of Valiantine's left big toe, and a spirit fingerprint of "Sir Henry Segrave" was the print of Valiantine's middle finger. Nevertheless, Valiantine would never admit to any fraud.
Rather oddly, over the years opinions on Valiantine’s abilities would shift. Bradley, who had carried out over one hundred experiments on the medium and had always held up as genuine, would become rather skeptical when he found what he believed to be signs of cheating and later deem him to be a fraud, even writing a whole book about why he thought so in 1931. Yet at the same time, Valiantine’s nemesis, Whymant, would come to the conclusion that he really did possess mediumship abilities, but was just not able to fully control them and they would appear only sporadically, therefore forcing him to occasionally resort to fraudulent means. Valiantine has gone on to become quite the polarizing force in the history of supposed psychic phenomena, with people equally seemingly divided down the line between thinking he was a huckster and those who truly believe he was the real deal. Which was it? Was he one of the biggest frauds of all time, or one of the greatest psychics there ever was? It is really hard to say, and all we can do is wonder.