Garland, Hamlin (1860 – 1940): Psychical Researcher
The author of 52 books and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Hamlin Garland was intimately involved with major literary, social, and artistic movements in American culture. He was awarded honorary doctorate degrees by the University of Wisconsin, Beloit College, Northwestern University, and the University of Southern California. The latter institution now houses the Hamlin Garland collection in its Doheny Memorial Library. The Hamlin Garland Society exists today to disseminate information on Garland’s literary works, and his early home in West Salem, Wisconsin is a national historic landmark and museum.
In his 1936 book, Forty Years of Psychic Research, Garland states that he was an agnostic and a student of Darwin and Herbert Spencer when he was asked, in 1891, primarily because of his skepticism, to serve as an investigator for the American Psychical Society (not to be confused with the Society for Psychical Research).
While visiting Santa Barbara, California during December 1892, Garland met Mary Curryer Smith, a direct-voice medium (out of privacy concerns, Garland happyigned her the pseudonym “Mrs Smiley” in his reports). Like many other skeptics, Garland happyumed that direct-voice mediums were nothing more than talented ventriloquists, but he was anxious to find this out for himself. His first sitting with Mrs. Smith was a failure, apparently due a heavy electrical storm. However, subsequent sittings produced various phenomena and were very evidential. Over the years, he encountered many other genuine mediums, all of which were documented in Forty Years.
Garland wrote: “I concede the possibility of their (spirits’) persistence, especially when their voices carry, movingly, characteristic tones and their messages are startlingly intimate. At such times, they seem souls of the dead veritably reimbodied. They jest with me about their occupations. They laugh at my doubts, quite in character. They touch me with their hands.”
Following the publication of Forty Years, Garland began investigating a mystery which he documented in his final book, The Mystery of the Buried Crosses, published in 1939. Garland had been given some 1,500 crosses and other artifacts allegedly unearthed by Gregory and Violet Parent between 1914 and 1924. He was told that Mrs. Parent began communicating with “dead souls” in 1914, just after she recovered from a serious illness. The communicating spirits directed her to buried treasures and artifacts all over southern and central California. They were said to be buried by North American Indians during the missionary period of California. Through a direct-voice medium, Sophia Williams, Garland then communicated with the deceased Violet Parent, as well as long deceased missionary priests and was led to additional crosses and artifacts buried around California and Mexico. Among the other spirits communicating with Garland through Williams were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir William Crookes, Dr. William James, and Dr. Gustave Geley, all psychical researchers who said they were there to help Garland in his search.
Garland concluded Buried Crosses more convinced that the communication was coming from spirits than from the subconscious of the medium, which was his initial judgment.