Hear the Voice of Arthur Conan Doyle After His Death


We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly doc­u­ment­ed the strange case of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fer­vent Spir­i­tu­al­ism, which Mark Strauss of io9 apt­ly describes as “hard to rec­on­cile [with] the man who cre­at­ed the lit­er­ary embod­i­ment of empir­i­cal think­ing,” Sher­lock Holmes. Conan Doyle was so eager to believe in the exis­tence of fairies and what he called “psy­chic mat­ters” that he was fre­quent­ly tak­en in by hoax­es. But the physi­cian and novelist’s seem­ing­ly odd views obtained wide­ly among his con­tem­po­raries who sought con­fir­ma­tion of the after­life and com­mu­nion with their dead rel­a­tives, mil­lions of whom were lost in the Civ­il War, then World War I.

Spir­i­tu­al­ism pro­vid­ed a com­fort to the bereaved, as well as ample oppor­tu­ni­ty for grifters and char­la­tans. And yet, Strauss points out, the rise of Spir­i­tu­al­ism in the 19th cen­tu­ry may also have been due to the ris­ing influ­ence of sci­ence in pop­u­lar cul­ture, as more and more peo­ple sought exper­i­men­tal evi­dence for their super­nat­ur­al beliefs. Conan Doyle wrote twen­ty books on the sub­ject, includ­ing the two-vol­ume 1924 His­to­ry of Spir­i­tu­al­ism. In a speech he gave in May of 1930, just before his death, he explained the appeal. Hear the audio above and read a tran­scrip­tion below:

Peo­ple ask, what do you get from spir­i­tu­al­ism? The first thing you get is that it absolute­ly removes all fear of death. Sec­ond­ly, it bridges death for those dear ones whom we may lose. We need have no fear that we are call­ing them back, for all that we do is to make such con­di­tions as expe­ri­ence has taught us, will enable them to come if they wish. And the ini­tia­tive lies always with them.

Two months lat­er at a séance attend­ed by thou­sands at the Roy­al Albert Hall, a medi­um claimed to have com­mu­ni­cat­ed with the Sher­lock Holmes author. And four years after that, anoth­er medi­um, Noah Zerdin, held a séance attend­ed by hun­dreds, and Conan Doyle is said to have been one of 44 who spoke from the beyond. This time, the event was record­ed, on 26 acetate disks, which were only dis­cov­ered 67 years lat­er in 2001 by Zerdin’s son, who donat­ed them to the British Library. The 1934 record­ings fea­tured in a 2002 BBC radio doc­u­men­tary called What Grandad Did in the Dark.

Just above, you can hear the sup­posed voice of Arthur Conan Doyle speak­ing from the spir­it world. The audio is seri­ous­ly spooky, but I’m not inclined to believe that it’s any­thing more than a hoax, although the tech­nol­o­gy of the time would make manip­u­la­tion of the direct record­ings dif­fi­cult. So-called “spir­it voic­es” in record­ings such as this are known as EVP (“elec­tron­ic voice phe­nom­e­non”), and there are many such exam­ples of the genre at the British Library, includ­ing a batch of 60 tapes made by a Dr. Kon­stan­tin Rau­dive, “who believed that the dead could com­mu­ni­cate with the liv­ing through the medi­um of radio waves.”

A post on the British Library site com­ments that “the record­ed evi­dence is not espe­cial­ly con­vinc­ing, being short com­ments or frag­ments that with­out the accom­pa­ny­ing spo­ken ‘trans­la­tion’ would prob­a­bly not strike the lis­ten­er as hav­ing any mean­ing­ful con­tent.” The Conan Doyle audio seems a lit­tle more coher­ent, though it’s dif­fi­cult to make out exact­ly what the voice says. Com­pare the two sam­ples and draw your own con­clu­sions. Or bet­ter yet, con­sid­er what Sher­lock Holmes would make of this alleged “evi­dence.”

You can find Sher­lock Holmes texts in our col­lec­tions: 600 Free eBooks for iPad, Kin­dle & Oth­er Devices and 550 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

via io9

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Arthur Conan Doyle & The Cot­tin­g­ley Fairies: How Two Young Girls Fooled Sher­lock Holmes’ Cre­ator

Arthur Conan Doyle Dis­cuss­es Sher­lock Holmes and Psy­chics in a Rare Filmed Inter­view (1927)

Arthur Conan Doyle Fills Out the Ques­tion­naire Made Famous By Mar­cel Proust (1899)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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Comments (4)
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  • Karl says:

    just a note -
    Tech­ni­cal­ly, this seance record­ing would not be classed as EVP — since the voice was gen­er­at­ed through the use of a Medi­um and sim­ply record­ed for lat­er play­back.
    EVP record­ings of Spir­it voic­es or sounds are gen­er­at­ed pure­ly through the means of elec­tron­ic equip­ment — with­out the need for a Medi­um at all. Though it would help mat­ters if a Medi­um were to try EVP them­selves !
    Cheers :)

  • Karl says:

    …plus the seance record­ing you have here was, I believe, of Conan Doyle speak­ing through the Medi­um’s own voice­box — so it was more of a Trance or Chan­nelling ses­sion…:)

  • Heather Calkins says:

    I believe this might be my great Uncle James Laughton as the medi­um. I know he did a record­ing where he record­ed the voice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I would love to have a copy of this either dig­i­tized or if you know where I can get it on vinyl I’d be in your great­est debt. When Uncle Jim­my got old and had to be put in a home, his apart­ment in Detroit was loot­ed and most of our fam­i­ly heir­looms and keep­sakes of Jimmy’s were lost. I’ve been search­ing for bits and pieces of him. I know my par­ents had some very spooky things hap­pen with him over the years that there was no expla­na­tion for.

  • Gerald O'Hara says:

    Hi Heather, I live in York­shire, UK, and I am a Spir­i­tu­al­ist author focus­ing on Amer­i­can Spir­i­tu­al­ism in the 20th

    I have been research­ing and writ­ing your great-uncle’s sto­ry for some years, and he fea­tures in my new book. James’ hand­some face sits on my desk from a post­card issued at Camp Chester­field. He dis­ap­pears from the record about 1958, and I would love to know why. I can guess, but that is not good enough. Do you remem­ber any sto­ries? Did he mar­ry, and were their chil­dren? He was close to Maude Kline, who spon­sored him in 1940 when he moved from Cana­da. He was also close to her sis­ter Loret­ta Schmidt.

    My best wish­es to you

    Ger­ald O’Hara B.Sc. CSNU

    My Face­book page gives a CV, and Ethel Post Par­rish is on Ama­zon.

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