Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

While there are earlier accounts of Palladino’s mediumship, probably the most important of the early investigations were those conducted by what has been called the Milan Commission. These sittings took place at Milan in 1892 and were first published in the newspaper Italia del Popolo. They were important due to the men involved in the investigation, individuals such as once Councilor to the Czar, Alexander Aksakof (1832-1903), and others such as  astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910), philosophers Angelo Brofferio (1846-1894) and Carl du Prel (1839-1899), and physicists Giuseppe Gerosa (1857-1910), Giorgio Finzi (1868-1958) and Giovanni Battista Ermacora (1858-1898). In some seances both physiologist Charles Richet (1850-1935), and psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) were also present.

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Giovanni Schiaparelli

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Alexander Aksakof

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Carl du Prel

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Charles Richet

The séances were also published in other places, such as in the influential Annales des Sciences Psychiques (Aksakof, A., Schiaparelli, G., du Prel, C., Brofferio, A., Gerosa, G., Ermacora, G. B., & Finzi, G. (1893). Rapport de la commission réunie à Milan pour l’étude des phénomènes psychiques [Report of the commission gathered at Milan to study psychic phenomena]. Annales des Sciences Psychiques, 3, 39–64). Here I am using the English translation that appeared in the Psychical Review (The psychical experiments at Milan. Psychical Review, 1893, 2, 45-64).

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The report was divided in two sections, observations with good lighting and in darkness. Below I present part of the introduction of the report and the section of phenomena observed when the séance room was illuminated. Notice that the translation in the Psychical Review uses the word “psychic” to refer to Palladino, while the French report in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques uses the word “medium.”

“We held in all seventeen sittings . . . The psychic, who was invited to come to these sittings by Professor Aksakow, was presented by Signor Chiaia, who was present at only a third of the sittings, and generally during the first and least important part of them …”

“Before entering upon the subject, however, it will be well to say at once that the results of the experiments did not always correspond to our expectations. Not that we have not had, in great abundance, facts which were apparently or really important and marvellous; but in the greater number of cases it was impossible for us to apply to the same those rules of experimental art which in other fields of experiment are considered necessary for arriving at sure and incontestable results. Among these rides, one which is most important is to vary, one by one, the circumstances of experiment in such a way as to isolate the true causes, or at least the true conditions, of every fact. Now it is precisely in this regard that our experiments seem to us only too deficient. It is true that many times the psychic, in order to prove her good faith, spontaneously offered to change certain details of the experiments, and from time to time introduced such changes of her own accord; but these were concerning circumstances which were of trifling importance according to our way of thinking. On the other hand, the changes which in our judgment seemed necessary, in order to remove every doubt, were either not accepted by the psychic, or, if they were put into effect, resulted usually in rendering the experiment null, or at least were conducive to results which were not clear.”

“We do not consider ourselves as having the right to interpret this fact by injurious suppositions, which to many seems the simplest way. We think, rather, that this has to do with phenomena of an unknown nature, and confess that we do not know the necessary conditions for their production . . . Admitting all this . . . , the fact still remains that the said impossibility of varying the experiments as we wished singularly diminished the value and interest of the experiments performed, taking away, in many cases, that demonstrative rigor to which in facts of this nature we have the right and also the duty to aspire. Therefore, in many cases, ours were not true experiments, but simply observations of that which happened under given circumstances, not fixed, indeed not wished for, by us.”

“For that reason we will not mention those experiments which seemed to us not to be sufficiently demonstrated, and we will touch lightly upon those regarding which the conclusions could easily be diverse among the various investigators. We will note more minutely the circumstances in those where, in spite of the obstacles above mentioned, it seems to us we have arrived at a degree of certainty.”

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Palladino with Aksakof at Milan, 1892

“I. PHENOMENA OBSERVED IN THE LIGHT.”

“1. Inexplicable mechanical movements with only direct contact with the hands.”

“(a.) Lifting of a table laterally beneath the hands of the psychic seated at one of its ends.”

“We employed for this experiment a pine table, three feet seven inches long, two feet eight inches in height, weighing twenty pounds. Among the several movements of the table, by which answers to questions were given, it was impossible not to observe especially the motion made during the raps; two legs of the table were raised simultaneously beneath the hands of the psychic, without the slightest preceding lateral oscillation of the table, forcibly, rapidly, and several times in succession, as if the table had been glued to the psychic’s hands — a motion more remarkable from the fact that the psychic was always seated at one end of the table, and we did not release her hands and feet for an instant. As this phenomenon is produced usually with the greatest ease, to observe it better we, on the evening of October 3, left the psychic alone at the table, with both her hands above it completely, and her sleeves rolled to the elbow. We stood around the table, and the space above it and below it was brightly illuminated. Under these conditions the table raised itself to an angle of thirty or forty degrees and remained in that position several minutes, while the psychic held her legs stretched out and beat her feet one against the other. Then producing a pressure with our hands upon the raised side of the table, we felt a very considerable elastic resistance.”

“(b.) Measure of force applied in raising the table laterally.”

“For this experiment the table was suspended by one of its ends to a dynamometer attached to a rope fastened to a small beam which rested upon two wardrobes. If the end of the table was lifted to a height of six inches, the dynamometer indicated a pressure of about eight pounds. The psychic was seated at that end of the table with her hands completely above it, at the right and at the left of the point at which the dynamometer was attached. Our hands made a chain upon the table without making a pressure upon it; for that matter our .hands could not in any case have acted in any way except to augment the pressure exerted upon the table. The wish was expressed that the pressure should diminish, and soon the table began to raise itself up- from the side of the dynamometer. Signor Gerosa, who was watching the indicator, announced the diminutions marked by the successive indications, as seven, five, three pounds, and then nothing, after which the lifting was such that the dynamometer rested upon the table horizontally.”

“Then we reversed the conditions, placing our hands under the table, the psychic putting her hands not only under the edge of the table, where she would have been able to touch the framework of it and exert an action from below, but even underneath the framework uniting the legs. She did not touch this with the palms of the hands, but with the backs of them. Thus none of the hands could have done other than diminish the tension upon the dynamometer. Having expressed the wish that the tension should increase instead of diminish, very soon Signor Gerosa informed us that the indications marked an increase from eight to fifteen pounds. During the whole of the experiment both feet of the psychic were under the feet of those at the right and at the left of her.”

Drawing sitters with EP

“(c.) Complete lifting of the table.”

“It was natural to conclude that if the table could lift itself on one side, against every law of gravity, it could also lift itself entirely. In fact this occurred. This lifting is one of the most common phenomena with Eusapia, and permits the most satisfactory examination. It is produced usually under the following conditions. The persons seated around the table laid their hands upon it, forming a chain. Each of the psychic’s hands was held by the hands of those seated next her, and each foot under the foot of her neighbor. More than that, they pressed her knees with theirs. As usual, the psychic was seated at the end of the table, the position most unfavorable to raising it mechanically. In a few moments the table made a movement laterally; it lifted itself to the right and then to the left, and finally raised itself completely, with its four legs in the air horizontally, as if floating in a liquid, to a height of from four to eight inches (at times from twenty-four to twenty-eight inches), then fell to the floor on its four legs simultaneously. Sometimes it remained in the air several seconds and made fluctuating movements, during which we could examine thoroughly the position of the feet beneath it. During the lifting of the table the right hand of the psychic often left the table, locked in that of her neighbor, and remained in the air above it. Throughout the experiment the face of the psychic was contorted, the hands contracted, she groaned and seemed to suffer, as was usually the case when a phenomenon was about to take place.”

“In order to examine better the facts in question, we withdrew from the table one by one, having discovered that the chain of hands on the table was no longer necessary, either in this or other phenomena. Finally there was but one person left at the table with the psychic. That person rested his foot upon both Eusapia’s feet, and placed one hand upon her knetfs. With his other hand he held the left hand of the psychic. Her right hand was laid on the table in plain sight, or even raised above it in the air while the table was elevated.”

“As the table remained in the air for several seconds, it was possible to take a number of photographs of the phenomenon. Up to this time this had never been done. Three photographic outfits acted at the same time in different parts of the room. The light necessary was produced by a magnesium light thrown on at the opportune moment. There were twenty-one photographs obtained, several of which were excellent. In one of them, the first one made, Professor Richet is seen holding one hand, one foot, and the knees of the psychic; her other hand is held by Professor Lombroso. The table is being raised horizontally, which is shown by the space between the extremity of each leg and the extremity of its respective shadow.”

“In all the preceding experiments our chief attention was turned to controlling the hands and feet of the psychic, and as regards them we feel ourselves able to say that they played no part in the phenomena. Nevertheless, for the sake of exactness, we cannot pass over a fact which became evident to us only on the fifth of October, but which probably existed in the previous experiments also. It consists in this, that all four of the legs of the table could not be said to be entirely isolated during the raising of the table, for at least one of them came in contact with the dress of the psychic. On that evening we noticed that, shortly before the elevation of the table, the left side of the skirt of Eusapia’s gown began to puff out so that it touched the table leg. One of us having tried to prevent such contact, the table did not rise as usual, and we found that it did so only when the observer allowed such contact. This is seen in the photograph taken from that side, and also in those where the leg in question is visible in its lower extremity. It is noticeable that at the same time the hand of the psychic is placed on the surface of the table on that side, so that that part of the table was under the influence of the psychic from the lower portion by means of the gown as well as from the upper part by means of her hand. Nothing could be verified as to the degree of pressure exerted by the hand of the psychic at that moment upon the table, nor was it possible to discover, the elevation of the table being so brief, what part the simple contact of the gown (which appeared to be applied laterally) could have had in sustaining the weight of the table. We tried to avoid the contact of the gown by requiring the psychic and all others at the table to stand up, but the experiment did not succeed. We proposed putting the psychic at one of the long sides of the table, but the psychic opposed this, saying it was impossible. We are obliged, therefore, to acknowledge that we did not succeed in obtaining a complete uplifting of the table, with all four of its legs absolutely free from contact, and there is reason to fear that an analogous difficulty may have taken place in the lifting of the two legs which were on the side of the psychic.”

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Seance at Milan, 1892 Standing: Angelo Brofferio, Sitting: Carl du Prel

“In what manner the contact of a thin gown with a leg of a table (at the lower part of it, moreover) would be able to aid in the lifting of the table we are not able to say. The hypothesis that the gown may have hidden a solid prop, introduced to serve as a momentary support to the leg of the table, is not plausible. To maintain the entire table held up on that one leg by means of an attrition which a single hand can make applied on the upper surface of a table would require that the hand should exert an enormous pressure, such as we are not able to believe Eusapia could exert, even for three or four seconds. Of this we are convinced by attempts made by us upon the same table. The only movements of the table not subject to this cause of uncertainty are those where the two legs of the table most distant from the medium are lifted; but this kind of movement is easily produced by a light pressure of the hands of the psychic on the sides of the table next her, and it is not possible to give to this the slightest demonstrative value. The same may be said of the lateral lifting of it on the legs to the right or left of the psychic, which she could produce by the pressure of even one hand.”

“(d.) Variation of pressure exerted by the whole body of the psychic seated upon a balance.”

“This experiment was very interesting, voluntary or involuntary, but very difficult, because, as can easily be understood, every movement of the psychic upon the platform of the scales would cause an oscillation of the platform and also of the steelyard. In order to have the experiment conclusive, it would be necessary that the steelyard, when it had changed position, should remain stationary for a few seconds, to permit one to suspend the weights on the steelyard for measuring. With this hope we made the attempt. The psychic was made to sit upon a chair placed upon the platform of the scales, and we found that the weight marked for both was one hundred and sixty-three pounds. After a few oscillations there occurred a decided descent of the steelyard, which lasted several seconds, and which allowed Signor Gerosa to measure the weight immediately. It indicated one hundred and thirty pounds-—-that is to say, a diminution of thirty-three pounds. The desire being expressed that the opposite phenomenon should occur, the extreme end of the steelyard immediately arose, indicating an augmentation of twenty-five pounds. This experiment was repeated several times and at five different sittings. Once it did not succeed, but the last time a registering apparatus enabled us to obtain two curves of the phenomenon. We tried to produce the same deflections ourselves, and were not able to produce them except by several of us standing on the platform and bearing first on one, then on the other side of it near the edge, swaying our bodies violently, a movement which we never saw in the psychic, and which was impossible in her position on the chair. Notwithstanding, we recognize that the experiment cannot be said to be absolutely satisfactory until we complete it with what will be described in 3 c.”

“In this experiment with the scales it was noticed also that its success seemed to depend upon the contact of the psychic’s dress with the floor upon which the scales were placed. This was verified with an opposite experiment on the evening of October 9. The psychic was placed upon the scales. The one of us who was appointed to watch her feet saw the lower folds of her dress swelling out and protruding over the edge of the platform. Whenever we tried to prevent this (which was certainly not produced by the feet of the medium), the levitation did not take place; but as soon as we permitted the hem of the dress to touch the floor, the repeated levitations took place and were marked by broad curves on the registering dial. Once we tried the levitation of the psychic, placing her upon a broad pallet, extended upon the platform. The pallet prevented the contact of the dress with the floor, and the experiment did not succeed.”

“Finally, on the evening of October 13, another balance was prepared, a Roman balance, with the platform isolated completely from the floor, and distant from it one foot. Carefully watching, and not permitting contact of any sort between the platform and the floor, not even by means of the hem of Eusapia’s dress, the experiment failed. On the other hand, in similar circumstances, a slight result seemed to be obtained on October 18, but on that occasion the experiment was not certain, there being a chance that the mantle which Eusapia requested should be wrapped about her head and shoulders had touched the arm of the balance during the incessant agitation of the psychic. We conclude, therefore, that no levitation succeeded with us while the psychic
was completely isolated from the floor.”

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Levitation of Table at Milan, 1892. Sitting: Lombroso (left) and Richet

“2. Mechanical movements with indirect contact of the psychic’s hands, so arranged as to render any mechanical action by her impossible.”

“(a.) Horizontal movement of the table with the psychic’s hands upon a small board on three balls, or on four wheels, which were placed between the board and table.”

“For this difficult but conclusive experiment the feet of the table were provided with rollers. A board twelve inches wide and fifteen inches long was placed on three wooden balls about one and one half inches in diameter, which were placed on the table. The psychic was asked to put her hands on the middle of the board. Her sleeves were rolled to the elbows; those seated beside her placed their feet on her feet and their knees against hers, thus forming, with their legs and those of the psychic, two angles, in the opening of which the two legs of the table stood isolated. Under these conditions the table moved several times, forwards and backwards, to the right and left, parallel to itself, four to ten inches, together with the board which, although on the balls, appeared to be of a piece with the table. In a second experiment of the same kind, the balls, which in the former experiment easily escaped from under the board, were replaced by four movable wheels fastened to the four corners of the board, which gave greater stability without making the movements more difficult. The results were the same as before.”

“(b.) Lateral raising of the table with a board on three balls, or four wheels, interposed between it and the psychic’s hands.”

“This phenomenon, obtained in the first experiment, was repeated with the board on wheels under the conditions stated above. The table rose laterally on the side of the psychic and under her hand, together with the board on the balls or wheels, to a height of four to six inches, without any displacement of the board, and fell again with it. By these experiments, irrefutable proof was obtained that lateral and vertical movements of the table can take place independently of any force whatsoever from the hands of the psychic. In these experiments, the control was limited to that of the hands and feet of the psychic, and as the table was surrounded by several persons, there was no opportunity of seeing whether there was any contact of the legs of the table with the psychic’s skirt, which in the other experiments was found to be a necessary condition of success. The same observation is applicable to the experiment described below in 3 b. To remove every trace of doubt in this respect, a covering of pasteboard was prepared which enveloped the psychic and her chair, in the form of a vertical cylinder, and prevented any external contact with the floor up to a height of about two feet. As soon as the psychic saw this, however, she declared that standing in it would take away all her power, and we were therefore forced to give it up. We made use of it a single time, but under circumstances which rendered its use of no particular value.”

  1. Movement of objects at a distance without any contact with the persons present.

“(a.) Spontaneous movements of objects.”

“These phenomena were observed on several occasions during the sittings. Often a chair placed for this purpose, not far from the table, between the psychic and her neighbor, began to move and approached the table. A remarkable instance occurred during the second sitting. This took place in full light. A chair weighing twenty-five pounds, which was at a distance of a yard behind the psychic, approached Signor Schiaparelli, who was sitting near the psychic. He arose and put it back in its former place, but when he was seated again the chair came up to him a second time.”

“(b.) Movement of the table without contact.”

“It was desirable to obtain this phenomenon experimentally. For this purpose the table was placed on rollers, the feet of the medium were controlled as stated in 2 a, and all present made a chain of hands, including those of the psychic. When the table began to move, all raised their hands without breaking the chain, and the table alone by itself made several movements as in the
second experiment. This experiment was repeated several times.”

“(c.) Movement of the steelyard of the scales.”

“After having noted the influence that the body of the psychic exerted upon the scales while seated on it, it was interesting to see if this could be effected while she was at a distance. To that end the scales were placed behind the back of the psychic, seated at the table, in such a way that the platform came to within about four inches of her chair. First we placed the hem of her dress in contact with the platform. The steelyard began to move. Professor Brofferio got down upon the floor and held the hem of the dress with his hand, but ascertaining that there was not the least tension, he resumed his seat. The movement of the balance continuing with much force, Professor Aksakow got down upon the floor behind the psychic, took the dress away entirely from the platform, and assured himself with his hands that there was nothing between the platform and her chair, nevertheless the steelyard continued to beat violently against the restraining crosspieces. This we all saw and heard.”

“A second time the same experiment was performed, at the sitting of September 26, in the presence of Professor Richet. In a few minutes the steelyard began to move in full view of all, and was beating violently against the bars, whereupon Professor Richet immediately left his place near the psychic and assured himself by passing his hand in the air and on the floor between the psychic and the platform that all that space was free from any communication either by a thread or any other contrivance.”

“4. Raps and reproductions of sounds in the table.”

“These raps were always produced during the sittings to signify “Yes” or “No.” Sometimes they were loud and distinct and seemed to resound in the wood of the table; but, as is well known, it is very difficult to localize a sound, and we could not try any experiments in this direction, except by making rhythmical raps and various rubbing sounds on the table, which seemed to be faintly reproduced inside of the table.”

In the conclusion it was stated:

“In making public this brief and incomplete account of our experiences, we must again express our convictions, namely: —”

“1. That, under the circumstances given, none of the manifestations obtained in a more or less intense light could have been produced by any artifice whatever.”

“2. That the same conviction can be affirmed in regard to the greater number of the phenomena taking place in darkness.:

“For the rest, we recognize that from a strictly scientific point of view our experiments still leave much to be desired. They were undertaken without the possibility of our knowing what we should need, and the instruments and different appliances which we were obliged to use had to be improvised. Nevertheless, that which we have seen and verified is sufficient in our eyes to prove that these phenomena are most worthy of scientific attention.”

Richet published a separate account of his experiences in the Milan seances: “Expériences de Milan” (Annales des Sciences Psychiques, 1893, 3, 1–31). He was impressed by some of his experiences, but still had doubts. He wrote: “However, the formal proof, irrefutable, that this is not a fraud on the part of Eusapia and an illusion on our part, this formal proof is lacking.”

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Richet’s Article in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques, 1893

Carl du Prel also published a discussion of the séances: “Der Kampf un den Spiritismus in Mailand.” (Psychische Studien, 1892, 19, 546-566).