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Great Spiritualists and Friends

Hare, Professor Robert (Philadelphia, January 17, 1781 - May 15, 1858)
Institution / Country:USA

The author of more than 150 papers on scientific subjects, Dr. Robert Hare (January 17, 1781 to May 15, 1858), the son of an English emigrant, was a world-renowned inventor and an esteemed professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania before becoming one of the first psychical researchers.

Hare invented the oxy-hydrogen blow-pipe, a forerunner of the modern welding torch, before he was 20 years old, and was the first person to fuse lime, magnesia, iridium and platinum. In 1816, he invented the calorimotor, a type of battery from which heat is produced. This led to his invention of the deflagrator, which was employed in volatilizing and fusing carbon.

In 1818, Hare was called to the chair of chemistry and natural philosophy at William and Mary and that same year was appointed as professor of chemistry in the department of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where he would remain until his retirement in 1847. He was awarded honorary M.D. degrees from Yale in 1806 and Harvard in 1816. In 1839, he was the first recipient of the Rumford Award for his invention of the oxy-hydrogen blow-pipe and his improvements in galvanic methods. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and an honorary life member of the Smithsonian Institute. In addition to frequently writing on scientific subjects, Hare also wrote, using the pen name Eldred Grayson, articles on political, economic, and philosophical issues. In an 1810 article, Brief View of the Policy and Resources of the United States, Hare advanced the idea that credit is money. He also wrote frequently in opposition of slavery.

In a letter dated July 27, 1853 to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Hare denounced the “popular madness” being called Spiritualism by the American press, claiming that the phenomena of raps, taps, tilting, turning, and levitating of tables purportedly being carried out by spirits and bringing messages from the dead were either unconscious muscular actions on the part of persons with whom the phenomena were associated or hallucinations. “In common with almost all educated persons of the nineteenth century, I had been brought up deaf to any testimony which claimed assistance from supernatural causes, such as ghosts, magic, or witchcraft,” Hare later explained his position in his 1855 book, Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestations.

Shortly after Hare’s letter appeared in the Inquirer, he received a letter from one Amasa Holcombe, apparently an educated person who had shared Hare’s view before observing some of the phenomena. Holcombe discreetly challenged Hare to make a scientific investigation and not just assume that it was all fraudulent. Hare agreed that it was the right thing to do and immediately arranged to visit a spiritualist circle. He was impressed d with the sincerity of the people in the circle as they put questions to some invisible agent and received answers by mysterious tappings on the table. – one tap meaning “no,” two taps indicating “uncertain,” and three taps meaning “yes.”. He closely examined the table and could find no indication of deception. He left that night bewildered by what he had seen and heard. He visited another circle accompanied by a lawyer friend, who was also a disbeliever, and both left scratching their heads.

Visiting still another circle, Hare observed that messages came by table tilting rather than by taps – a tilt of the table coming at a certain letter as the medium ran her fingers over an alphabetic pasteboard while her eyes were directed to the ceiling. A message came, saying: “Light is dawning on the mind of your friend; soon he will speak trumpet-tongued to the scientific world, and add a new link to that chain of evidence on which our hope of man’s salvation is founded.”

Hare and his lawyer friend were again astounded. “…assigning the result to legerdemain was altogether opposed to my knowledge of his character,” Hare wrote, referring to the medium. “This gentleman, and the circle to which he belonged, spent about three hours, twice or thrice a week, in getting communications through the alphabet, by the process to which the lines mentioned above were due. This would not have taken place had they not had implicit confidence that the information thus obtained proceeded from spirits.”

Inventor that he was, Hare immediately went to work contriving an apparatus which would facilitate and expedite communication, as the process he had observed was very slow. He devised a machine, called a spiritoscope, with a circular disc, the letters of the alphabet around the circumference of the disc, and with weights, pulleys, and cords attaching it to the tilting table. The medium would sit behind the table in order to supply the “psychic force” through which the spirits caused the table to tilt, but the medium could not see the wheel and had no idea what was being spelled out.

Put to the test, the contraption worked and the first spirit to communicate was Hare’s deceased father, Robert Sr. When Hare continued to doubt, the message came through, “Oh, my son, listen to reason!” At a second sitting, his father again communicated, saying that his mother and sister also were there but not his brother. Personal information was given to Hare, information which Hare was certain the medium could not have researched.

While reasonably certain that his Spiritoscope prevented any kind of trickery by the mediums with whom he was sitting, Hare continued in his investigation with caution, asking the communicating spirits for information that would prove their identities. In a sitting, when the message was spelled out that his sister was there, Hare asked her for the name of their father’s early business partner. She responded correctly with the name “Warren.” He then asked her for the name of their English grandfather’s partner, who had died in London more than 70 years earlier. She again responded with the correct name. “The medium and all present were strangers to my family, and I had never heard either name mentioned, except by my father,” Hare recorded. “Even my younger brother did not remember that of my father’s partner.”

After receiving very evidential messages from his parents and sister, Hare became a convert to spiritualism. “So far as my judgment goes, there never was a letter written of which the facts or inferences are more correct,” Hare wrote, referring to the letter of Amasa Holcombe that prompted his investigation. “Yet it appears that so late as the 8th of February (1854), I was still a doubter. The tenor of the correspondence will that if I was conquered, I did not yield the ground undisputed, and was vanquished only by facts and reasons which, when understood or admitted, must produce in others the conviction which they created in me. If I was the victim of an intellectual epidemic, my mental constitution did not yield at once to the miasma. It took some three months to include me among its victims.”

According to the senior Hare, the phenomena of spiritualism was “a deliberate effort on the part of the inhabitants of the higher spheres to break through the partition which has interfered with the attainment, by mortals, of a correct idea of their destiny after death.” Hare asked his father why Hydesville (the Fox sisters home outside Rochester) was selected as the place to launch the project. His father replied that the spirit of a murdered man would excite more interest and that it was necessary to use a community where spiritual agency would be more readily credited than one where the more-educated would be prejudiced against it and dismiss it as delusion.

It was also explained that the spirits direct currents of vitalized electricity on the particular muscles of the medium which they desire to control. It is not necessary that the medium be a person of good moral character or have a balanced mind, but an advanced spirit would not be able to control the organs or mind of a medium unless in affinity with the medium. When spirits wish to impress the mind, the spirits can dispose and arrange the magnetic currents of the brain so as to form or fashion them into ideas of their own. They can instantly determine the sphere of a spirit, in or out of the body, by the particular brilliancy and character of the light in which he or she is enveloped, as well as by the peculiar sensation which his or her presence creates.

After giving a talk to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in which he spoke of his interest in spirit intercourse, some members of the organization called for his expulsion from the organization. However, this apparently resulted in Hare becoming even more entrenched in his belief and he went to his grave certain that there was something beyond death.

Text and photo of Professor Hare courtesy of Michael Tymn, author of The Articulate Dead where Michael examines several of the best mediums of yesteryear and the scientific research surrounding them.