28

I need help confirming or debunking what may be an urban legend in the paranormal literature regarding the rocky public relationship between spiritualism believer (and famous author) Arthur Conan Doyle and American parapsychologist J.B. Rhine. The story starts when Rhine attended a seance by the famed Boston medium "Margery" (Mina Crandon) on July 1, 1926. He concluded she was a fraud. He published this paper with his wife:

One evening's observation on the Margery mediumship. Rhine, J. B.; Rhine, Louisa E. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol 21(4), Jan-Mar 1927, 401-421.

After this paper got some press coverage in newspapers including the New York Times, Margery's supporters raised a ruckus in the press. Doyle wrote a letter to the Boston Herald accusing Rhine of "colossal impertinance" and defending Margery.

All that is well documented. But a story in the paranormal literature claims Doyle went one step further, and ran a "black bordered" display ad in the Boston newspapers which said simply:

J.B. Rhine is a Monumental Ass

I've seen this repeated time after time after time in various books. None of the books offers specifics as to which newspaper and on what date, other than it was in Boston (where Margery lived and worked). Ideally, I would like to obtain a copy of the ad from a microfilm if it exists.

I've had two librarians make a stab at finding the ad, but obviously newspaper indices do not generally index the contents of ads. I can't find a library near me that has microfilms of the Boston Herald, which I consider the most likely newspaper this ran in.

Because the paper became public in February 1927 and Doyle responded in March 1927, it likely ran near that time.

Can anyone find proof or counter-proof of this ad being printed?

Several of the books in which this is repeated:

The earliest reference I've found to the phrase doesn't mention the ad, and is found in an 1956 newspaper profile of J.B. Rhine:

Browning, Norma Lee Mediums Unmasked as Fakes by Probers Chicago Tribune, Feb. 6, 1956, pp. 1,6.

His published report contributed significantly to the sudden demise of Margery's popularity. Doyle, who was devoted to Margery, promptly cabled a Boston newspaper, calling J.B. Rhine a "monumental ass."

  • 1
    Looks like the Boston Public Libary has the most substantial microfilm collection for the Boston Herald. Maybe you could do an inter-library loan for the microfilms from 1927? – John Lyon Dec 17 '12 at 22:14
  • 7
    In the New York Times March 5, 1927, p. 17, there is a report of the Boston Herald receiving a letter to the editor from Doyle calling Rhine's report on "Margery" a "colossal impertinence." Could this be what you are looking for? – LibraryLady Mar 20 '13 at 21:18
  • 1
    Yes, I've seen that article and I do suspect that if the report is apocryphal, that could be the true source. – Tim Farley Mar 24 '13 at 2:00
9

This has now gone unanswered for seven years. I've always been intrigued by the "authorized" part of the title, The enchanted voyager: the life of J.B. Rhine, an authorized biography.

I obtained this book from the library and found the Doyle incident via the index. On the page describing the alleged incident, the only citation follows the sentence:

Fifty years later Rhine could still quote verbatim that angry advertisement.

As one might expect, the footnote cites the author's interview with Rhine. The interview took place in the year of Rhine's death, when he was 85 years old.

I believe Rhine misremembered the smaller incident referred to by the Chicago Tribune article quoted in the question. A deleted answer states:

In the New York Times March 5, 1927, p. 17, there is a report of the Boston Herald receiving a letter to the editor from Doyle calling Rhine's report on "Margery" a "colossal impertinence."

The unspoken euphemism is standard for this period. I was unable to confirm the deleted answer but I believe these two newspaper reports are more reliable.

  • 2
    Hooray for determination and get-up-off-your-seat research! – elliot svensson Jan 31 at 19:04
  • 1
    I can confirm that the NY Times published that article on the date specified. The article was also printed (verbatim it seems) in another newspaper, which can be read here (click "Show OCR"). – Laurel Feb 1 at 3:22

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .