Arthur Ford (January 8, 1896 – January 4, 1971) was an American psychic, spiritual medium, clairaudient, and founder of the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship (1955). He gained national attention when he claimed to have contacted the dead son of Bishop James Pike in 1967 on network TV. In 1928 Ford claimed to have contacted the deceased spirits of Houdini's mother and later in 1929 Harry Houdini himself.
Arthur Ford was born in Titusville, Florida and grew up in Fort Pierce, Florida. As a youth he followed a pilgrimage that took him from Episcopalianism to the Baptists to Unitarianism and finally to the Disciples of Christ. He attended Transylvania College, a Disciples of Christ school in Lexington, Kentucky. Ordained as a Disciples minister, he served a church in Barbourville, Kentucky. Ford said he realized his psychic abilities during World War I. He claimed that while in the army, he could "hear'' the names of soldiers several days before they would appear on casualty lists.
Around 1921, Ford became a trance medium and professed to be controlled by a spirit control he referred to as "Fletcher." He set up his own Spiritualist church in New York. He developed a popular following and in 1927 traveled to Great Britain. One of his lectures was attended by veteran Spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who enthusiastically told people the next day, "One of the most amazing things I have ever seen in 41 years of psychic experience was the demonstration of Arthur Ford.'' Conan Doyle was an avid supporter of Ford's.
Following her husband's death in 1926, Bess Houdini began attending seances conducted by Ford. Author Andrew Lycett suggests that Arthur Conan Doyle encouraged a "vulnerable" Bess to believe Ford's claims that he could contact the dead in order "to win an important victory for Spiritualism". In 1928, Ford claimed he was able to contact Harry Houdini's deceased mother via his spirit guide "Fletcher." A year later, he claimed to contact the deceased Houdini himself and relay the full text of a secret message Houdini proposed to convey to Bess after his death. Bess initially endorsed Ford's claims, but later repudiated them. Authors William Kalush and Larry Sloman speculate that Bess Houdini was initially supportive of Ford's claims due to the effects of alcoholism, and that she had romantic feelings for Ford. Others such as Milbourne Christopher speculate that the text of the message used a private code between Houdini and his wife that could have easily been broken by Ford or his associates using a number of existing clues.
Allegations of fraud
After Ford's death in 1971, biographer Allen Spraggett and associate Rev. William V. Rauscher found what they believed to be evidence that the Houdini séance had been faked. They also found Ford's files: a collection of obituaries, newspaper clippings and other information disguised as bound poetry books, which they claim enabled Ford to research his clients' backgrounds. They also discovered evidence which suggested to them that Ford had faked a 1967 seance with Bishop James Pike in which Ford claimed to contact the bishop's deceased son. Psychology professor and critic James Alcock wrote that these revelations exposed Ford as a fraud, and skeptical investigator Joe Nickell has characterized Ford as "a clever fraud artist."
Ford's biographer concluded "The evidence is disquietingly strong that Ford cheated—deliberately as well as unconsciously".
- William Kalush; Larry Sloman (31 October 2006). The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America's First Superhero. Atria Books. pp. 545–. ISBN 978-0-7432-9850-6. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
- Mediums, Mystics, and the Occult by Milbourne Christopher, Thomas Y. Crowell, Co., 1975
- Alan Mac Robert. Proxy Sittings: A Report of the Study Group Series with Arthur Ford. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 48 1954 pp. 71-73
- Andrew Lycett (18 November 2008). The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Simon and Schuster. pp. 442–. ISBN 978-0-7432-7525-5. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
- Polidoro, Massimo. "The Day Houdini (Almost) Came Back from the Dead". Notes On A Strange World, Volume 36.2, March/April 2012. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
- Houdini: The Untold Story by Milbourne Christopher, Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1969
- Lawrence R Samuel (31 August 2011). Supernatural America: A Cultural History. ABC-CLIO. pp. 184–. ISBN 978-0-313-39899-5. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
- Christopher Sandford (22 November 2011). Masters of Mystery: The Strange Friendship of Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 409–. ISBN 978-0-230-34158-6. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
- J. Gordon Melton (1 September 2007). The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena. Visible Ink Press. pp. 115–. ISBN 978-1-57859-259-3. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
- Robert Carroll (11 January 2011). The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-04563-3. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
- James E. Alcock (1981). Parapsychology-Science Or Magic?: A Psychological Perspective. Pergamon Press. ISBN 978-0-08-025773-0. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
- Joe Nickell (1 January 2012). The Science of Ghosts: Searching for Spirits of the Dead. Prometheus Books. pp. 165–. ISBN 978-1-61614-586-6. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
- Allen Spragget Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked with the Dead. 1974 p. 246