Compton, Elizabeth J.

Compton, Elizabeth J. (b. 1830)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Elizabeth Compton lived in New York and worked as a washerwoman. She married a Mr. Marker and had nine children. She suddenly became a powerful medium in 1875, at the age of 45. She was investigated by Colonel Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907), who founded the Theosophical Society with Madame Helena Blavatsky.

Elizabeth Compton had pierced ears, so Olcott utilized those in his investigation. He had Compton sit in a cabinet and then removed her earrings and passed thread through the holes in her ear lobes. These threads he took to the back of the chair in which she sat and fastened them to the chair with sealing wax impressed with his seal. He also fastened the chair to the floor with thread and wax. In this way he was convinced that any untoward movement of the medium in the chair would break the threads.

In the course of the séance, with the medium closed up inside the cabinet, her spirit guide Katie Brink appeared outside the cabinet. Olcott had placed a weighing platform beside the cabinet. Compton weighed 121 lbs. The spirit stepped onto the scales and was found to weigh only 77 lbs. A little later when she was weighed she weighed only 52 lbs. She gave Olcott permission to go into the cabinet, asking only that he not touch the medium’s chair. Olcott did go in and was amazed to find the chair empty. When Olcott exited the cabinet, the spirit went in and a Native American person emerged. Olcott again went into the cabinet, this time with a small lantern. In his book, People From the Other World, he wrote, “I went inside with a lamp and found the medium just as I left her at the beginning of the séance, with every thread unbroken and every seal undisturbed. She sat there with her head leaning against the wall, her flesh as pale as marble, her eyeballs turned up beneath the lids, her forehead covered with a death-like dampness, no breath coming from her lungs, and no pulse at her wrist. When every person had examined the threads and seals, I cut the flimsy bonds with a pair of scissors and, lifting the chair by its back and seat, carried the cataleptic woman out into the open air of the chamber. She lay thus inanimate for eighteen minutes, life gradually coming back to her body, until respiration and pulse and the temperature of her skin became normal.”

Dr. J. B. Newbrough had a similar experience when investigating Compton. He used shoemaker’s wax in fastening her to the chair and nailed her dress to the floor, but still she disappeared during the séance and then reappeared when the spirit had departed. The spirits that appeared at these séances bore no resemblance to Elizabeth Compton but were easily recognized by relatives of the deceased. The spirits were sometimes fat, sometimes thin, or taller or shorter than the medium. They also provided details of themselves and their lives that were verified by the sitters.


Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The History of Spiritualism. New York: Doran, 1926
Fodor, Nandor: Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. London: Arthurs Press, 1933
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