A man killed himself to prove that the afterlife existed. The spiritualist who was waiting to hear from him in the afterlife never did.
Hauntings have been a part of the human landscape as far back as the written word carries its history. Most instances are cold and informal happenings as if two passing figures were situated on separate planes and unexpectedly intersected without cause or warning, momentarily touching one another. Houdini attempted to make intelligent contact between the dead and the living by sending a message to his beloved when he crossed over into the shadow world. For ten years his wife Bess held séances on Halloween hoping to hear him whisper the agreed upon phrase “Rosabelle believe” to prove that there was life after death. Despite being unsuccessful he inspired others to claim the quest as their own, with failing returns. Perhaps Houdini himself was inspired by another gentleman, Professor Thomas L. Bradford, a Detroit psychic and lecturer, who not only attempted to make contact from the other side but committed suicide to hasten the act and prove that life after death was possible. And according to his assistant he did just that.
Mr. Bradford, said to have been an electrical engineer and a one time athlete and actor as well, devoted much of his last years studying and writing about the occult, particularly the after-life. He theorized in his last written words that “all phenomena are outside the domain of the supernatural.” and sought to prove this theory through “scientific facts.” Having conjured up the postulate he intended to prove it through experimentation with his own life as the guinea pig. First though he’d need an assistant to receive his message from beyond.
In early 1921 the professor posted an ad in a local newspaper searching for “someone interested in spiritualistic science” to which a woman named Ruth Starkweather Doran replied. Ms. Doran was from a prominent Detroit family with deep roots in the area. A writer and lecturer herself, Doran’s curiosity was piqued by the odd advertisement and answered it on a whim. A member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, she was neither a believer in psychic phenomenon or a spiritualist but agreed to meet with Bradford to further investigate a subject she had never breached beforehand. After several meetings, in which Bradford presumably explained his theory and plan of action, they chose a date for the final meeting, February 5.
Shortly before Doran arrived that evening for their last conference, Bradford finished typing his final thoughts for the manuscript to an unfinished book which lay beside the machine, leaving the sheath interred in the carriage, and readied himself for the death experiment. First though, he calmly assured Doran that he would contact her and gave her instructions on how to carry out the reunion. When Doran departed he sealed off the rented room, blew out the pilot to the heater and turned on the gas jets and succumbed to the fumes. Doran would later claim that no pact had been made and that she was only innocently assisting a friend in his otherworldly experimentation.
A week later on February 12th, the scheduled date for Bradford’s return, Doran, after notifying certain media and spiritualist sects, gathered a small group of friends in her home at 9 o’clock that evening for the event. Other spiritualist groups across the city also joined in, forming “concentration parties” to help strengthen the expected signal. It’s at this point where the facts of the story grow murky. While some news outlets report that she failed to hear from Bradford and offered up a concession speech saying that even though she hadn’t heard from the professor that she would try as many times as it took in the next few weeks to secure such a meeting, others trumped a victorious outcome. Whether fabrication or fact, she supposedly felt a presence in her dimly lit parlor. She stood staring into a dark corner for several minutes, placed her hands upon her temples and ordered the lights to be turned out. After a few moments of silence she professed to hearing his voice. It started out quite faint and grew even more distant but discernible nonetheless. “Write this!” she directed and one of the witnesses present transcribed the message that she dictated in a low voice. After a half hour she exclaimed that “The voice grows weaker.” The clock then struck 10 o’clock and the lights were turned back on.
Appearing flush she looked over the notes, signed them to authenticate that she had dictated them accurately and began to recite the jotted passages:
“I am the professor who speaks to you from the Beyond. I have broken through the veil. The help of the living has greatly assisted me.
“I simply went to sleep. I woke up and at first did not realize that I had passed on. I find no great change apparent. I expected things to be much different. They are not. Human forms are retained in outline but not in the physical.
“I have not traveled far. I am still much in the darkness. I see many people. They appear natural.
“There is a lightness of responsibility here unlike in life. One feels full of rapture and happiness. Persons of like natures associate. I am associated with other investigators. I do not repent my act.
“My present plane is but the first series. I am still investigating the future planes regarding which we in this plane are as ignorant as are earthly beings of the life just beyond human life.”
Once done reciting the message she fainted but soon came to and was asked, “Are you certain beyond doubt that you heard from Bradford?
To which she responded, “I am convinced. I never heard a spirit voice before. That was the professor, without doubt.”
Whether or not it was is a matter of conjecture. A betting man might be inclined to disagree with that sentiment. In a town that produced the likes of Shirley Tapp and Rose Veres he might do so against his better judgement.