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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur (1859-1930) (Note: the family name is Conan Doyle, not simply Doyle.) Knighted for his defense of Britain's activities in South Africa, Conan Doyle was the creator of the famous fictional detective character, Sherlock Holmes.
      Following the death of his son Kingsley in wartime, Sir Arthur became a firm believer in, and supporter of, spirit mediums. He was also a bit of a snob, and it was one reason for his credulity. Post-Victorian society, of which he was a leading product, had cataloged people according to class. Therefore, when he was confronted with the Cottingley fairies photos taken by two young girls, he reasoned that two adolescent females “from the artisan class” could not possibly deceive an aristocrat such as himself, and he convinced himself that the photos were genuine. That, for him, settled the matter. And Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not accustomed to being told that he was wrong.
      His easy acceptance of such matters as fairies brings into question his declared faith in spirit mediums, especially because his endorsement was very instrumental in bringing legitimacy to their claims, and to spiritualism as a religion.
      The uneasy friendship between Sir Arthur and magician Harry Houdini, and their serious mutual respect, was strained when the writer ascribed to Houdini genuine psychic powers. It seemed inconceivable to him that the magician could do what he did without resort to genuine miracles. Houdini knew quite well that what he did was simple conjuring, that any person could thereby be fooled, and was astonished that Sir Arthur could not recognize or admit that fact.
      Sir Arthur traveled abroad preaching the claims of spiritualism, showing incredibly naive lantern slides of supposed miracles, including those of the Cottingley fairies. He faithfully continued to support spiritualism and all of its followers until his death in 1930, four years following that of Houdini.

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