I must warn the reader that the phenomenon we are about to examine is something so extraordinary that the mind will immediately and instinctively act to dismiss it. That is why it will be important to remember the words of Dr. Charles Richet throughout our examination, the Nobel Prize winning doctor who witnessed this phenomenon first-hand:
“I never said it was possible. I only said that it was true.”
Physical mediumship: a brief history and introduction
Amongst psychic abilities, mediumship is endlessly fascinating. The most common form of mediumship is mental mediumship. Those who profess this ability claim to be able to communicate with the dead mentally, which includes the gift of clairvoyance (to see); clairaudience (to hear); or clairsentience (to feel). There is, however, a form of mediumship which is far more rare – and arguably far more bizarre. Physical mediumship.
Those who claim to be physical mediums state that they can not only communicate with the dead, but allow others who are not mediums to perceive this communication as it happens, in a physical form. One example of this is the physical manifestation of a spirit.
Unsurprisingly, physical mediumship has long been dismissed as elaborate hoaxes by cunning frauds.
Helen Duncan was one such trickster, famous for her production of ectoplasm, a gooey substance that is produced using spiritual energy. Despite many arguing that not all her demonstrations were fraudulent, Duncan’s reputation was nonetheless tarnished when the gooey substance she had produced proved to be a mucous covered cheesecloth that she had regurgitated.
Many other so-called physical mediums were similarly exposed.1 In one case the professed medium Einer Nielsen was even found to have hid the supposed ectoplasm in his rectum. 2
While these incidents ended much of the serious research into physical mediumship, the voices of those who defended Helen Duncan and others have echoed into our own times. Indeed, one could even say that in recent years, there has been something of a resurgence of interest in the topic.
It is easy to hear about levitating tables, spirits being conjured to dance around a room of people, and think it merely fraud. Without a doubt, such reports do not fit in the materialistic reality we are so sure of. Yet, a “one bad apple spoiling the barrel” mentality is a dangerous one to have. Dismissing physical mediumship in its entirety because of a few dubious cases is akin to pointing to a quack doctor and damning the entire medical field. Equally, just because we do not understand something, does not mean it is not real.
This is why it is necessary to examine one of the best examples of physical mediumship. To many, this is the work of the fascinating Franek Kluski.
Franek Kluski: a man of many talents
Kluski never performed publicly as a physical medium: he gained no profit from it and gave it up after a rather short-lived and intense series of experiments, mainly between 1918 and 1925. This is one of the more curious aspects of Franek Kluski, for he was primarily a banker with a passive interest in the paranormal.
In 1920 he sat on the board of one the biggest Polish banks in Warsaw. As a secondary profession, he was a journalist. He was also known as a poet and writer, and before World War One managed one of Warsaw’s most popular literary cabarets. Kluski’s dabblings with physical mediumship seemed to be just that: dabblings, motivated by experimentalism for the for the sake of experimentalism. There seems to have been no agenda or financial motivation. Even the name Franek Kluski, which was his mediumistic name not his real one, had something playful in it: in Polish, Kluski refers to a somewhat dull type of pasta.
Kluski never personally wrote anything about his mediumistic ability, for he feared that writing about séances would tarnish his reputation as a writer.
For this reason, most of what we know about Kluski comes from his very good friend, a decorated Polish colonel who sat with Kluski on numerous occasions. Many of his séances were in fact conducted with senior members of the Polish military – men who had performed legendary exploits during the First World War and afterwards. These men, as well as a series of independent researchers, academics and eyewitnesses all attested to Kluski’s ability to manifest extraordinary phenomena.
Kluski’s séances seem to have the trappings of poltergeist activity at times. Especially in the early days when he had trouble controlling what would happen. According to those who attended, knocking sounds would reverberate from every surface, furniture would thrash around the house, and a variety of strange noises would be heard. Not only that, participants often observed how Kluski seemed to be injured by this phenomena, with grave, unexplained illnesses rapidly afflicting him, only for him to be completely well again by morning.
Whilst his séances were active and full of strange phenomena, mystifying occurrences were common in Kluski’s presence, even outside of séances. One could even say that the inexplicable followed the man. Discarnate lights – varying in shape, size and density – were said to manifest around Kluski. A businessman who once, out of necessity, had to spend the night sharing a hotel room with Kluski, observed a light seemingly emanate from within his mouth as he slept. Kluski also had a strange relationship with magnetism. On one occasion, he was reported to have gone to an optician’s shop to repair his glasses, only to have to leave in a hurry when all the needles went haywire in a cabinet over which he had leaned.
This type of strange phenomena was common for Kluski throughout his life. He described how, as a child, he would on occasion have premonitions. During an out of body experience he had as a child, he allegedly saw an unfamiliar house with his mother next to a dark spectre called “pneumonia”. The following summer, Kluski saw the house and his mother fell ill with pneumonia.
From the age of 20 until 46, little is known of Franek Kluski. The little that is revealed tell us that he had married and had a happy family, was a thriving businessman and a well-educated individual involved in many aspects of Polish life. Perhaps there was something in the horrors of World War One that set him on course to experiment with the paranormal. Indeed, a pan-European response to the mass bloodshed and bereavement of the Great War was the increase in popularity of Spiritualism and séances. Although Kulski’s involvement in WW1 is clouded, his militant entourage of friends and his openness to volunteer for the army in the 1920 Polish-Soviet war seems to indicate that he must have been quite involved in the World War.
Kluski’s complicated relationship with the paranormal
Despite his willingness to experiment, Kluski always tried to dismiss the inexplicable phenomena that seemed obvious to everyone around him. One incident from 1920, that occurred whilst Kluski was a volunteer in the Dragoons, is related by Dr. Sokolowski. During a feast with some Tartar soldiers, Kluski and others ate and drank sumptuously. Once inebriated, Kluski proceeded to converse with the soldiers, fluent in their Tartar language. The following morning Kluski stated that he remembered having a conversation, but had no knowledge of the Tartar language. All of the officers around him, including an expert on Tartar languages protested, certain that he did indeed know the language. Kluski was certain that he did not, and refused to believe their claims.
On another occasion he was tasked with writing leaflets for distribution. However, whilst he attempted to write them on the typewriter, spirits are said to have continuously interrupted him, trying to write out their own messages through him. To this he responded by thrashing the typewriter.
It would seem that Franek Kluski had a complicated relationship with the paranormal. On the one hand he was annoyed by it and sought to dismiss it. After all, it was troubling to reconcile such phenomena with his deep, Catholic faith. On the other hand, Kluski was a curious and profoundly intellectual man. As such, from 1918 to 1925, his curiosity turned into something of an addition.
The séances held throughout these years demonstrated a great breadth of phenomena, which was honed and perfected over time as Kluski became more adept. Apports – objects appearing from nowhere in the middle of a séances – were more random at the beginning. As time went by, Kluski found that he could summon whatever item he wished for the séances’ participants.
Most of the time, however, Kluski was in an immobile trance-like state as the spectacular occurrences happened around him. His hands were usually held, and red light was commonly used, alongside a screen to aid in the appearance of some apparitions.
Red light was used to see the demonstrations because pure, white light was thought to inhibit the production of ectoplasm.
Animal manifestations during séances
Animal apparitions were one of the more unbelievable aspects of these séances. Usually, animal manifestations could not be seen by participants, only heard, felt and smelled. One of the earliest animals to appear was named “Hirkil”, a smelly lion without a mane that was reported to have had the habit of incessantly trying to lick everyone’s faces with a wet and prickly tongue. Incredible indeed.
A large hawk was also known to have flown around the séance room. Unlike the lion, a photograph of the bird was taken.
One of the most popular creatures which Kluski manifested was the “pithecanthropos” or “primitive man”: an ape-like animal with tangled hair and a habit of loudly smacking its lips. It was reportedly good-natured, but very simple minded. The creature supposedly had a habit of not following commands correctly, to the extent that it would often be reprimanded, at which point the ape would hide under the table and proceed to lick everyone.
The bizarreness of these animal manifestations cannot be understated, but they have been verified as having appeared by numerous investigations. In the particular, reports of the ape man were confirmed, by the eye-witness and psychical researcher, Gustav Geley, who gave a detailed account of his experiences. Another eye witness, Mrs Hewat Mckenzie, detailed her experience in an article for the Psychic Science. Part of her account reads as follows:
“I can certainly certify to this, having, in 1922, seen the creature lift the luminous slate and with it illumine and show its face quite … I saw its jaw and shoulder illumined from behind in the same way. No other apparition accompanied it.” 3
However, the most spectacular of Franek Kluski’s powers was his ability to fully materialize the dead before participants’ eyes. On 21st June 1923, Wojciech Stpiczynskia, a patriotic Polish politician and writer reports on a séance he attended at Kluski’s house. According to his testimony, a phantom appeared, perfectly formed, whom one of the participants, General Mariusz Zaruski recognised as a Russian general he once knew. Zaruski approached the phantom and asked in Russian: “Is that you?”
In response, the phantom happily saluted the general several times, and tried to communicate something with his lips, but no sound was uttered. Commenting on this, the eyewitness wrote in a state of bewilderment:
“But how, out of what elements, does human flesh, accurate, perfect, living, vibrant, form itself? […] do they contradict their material existence or do they mock experimental science and the wisdom of this world?”
Controlled experiments: analysing the paranormal
During his lifetime, many researchers tried to expose Franek Kluski as a fraud. Understandly, the claims made by those who attended his sittings left an unsavoury taste in the mouth of the materially minded. Not only that, many psychical researchers were hungry to snag a willing participant to further their own research.
Kluski and L’Institut Métapsychique International
During a trip to Paris, Kluski was approached by the L’Institut Métapsychique International (IMI), who asked if they could investigate him under laboratory conditions. He agreed. During these séances, conditions were tightly controlled: a red light and large screens coated with zinc and sulphide were used; and, Kluski’s hands were held and pressed up against his body throughout. Nobody was allowed in or out of the séance room once it had begun.
During the sittings in Paris for the IMI, much of the same of phenomena occurred as had during his other sittings. Even some of the same faces which had appeared during previous sitting back in Poland manifest for the French researchers. Thus, if it were all fake, it would mean that Kluski traveled everywhere with the same actors just in case he would be asked to perform an impromptu séance. And, even then, these actors would have had to have been proficiently sneaky enough to break into a monitored laboratory environment unnoticed.
During the course of their experiment, eleven séances were held, with only three producing no or insignificant results.
In 1922, Charles Richet and Gustav Geley joined forces to conduct their own independent experiment with Kluski.
This time, Kluski was naked and closely monitored. However, this did not inhibit any of the phenomena. In fact, the participants observed the physical effects of these séances on Kluski more closely. By the end of the session, Kluski was mutilated, with bloody cuts all over his body. By morning, they were gone.
Injury and illness during seances
Physical injury and illness was somewhat common during Kluski’s séances. There have been many reports of him looking bruised, sick and pale during and after his sessions. Sometimes he was reported as so sickly, that it was thought that he himself may pass through Death’s door. Yet, every time, he would wake up the next morning – after his customary three hours of sleep – his usual lively self.
The reason for his sudden illnesses and physical mutilations was never made clear.
Physical evidence: photographs and wax moulds
Undoubtedly, there is great wealth of testimonial evidence to suggest that there is something in the professed paranormal aptitude of Franek Kluski. However, there is also a collection of physical evidence as well. In addition to photographs taken during the séances, Kluski also produced a number of wax paraffin moulds of the hands of the phantoms he had supposedly conjured. This being said, these moulds have been shown to be easily replicable by people such as Harry Houdini, who showcased how it could have been done himself.
It is easy to dismiss Kluski as a fraud when looking at the wax moulds. Even the photographs test the limit of our willingness to be open-minded, with the images looking like little more than bed sheets and blankets. Indeed, how is one supposed to tell the difference between an actual bird, and one supposedly brought into the physical realm by the powers of a physical medium? Equally, the great wealth of testimony could be dismissed as raging madness, Spiritualism and spiritualistic belief being a source of contention and scorn for many. Combined, however, Franek Kluski is an unsolvable enigma. With much of the great trove of information translated into English by a diligent researcher, the reality of Franek Kluski is baffling. Not only that, Kluski’s gentlemanly nature and willingness to be observed and take part in controlled experiments sets him apart from many others.
Ultimately, one is left with one of two conclusions: Kluski was either a magnificent conman, with no financial or even ideological motivation – a rare criminal without motive; or, he was the real deal – a physical medium. It is a staggering proposition. One which I can provide no answer to.
Franek Kluski stopped being a physical medium after 1925, but continued practising automatic writing seances until 1939. During these sessions, he would communicate with the dead through the means of remarkably accurate handwritten and typed correspondence. In 1939, at the outbreak of World War Two, he went to a priest to confess his sins. The priest told him that he must do penance and never practice mediumship again. Ever faithful to his Catholic belief, Kluski obeyed the priest’s command.