The strange case of the entity Gordon Davis
Two cases of anomalous identity
During the same cycle of séances that Soal had with the medium Blanche Cooper, other spirits showed up, providing data of a certain interest, albeit surprising, about their identification as deceased human beings. One of these, according to the investigations carried out by Soal for the verification of his earthly identity, turned out to have never lived, at least under the identity he provided. Another, a former classmate whom Soal believed was dead during the war, was later found by him alive and well. Let us examine some details of these two famous cases, often mentioned in specialized literature, to see if they can help us to evaluate the hypotheses about the personality and nature of spirits and their relationship with our human psyche.
John Ferguson's fictitious communications about his human life
The first case concerns an entity that manifested itself – during a dozen sittings – as John Ferguson. Initially it was Nada, a control of the medium, to say that an entity wanted to talk but did not have enough strength, and to mention the names of Wescot Road and Brentwood as places associated with that entity. Although he had never visited it, Soal knew Brentwood, a rather ancient town about 18 miles east of London, as during his travels by train to London he passed through Brentwood station. In the next sitting Soal asked Nada if the man from Brentwood would show up. Then a voice was heard: «I am John Ferguson – brother's name is Jim – Brentwood – I want to describe a house – in an avenue – trees on each side all big houses with gates painted dark red – quite large houses». When Soal asked him the avenue's name, Ferguson answered: «H – H – can't get it, but it begins with H. It's a large house. People there very musical. Keep fowls. I was 33 when I passed over – Jim is my brother». Ferguson then asked Soal to look for Jim, and when Soal asked him if Jim's house was on Wescot Road, the street that had been mentioned in the previous sitting, he replied that there was a link between the two families.
Then Ferguson showed up again, with the same voice of the previous sitting, saying: «John Ferguson sends his love to brother Jim and his wife. Give my message». To Soal's new request about the address to which the message should be delivered, Ferguson repeated to look for an avenue H..., not better identified, adding that it was a large autonomous house. When Soal asked him about his passing over, Ferguson replied that it had occurred in March 1912, and confirmed that at the time he was 33 years old. However, he did not remember the place: it was in a very large town, but not Brentwood. He said he was an engineer, and remembered a room with big machines, and several men working under him. At Soal's question, if the place where he worked was in London, he replied that it could be, and when Soal asked him if he was married, he said: «Yes, married, but she passed over before me. One daughter Amy and she's dead». He then said that Amy had been buried in his own grave. At this point Nada intervened, saying that she could see the grave in a large cemetery with thousands of white gravestones, with a large cross and a date, 3rd March 1912.
At next sitting the entity spoke again: «Good afternoon, it's John Ferguson speaking – I wasn't ill long, it was pneumonia after falling into the water – while we were fishing – boat upset. Jim and I got ashore and Jim took no harm. I caught my death». To Soal's questions about the incident, Ferguson replied that it did not happen at seaside, but in the estuary of a large river near the sea. He did not remember the name of the place, but he reported that his brother Jim was ten years younger than him. When Soal asked him about Jim's occupation, Ferguson said Jim had studied at the university, but then gave up his studies, he joined him. He still did not remember Jim's address, but confirmed that the house was in Brentwood, adding that in the drawing room there was a picture with eyes that seemed to look around, and that lot of cats lived at this house.
Some childhood memories come back to Soal's consciousness
It was after this sitting that Soal remembered having known a boy named James (Jim) Ferguson who had once attended the Southend High School at the same time as himself. The year was 1902, when both were 12 or 13 years old. This James was the son of an army instructor and had lived for some time at Gibraltar when his father was serving there. Their acquaintance was slight and confined to school hours, outside of which Soal had never visited him. In 1904 Ferguson moved away, possibly on account of his father being transferred to another garrison, and Soal definitely lost sight of him. Once this memory was back, Soal began to wonder if John Ferguson was not by chance a deceased brother of his old classmate. In the next sitting Nada said that Ferguson was anxious to let his brother know he was still alive, but he encountered many difficulties in remembering the names. Ferguson said that his father, when he was alive, had worked for the Army (like the father of Soal's classmate), a job that had to do with maps and compass, and that his brother Jim, before going to work with him with motors, had helped his father in his work. At Soal's request to tell him if he himself (Soal) had ever met Jim, Ferguson anwered, through Nada, «School», adding: «Always top of the year – all the prizes». The latter remark, referred to Soal himself, was correct.
Investigations and checks
As the information obtained seemed to go towards an identification case, Soal went to Brentwood for a field investigation. He also wanted to check whether the visit of the places and the impressions received could have some influence on the following communications by the entity. When he asked some local boys if they knew Wescot Road, he was told that it was indeed Warescott Road, whose pronunciation by locals was almost identical to Wescot (the pronunciation of some English words does not offer enough information about their transcription, for which spelling is necessary). Soal asked if there was an avenue in the town, whose name began with H, with large houses and gates painted red: the unanimous answer was that it was certainly Highland Avenue, not far from Warescott Road. After reaching it, Soal saw that Highland Avenue was actually a tree-lined avenue, flanked by a dozen large isolated houses, each with its own garden, and that the gates were all painted in dark red: it certainly matched Ferguson's description. Without further investigation to ascertain whether someone named Ferguson had lived in one of those houses, Soal headed for Warescott Road, a street lined with row houses in an artisans' district, observing the contrast with the most stately homes of Highland Avenue.
During the next sitting Ferguson announced that some of his memories on Brentwood were back. He said that the house was close to Onget Road (a street that the boys interviewed by Soal had mentioned as a reference) and that there were two odd gas lamps at the beginning of Wescot Road: Soal had indeed noticed two streetlights with a particular shape in Warescott Road. With some effort, Ferguson also pronounced the word Highlands as the name of the road. When Soal asked him what was the connection between the family who had lived on Highland Avenue and the one in Warescott Road, Ferguson replied to look for Ethel, a young woman who lived in Warescott Road. Soal then argued that this Ethel could be a service maid in a wealthy home on Highland Avenue, whose family lived in a more modest house on Warescott Road. On next sitting Ferguson confirmed that Ethel Lloyd, who had lived in Brentwood before the war, had served in one of Highland Avenue's houses, where she went every day since she did not live there. He then said that a spirit, perhaps her mother (but he was not sure), wanted to send a message to the girl. However, nothing happened about that.
Negative result of investigations
During a second trip to Brentwood, Soal could talk to the post office director and an employee, who said that no one named Ferguson had ever lived in one of the houses on Highland Avenue, while an elderly and shabby woman, named Lloyd, had lived in a house on Warescott Road, but had gone away 16 years before. No woman named Ethel currently lived on that street. Soal also went to the registry office and checked several years until 1913. His research confirmed what he had learned at the post office: no Ferguson had ever lived not only on Highland Avenue, but throughout Brentwood, and no Lloyd lived in Warescott Road. In short, Soal realized that as soon as in his mind he formed conjectures about Ferguson's family ties with other families living in Highland Avenue or Warescott Road, such conjectures were later confirmed by the Ferguson entity, to be subsequently ruled out by the checks with the reality of facts. For example, when Soal reported to John that he had ascertained that Ferguson's family had never lived in Brentwood, the entity said that in fact none of them had ever lived there, but that a family friend lived there, whose surname corresponded to that of a family that Soal had previously found living on Highland Avenue, but whose members did not know any Ferguson.
Finally Ferguson said he had worked for a few years in Glasgow, in Pollock Shields district, and was buried in that city, where he died on March 3, 1912. After Soal had checked on a map the actual existence of Pollock Shields in Glasgow, and took note of the two graveyards that were nearby (one of them known as South Necropolis), in the next sitting Ferguson claimed to be buried in that cemetery, in a double grave, with his daughter Amy. After which he no longer communicated, and Nada, Cooper's control, scolded Soal, saying that he misbehaved trying to confuse the spirits. Soal replied that he had only tried to help Ferguson, not to confuse him, but Nada broke the discussion. Then Frank, Soal's brother, intervened stating that indeed Ferguson mistook Soal's thoughts for his own, because he had forgotten everything about his life on Earth, and could not bear not having a precise identity anymore. To close the case, Soal ascertained that no Amy Ferguson was buried in South Necropolis, while some John Ferguson had been buried there, but many years before 1912.
To whom the entity Gordon Davis corresponds?
In the context of this series of sittings, another case of remarkable interest is represented by the communications of the entity Gordon Davis. On 4th January 1922 Frank announced: «Sam, I've brought someone who knows you». At Soal's invitation to let the new entity speak, a voice well articulated and extraordinarily clear and strong began to speak. From the first moment Soal had a lightning impression that the tone was quite familiar to him, but could not immediately place it. It was a surprisingly well modulated voice with a most fastidious accent: Mrs. Cooper had never produced anything so good at the sittings before. «Well, Soal, I never expected to speak to you in this fashion», the entity said. When Soal asked him who he was, he replied: «Remember Davis – Gordon from Roch... Roch...?» Soal easily understood it was an attempt to say Rochford, without succeeding, and said: «By Jove, Can you really be Gordon Davis? I had heard you were killed». And Gordonsaid: «The dead to the living. Queer world, what? My poor wife is my only worry now – and kiddie».
Soal tried to get more information: «But what proof could you give me that you are Davis?». After a short interval of silence, during which Nada intervened to say that it was a spirit whose strength could hurt the medium, Gordon said: «Remember the old school? How I always argued with H... Hs... – oh confound these names – was for brighter geog... brighter geography – harpoons and things». And Soal: «I remember about your arguing with Histed but nothing about harpoons. Try to tell me where you lived. That's something I don't know». After giving some correct information, Gordon asked Soal: «Remember our last little talk?» Soal remembered quite well, and when he asked Gordon where did they talk, the last said: «In the train – about guards – not train guards though. A little confab on the work of guards. That help you?» And then: «Seems ages since to me – remember Playle and O... Over...». Finally, at Soal's request, Gordon said he could not remember the name of his wife's current address, but he knew it was starting with two letters: EE. At this point Nada intervened saying that she had to end the séance because the medium could no longer sustain the effort, but Gordon was very anxious to send news to his wife, because his death had caused her a great shock. At the end of the sitting the medium seemed quite confused and unable to recall almost anything that had been said by the entities (remember that Cooper did not go into a trance). She also said her head was aching badly, something that had never happened before.
The description of the house
When, on next sitting, Soal asked Nada if Gordon could communicate, the control said again that it was better not, because Gordon was a very strong spirit that could hurt the medium. She offered herself as intermediary between Soal and Gordon, stating that the latter would whisper to her the answers to the questions. So, between one communication and another, Soal could hear two voices whispering to each other, but without being able to distinguish the words. Nada began talking about Gordon's house, saying that it was near a funny dark tunnel, and that there were five or six steps and a half to access the front entrance door. Soal then asked, without any particular intent as he did not expect there would be any truth in the answer, what was inside the house, and Nada – after consulting with Gordon – said that there was a large mirror and and lots of paintings on the walls, all depicting landscapes: at Soal's request, she specified that some were scenes of glorious mountains, others the sea, and one was a kind of road in a valley between two hills. Also in the house there were vases, some very big, and some dishes hanging on the walls. In the house lived a child and a woman very fond of flowers, country and country things: according to Nada they were the wife and son of Gordon Davis. When Soal asked her if she could describe the woman or tell him her name, Nada replied that she could not see her directly, and that she did not really understand what Gordon was telling her. Then she added that on the ground floor of the house, down some steps, there were two funny brass candlesticks on a shelf. Following a further request regarding the name of the street in which the house was located, she replied that she could only see the two letters EE. After that, Gordon went away definitively and did not communicate anymore, either directly or through Nada, except in the session of January 30, 1922, when Nada reported that she seemed to see a black dickie bird on a piano in Gordon's house.
The true events of the acquaintance between Soal and Davis
Soal and Gordon Davis had been classmates from 1898 to 1901. Gordon was a very clever boy, particularly gifted for geography and science. He had a somewhat snobbish attitude, and put great care in language property and expression effectiveness, which made him different from other classmates. His family lived in Rochford, while Soal lived in the country, four kilometers from Southend (these towns, located near the Thames estuary, were well separate at the time but today are fused within a single vast urban area). The two boys did not meet but at school, and lost sight of when Gordon's family moved in 1901. Many years later, Soal learned that Gordon had started a business in the Southend area, but did not see him again until May 1916, when he by chance met Gordon on a platform at Shenfield station, where they were both waiting for the train to London. At the time the two young men were cadets and, once exchanged greetings (it was Davis the first to recognize his old classmate), they sat in the same compartment until Davis arrived at his destination, conversing not of strictly private things, but of their life under arms: in particular Davis told Soal that he had been assigned to give a lecture to other cadets about the duties of the guard service. Soal noticed how Gordon's expression property had further improved, and how his accent – always refined – had become particularly agreeable.
After that casual meeting, Soal had no more news of Davis. Having reported a serious injury at the front in France, Soal returned home in June 1917, and went on to serve in the Army as an artillery instructor until 1919. In the fall of 1920 Soal went to visit a friend in Rochford, and it was on that occasion that an acquaintance of his friend referred to Gordon Davis as one of the city's residents who died in the war: so Soal took for granted – without making any investigation about it – that Davis had been killed, even talking about that with his family (Soal's brother stated to remember this event well). Instead, Davis, returning home after the war, had moved to Southend, where he established a real estate agency whose business prospered. However, for a while, the rumors that Davis had died in the war had actually spread in the Rochford area, as Soal was able to ascertain later, when Davis himself and his wife confirmed the fact. When, in the sitting of January 4, 1922, Soal got the first communication from Gordon, he was particularly impressed by the perfect reproduction of his friend's voice, tone and accent (which were identical to those he remembered during their last conversation on the train, not those of his old classmate), but he had not given much importance to the descriptions of the house provided by Nada, considering them entirely fanciful. However, he had taken note as always, word by word, of everything that had been said during the séances.
A revealing visit
It was not until February 1925 that Soal learned by chance that Davis was alive and ran a real estate agency in Southend, where he had moved his residence for a couple of years: he lived at 54 Eastern Esplanade, and Soal immediately recalled the two EE letters mentioned by both Gordon and Nada. Finally, on the evening of April 8, 1925, Soal went to see Gordon Davis. When he arrived at his friend's house, he immediately noticed that to reach the entrance door six steps had to be climbed, the first of which consisted of a slab of stone much lower than the other five. The house was part of a single block of terraced houses, and looked directly at the sea, since there were no buildings along the other side of the road. On one side of the house there was a peculiar tunnel that connected the street with the back gardens. There were other tunnels, one every two houses, regularly placed all along the way. Soal was greeted by Davis's wife, who had him seated in the living room on the ground floor. When the light was on, Soal noticed several paintings depicting mountain or marine landscapes hanging on the walls. There were also large vases, and two ceramic objects on the walls that could certainly be identified as plates. A large mirror hung above the fireplace.
When Davis entered the room, after the pleasantries and memories of the past, Soal began to talk to him about the reason for his visit. Gordon – who was not interested in paranormal phenomena and who, as a businessman, was more inclined towards a concrete attitude in life – listened to him attentively, interrupting him from time to time with his typical way of expressing himself, practically identical to that used by the communicating entity. When Soal showed him the verbal typescripts of January 1922 sittings, Gordon could not help exclaiming: «It is precisely the words that I myself would have used». For several years Davis had kept a diary-agenda in which he wrote down all his personal commitments, meetings with clients and their schedules, and the highlights of each day. When Soal asked him for information about his activities in January 1922, during the times of the sittings in which the entity Gordon Davis communicated, the living Gordon was able to show that in both cases he had been engaged in business meetings with customers. At the time, however, Davis, who still lived in London despite having his business agency in Southend, was involved in buying his future Eastern Esplanade home in that town. On 6th January 1922 he had visited the house for the first time, and on December 13th of the same year he had moved to his new residence with his family. It is likely that on the days when the sittings were held, Davis' thoughts often turned to the house for which he was negotiating.
The coincidences between the events of Davis' life and the communications of Gordon entity were truly remarkable: first of all Davis married in 1920, and actually had a 5 year old son when Soal went to visit him. But at the time of their last train meeting he had no marriage project in sight, so Soal – who also believed him dead – could not know anything about his wife or son in January 1922. Davis always referred to his child by calling him kiddie, he never used more common expressions like my son or my boy. His wife was very fond of flowers, which her husband gifted her very often, and loved the countryside. Soal noticed that in the living room where he was received there were many flowers arranged in a pleasant way, more than are usually placed in homes. The memories about geography disputes and harpoons reported in the sittings were fully confirmed by Davis, who well remembered both the frequent discussions with Mr. Histed (the geography teacher), and his hobby of collecting, since a young age, all kinds of weapons, including spears, harpoons and boomerangs, which he sometimes brought to school and became the subject of lessons. All details and references to the Eastern Esplanade house were correct, including the description of a picture with a road and a stream in the middle of two high hills. On the mantelpiece of the dining room (which was accessed by descending a few steps) there were two brass candlesticks, placed there only for decorative purposes (the house was in fact equipped with electric lighting), and on the piano, inside a vase, there was a statuette of a kingfisher placed on a black pedestal provided with holes, which could be used for the insertion of flower stalks.
Davis had taken possession of the candlesticks before the war, and the kingfisher statuette had been bought in London in 1921, but many of the paintings hanging on the walls had been chosen and purchased on a date after January 1922. Soal was also curious to know if when Davis had visited his future home for the first time, on 6th January 1922, he had an idea about the future furniture, but his friend told him that at that time only he had seen the house, while his wife did not see it until a few months later, and for some time they both had been undecided about the destination of the rooms, situated on two floors, before even thinking about how to furnish them. Moreover, in January 1922 the house was in poor condition, and to make it habitable had to be repaired and cleaned up. Finally, he preferred watercolor paintings, and it was only by chance that he later acquired some oil seascapes, a kind of painting he had never been interested in before.
Where do spirits originate from?
Soal became very interested about this case, which was also debated in the SPR, and despite trying to advance plausible hypotheses of interpretation through his own unconscious psychism, or that of Davis or Cooper, he recognized that there was always some detail that could not be explained either by precognition, by telepathy, by a subconscious activity or by personal unconscious, and by no means by fraudulent expedients on the medium's part. In fact, if it is true that the mediumistic communications obtained by Soal showed the presence of various personal psychic contents, this fact should not surprise us, since it is clear that in order to communicate the entities need to use the mental instrument both of the medium (whose presence is indispensable) and of the sitters. However, the descriptions and details of the house of Gordon Davis did not originate neither in the medium's nor in Soal's mind. In the end, Soal limited himself to recognizing the decidedly paranormal character of the affair, and one can not but agree with him.
Reviewing the events related to mediumistic manifestations and communications reported in the pages of this section, the most consistent hypothesis seems to consist in the recognition of the existence of some autonomous entities (spirits) existing in a psychic dimension, normally separated from the physical dimension in which we live as human beings. In fact, it is not possible to explain some contents of mediumistic communications on the basis of the sole memories or the personal unconscious of the medium or the sitters. It therefore seems that in certain conditions communication channels can be opened that allow these entities to interact with our dimension, also exerting a more or less powerful form of psychic influence on the human mind. We could therefore also consider the hypothesis of a dualism existing between our conscious Ego, tuned to the psychic contents determined by the normal mental activity of the brain, and a spirit to which the Ego can be associated and connected, even without knowing it . On the following page on the alien spirit we will try to understand, on the basis of the human testimony of a medium, what consequences this strange association can have for our lives.