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Materialization Incident that Baffles Steve Stubbs

Mar 01, 2002 06:10 AM
by Daniel Caldwell

Testimony of Rudolph Gebhard, 
August. 25–26, 1884, 
Elberfeld, Germany 

I have always taken a great interest in conjuring
tricks. When in London, I had an opportunity of taking
lessons from Professor Field, a most skillful
sleight-of-hand conjuror, who very soon made me quite
proficient in his art. From that time forward I have
given performances wherever I went (as an amateur, of
course), and made the acquaintance of nearly all our
renowned "wizards," with whom I exchanged tricks. As
every conjuror has some favorite sleight in which he
excels, I was bound to be very careful in watching
them, in order to make myself perfect in all the
different lines of card or coin conjuring, or the
famous mediumistic feats. This of course made me in
good time a pretty close observer, as far as tricks
are concerned; and I feel justified in giving here an
opinion on the phenomena which came under my

Two of them occurred in our house in Elberfeld, during
the stay in it of Mme. Blavatsky, Colonel Olcott, and
a small party of friends and Theosophists.

The first one was a letter from Mahatma K.H. to my
father, and took place one evening in the presence of
a number of witnesses. It was about nine pm. We were
sitting in the drawing room discussing different
topics, when Mme. Blavatsky’s attention was suddenly
attracted by something unusual taking place in the
room. After a while she said that she felt the
presence of the "Masters." That they had, perhaps, the
intention of doing something for us, and so she asked
us to think of what we should like to occur. Then a
little discussion took place as to what would be the
best thing, and finally it was unanimously resolved
that a letter should be asked for, addressed to my
father, Mr. G. Gebhard, on a subject on which he
should mentally decide himself.

Now my father had, at the time being, great anxiety
about a son in America, my elder brother, and was very
eager to get advice from the Master concerning him.

Meanwhile, Mme. B., who, on account of her recent
illness, was resting on a sofa, and had been looking
around the room, suddenly exclaimed that there was
something going on with a large oil painting hanging
over the piano in the same room, she having seen like
a ray of light shooting in the direction of the
picture. This statement was immediately corroborated
by Mrs. [Holloway], and then by my mother also, who,
sitting opposite a looking glass and turning her back
to the picture, had also observed in the mirror, like
a faint light going towards the painting. Mme. B. then
required Mrs. [Holloway] to see, and say what was
going on, when Mrs. [Holloway] said that she saw
something forming over the picture, but could not
distinctly make out what it was.

Everybody's attention was now fixed in the direction
of the wall high above and under the ceiling, where so
many saw bright lights. But, I must confess, that for
my part, not being clairvoyant, I could neither see
lights, nor any other thing except what I had always
seen on that wall. And when Madame Blavatsky said she
now felt absolutely sure that there was something
going on, I got up (we had kept our seats all this
while) and climbing on the piano lifted the picture
right off the wall, but not off the hook, shook it
well and looked behind it—nothing! The room was well
lit up, and there was not an inch of the picture which
I could not see. I dropped the frame, saying that I
could see nothing; but Madame Blavatsky told me that
she felt sure that there must be something, so on I
climbed once more and tried again.

The picture in question was a large oil painting,
suspended from the wall by a hook and a rope, which
made it hang over at the top, so that when the lower
part of the frame was lifted off the wall, there was a
space of fully six inches between the wall and the
back of the picture, the latter being virtually
entirely off the wall. There being a wall gas bracket
fixed on each side of the painting, the space between
the latter and the wall was well lit up. But the
second time, no better than the first, was I able to
detect anything, though I looked very close. It was in
order to make perfectly sure that I got up on the
piano, and passed my hand twice very carefully along
the frame, which is about three inches thick, up and

Letting the picture drop back, I then turned round to
Madame Blavatsky to ask her what was to be done
further, when she exclaimed, "I see the letter; there
it is!" I turned quickly back to the picture, and saw
at that moment a letter dropping from behind it on the
piano. I picked it up. It was addressed to "Herr
Consul G. Gebhard," and contained the information he
had just asked for. I must have made rather a
perplexed face, for the company laughed merrily at the
"family juggler."

Now for me this is a most completely demonstrated
phenomenon. Nobody had handled the picture but myself;
I was careful to examine it very closely, and as I was
searching for a letter, such a thing could not have
escaped my attention, as perhaps would have been the
case if I had been looking for some other object; as
then I might not have paid any attention to a slip of
paper. The letter was fully four by two inches, so by
no means a small object.

Let us consider this phenomenon from a sleight-of-hand
point of view.

Suppose several letters had been prepared beforehand,
addressed to different persons, treating of different
subjects. Is it possible to get a letter to an
appointed place by a sleight-of-hand trick? Quite
possible; it only depends what place it is, and if our
attention is drawn beforehand to such a place or not.
To get that letter behind that picture would have been
very difficult, but might have been managed if our
attention had for a moment been directed to another
place, the letter being thrown behind the picture in
the meantime. What is sleight-of-hand? Nothing else
but the execution of a movement more or less swift, in
a moment when you are not observed. I draw your
attention for a short while to a certain spot, say for
instance my left hand, my right is then free to make
certain movements unobserved; as to "the quickness of
the hand deceives the eye" theory, it is entirely
erroneous. You cannot make a movement with your hand
so quickly that the eye would not follow and detect
it; the only thing you can do is either to conceal the
necessary movement by another one which has nothing to
do with what you are about, or to draw the attention
of the looker-on to another point, and then quickly do
what is required.

Now, in this instance all our attention had been drawn
to the picture, before ever the question was put as to
what we should like to have, and was kept there all
the while; it would have been impossible for anyone to
throw a letter without being observed. As for the
letter having been concealed behind the picture
beforehand, this is out of the question altogether, it
could not have escaped my attention while I repeatedly
searched for it. Suppose the letter had been placed on
the top of the frame, and my hand had disturbed it
passing along without my knowing it, this would have
caused the letter to drop down instantly, whereas,
about thirty seconds passed before it put in an
appearance. Taking all circumstances together, it
seems to me an impossibility to have worked this
phenomenon by a trick.

The day after this had occurred, I went into Madame’s
room about noon; but seeing that she was engaged I
retired to the drawing room, where we had been sitting
the night before, and just then the idea struck me to
try that picture again, in order to make perfectly
sure that the letter could not have been concealed
somewhere behind it, without being detected. I was
alone in the room, and during my examination of the
painting, nobody entered it; I fully satisfied myself
that a letter could not have escaped my attention, had
it been concealed behind the picture. I then went back
to Madame’s room, where I found her still engaged with
the same woman. In the evening we were again sitting

"The Masters watched you today, and were highly amused
with your experiments. How you did try to find out if
that letter could not have been concealed behind the

Now I am positively certain, first, that nobody was in
the room at the time I tried the picture; and
secondly, that I had told no one in the house of my
experiment. It is impossible for me to explain how
Madame could have found out my movements, except
through clairvoyance.

Quoted from:
Sinnett, A. P. Incidents in the Life of Madame
Blavatsky, Compiled from Information Supplied by her
Relatives and Friends. London: George Redway, 1886.
Reprint New York: Ayer, 1976, pp. 279–286.

[Note: The above extracts have been transcribed from
the original source but material not relevant to the
subject has been silently deleted. The original texts,
however, can be found from the bibliographical
reference. Explanatory words added by the editor are
enclosed within brackets.]

Daniel H. Caldwell
"...Contrast alone can enable us to appreciate things at
their right value; and unless a judge compares notes and
hears both sides he can hardly come to a correct decision."
H.P. Blavatsky. The Theosophist, July, 1881, p. 218.

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