Leonora Piper Biography
Leonora E. Piper (sometimes also spelled Leonore E. Piper) was born on the 27th of June in the year 1857 in Nashua, NH. During her lifetime, she participated in a number of scientific research studies designed to further knowledge of her unique abilities.
Piper was best known as a “trance medium” and gathered a great following, many of whom considered her the psychic leader of her day.
The Beginnings of Leonora's Gifts
According to those close to her, Ms. Piper's gifts first emerged when she was just an 8-year-old girl. She described the initiation as a sensation of a blow that fell just behind her right ear. The blow stung and was followed by the hissed letter “S.”
The hissing voice then told Leonora about the recent death of her Aunt Sara. Young Leonora recounted these strange events right away to her mother, who made a written note of them and was able to confirm that the date and time of death matched with her daughter's account.
Her mother did nothing to draw attention to her daughter's gifts, but rather focused on providing the most normal possible childhood.
Leonora's Marriage & Meeting with Noted Harvard Luminary William James
Leonora met and married William Piper when she was age 22. Piper would continue to be her confidante and soulmate throughout her life and they raised two daughters together, Alta Laurette and Minerva Leonora. Her eldest daughter Alta would later write a detailed biography of her mother's life and gifts.
Shortly after her marriage, Ms. Piper participated in her first seance, conducted by local blind celebrity clairvoyant Dr. J.R. Cocke. Her purpose for being there was not to launch a career as a psychic medium or even investigate the phenomena of contact with the afterlife, but to try to find resolution for physical pain. Her pain stemmed from a childhood issue, which was why Dr. J.R. Cocke was first recommended to her.
During the seance experience, Piper fell into her first trance. During the trance, she saw a light, heard voices and was observed to pick up pen and paper to write down a message. When she emerged from the trance, she presented the message and said it was for a local judge. The judge was locally famous and he immediately concluded that the message Piper received had been given to him from his deceased son. As a result of this, Piper was launched into Boston society as a trance medium in her own right.
At first, Piper struggled with her newfound public notoriety and the demand for sittings and seances, even with the extra income it brought her.
This was eased somewhat when her psychic reputation brought her to the attention of Harvard psychologist William James, who decided at the recommendation of his mother-in-law to participate in one of her seances to learn more. James had recently lost his young son, so his interest was personal as well as professional.
He was responsible for giving her the moniker she would later be known by, “one white crow,” that rare genuine psychic medium amidst a great number of frauds and charlatans, with her name referring to her as one who can prove “not all crows are black.”
James was also responsible for bringing Piper to the attention of his large circle of friends and peers, many of whom also sought sessions with her and helped her establish herself in business.
Piper's Participation in Scientific Research Studies
Throughout her life, Piper was a participant in a number of scientific research studies led by various researchers. The aggregate conclusion from these studies was never unduly weighted towards her authenticity or the lack thereof – as many researchers believed in her claims of legitimacy as decried them.
Some research studies were identified to her up front, while others were kept covert as results were tallied. The most well known of these was conducted by Richard Hodgson, a member of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR). Hodgson set up at least 50 different sittings with different people known to him, each of whom was to attend the session and then report back to him. He also hired a private investigator to follow her and gather information on her daily life and activities.
As a result of this research, Hodgson became particular champion of Piper's work. As a researcher, Hodgson believed in Piper's gift. As a person, Hodgson was considered “obsessed” with his research subject by many of his science peers. He developed a reputation for standing near her home, no matter how inclement the weather, to observe the comings and goings.
Piper would later claim that one of her controls (spirit guides) was Hodgson, recently deceased and returned in spirit form to assist with her work.
Piper's Seance Controls
Piper worked with a variety of controls (spirit guides) over the course of her professional life. Each of her controls had their own colorful history and personality, including Richard Hodson.
Her very first control as a working medium was named Chlorine, who identified herself a young girl of Indian (Native American) descent. Perhaps her best known control was reportedly a convert from her first mentor, the Boston clairvoyant Dr. J.R. Cocke. The control, a French doctor called Phinuit (pronounced “Finney”), paired with her to conduct seances from the period of 1884 to 1892.
She worked with a handful of other controls in various ways, although her two most well-known methods were through trances and written communication during seances. Some of her later controls identified themselves by famous names, including Martin Luther, Julius Caesar, Mrs. Siddons, J. Sebastian Bach, Longfellow, Commodore Vanderbilt and George Pelham (G.P.), who often paired up with Phinuit for Piper's seances.
In 1897, Piper acquired a new spirit guide who called itself the Imperator. The Imperator never paired with any other controls. Those who attended seances with Piper during this time spoke of communications being succinct and direct. It was thought the Imperator was not one individual but rather a group of controls working together through a single voice.
Piper, James & the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR)
James set up the ASPR after his meeting with Piper, and the society functioned largely as a research vehicle to study her abilities, at least at first.
This research was carried on for more than a quarter century, with many participating researchers also conducting concurrent studies into other psychics, mediums and phenomena of a paranormal nature.
One of the biggest obstacles the researchers faced in making a definitive assessment of whether Piper's gifts were deceptive or real was the contrast between the accuracy of some of her pronouncements as compared with the vagueness of others. In other words, sometimes she was able to provide details right down to the letter, whereas other times she seemed to be deliberately vague about details.
Her biggest proponent and ally, Professor William James, termed the vagueness “bosh,” a term describing the sometimes jumbled nature of attempting to transmit thoughts and facts from one realm to the next using a combination of humans and spirit guides to do so. However, this theory was not widely considered as valid by other researchers during Piper's lifetime.
Piper's Influence Over Flowers
While Piper was never observed to promote any so-called “spiritualist” artifacts or displays, such as moving objects around a room or using lots of candles and lights, she did have one noted ability she demonstrated on more than one occasion.
Piper's gift was to be able to extract the scent out of flowers and then cause them to wither away within a short time span. Her personal preference was to handle an item that had been owned by the departed individual as a way to be in touch with them in the afterlife.
Piper's Later Years & Passing
July 3, 1950, was Leonora Piper's final day on Earth. Her cause of death was bronchopneumonia. During her lifetime she had conducted seances for some of the most notable celebrities in the field of science, including Charles Darwin himself.
She had also been subjected to some of the most rigorous fraud detection tests of her day, some of which caused her pain, health issues and a temporary cease in her practice of holding sittings and seances. However, in spite of these rigorous tests and some additional public statements made with the assumed intention of discrediting Piper's abilities to the general public, no one single researcher, client or association was ever able to prove definitively that her abilities as a psychic medium were not, in fact, genuine.
Today, Piper is still hailed as perhaps the greatest psychic medium of her time and ever. Her gifts and the public's awareness of them ushered in a new era of scientific study and inquiry into the nature of paranormal and psychic phenomena, and paved the way for future research studies to build on the foundation of knowledge provided by Piper's work with William James and others.