Emma and Henry Cook had their daughter Florence Eliza Cook on June 3rd, 1856 in Cobham, Kent. She was the oldest child of four siblings. As a young girl, Florrie, as she was known by those who knew her well, was said to talk to imaginary people and ghosts. For years, the only sign of her abilities was her imaginary friends.
Cook's talents were discovered at the young age of 14 when she participated in a seance and was told by one of the spirits that she was a medium, and should seek the help of a local spiritual help agency called the Dalton Association or the Dalton Society. She gave free seances several times for their help understanding her abilities and skills. The information about the association came after a writing session where the information was given to her via a spirit from the other side.
Florence's mother reportedly gave her daughter permission to participate in a seance at a tea party when she was 15 years old. The girl was said, on a second attempt, to levitate a table and make it turn as well as levitating herself. She soon learned of her skill to channel spirit messages through automatic writing and became an avid trance writer.
After her first contact, Florence began to work with famous psychics Frank Herne and Charles Williams. She would soon become famous in her own right for her seances because they usually had surprising results like mysterious messages and named spirit leaders that held the hands of attendees. Time alone with her mother would improve this skill too. After her talents had been developed, Cook would usually end her sessions in a trance that was customary during the seances she held.
Cook's sessions often held politicians, actors, and other famous people because of her notoriety and increase in popularity. Herne would later be exposed as a fraud that cast suspicion on Cook. Cook allegedly held the ability to summons spirits as she practiced seances in her home Florence's abilities would continue to improve and change until she started making people appear in 1873. This is the time when Florence was reportedly letting Katie King, the daughter of John King, who was known better as Henry Morgan. She would allow herself to be tied up and placed in a spiritual cabinet during her seances.
Making things fall from the ceiling was another skill that Florence and Katie would claim to possess. One such instance involved a popular psychic named Agnes Guppy. During one seance, Katie offered to give the group of people at the seance a gift. Someone jokingly said the name of the medium Guppy and after a commotion, she appeared in a trance on the table in front of them all. Witnesses say she was still holding her pen and notebook because she was interrupted in the middle of doing her books.
At the top of the cabinet, along the door was a window that Katie first starting appearing in when Florence was in a seance. As time went on, Katie would become bolder and travel outside of the cabinet to hold hands with the people at the table. Her physical contact is one reason people believed in her existence while critics say it was simply Cook in different clothing holding hands with them.
Katie, otherwise known as Annie Morgan, would continue to be the spirit leader that was being used to spread the proof of spirits and Florence, her willing channel of communication. Katie and Florence were two physically and mentally different people, according to eyewitnesses. Katie was supposedly as much as four inches taller than Florence, with red hair instead of black, and a dark complexion to Cook's pale one. Katie was said to be heavier with a fuller face than Florence too.
Dozens of people witnessed the two beings in photographs or in person for decades, but Cook's skills were put to the test over and over again. Katie was known to visit reportedly in seances four other times including those held by Jennie and Nelson Holmes during 1874 to 1875. She was also said to visit after Cook's death in Canada to Dr. Glen Hamilton. She was seen in 1974 in Rome according to believers. Fans think King may come back again one day.
William Crookes was a famous scientist who ran a controversial study on psychic mediums like Florence Cook, Kate Fox, and Daniel Dunglas Home. He would later determine that they were all three authentic psychic mediums. Crooks experiments, photo sessions, seances, and tests were held in the privacy of his home. He chose who participated, and he orchestrated the entire thing, supposedly with the full approval of Florence Cook herself. His secrecy drew expected suspicion and controversy about the authenticity of Cook's talents and skills. Mr. Charles Blackburn, like others, believed in Florence so much that he paid a retainer for access to her services at his discretion.
In 1873, with several members of Royalty present, a man named Mr. W. Volckman, became suspicious enough to grab Katie's wrist. Cook's fiance along with others helped free Katie from the man's grasp, but not before he says he discovered Cook and not King under the cloth she typically wore over her head. The incident would cast a deep shadow over Cook and her career although she still held regular seances and parties.
When William Crookes published his report documenting his studies and tests of the three popular mediums in 1984, the world met him with mistrust. His methods were called into question several times while others felt pity for him saying that he fell for parlor tricks when everyone else knew the truth. He would eventually be knighted in 1897 for his inventions and other scientific works. Crooks would continue to maintain and defend his convictions until his death in 1919.
Florence Cook would come to the end of three years of spiritual channeling with Katie in 1875. Katie told everyone in attendance goodbye and woke Cook after her declaration. Guests said it was a very emotional session with Katie leaving and coming back as if she were confused or upset about the time with Florence ending. She talked with Florence until the woman became too upset. She reportedly disappeared and was not seen again until after 1900. Cook would reemerge with Leila for a short time in 1875 and finally with Marie, who was a professional dancer. One person was not convinced about Maria's existence.
Another physical encounter in 1880 with George Sitwell created more suspicion about Cook's talents because he uncovered Cook under the white robes typically worn by her spirit guide, she was only wearing her underclothes. A corset string gave her away, and when everyone looked, Cook was not in her customary chair.
After this event, she asked for someone to be tied up with her for the evening, so people would believe that she stayed tied up during her seances. Florence Marryat was usually the person give this task. Cook traveled to Berlin in 1899, where she allowed her skills to be tested by scientists. She died on April 24, 1904.
Life for Florence beyond death
Even after her death, people continue to talk about Cook's talents and the spirit leaders she manifested. Although proof through photographs has been lost over the years, a few pictures with dim conditions still exist. These pictures are some of those taken by William Crooke during his experiments with Florence. A few people came forward near or after her death to say that she was just a good fraud who knew how to trick people in the dim conditions of typical seances.
No matter how much doubt was cast in her direction, Cook stayed in the spotlight as a popular psychic medium of her time. Dozens of eyewitnesses claimed that she was the real deal and had genuine talents that allowed her to contact the other side. She would often be spent and need to rest after each seance because of the amount of physical energy it took to manifest a spirit person like Katie King. At the end of her sessions, she was always found tied with rope or tape, with unbroken seals, and lifeless in her spiritual cabinet.