Eusapia Palladino was born near Bari, Italy, in 1854. Her young life was filled with tragedy. Her mother died in childbirth and her father was assassinated by brigands 12 years later. As an orphan, she was hired by an upper bourgeoisie family in Naples as a nursemaid.
Her abilities became apparent when as a small girl she heard raps on furniture and saw eyes glaring at her from the darkness. While working as a nursemaid in 1872, she came to the attention of Signor Damiani, a noted Italian psychic investigator. Under his guidance, Eusapia’s abilities progressed rapidly, first producing physical phenomena, then spectral appearances, including phantom limbs issuing from her body.
Her spirit guide, John King, communicated through raps and during trance he spoke in Italian. She would produce raps with upward movements of her head and her hand would cause tables to lift in the air.
One witness wrote in 1888, “Either bound to a seat, or firmly held by the hands of the curious, she attracts to her the articles of furniture which surround her, lifts them up, holds them suspended in the air like Mahomet’s coffin, and makes them come down again with undulatory movements, as if they were obeying her will.”
Signor Lombroso and Professor Tamburini examined her abilities to determine if she was a fraud. The professor held her hands and feet to prevent trickery. Lombroso wrote, “A handbell placed on a small table more than a yard distant from Eusapia sounded in the air above the heads of the sitters and then descended on the table, thence going two yards to a bed. While the bell was ringing we struck a match and saw the bell up in the air.”
Over the years, Eusapia was tested many times in many countries. Some skeptics believed she was a trickster. One said he caught her in the garden gathering flowers to be used as “apports.” Stanley LeFevre Krebs wrote a book exposing her tricks entitled Trick Methods of Eusapia Paladino. Magicians Harry Houdini and Joseph Rinn claimed all her feats were conjuring tricks. It is said that Eusapia even admitted to using trickery at some times.
Others believed certain abilities remained unexplained. In England, Madame and Pierre Curie treated séances as scientific experiments and took detailed notes. In 1905, Pierre reported on the testing done at the Society for Psychical Research, “It was very interesting, and really the phenomena that we saw appeared inexplicable as trickery—tables raised from all four legs, movement of objects from a distance, hands that pinch or caress you, luminous apparitions. All in a [setting] prepared by us with a small number of spectators all known to us and without a possible accomplice. The only trick possible is that which could result from an extraordinary facility of the medium as a magician. But how do you explain the phenomena when one is holding her hands and feet and when the light is sufficient so that one can see everything that happens?”
When Eusapia died in 1918, she left many followers and skeptics behind. We may never know the true extent of her abilities.