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Hamilton Family fonds, Archives & Special Collections

Collection Profile

I came away with the conclusion that Winnipeg stands very high among the places we have visited for its psychic possibilities.
— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     Our Second American Adventure (1921)

Ectoplasms, table tiltings, rappings, and spiritual manifestations—this likely was not what Winnipeg physician T. G. Hamilton expected when he first was drawn to psychic inquiry by his friend W. T. Allison in 1913. The heartbreak of the death of his three-year-old son in 1918, however, likely inspired first his wife Lillian, then T. G. himself, to begin their secret investigations into the paranormal. From 1918 to 1923, Hamilton and his wife searched for the physical proof of life after death. What came next, however, would produce the amazing but eerie archives of the Hamilton Family: the development in 1923 of the "home circle." With unpaid mediums, respected fellow doctors, and his wife by his side, T. G. set up a room in his house, boarded up the windows, bolted the door, and lit the room "by a single ruby photographic lamp attached to an electric cord." A bank of eleven cameras, three flash-light boxes, and three push-button controls allowed Hamilton to take periodic photographs of what happened in that little room.

From 1923 to 1945, first T. G., then after his untimely death in 1935, Lillian, conducted séances. The Hamiltons began by inviting a neighbor, Mrs. Elizabeth Poole, to join the circle. Medium Mrs. Mary Marshall joined them in 1925, because it was "suspected that she had psychic faculties worth investigating." The first table rappings of "Elizabeth M" were followed by clairvoyance, trance states, table tilting, automatic writing, visions, then the manifestations of materializations, wax molds, bell ringing, and finally in 1928, ectoplasms. Hamilton controlled the conditions of the séances as closely as possible to validate his experiments scientifically.

When the news about these circles finally came out, the Hamilton family's work became known in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King, Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and later his widow Lady Jean Conan Doyle, and Americans Mina Crandon, the medium known as "Margery," and her husband, Dr. L. R. G. Crandon, all traveled to Winnipeg to participate in the Hamiltons' circles. Between 1926 and 1934 T. G. Hamilton presented 86 lectures and wrote numerous articles.

Scrapbooks, seance attendance records and registers, affidavits, automatic writings, correspondence, speeches and lectures, news clippings, journal articles, photographs, glass plate negatives and positives, prints, slides, tapes, manuscripts, and promotional materials related to major publications make up the records of this strangely intriguing collection.

The Hamilton fonds has been used in many art exhibitions, including ones recently held in Paris and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in books, plays, lectures, and scholarly articles, and is the frequent subject of television and radio documentaries. Many members of the public have employed the collection. In 2001, a small virtual exhibit of photos from this collection was created on Archives & Special Collections' Web site. These were joined in 2006 by over 700 images from the Hamilton Family fonds. The T. Glendenning Hamilton grant program provides funds for researchers to come to Winnipeg to study the collection and has supported lectures. This collection has also become the foundation for the acquisition of other spiritualist materials. If there is no life after death, at least T. G. Hamilton's work lives on.

Collection Profile and Overview: Shelley Sweeney
Illustrations: Bob Talbot

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