UMBC Special Collections receives more than 12,000 volumes from Parapsychology Foundation

Published: Oct 24, 2022

By: Tom Moore

A hand holds an antique book.
A volume from the Eileen J. Garrett Parapsychology Foundation Collection. (Image courtesy of Shannon Taggart)

UMBC Special Collections has been given an extraordinary gift of one of the world’s largest collections devoted to parapsychology, from the Parapsychology Foundation, Inc. in Greenport, New York. The acquisition will be known as the Eileen J. Garrett Parapsychology Foundation Collection. It includes documents related to hauntings, poltergeists, out-of-body experiences, and séances, as well as spirit photographs and much more.

A renowned resource

The Eileen J. Garrett Parapsychology Foundation Collection contains more than 12,000 volumes and more than 100 periodicals, including rare books on and early journals devoted to psychical research. The collection emphasizes the literature of contemporary parapsychology and those publications that approach the subject from objective and analytical points of view.

The library also maintains strong sections on the history of psychical research and parapsychology, including early Spiritualism, mysticism and relevant philosophical works, as well as on mediumship, apparitions, hauntings, poltergeists, near-death and out-of-body experiences, experimental research on extrasensory perception, psychokinesis and precognition. A number of relevant encyclopedias, doctoral dissertations on parapsychological topics, introductory textbooks, and biographies of researchers, psychics and mediums are also on hand.

The archival collections comprise the history and proceedings of the Parapsychology Foundation and its annual conferences and publications, as well as field work, research notes, and manuscripts from prominent parapsychologists. Among the people and topics included in the collection are: the Bindelof séance phenomena, research files of psychic researcher Hereward Carrington, the poltergeist investigations and personal scrapbook of Nandor Fodor, scrapbooks compiled by Eileen J. Garrett, records pertaining to the R101 Airship crash, and spirit recordings captured by Hans Holzer.

The collection features original manuscripts by Harry Price and others pertaining to the infamous Borley Rectory case, popularly known as the most haunted house in England. It also contains Montague Ullman and Stanley Krippner’s dream telepathy research and many other subjects. Audio visual materials include over 600 audio and video recordings of conferences and lectures, spirit photographs, glass slides, target images, psychokinetic objects, and an ESP testing machine.

The Parapsychology Foundation’s rich history

The non-profit Parapsychology Foundation provides a worldwide forum supporting the scientific investigation of psychic phenomena. The Foundation gives grants; publishes pamphlets, monographs, conference proceedings, and the International Journal of Parapsychology; hosts the Perspectives Lecture Series; conducts an outreach program; and publishes books on the subject through its imprint, Helix Press.

Hands point to old images in a photo album.
Materials from the Eileen J. Garrett Parapsychology Foundation Collection. (Image courtesy of Shannon Taggart)

The Parapsychology Foundation was founded by trance medium and research advocate Eileen J. Garrett and congresswoman Hon. Frances P. Bolton in 1951 to encourage and support impartial scientific inquiry into psychical aspects of human nature such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis.

A participant in some of the groundbreaking psychic experiments of the 1920s and 1930s, Garrett understood that psychical research was ignored by a large segment of the academic community. She knew that practical aid for scholars and scientists working in this area, now known as parapsychology, would not be available from most universities nor from other foundations. The Parapsychology Foundation, as envisioned by Garrett, fulfilled this need by providing a worldwide forum for the support of scientific exploration of psychic phenomena.

Establishing a new home for the collection

The Foundation recently decided to transfer its library to an American institution that would be willing to care for, interpret, and provide public access to the Foundation’s collection of scholarly materials. UMBC Special Collections was awarded this major gift thanks to its demonstrated commitment to preservation and accessibility.

Parapsychology Foundation president Lisette Coly states, “While bittersweet to relinquish the care of our library into the most capable hands of UMBC Special Collections, we are confident and excited that it has found a perfect harbor for its continuation and growth. Lovingly maintained throughout our 72 years of existence, we are assured of its preservation and growth as a valued resource disseminating quality information concerning a complex and often misunderstood subject. We eagerly look forward to future collaboration.”

“We are thrilled to bring this important collection to UMBC,” says curator and head of UMBC Special Collections Beth Saunders. “I believe that the Garrett Collection is exemplary of the spirit of free intellectual inquiry that our materials are intended to support.”

Saunders notes, “The collection includes materials relevant to a wide range of academic disciplines including anthropology, art history, sociology, philosophy, psychology, and physics, and addresses fundamental concerns of human experience.”

In two black and white images dated May 6, 1835, a woman sits in a chair.
Materials from the Eileen J. Garrett Parapsychology Foundation Collection. (Image courtesy of Shannon Taggart)

Building on strengths

“The Garrett Library also builds upon an existing strength of Special Collections,” adds Saunders. “We are known internationally for our Jule Eisenbud Collection on Ted Serios and Thoughtographic Photography.”

Jule Eisenbud was heavily involved with psychoanalysis and psychology and was a clinical faculty member at the University of Colorado, and an honored member of the American Society for Psychical Research and Parapsychology Foundation. Eisenbud met his main subject, Ted Serios, in 1964 in Chicago. At the time, Serios was an unemployed bellhop who claimed that he had the ability to put images on film with his mind. Although initially skeptical of Serios, a significant number of successful experiments under tightly controlled conditions convinced Eisenbud that Serios’s talent was legitimate.

Ted Serios’s ability, which came to be known as “thoughtography,” gained national attention with his appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. The Eisenbud Collection includes over 2,000 photographs and is the subject of a forthcoming exhibition organized by Emily Cullen, curator of exhibitions at UMBC’s Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery, for The Image Centre at Toronto Metropolitan University, as well as a book to be published by Atelier Éditions, both in 2023.

Saunders envisions similar opportunities for the Eileen J. Garrett Parapsychology Foundation Collection. “We plan to focus first on making the collection accessible by cataloging the books and serials and creating a Finding Aid for the archival documents. We also plan to publish detailed research guides to aid scholars in discovery of relevant materials. In the future, there are a number of digitization projects that would make the highest research value materials more widely available, and I’d like to work with students to curate an exhibition from the collection in the Library Gallery.”

Two hands hold a old black and white photograph.
Materials from the Eileen J. Garrett Parapsychology Foundation Collection. (Image courtesy of Shannon Taggart)

UMBC’s Special Collections

The Special Collections department collects materials of enduring historical and cultural value—housing, preserving, and making accessible materials that are original, rare, unique, fragile, and archival. The collections and staff support UMBC’s research and educational mission and its dedication to cultural and ethnic diversity, social responsibility, and lifelong learning. Topical collecting areas are particularly emphasized within the fields of photography, the history of the biological sciences, the Baltimore Sun newspaper, science fiction literature and popular culture, parapsychology, alternative presses, UMBC history and records, and Maryland manuscript, photograph, and newspaper collections.

Saunders notes that Special Collections will continue to work with the Parapsychology Foundation to grow the collections and encourage its scholarly use. The Parapsychology Foundation hopes to administer library grants that will fund researchers visiting the Garrett Collection at UMBC. The organizations would also like to host joint public programs and academic symposia on topics related to the collection in the future.

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