Anthony Donald Cornell (born 1924, died 10 April 2010, aged 86) was a British parapsychologist and prominent figure in the investigations of ghosts and other paranormal activity across the United Kingdom during the later part of the twentieth century. He appeared in numerous TV documentaries and television debates, and was often the subject of magazine and news articles concerning ghosts and paranormal investigations.
Cornell was a leading British expert in parapsychology.With his fellow researchers he attempted to record and measure paranormal events using equipment specifically made for the purpose, incorporating off-the-shelf computing and audio/visual capture devices long before the digital era. Cornell and his associates at the Society for Psychical Research pioneered the study of paranormal activities in the UK and paved the way for subsequent investigations.
Tony Cornell was born in Histon, Cambridgeshire in 1924 and educated at The Perse School and Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, then called Fitzwilliam House, from which he graduated in 1949.Tony joined the SPR in 1952, was elected to Council in 1962 and became Vice-President in 1992. Elected Treasurer in 1980, he resigned in 2003, having held the post for 22 years. During this time he focused mainly on investigating hauntings, poltergeists and mediums. With Alan Gauld and Howard Wilkinson he created SPIDER (Spontaneous Psychological Incident Recorder). Many cases were monitored, photographically and electronically, but little significant evidence was obtained in twenty years of its use. In 1971, he visited Russian parapsychologists in Leningrad and Moscow to discuss their telepathy experiments. Mainly interested in apparitions, poltergeists and mediums, Cornell acquired a reputation for trying to get to the bottom of what was going on in a measured and unemotional way, a far cry from the current sensationalistic approach apparent in current media offerings which seem more geared towards entertainment than fact finding.
Cornell was a member of CUSPR (Cambridge University Society for Psychical Research) and was appointed Research Officer in 1958 and President in 1968. As the SPR Treasurer and ongoing CUSPR President, he served on the organising committee for the SPR Centenary Conference, held at Trinity College in 1982. Cornell was the author of numerous papers on ghosts and poltergeists and expressed some cautious opinions on the Scole, SORRAT Min-lab (USA) and Enfield cases. He co-authored Poltergeists with Alan Gauld (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1979) and his last major work was Investigating the Paranormal (Helix Press, New York, 2002). By far his most pressing concern was the continued lack of any new knowledge gained about their cause in recent investigations, which have been conducted in an almost identical way for the last 125 years.
Cornell was also an amateur antiquarian and helped ensure the preservation of a number of old, timber-framed buildings opposite the Round Church in central Cambridge. Despite the focus of his career, Cornell's most enduring legacy may well be the Cambridge Science Park, which he proposed in the late sixties.
Cornell retired from active paranormal investigations after suffering a stroke in 2004. He died peacefully at home in the company of Martin, his second son and Alison, his third wife, on Saturday 10 April 2010. A memorial service was held in the chapel of Fitzwilliam College on 20 June and his ashes scattered in Histon pond during the late evening of 22 June 2010.
Cornell spent over 50 years investigating the paranormal and came to the conclusion that most paranormal cases turn out to have natural explanations such as the result of fraud, pranks and misidentification. He believed that many sightings of ghosts, hauntings and poltergeists are products of the human mind.Cornell estimated that of the 800 cases that he investigated, only twenty percent were difficult to explain and only a handful were paranormal.
Cornell wrote that there is no evidence for the spiritualist hypothesis and most séance room phenomena can be explained by unconscious and deliberate fraud. He wrote that discarnate spirits in trance mediumship are secondary personalities from the mediums subconscious and that all physical mediumship such as ectoplasm is the result of fraud and trickery, however, he believed psychokinesis and telepathy to be real. According to Cornell "without the presence of a living person, none of the alleged paranormal effects occur." Throughout his career as a parapsychologist Cornell exposed a number of fraudulent mediums including Rita Goold and Alec Harris.The psychologist and skeptic Richard Wiseman has noted that Cornell conducted a "great deal of fascinating work". He investigated the reliability of eyewitness testimony for ghosts by dressing up as a fake spirit in several locations in Cambridge. Cornell discovered that the eyewitness reports were often far from accurate and unreliable.
However, Cornell was not just another debunker, but understood and often remarked that ghosts and paranormal activity had been recorded throughout human history and so there was clearly something else going on that we did not understand and which known science could not explain, thus requiring careful, level-headed and dispassionate investigation.
I take the view that the most nonsensical aspect of much of the physical phenomena in the seance room is the implicit notion that the discarnate resort to such ludicrous, absurd, and facile physical effects to prove that there is life after death. If, as claimed, life in the next world is more advanced than that on earth, one might be forgiven to expect proof of a more intelligent type than what appears acceptable to both the dead and the living, night after night, in the seance room. The shaking of tables and banging of tambourines, the creation of cold breezes and touches, trumpets cavorting and prancing about the room banging the heads of the sitters, and all the other antics that go on in the dark say little for the proficiency of the alleged discarnate visitors. If the "spirits" have been capable of such a momentous feat as surviving bodily death transcending time and manipulating matter in this world while existing in another dimension of time and space – why do they not materialize in the seance room something really worth the effort? Tony Cornell (2002) Investigating the Paranormal.
The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) is a nonprofit organisation in the United Kingdom. Its stated purpose is to understand events and abilities commonly described as psychic or paranormal. It describes itself as the "first society to conduct organised scholarly research into human experiences that challenge contemporary scientific models." It does not, however, since its inception in 1882, hold any corporate opinions: SPR members assert a variety of beliefs with regard to the nature of the phenomena studied.
Prof Charles Robert Richet was a French physiologist at the Collège de France known for his pioneering work in immunology. In 1913, he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "in recognition of his work on anaphylaxis". Richet devoted many years to the study of paranormal and spiritualist phenomena, coining the term "ectoplasm". He also believed in the inferiority of blacks, was a proponent of eugenics and presided over the French Eugenics Society towards the end of his life. The Richet line of professorships of medical science would continue through his son Charles and his grandson Gabriel. Gabriel Richet was one of the great pioneers of European nephrology.
The National Laboratory of Psychical Research was established in 1926 by Harry Price, at 16 Queensberry Place, London. Its aim was "to investigate in a dispassionate manner and by purely scientific means every phase of psychic or alleged psychic phenomena". The honorary president was Lord Sands, K.C., LL.D., acting president was H. G. Bois, and the honorary director was Harry Price. In 1930 the Laboratory moved from Queensberry Square, where it had been a tenant of the London Spiritualist Alliance to 13 Roland Gardens. In 1938, its library was transferred on loan to the University of London.
Harry Price was a British psychic researcher and author, who gained public prominence for his investigations into psychical phenomena and his exposing fraudulent spiritualist mediums. He is best known for his well-publicized investigation of the purportedly haunted Borley Rectory in Essex, England.
Sir William Fletcher Barrett was an English physicist and parapsychologist.
Frank Podmore was an English author, and founding member of the Fabian Society. He is best known as an influential member of the Society for Psychical Research and for his sceptical writings on spiritualism.
Mediumship is the practice of purportedly mediating communication between spirits of the dead and living human beings. Practitioners are known as "mediums" or "spirit mediums". There are different types of mediumship or spirit channelling, including seánce tables, trance, and ouija.
Ghost hunting is the process of investigating locations that are reported to be haunted by ghosts. Typically, a ghost-hunting team will attempt to collect evidence supporting the existence of paranormal activity. Ghost hunters use a variety of electronic devices, including EMF meters, digital thermometers, both handheld and static digital video cameras, including thermographic and night vision cameras, as well as digital audio recorders. Other more traditional techniques are also used, such as conducting interviews and researching the history of allegedly haunted sites. Ghost hunters may also refer to themselves as "paranormal investigators."
Ectoplasm is a term used in spiritualism to denote a substance or spiritual energy "exteriorized" by physical mediums. It was coined in 1894 by psychical researcher Charles Richet. Although the term is widespread in popular culture, the physical existence of ectoplasm is not accepted by science and many purported examples were exposed as hoaxes fashioned from cheesecloth, gauze or other natural substances.
Albert Freiherr von Schrenck-Notzing was a German physician, psychiatrist and notable psychical researcher, who devoted his time to the study of paranormal events connected with mediumship, hypnotism and telepathy. He investigated Spiritualist mediums such as Willi Schneider, Rudi Schneider, and Valentine Dencausse. He is credited as the first forensic psychologist by Guinness World Records.
Rudi Schneider, son of Josef Schneider and brother of Willi Schneider, was an Austrian Spiritualist and physical medium. His career was covered extensively by the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, and he took part in a number of notable experiments conducted by paranormal researchers/debunkers, including Harry Price, Albert von Schrenck-Notzing and Eric Dingwall. Some of these researchers declared him to be a fraud while others were unable to find evidence of trickery.
William Stainton Moses (1839–1892) was an English cleric and spiritualist medium.
Nandor Fodor was a British and American parapsychologist, psychoanalyst, author and journalist of Hungarian origin.
Leonora Piper was a famous American trance medium in the area of Spiritualism. Piper was the subject of intense interest and investigation by American and British psychic research associations during the early 20th century, most notably William James and the Society for Psychical Research.
Eileen Jeanette Vancho Lyttle Garrett was an Irish medium and parapsychologist. Garrett's alleged psychic abilities were tested in the 1930s by Joseph Rhine and others. Rhine claimed that she had genuine psychic abilities, but subsequent studies were unable to replicate his results, and Garrett's abilities were later shown to be consistent with chance guessing. Garrett elicited controversy after the R101 crash, when she held a series of séances at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research claiming to be in contact with victims of the disaster. John Booth, and others, investigated her claims, and found them to be valueless, easily explainable, or the result of fraud.
Walter Franklin Prince was an American parapsychologist and founder of the Boston Society for Psychical Research in Boston.
Carmine Carlos Mirabelli was a Brazilian physical medium and Spiritualist.
Rita Goold was a British psychic and spiritualist medium from Leicester.
Richard Hodgson (1855–1905) was an Australian-born psychical researcher.
Alan Gauld is a British parapsychologist, psychologist and writer best known for his research on the history of hypnotism.