Ada Goodrich Freer’s (1857-1931) life is shrouded in mystery and controversy, but she is remembered as a medium, clairvoyant, psychical researcher and author. Born in Uppingham, England, little is known about her youth, except that she suffered the loss of both parents at an early age, and was said to have had supernormal experiences all through her childhood from the age of three.[1]

Through acquaintance with Frederic Myers she became involved in the Society for Psychical Research, writing papers on her own psychical experiences under the pseudonym ‘Miss X’. From 1893 to 1897 she served as assistant editor and also a primary contributor for Borderland (W.T. Stead’s spiritualist and psychical quarterly) again under the same pseudonym.[2]

 In 1894, Myers placed her in charge of the SPR’s inquiry into second sight in the highlands and islands (primarily the Hebrides). While working on Hebridean folklore she borrowed heavily from the work of Father Allan McDonald (with little recognition of his assistance) whose notebooks contained stories of ghostly happenings of many kinds, poltergeists, forewarnings, teleportation, phantom ships, prophecies, the Sluagh and tales of the Fuath (or evil spirit), portents, corpse candles, the evil eye, strange creatures, revenants, transformation, uncanny boats, second sight (including one instance reported from a Uist colony living at Manitoba), apparitions of the living, prophetic day dreams and a water horse.[3]

In 1895 Miss Freer became involved in the contentious case of the Clandon House haunting, and also in the ghost hunt at Ballechin House (Perthshire) in 1897. At Clandon House, Freer had informed the owners that the house wasn’t haunted, whilst at the same time informing the SPR that she had seen a hooded female figure in the grounds. She was also criticised for relying too much on anecdotes from the domestic staff there, instead of carrying out her own investigations. At Ballechin, she claimed to hear thumps, bangs and ghostly footsteps in the house. She said she had had her bedclothes torn off her by a poltergeist, seen disembodied dogs paws on a table, and – after following instructions given during an Ouija board session – she went to a nearby glen, where she said she had seen a ghostly weeping nun. In 1899, The Alleged Haunting of B---- House by John Crichton-Stuart and Ada Freer was published, and serialised in The Times, containing a journal of the phenomena kept by Freer. She was criticised strongly by J. Callendar Ross in The Times (8 June, 1897), who argued that the ‘haunting’ was no more than practical jokes and “diseased imaginations”, and also noted that the whole affair was imbued with “the suspicion and disgust that close contact with the SPR tends to excite.” Following this Freer was disowned by the society and abandoned psychical research in favour of folklore studies, primarily in Jerusalem.

She also tried her hand at mediumship, until being exposed as a fraud during one of her table-rapping séances in London.[4] However, interestingly Pierre Janet commented on the exactitude and the importance of her observations on crystal-gazing, seeming highly impressed.[5]

[1]E. Slater’s Introduction to T.H. Hall, The Strange Story of Ada Goodrich Freer (Duckworth, 1980).

[2]J. L. Campbell, ‘Freer, Ada Goodrich (1857–1931)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 13 March 2017].

[3]Theo Brown’s review of Strange Things (1968) by John L. Campbell and Trevor H. Hall (in Folklore, Vol. 80, No. 3, 1969), 225.

[4]J. Grant, Spooky Science: Debunking the Pseudoscience of the Afterlife (Sterling Publishing, 2015), 46-49.

[5]E. Slater’s Introduction to T.H. Hall, The Strange Story of Ada Goodrich Freer (Duckworth, 1980).