Doris was depressed in the months following the death of her infant son John Michael and her husband John suggested they go to the Spiritualist Church. During this period in her life, her interest in Spiritualism became "almost a hobby" and she didn't know that she would later be a medium herself.
We heard that Helen Duncan, a materialization medium — a medium who made spirits materialize — was holding a seance in Manchester. We were skeptical but always hoping to be proved wrong, and so though John couldn't come that day in cold December I went along.
Helen Duncan has long since passed over, but I shall never forget that seance. It started quite normally. The room was darkened with just a single red light burning, yet the dim glow was bright enough for everyone to see the medium quite clearly.
Silence fell, Helen Duncan concentrated deeply and then appeared to go into a trance. This was quite routine, and by now I'd seen it happen several times, yet there was something electric in the air. Something strange and tense that I'd never noticed before.
As we watched a thin silvery mist began to creep from the medium's nostrils and her middle, yet she remained motionless in her chair as if she was asleep.
"Ectoplasm," someone whispered behind me. Gradually the flow increased, until mist was pouring from the medium and a wispy cloud hung in the air in front of her. Then like fog stirred by a gentle breeze, it began to change shape, flowing and swirling, building up in places, melting away in places.
Before our eyes the outline of a woman was being carved in mist. Hair and features began to sharpen and refine. A small nose built up on the face, then a high brow, lips and chin, until finally the swirling stopped and she stood before us, a perfect likeness of a young girl in silvery white — and she was beautiful.
My mouth dropped open and I couldn't tear my eyes from this vision. I was seeing it, yet I couldn't believe it. Dimly I was aware that the woman next to me had gasped and clasped her hands to her mouth, but before I could register the significance of this the girl began to move.
The audience watched, riveted as she drifted across the room and stopped right in front of my neighbour.
"I've come to talk to you mother," said the medium in a light, pretty voice quite different from the one she'd used earlier. The girl spoke to her mother for several minutes, explaining that she still visited the family and knew what was going on and listed a few personal details as proof.
Then unexpectedly, she turned to me. "Would you like to touch my hand?" she asked.
Dumbly I brushed the slim, pale fingers held out to me, and then in astonishment took the whole hand. It was warm! I don't know what I'd expected. Something damp, cold and unsubstantial I suppose — but this was incredible. I'd touched a warm living hand.
Suspiciously I glanced at the medium but she was still slumped in her chair. It was impossible. It must be a fake and yet how could she have done it? Nonplussed I sank back and stared at the girl, quite speechless.
She smiled as if she could read my thoughts, then she raised her arm and out of the air, a rose appeared in her fingers. Gentle she placed it on my neighbour's lap.
"Happy Christmas mother," she said and then slowly moved back and began to shrink, getting smaller and smaller, fainter and fainter, until she disappeared through the floor.
No-one stirred. We all sat motionless as if hypnotized. The only sound was the woman next to me quietly sobbing. In her hand a deep red rose, still beaded with dew — in December.
Dear God, I thought, how marvellous to be able to do that.
It was only later I discovered that Helen Duncan was one of the greatest materialization mediums who ever lived and I was very privileged to have seen one of her seances.
Helen's daughter Gena Brealey wrote with Kay Hunter the biography The Two Worlds of Helen Duncan (1985).