Graham-Rogers. “I can’t say enough about this beautiful man and the lives that he touched!"
I am lying on the floor of my office, eyes closed. For weeks I’ve been talking to people who knew Theodore Graham-Rogers. I’ve been reading things he wrote during the 20-year span from 1947 to 1967, when he directed San Diego County’s Probation Department, and in the years after, when he devoted himself to psychic experimentation. I’d like to interview him. But he died on September 5, just short of 89. In his latter years, he preached that everyone is psychic and that you don’t need special training to communicate with spirits. So palms up, legs spread a few inches apart, I breathe in Santa Ana-heated air, and I strive to make my mind receptive.
In one cartridge recorded in 1993, a few of the women sat with their heads bowed, as Graham-Rogers, in a voice grown reedy with age, invited the spirits to join the group.
Could Ted Graham-Rogers enter my body and fill me with his presence? At least a half-dozen women who worked with him over the last ten years testify to such experiences with other ghosts, under his tutelage. Birds outside my window twitter. But no otherworldly presence appears.
So instead I’ll let Debra Saum describe her first encounter with the octogenarian who became her mentor. This occurred in August of 1988, a week after Saum had left a stressful second marriage. “I had gone through a lot of personal introspection to leave, and I knew that I was launching myself into a whole new phase of my life,” she recalls. Today Saum is 46 years old and beautiful: glowing with health, vivacious, lissome as a yogi. In fact, she was teaching yoga at the tony Cal-a-Vie Spa in Vista, when one of the body-worker/beauticians there invited her to a group that Graham-Rogers had organized.
Poster made when Graham-Rogers was entertainer.
The woman explained that the group’s purpose was to investigate psychic phenomena, a goal that intrigued Saum. "When I was around six and seven years old, I used to have dreams all the time about things that would come true,” she says. “I also used to see colors around people.” At some point in her childhood, these dreams and visions disappeared. “I think I probably shut down,” Saum reflects. “That’s typical in kids who are real psychic.”
But when she was 16, catastrophe rocked Saum. Her father, a 36-year-old firefighter, died of a heart attack while battling a fire in central San Diego. “I was really angry with my dad! I wasn’t done relating to him, and I wanted to figure out how to continue doing it. If we go somewhere, where is it?” she demands. “And is there a telephone line to those individuals? I started studying Zen and yoga and meditation. When I was just a kid, I was reading Carlos Castaneda and investigating some pretty far-out principles.”
Saum says, “I’ll never forget what happened” on the August evening in 1988 when she rang the doorbell of Graham-Rogers’s Cardiff duplex. “The door opened, and there stood this tall, skinny, little bent-over gray-haired gentleman. And I instantly felt the strongest bond that I have ever felt with anyone in my life. He embraced me, and he said, ‘Oh! I’ve been waiting for you!’ ”
He led her into the room and introduced her to the other people present. Saum’s coworker from the spa, a tall redhead with the face of a cover girl, was there. I’ll call her Carla. (She’s afraid that use of her real name might damage her current career in nursing.) Another member was Margaret (also not her real name). Margaret, who’s now 44, is also a very attractive woman, petite and blessed with long, wavy, honey blond hair.
Like Saum, Margaret says she first experienced precognition as a child. “I had psychic dreams,” she says. “They weren’t anything earth-shattering. Like, I’d dream that my friend’s grandparents had come over. And then the next day. I’d go to her house and her grandparents would drop in.” Margaret also believes that a dead grandmother communicated with her via a Ouija board for a period while she was in eighth grade.
She says her first astonishing experience didn’t occur until she was in her mid-20s. This was just before she got married. “I was sharing a bedroom with my sister. And I woke up one night and there were three ladies at the foot of my bed,” Margaret recounts. “All wearing dresses. All holding little purses. All with little hats and jewelry on. One was my grandmother, who had passed away when I was 10. One was my father’s mother, who had died when he was 19. And the third was my father’s aunt, whom I hadn’t met either.” She recognized the latter two from family pictures and descriptions.
“They said they were always going to be with me. That they would be my guides.” Margaret says the apparition flabbergasted her, but she managed to chat with the three women, who finally disappeared. Asked whether she might not have dreamed them, she is adamant. “No way! Because I was fully awake. They called my name! I know we’ve all had dreams that feel very realistic.. .but it isn’t the same as being awakened in the night and seeing something actually there. It was just too real.”
Margaret says the experience disturbed her so much that she had no desire to experiment any further. She became involved with Graham-Rogers only because he lived in the duplex adjoining hers. She and her husband had moved into it just four days before their first child was bom. After her daughter’s birth, Margaret says she got to know all the neighbors in her cul-de-sac. She thinks she must have learned about Graham-Rogers’s interest in paranormal phenomena by noticing his library. “A lot of people in the community had converted their garages into additional rooms. He’d made his into a library. Except for where the washer and dryer were, all the walls were covered by books, and he had bookshelves in between, just like a regular library.”
Graham-Rogers had organized the volumes according to topic: hypnotism, past-life experiences, extrasensory perception, religion, and so forth. “We probably started with religion because it’s a very important part of my life,” Margaret says. (Besides being a devout Christian, she works for a mainline Protestant church.)
“Ted had books on religions of all kinds — Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish. He was a man of faith, and an incredibly intelligent, well-read, well-versed person when it came to religion. He showed me the similarities between the different religions, something I had never had the opportunity to study.”
Margaret says she and he also chatted about their families and backgrounds, and she learned that he was organizing a class in the home of a neighbor at the end of the block. Called Voyage to Discovery, its subject was the development of latent psychic talents. Although her session with the nocturnal grandmothers had frightened her, Margaret says it also had made her believe in the existence of the paranormal. “My mother always used to say that women had ‘intuition.’ I had grown up with that idea, and I decided to join and find out if I really had psychic ability.”
She says Graham-Rogers did things in the group like experimenting with an automatic card shuffler and a deck of cards. The seven or eight people who made up the group would attempt to divine which card had been selected. “He had these sheets and we would mark how many times we would get it right or wrong or be off by only one. Because the fact that you don’t get it right on does not necessarily mean that you don’t have psychic awareness," Margaret declares. “You could be one off, and that would tell you something”
After a while, Graham-Rogers progressed to putting objects in a box and having the women try to intuit what the objects were.
Explains Carla, the body-worker-turned-nurse, “We would all sit and meditate and write down everything that came to us about what was in the box. We wouldn’t all come up with the same thing Or rather, it would often be the same thing but interpreted differently. Like, once he put in a toy sailboat. And somebody drew triangles. And someone else drew water — but not necessarily with the sailboat on it.”
Margaret says at some point the group began meeting at Graham-Rogers’s house, “and that’s when we stepped up to the next level.... We went on to writing down our dreams, talking about colors, learning meditation.” Graham-Rogers lectured about tarot cards and initiated the women into the mysteries of reading tea leaves. “These were tools to use in interpreting psychic behavior,” says Margaret. “So if we were ever to have clients, then we could interpret them, although that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to raise our level of psychic awareness. And for Ted to do research on people who never had proclaimed themselves to be psychics.”
Margaret says her experiences in the class changed her view of herself. “First of all, I discovered that I can interpret and read tea leaves very well — that it wasn’t just a matter of looking into the cup and reading tea leaves. When I looked into the cup, I could see a person’s future. I could see what was going on in his or her life. For instance, I read Carla’s tea leaves, and I saw her in a long white, flowing dress. It was a wedding dress, but not a traditional one.” Not long after this vision occurred, Carla got married, Margaret declares, adding that she hadn’t even known that Carla was dating anyone.
“Oh my gosh!” she interjects, as if she had just remembered something But she explains, “It just gives me chills thinking about it. Even though I’ve had these experiences, it amazes me that they exist! Everything that we’re taught says, ‘No, this cannot happen.’ But why couldn’t God make this happen — put things into the world that are there for us to discover?”
She says the next milestone in her development came one summer evening when her daughter was 18 months old. “It’s warm. My husband hasn’t come home from work yet,” Margaret summons the memory into the present tense. “My daughter and I are picking up her toys out on the patio. And suddenly I hear this [whispered] ‘Margaret!’ coming from the house. I walk into the kitchen, look around, but there’s nothing there.” Outside, she heard her name again, and again she found nothing. “The third time I hear the voice, I call up Ted and tell him, ‘You’ve got to come over. Something’s happening right now, and I haven’t a clue what’s going on.’
“This is giving me chills just recalling it!” she exclaims. “Ted and I were sitting right here on this very sofa. And he puts me into a trance, and I see a rainy street in a downtown city.” Her voice has taken on a hypnotic quality. “I see a Mercury Sable with the driver’s side just sheared off. There are people all around and it’s nighttime, so I can see the lights reflecting off the wet street. There’s also a jackknifed truck. It’s all very clear.”
She says when Ted directed her to move further into the trance and tell him more about what she was seeing, “I saw three little girls walking through a tunnel. I knew it was the tunnel that you go through when you die. One of the girls had braids. She was, like, 12. Onewas around 8 and one was 6 or so. The three little girls were all holding hands, and they were crying. Ted was telling me. Tell them to go toward the light. Tell them that they have died. Tell them everything will be all right.’
“And it’s like I’m two people. I am divided in half! My brain is seeing and telling Ted everything that’s going on. And the other half of me is realistically evaluating, asking, ‘What in the world is going on here? Why am I here? And why am I doing this?’ ” She’s almost shrieking the questions. “I thought, This can’t be happening. It’s just too strange. Too weird. No way in the world am I doing this!’ And all of a sudden I saw this one girl coming back.” Margaret says when she told him this, Graham-Rogers reacted with alarm.“ ‘She’s coming back? Oh, my gosh, then tell her to come back through the tunnel, that it wasn’t her time to go yet!’ And she went back into her body, inside the car that was all demolished.
“I came out of it just crying. Sobbing! Because I was feeling the girls’ tragedy, and I also was just in awe. What had happened?” Never before had she experienced anything like this, Margaret insists. “No way! There was no way I would invite something like that! It was just yuck!" At the same time, energy and a sense of euphoria coursed through her.
“And Ted was just beaming. He was saying, ‘You’re a medium! You’re a medium!’ ‘I’m a what?’ ’’Margaret bellows back at him in her re-creation of the scene. “All I could think of was these women who wore turbans and had crystal balls and the whole business.”
Margaret says that night she couldn’t sleep, and at one point she returned to her living room. “And this man appeared. He was holding a hat and crying. He was saying, ‘I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!’ I asked what he was sorry about." Margaret says this conversation was telepathic, but she insists she could literally see him standing before her. “He was three-dimensional, but there was no solidness to him. It was obvious that he was a spirit. He told me he was the truck driver who’d killed the family, that his brakes had gone out and he’d been killed in the accident too. I said, ‘That’s okay. All will be forgiven. Let me send you to the light.’ Then I went into trance and told him to look around for the bright white light and that it would be all right. But his anguish was just so awful. That’s something that we see in ghosts. You can feel their anguish and their feelings.”
That was her first experience as a medium, Margaret declares. “And for the next seven or eight years, that’s what I did. I rescued people when I was in trance.”
She says she’d had several such “rescue” experiences when Debra Saum showed up for her
first meeting. It’s been eight and a half years since that night, and Saum no longer remembers all the details of the evening. Besides Carla and Margaret, another woman named Connie was there, and “We had some entities present,” Saum recalls. “I remember feeling them and talking about them. There was no lull, that’s for sure.” From then on, Saum attended almost every Thursday night gathering.
For each one, Graham-Rogers served wine and laid out an assortment of cookies or Sara Lee cake. ‘‘We’d all come in and chitchat, as women do,” says Saum. “ ‘How was your week?’ And we’d sit and eat our cookies and unwind. And then at some point. Dr. Ted would lead a meditation—basically a general relaxation technique where we would say, ‘We are here. We avail ourselves to spirit. Whoever wants to come through, we are here to help you.’ ”
Saum says they didn’t turn off the lights or gather around a seance table, though Graham-Rogers always burned incense, which he loved and ordered from India by the case. And “sometimes we’d sit and not really feel anything, and then we’d kind of all open our eyes and stretch a little bit and start to chat. But there was never, ever a meeting when something didn’t eventually happen.” At some point one or more of the women would start to sense something or to manifest physical symptoms of a ghostly visitation, according to Saum.
“G)nnie would start getting the shivers. For Maria, her legs would start going.” Very common was the sudden sensation of cold. Saum says. “What we discovered is that when an entity comes into the room, it needs energy to make its presence known, so it will pull energy out of the room. Sometimes when you feel extreme cold, it’s not frightening. It’s just a sign that then.* might he someone present.” She claims that sometimes the symptoms were more bizarre. “One of my most vivid memories is of all of us sitting around, and we were chatting. We’d done the meditation, and we were just relaxed and instantaneously, all of us said, ‘I smell leather!’ ‘Do you smell it?’ ‘I smell leather!’ A moment later, Carla said, ’I feel this cowboy guy. And I think we’re smelling his chaps.’ ” Today Carla’s eyes sparkle when she recalls the incident; it was the first time an entity entered her body, she asserts. “I remember a very heavy, drooly type of male energy coming ia And I was more or less taken over,” she states. “I had no control over anything. It was sort of like I was there in the background. Something else was inside my body. It was like I could see it from the outside. He just came in and all of a sudden, he was me. My facial expressions had changed. My voice had changed. My whole presence became very big.”
Carla doesn’t remember much about the cowboy’s story. "Sometimes we got names; sometimes we didn’t. I think it was like he was shot by one of his own. There were Indians, but he was left. They thought he was dead." Being abandoned to die out in the middle of nowhere “was sort of what got him caught between the planes. He wasn’t sure where he was and what had happened. So he got stuck.” Saum and Carla and Margaret agree that when they tried to persuade the cowboy to “go to the light,” he balked “He wouldn’t let go of me,” Carla recalls. “I could tell that he was still caught at, like, the chest level.”
“He was angry,” Saum recollects. “He wanted to go get whoever had killed him, and he couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t go back to his body.”
“I remember being shocked by seeing the possibility that he wouldn’t leave!" declares Margaret. She says Graham-Rogers’s reaction also startled her. Ted got very upset and angry. He said, ‘You will leave. It’s time for you to go! This is Carla’s body.’ Carla was very calm and had her eyes closed. But she was just shaking. And Ted was yelling across the room, saying, ‘You’ve got to leave her body! You cannot have it!’ ”
The cowboy “stubbornly-fought it, but finally he went over to the light,” recalls Saum. Carla concurs. “He came up through the top of my head; that’s where they usually came out.” She adds, “I usually had a really bad headache after these experiences.”
Fred’s face and bringing colors for Fred to see.” Saum claims that the Bumblebees finally persuaded Billy to stay put in the spirit world, and “here’s the clincher, I think. I asked Ted if he was going to tell Rita and Fred the news, and he said, ‘Of course not! I want to see what happens.’ The next week he called them, and Rita said, ‘Dr. Ted, the strangest thing has happened. Billy’s gone! He’s not coming through me anymore.’ ”
Saum says she met Rita and Fred when she traveled to England with Graham-Rogers in 1991 to attend a psychic conference. “They were a lovely, dear, sweet, unassuming couple — very plain and down-to-earth,” she says. Saum says the trip also showed her how many people in English psychic circles knew and respected Graham-Rogers. He’d become an active member of the London-based Society for Psychical Research as long ago as 1948. His interest in psychic investigation predated that by several decades, however.
Autobiographical material discovered by Saum after Graham-Rogers’s death indicates that he was born into a mystical milieu. His parents were a doctor and nurse who practiced in New York City, and they “as well as aunts, uncles, grandmother, and many family friends were from a New Thought background and actively interested in psychic research. ESP was an accepted fact,” Graham-Rogers records in one document. Saum adds, “He told me that one of his grandmothers was a known psychic to the stockbrokers. They would stop by in the morning in their horses and buggies and get her perception for the day’s market. And he had another female relative who read tea leaves. So he’d been raised with a fascination for the subject.” The young Ted also learned hypnosis in his midteens and trained in stage magic from the age of 8, his memoir states. He says he became a protege of “an outstanding professional” magician by the name of Frank Ducrot, who introduced him to Harry Houdini. “From the age of 15, at Houdini’s side, Graham-Rogers doesn’t appear to have joined the skeptics."
In 1929 and 1930, he participated “in research of telepathy and clairvoyance (ESP) at Columbia University,” according to his autobiographical notes. He must have done this while taking courses in theology and sociology at Wagner College, from which he received a bachelor of science degree in 1933. He paid for his education by working as a magician.
After graduation, the New York City school system hired Graham-Rogers to work on delinquency prevention; then he drifted into a job with New York City’s Public Works Administration. But magic continued to play an important role in his life, according to his only child, a daughter named Pat, who today works as a textbook illustrator for the San Diego City Schools. “It was great as I was growing up because we never had to pay for a magician at my birthday parties,” she says. “He also used to perform at birthday parties on Long Island for fancy folks. I remember he used guinea pigs instead of rabbits because they lasted longer. And they were always named Tony. But I wasn’t allowed to make pets of them because they were a part of the act.” Pat remembers her father taking her to see Harry Black-stone perform on the evening before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. “I got to go up onstage, and of course I was well trained not to say if I saw anything interesting.”
Pat Graham-Rogers thinks the involvement with magic increased her father’s long-standing interest in parapsychology. That’s likely, agrees Ryonen Mandel. Now the director of the Yoga Center of San Francisco, Mandel used to live in San Diego. She met Graham-Rogers here around 1981 and says she shared with him an interest not only in meditation and spiritual exploration but also in magic; for one six-year period, Mandel performed in a professional magic act that traveled around the world.
“When you practice the art of magic,” she declares today, “you come to appreciate the power of awe. I don’t mean that in terms of power over people, but in terms of opening inner doors. The power of awe can shake us loose from our preconceptions of how life is supposed to be. So practicing magic leads you to want to discover what’s beyond the veil. What you see is not necessarily what’s going on, and you start wondering about that in your own life.”
In the first half of the 1940s, Graham-Rogers’s workaday life sounds as if it alone must have been pretty diverting. He got a job as a New York State parole officer, then when the war broke out he became an Army Air Force captain, two events that blur today in Pat Graham-Rogers’s mind. “I always think of Dad as a combination of Dick Tracy and General MacArthur,” she commented shortly after his death. “Because he’d come home from his parole work with a shoulder holster and a blackjack, and then in the Air Force, he was in uniform.”
But throughout this period, the other side of the veil continued to mesmerize him. He pursued metapsychology studies through extension courses with the Theosophical Society in Covina, California (according to his notes), and once the war ended and he returned to his parole job, he also plunged into “intensive study and practice of metaphysics, creative imagery, psychic research, and metapsychology” at the Rosicrucians’ New York City facility.
For part of his Army Air Force service, Graham-Rogers had been stationed in Yuma, and his family had vacationed in San Diego, says his daughter, who adds, “Mother fell in love with it. And then I came down with rheumatic fever and they thought the climate would be better for me.” So Graham-Rogers sought and won an offer to run the San Diego County Probation Department, a job he assumed on June 1,1947.
In the tidy manila folders that Graham-Rogers left behind him, one gets glimpses of two lives so different that they seem as if they should belong to two separate people. The folder for his career as chief probation officer holds a couple of yellowed newspaper clips. In one from 1963, “Charles Rogers” (as he was known in that life) is receiving the I^egion of Honor award from the Mason’s Order of DeMolay along with three other self-satisfied middle-aged men in crew cuts. Rogers looks like the archetypal early-’60s Organization Man — nose too big to be handsome, mustache too wimpy to be threatening, tie cinched up tight against the stiff white shirt collar. In a 1967 photo that must have been taken right before his retirement, he’s grown more interesting: developed jowls, let his mustache begin to expand. But he’s discussing a booklet entitled Don't Be a Dope at a PI'A meeting, and the expression on his face is as tight and judgmental as any ever worn by Nancy Reagan. Other papers in this folder bear mind-numbing titles such as “Commitment of Minors to State Institutions Under the Jurisdiction of the Department of Mental Hygiene.”
Then there are the folders holding his psychic writings. Most of the writings aren’t dated, but his personal notes reveal that he belonged to the California Parapsychology Foundation from 1950 on and participated in numerous psychic activities during the two decades that followed.
Retirement in 1967 gave him more time to devote to these interests, according to his daughter. His wife died in 1975, and afterward, “He grieved for quite a while, but then he sort of did a reversal and became a different person,” Pat says. “He had always wanted to wear Western clothes, I think as a result of living in Arizona. So he got into cowboy boots. He had about 40 pairs of cowboy boots and a couple of Stetson hats.” She observes, too, that he became something of a flirt.
He also began collecting advanced degrees from various non-accredited academic institutions. In 1977, for example, he picked up a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Newport International University after writing a dissertation entitled “The Proposal of Psi-Flow as a Generic Term for the Dynamic of Paranormal Phenomena in Therapeutic Relationships.” The following year, he bagged a Ph.D. in “metapsychology” from the fledgling University for Humanistic Studies, based in San Diego. Some years later, Graham-Rogers got himself listed in Who's Who in the World and Who's Who in American Education, and according to those lengthy entries, he also served as the chairman of UHS’s metapsychology department from 1977 to 1978 (the same period in which he was acquiring his own degree there). His daughter Pat says that after the Who's Who listings appeared, other degrees from other dubious organizations “just sort of began arriving in the mail.” She adds, “He loved it!” speculating that her father liad always wanted to live up to his own father’s medical degree.
'The Who's Who listing says that Graham-Rogers served on UHS’s psychology faculty from 1977 through 1983. But during that interval two other organizations commanded his attention: the International Association of Metapsychology and the International Institute of Metapsychology — both founded by Graham-Rogers and headquartered in his home. In 1983, they caught the eye of a reporter for the Coast Dispatch whose resulting story included two photos of the dashing, avuncular figure into which the one-time Organization Man had metamorphosed: the gleaming dome of his head fringed with snow-white hair, the snow-white mustache approaching handlebar proportions, eyes laughing behind wire-rimmed glasses.
The reporter described the Cardiff duplex as being stuffed with “the works of noted psychologists and philosophers.. .hundreds of cassettes of lectures and programs.. .copying machines, tape recorders, and other study aids.” Graham-Rogers had “probably done as much as humanly possible toward turning a typical tract house into an institute of higher learning,” the story declared.
It also proclaimed that about 100 persons were affiliated with the institute, which boasted “a staff of 12 ‘minister-counselors’ ” including Graham-Rogers. He was said to conduct seminars and workshops and also to practice past-life regression In the latter, clients were “sent first into earlier parts of the present life, then into previous ones,” the article stated. “ Rogers says he has done ‘at least 100’ such sessions in the last four years, including his own regressions, one in which he viewed himself as a monk in early Christian times and another in which he was a peasant in ‘about the 12th Century....’ A $75 ‘donation’ is asked for the first session and subsequent sessions are billed on ‘a sliding scale.’ ”
No one seems to know how many degrees Graham- Rogers’s institute granted over the years, although the person who is storing the institute’s papers says they include at least 40 student transcripts. One was for Carla, who says that Graham-Rogers took into consideration “all the other courses I’d taken for massage therapy” in granting her a Ph.D. in meta-parapsychology. “And I did some extra study with him and had to write a paper,” she adds. “Also there were, like, four or five books that I read.”
Graham-Rogers also granted a Ph.D. to Debra Saum, but though she lists it after her name on her business card today, Saum says, “In all honesty, the pursuit of my degree is not why I was studying with him.” Instead she says that “studying with him made me realize that I wasn’t strange, or if I was, there were others of us who were equally odd....
I had thought that I was just much too sensitive for my own good—being able to pick up on emotions everywhere and being able to feel people in physical and emotional pain. I had thought that if I disciplined myself a little more, I wouldn’t have those weird experiences. But working with him made me realize I should enhance those abilities.” Saum believes that at least as important to Graham-Rogers as his teaching was the “research” that he focused on during the late ’80s — the work with the Bumblebees group. She says, “For the most part, his research was focused on trying to dispel certain principles and theories that had come out of the Society for Psychical Research, which was born in England in the late 1800s. This group is the one that’s responsible for the beginnings of the study ofESP.... But they had become rather old-fashioned and had certain rules and regulations that you were to follow if you were a group of psychics ‘sitting in circle.’ ” Saum says Graham-Rogers had come to believe that “we all have the innate ability to perceive these so-called extra-phenomenal occurrences,” and he was determined to demonstrate scientifically the existence of such abilities.
What would constitute a scientific demonstration? What would it take to convince a group of hard-nosed skeptics that the Bumblebees were indeed communicating with the spirits of dead people? To get some insight into this, I contacted the Amherst, New York-based Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), which for 20 years has spearheaded the worldwide skeptical movement. Chairman and founder Paul Kurtz commented that claims of spirit communication have been on the rise within the past 5 to 10 years, usually under the updated rubric of "channeling.” Kurtz then fired off a couple of questions that he would pose to any group such as the Bumblebees: “Can you corroborate that what the person says he’s heard or learned about the Other Side is true? You need independent, objective corroboration.” Also, can the entities supply information that group members wouldn't have known about?
Kurtz raised another question: “How do you interpret such experiences?" he asked. “One way is: there are entities out there communicating. But another is that there may be psychological and even sociological phenomena at work. That s a natural explanation without making the leap to something beyond.” Hearing about the Bumblebees’ adventures, he pronounced, “I think what s really at work is suggestion, self-deception, the will to believe, and creative imagination. It’s in the milieu today. It’s in the culture. It’s in movies.”
I also spoke to Ernie Krnisse, a veteran critic of the San Diego psychic scene. In the early 1980s, Krnisse formed a group called the San Diego Skeptics, and under its aegis he says he once checked out a spiritualist who “used to do a table-tipping routine down at a college inside the Navy base at 32nd Street. It was nothing new,” he recalls today. “ The table had big rubber legs on it so it wouldn’t slide, and she was just rocking it up with her hands.” What amazed him, Krnisse says, is how many of the other members of the audience seemed enthralled by the performance. “She wasn’t even doing it particularly well. You could see her sort of lunging to get better leverage. Yet people were lined up to give her donations.” Krnisse’s group eventually disbanded, but about a year and a half ago a kindred organization, the San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry, took shape. None of its members (including Krnisse) were familiar with the work of Graham-Rogcrs. When I described the evident sincerity of the women who had worked in the Bumblebees group, Krnisse was unsurprised. “That’s one of the curious things about this!” he asserted. “Most of these people are sincere. Probably 80 percent of them. There’s only a few that are really con artists.” But groups like Graham-Rogers s “generally are not really interested in rational evidence,” he continued. “Or what they lack in actual hard-core objective evidence, they more than make up for in excuses as to why you can’t test whatever they’re doing.” At that point, “it essentially turns into a religion — where they simply believe because it feels good.”
I countered that believing in a soothing idea struck me as different from experiencing vivid physical sensations: seeing things in front of your eyes, smelling leather, hearing things such as the Bees report experiencing. Once again, Krnisse sounded empathetic. “As a fellow member of this species I’m not immune to things like that. Years ago, I used to fool around with some meditation techniques and self-hypnosis and I found that the things the human mind is capable of producing for itself are just amazing! The hallucinations, visual and auditory, that I used to get under self-hypnosis and meditation were startlingly real. And of course everybody has vivid dreams to the point of being awakened and startled. Vivid dreams are a phenomenon of the human mind, which is a pretty amazing thing That doesn’t mean they actually happen.”
Despite his skepticism, Krnisse claims it wouldn’t take much to change his mind about the existence of ghosts. “If in a well-lit room, some person materialized out of thin air and then conversed and disappeared,” that would do it, he suggests, adding, “You have to be able to eliminate the possibility' of tricks."
It appears that Graham-Rogers’s idea of a scientific approach to his work with the Bumblebees was to video- and audiotape most of the group’s sessions. He also hired a woman to transcribe the tapes. Identifying herself over the phone only as an astrologer and “yoga” named Vickie, she became garrulous as she recalled Graham-Rogers. “I can’t say enough about this beautiful man and the lives that he touched! He was just a charmer. And this bevy of ladies — he just loved them!” Vickie added after her exposure to the Bumblebees’ exploits, “I would watch [television] programs like The Other Side, and they were like kindergarten, compared to where Ted was! These were really a group of high, very beautiful, spiritual ladies.” Vickie says she’d usually type for about two hours at a time. “I can remember one tape that it took me three sessions to type up.” She says this episode concerned a little girl whose spirit was being channeled through Rita in England. “It was so sad that I would sob so hard. It was like the little girl was in me. So I would sob. But it was a real good feeling of sobbing. And then I’d have to quit and come home and then go back, and as soon as I’d turn on the tape, I’d sob some more. It was just so dear, and it made passing over a completely different experience” The very mundanity of the picture of life after death that emerged from the Bees’ sessions comforted Vickie. “Like, I remember one lady [ghost] who was out hanging up her clothes in Nebraska. And she had no idea that she’d passed over. [The Bees] said, ‘What is your name?’ and she couldn’t remember it!
She’d adored her husband, but she couldn’t remember his name for anything!”
Vickie says another time the Bees made psychic contact with a pair of men walking down a road in overalls “on a chain gang or something.” She says, “They were so funny! One of the Bumblebees was tall and thin. Beautiful girl. And another one was kind of her opposite.” The two ghostly convicts took over their bodies. “And the one turned around and said, ‘If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here,’ and smacked the other one. Everybody was laughing so hard!
“It was just one after another after another,” Vickie says, adding that Graham-Rogers “didn’t want to know [the spirits’] personal names. He wasn’t into sensationalism at all. What he was into was the spiritual.”
“The videos of the Bumblebees are fascinating to watch,” Saum told me the first time that we met. “There’s no table-tip-ping going on or nothing terribly dramatic. But they show, they prove, one of Ted’s theories: that unsolicited, a group of sensitives can all experience the same phenomena happening at the same time.”
Saum invited me to view some of the tapes at her Cardiff apartment. Its central room expresses her personality for better than do the living quarters of most people. One corner of the room explodes with healthy plants. .Along another wall, dozens of stuffed animals spill out of a hammock suspended from the ceiling. Upon a chest sits a basket filled with pieces of driftwood that Saum has transformed into “affirmation wands.” (She writes down wishes, places them next to the wood, wraps them with lengths of eye-catching yam, then decorates the whole creation with feathers, shells, crystals, and other ornaments.) The walls of the room also testify to her artistry, adorned as they are with drawings of “experiences that we were having in the Bumblebees group.” Pyramids, wavy streams of color, images of planets recur. Saum says sometimes she would come home and draw until dawn, exhausted but driven to record the visions on paper.
A heap of videotapes lay on the middle of the floor, and Saum seemed a little nervous about diving into them, then explained that sometimes the lack of microphones made it hard to understand what the subjects on the tapes were saying. Also, there were so many tapes covering so many meetings that it was difficult to locate particularly eventful sessions.
She nonetheless popped in one cartridge recorded in 1993. In it, a few of the women sat with their heads bowed, as Graham-Rogers, in a voice grown reedy with age, invited the spirits to join the group. Little happened for a few minutes, then Margaret crossed her forearms and placed her hands against her biceps, fingers spread wide. “She’s starting to get something,” Saum alerted me. A few minutes later, slow words came out of Margaret. “The symbolism of the spirit is not one that can be ignored,” she murmured. “There are many figures that are repeated within the planets.” Saum didn’t recognize what this was all about, so we tried several more tapes and found a few sessions in which the women talked about spirits who they felt were present. Still Saum seemed frustrated by her inability to lay her hands on tapes capturing more clear and dramatic encounters. In answer to my question, she told me that it was “quite common” for the Bees to be able to see with their eyes some evidence of the various entities that visited them. “There was one time that I saw the shadow-like form of an apparition in the doorway. It was like someone being backlit. I didn’t see distinct features, but I saw the shape of a head and shoulders and arms hanging down.” Almost never did the entities—seen or unseen — frighten the group members, Saum and others concur. Saum says on several occasions they dealt with “grumpy, cantankerous, mixed-up spirits,” but she says the group members discussed at length the best strategies for dealing with them. ‘Ted’s whole premise was that you just keep showering that individual with understanding and love and acceptance, and we practiced this idea of being real persistent and loving.... We all concluded that if you have your wits about you and you exude love and understanding and are not afraid to say that, it dissipates whatever force or energy it is that you’re encountering. If you are afraid, it feeds the fire.”
Saum says she stopped attending the weekly meetings around 1992 though she dropped in on them from time to time and stayed in touch with Graham-Rogers. Other members of the Bumblebees continued to meet for several more years. They even made some field trips to sites they’d heard might be haunted. Carla, for example, tells about the oceanfront duplex on Neptune Avenue in Encinitas filled with mysterious noises where the Bees and Graham-Rogers rescued the spirit of a sailor named Eric who’d crashed and died on the nearby rocks. Another time, on one of the Navy bases in Point Lorna, spirits of Indians who’d been slaughtered years ago were haunting one particular homemaker, according to the Bumblebees, who claim they were able to facilitate a mass Native American rescue. Well into the 1990s, Graham-Rogers continued to counsel selected clients and to work with certain students, according to those who knew him. He also continued buying books
about the occult and selling them through a small mail-order book business. But as time went by, his physical problems mounted.
“He got quite ill during the period of rime I worked with him," says Susan Foley, an acupuncturist who was introduced to Graham-Rogers by their mutual friend, yoga master Ryonen Mandel. Foley says when she met Graham-Rogers, he was suffering from trigeminal neuralgia, an enflamed nerve that was causing “burning, screaming pain” throughout his lower face. Acupuncture helped control it, she says, although the pain periodically continued to trouble him. “And he had a lot of other medical problems. He had aneurysms and blood disorders and he was diabetic, and he had all kinds of different thing* going on.”
His infirmities failed to dent his buoyant spirit, Foley attests. “I walked in and met a slim man in his late 80s who had the most outrageous twinkle in his eye and an absolutely droll, almost British, sense of humor. When he realized I had a similar sense of humor, the sick jokes escalated from there!” Foley also comments on how literate Graham-Rogers was. “I think of him sitting there with his glasses slightly pushed down on his nose, just pouring over a book with a light over his shoulder.... When he was on the trail of something with his research, he was very, very tenacious.
“The only break he would take was for Star Trek, which he would watch, no matter what. Especially the old Star Trek, because it handled so many big concepts. He just loved the philosophy of it. I remember the first time he came to my office. Someone had given me one of those little toys that look like the tricorders on Star Trek. I very seriously evaluated him that day, and I said, ‘You know, I think I want to use just one more diagnostic tool. I want you to lie back and dose your eyes.’So he lies back and closes his eyes, and I takeout my tricorder and act like I’m starting to scan him, and before he even opens his eyes, he goes (in a tone of delight), ‘My God! Where did you get that? And does it work?’ That was Ted! I did it on a few other people, and all the kids got it, but no other adults did.” By the middle of 1995, his energy levels had dropped considerably, Foley says, and in January of 1996 he moved from the four-level la Costa condominium where he had been living to a ground-floor apartment facing Balboa Park, a location much closer to his doctors. His weight by then had dropped to 121 pounds, according to his daughter. But she says she found a caretaker to come in and cook for him, and by the summer of 1996 Graham-Rogers weighed almost 150 pounds again In his resilience, he resembled the famous Russian mystic Rasputin, asserts Ryonen Mandel. “They gave Rasputin enough poison to kill six horses, and they shot him, and they threw him in the river, and he crawled out and came after them. Ted was kind of like that in a quiet sort of way. He had a wide variety of major physical difficulties—yet he was vital, alert, alive, functional, and doing his work right up to the end.” “Just the week before he went into the hospital, he had gone on a ghost-busting trip down on Maple Street, where they had a cantankerous Mafia ghost,” his daughter says. “I really thought he’d live to be 100.”
But Mandel says in fact he was preparing to die. She explains that by the end of last summer, Graham-Rogers needed to undergo kidney surgery, but the date that he chose to have it performed set off alarm bells for “every psychic he knew, every psychic I knew. They said, ‘Whoa, bad time!’ Astrologically speaking, all of the information said: don’t do it then. Plus there was just the common-sense fact that it was scheduled for the Monday of the labor Day weekend.” She continues, “Everybody was up in arms with him, so they called me and I went over. We sat and talked about it, and he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, ‘Yeah, I know. But this is the time it’s supposed to be done. And I recognize the consequences and I accept them.’ And together we got real clear that he was not exactly running toward it, but if death was to take him, he was prepared and ready.”
He had the surgery, but complications did develop and he went into a coma. Various friends and his daughter visited him on the morning and early afternoon of September 5. But no one seems to have intuited when the fateful moment was coming, and he died alone late that afternoon. Since then Vickie, the astrologer who transcribed his Bumblebee tapes, says she has had “quite a lot” of contact with his spirit. “He makes his presence known with all kinds of little thing; that only he and I would know,” she says. Nikki Maimes, a friend of( aria’s who participated in the Bumblebees group for about three years, says, “I feel like Ted Ls closer to me now that he’s passed over than he was in the last year before his death. I feel we’re really connected now.”
Saum says one day when she was helping Pat Graham-Rogers clean out her father’s apartment, she felt Dr. Ted’s very strong presence in the room with her. She also says that after her first interview session with me, she had a significant experience. “On the way back, I said, ‘Ted, I’m trusting that this is okay. There area lot of people out there who may think this is really strange, and I may be getting myself in hot water [by publicizing Graham-Rogers and his work). If you’re out there, give me a sign that I’m doing the right thing.’ ” Saum says right about then, she spotted a hawk—a creature that she regards as auspicious. “I said, ‘Okay, that’s really great.’ And then of course my left brain clicked in and said, ‘Well, it’s just a hawk, Deb.’ So I continued driving down the freeway and saying, ‘Give me a sign, Ted.’ And I spotted another hawk. And by now, I was getting the familiar hair-raising chills that are usually present when an entity is around or when the information is really right on.” A moment later, the radio station that she was listening to began to play a song by I-arry Carlton — one that Saum listened to constantly around the time she first joined the Bumblebees. “With the two hawks and the song, I finally said, ‘Okay. I get it. You’re here. And you’re telling me it’s fine and to quit worrying.’ So he didn’t appear in my car. But this is the way this stuff works. The objective mind says, ‘Well, it’s just two hawks and a song on the radio. Don’t get carried away.’ But sometimes you have to interpret."
Margaret says Graham-Rogers’s death shocked her. She’d had no clue that he was even sick until someone called her on the morning of his last day. “When we were living next to each other, I was always able to sense when something was wrong,” she says.
“So when I got the call, I was so surprised that I hadn't known.” She says she raced to the hospital and tried to communicate with him in his coma. “But it wasn’t until I said psychically to him, ‘Hi, Ted. This is Margaret,’ that he smiled.”
Margaret says after he died she also felt keen disappointment as several of the other women reported being “contacted” by Graham-Rogers; it seemed as though everyone had sensed him but her. “Then one day at the end of October, I was the liturgist at my church, and I was on the altar and the pastor was giving his sermon. I wasn’t meditating or anything. I was just listening to the sermon.” She says she suddenly felt as if a “big psychic light" had come on right behind her. “It was like a hug from the light. I was crying, and I could sense this wonderful peaceful sense that everything was okay, that he was taking care of business and would come back to me when it was time. I was just so glad that he made his presence known to me. I kept thinking, ‘I wonder if anybody else in the congregation can see this?’ ” Margaret adds that the Bumblebees plan to reconvene in the coming months, at which time they hope to get more information from Ted about what life after death is like. It seems unlikely that they’ll fail to receive further messages.