In May 1915, Argyra Friend was asleep in her apartment at 15th and Illinois when she had a conversation with her dead brother that was so vivid and real she questioned whether it was a dream.
“The other night I had a dream about Edwin in which he appeared to me very well and happy,” she wrote her sister-in-law. “I said to him: ‘But Edwin, dear, I thought you were drowned when the Lusitania went down,’ to which he replied: ‘True enough, dear sister, I did drown, but I am not dead to those whom I love and know me. I live, but to all others I am dead.’
“It seems that I dream of him so often,” she went on. “I cannot quite tell if they are dreams or not; it seems so real, so vivid, and the next day I feel as if I had really talked with Edwin. Can it be that he really comes to me in spirit?”
Argyra Friend – or Jerry, as her brother called her — was serious when she posed this question. One of the most brilliant young scholars to emerge from Shortridge High School in the early 1900s, Edwin Friend had dedicated his life to proving that a person continues to exist in spirit form after his physical death.
So while most people might believe that Edwin Friend’s journey ended in the murky waters off the coast of Ireland, Friend himself would have thought otherwise.
Edwin Friend grew up in a modest house a few blocks from Shortridge on Illinois Street. While in high school, he served as president of the Oratory Association, which was described in the 1902 Annual as “the mother of Shortridge’s interest in public speaking.” According to the Annual, the careers of the Oratory Association’s members, upon graduation, have “been more noteworthy, and more of a credit to Shortridge, than any other class of student.”
Edwin Friend was no exception.
After graduating from Shortridge at age 16, Friend became an assistant in the school’s chemistry department and later took charge of the entire class after the instructor became ill. His father pressed him to start a business career, but Friend suddenly decided he wanted to go to Harvard. This seemed an impossible dream, because he had no money and had done absolutely nothing to prepare for the rigorous entrance exam, which most boys took over the course of two successive years after spending four years in preparation.
But Friend buckled down and spent the summer teaching himself Greek and Latin. He took the exam in one sitting and achieved a near-perfect score. Friend entered Harvard in the fall of 1903.
During his freshman year, Friend abandoned his studies in science and took up languages, achieving fluency in Greek, Latin, German, Russian, Italian, Norwegian and Sanskrit. Although he only took one full course in Greek, he was awarded the prestigious Bowdoin Prize for Greek composition. One of Harvard’s oldest student awards, the Bowdoin Prize boasts a slate of winners that includes novelist John Updike, philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Friend remained at Harvard until 1910, earning a master’s degree in the arts. He was subsequently awarded a traveling fellowship, and spent 1910-11 at the University of Berlin. Upon his return to the United States, Friend taught Latin and Greek at Princeton. But he soon became restless.
As his lifelong friend Edward R. Lewis told The Indianapolis Star in 1915, “[T]he very versatility of his ability handicapped him.”
In 1913, Friend returned to Harvard, where he lectured and began work on a doctorate in philosophy. Although he was poised for academic success, Friend’s thoughts kept returning to a book he had read earlier in his college career, “Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death.” Authored by Frederic Myers, the book posited that human consciousness does not end with death, and that it could be proved by application of scientific principles.
Friend shared this belief. Increasingly preoccupied with questions of immortality, he abruptly resigned his lecturing post at Harvard in 1914 and joined the American Society of Psychical Research as assistant secretary.
Two days before he sailed on the Lusitania’s final, ill-fated voyage, Friend sent a letter to Edward Lewis in which he expressed optimism that mankind would soon be able to prove that the human personality survives bodily death. One week later, Friend would be able to test his theory firsthand. But he would not be alive to report the results.
Friend would not have sailed on the Lusitania’s fatal voyage but for an unfortunate disagreement with James H. Hyslop, the editor of the Journal of the American Society of Psychical Research. Friend sought to publish reports of spirit writing produced by a young medium who was also his wife. The writings purportedly were communications from eminent men who were otherwise dead.
In a May 17, 1915 letter to The Indianapolis News, his longtime friend Edmund H. Eitel explained Friend’s rationale in conducting the experiments:
It was his conviction that the ordinary chatter communicated by automatists and mediums was not only of little use, but damaging to the dignity of serious investigation. In the scripts which he was beginning to obtain through his wife, a higher form of investigation of survival of the soul was being tried, nothing less than the production of communications from eminent men, the life likeness of which writings were truly amazing.
The sessions with Marjorie Friend produced writing that Friend believed originated from the spirits of several prominent 19th century thinkers, including William James, the brother of author Henry James and the widely regarded “Father of American psychology.” According to Eitel, the scripts had such a “quality of thought that made considerable difficulty in explaining the scripts on anything other than the theory of survival.”
While Hyslop did not dispute the origin of the spirit communications, he balked at publishing Friend’s report because he believed the sessions lacked scientific rigor. Friend resigned his position in a huff and departed for England aboard the Lusitania, leaving behind his heavily pregnant wife. His traveling companion was Theodate Pope, a pioneering female architect.
A prominent benefactor of the Society of Psychical Research, Pope sided with Friend in the disagreement. The pair hoped to establish a rival society to conduct research into the paranormal, and were headed to England to enlist the support of psychic researchers in Britain.
On the morning of their departure, the German Embassy placed a notice in the New York newspapers warning travelers that “vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are subject to destruction.” Pope did not see the notice until the Lusitania had pulled away from the dock. “That means of course that they intend to get us,” she told Friend.
The next few days of travel were largely uneventful. Pope and Friend spent time on deck reading or discussing their new venture. On Friday, a young Englishman who joined them for lunch was served a dish of ice cream, and as he waited for the steward to bring him a spoon, he looked ruefully at the melting dessert and said he would hate to have a torpedo get him before he ate it. Everyone at the table laughed.
A few minutes later, the pair was enjoying the beautiful sunny weather on the starboard deck when the torpedo hit. Friend struck his fist in his hand and said, “By Jove, they’ve got us.”
As Pope later wrote to her mother:
The water and timbers flew past the deck…..The ship steadied herself a few seconds and then listed heavily to starboard, throwing us against the wall of a small corridor we had quickly turned into… The deck suddenly looked very strange, crowded with people, and I remember that two women were crying in a pitifully weak way.
Friend and Pope made their way through the crowd to the port side, where the crew was loading passengers into lifeboats. Friend refused to board while there were still women on board, and Pope refused to leave his side. With no other option, the pair then pushed their way to the back of the boat, which was an arduous uphill climb as the bow was sinking rapidly.
Friend tracked down lifejackets for Pope and for her maid, Robinson, who had somehow managed to find them in the melee. After he helped the women with their lifejackets, he then secured his own. Pope later wrote:
We turned and looked down the side of the ship. We could now see the grey hull and knew it was time to jump. I asked him to go first. He stepped over the ropes, slipped down in the uprights … and then jumped. Robinson and I watched for him to come up, which he did in a few seconds, and he looked up at us to encourage us.
I said, “Come, Robinson,” and I stepped over the ropes as he had, slipped a short distance, found a foothold on a roll of the canvas used for the deck shields and then jumped. I do not know whether Robinson followed me.
Letter # 873, Theodate Pope to Ada Brooks Pope, re: surviving the bombing of the RMS Lusitania, June 28, 1915. Archives, Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington CT.
When Pope was pulled from the water a few hours later, she was laid on the deck of the rescue craft and left for dead. A woman she had met on the Lusitania recognized Pope, and urged the crew to attempt to revive her. Their efforts were successful.
Pope was taken to a third-rate hotel and put in a room crammed with people dressed in strange garments. The Englishman who had been so eager to eat his ice cream was now wearing a pink dressing gown. All night long, Pope kept expecting Friend to appear. He never did.
At 2:15 in the morning of May 9, Marjorie Friend was suddenly compelled to arise from her bed and write down the following words which had sprung into her head: “Take my message, darling. I am well.” The message was signed with the word “Boy,” which was Friend’s typical manner of signing letters to his wife.
The next morning a neighbor stopped by Marjorie Friend’s home to offer support. Marjorie told the visitor composedly that she knew her husband was dead, for he had communicated with her during the night.
The following day, Friend’s former colleague at the American Society of Psychical Research, James Hyslop, was conducting a session with a medium when the communication was suddenly interrupted by a message that appeared to be from Edwin Friend. As Hyslop later reported in the Society’s Journal, Friend said that he had drowned but that he had been to visit his wife.
In September 1915, Marjorie Friend moved to Brighton so she could be closer to her late husband, who was sending her daily messages through a medium. She gave birth to a daughter on September 22 and named her “Faith Friend.” It was a difficult birth and the baby sustained brain damage. Marjorie eventually committed Faith to the Massachusetts School for the Feeble Minded.
In 1920, the German government awarded Marjorie $21,000 under the Treaty of Berlin for her loss and for the care of Faith. She married again, this time to an MIT-educated mechanical engineer. No word as to whether she stayed in communication with her first husband.
I want to extend my thanks to Rev. Kathy Carrel and Rev. Louanne Worth of the Psychic Science Spiritualist Church at 1415 Central for taking the time to show me their beautiful church and answer my questions about Spiritualism. One of four Spiritualist churches in Indianapolis, the Psychic Science Spiritualist Church has called the Old Northside home since 1942, when it acquired the magnificent Arts & Crafts mansion built in 1909 by Herman Leiber. Except for a few modifications, the house retains much of its original grandeur, including quartersawn-oak woodwork, built-in cupboards, tile fireplaces, and stained glass windows designed by Brandt Steele. Services are held three times a week and are open to the public. On Friday, October 30, the church will host its annual Halloween ghost hunt. More information is available here.
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