(Blogger’s Note: This is a short segment from my book, Conversations. I’m reprinting it here because it struck me that the attack on the Bridey Murphy story resembled some of the attacks on UFO reports. As you read this, you’ll see that those opposed to the idea that Ruth Simmons was the reincarnation of Murphy. What I mean is that some of the opponents of the idea, who believed they know the ultimate “truth” resorted to inventing evidence to prove that Simmons was engaged in some sort of hoax. While it is absolutely true that the evidence to support the idea that Simmons was reincarnated is thin, it is also true that much of the evidence brought to bear was fabricated, misrepresented, and quite misleading. Any yes, I know the techniques used have been shown to be flawed, but the tale is interesting nonetheless, especially in the way that the media reported it. They all assumed that the first article had been properly researched, quoted from it without verifying the information, and then forgot about it. This is the real point here. Sometimes the media has its own agenda and sticks to its narrative with little regard to the facts. I’m sure that we all can think of examples of that without too much trouble. And yes, all of this and much more is covered in Conversations.)
The Search for Bridey Murphy
The idea of reincarnation splashed across headlines in this country in a big way in the mid-1950s when Morey Bernstein published, The Search for Bridey Murphy. Murphy, according to Bernstein, was a woman who had lived in the mid to early nineteenth century in Ireland and who had died in 1864. Bernstein had met Murphy long after she died, while preforming a hypnotic regression experiment on a woman he called Ruth Simmons (her real name has been printed since then, but I see no point in using it here so I will use the name created by Bernstein) who lived at that time in Colorado.
Bernstein had met Simmons earlier at a party and hypnotized her, realizing that she was a good subject, slipping into a hypnotic state quickly and easily. Later, as he learned about reincarnation, first from an acquaintance, and then from the teachings of Edgar Cayce and the Association for Research and Enlightenment, he decided to try to hypnotically find "memories before birth." His first task was to find a proper subject for his experiment, one who could be placed in a deep trance so that she would not consciously remember what had happened under the influence of hypnosis. He had a subject in mind, one who fit the bill as a good subject, but he had left for the Navy before the experiment could be conducted. Bernstein finally remembered Simmons and settled on her.
Because he didn't know Ruth, or her husband Rex, well it took several weeks to set up the appointment for the hypnotic regression. As Bernstein wrote in his book, "I was forced to compete with bridge games, cocktail parties and club dances." Finally, his patience rewarded, he met with Simmons with the purpose of learning if he could take her back, into another past life.
According to Bernstein in The Search for Bridey Murphy, he first made her comfortable, and then with a tape recorder running, he started the session.
To begin, he regressed her to an earlier age, and asked her what see was seeing. She described a scene from her early childhood while she was in school. He then tried to take her back, deeper and deeper into her past, until she was six, or four, and finally one. Then Bernstein told her that she could remember times before she was one. Bernstein said, "Oddly enough, you can go even farther back. I want you to keep on going back and back in your mind. And, surprising as it may seem, strange as it may seem, you will find that there are other scenes in your memory. There are other scenes from faraway lands and distant places in your memory."
When Bernstein asked her what she was seeing, Simmons began to speak of a life that preceded the one she was now living. She told Bernstein that her name was Bridey (Bridget Kathleen Murphy, born December 20, 1798) and that she lived in Cork, Ireland. At first, Bernstein misunderstood her, thinking that she said her name was Friday. She told Bernstein, and those assembled in the room watching, that she had scratched the paint off her metal bed. She had been punished for that.
Bernstein tried to probe deeper and Simmons, as Bridey Murphy, was able to answer questions about her life in Ireland, giving the names of her father, mother and brothers. When asked, she told Bernstein that the year was 1806. She also said that she was only four years old.
Moving forward in time, Bernstein learned more about the life of Bridey Murphy. She described her house, playing with her brother and that she had another brother, but that he'd died while still an infant.
As Murphy, Simmons described what they ate, and how they lived. She revealed that her father was a barrister. Bernstein found the use of that word interesting because, to Americans, all barristers are lawyers. Under the English system, different types of attorneys are ranked. Bernstein was surprised that a fairly young American woman would use a term more properly used in Great Britain.
Murphy provided Bernstein with a wealth of detail about her life. She said that she had been named for her grandmother and that was why she was called Bridey instead of Bridget.
She talked about her schooling in Ireland at Mrs. Strayne's Day School. The curriculum was limited to "house things... and proper things."
She also spoke of her husband, Brian MacCarthy, who, according to Murphy, was still going to school. Brian's father was a barrister too.
Murphy didn't have children and after marrying Brian, moved from Cork to Belfast. She mentioned friends she had in Belfast, the name of the priest at her church as well as the name of that church.
Simmons, speaking as Murphy, told of her death at age sixty-six. She had fallen down the stairs and broke several bones. After she died, she didn't "go" anywhere. Instead, she stayed on at her house watching her husband, apparently waiting for him. He died many years later.
Interestingly, Murphy described "visiting" her home in Cork after she died. She visited her brother, Duncan, who was still alive. It amazed her that he had survived her. He was "so old" according to her.
Murphy also described seeing her little brother, the one who had died in infancy after her own passing. Her little brother didn't know who she was because she had to tell him. She also saw Father John.
Bernstein, writing in his book, said that it had never occurred to him that Murphy would be able to describe her... "existence" after death. This was an area that he just hadn't thought about.
For Bernstein she told of where she was during the period between lives. She said that she never had to eat or sleep and that she never got tired. That world, the "spirit" world, according to what Bernstein learned, was a transitory place. "Just a period, just something that happened." She left that world, according to what she said, to be born in Wisconsin. That was the life she was living as Ruth Simmons.
She also recalled a life as a baby in New Amsterdam in the New World, but she died as an infant. There wasn't much for her to remember because she died so young. She was able, however, to tell Bernstein, when he asked, that New Amsterdam's name had been changed to New York. Even though she was experiencing, or remembering a life that pre-dated the existence of New York, she was able to bring her knowledge as Ruth Simmons into the sessions when she was talking about her past lives. She still had access to the information that Simmons had, even when experiencing an event that was far older than Simmons.
Bernstein used hypnosis on several other occasions to learn more about the life of Bridey Murphy. She was married in 1818, and her husband published some law articles in 1843. She died in 1864 without having children of her own.
Because Murphy lived into the second half of the nineteenth century, there was a chance that there would be records from her life. It was possible, Bernstein believed, to corroborate some of what he had been told. There was some discussion of this in The Search for Bridey Murphy. Bernstein told of their luck, or their lack of it.
Bridey Murphy a Hoax?
Once the book was published in January 1956, the critics lined up to attack it. In May and June, a Hearst newspaper, the Chicago American printed an expose, proving, at least in their opinion, that the Bridey Murphy story was a hoax. Other magazines, assuming that the American reporters had done their job properly, announced that the search was over... "ended by a series of Chicago American articles."
Other newspapers and magazines, jumping on the bandwagon, published their own exposes of the Murphy hoax. In one, it was claimed that Simmons had admitted that she had invented the story. Another reported that "Only after he'd written a best-seller did Bernstein shamefacedly admit that The Search for Bridey Murphy belonged on the fiction, not the non-fiction shelves."
The Denver Post printed a rebuttal, based on the research done by a feature writer, Bob Byers. Although Byers believed that he had shown that most of the expose material in the Chicago article was "in error" Life in a feature about Murphy ignored that, reprinting without checking, the story that Murphy was lying about her experiences.
William J. Barker, writing in a paperback edition of The Search for Bridey Murphy, reported, "Today, in large part because of the damaging effect of the Life piece which circulated the Chicago stuff to millions, many people when the Bridey case comes up in conversation will say, 'Oh, yeah...That was proved to be a hoax or something, wasn't it?'" (In fact, when I mentioned it to my mother, she said much the same thing, though I had grown up in Denver.) Barker responds, "In all honesty, no such proof ever has been produced."
In fact, Barkey laments that "many articles purporting to give 'the inside facts' on the case bobbed up in a variety of magazines, books, and tabloids. Invariably the debunking, scoffing line was taken but the incredible aspect of so many of these 'exposes' was the apparent willingness to substitute so-called experts' opinions for substantiated facts."
Barker takes the "proofs" of Murphy's deceit and exposes them, one by one. For example, the Chicago newspaper, owned by the Hearst corporation, and later the San Francisco Examiner, another Hearst newspaper, used the Rev. Wally White as one of its sources because Ruth Simmons, as a young girl had apparently attended his church in Chicago. Barker writes that it makes no difference because the Rev. White wasn't there when Simmons was. In fact, White had told others that his mission was to "debunk reincarnation." In other words, the claim that White knew Simmons was wrong, but that made no difference to him or to the Hearst organization. White wanted to destroy Murphy’s story for reasons other than scientific or theological.
Those searching for answers to the Bridey Murphy questions began to reach for their explanations. They suggested that Simmons was well versed in Irish history because she had lived for a time with an aunt who was as Irish as they came and who had told young Simmons long, involved tales of her life in Ireland. But Simmons' aunt had been born in New York and had no demonstrable interest in Ireland or any indepth knowledge of the country, its people or its history.
The Chicago newspaper expose didn't stop there. They "discovered" that a neighbor of Simmons, when she was growing up, was Mrs. Anthony Bridie Murphy Corkell, from County Mayo, Ireland. Because of the supposed similarity in the name, and the fact Corkell was from Ireland, "proved" to the newspaper that Simmons had received the name Bridey Murphy and the information about Ireland from her neighbor.
Although they thought this coincidence was significant, continued research failed to reveal any other modern connections to the names that Simmons supplied. Corkell lived in the extreme midwestern part of Ireland and Simmons, as Bridey Murphy lived in southern Ireland and then in northeastern Ireland. In other words, Corkell knew nothing of the territory that Murphy had claimed as her home. There is no way that Corkell, if she had ever talked to Simmons about Ireland, could have supplied the wealth of detail that Simmons gave under hypnosis.
But the real problem is that those who tried to contact Corkell were unable to do so. She refused to take phone calls from reporters, other than those with the Chicago American. Finally reporters learned that Corkell's son, John, was an editor with the newspaper publishing the expose. In other words, John was the Sunday editor of the Chicago American.
And, more importantly, no documentation was ever found suggesting that Corkell's name included any reference to Bridey Murphy. Forced to use church records and friends' memories, no one ever came forward suggesting that Corkell had ever been know as Mrs. Anthony Bridie Murphy Corkell.
Overlooked by the Chicago paper's expose were the facts that Simmons recalled that could be verified through independent research and documentation. Obscure facts that suggested there was a core of truth to the tale.
Barker, among others, examined the story told by Simmons as Murphy, searching for any corroboration. Barker had been sent to Ireland by the Denver Post and published his findings in an article called, The Truth about Bridey Murphy. It appeared on March 11, 1956 in a twelve page supplement to the newspaper and was later widely reprinted though it was never acknowledged by the national magazines that had used the Chicago expose as the center of their anti-Bridey Murphy stories.
When he began his search, Barker knew some of the problems with hypnosis. He was also cautioned by Bernstein who told him that he believed that Bridey Murphy stretched the truth. She embellished the lives of her family trying to make them sound more important than they were, which is a fairly human thing to do. Murphy was just like many living people. She said good things about her husband and family to make them sound better and more important than the were.
But Barker didn't warn about, and may not have realized one critical point. Bernstein, when he began the experiment, had already contaminated it. By telling Simmons that she could see farther into the past, back before she was born, he was telling her what he wanted to hear. He was "priming the pump." Today, those using hypnotic regression must be careful about "leading" the subject into a realm they want to discuss. As Barker points out, a person under hypnosis is not under oath. People in a state of hypnosis can and do lie. They are able to draw on all their life experiences when attempting to answer questions. This is not limited to what they have lived themselves, but to any books they have read, movies they have seen, or stories they have been told bu friends and family.
Time magazine published a long article on "forced memories." In the last few years hundreds of people have come forward with tales of abuse at the hands of family and friends that have been "long repressed." It is becoming clearer that a therapist, psychologist, or hypnotist can easily lead a subject into a realm that simply doesn't exist. It is necessary for those to proceed carefully, allowing the subject to remember the details, rather than provide them with leading questions and traumatic therapy sessions.
This is not to say that Simmons was hopelessly contaminated and wasn't relating the truth as she believed it. It is a consideration that must be addressed when discussing this. That she found herself in another life was suggested by the hypnotist, and for some, that inadvertent contamination may have damaged the case from the start. Had Simmons began talking of Murphy spontaneously, it would have added a level of credibility to the tale that was not available because of the way the memories were “accessed.”
Bridey Murphy Vindicated?
Barker, however, made a trip to Ireland searching for corroboration, and his trip, and his findings more than negate the possible damage done early on. Of course he didn't have immediate luck. Looking for the Brian MacCarthy by-line, Bridey Murphy's husband who she claimed had published in the News-Letters in Belfast, Barker failed. He found no reference to Brian MacCarthy, but then there were few by-lines, no index or cross references, and it would have taken days to make a comprehensive search with no guarantee that even if MacCarthy had been published in the document there would have been a by-line for Barker to find. That he searched at all is significant. None of those writing the exposes had taken the trouble to even question this aspect of the Murphy story.
But others, who Murphy claimed to have known during her life in Belfast were discovered as having existed. She had mentioned two grocery stores, one called Farr's and the other known as John Carrigan's. Searching the city directory for 1865-66, references to both stores were discovered. Barker wrote that the references were located by Belfast Chief Librarian John Bebbington.
In fact, according to Barker, Bebbington, "made it clear to me that the old directories were far from complete...However, both Carrigan and Farr are on record as being the only (emphasis in original) individuals of those names engaged in the 'foodstuffs' business... How or by what means Ruth Simmons could have obtained this obscure information, when it took Belfast librarians weeks to discover it, defies easy explanation..."
Some of objections to the Murphy story were ridiculous. A clergyman wrote an article critical of the whole story, including the ludicrous statement, "She relates how her mother told her about 1810, about kissing the Blarney Stone. The stone existed in Blarney Castle then but the legend about kissing it was created in... a poem written about 1840."
Such an argument sounds solid on the surface. Barker, however, examined that as well. He pointed out that no date was given by Murphy for when she first heard the story. The 1810 date was an invention by the clergyman so that he could debunk another part of the Murphy story. And, according to Dermont Foley, chief librarian in Cork, "T. Crofton Crocker, in his Researches in South Ireland, published in 1824, establishes the custom as having been practiced as least as early as 1820."
Other criticisms of the Murphy story were equally stretched to the limits. When Bernstein, during his first attempt to find a time before Simmons was born, asked what she was doing, Bridey Murphy said that she was scrapping the paint off the iron bed when she was four meaning it happened in 1802. The Chicago American reported that iron beds were not available in Ireland until sometime after 1850.
Barker asked many authorities, antique dealers in Ireland, who agreed that metal beds weren't available in 1802. But the Encyclopedia Britannica (1950), said, "Iron beds appear in the 18th Century; the advertisements recommend them as free from the insects which sometimes infested wooden bedsteads."
Murphy, in one of the sessions, was asked what her husband was doing after 1847 and she responded that he taught law at Queen's College. The Chicago American claimed that this couldn't be true because the Queen's College did not exist until 1849 and Queen's University did not come into existence until 1908.
Again research showed that this was not exactly right. According to The Belfast Queen's College Calendar (Catalogue, 1862), Queen Victoria, quoted in the text, said, "We... at our Court at St. James's, the nineteenth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and forty-five [December 19, 1845]... do ordain... there shall and may be erected... one college for students in Arts, Law, Physic... which shall be called Queen's College, Belfast..." The first students arrived October 30, 1849.
On August 15, 1850, Queen Victoria issued another degree, elevating the colleges into a system of universities. In other words, Murphy's husband, Brian, could have taught at the University just as she said because it was the Chicago American who assumed that Murphy meant 1848... and Brian could have worked at the college before the students arrived in 1849. The criticism of the Murphy story based on the exact dating of the beginnings of the college and a vague question are splitting hairs and does nothing to answer questions about the validity of the Simmons' claims as Murphy.
Where there was no information to prove the point either way, those believing Simmons to be lying decided that the information proved that Simmons was lying. Barker wrote, "For example, the magazine's anonymous reporter wrote, 'She says she lived in a nice house... it's a wood house... white... has two floors... and was called 'The Meadows.'" The magazine claimed that there are almost no wooden houses in Ireland because the timber is too scarce. Cork is built of stone and brick. The public records, according to the magazine fail to show any house called "The Meadows."
Barker points out that in Ireland today, there are almost no wooden houses. Of course, there are almost no wooden houses which isn't the same as there being none. So, while it might have been usual, it means nothing by itself.
But the important point is the reference to "The Meadows." No one was able to find out what that meant. It was some sort of an address, but there was nothing in the records that provided a clue about the reference.
Barker had a "beautifully detailed map of Cork, executed by William Beaufort in 1801. The western half of it shows what must have been a very handsome suburban portion of the city formally called Mardike Meadows... In The Meadows on the map are a total of seven or eight buildings widely scattered... Was one of these Murphy's home? She had said, 'Don't have any neighbors... live outside the village.'"
So, even though the evidence is inconclusive about The Meadows and the wooden houses, there is a hint of truth. A truth that should not have been available to a woman living in Colorado in the mid-twentieth century.
The whole point here is that Ruth Simmons, speaking as Bridey Murphy from Cork was able to detail a life in Ireland that was rich in detail, much of which could be verified through research. Clearly Simmons, as Murphy, was in possession of knowledge that she shouldn't have had. She was able to mention places, people, and organizations that existed during her time that extensive research was able to verify, after a fashion.
What is clear is that there was a concentrated effort by part of the established journalistic community to destroy the Bridey Murphy tale completely. They were assisted by many theologians who felt that Simmons was attacking the foundations of their Christian religious beliefs. Many wanted the story destroyed and weren't above taking cheap shots at it to make sure it was destroyed. If the public could be convinced in a series of articles that Simmons, for whatever reason, was lying and that the story was a hoax, everything could return to normal.