Since I wrote about asset-stripping at the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) in July 2019, prompted by the headquarters building in New York being put up for sale, there have been some developments. I thought it would be worth pulling together the latest strands in the saga though the picture is still unclear as, to my knowledge, the individuals in charge have never responded publicly to the concerns raised by those who wish to see the organisation regain its former position as a major focus for psychical research.
An article about the ASPR appeared in the London-based Society for Psychical Research’s online Psi Encyclopedia in September 2019. While it devotes much space to the APSR’s earlier history, the final section covers the more recent period under the heading ‘ASPR in Decline (1990- )’. As that date suggests, the rot has been going on for quite some time, and in November 2019 I referred to Robert McConnell’s valiant but fruitless efforts to address the problem in his 1995 book Far Out in the New Age.
Startlingly, in September 2019 I was told the ASPR, according to public records on the New York City Department of Finance website, had apparently received loans over the years totalling $10 million using its headquarters building as collateral. A New York City real estate company, Bernstein Real Estate, in New York, had created ‘5 W. 73rd Street LLC’ (5 West 73rd Street is the ASPR address; LLC is a limited liability company) which now owns the entire mortgage. The company has the power to rent or lease out the building to generate income in order to pay the debt should the ASPR default. Where the money has gone, and how it is to be repaid, is unknown.
In November 2019, T C Goodsort started a petition on the change.org website addressed to the New York Charities Bureau seeking the removal of the ASPR’s current officers. At the time of writing it had reached just over half of the target number of 1,000 signatures. Goodsort had a letter published in the January 2020 issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (pp. 58-9) drawing attention to the petition.
A major piece of news was the tip-off on 6 December 2019 that the ASPR’s New York HQ sale listing on the Sotheby’s website, publication of which had sparked the most recent concern, had been deleted. My informant could not find the building elsewhere on the Sotheby’s website, or another estate agent’s. As was pointed out to me, this did not necessarily mean the building was no longer for sale, as it could instead have become an unlisted or ‘off-market’ property for a more discreet transaction. As no notice of a sale has surfaced, it suggests the ASPR has completely withdrawn it, at least for the moment.
The latest development, of a kind, was notification this week of a sale on both the US and UK versions of the AbeBooks website of ASPR-related materials by a bookseller in New Hampshire. Headed ‘Archive of early correspondence of the American Society for Psychical Research’, a total of 85 items dating from the 1880s to 1921 are being offered for US$ 6,250.00 + $6.50 shipping (£4,952.15 + £30.77 shipping to the UK). The lengthy description states that ‘the majority of the collection consists of membership and dues communications,’ but it lists a wide range of writers and topics covered in the correspondence, making it more interesting than merely a batch of admin paperwork (which would hardly be worth £5k).
Their origin is not stated but it was natural to wonder if this heralded the break-up of the ASPR’s archive. However, in this instance at least it seems the current ASPR management is not directly at fault, as an enquiry to the vendor elicited the reply that the items had been acquired from the stock of a defunct Maine bookshop. He did not know how the shop owner had obtained them, and did not think there was anything else connected to the ASPR in his possession.
How the Maine bookseller came by them is probably now lost to history. Perhaps they were stolen (in which case one might have expected more coherence). Possibly they were deemed surplus to requirements by the Society and disposed of, though it is hard to believe any self-respecting archivist would discard letters of the sort described, and it would be a scandal in its own right. Altogether it is a mystery: just one more associated with the ASPR. Clarification from that quarter is unlikely.
Acknowledgement: I’d like to thank those informants who share my concern over the mismanagement of the ASPR. I would be happy to hear from anyone with further information on this sorry business.