Oh, the psychophonies! At the end of the 19th century, people was enthusiastic about psychophonies. If they had been given a choice, many would have preferred a psychophony to a symphony. People lined up outside the door of the houses where it was rumored that psychophonies were being produced. Most of the time they were false alarms: the meow of a cat that had been accidentally locked in the pantry, a creak of old wood, the spasmodic snores of a husband whose wife had forgotten he existed … However, there remained a small percentage of cases for which the SPR had not found any explanation. One of these unresolved cases is the one I am going to refer to now. It was William James, who was then residing in New York, who spoke for the first time of this case to his friend William F. Barret, who in 1884 had traveled to New York from London to found the American Society for Psychical Research.
When a downtown Broadway office building was deserted at night, you could hear Trickitrickitrickitricki. Such was the word used by the nightwatchman to refer to the sound. Sir William Barret thought at first that it was just a word from the guardian’s exotic native language to define that kind of paranormal phenomena. But it turned out that it was an onomatopoeia: the psychophony in question consisted of a dull but continued Trickitrickitrickitricki. The two Williams (James and Barret) set out to spend one of those sleepless nights when it was necessary to sharpen the ears to capture the origin of the psychophony.
Each armed with a gas lamp, the two researchers began touring the various floors of the building, but the Trickitrickitrickitricki was not heard. Then they settled into an office on the fifth floor from where a window gave them a beautiful picture of the illuminated and bustling road. So entranced were they contemplating that view that they did not notice it immediately. Only after a while, William James jumped up: “Shut up! Have you heard? “. “What?”. “The Trickitrickitrickitricki”. Barret almost knocked over the table when he turned around. “Sshh! Silence!”, James ordered. And both remained for a while with the body leaning forward and ears alert. Indeed, the Trickitrickitrickitricki had come to the appointment. But it was not a noise, as they had imagined: it seemed a voice. Suddenly, James came out as a whirl of the office and shouted “Spirit, manifest!”. Barret’s hair stood on end at the call. “Ssshhh!”, he whispered, “What do you do? You’ve gone mad? Don’t you realize that he could hear you?!”. But James did not listen to reason and kept shouting: “Anyone there?!”. James had the strange idea that if there was a voice, that voice should be backed by someone. But why the hell would someone say Trickitrickitrickitricki in an empty Manhattan office? The thing did not make sense. However, James continued to shout as he rushed through the entire floor while Barret kept trying to convince him to lower his voice. Suddenly, a gust of cold wind passed by them making them shudder. “There it is” said James, and ran in its pursuit. But how can you catch, or even pursue, a gust of wind? Immediately they lost track of it and, obeying at last the most elementary logic, James agreed to Barret’s suggestion that, being useless to pursue a gust of wind, the best they could do was to return home and close the investigation. And that’s what they did.