When they think about '50s trends, most people conjure images of poodle skirts, soda fountains, and hula hoops. Not many people realize that, throughout the 1950s, the United States developed an infatuation with reincarnation due to the tale of Bridey Murphy. Under hypnosis, a Colorado housewife named Virginia Tighe claimed to be a reincarnated Irish housewife named Bridey Murphy. Speaking in a thick Irish brogue, Murphy told those in the rooms with her tales of her life in Ireland – which had taken place 100 years before. This case of Colorado reincarnation in 1952 led to a media frenzy and widespread fascination with the concept of past life regression and reincarnation.
As reporters researched the story, it became increasing apparent Tighe's claims were inaccurate. After the discovery of a neighbor she had known growing up named Bridie, people came to believe this was a case of cryptomnesia. This is a phenomenon in which someone recalls lost memories and falsely believes them to be new, leading to confusing recollections that may explain past-life memories. Despite the fact Tighe was likely not the reincarnation of Murphy – Murphy had not been resurrected in her body – the case continues to be a fascinating study in public curiosity and the fallible nature of memory.
The Bridey Murphy Identity Emerged During Routine HypnosisPhoto: The Search for Bridey Murphy / Paramount
The Bridey Murphy sensation began when a woman, Virginia Tighe, underwent a hypnosis session with the amateur hypnotist Morey Bernstein. For the first few sessions, Tighe talked about her early childhood in vivid detail. Realizing Tighe was far more susceptible to hypnosis than the average person, in a later session, Bernstein asked her if she remembered anything before her birth.
When the question was asked, Tighe immediately began speaking in a heavy Irish accent. This was surprising, as Tighe had never lived in Ireland. She claimed she was a 19th-century woman named Bridey Murphy. This was the first of many sessions between Bernstein and Murphy.
Over Time, Tighe Revealed Vivid Details Of Her Past Life As An Irish Housewife
Morey Bernstein tried to gather as much information as he could about Tighe’s past life as Murphy in subsequent sessions. Over time, he collected a concrete biography – filled with colorful details – of Murphy. He believed this information could be used to find records verifying the existence of Murphy – thus proving the reincarnation claims.
Tighe, speaking as Murphy, claimed to have been born on December 20, 1798 in Cork, Ireland. She claimed to have lived in a wooden house and to have been the daughter of Duncan and Kathleen Murphy, named after her grandmother Bridget. Moreover, she remembered that:
"After fracturing her hip in a fall while in her early 60s, she had died peacefully and without pain, although an invalid, on a Sunday in 1864 at the age of 66. She added that following her death she had lived a long time “in the spirit world” before her rebirth in 1923 as Ruth Mills in the American state of Iowa."
Tighe Recalled Her Death, Funeral, And The Afterlife "Spirit World"Photo: The Search for Bridey Murphy / Paramount
As Murphy, Tighe recalled details of her death. But her details about the afterlife, which she called "the spirit world" – as she remembered it – were perhaps the most intriguing of her account.
She described watching her funeral, as well as the afterlife and purgatory. She said the afterlife was a neutral location, where she felt neither happy nor sad. In purgatory, she was able to speak with other people who had died and she knew during her lifetime, including her younger brother who had died during infancy.
The Case Led To A Public Obsession With ReincarnationPhoto: The Search For Bridey Murphy / Paramount
In total, Bernstein conducted six past life regressions with Tighe between November 1952 and October 1953. He recorded it on vinyl and wrote a book about it – and the American public was obsessed.
Bridey Murphy was an absolute sensation throughout the 1950s. Reincarnation-themed parties became a trend, the slogan for such events being, “Come as you were.” Bartenders often served reincarnation cocktails, and people became curious about their own past lives. Stories began to crop up of individuals claiming to have previously been royalty, animals, or peasants from medieval times.