March 3, 2023
 | 1:10 pm

Eye of 'hypnotizzy' storm

Exploring how Pueblo sparked a 1950s hypnotism craze with ‘Search for Bridey Murphy’

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Collection of photos of the primary documents from 1956 archived at the Pueblo County Historical Society, 203 W. B St.

There remains a question in Pueblo, obscured from view generally but persistent nevertheless. It takes the form of a story, first told 67 years ago, about events taking place roughly 100 years before that. Confused already? We’re at the foot of a long bridge. In fact, to be told fully and properly, I must break stride with journalistic practice and tell this account firsthand. Come as you were…That’s what Morey would’ve wanted. The story, or at least the beginning of it, is about the Search for Bridey Murphy, in which a woman recalls the events of a past life in astounding detail under hypnotic trance. It takes place mostly in Pueblo through the 1950s.

My own first impression of this tale was essentially a cosmic accident. I was working for another monthly news magazine, and was asked to run a deep edit on an article that had been submitted: to make it coherent and give it some substance. I couldn’t have known at the time that it was almost impossible! There’s simply too much here to fit in 1000 words or less. Around the time The Twilight Zone was produced, some Pueblo businessman had written a book that reached international acclaim, which was subsequently turned into a movie, a Vinyl release, and briefly captured the attention of the American media at large. It was an extraordinary story about a series of experiments in past-life regression.

Life Magazine in March of 1956 described the phenomenon as a ‘Hypnotizzy’. The now-defunct Chicago American, as well as popular doctors and psychiatrists took special vengeance in investigating and debunking the whole ordeal. People hosted themed parties and created cocktail recipes, and everybody was talking about hypnotism and the possibility of reincarnation. Why were the people of Pueblo not shouting from the rooftops about this guy? I’d never seen him on any levee mural or museum placard growing up. Forget about Bridey Murphy, where’d Morey Bernstein end up after all of this?

“If this thing is true, if this is a fact, then why is it not more widely used?… if the mind can be so detached, then aren’t the possibilities infinite?”

Morey Bernstein

See, Morey was an amateur hypnotist as well, having gotten into the hobby as the result of a strange and accidental coincidence. He and his father ran a company, founded by his grandfather in scrap metals. It had grown to become an industrial agriculture, machinery and supply wholesaler with several national accounts. He got a call early one evening in the 40’s. The cousin of one of his largest clients was stranded by a storm after flying into Pueblo. Obligingly, he picks the fellow up and takes him along to a cocktail party to be held that evening at the home of some friends. What a whirlwind that was: his new guest would introduce him to hypnosis by entertaining the party with a live demonstration. Seeing himself as a skeptic and a rational man, he fervently took it upon himself to interrogate the hypnotist, and to suggest it was all ‘quack.’ Afterwards, speaking of the events and the unnamed woman who was put into trance, he writes, “I was beginning to realize that I was licked. I had always thought that the subjects of hypnotist were stooges-shills-or that the minds of the subjects were so simple that they could be shoved around at the will of the so-called hypnotist. But this girl was neither a fake nor a fool.”

Morey left that party and was irreversibly changed by the encounter. He had seen the power, and the potential, of hypnosis firsthand, saying “I machine-gunned a round of questions at our victorious hypnotist. If this thing is true, if this is a fact, then why is it not more widely used?…if the mind can be so detached, then aren’t the possibilities infinite?…Why is it not a ‘must’ for every psychiatrist?…And what about practical applications in the fields of education, law, business, dramatics, advertising, and almost everything else under the sun? Why hasn’t more been done about it? I got my answer. It was the same answer I was to get over and over again during the next 10 years. It was a shrug of the shoulders.”

He got to work, researching hypnotism vigorously, as though the subject were a business assignment. He pulled every book he could find both in Pueblo and the New York Public Library, and began a search for volunteers.

Morey’s search began as purely academic. He spends the first half of his book qualifying his initial interest as pragmatic, and arguing for the use of hypnosis as a tool for the common good. He had no interest in what was then termed ‘parapsychology’ (clairvoyance, clairaudience, ESP, telekinesis, etc.). Only after more dizzying encounters with the ‘average’ folks in his life was he forced to investigate what remains on the fringe. This is the nature of our question, and his. The topic is enticing, sure, but easy enough to walk away from as a mystery. There’s something in the subtext, though, that relays a relatively common experience of those that encounter parapsychology. The inquiry is external, almost like clues are left in the world for former skeptics. Searchers are overcome by an insatiable desire to find answers, though rationally they can sense it’s like looking through a hall of mirrors. There’s no end in sight.

Morey Bernstein performing a hypnosis with a candle. (Photo courtesy of Pueblo County Historical Society)

From 1952 to 1956, Morey found subjects to expand his practice on. He started by effectively using hypnosis to cure his wife of migraines. At the behest of his friend, a medical doctor, he volunteered in outpatient therapy, consulting on particularly difficult and psychosomatic cases. Through tedious note-taking and preparation for sessions, he had some remarkable breakthroughs. It was during this time that he wrote and was encouraged to publish his book.

Years went by mostly unperturbed, where he managed to keep up on his business ventures as well, until this question in parapsychology sprouted and grew to consume his mind. He’d been introduced to writings about Edgar Cayce, a regular Kentucky farmer, who under trance, accurately diagnosed the illness of thousands of people he did not know, nor who were even in the same town when these ‘health readings’ were performed. Cayce also has documented ‘life readings’, wherein patients’ current psychological distress could be attributed to events from their former lives. Morey flew to investigate Cayce’s files personally. More resources poured in; books and scientific journals mounting evidence that there remained something to be discovered on a proverbial third rail in medical science. What interested him primarily was the subject of reincarnation. Rather, that by accessing the subconscious, one could stretch back and ‘remember’ the events of a past life in the mind’s eye. Morey devised an experiment of his own, thus introducing the world to Bridey Murphy. Bridget Kathleen MacCarthy Murphy was the name of the woman who was allegedly brought back into existence by hypnotic regression. Through 6 hours of “testimony” under trance, Virginia Tighe (the subject) spoke with a noticeable Irish Brogue, and described in astounding detail what seemed to be another life. Bridey claimed to live from 1798-1864, and recalled the names of her father, mother, siblings, husband, and priest. She spoke of her marriage, a move from Cork to Belfast, her childhood and the circumstances of her death naturally and without hesitation. It seemed impossible to everyone who heard the tapes that this was all a clever invention. Firsthand accounts confirm that Tighe was in trance, and that she remembered nothing of the time she spent in that state.

“Hypnosis makes it easier to experience suggestions, but doesn’t force you to have certain experiences.”

Cleveland Clinic, on autonomy under hypnosis

The notion caught fire, prompting journalists from major news outlets, scraping line by line, to try to corroborate the events and people described. Some went to Ireland to search county records for the names of businesses, streets and people. Others investigated her language, whether some of the phrases, references and names she used were accurate to the time and place. Later, I’d find out that the movie, the scathing reviews and the debunkings had all missed the point of the book. The whole phenomena invites so much more than Bridey now, that her actual existence could remain comfortably in the same state of pseudonym as Socrates. The point wasn’t Bridey, though; she was just the hook. By the end of his life, Morey had become a recluse. His fortune was lost, and people say he’d gone mad.

Virginia Tighe, also known as Ruth Simmons, who claimed to an incarnation of Bridey Murphy. (Photo courtesy of Pueblo County Historical Society)

That could’ve been the end of the story for me. I’d somewhat successfully surmised the bulk of the event that sparked national intrigue, that the guy who donated the land that the Pueblo Convention Center sits on went to some house parties and age-regressed a young woman into a past life. The article I worked on would be published, and I could finally move on to the next one. Except, about a month later, an unusual call came into my office. It was a man looking to pass a compliment to the author of the “Bridey” story. He was so glad someone was covering it, he had not seen anything on it in years. He had some information to share. Turns out, he owned the house Morey Bernsein had lived in at that time. He’d become quite the collector as a result. We met that week and he showed me the front room of the house, and gave me my first copies of the book and the record. Both are notoriously difficult to find here.

A lot of people write off Bridey Murphy as a hoax or some scheme, if they even know about it. But it remains fun to bring up randomly in conversation. It’s just one of those neat Pueblo history stories that one collects living here. It’s taken this long for me to realize that stones remain unturned. Morey left a goldmine of information strewn through footnotes and appendices in his book, ranging from resources on hypnosis to arguments for the existence of “extra-sensory perception.” He took painstaking care to defend his position, and to explain why he was driven to conduct the experiments in the first place. Texts that he referenced in the book that were long out of print, soon were republished as the public began its own search for answers.

As a result, an exceptional hypnotic candidate leads to an unfinished inquiry on the nature of the mind. Does Reincarnation exist? Are we capable of seeing other times and places through the lens of our subconscious? What control do we have over our physiological selves as can be accessed by somnambulistic (deep, almost sleeping) trance? These are all facets of the question, expressed in his concept of “the long bridge.” It’s a journey of inquiry, often beginning with a single question. The funny thing is, it differs for every person it encounters.

In 2023, hypnotism has been more widely studied and utilized, though it still carries the weight of a bad reputation. Popular culture would have us believe that hypnotists are snakes, who cause people to act outside of their own self interest or put themselves in dangerous situations. Refuting this assertion, the Cleveland Clinic website states,

“Your hypnotist or hypnotherapist guides hypnosis, but hypnosis is something you do for yourself. You can’t be made to do anything against your will. You won’t reveal any information that you wished to remain secret. You don’t lose control over your behavior. Hypnosis makes it easier to experience suggestions but doesn’t force you to have certain experiences.”

It is evident, whether for therapeutic use or entertainment, that hypnosis is a powerful tool, and more so that its methodologies have been long used to capture our attention and cause us to act on suggestions. It was effective as recently as the last time you bought anything because you saw it in an advertisement. This, to me, is the reason “The Search for Bridey Murphy’ remains relevant.

The advent of neuropsychology alone gives cause to reconsider the physical and metaphysical boundary lines of the mind.

Morey engaged in a search through his own mind as well. Hypnotists and skeptics make for bad hypnotic subjects, as their conscious mind will reject any suggestion that it can scrutinize. He subjected himself to novel and somewhat vdangerous procedures to attempt to enter trance. Some listed were shock therapy, controlled CO2 poisoning and mind-altering pharmaceutical cocktails. He was ultimately unsuccessful, but there is a lesson for us in his efforts.

Our daily lives are constantly bombarded with suggestions, which we often, unknowingly and passively, accept. Our unhealthy standards for beauty and food, our encouraged material excess and fast consumption, all root from effective and sometimes insidious marketing efforts, which are rooted in discoveries from hypnosis. To study it, then, encourages a general mental resilience. We can learn to identify when efforts are made to subdue our rational filters and reject what does not serve us. This is increasingly important as new content is delivered to us at a breakneck pace through technology.

Though not able to undergo hypnosis himself, Morey took sizable steps on the long bridge. He speaks of dreams that acted as premonitions and of meaningful events in his life that could not be explained away. He opened that door for us with a story that rattles most who read it. He profited handsomely, though that was never his intention, and was met with public scrutiny and derision. Religious groups and, notably, the media powerhouse of William Randolph Hearst made efforts to defame him, which we will explore in later issues.

Opportunity abounds to dig deeper into the “Search for Bridey Murphy” and the introspection it asks of us. A generation of first-hand witnesses remain in Pueblo, as well as a trove of archived records and unheard commentary surrounding the real people involved. The advent of neuropsychology alone gives cause to reconsider the physical and metaphysical boundary lines of the mind. The search in that regard may never be over, as it has essentially been attempted by the human race since our first creation myths. Bridey Murphy has yet to be fully proven, or disproven, as evidence of reincarnation. In upcoming articles, we will explore the legacy of this story and the people involved, as well as the reasons it nearly faded into obscurity. I invite you this year to explore the broader question with me, and take your own first steps in the search.

Help us dig deeper into this story. If you have a lead, anecdote or information that could help us in our “search for Bridey Murphy,” please email:

Comments, questions and leads/tips can be sent to

Taylor Blanchard

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