By Shane Cochrane
In 1895, while experimenting with electrical devices called Crooke’s tubes, German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays. And shortly after that, he discovered their medical use when he took an X-ray photo of his wife’s hand.
“I have seen my death,” she exclaimed when shown the photo.
Röntgen’s discovery was a sensation, but not everyone believed that what he was doing was actually science. Some believed that he was dabbling in the occult.
He wasn’t of course.
But while Röntgen needed all manner of electrical wizardry to peer into the human body, there were others – children, in fact – who seemed to be able to achieve the same feat without any kind of gadgetry. They just had to look at someone to see the inside of them.
Leonel Brett, from Braintree, Massachusetts, was only 9-years-old when he discovered he had this uncanny ability. In November 1897, Leonel’s father, a medical doctor, had hypnotised him. And as he was coming out of the trance, Leonel pointed to his father’s hand and cried: “Oh dad, I can see inside!”
A number of similar incidents prompted Dr Brett to let some of his colleagues examine Leonel. They concluded that the boy really could “penetrate substances after the manner of X-rays.” Two years later, when he was only 11-years-old, Leonel was working alongside his father, using his x-ray vision to examine patients.
According to Leonel, his X-ray vision was superior to anything that could be produced using Röntgen’s technology. Not only could he see the body’s internal organs in colour, he claimed that he could also see the signals from the brain whizzing around the nervous system.
Leonel’s ability proved invaluable to his father and other doctors, who often based their diagnosis and treatment on his descriptions of what he had seen inside the patient.