At the time I did not know he was a cold-reader. I regarded him as a genuine Man of God, a prophet. My religion rarely felt real to me, and I count that first revival with him as one of THE times that it did. He seemed to know things that no one could know -- without having done research. A professional, he started every service by ensuring that everyone in the congregation "knew" he hadn't done any research. He would ask if he or his wife had ever spoken with his volunteers before, and would ask the pastor if they had ever discussed the volunteers' affairs. The pastor would solemnly shake his head no.
Then, touching the volunteer's forehead with the index and middle fingers of one hand and raising the others to the heavens, he would pray for a few seconds before beginning his "act". He addressed the volunteer by name, then told them things about their life. He would say he saw people or things around them, and eventually started telling them what they should do to stay on-course.
The first and most vivid example of his abilities came when he told a woman he saw a fence around her home, and she nodded yes. He then guessed that it was high, and she nodded again. Pentecostal services are highly emotional, and so it is not surprising to me in retrospect that a congregation of people wound up and willing to believe saw in these pedestrian predictions a miracle. The woman did indeed have a fence "around" her home: she lived at the base of a short hill, at the top of which was a tennis court with a high fence. The fence cast shadows on her lawn.
To us, the believers, he seemed to be describing her house, and we imagined he saw it in all its detail. He offered abstractions, and we filled in the blanks. To the skeptic, his brassiness is incredible. He expected people to be impressed by the fact that he figured there was a fence near her home? Fences are commonplace. There is a fence across the street from where I lived at the time, and a fence across the street from where I live now, and when I babysat during the summer and stayed at someone's house, by golly there was a fence near there, too.
The art of cold reading is to start off making broad statements, then narrow them down based on the person's responses, or manipulating their responses to give the reader new leads. Two of his other "readings" involved a prophecy that the pastor's daughter would play the piano, and that another girl was rebellious against her father.
The pastor's wife -- the first girls' mother -- was the church pianist, and the girl herself was interested in music. She sometimes practiced at church. It was not a hazardous guess for him that she would one day play the piano. (Ten years later: she does not play the piano, nor does she play any of the other musical instruments she was interested in at the time.) As for the other girl -- well! It's certainly risky to guess that a teenager is feeling rebellious, isn't it?
At the time, I was as willing to believe as the rest. There were others who kept themselves outside the church on purpose (one older teenager would frighten adults and scare younger kids by telling them he didn't want be to saved) who scoffed. "Break out the tarot cards," one said to me, "Here comes the Magician!". Later, when I left religion for freethought and humanism, I looked back at Steve Grimsley and laughed. Having compared him to other 'mentalists', I realized that he was painfully transparent, but with Pentecostal congregations he had a captive audience ready to be amazed by trivialities.
Incidentally, I was never 'read'. He terrified me, and I stayed away from him. I shook visibly in my seat, causing the chairs I gripped to vibrate, but when he approached me he only attempted to 'pray me through to the Holy Ghost'. I have mentioned that encounter previously.
If you are interested in learning how to recognize a cold-reading, here are some resources.
- "Cold Reading" at the Skeptic's Dictionary
- "Cold Reading" at the James Randi Educational Foundation
- Point of Inquiry interview with an (honest) Mentalist, and another;