XI

The “ballot-test”⁠—The old gentleman and his “diseased” relatives⁠—A “hungry spirit”⁠—​“Palming” a ballot⁠—Revelations on strips of paper.

An aptitude for deception is all the capital that a person requires in order to become a “spirit-medium;” or, at least, to gain the reputation of being one. Backing up the pretence to mediumship with a show of something mysterious, is all-sufficient to enlist attention, and insure the making of converts.

One of the most noted of the mediumistic fraternity⁠—whose name I do not choose to give at present⁠—steadily pursued his business, for several years, in a room in Broadway, in this city, and succeeded not only in humbugging a good many people, but in what was more important to him⁠—acquiring quite an amount of money. His mode of operating was “the ballot-test,” and was as follows:

Medium and investigator being seated opposite each other at a table, the latter was handed several slips of blank paper, with the request that he write the first (or Christian) names⁠—one on each paper⁠—of several of his deceased relatives, which being done, he was desired to touch the folded papers, one after the other, till one should be designated, by three tips of the table, as containing the name of the spirit who would communicate. The selected paper was laid aside, and the others thrown upon the floor, the investigator being further requested to write on as many different pieces of paper as contained the names, and the relation (to himself) of the spirits bearing them. Supposing the names written were Mary, Joseph, and Samuel, being, respectively, the investigator’s mother, father, and brother. The last-named class would be secondly written, and one of them designated by three tips of the table, as in the first instance. The respective ages of the deceased parties, at the time of their decease, would also be written, and one of them selected. The first “test” consisted in having the selected name, relationship, and age correspond⁠—that is, refer to the same party; to ascertain which the investigator was desired to look at them, and state if it was the case. If the correspondence was affirmed, a communication was soon given, with the selected name, relationship, and age appended. Questions, written in the presence of the medium, were answered relevantly, if not pertinently. Investigators generally did their part of the writing in a guarded manner, interposing their left hand between the paper on which they wrote and the medium’s eyes; and they were very much astonished when they received a communication, couched in affectionate terms, with the names of their spirit-friends attached.

By long practice, the medium was enabled to determine what the investigator wrote, by the motion of his hand in writing. Nine out of ten wrote the relationship first that corresponded with the first name they had written. Therefore, if the medium selected the first that was written of each class, they in most cases referred to the same spirit. He waited till the investigator had affirmed the coincidence, before proceeding; for he did not like to write a communication, appending to it, for instance, “Your Uncle John,” when it ought to be “Your Father John.” The reason he did not desire inquirers to write the surnames of their spirit-friends, was this: almost all Christian names are common, and he was familiar with the motions which the hand must make in writing them; but there are comparatively few people who have the same surnames, and to determine them would have been more difficult. No fact was communicated that had not been surreptitiously gleaned from the investigator.

An old gentleman, apparently from the country, one day entered the room of this medium and expressed a desire for a “sperit communication.”

He was told to take a seat at the table, and to write the names of his deceased relatives. The medium, like many others, incorrectly pronounced the term “deceased,” the same as “diseased”⁠—sounding the s like z.

The old gentleman carefully adjusted his “specs” and did what was required of him. A name and relationship having been selected from those written, the investigator was desired to examine and state if they referred to one party.

“Wal, I declare they do!” said he. “But I say Mister, what has them papers to do with a sperit communication?”

“You will see, directly,” replied the medium.

Whereupon the latter spasmodically wrote a “communication,” which read somewhat as follows:

My Dear Husband:⁠—I am very glad to be able to address you through this channel. Keep on investigating, and you will soon be convinced of the great fact of spirit-intercourse. I am happy in my spirit-home; patiently awaiting the time when you will join me here, etc. Your loving wife, Betsey.

“Good gracious! But my old woman can’t be dead,” said the investigator, “for I left her tu hum!”

“Not dead!” exclaimed the medium. “Did I not tell you to write the names of deceazed relatives?”

“Diseased!” returned the old man; “Wal, she ain’t anything else, for she’s had the rumatiz orfully for six months!”

Saying which, he took his hat and left, concluding that it was not worth while to “keep on investigating” any longer at that time.

This same medium, not long since, visited Great Britain for the purpose of practicing his profession there.

In one of the cities of Scotland, some shrewd investigator divined that he was able to nearly guess from the motion of the hand what questions were written.

“Are you happy?” being a question commonly asked the “spirits,” one of these gentlemen varied it by asking:

“Are you hungry?”

The reply was, an emphatic affirmative.

They tricked the trickster in other ways; one of which was to write the names of mortals instead of spirits. It made no difference, however, as to getting a “communication.”

To tip the table without apparent muscular exertion, this impostor placed his hands on it in such a way that the “pisiform bone” (which may be felt projecting at the lower corner of the palm, opposite the thumb) pressed against the edge. By pushing, the table tipped from him, it being prevented from sliding by little spikes in the legs of the side opposite the operator.

There are other “ballot-test mediums,” as they are called, who have a somewhat different method of cheating. They, too, require investigators to write the names⁠—in full, however⁠—of their spirit-friends; the slips of paper containing the names, to be folded and placed on a table. The medium then seizes one of the “ballots,” and asks:

“Is the spirit present whose name is on this?”

Dropping that and taking another:

“On this?”

So he handles all the papers without getting a response. During this time, however, he has dexterously “palmed” one of the ballots, which⁠—while telling the investigator to be patient, as the spirits would doubtless soon come⁠—he opens with his left hand, on his knee, under the edge of the table.

A mere glance enables him to read the name. Refolding the paper, and retaining it in his hand, he remarks:

“I will touch the ballots again, and perhaps one of them will be designated this time.”

Dropping among the rest the one he had “palmed,” he soon picks it up again, whereat three loud “raps” are heard.

“That paper,” says he to the investigator, “probably contains the name of the spirit who rapped; please hold it in your hand.”

Then seizing a pencil, he writes a name, which the investigator finds to be the one contained in the selected paper.

If the ballots are few in number, a blank is put with the pile, when the medium “palms” one, else the latter might be missed.

It seems the spirits can never give their names without being reminded of them by the investigator, and then they are so doubtful of their own identity that they have but little to say for themselves.

One medium to whom I have already alluded, after a sojourn of several years in California⁠—whither he went from Boston, seeking whom he might humbug⁠—has now returned to the East, and is operating in this city. Besides answering sealed letters, he furnishes written “communications” to parties visiting him at his rooms⁠—a “sitting,” however, being granted to but one person at a time. His terms are only five dollars an hour.

Seated at a table in a part of the room where is the most light, he hands the investigator a strip of blank, white paper, rather thin and light of texture, about a yard long and six inches wide, requesting him to write across one end of it a single question, addressed to a spirit-friend, then to sign his own name, and fold the paper once or twice over what he has written. For instance:

Brother Samuel:⁠—Will you communicate with me through this medium? William Franklin.

To learn what has been written, the medium lays the paper down on the table, and repeatedly rubs the fingers of his right hand over the folds made by the inquirer. If that does not render the writing visible through the one thickness of paper that covers it, he slightly raises the edge of the folds with his left hand while he continues to rub with his right; and that admits of the light shining through, so that the writing can be read. The other party is so situated that the writing is not visible to him through the paper, and he is not likely to presume that it is visible to the medium; the latter having assigned as a reason for his manipulations that spirits were able to read the questions only by means of the odylic, magnetic, or some other emanation from the ends of his fingers!

Having learned the question, of course the medium can reply to it, giving the name of the spirit addressed; but before doing so, he doubles the two folds made by the inquirer, and, for a show of consistency, again rubs his fingers over the paper. Then more folds and more rubbing⁠—all the folding, additional to the inquirer’s, being done to keep the latter from observing, when he comes to read the answer, that it was possible for the medium to read the question through the two folds of paper. The answer is written upon the same strip of paper that accompanies the question.

The medium requires the investigator to write his questions each on a different strip of paper; and before answering, he every time manipulates the paper in the way I have described. When rubbing his fingers over the question, he often shuts the eye which is toward the inquirer⁠—which prevents suspicion; but the other eye is open wide enough to enable him to read the question through the paper.

Should a person write a test-question, the medium could not answer it correctly even if he did see it. In his “communications” he uses many terms of endearment, and if possible flatters the recipient out of his commonsense, and into the belief that “after all there may be something in it!”

Should the inquirer “smell a rat,” and take measures to prevent the medium from learning, in the way I have stated, what question is written, he (the medium) gets nervous and discontinues the “sitting,” alleging that conditions are unfavorable for spirit-communication.