XIII

Demonstrations by “Sampson” under a table⁠—​A medium who is handy with her feet⁠—​Exposé of another operator in dark circles.

Considerable excitement has been created in various parts of the West by a young woman, whose name need not here be given, who pretends to be a “medium for physical manifestations.” She is rather tall and quite muscular, her general manner and expression indicating innocence and simplicity.

The “manifestations” exhibited by her purport to be produced by Samson, the Hebrew champion and anti-philistine.

In preparing for her exhibition, she has a table placed sideways against the wall of the room, and covered with a thick blanket that reaches to the floor. A large tin dishpan, with handles (or ears,) a German accordion, and a tea-bell are placed under the table, at the end of which she seats herself in such a way that her body is against the top, and her lower limbs underneath, her skirts being so adjusted as to fill the space between the end legs of the table, and at the same time allow free play for her pedal extremities. The blanket, at the end where she sits, comes to her waist and hangs down to the floor on each side of her chair. The space under the table is thus made dark⁠—a necessary condition, it is claimed⁠—and all therein concealed from view. The “medium” then folds her arms, looks careless, and the “manifestations” commence. The accordion is sounded, no music being executed upon it, and the bell rung at the same time. Then the dishpan receives such treatment that it makes a terrible noise. Someone is requested to go to the end of the table opposite the “medium,” put his hand under the blanket, take hold of the dishpan, and pull. He does so, and finds that some power is opposing him, holding the dishpan to one place. Not being rude, he forbears to jerk with all his force, but retires to his seat. The table rises several inches and comes down “kerslap,” then it tips forward a number of times; then one end jumps up and down in time to music, if there is anyone present to play; loud raps are heard upon it, and the hypothetical Samson has quite a lively time generally. Some of the mortals present, one at a time, put their fingers, by request, against the blankets, through which those members are gingerly squeezed by what might be a hand, if there was one under the table. A person being told to take hold of the top of the table at the ends, he does so, and finds it so heavy that he can barely lift it. Setting it down, he is told to raise it again several inches; and at the second lifting it is no heavier than one would naturally judge such a piece of furniture to be. Another person is asked to lift the end furthest from the medium; having done so, it suddenly becomes quite weighty, and, relaxing his hold, it comes down with much force upon the floor. Thus, by the power⁠—exercised beneath the table⁠—of an assumed spirit, that piece of cabinet-ware becomes heavy or light, and is moved in various ways, the medium not appearing to do it.

In addition to her other “fixins,” this medium has a spirit-dial, so called, on which are letters of the alphabet, the numerals, and such words as “Yes,” “No,” and “Don’t know.” The whole thing is so arranged that the pulling of a string makes an index hand go the circuit of the dial-face, and it can be made to stop at any of the characters or words thereon. This “spirit-dial” is placed on the table, near the end furthest from the medium, the string passing through a hole and hanging beneath. In the end of the string there is a knot. While the medium remains in the same position in which she sat when the other “manifestations” were produced, communications are spelled out through the dial, the index being moved by some power under the table that pulls the string. A coil-spring makes the index fly back to the starting-point, when the power is relaxed at each indication of a character or word. The orthography of these “spirits” is “bad if not worse.”

Now for an explanation of the various “manifestations” that I have enumerated.

The medium is simply handy with her feet. To sound the accordion and ring the bell at the same time, she has to take off one of her shoes or slippers, the latter being generally worn by her on these occasions. That done, she gets the handle of the tea-bell between the toes of her right foot, through a hole in the stocking, then putting the heel of the same foot on the keys of the accordion, and the other foot into the strap on the bellows part of that instrument, she easily sounds it, the motion necessary to do this also causing the bell to ring. She can readily pass her heels over the keys to produce different notes. She is thus able to make sounds on the accordion that approximate to the very simple tune of “Bounding Billows,” and that is the extent of her musical ability when only using her “pedals.”

To get a congress-gaiter off the foot without using the hands is quite easy; but how to get one on again, those members not being employed to do it, would puzzle most people. It is not difficult to do, however, if a cord has been attached to the strap of the gaiter and tied to the leg above the calf. The cord should be slack, and that will admit of the gaiter coming off. To get it on, the toe has to be worked into the top of it, and then pulling on the cord with the toe of the other foot will accomplish the rest.

The racket with the dishpan is made by putting the toe of the foot into one of the handles or ears, and beating the pan about. By keeping the toe in this handle and putting the other foot into the pan, the operator can “stand a pull” from an investigator, who reaches under the blanket and takes hold of the other handle.

To raise the table, the “medium” puts her knees under and against the frame of it, then lifts her heels, pressing the toes against the floor, at the same time bearing with her arms on the end. To make the table tip forward, one knee only is pressed against the frame at the back side. The raps are made with the toe of the medium’s shoe against the leg, frame, or top of the table.

What feels like a hand pressing the investigator’s fingers when he puts them against the blanket, is nothing more than the medium’s feet, the big toe of one foot doing duty for a thumb, and all the toes of the other foot being used to imitate fingers. The pressure of these, through a thick blanket, cannot well be distinguished from that of a hand. When this experiment is to be made, the medium wears slippers that she can readily get off her feet.

To make the table heavy, the operator presses her knees outwardly against the legs of the table, and then presses down in opposition to the party who is lifting, or she presses her knees against that surface of the legs of the table that is toward her, while her feet are hooked around the lower part of the legs; that gives her a leverage, by means of which she can make the whole table or the end furthest from her seem quite heavy, and if the person lifting it suddenly relaxes his hold, it will come down with a forcible bang to the floor.

To work the “spirit-dial,” the medium has only to press the string with the toe of her foot against the top of the table, and slide it (the string) along till the index points at the letter or word she wishes to indicate. The frame of the dial is beveled, the face declining toward the medium, so that she has no difficulty in observing where the index points.

After concluding her performances under the table, this medium sometimes moves her chair about two feet back and sits with her side toward the end of the table, with one leg of which, however, the skirt of her dress comes in contact. Under cover of the skirt she then hooks her foot around the leg of the table and draws it toward her. This is done without apparent muscular exertion, while she is engaged in conversation; and parties present are humbugged into the belief that the table was moved without “mortal contact”⁠—so they report to outsiders.

This medium has a “manager,” and he does his best in managing the matter, to prevent “Samson being caught” in the act of cheating. The medium, too, is vigilant, notwithstanding her appearance of carelessness and innocent simplicity. A sudden rising of the blanket once exposed to view her pedal extremities in active operation.

Another of the “Dark Circle” mediums gets a good deal of sympathy on account of her “delicate health.” Her health is not so delicate, however, as to prevent her from laboring hard to humbug people with “physical demonstrations.” She operates only in private, in presence of a limited number of people.

A circle being formed, the hands of all the members are joined except at one place where a table intervenes. Those sitting next to this table place a hand upon it, the other hand of each of these parties being joined with the circle. The medium takes a position close by the table, and during the manifestations is supposed to momentarily touch with her two hands the hands of those parties sitting next to the table. Of course, she could accomplish little or nothing if she allowed her hands to be constantly held by investigators; so she hit upon the plan mentioned above, to make the people present believe that the musical instruments are not sounded by her. These instruments are within her reach; and instead of touching the hands of those next the table with both her hands, as supposed, she touches, alternately, their hands with but one of hers, the other she expertly uses in sounding the instruments.

Several years ago, at one of the circles of this medium, in St. John’s, Mich., a light was suddenly introduced, and she was seen in the act of doing what she had asserted to be done by the “spirits.” She has also been exposed as an impostor in other places.

As I have said before, the mediums always insist on having such “conditions” as will best enable them to deceive the senses and mislead the judgment.

If there were a few more “detectives” like Doctor Von Vleck, the whole mediumistic fraternity would soon “come to grief.”