XVII

The Davenport brothers shown up once more⁠—​Dr. Newton at Chicago⁠—​The spiritualist bogus baby⁠—​A lady brings forth a motive force⁠—​“Gum” arabic⁠—Spiritualist hebrew⁠—​The Allen boy⁠—​Dr. Randall⁠—​Portland Evening Courier⁠—​The fools not all dead yet.

Other “spiritual” facts have come to my hand, some of them furnishing additional details about persons to whom I have already alluded, and others being important to illustrate some general tendencies of spiritualism.

And first, about the Davenport Brothers; they have met with another “awful exposure,” at the hands of a merciless Mr. Addison. This gentleman is a London stockbroker, and his cool, sharp business habits seem to have stood him in good stead in taking some fun out of the fools who follow the Davenports. Mr. Addison, it seems, went to work, and, just to amuse his friends, executed all the Davenport tricks. Upon this the spiritualist newspapers in England, which, like the Boston Herald of Progress, claim to believe in the “Brothers,” came out and said that Addison was a very wonderful medium indeed. On this the cold-blooded Addison at once printed a letter, in which he not only said he had done all their tricks without spiritual aid, but he moreover explained exactly how he caught the Davenports in their impositions. He and a long-legged friend went to one of the “dark séances” of the Davenports, during which musical instruments were to fly about over the heads of the audience, bang their pates, thrum, twang, etc. Addison and his friend took a front seat; as soon as the lights were put out they put out their legs too; stretching as far as possible; and, to use the unfeeling language of Mr. Addison, they “soon had the satisfaction of feeling someone falling over them.” They then caught hold of an arm, from which a guitar was forthwith let drop on the floor. In order to be certain who the guitar-carrier was, they waited until the next time the lights were put out, took each a mouthful of dry flour, and blew it out right among the “manifestations.” When the lamps were lighted, lo and behold! there was Fay, the agent and manager of the Davenports, with his back all powdered with flour. Addison showed this to an acquaintance, who said, “Yes, he saw the flour; but he could not understand what made Addison and his friend laugh so excessively at it.”

The spiritualist newspapers don’t think Addison is so great a medium as they did!

Great accounts have recently come eastward from Chicago, of a certain Doctor Newton, who is said to be working miracles by the hundred in the way of healing diseases. This man operates with exactly the weapons all the miracle-workers, quacks, and impostors, ancient and modern use. All of them have appealed to the imaginations of their patients, and no person acquainted with mental philosophy is ignorant that many a sickman has been cured either by medicine and imagination together, or by imagination alone. Therefore, even if this Newton should really be the cause of the recovery of some persons from their ailments, it would be no more a miracle than if Dr. Mott should do it; nor would Newton be any the less a quack and a humbug.

Newton has operated at the East already. He had a career at New Haven and Hartford, and in other places, before he steered westward in the wake of the “Star of Empire.” What he does is simply to ask what is the matter, and where it hurts. Then he sticks his thumb into the seat of the difficulty, or he pokes or strokes or pats it, as the case may be. Then he says, “There⁠—you’re cured! God bless you!⁠—Take yourself off!”

Chicago must be a credulous place, for we are informed of immense crowds besieging this man, and undergoing his manipulations. One of the Chicago papers, having little faith and a good deal of fun⁠—which in such cases is much better⁠—published some burlesque stories and certificates about “Doctor” Newton, some of them humorous enough. There is a certificate from a woman with fourteen children, all having the measles at once. She says that no sooner had Doctor Newton received one lock of hair of one of them, than the measles left them all, and she now has said measles corked up in a bottle! Another case was that of a merchant who had lost his strength, but went and was stroked by Newton, and the very next day was able to lift a note in bank, which had before been altogether too heavy for him. There was also an old lady, whose story I fear was imitated from Hood’s funny conceit of the deaf woman who bought an ear-trumpet, which was so effective that

⸺“The very next day
She heard from her husband in Botany Bay!”

The Chicago old lady in like manner, after having had Doctor Newton’s thumbs “jobbed” into her ears, certifies that she heard next morning from her son in California.

One would think that this ridicule would put the learned Dr. Newton to flight; but it will not until he is through with the fools.

I have already given an account of some of the messages from the other world in the “Banner of Light,” in which some of the spirits explain that they have turned into women since they died. This is by no means the first remarkable trick that the spirits have performed upon the human organization. Here is what they did at High Rock, in Massachusetts, a number of years ago. It beats Joanna Southcott in funny absurdity, if not in blasphemy.

At High Rock, in the year 1854 or thereabouts, certain spiritualist people were building some mysterious machinery. While this was in process of erection, a female medium, of considerable eminence in those parts, was informed by certain spirits, with great solemnity and pomp, that “she would become the Mary of a new dispensation;” that is, she was going to be a mother. Well, this was all proper, no doubt, and the lady herself⁠—so say the spiritualist accounts⁠—had for some time experienced indications that she was pregnant. These indications continued, and became increasingly obvious, and also, it was observed, a little queer in some particulars.

After a while, one Spear⁠—a “Reverend Mr. Spear”⁠—who was mixed up, it appears, with the machinery-part of the business, and who was a medium himself, transmitted to the lady a request from the spirits that she would visit said Spear at High Rock on a certain day. She did so, of course; and while there was unexpectedly taken with the pains of childbirth, which the spiritualist authorities say, were “internal”⁠—where should they be, pray?⁠—and “of the spirit rather than of the physical nature; but were, nevertheless, quite as uncontrollable as those of the latter, and not less severe.” The labor proceeded. It lasted two hours. As it went on, lo and behold! one part and another part of the machinery began to move! And when, at the end of the two hours, the parturition was safely over, all the machinery was going!

The lady had given birth to a Motive Force. Does anybody suppose I am manufacturing this story? Not a bit of it. It is all told at length in a book published by a spiritualist; and probably a good many of my readers will remember about it.

Well, the baby had to be nursed⁠—fact! This superhumanly silly female actually went through the motions of nursing the motive force for some weeks. Though how the thing sucked⁠—Excuse me, ladies; I would not discuss such delicate subjects did not the interests of truth require it.

If I had been the physician, at any rate, I think I should have recommended to hire a healthy female steam-engine for a wet nurse to this young motive force; say a locomotive, for instance. I feel sure the thing would have lived if it could have had a gauge-faucet or something of that sort to draw on. But the medical folks in charge chose to permit the mother to nurse the child, and she not being able to supply proper nutriment, the poor little innocent faded⁠—if that word be appropriate for what couldn’t be seen⁠—and finally “gin eout;” and the machinery, after some abortive joggles and turns, stood hopelessly still.

This story is true⁠—that is, it is true that the story was told, the pretences were gone through, and the birth was actually believed by a good many people. Some of them were prodigiously enthusiastic about it, and called the invisible brat the New Motive Power, the Physical Savior, Heaven’s Last Best Gift to Man, the New Creation, the Great Spiritual Revelation of the Age, the Philosopher’s Stone, the Act of all Acts, and so on, and so forth.

The great question of all was, Who was the daddy? I don’t know of anybody’s asking this question, but its importance is extreme and obvious. For if things like this are going to happen, the ladies will be afraid to sleep alone in the house if so much as a sewing-machine or apple-corer be about, and will not dare take solitary walks along any stream where there is a water power.

A couple of miscellaneous anecdotes may not inappropriately be appended to this story of monstrous delusion.

Once a “writing medium” was producing sentences in various foreign languages. One of these was Arabic. An enthusiastic youth, a half-believer, after inspecting the wondrous scroll, handed it to his seat-mate, a professor (as it happened) in one of our oldest colleges, and a man of real learning. The professor scrutinized the document. What was the youth’s delight to hear him at last observe gravely, “It is a kind of Arabic, sure enough!”

“What kind?” asked the young man with intense interest.

“Gum-arabic,” said the professor.

The spirit of the prophet Daniel came one night into the apartment of a medium named Fowler, and right before his eyes, he said, wrote down some marks on a piece of paper. These were shown to the Reverend George Bush, Professor of Hebrew in the New-York University, who said that they were “a few verses from the last chapter of Daniel” and were learnedly written. Bush was a spiritualist as well as a professor of Hebrew, and he ought to have known better than to endorse spirit-Hebrew; for shortly there came others, who, to use a rustic phrase, “took the rag off the Bush.” These inconvenient personages were three or four persons of learning: one a Jew, who proved that the document was an attempt to copy the verses in question, by someone so ignorant of Hebrew as not to know that it is written backward, that is, from right to left.

During the last few months, a “boy medium,” by the name of Henry B. Allen, thirteen years of age, has been astonishing people in various parts of the country by “Physical Manifestations in the Light.” The exhibitions of this precocious youngster have been “managed” by a Dr. Randall, who also lectures upon Spiritualism, expounding its “beautiful philosophy.” For a number of weeks this couple held forth in Boston, sometimes giving several séances during the day, not more than thirty being allowed to attend at one time, each of whom were required to pay an admission fee of one dollar.

The Banner of Light fully endorsed this Allen boy, and gave lengthy accounts of his manifestations. The arrangements for his exhibition were very simple. A dulcimer, guitar, bell, and small drum being placed on a sofa or several chairs set against the wall, a clotheshorse was set in front of them and covered with a blanket, which came to the floor. To obtain “manifestations,” a person was required to take off his coat and sit with his back to the clotheshorse. The medium then took a seat close to, and facing the investigator’s left side, and grasped the left arm of the latter on the under side, above the elbow, with his (the medium’s) right hand and near the wrist with the other hand. The “manager” then covered with a coat, the arms and left shoulder of the medium including the left arm of the investigator. The medium soon commenced to wriggle and twist⁠—the “manager” said he was always nervous under “influence”⁠—and worked the coat away from the position in which it had been placed. Taking his right hand from the investigator’s arm, he readjusted the coat, and availed himself of that opportunity to get the investigator’s wrist between his (the medium’s) left arm and knee. That brought his left hand in such a position that with it he could grasp the investigator’s arm where he had previously grasped it with his right hand. With the latter he could then reach around the edge of the clotheshorse and make a noise on the instruments. With the drumsticks he thumped on the dulcimer. Taking the guitar by the neck, he could vibrate the strings and show the body of the instrument above the clotheshorse, without anyone seeing his hand! All persons present were so seated that they could not see behind the clotheshorse, or have a view of the medium’s right shoulder. When asked why people were not allowed to occupy such a position, that they could have a fair view of the instruments when sounded, the “manager” replied that he did not exactly know, but presumed it was because the magnetic emanations from the eyes of the beholders would prevent the spirits being able to move the instruments at all! What was claimed to be a spirit-hand was often shown above the clotheshorse, where it flickered for an instant and was withdrawn; but it was invariably a right hand with the wrist toward the medium. When the person sitting with the medium was asked if the hands of the latter had constantly hold of his arm, he replied in the affirmative. Of course, he felt what he supposed to be both the medium’s hands; but as I before explained, the pressure on his wrist was from the medium’s left arm⁠—the left hand of whom, by means of a very accommodating crook in the elbow, was grasping the investigator’s arm where the medium’s right hand was supposed to be.

From Boston the Allen boy went to Portland, Maine, where he succeeded “astonishingly,” till some gentleman applied the lampblack test to his assumed mediumship, whereupon he “came to grief.”

The following is copied from the Portland Daily Press, of March 21.

“Exposed.⁠—The ‘wonderful’ spiritual manifestations of the ‘boy-medium,’ Master Henry B. Allen, in charge of Doctor J. H. Randall, of Boston, were brought to a sad end last evening by the impertinent curiosity and wicked doings of some of the gentlemen present at the séance at Congress Hall.

“As usual, one of the company present was selected to sit at the side of the boy, and allowed his hand and arm to be held by both hands of the boy while the manifestations were going on. The boy seized hold of the gentleman’s wrist with his left hand, and his shoulder, or near it, with the right hand. The manifestations then began, and among them was one trick of pulling the gentleman’s hair.

“Immediately after this trick was performed, the hand of the boy was discovered to be very black⁠—from lampblack, of the best quality, with which the gentleman had dressed his head on purpose to detect whose was the ‘spirit-hand’ that pulled his hair. His shirt sleeve, upon which the boy immediately replaced his hand after pulling his hair, was also black where the hand had been placed. The gentleman stated the facts to the company present, and the séance broke up. Dr. Randall refunded the fifty cents admission fee to those present.”

The spiritualists of the city were somewhat staggered by this exposé, but soon rallied as one of their number announced a new discovery in spiritual science. Here it is, as stated by himself:

“Whatever the electrical or ‘spirit-hand’ touches, will inevitably be transferred to the hand of the medium in every instance, unless something occurs to prevent the full operation of the law by which this result is produced. The spirit-hand being composed in part of the magnetic elements drawn from the medium, when it is dissolved again, and the magnetic fluid returns whence it came, it must of necessity carry with it whatever material substance it has touched, and leave it deposited upon the surface or material hand of the medium. This is a scientific question. How many innocent mediums have been wronged? and the invisible have permitted it, until we should discover that it was the natural result of a natural law.”

What a great discovery! and how lucidly it is set forth! The author (who, by the way, is editor of the Portland Evening Courier) of this new discovery, was not so modest but that he hastened to announce and claim full credit for it in the columns of the Banner of Light⁠—the editor of which journal congratulates him on having done so much for the cause of spiritualism! Those skeptics who were present when the lampblack was “transferred” from the gentleman’s hair to the medium’s hand, rashly concluded that the boy was an impostor. It remained for Mr. Hall⁠—that is the philosopher’s name⁠—to make the “electromagnetic transfer” discovery. The Allen boy ought ever to hold him in grateful remembrance for coming to his rescue at such a critical period, when the spirits would not vouchsafe an explanation that would exculpate him from the grievous charge of imposture. Mr. Hall deserves a leather medal now, and a soapstone monument when he is dead.

A person, whose initials are the same as the gentleman’s named above, once lived in Aroostook, Maine, and was in the habit of attending “spiritual circles,” in which he was sometimes influenced as a “personating medium,” and to represent the symptoms of the disease which caused the controlling spirit’s translation to another sphere. It having been reported in Aroostook that a certain well-known individual, living further east, had died of cholera, a desire was expressed at the next “circle” to have him “manifest” himself. The medium above referred to got “under influence,” and personated, with an exhibition of all the symptoms of cholera, the gentleman who was reported to have died of that disease. So faithful to the supposed facts was the representation, that the medium had to be cared for as if he was himself a veritable cholera-patient. Several days after, the man who was “personated” appeared in Aroostook, alive and well, never having been attacked with the cholera. The local papers gave a graphic account of the “manifestation” soon after it occurred.

But to return to the Allen boy. After his exposure by means of the lampblack test, and Mr. Hall, of the Portland Evening Courier, had announced his new discovery in spiritual science, several of the Portland spiritualists had a private “sitting” with the boy. While he sat with his hands upon the arm of one of their number, they tied a rope to his wrists, and around the person’s arm, covering his hands in the way I have before described. After some wriggling and twisting (the usual amount of “nervousness,”) the bell washeard to ring behind the clotheshorse. The boy’s right hand was then examined, and it was found to be stained with some colored matter that had previously been put upon the handle of the bell. As the boy’s wrists were still tied, and the rope remained upon the man’s arm, the “transfer” theory was considered to be established as a fact, and the previous exposure shown to be not only no exposure at all, but a “stepping-stone to a grand truth in spiritual science.” Again and again did these persistent and infatuated spiritualists try what they call the “transfer test,” varying with each experiment the coloring-material used, and every time the bell was rung the medium’s right hand was found out to be stained with what had been put upon the bell-handle. By having a little slack-rope between his wrist and the man’s arm, it was not a difficult matter for the medium, while his “nervousness” was being manifested, to get hold of the bell and ring it, and to make sounds upon the strings of the dulcimer or guitar, with a drumstick that the “manager” had placed at a convenient distance from his (the boy’s) hand.

The Portland Daily Press, in noticing a lecture against Spiritualism, recently delivered by Dr. Von Vleck, in that city, says:⁠—“He (Dr. V. V.) performed the principal feats of the Allen boy, with his hands tied to the arm of the person with whom he was in communication.”

Horace Greeley says that if a man will be a consummate jackass and fool, he is not aware of anything in the Constitution to prevent it. I believe Mr. Greeley is right; and I think no one can reasonably be expected to exercise common sense unless he is known to possess it. It is quite natural, therefore, that many of the spiritualists, lacking common sense, should pretend to have something better.