Spiritualist Humbugs Waking Up
I hear from spiritualists sometimes. These gentry are much exercised in
their minds by my letters about them, and some of them fly out at me
very much as bumble-bees do at one who stirs up their nest. For
instance, I received, not long ago, from my good friends, Messrs.
Cauldwell & Whitney, an anonymous letter to them, dated at Washington,
and suggesting that if I would attend what the latter calls "a seance of
ebrated humbug, Foster," I should see something that I could not
explain. Now, this anonymous letter, as I know by a spiritual
communication, (or otherwise,) is in a handwriting very wonderfully like
that of Mr. Foster himself. And as for the substance of it, it is very
likely that Foster has now gotten up some new tricks. He needs them. The
exhibiting mediums must, of course, contrive new tricks as fast as Dr.
Von Vleck and men like him show up their old ones. It is the universal
method of all sorts of impostors to adopt new means of fooling people
when their old ones are exposed. And Mr. Foster shall have all the
attention he wants if I ever find the leisure to bestow on him, though
my time is fully occupied with worthier objects.
I have also been complimented with a buzz and an attempt to sting from
my old friend S. B. Brittan, the ex-Universalist minister--the very
surprisingly efficient "man Friday" of Andrew Jackson Davis, in the
production of the "Revelations" of the said Davis, and also
ghost-fancier in general; who has gently aired part of his vocabulary in
a communication to the "Banner of Light," with the heading "Exposed for
Two Shillings." I can afford very well to expose friend Brittan and his
spiritualist humbugs for two shillings. The honester the cheaper. It
evidently vexes the spiritualists to have their ghosts put with the
monkeys in the Museum. They can't help it, though; and it is my
deliberate opinion that the monkeys are much the most respectable. I
have no wish to displease any honest person; but the more the
spiritualists squirm, and snarl, and scold, and call names, the more
they show that I am hurting them. Or--does my friend Brittan himself
want an engagement at the Museum? Will he produce some "manifestations"
there, and get that $500?--the money is ready!
A valued friend of mine has furnished me a pleasant and true narrative
of a fine "spiritual" humbug which took place in a respectable
Massachusetts village not very long ago. I give the story in his own
"Two artists of Boston, tired of the atmosphere of their studios,
resolved themselves, in joint session, into spiritual mediums, as a
means of raising the wind--or the devil--and of getting a little fresh
air in the rural districts. One of them had learned Mansfield's trick of
answering communications and that of writing on the arms. They had large
handbills printed, announcing that "Mr. W. Howard, the celebrated
test-medium, would visit the town of ----, and would remain at the ----
Hotel during three days." One of the artists preceded the other by a few
hours, engaged rooms, and attended to sundry preliminaries. "Mr. Howard"
donned a white choker, put his hair behind his ears, and mounted a pair
of plain glass spectacles; and such was his profoundly spiritual
appearance on entering his apartments at the hotel, that he had to lock
the door and give his partner opportunity to explode, and absolutely
roll about on the floor with laughter.
"Well, they rigged a clothes-horse for a screen; and to heighten the
effect, the assistant, who was expert in portraiture, covered this
screen, and, indeed, the walls of the room, with scraggy outlines of the
human countenance upon large sheets of paper. These, they said, were
executed by the draftsman, whose right hand, when under spiritual
influence, uncontrollably jerked off these likenesses. They added, that
the spirits had given information that, before the mediums left town,
the people would recognize these pictures as likenesses of persons there
deceased within twenty years or so. Price, two dollars each! They
absolutely sold quite a large number of these portraits, as they were
from time to time recognized by surviving friends! The operation of
drawing portraits was also illustrated at certain hours, admission,
fifty cents; if not satisfactory, the money returned.
"Other tricks of various kinds were performed with pleasure to all
parties and profit to the performers. The artists stood it as long as
they could, and then departed. But there was every indication that the
towns-people would have stood it until this day."
Thus far my friend's curious and truthful account.
A little while ago, there was exhibiting, at Washington, a "test-medium"
whose name I would print, were it not that I do not want to advertise
him. One of his most impressive feats was, to cause spiritual hands and
other parts of the human frame to appear in the air a la Davenport
Brothers. A gentleman, whose name I also know very well indeed, but have
particular reasons for not mentioning, went one day to see this
"test-medium," along with a friend, and asked to see a hand.
"Certainly," the medium said; and the room was darkened, and the
"circle" made round the table in the usual manner. After about five
minutes, my friend, who had contrived to place himself pretty near the
medium, saw, sure enough, a dim glimmering blue light in the air, a foot
or so before and above the head of the medium. In a minute, he could
see, dimly outlined in this blue light, the form of a hand, back toward
him, fingers together, and no thumb.
"Why is no thumb visible?" asked my friend of the medium in a solemn
"The reason is," said the medium, still more solemnly, "that the spirits
have not power enough to produce a whole hand and so they exhibit as
much as they can."
"And do they always show hands without thumbs?"
Here my friend, with a sudden jump, grabbed for the place where the
wrist of the mysterious hand ought to be. Strange to relate, he caught
it, and held it stoutly, to. A light was quickly had, when, still
stranger, the spirit-hand was clearly seen to be the fleshy paw of the
medium--and a fat paw it was too. Mr. Medium took the matter with the
coolness of a thorough rascal, and, lighting a cigar, merely observed:
"Well gentlemen, you needn't trouble yourselves to come here any more!"
He also insisted on his usual fee of five dollars, until threatened with
a prosecution for swindling.
The secret of this worthy gentleman is simple and soon told. Holding one
hand up in the air, he held up with the other, between the thumb and
finger, a little pinch of phosphorus and bi-sulphide of carbon, which
gave the blue light. If inconvenient to hold up the other hand, he had a
reserve pinch of blue-light under that invisible thumb. It is a curious
instance of the thorough credulity of genuine spiritualists that a
believer in this wretched rogue, on being circumstantially told this
whole story, not only steadily and firmly refused to credit it, and
continued his faith in the fellow, but absolutely would not go to see
the application of any other test. That's the sort of follower that is
Another case was witnessed as follows, by the very same person on whose
authority I give the spirit-hand story. He was present--also, this time
in Washington, as it happened, at an exhibition by a certain pair of
spiritual brothers, since well known as the "Davenport Brothers."
These chaps, after the fashion of their kind, caused themselves to be
tied up in a rope, an old sea-captain tying them. This done, their
"shop" or cabinet, was shut upon them as usual, and the bangs, throwing
of sticks, etc., through a window, and the like, took place. Well, this
sly and inconvenient old sea-captain now slipped out of the hall a few
minutes, and came back with some wheat flour. Having tied up the
"brothers" again, he remarked:
"Now, gentlemen, please to take, each, your two hands full of wheat
The "brothers" got mad and flatly refused. Then they cooled down and
argued, saying it wouldn't make any difference, and was of no use.
"Well," said the ancient mariner, "if it won't make any difference you
can just as well do it, can't you?"
The audience, seeing the point, were so evidently pleased with the old
sailor, that the grumbling "brothers" though with a very bad grace, took
their fists full of flour, and were shut up.
There was not the least sign of a "manifestation"--no more than if the
wheat-flour had shot the "brothers" dead in their tracks. The audience
were immensely delighted. The "brothers," since that time, have learned
to perform some tricks with flour in their fists, but only when tied by
their own friends.
Since these facts came to my knowledge, the Davenport Brothers have
suffered an unpleasant exposure in Liverpool, in England, the details of
which have been kindly forwarded to me by attentive friends there. The
circumstances in question occurred on the evenings of Tuesday and
Wednesday, February 14 and 15, 1865. On the first of these evenings, a
gentleman named Cummins, selected by the audience as one of the Tying
Committee, tied one of the Brothers, and a Mr. Hulley, the other
committee-man, the other. But the Brothers saw instantly that they could
not wriggle out of these knots. They, therefore, refused to let the
tying be finished, saying that it was "brutal" although a surgeon
present said it was not; one tied brother was untied by Ferguson, the
agent; and then the Brothers went to work and performed their various
tricks without the supervision of any committee, but amid a constant
fire of derision, laughter, groans, shouts, and epithets from the
audience. On the next evening, the audience insisted on having the same
committee; the Brothers were very reluctant to allow it, but had to do
so after a long time. Ira Davenport refused again, however, instantly to
be tied, as soon as he saw what knot Mr. Cummins was going to use.
Cummins, however, though Ira squirmed most industriously, got him tied
fast, and then Ira called to Ferguson to cut the knot! Ferguson did so,
and cut Ira's hand. Ira now shewed the blood to the audience, and the
Brothers, with an immense pretense of indignation, went off the stage.
Cummins at once explained; the audience became disgusted, and, enraged
at the impudence of the imposture, broke over the foot-lights, knocked
Ferguson backward into the "cabinet;" and when the discomfited agent had
scrambled out and run away, smashed the thing fairly into
kindling-wood, and carried it off, all distributed into splinters and
chips. Early next morning, the terrified Davenports ran away out of
Liverpool; and a number of the audience were, at last accounts,
intending to go to law to get back the money paid for an exhibition
which they did not see.
The very thorough exposure of the Davenports thus made is an additional
proof--if such were needed--of the truth of what I have alleged about
the impostures perpetrated by them and their "mysterious" brethren of
the exhibiting sort.
Once the "spirits" were "stumped" with a shingle--a very proper yankee
jaw-bone of an ass to route such disembodied Philistines. One day a
certain person was present where some tables were rambling about, and
other revolutions taking place in the furniture-business, when he
stepped boldly forth like a herald bearing defiance, and cast down a
common white pine shingle upon the floor. "There," said he, coolly, "if
you can trot those tables about in that style, do it with that shingle.
Make it go about the room. Make it move an inch!" And lo, and behold!
the shingle lay perfectly still.