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

that ce
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

graphic words:

"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

worth having!

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.