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People From the Other World by Henry S. Olcott

 

PART 1 THE EDDY MANIFESTATIONS
CHAPTER I - THE EDDY FAMILY

SEVEN miles north from Rutland, in a grassy valley shut in by the slopes of the Green Mountains, lying high above the tidewater, is the little hamlet of Chittenden. There is nothing about it worthy of notice, and its sole claim to notoriety lies in the fact that it is the nearest post-town to the homestead farm of the Eddy family of spiritual mediums, whose fame has spread over the whole country. The people of the vicinage are, apparently with few exceptions, plain, dull, and uninteresting, seeming to know nothing and to care less about the marvelous things that are happening under their very eyes, or even the history of their section. Inhabiting a rugged country which exacts much hard labor for small pecuniary returns, they go the round of their daily duty, and trouble themselves about nothing except to get the usual modicum of food and sleep. Their rare occasions of enjoyment are the days of the county fair, the elections, " raisings," huskings, and like country assemblages. Their religion is intolerant, their sect Methodist; within the pale of which body all persons are good, without which all are

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bad. The liberalizing influences that in more thickly settled localities have, for the past ten or twenty years, been leavening the whole religious world, seem to be unfelt in this secluded region. Towards the heterodox these people have no yearning bowels of compassion. Their weapons are both spiritual and carnal; and I judge from the sad story of the Eddy children that these zealots, if suddenly driven out of their beloved church, would feel more at home under the wing of Mahomet than elsewhere, for when prayer has failed of conversion they have resorted to fire and the lash to bring the lamb within the fold. I recently visited this place in the interest of the New York Sun, and spoke of the relations between the Eddys and their neighbors in the following terms:

"There is nothing about the Eddys or their surroundings to inspire confidence on first acquaintance. The brothers Horatio and William, who are the present mediums, are sensitive, distant, and curt to strangers, look more like hard-working rough farmers than prophets or priests of a new dispensation, have dark complexions, black hair and eyes, stiff joints, a clumsy carriage, shrink from advances, and make newcomers feel ill at case and unwelcome.

* They are at feud with some of their neighbors, and as a rule not liked either in Rutland or Chittenden. *

They are in fact under the ban of a public opinion that is not prepared or desirous to study the phenomena as either scientific marvels or revelations from another world." *

When I first began to write about these mediums, I became convinced that they had never done anything to deserve the reprobation of their neighbors, for a number of reports reflecting upon their character, upon being sifted, were discovered to be untrue. I could see prejudice so ill concealed by the narrators, and ignorance of the domestic life, to say nothing of the mediumistic

18      19  portraits of Eddy brothers


faculty of the members of the family, so plainly revealed, that perhaps I went to unnecessary lengths in my defense of their reputations. But since I began the work of revising my matter for this volume, I have met a former citizen of Chittenden, and a man of good character, now a resident of a distant city, who is knowing to the fact that some seven or eight years ago two of the Eddys gave an exhibition, or exhibitions, of certain of the commoner tricks of mediums, themselves included; and I was furnished with the names of witnesses who can corroborate the statement. It is not surprising, therefore; that a simple-minded people, prejudiced against everything that smacks of diabolism, and looking upon the Eddy ghostroom as a Chamber of Horrors, should hastily adopt the opinion that if they were false in the lesser " phenomena" they must be in all; and conclude that a family who could publicly confess their dishonesty, for pay, had good reason to adopt a forbidding aspect to strangers, especially those who would be likely to discover the trickery which furnishes them a support. I am not, I am happy to say, of that class of pseudo-investigators which rejects the chance of finding truth in these marvels because mediums occasionally cheat. It has often, and justly, been said that the circulation of counterfeit coin is no proof that the genuine does not exist, but the reverse; and the reports of most intelligent writers agree in the statement that nearly all public mediums occasionally simulate their phenomena when, from any cause, they cannot produce the real ones. Judge Edmonds and Mr. Robert Dale Owen both told me some years since that they had detected one of the best physical mediums in the United

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States, in trickery, thus corroborating my own experience with the same person; and a well-known artist in Hartford says that he discovered Home, one of the greatest mediums ever known, in acts of deception, both before his departure for Europe, and during a subsequent visit to this country. As to this matter of the Eddy self- exposures, the parties interested tell me that their exposure was a mere pretense, resorted to for the purpose of raising money when they were in a very needy condition. In a word, they cheated the public with a sham exposure when it would not come to see them in their character of mediums. There can be but one opinion of such behavior as this; and, therefore, while my narrative will contain all that can be said on behalf of the remarkable mediumship, or apparent mediumship, of these boys, the reader will find that I shall not rely upon any of their manifestations that could be imitated by them, in working up my conclusions as to the reality of the phenomena. Such a course would be a waste of time and thought.

I separate the medium from the man, considering him beyond a certain point an irresponsible being; that is, if there is any such thing as mediumship. In neglecting this I think most investigators have hitherto erred. If it be true that persons of certain temperaments in this world may be controlled by persons in the other, then the mediums, being controlled, are not free agents, but machines. A person of this kind may, therefore, be a very bad man but a very good machine. Furthermore, if the medium's actions while serving as such are beyond his control, he may, unless he be entranced, observe them just as any spectator, and, observing, may

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learn to imitate, with more or less perfection according to his natural intelligence and endowments.

Thus I observed the Eddys at first in their double capacity, and determined at the outset not to allow anything they might say or do, or any of their surroundings, uncongenial with my own tastes or habits, to bias my verdict upon their claims as spiritual mediums.

When I say that my first reception by the family was most inhospitable; that during my visit of five days I never felt sure that at any moment I might not be requested to leave; that I was made to feel like an intruder whose room was preferable to his company; that I was struggling against all the prejudice one naturally would feel against persons who claimed to be able to summon an army of spirits from the other world; that I sat silent when members of the family made ungracious and threatening speeches against persons who might misrepresent them, clearly meaning me; that for fear my mission might be cut short and my ability to do my duty to my employers destroyed, I breathed not a word of my purpose to write for the newspaper, and left the place without having had a single opportunity to draw out their side of the story from the Eddys, the public has reason to admit that in saying what I did in their favor I was at least actuated by no feelings of partiality.

I was glad, when my second visit was so unexpectedly brought about, that things were just as they had been at the beginning, for I had heard all the evil stories in circulation and sifted them thoroughly, and was in a condition of mind to do justice to people who

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had not always acted so as to make friends, had few real ones, and fewer opportunities granted to lay their pathetic tale before the world. It was not because I had sympathy with their beliefs, nor that their welfare was a matter of greater personal concern than that of any other decent people, but because, in common with every one else, my good wishes went with the weak and oppressed, and this family had been worried and torn by the spirit of intolerance, as a sheep by wolves. Manhood revolts at the persecutions, cruelties, and indignities they have been called to suffer in consequence of the direful inheritance of mediumship that was bequeathed them in their blood--an inheritance that made their childhood wretched, and, until recently, life itself a heavy burden. To explain my meaning I will give some particulars of the family history as they have been communicated to me by the surviving children.

Zephaniah Eddy, a farmer living at Weston, Vt., married one Julia Ann Macombs, a girl of Scotch descent who was born in the same town. She was first cousin to General Leslie Combs, of Kentucky, who changed his name to its present form, and was distantly related to a noble Scotch family. About the year 1846 Mr. Eddy sold his farm and removed to the present homestead in the town of Chittenden. Mrs. Eddy inherited from her mother the gift of "foreseeing," as it is called among the Scotch, or more properly "clairvoyance," for she not only had previsions of future events, but also the faculty of seeing the denizens of the mysterious world about us, from whom she claimed to receive visits

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as commonly as though they were ordinary neighbors. Not only this, but she could also hold speech with them, hear them address their conversation to the inner self within her, utter warnings of impending calamities, and sometimes bring tidings of joy. Her mother before her possessed the same faculties in degree, and her great- great-great-grandmother was actually tried and sentenced to death at Salem for alleged "witchcraft" in the dark days of 1692, but escaped to Scotland by the aid of friends who rescued her from jail. Zephaniah Eddy was a narrow- minded man, strong in his prejudices, a bigoted religionist, and very little educated.

His new wife instinctively withheld from him all knowledge of her peculiar psychological gifts, and for a time after their marriage she seemed to have lost them. But they returned after the birth of her first child stronger than ever, and from that time until the day of her death they were the source of much misery.

Mr. Eddy at first made light of them, laughed at her prognostications, and forbade her giving way to what he declared was the work of the Evil One himself. He resorted to prayer to abate the nuisance, or, as he styled it, to "cast the devil out of his ungodly wife and children," and, that failing, to coercive measures, that proved equally inefficacious.

The first child that was born had the father's temperament, but each succeeding one the mother's, and each, at a very tender age, developed her idiosyncrasies. Mysterious sounds were heard about their cradles, strange voices called through the rooms they were in, they

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would play by the hour with beautiful children, visible only to their eyes and the mothers, who brought them flowers and pet animals, and romped with them; and once in a while, after they were tucked away in bed, their little bodies would be lifted gently and floated through the air by some mysterious power. In vain the father stormed and threatened: the thing went on. He called his pious neighbors together--Harvey Pratt, Rufus Sprague, Sam Parker, Sam Simmons, Charles Powers, and Anson Ladd--and prayed and prayed that this curse might be removed from his house. But the devil was proof against entreaty and expostulation, and the harder they prayed the wickeder the pranks he played. Then the infuriated parent resorted to blows, and, to get the evil spirit out of them, he beat these little girls and boys until he made scars on their backs that they will carry to their graves. It seemed as if the man would go crazy with rage.

By and by, things got so bad that the spirits would "materialize" themselves in the room, right in the father's view, and, not being able to handle them after his usual fashion, his only refuge was to leave the chamber. The children could not go to school, for before long, raps would be heard on the desks and benches, and they would be driven out by the teacher, followed by the hootings and revilings of the scholars. This, it will be remembered, was just what happened to the children of the unfortunates who were hung for witchcraft at Salem, the sins (?) of the parents being cruelly visited upon the children.

One night, when Horatio was four years old, a little

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creature covered with a white fur suddenly appeared in the room where he and three of the other children were sleeping, jumped upon their bed, sniffed at their faces, and then began growing larger and larger until it turned into a great luminous cloud, that gradually shaped itself into a human form. The children screamed, and the mother running in hastily with a candle, the shape disappeared. So year after year things went on, full of trouble and sorrow for all in the unhappy house. No wonder that I found them "curt," "repellant," and "sensitive," and suspicious and calculated to arouse suspicion. I think I would be likewise under like circumstances.

Poor Mrs. Eddy's misfortunes did not cease with her husband's death in 1860, but followed her even into her grave, as she one day in a prophetic vision told the children it would in the exact manner in which it happened. When her death occurred (January 1st 1873) it was intended that she should be buried by the Spiritualists, certain of whom had promised to be present, but it so happened that they were detained away, and two Methodist friends of the husband's acted as sole pall-bearers. As they were about to lower the coffin into the grave these two worthies fell into dispute about a lawsuit that they had just had, and one, in his eagerness to get at his antagonist, dropped his rope and the poor lady was dumped end over end into the pit, and the coffin turned bottom side

One surprising instance of the cruelty begotten by ignorance, is afforded in the means resorted to once to bring William Eddy out of a trance. Pushing, pinching, and blows proving in vain, Anson Ladd, with the father's

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permission, poured scalding hot water down his back, and, as a last heroic operation, put a blazing ember from the hearth on his head. But the lad slept on, and the only effect of this cruelty was the great scar that he has shown me on his crest.

The father's scruples did not interfere with his willingness to turn a thrifty penny by an exhibition of the diabolical gifts of his progeny, for, after the Rochester knockings of 1847 had ushered in the new dispensation of Spiritualism, he hired three or four of the children out to one showman, who took them to nearly all the principal cities of the United States, and to another who took them to London for a brief season.

The children got all the kicks and he all the ha'pence in this transaction, and a sorry time it was for them. Passed through the merciless hands of scores of "committees of skeptics," bound with cords by " sailors of seven years' experience," and riggers "accustomed to tic 'knots where human life was at risk," of carpenters with a fancy for other knots than those in their boards, of inventors who knew all sorts of "ropes" in addition to their particular steam-engines or threshing-machines, and suchlike illuminati, their soft young metacarpal bones were squeezed out of shape, and their arms covered with tile scars of melted wax, used to make the assurance of the bonds doubly and trebly sure. These wrists and arms are a sight to see. Every girl and boy of them has a marked groove between the ends of the ulna and radius and the articulation of the bones of the hand, and every one of them is scarred by hot sealing-wax. Two of the girls showed me scars where pieces of flesh had been

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pinched out by handcuffs used by "committees"--fools who seem to have been unable to discover suspected fraud without resort to brutal violence on the persons of children.

And then the mobbings they have passed through! At Lynn, Mass.; South Danvers; West Cleveland, Ohio., where William was ridden on a rail and barely escaped a coat of tar and feathers; at Moravia, N. Y.; at Waltham, Mass., where they had to fly for their lives; at Dunville, Canada-in all which places their "cabinet" (a simple, portable closet, in which they sit for the manifestations) was smashed. They make no account in this catalogue of suffering, of the places where they were stoned, hooted at, and followed to their hotels by angry crowds. At South Danvers they were fired upon by hidden assassins, and William has the scar of a bullet in his ankle and Mary one in her arm to show for their picnic in that tolerant locality ! Horatio carries his memento of that place in a stab wound in his leg, and Lynn supplied him with the two tokens of a scar on his forehead, where a brick hit him, and a broken finger, the third, on his right hand.

Ah! these committees are often honorable gentlemen, as may be inferred from the fact that once when applying the " flour-test "- the placing of flour in the medium's hands after his wrists are tied, to detect him if he disengages his hands and plays upon the instruments himself-aquafortis was mixed in the flour, and shockingly burned Horatio's fingers; and once, when the musical instruments, horns, &c., were rubbed with rouge, so that the mediums might be betrayed by their discolored

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hands if they should touch them, one of the committee, pretending to make a last examination of the knots, rubbed the hands of both the boys with rouge. In this instance, however, the base trick availed nothing, for, aware of what had been done, the Eddys called for the audience to look at their hands before the cabinet doors were closed, and the culprit was exposed.

The reader will understand, from what I have said of their childhood experiences, that these poor creatures had little or no educational advantages, and their numerous correspondents will not be surprised at the illiteracy shown in their letters. They will be surprised, on the other hand, when I say that I have heard words in six foreign tongues spoken, and conversation sustained in the same, by rappings by some of the phantoms whose appearance before me, during my present visit to the Eddy homestead, I shall describe in future chapters of this true story.

The Daily Graphic was pleased to say of a letter of mine from this place, that "the story is as marvelous as any to be found in history," an opinion that was reiterated by several of the most respected journals in other cities. I risk nothing in now saying that what I am about to narrate is far more extraordinary in every respect, and I expect to tax the public indulgence as to my veracity to the utmost. But I shall at least take good care to be within the limits of the truth, so that my story may be verified by any future investigator who is willing to scan closely, move cautiously to conclusions, and " nothing extenuate nor aught set down in malice." I went to Chittenden to discover the truth as to the "Eddy manifestations,"

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and as I find things, so shall I describe them, caring nothing how much my own prejudices are affected by the result.

The sketches that illustrate this chapter represent the Eddy homestead as viewed from the south-east,* rear, and north side. The house is the first frame building erected in Chittenden township, and for many years was a wayside inn. It comprises a main building and a rear extension, or L, of two stories, of which the lower is divided into a dining-room, kitchen, and small cupboard or pantry; and the upper, thrown into one room, is known as the "circle-room," or among the profane, as " the ghost shop." In the rear view, the kitchen door is seen at the hither end of the L part, and the square window in the gable-end gives light into the "cabinet" or narrow closet in which William Eddy sits when the materializations occur.   30    31-32 picture

CHAPTER II - TREATMENT OF PUBLIC MEDIUMS