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People From the Other World by Henry S. Olcott

 

CHAPTER XI - ARE THEY PERSONATIONS?

HAVING divested our problem of the element of confederacy, and made it clear that the forms presenting themselves in William's materialization circle, must be ascribed either to personations of character by the medium, or the manifestation of an occult force, the way lies smooth before us.

A man to be a successful personator must have a certain range of talents which any theatrical manager can enumerate for us, He must : 1. Be a natural actor; 2. Have professional training; 3. Be of average size, so that attention may not be attracted to any extreme disparity between his own figure and those of the characters he represents; 4. Have access to a theatrical wardrobe, furnished with numerous wigs, costumes, shoes, and properties; 5. Have time to "make up his face," where fair, swarthy, and black complexions are required; 6. Have a good light to dress by; 7. Have room to dress in; 8. Be supple, of a vivacious temperament, and accustomed to a great variety of people. In addition to these the personator of the Eddy ghosts would need a knowledge of many languages,

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at least to the extent of being able to hold brief conversations.

I think I have fairly stated the case. I leave it to Lingard, or any other "character-sketch" delineator to say, whether this is so or not. And now let the intelligent reader cast his eyes upon the life- like, full-length sketch of the medium, William H. Eddy, as he appears every day, all day, and, barring the hat, at the moment of his entrance into his " cabinet," and say whether he fills my outline in any particular. He has not one peculiarity of temperament, or physical organization, in common with the professional actor. He is clumsy instead of supple; never acted on any stage or privately in his life; is five feet nine inches high, and weighs 179 pounds; has not a shred of theatrical clothing in the house, nor a wig, nor stage shoes, nor properties; the ghosts appear after intermissions of from a half minute to four and five minutes; Indians succeeding whites, or vice versa, men women, or the contrary, and children grown persons, the most striking dissimilarities in person, being as often after the briefest as the longest intervals ; his cabinet is pitch dark, the door is never closed, and only a woolen shawl hangs before the entrance, through which the gleam of even a rushlight would show plainly; his cabinet measures two feet in width by seven in length; there is neither shelf, nor cupboard, nor hanging- closet, where properties could be stored, and the only window is effectually sealed up with my own signet, against all access from without; his temperament is bilious-nervous, his movements slow and devoid of springiness, his eye sad and introspective; household duties, such as women ordinarily engage in,

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occupy him to the very time when he begins his sťances; he has lived within himself, a simple, quiet, suffering life, making few intimate friends,, being in the world but not of it; a recluse, in fact, by nature, who seems more familiar with the beings we call uncanny, than those who jostle us in this world, as we move along towards our common goal.

And as for his linguistic accomplishments, he speaks his own mother tongue with a strong New England accent of the vowels, and knows nothing of any other. Add to all this that, after an acquaintance with him of nearly two months, and the opportunity of seeing him every day, almost every hour of the time, he gives me the impression of being, at least, at the present time, a man of pure mind and heart, tender and truthful, giving to the poor every spare dollar he earns, frank and open to all, having no vices, disguises, concealments, or pride, hardly ever casting even a glance at the busy world that lies beyond his native hills, and it must be conceded that we have before our camera the unlikeliest of all men to take rank among the great impostors of history. I pray the reader not to fancy I am sketching a perfect man I mean, one whom we would turn to for comfort and companionshlp in life. His very temperament unfits him for general acquaintance. His childhood was one of injustice, oppression, and cruel treatment from his natural protector-from the father, who is usually to his child the ideal of justice and benevolence, the earthly embodiment of the Divine wisdom and patience. Where other boys receive constant tokens of affection and indulgence he got blows, revilings, and bitter denunciations. His

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mystic endowments, instead of proving a blessing, brought only misery in their train; and the poor lad, who loved his mother with the warmth of a girl's heart, was forced to see her subjected to the same outrageous rudeness as he received himself. Then this father of his, showing the innate meanness of his petty soul, made traffic of the very constitutional peculiarities that he had striven so hard to flog out of his children, and sent this boy and his brothers and sisters out with a traveling showman, to be robbed and shot at and ridden on rails ; half-starved, illclothed, denounced as impostors, tortured by skeptical committees, and by inconsiderate Spiritualists, overdoing precaution in a desire to inspire confidence in what might be manifested in presence of the young.

Fancy a child enduring all this, finding enemies instead of friends at every step, knowing not whither to turn for sympathy except to the world of spirits, and to that most loving and sacred of all friends, his MOTHER, and who can expect to find the man of thirty affable, cool, unimpressible, equable, suave, and accessible like other men? He suffers from his enforced seclusiveness all the while, but it cannot be helped. Many hearts warm towards him, and would show their tenderness, but they come twenty years too late. The seeds of distrust were planted in boyhood, watered with tears, grafted with sorrow, and the garden is choked with bitter fruits. He has turned from man to the animal kingdom for companionship, and surrounds himself with pets, which, at least, he thinks, do not repay his care with deceit.

" The poor too often turn away unheard From hearts that shut against them with a sound That will be heard in Heaven,''

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-as he turns away from a society that gave him the cold shoulder, and threw him back upon himself. Poor fellow! if any envy his mediumship, let them come and see what it has done for him, and what theirs has done for his brothers and sisters.

Now to return to the cabinet. The sketch, as I said, represents William as he appears when about to enter the dark closet, from which I have seen emerge so many, many different figures. Several times I have stayed with him in the kitchen until after the circle was as formed upstairs, and he was called to come. We would sit chatting upon any indifferent subject, smoking our pipes, and he making no sort of preparation, either in dress or anything else, for the seance. Then I have stepped into the cabinet, and seen that there was nothing there but the bare floor and walls, the chair and the cap and powder-horn that a visitor recently presented to Honto and Santum respectively, and that they sometimes, but not often, wear.

The night of my arrival, the voice of the spirit, Mrs. Eaton, called me to bring a light and see the condition of the medium, the instant that the last shape retired behind the curtain. I found everything as usual in the cabinet -no costumes scattered around, no signs of dressing having been going on. The window was closed against the admission of light, by a small black shawl and a piece of horse-blanket held against the panes by a bar of wood, cut to fit inside the frame. The last forms that had shown themselves were those of the two Lenzberg children, clad in white, but, although not more than thirty seconds had elapsed, no

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white drapery was to be seen. The medium was in a deep sleep, his features relaxed, his breathing almost imperceptible, his skin free from moisture, and every indication Presented, of profound obliviousness to external things. The glare of the lamp and the noise of my footsteps, did not awaken him, but, when I shook him and called him by name, he opened his eyes and regarded me with the startled look of one suddenly aroused from slumber and seeing something unexpected at his bedside.

I have often seen persons come out of both the natural and cataleptic sleep, and unhesitatingly affirm that this man was neither counterfeiting nor in an ordinary state of somnolence. I am fortunately able to convey an idea of how he looked, by reproducing a photograph taken one day when he visited a gallery to secure a likeness for a friend. He had no idea of anything happening out of the usual order, but hardly took his seat before he was entranced, and the photographer completed the picture as it is. It was secretly loaned to me, and William will first be apprised of the fact, by seeing it in connection with this chapter.

I have seen, say, three or four hundred different materialized spirits, or what purported to be such, and in every imaginable variety of costume. I have seen them of all sizes and shapes, of both sexes and all ages. I say seen them, because that is just what I mean. True, the light has been dim - very dim - and I have not been able to recognize the features of a single face. I could not even swear to the lineaments of certain of my own personal friends who presented themselves.

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But, for all that, practice has so trained my faculties that I am able to distinguish the salient points of difference between the figures. I have no trouble, for instance, in recognizing the aged from the young, the dark from the light or white-haired, European from Indian, Asiatic and African dresses, marked contrasts in stature and bulk, and especially whites from negroes. So, while my testimony is worth nothing as regards identity of faces, it is perfectly competent as to the fact that a multitude of apparitions, totally different from the medium, have been presented for my inspection. What go to constitute a likeness, are a number of lines about the eyes, nose and mouth, as thin as a knifeblade's edge, the expression of eye, shape of features, color and hair. These in such a light as this, are indistinguishable, but, when a figure stands against a white wall, the various parts composing it, and its costume, are readily discerned by the trained eye, Moreover, the Peculiarities in appearance have been distinct enough for our artist to present the reader with such excellent sketches of a number of the most familiar spirits, that they will be recognized by hundreds of visitors at the old farmhouse.

In my Sun letter of September 5th, I warned the public against going to Chittenden for a single evening, with the idea that they would be satisfied with what they saw. It is simply absurd to expect it, for the light is so poor that one cannot, with untrained eye, distinguish accurately between forms varying as much as six inches in height. One gentleman who came with me, and another of scientific reputation, echoed my own

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suspicion, that Honto was exactly like William Eddy in height and breadth of shoulders; whereas I, who have now seen her nearly thirty times, and had her measure heights with living persons present, and back up against my painted scale of feet and inches, positively know that she is just 5 feet 3 inches, while William Eddy is 5 feet 9 inches. As to breadth of shoulder, depth of chest, and apparent weight, there is no resemblance between them.

As an instance of the cavalier treatment that this subject of Spiritualism, commonly receives at the hands of the scientific and pseudo-scientific class, I may mention the fact that one of the latter kind, who recently visited the Eddy Homestead, and departed after attending a single seance, fixed in his pre-conceived opinion that the whole affair was a deception, is engaged in the attempt to solve a certain medical problem, not of primary importance, and has devoted years of time, and collected returns from hundreds of correspondents, in all parts of the country, before he has felt competent to express an opinion; and yet, when it comes to the grandest problem of the age, and all ages -- whether we have immortal souls or die the death of dogs -he needs only sixty minutes of observation of the most startling phenomena the world ever saw, to "satisfy the scientific world," that he has simply witnessed a series of personations by an uneducated farmer, " with the help of three dollars' worth of costumes ! "

The reader will not require to be reminded that I have never expressed myself as satisfied with my own investigations; but, on the contrary, have always

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deplored the impossibility of making my experiments under test conditions. And yet I have seen hundreds of spirits whose appearance I cannot account for, and which cannot be explained upon the theory of confederacy, or, in my judgment, personation. I submit, therefore, that if, after such an experience as this, I confess the question to be still open, it becomes less patient observers, to be modest enough not to give us ex-cathedra opinions, after such a farcical investigation as that of the person in question.

During one of our wars we had a numerous class of patriots, who, while attending to their engrossing private affairs, held themselves in readiness to exchange plowshare for sword, and take the field at the first alarm of danger. They were known as "Minute Men." For the first time in my acquaintance with science, I have met one of its self-styled votaries ready to investigate and decide upon one of the greatest of topics after an hour's examination. He should be forever known as Perpetual President of the Society of Sixty-Minute Philosophers! He left Chittenden, breathing threatenings and slaughter. Since then we have had his "expose" but the world still moves on as though the thunderbolt had not fallen, and he and it will rot and pass out of mind and a score more of like pretentious expositors arise, have their brief hour, and be lost to view, while the phenomena will continue to bedevil the wits of the scientific world, until some Columbus shall arise among them to lead the way over the mysterious sea, beyond which the Truth lies hidden.

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CHAPTER XII - IS IT AN OCCULT FORCE?