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People From the Other World by Henry S. Olcott

 

CHAPTER XXIV - PSEUDO-INVESTIGATORS

THE first time I attended a dark-circle at the Eddys' I contracted a feeling of real affection for the little child spirit (real or imaginary) known as "Mayflower." Her music was so sweet and full of expression, her poetical attempts evinced so tender a regard for the beautiful in nature, her conversation was so child-like and innocent, she seemed actuated by so strong a sentiment of charity and broad compassion for all who came, that I could not help loving her--or, at least, the ideal child whom I pictured to myself as standing in our presence in the darkened chamber.

I think that a love of children and all their ways is one of the strongest traits of my disposition, and it may be well that in this matter of Mayflower's identity I allowed myself to become the willing dupe of my imagination. Possibly there is no such creature as she, and her voice, her speech, and her sentiments are only parts of a clever imposture. I have never seen her, nor felt more than her hand (or a hand of the size that I should suppose such a child as she might have), and I have no proof to cite in support of her individual existence, beyond the certificate of the two little girls, already

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published. I have no conclusive evidence to offer a scientific investigator, that she ever spoke a word, or drew a breath, or took a step; and if my reason could be satisfied upon certain points, I would be ready to admit that every feature of these dark-circles may be a trick.

Before doing so, however, I should demand to know how one man, even with both hands untied, and free to move about, could play upon the violin, guitar, concertina, mouth-harmonicon, triangle, and flute, and ring several bells, all at the same moment; how he could imitate the whistling of the wind, the splash of waves, the sucking of a pump, and other sounds, simultaneously with the playing of music of various instruments; how he could see to pick up articles in the dark, to describe things in people's pockets, and reach a particular mouth or cheek to kiss, or a particular hand to shake, for all these things are done in Horatio Eddy's dark-circle. And if all these were explained, I should still want to have the episode of Madame de Blavatsky's father's buckle accounted for. I am ready to concede that the medium may slip his hands out of his bonds and go about in his stocking feet in the dark, strumming instruments, pounding tambourines, and touching people; this has been done before, and exposed before.

Some (a Boston friend of mine included), even say that they have detected Horatio himself at the game. But that explanation does not cover our case, for it does not show how one man can do the work of a half dozen men, or accomplish such a miracle as that of the buckle brought from the Russian grave. Nor does it show how the discordant fiddle-scraping and nasal singing of the

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mediums, can be transformed into the fine execution and artistic coloring of the music of the unseen violinist, flutist, accordeonist, and harmonicon player of the dark- circles, and the rich soprano and alto voices that some- times issue from William's cabinet.

Therefore, until the desired explanation is vouchsafed by some closer reasoner than I, I will leave Horatio to prowl about in the dark and play tricks if he will, and hold to my sweet little spirit Mayflower-to stand as an ideal of what my own children and other people's children are like, in the other and brighter world to which they have passed on before.

To resume, then: On this first night, she said to me, that if I would get her some ribbons, she would make me a wreath, such as she had braided for a lady visitor, and which I had admired. On my way to New York, I procured some ribbons of three colors, in Rutland, and sent them up to Chittenden to the care of a Mr. Luther B. Hunt, of St. Albans, a friend of Horatio, who was visiting at the homestead. The parcel and my note, he says, he put in the pocket of his coat, which hung in his bedroom, intending to take the ribbons with him to the next dark- circle, and hold the little maid to the fulfillment of her promise to me. But the same day, William being, as he usually is, "under influence," said: "Mr. Hunt, if you will go upstairs and look in your pocket you will find something." Mr. Hunt went and searched his coat, but found nothing, and, returning, reported his ill-luck. But William said that he had not looked in the right place. It was in the vest-pocket where the articles were. And in the vest-pocket, sure enough, he found two wreaths, one

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of which was for me, and the other, for another gentleman. The next evening there was a dark-circle, and Mayflower, addressing Mr. Hunt, said that he had overlooked the note for me that she had left with the wreath. Another search of the vest disclosed a tiny note, written on a small square of thin paper, and being to the effect that I was her dear friend, and she thanked me for my kind expressions, and hoped I would keep the wreath to remember her by. So, the least I could do was to have the artist make a sketch of her present, that all the readers may see what sort of braiding they do in the other world in the present year of grace.

It struck me a few days afterward that, as Mayflower was in so complaisant a mood, she might not be unwilling to give me another specimen of her skill, accompanied with something of a test; so, putting the wreath in my pocket, the next time a dark-circle was to be held, I said nothing of my intention to any one. After the light was extinguished, and the room was so dark that one could not see a hand held close to one's eyes, I took out my

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wreath and quietly laid it in the lap of the lady sitting beside me. Presently Mayflower's voice said: " Oh! Mrs. , what have you got in your lap ? It's my wreath ! Mr. Olcott, you want me to braid it over again for you ? " I said I did, in another pattern and with the ribbons passed through some perforated sea-shells, such as I had heard she had used a long time before for another friend of hers. She replied that she had no shells with her at the moment, but she would get some and rebraid my wreath and return it to me the next time we met. Although no one had known of my purpose, and the wreath had been discovered by Mayflower lying in the lap of a person who did not know what I had placed there in the dark, I thought it better to make assurance doubly sure, so I reached over, and taking the wreath from the lap of the lady on my left, I dropped it on the floor at my right, where no one but myself knew it to be, and no one who could not see in the dark could discover it to pick it up, But when a light was struck soon after, the wreath was gone. It was returned to me on the evening of the 26th of September, under curious circumstances. There was a great power manifested in the dark-circle that evening. The Indian dance was given with yells that made some of the timid ones shiver with apprehension, and the dancers stamped on the floor until it seemed as if they must go through into the dining-room below. Then "George Dix " whistled, and played a solo on the fife, and gave us " The Storm at Sea; " and Mayflower elicited unbounded applause by her accordeon and harmonicon, playing with the bell accompaniments, which you may be sure was listened to in profound silence. I

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have seen no such description of this spirit-music, as that given by Thackeray's friend, the late Robert Bell, in the Cornhill Magazine for August, 1860 He is describing a dark-circle of Mr. Home's, at which an accordeon was played

"We listened with suspended breath. The air was wild and full of strange transitions, with a wail of pathetic sweetness running through it. The execution was no less remarkable for its delicacy, than for its power. When the notes swelled in some of the bold passages, the sound rolled through the room with an astounding reverberation, then, gently subsiding, sank into a strain of divine tenderness."

Mayflower's playing is not always alike, sometimes being less sweet and expressive than others ; but I have heard it on occasions when the above eloquent description would hardly exaggerate its effect upon the audience.

After the concert, " George Dix " requested Joe Rugg, the faithful farmer of the family, to strike a light and bring a small stand and a glass of water. These directions were complied with, and the water being placed upon the stand, the light was extinguished again, and, for a moment, we were in total darkness. But soon the candle was re-lighted, and we discovered the glass of water inverted upon the stand, the water within the glass, and nothing over the mouth to keep it in. The light was put out again, and when again called for, the stand was upside down on the floor, and the tumbler, with its contents, right side up, balanced upon the point of one of the legs.

The light was extinguished for the fourth time and re-lighted, and then what should I see but the tumbler on the floor, at my feet, the water all gone, and my wreath, re-braided and decorated with sea-shells, inside, as dry as a bone ! The artist, on page 377, gives us a sketch of the

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new wreath, and in the series of four small pictures, we have the successive stages of this manifestation depicted. With characteristic irreverence, I suggested that the water had disappeared down the medium's throat, but George Dix told us that it had been dissipated into a fine mist, and was held suspended in the atmosphere of the room.

I wish that some of the wiseacres who have accounted for the appearance of child-forms in the materializing circles of William Eddy, on the theory that they were pillows, could only have seen a few of them before showing their ignorance so painfully. I wish that my witty, fellow Lotos Eater, the Hon. Robert B. Roosevelt, had taken the trouble to visit Chittenden, before putting him- self on record as such a hasty generalizer upon the spiritualistic phenomena, as he does in a recently published letter to The Daily Graphic. Hear him talk about William Eddy and these baby spirits :

No one feels like laughter at the sight of the devoted wife hungering to find in the fantastic figure, donned in dim twilight by some sham medium, the beloved shape of her dead husband, or in the agonized mother longing to recognize, in the painted knees of a charlatan, exhibited in the same darkness, the rosy cheeks of her darling, gone from her forever. We cannot laugh at these exhibitions of wifely or maternal love, but we should scorn and denounce the impostors who make a living by playing on these noblest affections of human nature." Painted knees, quotha ! William Eddy's painted knees! Why, can a man's knees walk detached, and say "Papa" and "Mamma," and " I am happy," and throw kisses to us, and courtesy, and all that sort of thing? Could they, even if they were painted "dunduckety and mud-color, edged with sky-blue scarlet? " Can a man of 179 pounds, and five feet nine

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inches, dressed to represent a young girl with bare neck and arms, a weight of 120 pounds, and a height of, say, five feet one inch, walk up and down the stage, fondling his own knee as if it were a baby, and making it stick simulated thumbs into an imaginary mouth,, and pass false chubby arms around his neck, and move them about?

We had one dose, recently, from a pseudo-investigator, in a puerile explanation of phenomena he never saw, by the application of a theory that wouldn't even fit the few things he did see. Let us be spared a repetition. If certain men of prominent social, political, or professional standing, are asked what they think about "materialization," why cannot they be honest enough to say they know nothing about it, and not put themselves up for the ridicule of those who do?

The discovery of apparently so gross a fraud as the more recent of the "Katie King" materializations, in Philadelphia, in the presence of the Holmes mediums, even if real, does not invalidate one single genuine phenomenon of this class. Foolish Editors, anxious to disbelieve the possibility of the reappearance of the dead in materialized form, may indulge in exhibitions of premature hilarity, may announce the exposure of "this latest and most dangerous humbug," and vote the spiritualistic delusion finally and effectually disposed of, but their ignorance and prejudice plead in their behalf for lenity of judgment. We had just such behavior from them in 1847, when self-sufficient wise men explained away the Rochester rappings upon the knee-cap and toe joint theory. There is no occasion

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to doubt that this recent jubilation will result in the same confusion of face to these expounders as did the other; and as fifty of the same kind have, since that time.

The phenomena of modern spiritualism have agitated society for more than a quarter of a century, and the interest in the subject is tenfold greater today than ever before, by the confession of its bitterest opponents. It is not doubted by the best informed investigators, that the very persons whose trickery is claimed to have been shown up, are powerful mediums. Some day we will see a new principle of investigation adopted, and mediums will be judged as such, apart from their merits or demerits as individuals. Then, skeptics and believers, alike, will neither be, on the one hand elated nor on the other depressed by the discovery that all mediums are more or less given to the imitation of the genuine phenomena which occur, under favorable conditions, in their presence.

Occupying, as I do, a neutral position between the two classes, I am both surprised and amused to see how they are affected respectively, by each new revelation like the one to which I have referred above. No one should undertake the difficult work of investigating this or any other branch of knowledge, unless he is able to view the whole ground, note every detail whether favorable or unfavorable, and pursue his labors with the "passionless calm of science."

The above paragraphs had hardly been written, when the Post brought me a letter from a respected and perfectly trustworthy correspondent which serves as a commentary upon my remarks concerning the

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probable mediumship of the Holmes'. Says the writer: "I have seen, as yet, no satisfactory explanation of the phenomena which I witnessed (at the Holmes sťances, last summer. H. S. O.) and 'till I do, I shall not, simply because I cannot, believe them to have been trickery. Why do they not tell us who the John King was, whom we saw standing by Katie's side, while the mediums sat with Mr. Owen and myself, holding our hands. The levitation of the form of "Katie," which I saw, was not simulated by getting upon a "black stool." I saw distinctly the lower limbs, and white, bare feet, moving in the air, as if the form were partially reclining. Nor do I in the least believe that the apparent dissolving of the form was produced by " black cloths." I saw too much that is not yet accounted for, to make me yield up my confidence in its genuineness."

At this present, the Holmeses are protesting their veritable mediumship. It is a pity that some unbiased person could not investigate the case under proper test conditions. It seems the more necessary, since in addition to all other sources of confusion, cards of a very contradictory nature, as to the reality of the Holmes phenomena, from Dr. H. T. Child, of Philadelphia, and Gen. F. J. Lippitt, of Boston, have just appeared in the Banner of Light. The latter gentleman is the author of an article in the December Galaxy entitled "Was it Katie King?" in which he describes a number of phenomena which appear impossible of simulation. Among these may be mentioned the fact that, after the face of the supposed materialized Katie King had been exposed rather longer than usual, the eyes began to sag, and appear as if melting; but upon the spirit's withdrawing into the cabinet for a minute or so, she would reappear smiling, and with her features perfectly natural again.

Because a man has seen some tables turn, or heard a

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few raps, or caught Foster, or Home, or the Davenports, or even one of the Eddys, sometimes playing tricks when conditions were unfavorable for genuine manifestations of the occult force, why should he rush pell-mell into the ditch of sweeping conjecture, and besmear such reputation as he may have for impartiality, acumen, and thoroughness? Fifty or fifty thousand cases of mediumistic trickery do not invalidate a solitary genuine fact.

Dear old John Brougham has turned the hose of his inspired wrath upon the fire of investigation that reddens the whole intellectual horizon, and he hopes to put it out by declaring that: " As for the last new, childishly ridiculous phase of the prevailing insanity, 'materialization,' it is so gross and manifest a cheat, that one's common sense revolts at the villainous compound of impudence and profanity; to discuss it seriously would be a waste of words! " I see the dear old fellow now, at whist in the Lotos Club, sipping his brandy and soda, and uttering, ore rotundo, this grandiloquent diatribe! But it will not avail. People of pluck and intelligence are not to be diverted from their hunt after the truth, by either ridicule or invective.

This is the tune of a death-struggle between Religion and Materialism. The gladiators are fighting for all they hold dear in the way of opinion; they waste no words, but grip each other, and look into each other's eyes, each watching and waiting for the chance to hurl the other into the deep abyss of oblivion. It is too late to try to stop this issue; it is here ; we are in its midst; and that is why people will hear all that can be said of these Eddy "materializations," and of all the minor phases of

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this wonderful manifestation from the other world to this. Now, if either of my esteemed friends, previously mentioned, had been at Chittenden on the evening of October 1st what would he have seen ? Through the dim twilight of the circle-room he would have seen upon the platform the figure of a woman with a child in her arms. He would have seen this woman in white, step forward to the railing, and stand there, stroking the baby's head, looking towards a lady in the audience, and waiting to be addressed. He would have seen the baby move its head as a living child does, and the woman pat it, and apparently smooth its soft hair as a mortal woman would a mortal child's, to keep it quiet. He would have seen a group so real that all preconceptions about painted knees or painted anything else would have left his mind at once, and he would have sat there, as we did, wondering whence these forms had come and how long they would tarry.

And then, as the lady spectator caught the resemblance of the figure to her dead sister, he would have heard a wail break from that mother's heart, and her imploring cry to be allowed to go up and embrace the darling whom she had last seen in its coffin, and had despaired of ever seeing again. If his eyes were not by this time moistened with the tears of human sympathy, as John Brougham's certainly would have been, he would then have seen this spirit-woman on the platform kiss the babe in her arms and fondle it, and hold it out over the railing towards its mother, to give assurance that it was in good hands, and rejoice her heart with at least the sight of her child, if she might not take it to her bosom and cover it with

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kisses. Heavens! could a man of refined feeling witness such a scene as this, not an uncommon one at the Eddys', and not rejoice with the mother over the finding of the lost one, and grieve with her when, in another moment, it passed away from her sight into that world of shadows that lies as a borderland between us and eternity ?

Such value as these observations of mine at Chittenden may have, is largely due to the fact that they are corroborative of the experiments of Mr. Crookes, under strictly test conditions. While his results do not strengthen mine, since the circumstances surrounding us both were entirely different, and inferior in my case to his, yet mine do his; for I have, in all human probability, witnessed three or four hundred appearances of spirit-forms, similar to his "Katie King," in the solidity of their bodies, their physical movements, the manner of their appearance and disappearance, and their use of speech and display of mental action. If in any one instance I could have seen Honto disappear under test conditions, or, when she was outside the cabinet, have been allowed to see William Eddy inside; or if, after lining the cabinet sides, ceiling, and floor, with some impenetrable fabric, and shutting William in in such a way that he could not possibly have walked out without my knowing it, spirits had presented them- selves to my view, then the whole of the other three hundred and odd apparitions would have counted on the credit side of my balance sheet, with the Eddy mediums.

In my own mind, I am satisfied that no fraud was perpetrated by William, but that is not conviction

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based upon the firm rock of mathematical demonstration. It is a sentiment, not an axiom. And yet, I do not know that I can blame these boys for acting as they did towards me. I must not judge them by an arbitrary standard, such as I would apply to my own case. I can put myself in the place of the Eddy family, and see that if a stranger whose habits, thoughts, and ways were utterly unlike and antipodal to mine, were to come, unasked, and plant himself as a sort of sentinel to watch my every movement, study my very thoughts, scrutinize my slightest action, and force me to see him on the alert, by day and night, for a long succession of weeks, I should feel like putting him out of the window, if he would not use the door the carpenter made. I don't think that the plea that it was all for the good of the public, and in the interest of science, would make it any pleasanter to reflect that he regarded me as a liar and cheat, until I had proved to his satisfaction that I was not. This, if I were ever so honest; while, if I were only a little and semi-occasionally disposed to help things along when they lagged, or if the person were bent upon digging into the roots of things, to discover principles and laws of which I knew little and cared less, I should wish him to remove, with bag and baggage, and not vex me or my spirit-band with isms and ologies, when we were only bent on producing certain physical phenomena for the consolation of the average Spiritualist.

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CHAPTER XXV - THE SHAKERS AS SPIRITUALISTS