The mild and very diluted twaddle which forms the staple of the French spiritist doctrine is likely to meet with formidable competition in the recent utterances from the original cradle of the new belief. We wish to state with the utmost explicitness with reference to the most curious work which we propose to introduce to our readers, that we entirely decline the function of godfather, whether to bring Mr. Olcott to the gallows or to the font. The ordinary means by which it is possible to test the bona fide of an English book are absent in this case. We possess neither the topographical, the personal, nor the literary acquaintance with the places, names and works cited that are requisite in order to form an opinion of their weight. Even the ordinary amount of reliance that may be placed on the character of a publisher is eliminated in the case of the work in question by a notice that it is not sold at the book stores, but that an agent will call on intending purchasers. As to the internal evidence, apart from the main point of the credibility of the statements per se, the education and literary ability of the writer are of a very low order, judged from our standpoint in this country. How far this defect may be personal, or have a wider range, it is not for us to say. The net result of the impression left by mere turn-over perusal of the book is that a man with no intention to deceive but no objection to raise a sensation is struggling with a new set of phenomena that are too much for him. But then this is the very impression that a skilled literary artist would wish to produce if he wrought after the manner of De Foe. We therefore bring forward Mr. Olcott to speak for himself, without intending to hint a single word either for or against his credibility. Having said this much, it will be unnecessary to add those usual safeguards as to each assertion that would otherwise be requisite.
Zephaniah Eddy, a farmer living at Weston, Vt., married one Julia Ann Macoms, a girl of Scotch descent, who was born in the same town. Mrs. Eddy inherited from her mother the gift known in Scotland as second sight , and not only had previsions of future events, but was able to see, and to converse with, forms invisible to other persons. Her mother before her possessed the same faculties in some degree, and her great-great-great-grandmother was actually sentenced to death as a witch at Salem, in 1692, although she escaped from gaol and took refuge in Scotland. Z. Eddy took up his abode at the present residence of his children, at Chittenden, Rutland, in 1846. On the birth of the first child the abnormal phenomena attending on Julia Ann Eddy became quite uncontrollable. As the family increased strange sounds filled the house and the infants were often lifted from their beds and floated about the room by invisible agency. Neighbours, whose names are given, were called in to exorcise the haunting spirits by prayer, but without success. Blows and ill-usage, freely bestowed on mother and children, were equally inefficacious. When the children grew old enough to go to school, they were soon expelled, in consequence of the raps heard on the desks and benches. After public attention had been called to the Rochester knockings in 1847, Z. Eddy attempted to turn the curse on his family to his personal advantage, by luring three or four of his children to a showman. They were thus taken to nearly all the principal cities of the United States, and “for a brief season” to London, experiencing much ill-usage by the way. Z. Eddy died in I860; his wife died in 1873. In the December of that year a room was added to the farmhouse at Chittenden for the purpose of accommodating the visitors who thronged to attend the séances given by Horatio and William Eddy, the occupants of the farm. On the 1st of June, 1874, this room was opened. On this occasion the materialized spirits of Mrs. Eddy, Mrs. Eaton (an old lady from New York State), Mrs. Whealer (late of Utica), Dr. Horton (also late of Utica, who brought his two infants, and addressed his widow, who was present), uttered addresses and prayers. Since that time, a dark circle for materialization has been held every evening, Sundays excepted. The date of the publication of this account is January, 1875, and the book contains the promise, made by the spirits that, from the 19th of September in the same year, the manifestations, which are described as being made in a low dim light, should take place in full daylight. Mr. Olcott declares that he carefully examined not only the exhibition room, with its low platform, and the little closet behind it, in which William Eddy sat during the performance, but the rooms below, the roof above, and the whole of the apartments. He says that it w as impossible for confederates to enter m any surreptitious manner, or for any masks, garments, disguises, or theatrical properties to be introduced unawares. A shawl was hung across the small doorway leading from the platform to the closet. Mr. Eddy was accustomed to enter the closet, to sit down on the chair which formed its only furniture, and apparently to sink into a profound sleep. Lively tuner were played some of the persons present on a “parlour organ” and other instruments, and then the materialized spirits issued from the cabinet and walked about the stage, addressing the audience, and conducting themselves, with one or two remarkable exceptions, much as any ordinary human beings would do under similar circumstances.
The part of the story which, if the book be not altogether a skit, will attract the most intense curiosity is this. Not only do the family ghosts of Mr. Eddy and others continually appear and address ponderous exhortations to the visitors, but the ancient genii loci take advantage of the facilities afforded them for revisiting the glimpses of the moon. Gigantic Red Indian warriors stalk over the stage, and among many Indian squaws who also appear, one, named Honto, is a very constant visitant. She dances and romps over the platform, she smoked a real pipe presented by a visitor; she stepped on a weighing-machine, and allowed herself to be weighed. On more than one occasion, however, when she had been so long visible as to exhaust the power obtained from the medium, she collapsed; sinking down into the floor till her head only was visible, which finally dissolved and disappeared. After a little time, however, she came out from the cabinet as if nothing had occurred. Her chief occupation appears to be making shawls out of nothing; to which, however, they unfortunately return. Indian chiefs and squaws, however inexplicable may be their appearance or conduct, are not the chief attraction to Chittenden. What draws to this remote spot a gathering of more people than the Eddy family can by any means accommodate is the belief that the departed personal friends and relatives of the visitants readily take the occasion to communicate with those they have left behind. Husbands, wives, mothers, children, step out from the little cabinet on to the dimly lighted stage, stretch forth their arms to their astonished survivors, and converse with them with more or less freedom. Sometimes their visitors are those whom the expectant most desires to see. At other times some strange and whimsical form, connected with some bygone chapter of biography, emerges from the gloom. Thus a Russian lady, who is hinted at as an accomplished mistress of hidden knowledge, was the occasion of the appearance on Mr. Eddy’s platform of a full dressed Kurdish warrior, with a plumed spear twelve feet long, and a three-parts naked African magician, with a head-dress garnished with four enormous horns. Several hundred different impersonations are vouched for by Mr. Olcott. He tells us that the light m the room was so low as to prevent distinct observation of the features of the spectral guests, but that their forms and outlines w ere readily distinguishable. Personal recognition, however, was constant between relations and those whom they had lost. The voices sounded full and natural, and every circumstance, except that of the dimness of the light, is represented as satisfactory. As to that, as we have said, an improvement was promised, which by this time must either have been verified or falsified.
Not having visited Chittenden, and not being absolutely certain whether that hamlet may not itself be a spectral illusion, we are not prepared to enter into the various theories propounded by Mr. Olcott and his fellow-believers. One thing, however, is clear. Either the book is a farrago of monstrous lies, or anything like vulgar human trickery is out of the question. The general idea conveyed by the writer, and indeed very commonly held by spiritualists, is that some atmosphere or exhalation proceeding from persons known as mediums forms a sort of nucleus or nascent embodiment, which can be grasped by disembodied spirits, who can thus, in a few seconds, form around themselves a temporary body resembling, in all but its evanescent quality, that permanent body which under ordinary circumstances the growth of fifteen or twenty years forms from water, carbonic acid, and ammonia, with faint traces of other chemical elements. The medium is supposed to be passive in the operation, although his physical energies are exhausted by the pabulum which they furnish to the ghosts. But in another case, that of Mrs. Elizabeth J. Compton, of Havana, Schuyler county, New York, Mr. Olcott tells us that the medium is actually transfigured. Bound to a chair in a dark cabinet, and further secured to a chair by the original contrivance of a thread passed through the holes pierced for earnings, and sealed to the back of a chair, this magical personage disappears from the cabinet while a ghost is on the stage, but is found, as secured, after the apparition has retreated. If the ghost were seized by some violent investigator, it is said that it would instantly resolve itself into the personality of Mrs. Compton, but that the shock might be at the risk of life. It is obvious that that theory possesses great elasticity and convenience. It is perhaps hardly yet in a state for public discussion. A piece of white tissue cut from the robe of one of the youthful and graceful revenants who do duty, turn and turn about, with Mrs. Compton, was found exactly to fit a hole in that lady’s black stuff gown. It is not explained why the bit cut out did not revert to its original condition at the same time as the rest of the garment. Perhaps Mr. Olcott’s book would have done better if the attempted defense of Katie King and the new phenomena of Mrs. Compton had been deferred till the public taste had been educated up to the level of these indescribable wonders.
- “People from the other World” By Henry S. Olcott. Profusely illustrated by Alfred Kappes and T. W. Williams. (Hartford, Conn. American Publishing Company. 1875.)
- Reprinted in "The Sydney Morning Herald" (Australia) in January 11, 1876, p. 7.