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EXPLORING THE GREAT BEYOND -
Little is known nowadays about the spiritualistic phenomena which took place in the 1870's at the homestead of the Eddy brothers in Chittenden, Vermont, or about their extraordinary quality and quantity. Nor are many aware of the considerable investigations of these happenings by Col. Olcott. His report of these investigations constitutes a book of nearly 500 pages in relatively small type, with many illustrations, published in 1875. Col. Olcott was present at the Eddy family's homestead, where the phenomena took place, for three months all told, in two periods from August to December, 1874.
First he describes the Eddy family and their early circumstances. There was the father, Zephania Eddy, who had married a woman of Scottish extraction, Julia Ann Macombs. They had seven children, four sons and three daughters. Mrs. Eddy was mediumistic, having "inherited" from her mother the gift of "foreseeing", or more accurately-clairvoyance, for she not only had previsions of future events but also the faculty of seeing-and holding speech with-the denizens of the mysterious invisible world, from whom she claimed to receive visits as commonly as though they were "ordinary neighbours".
All her children except the eldest were also mediumistic. "Mysterious sounds were heard about their cradles, strange voices called through the rooms they were in; they would play by the hour with beautiful children, visible only to their eyes and their mother's, 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."
These and other phenomena greatly frightened and angered Mr. Eddy, who grossly beat and generally maltreated his children. When they were still very young he hired them out to a traveling showman. They gave public exhibitions of mediumship under the
most arduous, sometimes appalling, conditions. The custom at the performances was for the audience to elect a "committee" from their members whose appointed task was to see that the medium could not cheat by producing phenomena by any means other than "spirit" or "supernatural" ones. The poor children continued with their exhibitions. In the course of time they were subjected to being bound and gagged, tied to wooden crosses in the crucifixion position, and bound to chairs and bedsteads with their limbs secured in all sorts of grotesque positions. Often the bonds were so tight and were left on so long that they caused bleeding and, eventually, permanent malformation of the wrists. In addition they were subjected to mobbing, stoning, being hooted at, and even shot at.
The New York Daily Graphic said of one of Olcott's letters about the Eddys that "the story is as marvelous as any to be found in history." Olcott states in setting out his findings, "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. ... I went to Chittenden to discover the truth as to the 'Eddy manifestations' and as I find things so I shall describe them. … "
He gives a detailed description of the house, the normal domestic rooms and the special "circle room" built with a stage, the better to exhibit the manifestations. He describes in detail, listing their weight, height, and dress, the brothers William and Horatio who, at the time of his visit to Chittenden, were the chief mediums. He does this so that they can be compared with the "spirits" that materialized, because some people were claiming that the "spirits" were the mediums disguised and dressed for the part. These descriptions give the lie to that theory completely.
Another recognition factor Olcott used was hands. He compared those of the mediums with those of the "spirits". In the
cases investigated there was no resemblance. One witness testified to having seen three spirit hands. "One was that of a lady, a long slim hand as white as marble; a second, the great hand of a man with the entire little finger of the right hand missing; the third, another man's hand, very white." These incidents are included here to show the attitude of the Colonel in his investigations. He took nothing on trust. The extent of the manifestations generally was such as to eclipse the materializations of the hands alone, as will be seen.
Before the manifestations started in great numbers, the family
had some visitations from "spirits", often in connection with the impending death of members of the family, but also sometimes for more positive reasons.
One evening in March, 1872, the family was visited by William's grandmother's "spirit". William had cut his foot very badly with an axe. The ghostly grandmother gave instructions "for some salves to be applied to the wound and for a cooling draught to abate the fever that had set in." She then disappeared. William recovered. On another occasion shortly afterward the "spirits" informed the family "that William was to be developed as the greatest medium of the age and that he must no longer sit in the instrument playing exhibitions, as he had been doing for a number of years, but must go into the cabinet or closet alone and take no bells or instruments with him."
Col. Olcott says it was soon after this that "spirit" faces began to appear and finally the full length figure of a giant Winnebago Indian chief called Santum manifested. Then another "spirit"
started to come, Electa, a light-complexioned squaw about seventeen years of age who always brought her pet robin with her . After this, appeared deceased members of the family and many others who had passed over, and then the routines for the public performances were instituted, together with the building of the circle room and stage.
The "spirits" claim that William was to be the greatest medium of the age seems to have been justified. Here is Col. Olcott's comment: "It is scarcely exaggeration to say that this family of mediums, if we may believe their story, is the most remarkable as to psychological endowments of which mention is made in the history of European races." He had some justification for saying this; he was obviously well-informed on Western psychism and spiritualistic phenomena, as evidenced by his references, in the early chapters of his book to standard works and prominent investigations, and by the very extensive bibliography at the end of it.
He goes on to say:
All these happenings occurred during three kinds of séances, the dark circle and the light circle-both usually held by Horatio and the open materialization séances held by William.
The dark circle was, as its name implies, held in total darkness, curtains being fastened over the windows to exclude even starlight. All those present sat in a row and held hands. The medium, Horatio, was tied to a chair placed in front of the spectators. At one early séance attended by Olcott, when the light was put out, "the gruff voice of the sailor-spirit, George Dix, and the piping whisper of the little girl-spirit, Mayflower, are heard greeting those present." Dix says he was a sailor drowned in the wreck of the S. S. President. Mayflower, daughter of Italian immigrants murdered a hundred years earlier during an Indian raid, had been captured by the Indians and died during her captivity.
Olcott goes on to tell us that Dix was "a spinner of yams ... an ingenious fellow, who sings, plays well on the violin, whistles like a Boehm flute - " He could move "ponderous objects and
ring bells, and imitate almost any sound produced by any of the mechanical arts with which he was familiar."
This is typical of the detailed description of the various characters that manifested at all three kinds of séances. Here is some more about Dix:
At another of the early dark circle meetings, after the introductory compliments, the spirits played instruments that had been set out on a table for them. They indulged in "a dance of a pack of a dozen howling, leaping, skylarking Indians, who beat on the drums, rattle the tambourines, blow the horns, ring the heavier bells, and make a din so hideous that one easily fancies himself caught in the melee of a dance of live redskins about starting on the war path." So the description goes on and finished with, " As an exhibition of pure brute force, if such a term may be applied to the occult power that produces it, this Indian dance probably is unsurpassed in the annals of spiritual manifestations."
After more manifestations and an interval, this séance proceeded, with someone sitting on the bound medium's lap and Olcott sitting close to and opposite them, touching Horatio's toes.
The performance ended with a rendering by the spirit "band" of "The Storm at Sea". The "spirits", of which there were eight in the band, were all known by name to the audience. The rendering was complete with all the sound effects of wind and sea one would associate with such a storm. A music critic who was present gives a long critical description of the performance.
Olcott follows this description of a typical dark circle by what a clairvoyant says she saw during the performance. This is illustrated by an artist's impression of the clairvoyant's account. The picture is reminiscent of other clairvoyance-inspired pictures. There is a great column of "light" over the medium, which mushrooms out eight or ten feet over his head. This "light" seems to suffuse the atmosphere and in it appears a great throng of spirit faces, almost as a second audience, then there are the full figure images of the performers, handling the musical instruments, swords, etc. This picture shows the spirits indulging in the antics so graphically described by Olcott. The clairvoyant also described the spirits as handling the bright etherial fluid of spirit energy. "When he (Dix) imitated the pumping of water it seemed as if he forced two masses of electricity together, handling the subtle agent as if it were a solid substance. … "
The light circle séance, in contrast to the dark circle, was held in the lighted circle room. The "performance" took place on the platform, on which was the cabinet built between the right of the chimney breast (facing it) and the right hand wall occupied by William Eddy for his "open manifestation" séances, but not used by Horatio for the light circles. Between the chimney breast and the left hand wall was a recess across the opening of which two large shawls were hung on a tight cord fixed a foot and a half or so below the ceiling. The medium Horatio sat with his back to the shawls and, on his right, was a gentleman member of the audience. They were covered to their necks by a third shawl draped around them. On the stage with them was a woman member of the audience, sitting free, not covered by the shawl, but holding the gentleman's right hand in her left. (All this is illustrated.) Behind the shawls, on a table, were placed "one guitar, one concertina, seven bells of various sizes, two tambourines, eight harmonicons (mostly disabled), one flute, one piccolo, one flageolet, one tin ditto and one triangle."
As for the "open" type of séance, the first that Col. Olcott attended was typical and is described in considerable detail. It was held on the evening of his arrival.
The cabinet, as mentioned earlier, was in the right hand corner of the platform in the space between the chimney breast and the right hand wall. It had no windows (one was added later for ventilation) and only one door, leading onto the platform. The cabinet was completely empty except for the chair on which William sat during the séance. The walls, floor and ceiling were perfectly plain.
This was the voice of a Mrs. Eaton, deceased, whom later Col. Olcott saw at a distance of not more than ten feet and then again heard her speak.
Col. Olcott saw her some thirty times and had ample opportunity to compare her with William, whom she did not resemble at all.
After Honto retired, the Colonel commented that various other spirits of Indians and whites (among the latter, two little children) appeared.
Col. Olcott then devotes a chapter to describing the other materialized spirits who came after Honto. There was a dark-faced squaw, Bright Star, wearing a sort of frontlet, in the centre of which was a jewel or luminous spot that gave out a phosphorescent gleam, "shining in the obscurity like the diamond in a Rajah's turban." There was another squaw, Daybreak, who danced to the playing of a violin. Then came Santum, 6 feet 3 inches tall, wearing what appeared to be a hunting shirt of dressed buckskin, striped perpendicularly and fringed at the seams and so on. After Santum came two other Indian men, and then several whites who were recognized and named by people in the audience. Two were brothers, William and John Reynolds. Their surviving brother, George, was in the audience. "We then recognised Stephen, his nephew, a lad of fifteen, with light curly hair. ' , Mrs. Reynolds asked Mrs. Eaton, the spirit directress, if she would answer a mental question. She did so immediately, out loud.
Then appeared a William Brown, whose son was in the audience. The son had been to previous séances held by different mediums with no result and had, in fact, been a few weeks at the Eddy homestead before his father appeared. At last he did. He
tried to speak but "For a while he could not speak at all; then he uttered a few simple greetings in a faint whisper; and at length he conversed in a strong, full, natural voice, saying whatsoever he pleased with as great ease, apparently, as in life."
Col. Olcott says, " After hearing numerous spirit-addresses and conversations, I have detected no difference in the movement of the lips from those of a living person." This followed some remarks on the question of how the spirits produced these voice sounds which were as realistic as if the "person" were alive.
The phenomena of the evening concluded with an incident which furnished the subject for one of the illustrations in the book:
Writing further of his experiences, Col. Olcott says:
Olcott gives us numerous descriptions and illustrations of happenings during these "manifestation" séances. The voices of several of the "known spirits" were heard in conversation in the cabinet. One evening seventeen "spirits" appeared, all whites on this occasion. There were two babies, three small children, five women, young and old, and seven adult males. The smallest child bowed and curtsied to its mother in reply to her question as to its identity.
Coi. Olcott, in addition to measuring the height of the spirits, had them stand on a platform weighing machine. Honto stood on the scale on one occasion and it registered 138 pounds according to Mr. Pritchard who was on the platform. He, it transpired, had misjudged the size of the weight on the scale so that in fact Honto had weighed only 88 pounds. Incidentally it was Honto who pointed out Mr. Pritchard's mistake to him. On being asked to make herself lighter. she was weighed again and the machine showed 58 pounds. Another time the beam showed 68 pounds with her on the platform and without any change of clothing. She was certainly not insubstantial.
As to George Dix's being able to move ponderous objects, he once picked up the cast iron weighing machine from the right of the platform. carried it to the left, down the steps to the floor of the hall, then across the front of the stage to the right hand wall. where he left it.
On another occasion Mr. Pritchard asked Honto to make herself weightless and then step onto a plunger type mechanical bell. The bell did not ring. Then he asked her to tap it with her foot
and to her evident amusement, it rang. She repeated the performance for fun.
One evening in a light circle, Olcott rigged up a spring balance. One end was fastened to the rail of the platform and the other made available to hands issuing between the shawls. Dix, the sailor, pulled out the balance to 40 pounds on one occasion and 50 pounds on another. He indicated he could have pulled 100 pounds more if the apparatus would have stood it.
An apparently stock "trick" in the Eddy circle was one in materializing a heavy iron ring. A member of the audience and Horatio held hands so as to form a closed circuit. Of a sudden an iron ring formed around the medium's arm and then fell over the wrist of his audience assistant. As the ring was completed around Horatio's arm, the assistant could feel a sudden spasm in him. By a reversal of this process, the ring was made to disappear .
Materialization sessions were held both out of doors, at a peculiarly suitable place called Honto's cave, where Santum and others appeared, and in the sitting room of the house. The latter was used at Olcott's request because the "cabinet." was in fact an interior room under the stairs, used as a farm labourer’s bedroom, which had no window or other opening apart from the door into the living room. Before the séance the room was emptied of everything and examined by Olcott. The same familiar spirits presented themselves, including Honto who materialized a shawl, in the light, in the open and right in front of and near to all the audience. Mrs. Eaton, who had previously been just a voice, now appeared and spoke to Olcott.
At other séances a number of remarkable "spirits" appeared. One was, for example, the Witch of the Mountain, "old and decrepit" who "usually has to sit in a chair while discoursing to us. Her black eyes gleam with intelligence and a fiery resolution and her voice, although pitched in a high falsetto, has the ring of command in its penetrating tones." She once had William throw a dipper full of water on a chip fire out in the open and it flared up as if fed with oil or alcohol. She turned charcoal into stones and produced large bright gem stones.
Col. Olcott records that on the 14th of October "a Russian lady of distinguished birth and rare educational and natural endowments" arrived at Chittenden and in the Colonel's view, her arrival "was an important event in the history of the Chittenden manifestations."
This lady was, as he then styled her, Madame Helen P. de Blavatsky who, he says, "has led a very eventful life, traveling in most of the lands of the Orient. ... The adventures she has encountered, the strange people she has seen, the perils by sea and land she has passed through, would make one of the most romantic stories ever told by a biographer. In the whole course of my experience I have never met so interesting and, if I may say it without offence, eccentric a character." He then went into some detail about her family and connections.
She attended the séances on the evening of her arrival and the spirit of a Michalko Guegidze appeared. She recognized him as the servant of a Mme. Witte, a relative of Mme. Blavatsky's who had waited on her in Kutais. In the light circle which followed, his hand appeared through the curtain. On his wrist was a bracelet of yellow amber beads such as is traditionally worn in his country .It would have been extremely unlikely for the medium, Horatio, to have had such a bracelet, but apart from that Mme. Blavatsky recognized the hand because of some other peculiarity. She then asked Michalko in Russian and Georgian languages, which no one else present knew, to play some of his local traditional music on a guitar provided for the spirits. He played two pieces which Mme. Blavatsky and Mr. Lenzberg, the musician, transcribed for Col. Olcott and which he reproduces in his book.
The next evening the "spirit" of a wealthy merchant, Hassan Aghe, of Tiflis, came to Mme. Blavatsky. Another "spirit" who visited her was an old nurse in the family who had had charge of Mme. Blavatsky and her sister in early childhood. "She advanced towards the lady and, after making a respectful salutation, said something to her in her native tongue. .."
On another occasion a Khourd warrior materialized. He was the spirit of one Safar Ali Bek, who had once been detailed as the lady's personal escort. Ali Bek appeared from the cabinet empty handed but attired in all his traditional garb, with a sword at his side and daggers in his belt. "Then, suddenly, he held in his right hand the most curious looking weapon I ever saw. It was a spear with a shaft that might have been a dozen feet in length (perhaps more, for the butt seemed to extend into the cabinet)."
And so the wonders went on and on, with materializations, "spirits" discoursing, family reunions, "spirit writing", all quite remarkable. Amongst the most remarkable, however, was the following:
To add a little authenticity to the foregoing, it is of interest that the entries of the births and deaths of the Eddy family are to be seen on the Parish Register at Chittenden, and their graves are in the churchyard there. The happenings at the homestead (which still exists) are still talked about and there is some current research going on locally to discover more and put it on record.
Contrary to the usual situation in which trance mediums are often unhealthy and die comparatively young, one of the Eddy brothers lived to be eighty-four and the other died in 1932 at the
age of one hundred. This was in spite of their maltreatment when young and the other rigours of their lives.
The literature of Spiritualism is packed with such stories, including "spirit" relatives, friends, and guides, who have stayed in communication with those on earth for many years. In one case, one of two child brothers was killed. The spirit of the dead brother, however, grew up with his living brother to early manhood, often communicating, advising, and helping his living brother. In other cases, whole series of letters have been received from deceased loved ones by those left behind.
Examples of types of manifestations other than Spiritualistic phenomena are given in the next chapter.
Exploring the Great Beyond > Next Page Chapter 4 The Wonderful Psychic