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HISTORIC GHOSTS AND GHOST HUNTERS

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Porscha Campbell
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« Reply #120 on: November 15, 2009, 05:26:45 am »

But, unlike Kerner, who hastened back to Weinsberg to write the biography of this "delicate flower who lived upon sunbeams," we must shake off the spell of her strange personality and ask seriously what manner of mortal she was. This inquiry is the more imperative since the doings of the tambourine players and automatic writers, of whom so much is made in certain quarters to-day, pale into insignificance beside the story of her remarkable career.

Now, in point of fact, the evidence bearing out the claim that she saw and talked with the dead is practically confined to the account written by the mourning Kerner, whom no one would for a moment call an unprejudiced witness. Already deeply immersed in the study of the marvelous, his mind absorbed in the weird phenomena of the recently discovered science of animal magnetism, she came to him both as a patient and as a living embodiment of the mysteries that held for him a boundless fascination, and once he found reason to believe in her alleged supernormal powers, there was nothing too fantastic or extravagant to which he would not give ready credence and assent.
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Porscha Campbell
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« Reply #121 on: November 15, 2009, 05:26:59 am »

His lengthy record of "facts" includes not only what he himself saw or thought he saw, but every tale and anecdote related to him by the seeress and her friends, and also includes so many incidents of supernaturalism on the part of others that it would well seem that half the peasant population of Würtemberg were ghost seers. Besides this, detailed as his narrative is, it is lacking in precisely those details which would give it evidential value; so lacking, indeed, that even such a spiritistic advocate as the late F. W. H. Myers pronounced it "quite inadequate" for citation in support of the spiritistic theory.
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Porscha Campbell
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« Reply #122 on: November 15, 2009, 05:27:12 am »

Nevertheless, taking his extraordinary document for what it is worth, careful consideration of it leads to the conclusion that it contains the story not so much of a great fraud as of a great tragedy. It is obvious that there was frequent and barefaced trickery, particularly on the part of Frederica's sister and the ubiquitous servant girl; but it is equally certain that Frederica herself was a wholly abnormal creature, firmly self-deluded, one might say self-hypnotized, into the belief that the dead consorted with her. And it is hardly less certain that in her singular[Pg 140] state of body and mind she gave evidence not indeed of supernatural but of telepathic and clairvoyant powers on which she and those about her, in that unenlightened age, could not but put a supernatural interpretation.
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« Reply #123 on: November 15, 2009, 05:27:29 am »

It is not difficult to trace the origin of the nervous and mental disease from which she suffered. Kerner's account of her childhood shows plainly that she was born temperamentally imaginative and unstable and that she was raised in an environment well calculated to exaggerate her imaginativeness and instability. Ghosts and goblins were favorite topics of conversation among the peasantry of Prevorst, while the children with whom she played were many of them unstable like herself, neurotic, hysterical, and the victims of St. Vitus's dance. The weird and uneasy ideas and feelings which thus early took possession of her were given firmer lodgment by her unfortunate sojourn with grave-haunting Grandfather Schmidgall. After this, it seems, she suffered for a year from some eye trouble, and every physician knows how close the connection is between optical disease and hallucinations. Then came a brief period of seeming normality, the lull before the storm[Pg 141] which burst in full force with her marriage to a man she did not love. From that time, the helpless victim of hysteria in its most deep-seated and obstinate form, she gave herself unreservedly to the delusions which both arose from and intensified her physical ills—ills which after all had a purely mental basis. "If I doubted the reality of these apparitions," she once told Kerner, "I should be in danger of insanity; for it would make me doubt the reality of everything I saw."
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Porscha Campbell
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« Reply #124 on: November 15, 2009, 05:27:52 am »

It does not affect this view of the case that she unquestionably coöperated with her conscienceless sister and the servant girl in the production of the fraudulent phenomena to which Kerner testifies. Their cheating was probably done for the sole purpose of making sure of the comfortable berth in which the physician's credulity had placed them. Hers, on the other hand, was the deceit of an irresponsible mind, of one living in such an atmosphere of unreality that she could readily persuade herself that the knockings, candle dancings, book openings, and similar acts were the work not of her own hands but of the ghosts which tormented her. Indeed, researches of recent years in the field of abnormal psychology[Pg 142] show it is quite possible that she was absolutely ignorant of any personal participation in the movements and sounds which caused such wide-spread mystification. Sympathy and pity, therefore, should take the place of condemnation when we follow the course of her eventful and unhappy life.
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Porscha Campbell
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« Reply #125 on: November 15, 2009, 05:28:02 am »

FOOTNOTES:

[M] Kerner's account of Frederica Hauffe is found in his "Die Seherin von Prevorst," accessible in an English translation by Mrs. Catharine Crowe. Students of the supernatural, it may be added, will find a great deal of interesting material in Mrs. Crowe's "The Night Side of Nature."
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Porscha Campbell
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« Reply #126 on: November 15, 2009, 05:28:27 am »

VIII

The Mysterious Mr. Home

"So you've brought the devil to my house, have you?"

"No, no, aunty, no! It's not my fault."

With an angry gesture the woman, tall, large boned, harsh visaged, pushed back her chair and advanced threateningly toward the pale, anemic looking youth of seventeen, who sat cowering at the far end of the breakfast table.

"You know this is your doing. Stop it at once!"

The other gazed helplessly about him, while from every side of the room came a volley of raps and knocks. "It is not my doing," he muttered. "I cannot help it."

"Begone then! Out of my sight!"

Left to herself and to silence,—for with her nephew's departure the noise instantly ceased,—she fell into gloomy meditation. She was an exceedingly ignorant, but a profoundly religious woman. She had heard[Pg 144] much of the celebrated Fox sisters, with tales of whose strange actions in the neighboring State of New York the countryside was then ringing, and she recognized, or imagined she recognized, a striking similarity between their performances and the tumult of the last few minutes. It was her firm belief that the Fox girls were victims of demoniac influence, and no less surely did she deem it impossible to attribute the recent disturbance to human agency. Her nephew was not given to practical jokes; there had been nothing unusual in his manner; he had greeted her cheerily as usual, and quietly taken his seat. But with his advent, and she shuddered at the remembrance, the knockings had begun. There could be only one explanation—the boy, however unwittingly, had placed himself in the power of the devil. What to do, however, she knew not, and fumed and fretted the entire morning, until upon his reappearance at noon the knockings broke out again. Then her mind was quickly made up.
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« Reply #127 on: November 15, 2009, 05:28:57 am »

"Look you!" said she to him. "We must rid you of the evil that is in you. I will have the ministers reason with you and pray for you, and that at once."

[Pg 145]

True to her word, she despatched a messenger to the three clergymen of the little Connecticut village in which she made her home, and all three promptly responded to her request. But their visits and their prayers proved fruitless. Indeed, the more they prayed the louder the knocks became; and presently, to their astonishment and dismay, the very furniture appeared bewitched, dancing and leaping as though alive. "Verily," said one to his irate aunt, "the boy is possessed of the devil." To make matters worse, the neighbors, hearing of the weird occurrences, besieged the house day and night, their curiosity whetted by a report that, exactly as in the case of the Fox sisters, communications from the dead were being received through the knockings. Incredible as it seemed, this report found speedy confirmation. Before the week was out the lad told his aunt:
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Porscha Campbell
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« Reply #128 on: November 15, 2009, 05:29:09 am »

"Last night there came raps to me spelling words, and they brought me a message from the spirit of my mother."

"And what, pray, was the message?"

"My mother's spirit said to me, 'Daniel, fear not, my child. God is with you, and who shall be against you? Seek to do good. Be[Pg 146] truthful and truth loving, and you will prosper, my child. Yours is a glorious mission—you will convince the infidel, cure the sick, and console the weeping.'"

"A glorious mission," mocked the aunt, her patience utterly exhausted,—"a glorious mission to bedevil and deceive, to plague and torment! Away, away, and darken my doors no more!"

"Do you mean this, aunty?"

"Mean it, Daniel? Never shall it be said of me that I gave aid and comfort to Satan or child of Satan's. Pack, and be off!"
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« Reply #129 on: November 15, 2009, 05:29:26 am »

In this way was Daniel Dunglas Home launched on a career that was to prove one of the most marvelous, if not the most marvelous, in the annals of mystification. But at the time there was no reason to anticipate the remarkable achievements which the future held in store for him. He was fitted for no calling. Ever since his aunt had adopted him in far-away Scotland, where he was born of obscure parentage in 1833, he had led a life of complete dependence, not altogether cheerless but deadening to initiative and handicapping him terribly for the task of making his way in the world. His health was broken, his pockets[Pg 147] were empty, he was without friends. Cast upon his own resources under such conditions, it seemed but too probable that failure and an early death would be his portion.

Two things only were in his favor. The first was his native determination and optimism; the second, the interest aroused by published reports of the phenomena that had led to his expulsion from his aunt's house. Already, although only a few days had elapsed since the knockings were first heard, the newspapers had given the story great publicity, and their accounts were greedily devoured by an ever-widening circle of readers, quite willing to regard such happenings as evidence of the intervention of the dead in the affairs of the living. It was, it must be remembered, an era of wide-spread enthusiasm and credulity, the heyday period of spiritism. So soon, therefore, as it became known that young Home was at liberty to go where he would, invitations were showered on him.
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« Reply #130 on: November 15, 2009, 05:29:39 am »

Among these was one from the nearby town of Willimantic, and thither Home journeyed in the early spring of 1851. It was determined that an attempt should be made to demonstrate his mediumship by the table tilting[Pg 148] process then coming into vogue among spiritists, and the result exceeded all expectations. The table, according to an eye-witness of the first séance, not only moved without physical contact, but on request turned itself upside down, and overcame a spectator's efforts to prevent its motion. True, when this spectator "grasped its leg and held it with all his strength" the table "did not move so freely as before." Still, it moved, and Home's fame mounted apace. From town to town he traveled, holding séances at which, if contemporary accounts are to be believed, he gave exhibitions of supernatural power far and away ahead of all other of the numerous mediums who were by this time springing up throughout the Eastern States. On one occasion, we are told, the spirits communicated through him the whereabouts of missing title deeds to a tract of land then in litigation; on another, they enabled him to prescribe successfully for an invalid for whom no hope was entertained; and time after time they conveyed to those in his séance room messages of more or less vital import, besides vouchsafing to them "physical" phenomena of the greatest variety.
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« Reply #131 on: November 15, 2009, 05:29:56 am »

What was most remarkable was the fact that the young medium steadfastly refused to accept payment for his services. "My gift," he would solemnly say, "is free to all, without money and without price. I have a mission to fulfil, and to its fulfilment I will cheerfully give my life." Naturally this attitude of itself made for converts to the spiritistic beliefs of which he was such a successful exponent, and its influence was powerfully reinforced by the result of an investigation conducted in the spring of 1852 by a committee headed by the poet, William Cullen Bryant, and the Harvard professor, David G. Wells. Briefly, these declared in their report that they had attended a séance with Home in a well lighted room, had seen a table move in every direction and with great force, "when we could not perceive any cause of motion," and even "rise clear of the floor and float in the atmosphere for several seconds"; had in vain tried to inhibit its action by sitting on it; had occasionally been made "conscious of the occurrence of a powerful shock, which produced a vibratory motion of the floor of the apartment in which we were seated"; and finally were absolutely certain[Pg 150] that they had not been "imposed upon or deceived."
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« Reply #132 on: November 15, 2009, 05:30:06 am »

The report, to be sure, did not specify what, if any, means had been taken to guard against fraud, its only reference in this connection being a statement that "Mr. D. D. Home frequently urged us to hold his hands and feet." But it none the less created a tremendous sensation, public attention being focused on the fact that an awkward, callow, country lad had successfully sustained the scrutiny of men of learning, intelligence, and high repute. No longer, it would seem, could there be doubt of the validity of his claims, and greater demands than ever were made on him. As before, he willingly responded, adding to his repertoire, if the term be permissible, new feats of the most startling character. Thus, at a séance in New York a table on which a pencil, two candles, a tumbler, and some papers had been placed, tipped over at an angle of thirty degrees without disturbing in the slightest the position of the movable objects on its surface. Then at the medium's bidding the pencil was dislodged, rolling to the floor, while the rest remained motionless; and afterward the tumbler.
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« Reply #133 on: November 15, 2009, 05:30:22 am »

A little later occurred the first of Home's[Pg 151] levitations when at the house of a Mr. Cheney in South Manchester, Connecticut, he is said to have been lifted without visible means of support to the ceiling of the séance room. To quote from an eye-witness's narrative: "Suddenly, and without any expectation on the part of the company, Mr. Home was taken up in the air. I had hold of his feet at the time, and I and others felt his feet—they were lifted a foot from the floor.... Again and again he was taken from the floor, and the third time he was carried to the lofty ceiling of the apartment, with which his hand and head came in gentle contact." A far cry, this, from the simple raps and knocks that had ushered in his mediumship.
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« Reply #134 on: November 15, 2009, 05:30:36 am »

Now, however, an event occurred that threatened to cut short alike his "mission" and his life. Never of robust health, he fell seriously ill of an affection that developed into tuberculosis. The medical men whom he consulted unanimously declared that his only hope lay in a change of climate, and, taking alarm, his spiritistic friends generously subscribed a large sum to enable him to visit Europe. Incidentally, no doubt, they expected him to serve as a missionary of the new faith, and it may be[Pg 152] said at once that in this expectation they were not deceived. No one ever labored more earnestly and successfully in behalf of spiritism than did Daniel Dunglas Home from the moment he set foot on the shores of England in April, 1855; and no one in all the history of spiritism achieved such individual renown, not in England alone but in almost every country of the Continent.

It is from this point that the mystery of his career really becomes conspicuous. Hitherto, with the exception of the Bryant-Wells investigation, which could hardly be called scientific, his pretensions had not been seriously tested, and operating as he did among avowed spiritists he had enjoyed unlimited opportunities for the perpetration of fraud. But henceforth, skeptics as well as believers having ready access to him, he found himself not infrequently in a thoroughly hostile environment, and subjected to the sharpest criticism and most unrestrained abuse. Nevertheless, he was able not simply to maintain but to augment the fame of his youth, and after a mediumship of more than thirty years, could claim the unique distinction of not once having had a charge of trickery proved against him.
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