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  • Archangel Steals Money in Naples! July 5, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beachcombing has recently been getting into the world of nineteenth-century seances and mediums. You know, those men with walrus moustaches (for hiding mono-tone mouth accordions) and a hot line to the ‘other side’. These shysters could make even the fairies seem humdrum. Here is one of Beach’s favourite accounts that has everything: sex, money, a tight-fisted angel and, perhaps most importantly, Naples.

    A M. Valente, of Naples has just been condemned by the Correctional Court of that city to six months’ imprisonment for spiritualistic swindling. This Valente, formerly an officer in the service of his Bourbonic Majesty, was, says a Naples correspondent, the spiritual medium of a small but select gathering. Valente, when in his state of ecstatic coma, was favoured by visits him no less a person than the Archangel Gabriel, a dignitary whose celestial functions do not, it seems, afford him the means of making both ends meet, for the burden of his song was still that he wanted money and the money was always forthcoming, and delivered to Valente for transmission to the Archangel, or to be applied as he might direct. In this way, Valente became by degrees the cashier of the society, and, incredible as it may appear, its richest, softest and most fervent adept, one Agillo Eraga, suffered himself to be rewarded for his self denial by the receipt of an archangelic diploma, conferring upon him the dignity of Nuntius or Grand Master of the little community. Valente had the keys of the money-chest, and when poor Eraga wanted a pocket-comb or twopence to replenish his snuff-box, he had to prefer his request in writing for presentation to the Archangel.

    But, while in the heyday of his prosperity, our Valente fell a victim to the passion that rules the court, the cottage, and the camp. In an evil hour for him a widow lady, one Geronima Merici, in age somewhere upon the confines of gorgeous summer and mellow autumn, was admitted among the members of the society. She was a widow of recent date, and all her thoughts were set upon one object, to be put in communication with the spirit of her departed lord. The archangel was willing to arrange the matter upon the payment of certain stipulated fees, and at last, thanks to the liberality of the widow and to the intercession of Valente, it was settled that the visitor from the spirit world should appear on a certain night in the lady’s chamber, borrowing for the nonce the terrestrial semblance of Valente himself. Enthralled Valente, in this though reckoned without the host! The widow hesitated, suspected, and finally declined to receive her visitor except in a entirely ghostly and immaterial shape. Valente, finding her inflexible on this point, dropped upon his knees, confessed his imposture and the intensity of his passion, and offered his hand and his ‘rich booty’ to the charming widow, on condition of her helping him to make a clean sweep of what remained in the pockets of the spiritist community. Another and a worse mistake. The lady betrayed him to Eraga, who after a severe internal struggle opened his feeble mind to conviction, and applied for a legal remedy. The trial, which occupied some days, was full of amusing incidents. The Court, in consideration of the temptation afforded to the swindler by the colossal stupidity of his dupes, took a lenient view of the case, and sent Valente to prison for six months with the addition of a fine of 51 francs.

    Beach is looking out for any such seance nonsense: there was, it seems, a lot of it about, drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    14 July 2012: Invisible writes in with a universe: ‘Oh dear, where to start with seance-room fraud! Low-hanging fruit: you have Mina Crandon—“Margery”, a Boston medium who extruded “ectoplasm” (some of which seemed to be animal lung tissue) from intimate places; Eusapia Palladino, an Italian medium, who frankly admitted that she would cheat if given a chance; and spirit photographer William Mumler who was put on trial for faking spirit photos. Critics are divided about Daniel Dunglas Home, who was said to be able to levitate, move heavy furniture and other objects, produce mystical music and voices, and pick up hot coals in his bare hands. Closer to home, there was Joseph Jonson of Toledo,Ohio, a materialization medium visited by Arthur Conan Doyle, who was much taken by his performance. In one of his books about his Spiritualist travels, with perfect innocence Conan Doyle comments how much some of the materialized spirits resemble the medium. Another of Ohio’s notable “mediums” was Anna Eva Fay. She did a mind-reading act either sitting under a sheet (with a confederate feeding her answers through a tube) or standing on the stage in a gorgeous, long-trained dress that covered the wire leading to an earpiece. She used a method developed by another Ohio native, Samri S. Baldwin, “The White Mahatma,” Baldwin presented a show exposing the tricks of mediums, but also claimed that his wife had “somnomistic” visions. His assistants passed out pads of paper to the audience—each second sheet was coated with wax which left an impression on the third sheet when written on. The pads were coded for location, then, backstage, assistants rubbed lampblack on the third sheets, bringing up the questions. The questions and the location of the writer were passed to Anna through the tube or the earpiece. Sometimes confederates were placed in the audience to “verify” her most amazing revelations and an associate once paid two men to steal an automobile and park it in a place where Anna could reveal it to the owner. After she retired, she was a friend of Houdini’s, admitting her impostures (which she viewed as stage magic) and swapping trade secrets. Anna had been tested by the Grand Old Man of British psychic research: Sir William Crookes.  She explained to Houdini how she had defeated one of Crookes’ electronic tests by gripping one handle of the circuit against the bare flesh of her knee, leaving her a free hand for rappings. Speaking of archangels, a mediumistic lady named Mrs. Berry had a band of seventy archangels watching out for her. One evening they prompted her to stir some arrowroot which had curdled. They also guided her steps to an archangel-approved house in Paddington where the Heavenly messengers then chose the wallpapers and carpets and oversaw the hanging of the pictures.  [Modern Spiritualism, Vol. 2, Frank Podmore, p. 77] This reminds me of a recent visionary lady in Arizona who says that Jesus walks with her in the grocery store, alerting her to sales on laundry detergent and other products. Mediums often had quick-witted explanations for difficulties: The Decatur Republican, 3-30-1876 p. 8, Illinois FULLY EXPLAINED. Recently five men at a materializing séance in Terre Haute smirched their hands with lamp black, shook hands with an apparition and found when the lights were turned up the medium bore the marks. This was generally regarded as the exposure of a fraud; but the Banner of Light corrects the error as follows: “Now every experience investigator into the phenomena is aware that the spirit hand on touching any coloring substance, will, in the recoil of the transitional atoms, or as some call it, the nerve aura, carry back that foreign substance to the corresponding member of the medium’s frame.” Certainly. But at other times, no explanation would serve: NY Times 5-7-1889, A DEMORALIZED MEDIUM., Kicked Out of Doors with His Ghosts and Cabinet. Covington, Ohio, May 6. Dr. Francis Buckner was in court his morning to answer to a charge of an assault on Dr. Warner, a spiritualist medium. Some weeks ago Warner took rooms at Buckner’s, and before the latter knew what was going on had gained complete control over Mrs. Buckner and the children so far as Spiritualism was concerned. Buckner ordered Warner to leave the house, but the wife interfered and he remained. Last evening Buckner came in from a professional visit and found Warner holding a séance in his parlor, assisted by two women named Hughes and Shaw of Chicago. Several neighbors were present, and the disembodied were making frequent visits to the room. A white something that claimed to be a dead sister of Mrs. Buckner was sliding about the room. It was too much for the doctor, and before anybody realized what was going on he had the something in his arms. It yelled, but it was useless, and Buckner, dragging it to the hall door, threw it forcibly down the steps, when after the wraps were removed it proved to be Mrs. Shaw, with cut and bleeding face. Rushing back Buckner caught Mrs. Hughes and threw her out of a window and then gave his attention to Dr. Warner, first warning the people in the room not to interfere. Warner was knocked down and kicked, thrown against the wall, and rolled under the piano. He was mauled on the head and pummelled on the body. His nose bled, blood came from his mouth, one eye was closed, and his clothing was remarkable for the variety of rents it displayed. Finally Buckner stood the medium up and kicked him out of doors down the walk into the street. Returning to the house, Buckner smashed the cabinet and tossed Warner’s personal effect into the street, where a great crowd had gathered and cheered the doctor as he made Spiritualism a wreck in the Buckner household. The two ejected women had returned to the house, but Buckner drove them out, throwing their effects after them. Warner this morning had Buckner arrested for assault and battery and malicious destruction of property. Warner presented a doleful appearance. One eye is closed, an arm is in a sling, and his face is disfigured. The two women who appeared as witnesses looked little better. After hearing Buckner’s story, the Judge dismissed him, and told Warner he thought he got off easily. Warner claims Buckner destroyed $100 worth of his property. A truly dreadful case of a medium who feared exposure: A young woman, Almira Bezely (there are variations on both names in the newspapers and other records), who was a rapping medium of Providence, R.I., predicted the death of her infant brother through her rappings. To make her prophecy come true, she bought arsenic and poisoned the child.  She was arrested and confessed to the crime. On her trial for murder, Samuel B. Holliday testified as follows: ” She only gave me one reason for the commission of the crime. She said there had been a gradual change coming over her. It had not come on in a moment, but in a month or weeks. The cause of this was the deception she had practiced, in regard to these rappings.”—Providence Journal, Oct . 22, 1851. “It was in evidence before the [coroner’s] jury, that the death of the child was predicted at these rappings. My impression is that the child died at about the time predicted.”—Ibid. ” I do not think she could have committed this crime without this influence [that of spirit-rapping]. I suppose the deception and fraud practiced had weakened her moral principle, and prepared the way to crime.”—Ibid. Source: Spirit Rapping Unveiled, Hiram Mattison, p. 164 Waterloo Evening Courier 3-25-1920 p. 17 Iowa MEDIUMS HOODWINKED HER, GOT $200, WOMAN CHARGES Kansas City, Mo. Charges that she was hoodwinked into becoming a student in an “occult college” of local mediums and “spirits,” who were material enough to filch more than $200 from her, were made by Mrs. W. A. Poffenberg, 911 Holmes street , to Will Guinotte, a deputy prosecutor. In all good faith, and seeking truth, she paid her money to learn the ethereal secrets “behind the beyond,” Mrs. Poffenberg said, only to learn it was all trickery and chicanery. Mrs. Poffenberg said she was initiated into all the mysteries of the medium’s craft in séances here in which the mediums reaped harvests of fees from poor and credulous persons, including students. She said she was taught to use the “spirit trumpet,” thru which “spirit controls” communicate, and that she learned to change her voice, so anything from the bass of “Hiawatha” to the treble of “Little May-flowers” would issue from the dark. Her personal spirit control was labelled “Mary Gardner,” she said. It conversed in a rich soprano. Mrs. Poffenberg her 6-year-old daughter was placed in a cabinet by the charlatans, who hid behind the child in the folds of a curtain. Then the “spirit trumpeted” thru the child until she believed she was full of spooks. ‘Spirit messages,” Mrs. Poffenberg revealed, were taken in duplicate, when written down, on soft cardboard and slipped to the medium. The medium had read them and hidden them in her stocking long before she was chained in the mystic cabinet, Mrs. Poffenberg said. But most incriminating, the “spirits” have got all “hard boiled” since Mrs. Poffenberg threatened to expose them. She asserted they left clothespins in her home with this threat: Add chloroform. Wear on the nose. In case of accident, call the undertaker. The mediums have driven persons out of town who threatened to expose them, Mrs. Poffenberg said. The prosecutor’s office and the police are investigating. And another…  There were rumors that Florence Cook and Sir William Crookes were having an affair. There were other rumors that Florence had a sister who was very like her, who helped flesh out the seance effects.  I like the story of how Sir George Sitwell seized the figure flitting around the darkened room and found it was the medium in her underclothes. Glancing very quickly at my bookshelves I find the following spiritualist exposes: Behind the Scenes With the Mediums, David Abbott, Beware Familiar Spirits, John Mulholland, Facts, Frauds and Phantasms, Georgess McHargue, Heyday of a Wizard: Daniel Home The Medium, Jean Burton, Mediums, Mystics & The Occult, Milbourne Christopher, Spook Crooks, Julien J.Proskauer, (also by the same author The Dead Do Not Talk), Spiritism and Kindred Beguilements, B.H. Shadduck, Ph.D., Spiritism, Facts and Frauds, Simon A. Blackmore, S.J., The Psychic Mafia, LaMar Keene, normally I avoid books published by Prometheus, but this is a fascinating “as-told-to” expose of the tricks of modern spiritualism by a former Spiritualist minister. And Houdini, of course: A Magician Among the Spirits and Inside the Medium’s Cabinet.’ Wow, Invisible. Thanks!!!!