19th century spiritualism: Gotcha!

19th century spiritualism: Gotcha!

Hi everyone!

As I finish up a short story (set in 1911) that features a spirit medium as the protagonist, I thought you might get a kick out of this post from five years ago.

Hope you are enjoying your summer!

~Kathy

 

Houdini matinee playbill, 1909. Image via wikimedia commons.

 

Today we’re wrapping up the spiritualism series with some of those “gotcha” moments, sometimes funny, sometimes pathetic, when frauds were exposed in public.

 

“GOTCHA” METHOD 1: Professional De-bunkers

Almost as plentiful as fraudulent mediums were the debunkers who sought to catch them at it.  Pictured below were some of the most well-known of their time:  researchers Harry Price (National Laboratory of Psychical Research, University of London) and Frank Podmore (Society for Psychical Research, London), and professional magicians John Nevil Maskelyne and Harry Houdini.  Podmore’s and Maskelyne’s activities were part of the Victorian Period proper; Price and Houdini built upon such efforts, exposing frauds in the 1920s and ’30s.

 

Image via Gutenberg.org

Frank Podmore, 1856-1910
Harry Price. Photograph by William Hope, 1922. Wikimedia Commons.

Harry Price, 1881-1948. Photograph by William Hope, 1922. Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

John Nevil Maskelyne

John Nevil Maskelyne, Carte de Visite Woodburytype - Print, wikimedia commons.

John Nevil Maskelyne, 1839-1917. Carte de Visite Woodburytype – Print, wikimedia commons.

After watching the Davenport brothers exhibit their “spirit cabinet,” purported to manifest spirits while the brothers were tied up inside, Maskelyne suspected fraud.  With the help of George Alfred Cooke, he built his own cabinet and in 1865 launched a career of stage magic that lasted decades, whereby he demonstrated how to artificially create many of the spiritualists’ effects.
 Harry Houdini, 1874-1926
The Library of Congress, McManus-Young Collection, http://www.loc.gov/rr/rarebook/coll/154.html

The Library of Congress, McManus-Young Collection, 1898. http://www.loc.gov/rr/rarebook/coll/154.html

 

Harry Houdini was the ultimate showman.  We associate him primarily with escape artistry, but many of his shows (see playbill, above) were based on re-creating spiritualists’ effects and exposing fraud.

 

 

Slade vs. Lankester

Dr. Henry Slade

Dr. Henry Slade (1835-1905) was an American medium who specialized in spirit writing on slate blackboards.  During Slade’s tour in Britain,

Prof. Ray Lankester

Professor Ray Lankester (Professor of Zoology,1847-1929) set out to expose him.  During Slade’s seances, he and another witness watched carefully. At the second séance, Lankester snatched the supposedly blank “spirit slate” to find that it had been pre-written.  Lankester published an account of the incident in a letter to the Times, and sued him. Slade was convicted and sentenced to three months of hard labor (in England, they typically used an old statute of vagrancy – originially meant for gypsies). However, upon appeal the sentence was dismissed, whereupon Slade fled England.

Read the NY Times account

Francis Ward Monck:

During a seance in Huddersfield, England, Monck, a Baptist minister-turned-medium, was accused of fraud.  As several men attempted to search him, he escaped through a window.  Several props, such as “spirit hands,” were found among his possessions, and he was eventually caught, arrested, and tried for fraud.  Like Slade, he was found guilty and received a three-month prison sentence.  Back in New York, he opened a healing clinic and was sued numerous times over the years.

Source: Monck v Hilton, Law Reports [Divisional Court] Feb. 6 1877


“GOTCHA” METHOD 2:  Rival Mediums
Cook vs. Guppy



Florence Cook (1856-1904) began her career as a medium at 15 (seems to be a trend, doesn’t it?), when she apparently levitated off the floor while with a group of friends.  Soon after, she was causing the ghost of Katie King to materialize.  Katie King was rather notorious in spiritualist circles, as she was supposed to be a murderess who, to atone for her sins in the afterlife, returned to convince people that the spirit world was real.  (I think Jacob Marley had better justification for returning to save Ebenezer Scrooge, but that’s just one opinion).  Being able to produce Katie King on demand became a profitable venture for Florence Cook.

However, success is not without its drawbacks.  Rival medium Mrs. Samuel Guppy (1838-1917), an older and, by some accounts, a less attractive woman (sorry, couldn’t find a picture to bear this out), decided to give her rival a come-uppance.  Of course, Mrs. Guppy couldn’t attend a seance of Cook’s – she was too well-known – so she enlisted the aid of William Volckman (who later became her husband).  Here’s the account as described by Emma-Louise Rhodes:

Volkman bribed himself into the séance by presenting jewelery to Cook and, once the spirit appeared, proceeded to seize her and then hold the ‘spirit’ and declare that she was, in fact, none other than Cook dressed up. Edward Elgie Corner, Cook’s fiancé, assisted by other sitters, swiftly intervened and Katie King escaped back into the cabinet, leaving Volkman with a bloodied and scratched nose. On entering the cabinet (after an unknown elapse of time) Volkman found Cook tied as she had been at the start of the séance, but with her clothes in disarray.”

Florence Cook sort of got away with it that time, but was caught dead to rights (sorry, bad pun) several years later.  She had abandoned the “Katie King” spirit in favor of “Marie,” a girl of twelve.  During one seance, one of the attendees, Sir George Sitwell, noticed a corset underneath the spirit’s dress – something a girl of twelve would certainly not be wearing.  He decided next time to grab the spirit.  When he did, and the curtains of the spirit cabinet (where Cook was supposedly tied up) were parted, Cook was gone, with only boots and other garments left behind.  The lights were turned on the reveal the “spirit” as Florence Cook, in her undergarments.

 

“GOTCHA” METHOD 3:  Stupidity
This is one of my personal favorites.  The following article was printed in The New York Times August 5, 1897.  Note that “See Quoyah” is Sequoyah, the Cherokee leader.

 

So, what do you think? Such frauds seem primitive to us, but can we still be fooled by more sophisticated charlatans? I’d love to hear from you.

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After the good-bye

After the good-bye

 

Hi everyone,

I have missed you! If I had known my cicada post was going to stay up as my most recent offering for the past six weeks, I might have picked something else….

dad29The reason for my silence is a sad one. My dad passed away three weeks ago. The deterioration of his condition over these last few months tugged at our hearts and our conflicting responsibilities, with road trips, time away from work, and the long-distance parenting of teens on the one hand, and hospital visits, medical decisions, and assuming our best game face for my dad (and my mom) on the other. And then there came the time when there were no more options, no more decisions to be made…and we had to face the reality of saying goodbye to this wonderful man. Many of you have lived this, and I have a renewed appreciation for what you’ve undergone.

I had considered just quietly resuming my blog without mentioning it. After all, I prefer to keep the tone of my posts light-hearted, especially in a world that can sometimes be rather grim. I also didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Death and grieving are difficult social topics, to say the least. We all want to console, to offer sympathy, but we worry that what we say will seem like empty platitudes. We feel helpless, not quite knowing what to say or do.

Rest assured, sympathy in any form is never meaningless. It is a kindness that can soothe. I have been very grateful for it.

I finally opted for saying something because I also value authenticity. I could not imagine resuming my writing and blogging without a public acknowledgment of my loss. My dad was my first crush. He loved me unconditionally. He made me feel I could accomplish anything. Missing him is as natural as breathing.

Dad Pat Corey summer

Steve Belin was a wonderful Pop, too! Pictured here with his oldest and youngest grandsons.

I know I will continue to grieve – some days will be more difficult than others – but I feel ready to get back to my routine. Focusing on the positive helps. I am blessed to have terrific memories to look back upon.

Here’s a special memory I want to share with you! It includes a recipe, just in time for Father’s Day and the backyard grilling season. It was originally written three years ago as a Father’s Day column for SocialIn Arlington. Enjoy!

Dad’s Secret to Great BBQ Chicken

We all know that Father’s Day gives us a chance to recognize the special dads in our lives.  Perhaps, when we think of our fathers, we recall the games of catch, or the family road trips, or our favorite televised sporting events, or maybe those long workdays that dad had to put in – a sacrifice that, as adults, we now truly recognize.

While I have a lot of those kinds of memories, I always think of my dad as…the Griller.  The man could make anything edible taste amazing when cooked over open flame.  During the summer months, I thrived on steak, chicken, kabobs, pasta salad, and burnt marshmallows.  As his only child, I learned all his tips and tricks – whether charcoal or gas, lighter fluid or a flick of the switch, it didn’t matter.  He was the Grill Master, and I was his young Padawan.  I learned The Way of the Tongs.

So in honor of Father’s Day, I’d like to share a family favorite that I turn to again and again: my dad’s trick for cooking juicy, skinless, fall-from-the-bone barbecue chicken.

Ingredients:

6 chicken leg quarters (thigh and drumstick still attached).  If you opt for chicken breasts, reduce cooking time by 10 minutes so they don’t dry out. But check for doneness. Always.

16 ounces of your favorite barbecue sauce (the thicker, the better)

Heavy duty aluminum foil

Directions:

Carefully strip the skin from the raw chicken , washing BOTH the skin and the chicken and blotting everything dry.  Do NOT discard the skin.

(NOTE: Since the original post, the USDA now recommends that raw chicken NOT be washed, because of risk of cross-contamination. Read more about it here: Washing Food: Does it promote food safety?)

Place the chicken quarters side-by-side on a generous square of heavy-duty foil, meaty sides up.  If you think all six legs would make the packet too cumbersome – you’ll be flipping it on the grill – you can divide the legs between two packets, rather than having them all in one.

Place the skins loosely BACK ON TOP of the chicken legs, covering the meaty parts in particular.  This will keep the chicken extra-moist, and will be ridiculously easy to take off before the sauce goes on.

Crimp the foil firmly around the edges to form a packet to seal in most of the juices. Some will escape during grilling, but don’t worry about that.  You want a little room inside there – don’t wrap them tightly in the foil, as you would a potato.

Grill the packet(s) over a hot fire. For charcoal briquettes, that means they are all gray, and you can barely tolerate holding a hand over the coals. For a gas grill, set it to medium-high heat. Grill for 40 minutes, flipping the packet once after the first 20 minutes.

Take the packet(s) off the grill and cut open the foil (use oven mitts when handling  – it’s going to be hot and rather messy).  The skin will slide right off. Discard skin and foil.

Pour barbecue sauce into a shallow pan.  Using tongs, DREDGE the chicken in the sauce, coating both sides.   (We don’t mess around with brushes at our house.  It’s all we can do not to lick our fingers).  It’s a little tricky, because the chicken will want to come off the bone at this point.  Show ‘em who’s boss.

Return the coated chicken to the grill, cooking for barely 2 minutes on each side, until the sauce is set.

Do you have a favorite recipe that reminds you of someone you care about? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

 

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See you in…17 years?

See you in…17 years?

 

Here at K.B. Owen Mysteries, we typically talk about historical culture and the mystery genre, though I do get off-topic from time to time, as life and interesting tidbits of pop culture creep in. Even so, I hardly ever blog about bugs.

My post about pollinators comes close: http://kbowenmysteries.com/posts/its-national-pollinator-week/

But there’s a first for everything, and the 17-year cicada is sort of historical, if you think about it.

Cicada molting. Image from USDA.gov

Cicada molting. I know…eww. Image from USDA.gov

According to the news reports, the “periodical” cicadas will emerge from the ground this spring. Everything about the bug demands notice, from its appearance – buggy red eyes and big, bulgy, two-inch-long winged body – to the loud, collective buzzing of the swarm. The first time I heard them, I thought an alien spaceship had landed. The sound is actually a chorus of males trying to attract females. Sort of the insect version of cat-calling.

Hey, baby, I see you over there on that hydrangea. You are looking mighty FINE today. Why don’t you fly on over here and we’ll have a good time.

Then there is the sheer number of them. Billions, covering areas across Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. Fortunately, they don’t bite/sting people or destroy crops. (Though dogs can get sick tummies when they snack on too many of them).

But the part of this that really intrigues me is the length of their life cycle. 17 years? Wow. The parents of this emerging brood of cicadas (Brood V) mated in 1999. Their offspring have been underground all this time, living off of root sap. When the top 8″ of soil warms to 64 degrees, they synchronously emerge to shed their nymph shells then swarm and mate.

hourglass

17 years is a long time. Do you remember 1999? A lot has happened since then. Here are some things that occurred to me. Back in 1999:

  • This blog didn’t exist (nor did its host, WordPress).
  • My first two sons were 6 and 3 years old, and the youngest hadn’t been born yet.
  • No Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or any sort of online social media existed; online interactions were facilitated through CompuServe and AOL, and primarily in email form. Not even the now-defunct MySpace was around yet (officially launched in 2003), nor was Friendster (2002).
  • Everyone was worried about Y2K.
  • We partied like it was “1999.”
  • Amazon was primarily an online book supplier and was just starting to expand into other merchandise.
  • There were no e-readers or e-books; the Kindle was first offered for sale in 2007.
  • There were no USB flashdrives (commercially available in 2000).
  • PayPal was just getting started (1998).
  • Google had just been founded (1998).
  • The online music-sharing site Napster was launched.
  • The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and impeachment proceedings were top stories in American newspapers.
  • The Twin Towers were still standing.

This generation of Brood V cicadas will be waking up to a different world. Many more items could be included in this list – feel free to add them in the comments! I would also love to hear about your experiences with the critters.

owl readingWant to read more about the 17-year cicadas?

Cicada Mania

Periodical Cicadas (wikipedia)

Billions of cicadas will descend upon the northeastern United States (Washington Post)

Cicadas Prepare to Emerge (CNN)

 

Until next time…keep your car windows rolled up! *wink*

~Kathy

 

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I’ll have a helping of spring, hold the allergies

I’ll have a helping of spring, hold the allergies

 

 

 

Who doesn’t love spring?  The Northern Hemisphere is slipping off her shroud of brown and gray and picking out her bright party dress:  hues of pink, white, yellow, and soft green.  It’s a welcome sight to the winter-weary.  We turn our faces up to the warmth of extended sunlight and feel renewed.
Ah, but many of us pay a price for all this beauty and joie de vie:  Allergies.

The term “allergy” has only been around for about a century (you knew you wouldn’t escape this post without a little history lesson, right?).  Two pediatricians, Clemens von Pirquet and Bela Schick, came up with the term in 1906.  They combined the Greek words Allos (“other”) and Ergon (“reaction”) to create a term that would describe the hypersensitive response of the body’s immune system to something other than a bacteria or virus.

Charles Harrison Blackley, date and photographer unknown. Via wikimedia commons.

Charles Harrison Blackley, date and photographer unknown. Via wikimedia commons.

As recently as the mid-19th century, doctors and scientists considered heat the cause of these symptoms (hence the term “hay fever”).  Allergies were also widely viewed as a “nervous disease” during this time.  In 1859, however, Dr. Charles Blackley made the connection between pollen and hay fever.  Most of the experimenting he did was upon himself, including a crude form of today’s “scratch tests” now commonly done for allergy screenings.  Other physicians were using anecdotal evidence to come to similar conclusions about several other common types of allergies, including cats and feathers.  To read more about Blackley and others, check this site.

Unless you live in Antartica (and they just found 12 million year-old pollen fossils there, so look out), you’re dealing with pollen.  Lots of it.  Tree pollen in the spring, grass pollen in the summer, ragweed pollen in the fall.

Around here, the tree pollen is the worst.  Every morning, cars, sidewalks, and slow-moving mammals all have that greenish-yellow coating.  Pollen is boss.  People vs. pollen couldn’t be any less mismatched than the 300 Spartans facing down the 100,000 Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae.  Our noses are running for dear life.

In the spirit of “know thy enemy” (and perhaps morbid curiosity), I looked up what U.S. cities were the worst for allergies in 2015. Here’s the top ten “countdown”:

10. Buffalo, NY

9. Knoxville, TN

8. Providence, RI

7. Oklahoma City, OK

6. Wichita, KS (ever watch The Dick Van Dyke Show? The episode “Big Max Calvada” makes this city particularly ironic)

5. McAllen, TX

4. Louisville, KY

3.  Syracuse, NY

2. Memphis, TN

…and the #1 worst U.S. city for allergies: Jackson, MI.

 

Want to read more?

Top 25 worst cities for spring allergies

U.S. allergy forecast map (updated daily)

 

So, why am I writing about allergies today?  Oh, I don’t know – **sniff** – it seemed to resonate with me, somehow.

At least we can take solace in the view. Here are some of my favorite pollen-laden pics from my yard and neighborhood:

pollen composite

Hydrangeas from my garden. More a summer flower, but so lovely!

Hydrangeas from my garden. More of a summer flower, but so lovely!

 

 

 

Do you suffer from allergies? Do you consider the beauty of spring a fair trade for your suffering? I’d love to hear from you.

Someone pass me a Kleenex!

~Kathy

 

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Through their eyes: late-19th century film footage

Through their eyes: late-19th century film footage

I love watching historical film footage. It makes the period under scrutiny a bit more approachable and easier to conceptualize. Unlike Hermione Granger, we cannot use a time turner to go back and see for ourselves what things were like.

hp time turner2

The time turner: not really a thing, but sold on Amazon, anyway. Image via Amazon.com

 

We also don’t have the luxury to go VERY far back, as the first single-lens motion picture camera was only invented in 1888 by Louis LePrince. And a great many of those early celluloids have deteriorated and are lost to us forever.

That being said, I think you will get a kick out of this compendium of short clips. Despite the video’s title, “The Gay Nineties,” I would guess this spans the late 1890s into the 1910s. Enjoy!

 

Wow, the sheer number of people out and about – and dodging traffic! – is crazy.

What aspects drew your attention the most? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Until next time,

Kathy

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March Madness: 19thc Women’s Basketball

March Madness: 19thc Women’s Basketball
I’m in the midst of a family emergency at the moment, which is fortunately beginning to wane. In the meantime, since March Madness is upon us, I thought I would re-post this tidbit about the beginnings of women’s basketball.

And if you will pardon the the personal bias…go, Lady Huskies! 😉

The game of basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Massachusetts.

 

In 1892, Senda Berenson Abbott started the first women’s basketball program at Smith College, making modifications to the rules for women’s play. More →

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The Ides of March: more than the Shakespeare play you read in high school

The Ides of March: more than the Shakespeare play you read in high school

I first heard the phrase “the ides of March” in ninth grade, when we were assigned Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It’s a great play for your average teen, full of intrigue, deceit, betrayal, prophecy, political power, and murder. The soothsayer’s prognostication in the play is now legendary:

Beware the ides of March.

That’s it: short and sweet. Ever notice that most soothsayers in these stories are cryptic old men? A little more information would have been handy for Julius, who was assassinated on the ides of March in 44 B.C.

Death of Caesar, by Karl Theodor von Piloty, 1865. Image via wikimedia commons.

Death of Caesar, by Karl Theodor von Piloty, 1865. Image via wikimedia commons.

How did the old man know? Shakespeare doesn’t say. There were all sorts of divination techniques back then, from ooh to eww. Check out this wikipedia article for the complete list. I like to think it was owl entrails. Just call me old-fashioned. *wink*

Even though we don’t examine entrails (known as extispicy) or watch the peckings of roosters (known as alectromancy) anymore, we continue to look for patterns to make sense of our world. Pattern recognition is hard-wired into us by evolution and has saved us many times in our early survival days. But it’s also tricky. Some patterns are significant, and some are purely coincidental.

I doubt I would have given the ides of March another thought in my lifetime if not for a klutzy mishap in eleventh grade. I broke my ankle on March 15th of that year, slipping on the wet floor in the pool locker room. Even then I didn’t get it, until my mom pointed it out and wrote Beware the Ides of March on my cast. Everyone got a chuckle out of that. I got off easy compared to Caesar, right?

Me and my prom date, 3 months later. I was glad to be out of a cast!

Me and my prom date, less than 3 months later. I was glad to be out of a cast!

In the decades since, I have managed to get through the ides of March unscathed, and those locker rooms got non-slip mats for the floor, so we’re all good.

A few interesting facts about the Ides of March (Idus Martii):

  • The term “ides” referred to the middle of the month, at the time of the full moon. Based on the Romans’ lunar calendar, the ides were on the 13th for most months of the year and on the 15th in March, May, July, and October.
  • The ides, no matter what the month, were considered a holy day dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter, and commemorated by animal sacrifices.
  • By the oldest Roman calendar, March was the first month of the year; therefore, the ides of March was the new year’s first full moon.
  • In Rome, the ides of March was when one settled debts. Kind of like an IRS tax deadline.

You can see that Caesar’s assassins picked a significant day to do the deed. Here we have the death of Caesar linked to sacrifice, the settling of a debt, starting a new year, and a celebration of the Romans’ most important god. Patterns yet again.

The unluckiness of the ides of March doesn’t end with Caesar’s assassination. Here are some ominous things that have happened in history on March 15th:

  • 1889: cyclone in Samoa destroys six U.S. and German warships docked in the harbor at Apia, killing over 200 sailors.
  • 1917: Czar Nicholas II signs the papers to abdicate his throne, turning over his rule to the Bolsheviks. He and his family are imprisoned and executed.
  • 1939: the Nazis seize Czechoslavakia
  • 1952: record rainfall hits La Reunion (an island in the Indian Ocean), dumping over 73 inches in a 24-hour period.
  • 2003: the World Health Organization issues a world-wide health alert for the emerging SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus. Panicked populations across the globe don surgical masks and close schools.

For the rest of the list, check out this Smithsonian Magazine article.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that March 15th is more unlucky than any other day of the year. At least, I hope not. Crutches are a pain in the neck on the stairs.

Happy Ides,

Kathy

 

 

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Where my research takes me: arrest of the bloomers

Where my research takes me: arrest of the bloomers
"The Bicycle Suit," Punch Magazine, 1895.

“The Bicycle Suit,” Punch Magazine, 1895.

Those of you who’ve followed my posts are very familiar with the serendipitous nature of my research. I go looking for one thing and find five other fascinating, though completely unrelated, historical tidbits. (The original item I was looking for? Well, tomorrow is another day). Good thing I have a website and fab readers who like reading about this stuff!

The incident described in the following article takes place 44 years after bloomers first emerged in the U.S. Over those ensuing decades, they were adopted by some women as an act of rebellion, but in broader society they were primarily for active wear: bicycling costumes, gymnastic uniforms, and so on. (Incidentally, the bicycling outfit my protagonist, Concordia Wells, wears is comprised of similar leggings, but includes a shortened over-skirt for modesty).

But wearing bloomers in a gymnasium is one thing; strolling around wearing them out on the public street is entirely different. The lady named “Trixy” finds this out:

 

From the Saint Paul Daily Globe, December 1, 1895.

From the Saint Paul Daily Globe, December 1, 1895.

Apparently the Superintendent of Police was made of sterner stuff than the mayor.

Are there any outfits that would make you run screaming out of a room? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Kathy

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