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Saturday
Mar232013

When Things of the Spirit Come First, Part Five: The Story of Dr. Henry Hardwick

by Michelle Ann Kratts

 

 

Perhaps some of the most intriguing stories concerning Niagara’s Spiritual past involved an obscure physician and psychologist named Dr. Henry Hardwicke.  Born in Niagara Falls to Major Alan H. G. Hardwicke (a native of England and the only thirty-third degree Mason in Niagara Falls at the time of his death and burial at Oakwood Cemetery) and Henrietta Ware (a descendant of a Revolutionary War veteran who also lies buried in Oakwood Cemetery), Dr. Hardwicke’s serious inclinations toward the paranormal may have begun to fully awaken during his service as an Army Medical Officer in the first World War.  World War I, with its catastrophic bloodshed, inspired yet another generation to seek communication with their newly deceased loved ones.  It is possible that it was during his service in the war that Dr. Hardwicke came into contact with another physician (Dr. Le Roy Crandon) who was said to have had a “morbid obsession with mortality” and a certain charming and enigmatic civilian volunteer ambulance driver, from Ontario, (Mina Stinson Crandon, Dr. Crandon’s notorious wife, also known in Spiritualist circles as Margery the Medium). 

 

Mina Stinson Crandon, also known as “Margery the Medium”

Another source describes the fact that Dr. Hardwicke and Dr. Crandon had a history of practicing together as physicians “in the same neighborhood” (in Niagara Falls?) or possibly there had been some connection through Mina, “well known here…,” (in Niagara Falls) and a cousin of a prominent Niagara Falls resident, the attorney, A. W. Gray.  Regardless of how these three individuals were originally connected, they met here in Niagara Falls and they gained worldwide attention for their investigations into the spirit realms and for stumping Harry Houdini.  Together, they would shake the very foundation of Spiritualism.

 

Niagara Falls Gazette, 1925 

Dr. Harkwicke’s destiny was to ultimately play a special part in the Spiritual history of Niagara Falls.  It would not be the first time his family made local history.  The great great grandson of Jesse Ware, noted as the first American born white settler of Niagara Falls, Dr. Hardwicke’s family was quite respected in these parts.  Just a young man, Henry Hardwicke may have been present that day in September of 1903 when his mother provided the carriages to convey guests to Oakwood Cemetery where the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a tombstone to commemorate his grandfather’s service in the Revolutionary War. Jesse Ware, a native of New Braintree, Massachusetts, had “shouldered a gun with the Minute Men and went forth to battle at the sound of the alarm from Lexington” and then some years later was summoned to Niagara by a friend (or relative), John Stedman, who had been the master of the very important portage.  Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Dr. Hardwicke found himself a traveler on a new frontier.  One that was just as mystical and unknown as Niagara. 

 As a boy, young Henry was already making the headlines in Niagara Falls.  In 1894, he and his friend, Richard Carey, organized a “well-managed affair” on Jefferson Avenue.  The bicycle race, which began on Jefferson Avenue in front of St. Peter’s Church followed a course down Jefferson Avenue to Quay Street, down Quay to Erie Avenue, down Erie to First Street and then back to Jefferson Avenue.  Boys from all corners of the city “flocked to the spot” and had a thoroughly enjoyable time of it.  John O’Donnell was first place winner.  Henry presented him with a “handsome silver medal”.  His father, A.G.H. Hardwicke, quite possibly had provided the prize which may have come from his hardware store, Hardwicke and Co., located on Falls Street. 

As an adult Henry received a medical degree from Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia and served in the Army Medical Services during World War I.  He practiced as a physician for a time in both Niagara Falls and Erie, Pennsylvania.  He was a member of the Niagara Players and portrayed interesting and psychologically complex personalities for productions at the Capitol Theatre.  In December of 1917, he was elected Worshipful Master of Niagara Frontier Lodge, No. 132, F. & A. M. Like his father, he had obtained high and mystical ranking as a devoted member of the local chapter of the Free Masons.  During the 1920’s he worked as the manager of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, located in an office building on Falls Street, and frequently gave talks on various insurance related matters.   

By the 1930’s, however, Dr. Hardwicke had become a full fledged Spiritualist.  He had written at least one book, Voices From Beyond, which was published in 1930 by the Harkell Co., in Niagara Falls, and had travelled extensively on the lecturing circuit. 

 

 

His subjects included things such as “The Lure of Adventure to the Fourth Dimensional Realms,” use of the camera in psychic research, the direct voice, levitation and cross correspondence.  He believed he was sensitive to a disembodied spirit named Walter—a very popular spirit at the time as he was known to show up at Mina Crandon’s séances, too.   Walter, the ghostly guide, was supposedly Walter Stinson, a young man who died at Onset Station after being crushed on board the railroad cars near Boston on August 6, 1911. He was also Mina Stinson’s brother.

 

 Walter Stinson died shortly after this photograph was taken

 

 Walter’s horrific death cited on his death certificate, 1911

The spirit of Walter was the driving force behind several very famous experiments which took place concurrently between groups of Spiritualists in both Boston (at 10 Lyme Street—the home of Dr. Le Roy and Mina Crandon) and in Niagara Falls (the home of Dr. Henry and Katherine Hardwicke). 

An experiment in cross-correspondence between Dr. H.S.W. Hardwicke, …Fifty-seventh Street, well known Niagara Falls medium, and Margery, the Boston medium, was reported by Dr. L.R.G. Crandon, husband of Margery, at the meeting of the New York section of the American Society for Psychical Research in Boston.  Dr. Crandon reported that séances had been held simultaneously by Dr. Hardwicke in Niagara Falls and Margery in Boston and that an identical thumbprint was made in wax at both places almost simultaneously by Walter, the spirit control of Margery…

 

One of the “messages” from the séance at Niagara Falls to the Crandon’s in Boston

Other events involving Walter took place at Dr. Hardwicke’s home, as well.  Dr. Crandon had been visiting and as they were sitting in chairs about the room they suddenly heard Walter’s voice….”Hello, Henry! Think I’m dead, do you?”  In no time, Dr. Hardwicke fell fast asleep and his wife, Kate, began to talk to Walter about such things as ectoplasm.  It was said that Walter took ectoplasm from Dr. Hardwicke’s slumbering body and created a bird, a small sparrow hawk, which was at the top of the piano and then after swooping through the room, finally landed on Kate’s right ankle, where it proceeded to claw through her silk stockings and draw blood. 

The stories that came from Dr. Hardwicke’s home bordered on the absurd. A gargantuan Victorian, with turrets that twisted and turned into the sky, the beautiful Fifty-Seventh Street home became the center point of activity in the city of Niagara Falls. Not too far from the banks of the Niagara River and the original landmark of an ancient fortress, Dr. Hardwicke and his wife made their abode into an assembly hall for those who sought an entrance into another world.  Séance circles were held regularly and experiments were constantly in the works to prove that there is no death.  It is possible that Dr. Hardwicke stopped practicing as a physician quite early on in order to have more time for the paranormal stage he had set up within his own home. 

During the 1920’s, magic and daredevil routines were steadily becoming America’s most favorite form of entertainment.  Even Annie Edson Taylor, Niagara’s favorite daredevil and the first woman to survive the trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel, spent the last days of her life as “a medium,” telling people’s fortunes from her apartment on Thomas Street.  Harry Houdini, the famed magician and escape artist revealed that he was making over $200,000 a year for his strange work.  He had been to Niagara on several occasions.  Around 1896, he appeared at the old Lyceum Theater on Main Street where he performed his straight jacket and manacle routine to a packed house.  By 1921, the temperamental magician came to Niagara, yet again, to film a movie for the Houdini Picture Corporation.  People had hoped he would perform amazing and daring stunts at Niagara.  Instead, from the Prospect House Hotel, he told reporters that he had been warned by the police that he would be promptly arrested if he attempted any such thing.  He admitted that he was not in Niagara to “flirt with the Fates.” By 1923, Houdini’s moving picture, “The Man From Beyond,” was showing at the Bellevue Theatre in Niagara Falls.  In the movie, Houdini’s character re-emerges from a block of ice and falls in love with his girlfriends’ descendant.  In the most famous scene, filmed during his stay at Niagara Falls, he swims perilously close to the brink of the falls as he saves the heroine, Nita Naldi, from certain death.  And it was noted that he had, indeed, swum perilously close to the brink of the falls while making this movie.  Obviously, what he had said to the reporters at the Prospect House in 1921 had been only partly true.   

 

Houdini

As popular as Houdini was, it was no secret that Dr. Hardwicke had nothing but contempt for him.  Greatly interested in Spiritualism following the death of his beloved mother, Houdini’s later years were spent furiously debunking fraudulent mediums.  He traveled the globe uncovering wicked schemes, yet in the end there was no one who haunted him quite so much as the lovely Mina Crandon.  Beautiful, intelligent, Mina would greet her visitors in a flimsy nightgown and silk stockings…attire which left very little to the imagination and bewitched many of the men.  She made no financial gain from her gatherings.  She was an enigma to many, especially Houdini, and quite possibly to Dr. Hardwicke, as well.  She was pursued on every level; by men, women by Spiritualists, by fans and by enemies alike.   

 “You want to know what it feels like to be a witch?  You know that’s what they would have called me in Boston 150 years ago.  And they would have hauled me before the General Court and executed me for consorting with the devil but now they send committees of Professors from Harvard to study me.  That represents progress, doesn’t it?”

 

The story of “Margery” told by J. Malcolm Bird, one of the investigators

All attempts to debunk her had been countered successfully and she was often considered to be the most extraordinary medium in the world.   She had her supporters and they were the most influential names in the field.   Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the well known author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, became deeply involved in Spiritualism following the death of his son in World War I, and was one of her most enthusiastic proponents.  It was Conan Doyle who had recommended her to enter a $2,500 contest to prove psychic ability to the Scientific American and it was this action that introduced Mina to Houdini, one of the judges.  Houdini found himself completely stumped, though he believed her to be the slickest ruse he had ever encountered.  He stopped at nothing to prove she was a fraud though over and over again he was unable to prove it.   In 1924, he created a special “Anti-Medium’s” cabinet so as to infringe upon all of her body’s movements so that there would be no possible way for her to commit any sort of false moves.  Houdini, himself, held onto one of her hands while his assistant held her other.  Walter exclaimed suddenly that Houdini had meddled with the bell-box and upon investigation there was indeed an item inserted so as to make it difficult to have the bell ring (an exercise that Walter would accomplish during a sitting).  The next occasion involving Houdini and Mina involved Walter, again, communicating that Houdini had attempted once more to tamper with the investigation by placing a rule within the cabinet.  Houdini denied it yet he would have been the only one with access to the area.  Years later, Houdini’s assistant, Jimmy Collins, actually admitted to having been directed by his boss to secretly sabotage the investigation.  “I chucked it in the box myself.  The Boss told me to do it.  ‘E wanted to fix her good.”  Henry Hardwicke proclaimed his own pride in Mina’s continued success to a group of Niagara’s Spiritualists who met a few years later at the Unitarian Church for a lecture sponsored by the Survival League of America.  It was to his great satisfaction that Walter had contemptuously “showed up Houdini…”  

 

Diagram of the séance room at Lime Street

In the end, the investigators from Scientific American denied her the prize she had been seeking, mostly due to Houdini’s disagreements.  However, Houdini could never actually present proof that she was fraudulent.  Although, shortly after, he published an expose of the well known Boston medium, he “failed to satisfy those who were looking for final proof, which was, impossible to give because, logically, he couldn’t prove a negative—that spiritualism does not exist and that the dead do not survive…”    On February 11, 1925, Scientific American issued their final report which explained that “…we have observed phenomena the method of production of which we cannot in every case claim to have discovered.  But we have observed no phenomena of which we can assert that they could not have been produced by normal means…” 

 

Houdini died on October 31, 1926, Halloween, supposedly from complications of appendicitis.   Mina publicly revealed her sorrow at his passing and complimented the tenacity of his attacks upon her, although some ultimately feel she may have had something to do with his death.  A few years later, Conan Doyle also died.  Mina, who lost much of her credibility after it was found that the wax impressions were not of her brother, Walter’s, ghostly thumbprint, but of her dentist’s, continued to work at her mediumship, however from time to time found herself depressed and suicidal, at one occasion leaving a séance and hovering about her roof top where she threatened to jump.

Dr. Hardwicke continued with his work in the spiritual realm and took a job as an instructor at the newly conceived Galahad College in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1932, where he held most of the teaching duties under the infamous founder, William Dudley Pelley.  The purpose of the college was “to overcome a general breakdown in religious conviction; to inspire psychical research; to help combat the menacing crime wave; and to instill the principle of Christ in the American industrial sphere…” A Fascist, anti-Semite and supporter of Hitler, Pelley used his college as a means of publishing his treatises blending spirituality with right wing extremism.   Monte Hardwicke, Dr. Henry Hardwicke’s son, worked for Pelley, as well, as a printer. The college was short lived as it was in the midst of the Depression and Pelley was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and imprisoned until the 1950’s.  Things had not turned out as planned for the Hardwicke’s and on May 11, 1939, only 58 years of age, Dr. Henry Hardwicke was dead.   Strangely, Mina Crandon died not too long after, on November 1, 1941, All Saints Day, the day that western theology commemorates those who have obtained the beatific vision of heaven.

In the end, they took all of their secrets to their graves.

Interestingly enough, Dr. Hardwicke ends his little book with a scene at Fort Niagara where he wonders about the end of life. 

Why does not science, to which the way is now open,--science, that traces the life of the smallest insets through their various stages of existence, show man the answer to his most persistent question?

“After the grave---what?”

 

Last page of “Voices from Beyond” by Dr. Henry Hardwicke,
Niagara Falls, New York

 

Whatever the answer, so ends the story of Niagara’s, Dr. Henry Hardwicke.  Perhaps. 

 

 

Wednesday
Mar202013

When Things of the Spirit Come First, Part Four: The Organization of Spiritualist Churches in Niagara Falls

by Michelle Ann Kratts

By the dawn of the 20th century, Spiritualist churches were steadily organizing throughout the United States and especially within the city of Niagara Falls.  The National Spiritualist Association, founded in 1893 by Cora L.V. Scott, a medium and trance lecturer (as well as an abolitionist in earlier years) who lived in Buffalo for a time, was established in Niagara Falls as the First Spiritualist Association. 

  

Cora L. V. Scott 

 

 In January of 1903 the Niagara Falls Gazette advertised that a Spiritualist medium and adviser from Buffalo, “Mrs. Atcheson,” would be “at the home of Mrs. Onan, cor. Pine and 29th all day Wednesday, January 7th, for personal readings.” Proceeds would benefit the Spiritualist Association of Niagara Falls.  It went on to read that a Séance Circle would also be held that same evening at the Maccabees Hall, 2207 Main Street.  It is believed that this event may have represented the birth of the first officially organized Spiritual Church in Niagara Falls.   Previous to the inception of the First Spiritualist Church, most practiced privately within their homes and even following the creation of organized churches a great majority of Spiritualists preferred to practice in such a manner (particularly, the new immigrants who continued to read tea leaves and interpret dreams at their own kitchen tables).

Mrs. Ellen Onan, the hostess of the day-long event in 1903, had come to Niagara Falls “to take advantage of the job opportunities created by the expanding electrical industry following her husband’s death in 1900.” She was the mother of three young boys, as well as a nurse.  Descendants today are more than curious as to the true reasons for the young widow’s sudden move to Niagara Falls.  Family records reveal, among other tidbits, that she had at one time “taught school in Cuba, NY, which was not far from (her husband’s hometown of) Allegany.” It is just conjecture, but it is possible that it may have been at this point that Ellen became infused with Spiritualism for the founder of the National Spiritualist Association, Cora L.V. Scott, one of the most prominent and influential women in the Spiritualist movement, a woman who had revealed her craft as medium at the White House for President Lincoln, was born in Cuba.  This section of New York was aflutter with Spiritualism during this time period.   Lily Dale Assembly, established in 1879, was only about 50 miles away from where a 20 year old Ellen would have been teaching.  It is also possible that Ellen had become interested in Spiritualism as a comfort following the grief of the loss of loved ones.   She, herself, may have been witness to great human tragedy as a child, as well, for she had been born in 1858 in Richmond, Virginia, just a few short years before the onset of the Civil War.  For southerners, the Civil War had been a horror not too far from home. 

 

Ellen Morris Onan

 (Courtesy www.onanfamily.org)

 

Niagara Falls had clearly become an important location for the national Spiritualist community. In January, the New York State Spiritualist Association gathered at the Maccabees Hall for a “most important” meeting.  Vine H. Hickox, a pioneer of Niagara Falls, wrote several lengthy pieces that were published in the newspaper about Spiritualism, the spirit messages and concerning Mrs. Atcheson’s discourses.  Ella Atcheson, the wife of a Buffalo baker, was Niagara’s First Spiritualist Church’s founding minister. People came from quite the distance to hear her speak and to benefit from her mediumship.  Hickox often gave specific and emotional examples of her incredible work.  He wrote of the large crowds of desperate Niagarans longing to reconnect with their deceased loved ones.  He described the ideals of Spiritualism through Rev. Atcheson’s own words…”Spiritualism not only has opened the door between the mortal and the immortal…it has spread the truth…it is freeing the minds of men and women from doubt and error…

 

May 3, 1924 

 

Mr. Hickox, himself a follower of a form of Christian Spiritualism, wrote of the “whispers of dear departed friends…of mortals touched by their loved ones who are ministering angels…”  He explained the basic tenets of Spiritualism to the general public as follows:

Spiritualism asserts that the soul spirit is the real man;  the natural body is but the medium through which the soul of man interprets itself to its fellows….

His family believes that the loss of his own dear wife, while still quite young, may have been the catalyst for his fervent embracing of Spiritualism.  He also wrote in an article, dated February 6, 1907, “The Benefit of Spiritualism,” that his own father, Thomas B. Hickox, had been a “strong adherent to the Methodist Church, fond of reading the old family bible and having prayers in his home…”  However, his mother, Mercia Harrington Hickox, “did not have so much interest in those exercises, in fact she seemed to feel glad when the family prayers were over….”  He also went on to say that she “could read people seemingly in a Psychic way and prophesy.” 

On a sultry summer’s evening in July of 1907, less than a year before Mr. Hickox became one of the departed, a large audience attended a gathering at the Maccabees Hall in order to receive a message “from some loved one in the spirit land.”  He went on to add that “this phrase of mediumship is becoming very interesting to many in this city….they begin to realize the truth of the continuity of life, after the death of the mortal body.” On April 21, 1908, Vine H. Hickox entered the spirit land, himself. 

 

Vine H. Hickox

 

Other Spiritualist churches grew out of the First Spiritualist Church of Niagara Falls.  Some adhered to a more Christian sort of Spiritualism, whereas others focused on the more titillating aspects of mediumship.  The Progressive Spiritual Church of Truth began meeting at Whirlpool Street, at No. 933 Main Street opposite the Armory and eventually at the Unitarian Church at 639 Main Street.  The Spiritual Tabernacle met at the IOOF Hall on South Avenue, near Main Street.  The Trinity Spiritualist Church met at the corner of Ashland and Main Street and at 320 6th Street.  The Unity Spiritualist Church met at Silberberg’s Hall, between Main Street and Niagara Avenue.  The Center of Psychic Spiritualists met at the Hotel Niagara in Room A, and the White Rose Center of Free Psychic Truth which had been active throughout the 1940’s held their services in the basement of the Unitarian Church.  These churches opened their doors to people of all faiths and backgrounds.  All are welcome, was commonly added to the advertisements.  They offered lectures such as “Angel Ministrations,” ”The Force of Spirit,” and “Psychic Teaching for Adults and Children.”  Messages were given, as well as the reading of sealed ballots, clairvoyance, healing services, worship, psychic classes, unfoldment (meditation) classes and much more.  Message, or séance, circles were usually held afterwards or at various mediums’ homes.  Often prominent psychics and mediums came to Niagara Falls for ballot reading sessions. T. John Kelly, a noted Spiritualist medium associated with Lily Dale, came to the Spiritualist Tabernacle at the IOOF Temple, on South Avenue, near Main Street, Niagara Falls in 1932.    He was considered the “premier in this phase of psychic phenomenon” and his presence in Niagara Falls would “open the door (to) the spirit world, where… loved ones are anxiously waiting to communicate…

 

 

Tuesday
Mar122013

When Things of the Spirit Come First Part Three: Paving the Way

by Michelle Ann Kratts

With the advent of modern science, so came the need for the scientific explanation, or the cause and subsequent investigation of a paranormal event.  The scientists who first discovered the unseen worlds of radio waves and other new technologies began to find themselves wondering about other unseen worlds, as well, for their discoveries revealed that they had proven there are, indeed, invisible layers of existence.    Thus the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded in England in 1882. 

  

 

It was the first society formed for the purpose of investigating “that large body of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychical and "spiritualistic”, and to do so “in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned enquiry which has enabled Science to solve so many problems.” Its founders and members included an illustrious list of Cambridge and Oxford philosophers, physicists, chemists, psychologists, criminologists and physicians.  There were Nobel Prize winners, the founder of the League of Nations, and even a man who would one day become the prime minister of England.   Some of the more popular members included C.J. Jung, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Oliver Lodge, a pioneer of wireless technology and radio, who would ultimately forge a unique tie, himself, to Niagara Falls and Oakwood Cemetery (story forthcoming).  


  

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and a well-known Spiritualist

 Spiritualism seemed to have struck a chord within the heart of its strongest enemy—the scientist--and things would never be the same. It wouldn’t be long before one of the world’s most brilliant scientists made his mark upon Niagara and changed the way we live.  His name was Nikola Tesla and everyone who has been to Niagara Falls knows how great a man he was for his figure alone has been memorialized into a bronze statue at the State Park. 

Tesla was most unusual for in some strange way the spirit of Niagara seemed to reach across the world and into a little Croatian town, where as a precocious young boy, he had a dream that would change the course of history.  “I was fascinated by a description of Niagara Falls…and pictured in my imagination a big wheel run by the falls…” His obsessions with Niagara would one day electrify the world. In 1895, the first great hydroelectric power plant in the world was built with patents for generators for polyphase currents from Nikola Tesla, in Niagara Falls, New York.  The great power, the spirit of Niagara Falls, was harnessed to create electricity that could light up places near and far and the basic idea had been conceived from a boyhood dream. 

 

Nikola Tesla

There are many other stories about Tesla’s peculiar character and his belief that Niagara was indeed a power point of energy and communication with other realms of life forces.  In the early 1900’s Mr. Tesla was reportedly “preparing to hail Mars with Niagara’s voice.” Niagara’s power companies would cooperate by projecting an 800 million horse power message over the 100 million mile gulf between the earth and Mars. It is believed that as he, indeed, received responses to these communications, they were the sound waves emitted from a distant planet though not actually an intelligent communication.  But who knows for sure?

 

 

November 19, 1907, Niagara Falls Gazette

While Niagara was paving the world with light and energy, simultaneously the most massive movement of people to the Niagara area was taking place.   Thousands of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and from lands as far off as Lebanon, Turkey and Armenia flooded every entrance into Niagara Falls.  The author William Feder wrote in his landmark work that “Niagara Falls became known for having the highest percentage of immigrants of any city in New York State outside of New York City.” Many of these immigrants brought alongside their suitcases a bit of the darkness, the shadows, from an old and ancient world.  They brought their own intense spiritual folklore and superstitions; stories that became forever enmeshed into the history of Niagara.  The southern Italians in Niagara Falls brought their ghosts, their fortune tellers and their great fear of "mal occhio" or the Evil Eye.  They consulted one another about dream visions, premonitions and demonic possessions.  Roman Catholic priests conducted “exorcisms.”  And there were those “special women” that I had marveled at; those who had magical powers.  Born on Christmas Eve, they were said to have “special gifts.”  Girls could also learn how to become “witches” on Christmas Eve—but they could only be taught the craft by another Italian woman who had been taught the craft, herself, on Christmas Eve. 

 

 

As a young girl, I sat wide-eyed, when a dear family friend told me the story, many times over, of a well known priest who was found to have horns like the devil hidden within his curls.  My friend had been a student at a local Roman Catholic school many years ago and said she had walked into the church at an unusual hour to pray and instead she walked into what seemed to be a satanic ritual.  The altar was red with blood and crosses inverted.  The statue of the Blessed Mother was in a disturbing position.  Only the school children had known the truth, that the priest, himself was possessed.  Was it a story she made up?  I have never heard anything like it.  There were other stories my great grandmother and aunts had remembered from Italy; stories of strange and non-human births, of curses and rituals.  And one must always wear a crucifix in a cemetery so as to not open yourself to wanton and restless spirits looking for an entryway. 

The Armenians, who had faced intolerable death and misery before coming to America, had similar traditions.  They often wore blue beads to protect against the “Evil Eye,” and had various spell and curse breaking phrases such as “God be with you,” or “Mashalah.”  The Armenians were also proficient at reading the tea leaves at the bottom of their Turkish coffee.  For them, the loss had been so recent and so great that perhaps the space between living and dead was ever smaller.  Many of the other immigrant groups who made Niagara their home had similar superstitions and it was not too far of a stretch for them to comprehend the basic ideas of Spiritualism, for their own indigenous cultures had cultivated similar beliefs for hundreds of years. 

 

Thursday
Mar072013

When Things of the Spirit Come First Part Two: Niagara’s Fascination with Death

by Michelle Ann Kratts

 

 

By the 1850’s and 1860’s, well known psychics, such as Emma Hardinge Britten, were coming to Niagara. 

By spirit direction we visited Niagara Falls and Rochester, at both these places our spirit friends made important declarations.”

In 1850, the Spiritual Philosopher pondered the idea of the “fascination with a sense of danger.”  “Persons may be fascinated with beauty, music, gold or the love of money; and also by the sense of dangers.” It went on to tell of a young lady, who had been so “fascinated” looking over the precipice at Niagara Falls that she lost her self control and was “dashed to pieces on the rocks below.” Persons in this state should be “Pathetized, and thus the spell may be broken…”  And over the years this “fascination” continued to ignite many desperate souls.  We find the same story in our papers, over and over again.  Different names, different walks of life, but the same sentiment of death.

 

  “Over the FallsNiagara Falls has another victim.  Nina W. Phillips, employed in the city of that name as a domestic, fascinated by the rushing waters, jumped from the Goat Island bridge on Tuesday and was carried over the cataract.”

An event in December of 1855 brought the Spiritualism debate to the forefront in Niagara Falls.  A popular lecture series held at the Odd Fellows Hall included a Spiritualist speaker “and the subject was handled without gloves.”  The debate grew to such proportions that another series of lectures was held just about a month later “against Modern Spiritualism” at the Clarendon Hotel.  Professor Grimes, the “father of the humbug,” discussed “the rise and progress of Spiritualism,” and went onto other topics such as “how mediums are made” and “how the so-called spiritual manifestations were produced.” Interestingly, the editors at the Niagara Falls Gazette did not seem to completely approve of Dr. Grimes’ rebuttal of the Spiritualists.  “Professor Grimes has only partially explained the humbug…it only proves that the day may not be far…when science will dispel any other clouds which may now apparently surround the subject.”  Ironically, it would not be too far into the future when science, itself, would begin to tap into a whole new set of inquiries and when the scientists, themselves, would become the leaders of the Spiritualist movement. 

Perhaps the Civil War had one of the greatest effects upon the Spiritual history of Niagara Falls.  It was the largest mass loss of life that the United States had ever experienced and Niagara was not immune.  Many of her sons were lost on the battlefield.  Spiritualism filled the void for some as it proclaimed that death was not the end; there is survival for man.  Even Mary Todd Lincoln, the president’s wife, and a frequent visitor who spent much time at the Cataract House in Niagara Falls, was known to have held séances at the White House. 

 

 Mary Todd Lincoln also had a liking for Spirit Photography

It had finally become mainstream and fashionable to contact the dead.  The Victorian era also brought forth a romantification of death.   A front page obituary from the Daily Gazette reveals more of a ghost story than a death notice as it describes a striking graveside incident. It was written that, as the minister began to read the passage “… “I heard a voice from Heaven,” a roll of thunder from the gathering clouds hushed his voice and added an impressive solemnity to the occasion, which was the more notable as it was the only time the clouds gave forth their voice.” It was during this time that Lily Dale Assembly, the world’s largest and most popular Spiritualist community, was founded in the Town of Pomfret, just a short distance from Niagara Falls. 

                              

By the summer of 1866, people were beginning to see the world through different eyes.   It seemed that maybe, yes, some things could be possible….In July of 1866, a most strange and event occurred in the yards of the Central Railroad, near the Suspension Bridge, which caused much excitement and certainly piqued the wild imagination of Niagara’s residents.  Newspapers across the nation became interested in the reports that 60-70 sheep had been found killed, in most unusual circumstances over a few days time near Niagara Falls.  Even as these animals commonly roamed freely throughout the village an occurrence such as this was most startling for the fact that “the sheep were merely bitten in the neck and the blood sucked from the carcass.” No other damage had been done to their bodies.  A posse was formed and men with torches were sent out to search for the guilty varmints.  Outwardly, it was supposed that a wolf had been the culprit, although it had been believed that the last remnants of wolves had been eradicated years before.    The reporting of the incident clearly implied that a supernatural event may have taken place.  The general public, at the time, was well aware of vampires and their proclivities.  Even as Bram Stoker’s, Dracula, had yet to be written, the short story, “The Vampyre”, conceived by John Polidori, Lord Byron’s physician, in 1819, was popular literature throughout  the United States.  As Spiritualism grew, many Niagarans seemed to reach into their imaginations for explanations of the unknown.  In December of 1880, the Niagara Falls Gazette, under a column titled “Neighboring Counties,” noted that “…a real life vampire, measuring 18 inches from tip to tip, was captured at Silver Creek, Chautauqua County, the other day…”  (It may be interesting to note that although vampire bats feed off of slumbering animals such as sheep and goats, they are native to Mexico, Central America, South America and two Caribbean islands and “contrary to what people may think, do not occur in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.)” Whatever the reason for the mutilation of the sheep, it was perceived to be an unusual happening.



 

Another shocking story appeared several years later when the Niagara Gazette reported in bold headlines…”MAID OF THE MIST CREW SAW GHOSTS.” 

 

 

Sailors from the famous steamboat company had become “greatly concerned” as each evening they were witness to a most unusual scene involving “weird lights” around the eddies of the river near the Canadian wharfs.   The sailors began to believe it “must be the ghosts of the drowned haunting the scene of their dissolution.” After Captain R.F. Carter, commander of the boat, saw the weird lights and was, himself, puzzled, he decided to investigate. 

                                                                  

Captain R. F. Carter

 

He came up with an extremely complex explanation involving a wooden tub filled with phosphorescent paint in which drift wood would come into contact with and coincidentally catch fire if the driftwood would happen to toss upon another object, float around, dry in the sun, and break open.  It is likely that the sailors stuck with their original theory of ghosts—as it, quite frankly, made more sense.  (It may be interesting to note that a news article printed alongside the above “MAID OF THE MIST CREW SAW GHOSTS” contained a report stating that the very same day, July 11th, the crew of the Maid of the Mist secured “a most ghastly object” from the shore of Lake Ontario…a human leg that had been torn from the body at the hip, still wearing a stocking and shoe.)   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday
Mar012013

When Things of the Spirit Come First Part One: In the Beginning

by Michelle A. Kratts

Many of the residents of Oakwood Cemetery were deeply connected in some way to the history of Spiritualism in Niagara Falls. In fact some of the great leaders of Spiritualism believed that Niagara Falls, itself, was the source of the Spiritualist movement.  At a celebration of the Jubilee of Spiritualism in 1898, Carrie E. S. Twing, a spiritualist author, said: 

Some years ago the great Niagara caused those living within sound of the roar of its waters to awake, not because of its noise, but because of its silence…

These next few installments will tell you the most unusual story of Spiritualism in Niagara Falls and about the “silence” that awakened another world to life. 

          

Some believe there is no death, only rebirth, and there are places where there is a communion between these two worlds.  Niagara is said to be one of these locations, for there is a phenomenon here that is peculiar to all places of intense beauty. Peter A. Porter said it was the presence of Deity, or Spirit.  Others find Niagara a “power point” of energy.   Amy Koban, a practicing Spiritualist from Niagara Falls, describes falling water as a natural root cause for paranormal activity.    Regardless of our combinations of language, it seems undeniable that the veil between the living and the dead is very thin here.  This strange duality of forces—at once divinely beautiful, yet at the same time terrifyingly violent and the embodiment of our greatest fears—has intrigued people for centuries.  There is a hypnotic effect that Niagara stamps upon the soul.  Some have to tear away from the brink as they feel themselves becoming helpless to their urges.  It was inevitable that Niagara would become a haven for the poet, the artist and the mystic.  They were the “Sky Holders”, the Medicine Men, the translators of the Divine. 

Ever since the very beginning when Father Louis Hennepin, a Recollect missionary who had accompanied LaSalle on the expedition of 1678, wrote the first lengthy account of the falls—“that dreadful gulf (where) one is seized with horror,” people have understood there would be  hazards associated with a trip to Niagara.  However, it was not only the cataract itself that presented horrific dangers.  Early travelers’ accounts describe a rugged and ancient wilderness where Nature and her beasts ruled supreme.  There were wolves that roamed in packs of 20 or 30 at a time and “were so fierce as to attack men in the middle of the day.” In the summer months it was said that one may “meet with rattlesnakes at every step and Musquitoes swarm so thickly in the air…that you might cut them with a knife… A Herefordshire man and guide told one traveler that the rattlesnakes were of such an enormous girth that he had once killed one containing twenty four rattles.  It was truly a nightmarish landscape. 

  

And yet, there were also rainbows that spread across the daytime skies in Biblical proportions and moon visions that glimmered through the mist.  At one time, rainbows were present each morning from ten until noon.  John Quincy Adams remarked that “it takes away all language as well as thought, and in this raptured condition one is almost capable of prophesying—standing as it were in a trance, unable to speak.” The moon was a bedtime story, in itself, as it hovered wonderful and curious, above the Niagara River.  One hot summer evening in 1787, an English captain who had been visiting Fort Schlosser and the Stedman’s, stopped before the gates of the Fort upon noticing the moon.  He had never in his travels seen such a sight as the magic that seemed to unfold around the setting moon over Niagara.  It appeared “to rise to a very uncommon height in likeness to a very dark column.” He had witnessed a moon bow, or a lunar bow, a rare phenomenon produced when light reflects off the surface of the moon and shines upon the mist created by the water falls.  They are unlikely to occur today because there is less water and therefore less mist due to the diversion of water for electrical purposes and because of the many city lights that crowd up the night sky.  At one time, the Maid of the Mist would make moonlight trips for the sole purpose of allowing travelers the opportunity to view the lunar bows.  It is not hard to understand how Niagara's unusual and remarkable landscape captivated the early travelers.  

  

Print by Godfrey N. Frankenstein. From "Niagara," in Harper's New Monthly Magazine. August, 1853. 

One special visitor, who will forever be connected with Niagara’s mystical past, was Francis Abbott, the Hermit of Niagara.  Tall and handsome, wearing a loose gown or cloak of chocolate brown, he was first seen passing through Niagara Falls on the afternoon of June 18, 1829.  His singular appearance caught the eye of all who had looked upon him.  Carrying only a roll of blankets, a flute, a portfolio, a large book and a small stick, he walked into the hotel and asked the landlady the usual questions about the falls and then about where he might find a library.  Immediately, he found his way to the library where he proceeded to borrow some music books and purchase a violin.  The librarian was informed that his name was Francis Abbott…and the rest is local folklore and history.  Increasingly, he became completely and utterly bewitched by the falls.  He found his way to the library often and each time he spoke with the librarian he informed him that he would be staying a little longer than he had originally planned.  Eventually, as time wore on and he remained, he built himself a rustic hut upon Goat Island.  He revealed that it was his plan to live as a solitary hermit.  The proprietor of the island allowed him to stay at the only dwelling then on the island where a family lived.  He ate very little and lived the life of an ascetic monk.  He lived such as this for about 20 months and would often be seen with his guitar, supported with a silken sash, walking the banks of the whirlpool.  His music was strange to the ears of those who listened.  They came from their homes and he would just as soon walk away. 

Eventually, as time went on, he built a cottage of his own near the high bank of the river—in full view of the falls.  He lived here about 2 months with only his pet dog.  Much of his time was spent in quiet solitude and meditation.  Many grew accustomed to his peculiarities—how he loved to bathe in the cascades between Goat Island and the Three Sisters Islands, even in the coldest weather, and how he made a daily practice of walking over a piece of timber that extended over the Terrapin Rocks and 12-15 feet over the precipice of the falls—sometimes hanging over the chasm by his hands and feet for 15 minute intervals.  He was known to write quite often, mostly in Latin, but destroyed his works just as fast as he created them. 

  

Francis Abbott disappeared on June 10, 1831.  The last anyone saw of him was the ferryman at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Only his clothes were found on the rocks.  On June 21, his body was identified at Fort Niagara.  The next day he was interred in the burial ground at Niagara Falls.  He was eventually removed to Oakwood Cemetery and his gravesite remains one of the most popular sites.    Following his death, the following inscription was found chiseled upon a rock on Luna Island and believed to have been written by Abbott, himself: All is Change, Eternal Progress, No Death.  He was about 28 years of age at the time of his death and a most spectacular curiosity and precursor to the spiritual history of Niagara Falls.

 

Grave of Francis Abbott in Oakwood Cemetery  

 

Another most singular individual who found his way to Niagara was Godfrey N. Frankenstein.    Born in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, in 1820, he would become “the painter of Niagara Falls.”  It was said that as a child he was so strange as to gleefully await the slaughter of the pigs on his father’s farm so that he might “collect a quantity of blood for paint.” And just as Francis Abbott had been enamored of Niagara, young Frankenstein found himself “so charmed with their grandeur and beauty” that he spent much of his life in Niagara Falls and painting the scenery.  He developed a growing fascination, or “almost an obsession with Niagara Falls.  He “made the study of the great cataract a labor of love.” He summered and wintered by it; painted it by day and by night; capturing every angle and each nuance.  He was well known even to paint as “the grey rocks wore an icy robe and the spray congealed into icicles upon his stiffened garments.” Although he painted over one hundred easel paintings of the falls, he is most well known for his panorama, “Niagara.”  “Niagara” was painted upon a strip of canvas that was over 1,000 feet long and nine feet high.  It rolled from one wooden spindle to the next, with the assistance of Frankenstein’s siblings who had helped to arrange the panels systematically.  It was first exhibited in the old City Hall in Springfield, Ohio, before touring much of the country.  Some historians believe that Frankenstein’s panorama of Niagara was the very first inception of a motion picture.  The panorama was unique as it provided a sort of “cinematic” effect as its size and portrayals made viewers feel as if they were swallowed up into the giant cataract, themselves.  There was music and drama to accompany its viewing. It grew to intense popularity. “Owing to the increased desire to see this remarkable work of art and to enable ladies and children to see it, Frankenstein’s Moving Panorama of Niagara will hereafter be exhibited both morning and night…admission 50 cents.”

Print by Godfrey N. Frankenstein. From "Niagara," in Harper's New Monthly Magazine. August, 1853.

Frankenstein had also included inserts of terror, such as the collapse of the Table Rock and a boatman’s fatal plunge—which horrified, as well as entertained, the viewers.  Commentators were well aware of the strong theme of death which prevailed throughout much of Frankenstein’s work on Niagara.  “The spectre of death seemed implicated in the medium’s own mode of representation; like a cadaver…the canvas resembles a living being…and yet there is a paradox in the close resemblance to death…”

Truly, a panorama such as “Niagara” was a giant among works of art and Niagara was the perfect subject.  The artist at Niagara had become not unlike the “Sky Holder,” or interpreter of the divine.

I have also personally experienced the translation of Niagara’s beauty into art a few years ago when Thomas Asklar, a renowned artist of today’s Niagara, a modern day “Sky Holder,” spent a great deal of time unloading his massive renderings of the cataract into the community room at the Lewiston Public Library for a display.  Some pieces were so large they could only be propped against the wall.  When everyone had gone and I was left to myself, I sat in a room filled from the floor to the ceiling with Niagara and I had the unmistakable feeling rush through me—it was as if I were really there and I could almost hear the water and then that familiar fear and trepidation took my breath away. 

 

 

Western Front, by Thomas Paul Asklar

 

 

Whispering Wind, by Thomas Paul Asklar

 

Frankenstein died from a cold on February 24, 1873.  He is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.  Unfortunately the behemoth panorama, “Niagara,” is also gone.  It is believed that he had stored it in Black’s Opera House in Springfield which burned to the ground in 1903.  “Whatever its merit, it no doubt long ago passed into the limbo of the forgotten.”

 

Print by Godfrey N. Frankenstein. From "Niagara," in Harper's New Monthly Magazine. August, 1853.

The mid 19th century swept through western New York with a frenzy that had never been seen before.  There were new emotions arising as the dust settled from the late wars and as a new nation sought to create a persona.  The Frankenstein panorama was noted as being a true representation of our nationhood.  It portrayed the indomitable and reckless spirit—the passion and pathos of the American-- in its panels of Niagara Falls.  There was an incessant longing in the American for an understanding of this strange new position, an identity, among the nations of the world.  Much of western New York was still frontier and spiritual needs were often left unanswered as clergy were scarce.  Folk movements grew at an alarming pace.  The grounds were fertile for an awakening.  Niagara was a part of what became known as the “Burned Over District.”  This term referred to the section of the country where new religions were founded and it was tied in closely with other movements such as the Women’s Rights Movement and Abolitionism. It was not too far from Niagara, in Palmyra, New York, where Joseph Smith was said to have been visited by the angel, Moroni, and the Latter Day Saint religion was born.  The Millerites, the Shakers and various Utopian experiments were coming to life and gaining a stronghold in this region.  Most importantly, on March 31, 1848, the modern Spiritualist movement was born when the Fox sisters in Hydesville, New York, began communicating with “Mr. Splitfoot,” the spirit of a peddler who had been murdered and buried under their home.  Perhaps it was merely a coincidence that the day before the event in Hydesville, on March 30, 1848, the great Falls at Niagara were silenced because of a natural phenomenon that sent many panicking that the end of the world was coming.  An ice jam had temporarily cut the flow of the water.  Eventually a crack formed and the water was flowing again, but not before hundreds of fascinated people ventured out in the riverbed.

 

The Fox Sisters of Hydesville, New York

And Niagara did fascinate.  Here, the space between heaven and earth was quite visibly smaller.  Niagara was a symbol for the fugitive slave of the great power of the promise of freedom.   Thousands made their way to this border-land with Canada and found new life just a stone’s throw across the water.  However, it was also a point of energetic conflict as Niagara was the location at which bounty hunters sought their rewards. There were local men and women within the community who assisted in the Underground Railroad, and there were those who profited from assisting the bounty hunters.  It was no secret that the Abolitionist movement was deeply embedded in Spiritualism.  Prominent leaders such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Lloyd Garrison and Thomas Garrett were professed Spiritualists.  Many fugitives were brought to freedom through Niagara by Harriet Tubman, an intensely spiritual woman, herself.  She was known to have been led by dream visions, to have spoken to God, Himself.  Many knew her to be a “firm believer in spiritual manifestations.” In fact, her biographer, Sarah Bradford, had a difficult time portraying her character as she tried desperately to limit revealing her strange behaviors and beliefs for she was certain that its mere mention could possibly discredit her. 

 

Look for Part 2 of “When Things of the Spirit Come First”…Learn about the famous psychics who found Niagara Falls “fascinating,” debates over the survival of man held in local establishments, a most unusual occurrence in the yards of the Central Railroad near the Suspension Bridge,  and ghosts on the Maid of the Mist….