The Emergence of Spiritualism

Through the ages Spiritualism has been looked down upon as mere pseudoscience, scoffed at by critics, and altogether dismissed as fakery.  All the rage in Europe it did not come into vogue until 1848, not through the intervention of some great illusionist like Houdini but in a small house in Hydesville, New York.  The perpetrators of the great scheme called spiritualism were the Fox Sisters, Maggie (15) and Katie (12) who began simply enough by talking to the dead.  On March 31, 1848 father John, mother Margaret and the two girls, after many nights of thumping and rapping on the walls discovered that they could communicate with the dead.  We can assume that it was mere fancy that caused the girls to discover if they themselves clapped that the rapping answered back.  And soon enough they had discovered that by simply rapping for yes and no and by calling out the letters of the alphabet they began to talk with the dead.  It was soon discovered that the spirit causing all the raucous at night was a peddler who was murdered and supposedly buried under the floor of the Fox home.  Soon, upon inspection, some teeth and bones for found in the cellar and the daughter’s were soon on the road to being famous.

Their sister Leah noticing the great enterprise in what her sister’s could do began taking the girls on séances and performing their spirit communication all over the country.  Soon everyone would know who the Fox sisters were.  In time as Spiritualism faded into just another fad it and the girls were repeatedly touted as frauds and their act chicanery and soon fell into alcoholism.  Eventually, this took a toll on both sisters and they split up. Investigations into the Spiritualist phenomenon started turning up fraudulence and once again the finger pointed back toward the Fox sisters.  Was everything they did true or was it all an act?  In 1884 a commission into the validity of Spiritualism brought Maggie back into the light and upon repeated tests, that she failed, she admitted that what they did was a fraud.  By the simple cracking of their toes they were able to answer their own questions and thus make it appear as though some otherworldly force was doing it.  Proponents of Spiritualism never bought the denouncement and eventually Maggie recanted.  All of this was a little too late since now Spiritualism was tarnished.  If what they were doing was real why did she say it was all a fraud?  Was it all a simple trick that started a religion?

In 1904 the old Fox homestead revealed it’s sorted past when the body of a man was discovered behind a crumbling wall in the cellar.  With the facts never really being validated we can only guess what happened one evening in 1848 when two girls began to talk to the dead.

My Lily Dale Experience

I had made the appointment weeks previous and had waited with anticipation for the day to arrive.  It was funny that I had never been there before since I was so heavily into the stranger aspects of life.  Lily Dale, merely ten miles outside of Jamestown was a place that I had only heard stories of but had never been to before.  I really did not know what to expect from a place that touted so called psychic phenomenon twenty-four hours a day. A community of mediums of all kinds living in a quaint nook of Chautauqua County seemed preposterous.  Of course before I had gotten into the study of psychic phenomenon and the paranormal that was all I had heard from everyone.  They could not have been more wrong.

It was a very hot August day when I drove down Dale Drive wondering what I would find awaiting me.  The lake sat quietly to my left as we passed a few house here and there until the shade started to envelope the road before my car.  It was not menacing at all but very comforting like slipping into an old warm coat on a cold winter day.  An idyllic tree lined street leading to something I hoped would be just as idyllic.  When I pulled up to the gate it was very unassuming.  Nothing any different than a toll booth to a different world.  I paid our fee and received a booklet of the activities taking place that day.  The special events listed “Spirit Assistance”, “Thought Exchange”, and a ghost walk from 10:30-12:30am intrigued me.  However, I was there for a specific reason: to get my first reading.  I have to admit that my first reading was done as research for my site and book so I did not allow much information to get out when I made the appointment.  I wanted the slate to be clean.  I did let slip I was married so assumed that if my reading revolved around my wife that I may have to discount some of what the medium told me. Whatever was going to happen would happen so I found the house that I was supposed to be at and looked around for a little while to get my bearings.  Since we were early we decided to shop for a bit also.

We walked into the Crystal Cove, a shop dedicated to all things spiritualist.  Inside the store circled a center counter where every type of crystal, jewel, and healing stone could be seen under the glass.  Books on sprit communication and healing, and local stories could be seen.  All manner of Tarot decks sat in the back displayed in all of their glory.  This store sold everything that Lily Dale could do and could offer for sale.  It was a nice shop with the mystical quality that you would expect from the community.  It was about fifteen minutes before my appointment and we left the store and wandered outside.  I looked around and saw that the grounds were well kept and that in each small area of greenery there sat a bench or two overlooking the grounds.  It was a peaceful setting.  The houses lining the streets were not large by any means but comfortable.  They sat on small lots and looked well lived in.  Some may have sat there since 1880 when Lily Dale was first founded.  Now the community that once flourished has begun to show its age.  That was the charm of Lily Dale it was loved and cared for, it was lived in and beautiful.  It has sat for almost one hundred and thirty years and aside from a few modern conveniences has stayed as it began. And there it will stay for another century on the still shores of Cassadaga Lake.

The Reading

I sat patiently in the room; across from me sat the medium. There was no sound at all. It is hard to explain how I felt; it was a mixture of excitement and dread at what I would hear. I had heard the typical stories and seen the typical programs that said mediums were a fraud. That they played on your emotions grabbing onto anything they could from your reactions at what they said and what they observed of your person. Even the questions they asked were designed to find out what you were all about. I was not sure what was going to happen next. The medium sat in front of me quietly, motionless, breathing meditatively as if recharging their battery after the last reading. Eventually, the medium leaned over and grabbed a stone of some sort. I was not sure what it did. In my research I had come across ideas that certain stones or crystals produced certain effects on the holder. They could heighten awareness, hone concentration, or produce a link between individuals. For all I knew it was just another way to validate the experience. The medium began to speak to me, “What is it you are here for?” The first question was leading, there was no way to just say yes or no I had to answer with something more. I just said, “I don’t Know.”

I was hoping that would be sufficient enough to move forward. Sensing my reluctance to answer fully the medium just said that we would do a broad reading and then maybe we could get down to what I was there for. Maybe some deeper truth or question would present itself. And so I sat there answering a few question from time to time, not revealing any deep truths. More often than not the questions were on the mark and the things the medium said about me were accurate. My personality profile was perfect, though hard to imagine the medium would have known pretty much everything about me by just sitting there. The session then slipped into something like life counseling. I was told I should use common sense in everything I do, that I would come into some money in the future, that there was some sort of tropical landscape coming up, and that if there were any relationship issues it was worth working out. This was everything that the debunkers of mediumship had warned of. I thought that anything that was said could apply to anyone and that come six months or two years from now I could apply what was said and say I had heard that from the medium. Could this be the validation of mediums as frauds? These were not the things that I was told that I was fascinated with. Through all of that there were a few things I picked up on, a few all too specific points that I could not refute. Nothing on me would have informed the medium of them, nothing I said would have revealed to the medium something to latch on to and exploit. Two things specifically amazed me, 1) that I was to have a dentist appointment, and 2) that I was going to get an oil change on my car. Now when it comes down to it these should be regular six month to a year appointments that anyone would have. It may have been a lucky guess that I would immediately grab on to and believe. The thing is that it was Wednesday when I had the reading; Monday I had a dentist appointment that I had cancelled, and Friday I had an appointment for an oil change. Was this enough proof to say without a doubt the medium’s gifts were genuine? I waited six months to write this article because I wanted to see if anything I was told came true. I was told that in time I would only have one job not two; at this point in time I still work full time and write on the side. I was told that once I had that oil change it would lead to six months of financial ease. At the time of this writing it seems to be that I was at no time at ease about our financials. A sum of money was to come my way but other than regular paychecks I have seen nothing of substance. No vacation to tropical paradise is on the horizon, nothing has been coming easily to me, and I was supposed to be disgustingly healthy for six months but the two day flu I had sort of proved that false. The medium never guessed that I was there for pure research. I figured that my intentions would have been revealed as soon as I walked in the door. As I sit here six months later thinking back I still want to believe in it all. There were points where I thought anyone could have been sitting in my seat because it all applied to a general audience. Other times there were things that were said that were too specific for anyone else. Probably there will never be irrefutable proof that it is all real. As for me I am still going to believe that there are things on this earth that will probably always stay in the shadows. I anxiously await my next reading to see what I am told. I still hold out hope that it does not all have to come down to a draw.


John Murray Spear and “Harmonia”

Amidst our small community in the mid 1800’s there arose a community simply called “Harmonia” led by a man named John Murray Spear. John Murray Spear was a part of the great Spiritualist movement that was booming in that day. He was a Universalist Minister from Boston who began channeling the spirits of great men before him like Benjamin Franklin. In turn through these channelings he was told to create a great machine. A machine known as the “God Machine.” No one knows for sure what the machine accomplished in reality but over a nine month period he was told through channelings how to create it and piece it together. Some say that it was a perpetual motion machine, or even a way to communicate with God. Whatever it was it did not seem to accomplish what it was built for. Over time John Murray Spear heard of two magnetic springs on the New York-Pennsylvania border that boasted great healing powers among other things. Subsequently he moved his operation south to Kiantone, New York where he established “Harmonia.”

Harmonia became his “model” community with a modest beginning. Everything about the creation of Harmonia came from his spirit advisors who urged him to begin making radical changes in government and religion. These spirit advisors included Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and even Socrates. With him John Murray brought his “God Machine” hoping that the stronger magnetic properties would cause it to work as it should. Not much is known of the machine after that other than supposedly it was stored in a barn in Randolph until one day a group of locals broke in and demolished the “machine.” The community continued to thrive in the area until the operation was picked up and taken south toward New Orleans. Local members stayed to run the businesses that were created out of the movement. John Murray Spear then went to England where he became acquainted with great leaders of the Spiritualist movement including the Davenport brothers, of which Ira Davenport made it back to Chautauqua County and was buried in Mayville upon his death. In 1873 Spears returned to America where he published a brief account of his twenty years as a medium.

Still standing today in Kiantone is a stone building which marks the spot of the spring that brought John Murray Spear to our area. It was told that sometime in the past a spiritualist medium had ordered a cave to be dug where it was said that the remains of an ancient race of web-footed Indians would be found. Nothing was found but the story of Harmonia and the God Machine has left an indelible impression on our community.

Recommended Reading

The Remarkable Life of John Murray Spear