Charles Foster – Part 04

Part Four

During the second séance is when the sitters, in turn, both felt what apparently was a hand thrust the paper from them towards the floor.  This could have been done by Foster’s half-bare foot or possibly a confederate having come up through a trap in the floor underneath the table.  Another factor to remember is that Foster repeated this spirit writing several times during each séance.  This would mean that he would have had to have multiple papers with names on them hidden nearby, ready for retrieval.  And if invisible ink was used, some way to keep track of the different papers.

In the last account by Symonds, the sitter confirmed the spirit signature was a facsimile of that of his dead friend.  Symonds mentions in passing that the sitter had a copy of the signature in his possession.   The not unusual practice for mediums of the time would be to have the sitter’s coats searched for information while they were in the next room attending the séance.  The paper containing the signature could have been found by Foster or an accomplice prior to sitting down and the paper thus prepared.

This spirit writing was before Foster had started doing his billet reading which he would later gain his most notoriety and generally discard the more typical spirit manifestations.

Melodeon theory

Since this séance took place in the Foster home on Turner Street, any number of methods could have been used to facilitate the more unusual manifestation of the melodeon playing by itself.

There were two basic types of melodeons in use during the 19th Century.  One was a larger, piano type instrument which you sat at and pumped with your feet to inflate a bellows inside.  The other was a handheld instrument, much like a modern accordion. It is not clear which type of melodeon Foster had used.

In the description Symonds writes, “We next moved a melodeon into the middle of the room.”  At first this could be taken literally, meaning it took more than one person to move a larger, piano like instrument.  However, it could just as easily be inferred that the group decided to move an accordion type instrument to the middle of the room.

He goes on to say, “…I then let [out] all the wind from the instrument and tried the keys, and they refused to answer…”  This would seem to be more akin to the accordion type instrument that D. D. Home used in his séances.  It doesn’t appear you could let the air out of a piano type melodeon as you needed to sit and continuously pump the pedals to produce the tones.

The  description of the melodeon playing at Foster’s séance would more readily fit an accordion style instrument, as it was designed to be able to  physically squeeze air out of it.  On the other hand, the melodeon was said to have been locked and the key retained which could imply a piano style instrument.

Which ever type of melodeon it was, it utilized reeds to create sound.  To make it appear to play without human aid, a number of methods could have been employed.  An extra reed with a rubber tube and bulb attached could have been concealed underneath the carpet.  At the appropriate time, the actual melodeon would then be moved directly over where the reed was hidden.  The bulb would be under the carpet positioned near Foster’s chair and when pressed on with his foot, would produce the tones.  Or a reed could have been concealed on Foster’s person, such as under his lapel, giving him easy access to it.  As the room was said to be well lit throughout the evening, perhaps the most simple explanation is that Foster had a small harmonica concealed in his mouth.

Misc. Manifestations – Hand, Book & Hat

How were the sitters touched on their persons?  Since the writer said he felt a tapping on him like a hand, the logical explanation is that it was Foster’s half-bare foot under the table. While he would seem out of reach with his hands, he would not be with his feet. A reaching rod could also have been used if the taps felt were above the table.

Next is the feeling of a hand under the table.  What was it that appeared to feel like a hand holding a book?  Foster had specifically directed the brother of Symonds to hold his hand under the table (i.e. not to hold Foster’s hand).  With his hand under the table, the brother said he felt another hand take hold of his, “and I felt something like a book in it.”

Let’s break down that statement.  The brother said he felt a hand take hold of his hand underneath the table.  Could this have possibly been Foster’s foot?  It’s hard to imagine that his toes could take hold of someone’s hand.  Then he said he felt something like a book in it.  How could a hand (or foot) at once take hold of his and also hold some object like a book

Symonds then told his brother to put his hand back under the table in hopes of grabbing the book.  At apparently the same time, Symonds took a light and looked under the table and discovered his brother’s hat.  Remember that the hat was placed on a chair in the corner of the room when they first entered.  Surely he could not have mistook a book-like object for his hat.

What had Foster in mind when he directed the brother to put his hand under the table?  Did he mean for him to discover his own hat on the floor?   It appears that Symonds took it upon himself to take a light and look under the table discovering his brother’s hat.  There is no further mention of a book or other object being seen or felt after that.  Could the brother feeling the hand/book have been some sort of misstep on Foster’s part?  Was that object used in moving the hat under the table?

Since Symonds said he needed a light to look under the table, it implies that this third séance was somewhat dark, at least under the table.  It’s therefore possible Foster could have used a reaching rod to slide the hat off the chair and drag it under the table unbeknownst to the sitters.

However, one explanation that would just about fit all the facts is one that sitters would probably never dream of being utilized.  That is having a trap door in the floor underneath the séance table.  Recall that this second séance took place in the Foster home.  Such a doctored room would greatly facilitate the extraordinary manifestations accomplished with a confederate.  A confederate coming up through the trap in the semi-dark room could account for the bell ringing, the melodeon playing and the hat being moved to under the table.

It’s not a stretch to think that what the brother felt under the table which felt like a hand with a book in it was, in fact, a confederate’s hand opening the trap door from below!  Since similar extraordinary manifestations were not recorded outside of Foster’s home, this is a plausible explanation.   And don’t be tempted to believe that mediums would not go to the trouble of cutting holes in their floors and walls.  As Spiritualism continued to grow over the next decades, this was to become a common dodge in duping sitters at séances.  No doubt it was well worth the trouble considering the reputation and consequently the money it could generate.

These physical manifestations were before Foster had invented his billet reading which he would later gain him the most notoriety.  He would never totally discard the more typical manifestations but he would concentrate on what was to become the mental side of Spiritualism.

ADDISON DAVIS

During this time there was a Dr. Addison Davis who was a dentist residing in Lynn, MA, about six miles south of Salem.  Two years earlier in 1855,  Dr. Davis had made the papers after having one of his patients die in his chair.  Mary Farley had gone to see Davis to have a tooth pulled and insisted, against the wishes of the doctor, to be given ether.  After she inhaled the ether, she exhibited no unusual symptoms until Dr. Davis attempted to open her mouth when he discovered that her jaw was fixed tightly shut.  He made every attempt to restore consciousness but was unsuccessful.  The coroner’s jury returned a verdict that death was caused by a previously unknown congestion of the lungs.  They expressed their approval of the precautionary procedure adopted by the doctor and exonerated him from all responsibility.

In addition to dentistry, Dr. Davis had a passionate avocation; that of  debunking Spiritualism.  He had acquired a reputation in Lynn for his violent denunciation of spiritualists and regarded all mediums as swindlers and all believers as fools.

CORA SCOTT-HATCH

In 1857, Davis had an encounter with a young spiritual medium, Cora L. V. Scott-Hatch (1840-1923).  At the age of 16, Cora Scott married the first of her four husbands, Benjamin Franklin Hatch, a professional mesmerist who was then 46 years old.  Hatch acted as her manager promoting her throughout the United States.  He carefully crafted her public image as a medium spending huge amounts of money on clothes for her public appearances.  This was justified by charging hefty fees for Cora’s appearances resulting in large profits for him and his young wife.

During her appearances Cora would go into a trance and answer questions on any topic provided from the audience.  The format of the evening was arranged in order to help convince skeptics that she could not have advance knowledge of the topics to be asked.  He would allow audiences to form their own committee who would then pose questions which Cora would have her channeled spirits address.  As a young girl who had had no formal education past the age of eleven, it was presumed she could not possibly be as well-informed as her examiners.

Her appearance in Lynn on the evening of November 17, 1857, was attended by not only Dr. Addison Davis but more than the usual number of skeptics.  The committee posed questions to the spirits through Cora about the Pythagorean theory and other mathematical related questions.   The seventeen year old medium did not fare well.  Afterwards, articles soon appeared in various Lynn newspapers noting the failure of Cora Hatch to come even remotely close to giving accurate answers.  Dr. Davis wrote his opinion of the medium:

“This is a final blow to Mrs. Hatch’s performances in Lynn. She has succeeded in all other places, simply because those whose duty it was to unmask her pretension, have allowed her to escape without a test; and emboldened by her uniform success, Dr. Hatch has gone so far as to challenge the world to discuss any question in philosophy, science, theology, or morals, with her, without any previous preparation on her part, while the opponent would be allowed any time he required for preparation. Let other places imitate the example set by Lynn, and the ‘stupendous delusion’ will soon loose [sic] its most successful advocate.”

DAVIS’ LECTURE IN LYNN

No doubt emboldened with his success in Lynn, Dr. Davis continued on his crusade against ignorance.  The following month in December 1857, it was advertised that Dr. Davis would give an talk at the Lyceum Hall in Salem denouncing spiritualism based on his own experiences.  It was said he would expose the methods of prominent mediums demonstrating it was all humbug and imposture.

A believer in spiritualism, N. O. Archer, who attended that talk wrote a letter about it to the Banner of Light dated December 19, 1857.  In this letter it states that Dr. Davis began by giving a history of spirit rappings.  He claimed it was invented by the Fox sisters as means of playing an April Fools joke on their parents.  After finishing the historical portion of his talk, he continued with his own experiences for the past seven years with different mediums, concluding with Cora Hatch.

Dr. Davis admitted that in the beginning of Spiritualism many credulous people were made believers all over the country.  But these mediums would never have been able to withstand the scrutiny of himself as had occurred in Lynn the previous month (with Cora Hatch).  He spoke for about an hour on how mediums deceive their sitters when some in the audience reminded him that he had professed to know the methods behind physical manifestations, and that they expected him to demonstrate some of the same.  He replied that he could readily duplicate any manifestation he personally witnessed.  However, as there were no mediums present who worked before a public audience, he declined making good on his claim.

The writer of this letter, Archer, requested Dr. Davis would do a trial at a future date with a medium they provided.  Davis said he would.  To avoid any misunderstanding the request was repeated at the end of the meeting and again he agreed to a test in the near future.

The next day Mr. Archer contacted Charles Foster, whom many spiritualists believed to be one of the best test mediums in the country, to meet with Dr. Davis.  The trial would be held in Salem on the earliest possible day convenient to all parties.  Depending on Davis’ wishes, it could either be public or private with the conditions arranged by a mutually agreed upon committee.

Once Foster had consented, Archer immediately wrote to Dr. Davis in Lynn proposing the test. Davis declined the test.  He claimed that as Foster was unknown to him he had made inquiries as to his reputation.  Davis claimed to have received assurances that it was better that he respectively decline meeting Foster.

Archer believing that there was no basis for this accusation, went over to Lynn with Foster and another gentleman, George W. Parsons, to ask what the doctor had meant by this imputation of the medium’s character.  When the party from Salem arrived and called on Dr. Davis at his office, they expressed their surprise at his refusal to give Foster a chance in what they considered a very important matter.

They reminded Davis that he had classified all mediums as charlatans, liars and cheats.  But notwithstanding, he had agreed not once but twice during his talk in Salem that he would meet any medium and duplicate their manifestations.  They continued that if he failed to meet Foster, the people of Salem would regard it as him backing out on his agreement.

Davis then changed tactics and said he could not afford to go to Salem (all of six miles away) for this purpose.  However, if Mr. Foster consented, he would first have preliminary séance with him and then a proper trial in Lynn.

The party immediately replied that if the doctor would meet Mr. Foster in Salem, that they would pay all his expenses.  They argued that as he had made his claim that all mediums are frauds to a Salem audience, it was only right he prove it directly to them.  They wanted him to live up to his assertion that he could duplicate all of Foster’s manifestations.  They concluded by saying that there was now no reason he could not make good on his claim and was honor bound to prove it.

Dr. Davis absolutely refused to accept the conditions and would not test Foster.   Without the benefit of any further explanation, the committee from Salem went back home.  They were completely satisfied that Davis, knowing he would fail, dared not attempt to prove his outrageous accusations.  All the trip did was to prove to their minds that it was Dr. Davis who was in fact, the “humbug.”