The sitters gathered around a heavy mahogany table with four legs. The first manifestation was rapping all over the table. The skeptic was astonished. From descriptions of other séances, he had been under the impression that when people heard spirits raps, it was only their imagination. Immediately following the rapping the heavy table raised a foot off the floor causing him to remark that, “he was satisfied it was raised by a power beyond anything ever before known to him.”
Being the focus of the sitting, the skeptic received a spirit communication through raps and writing. He asked “test questions” and received answers that entirely satisfied him. In addition he was given further “proof” of the presence of spirits by being touched on different parts of his body.
The writer of the letter states that no one can now convince his friend to the contrary. He is a firm believer in the spirit world and one of its most positive believers. The writer goes on to say that Foster has given perfect satisfaction to all who has had sittings with him. Another sitter received a communication from a spirit who was not only a former resident of Newburyport but also an orthodox believer in religion. The spirit message was, “The only hell he has found is a ‘lake overflowing with love of the spirit of the universe,’ and that the only punishment the Father inflicts upon His disobedient children, is to oblige them to remain in an undeveloped state, until they have progressed.”
The writer closed his letter saying how the Spiritualist community there were now leasing a hall every Sunday for their services. He says they are quite crowded much to the ire of the other clergymen in the area.
It is interesting to note how such a confirmed skeptic who had never previously attended a séance, could so immediately believe in the spirit world upon witnessing the standard manifestations offered by Foster. Also, Foster had not yet started doing his “Mental Mediumship” involving answering questions written on slips of paper, rather relying on purely physical manifestations. It was to be this work, later to be known as billet work, that Foster would become famous for.
Charles Foster by this time had now left for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, about 45 miles north of Salem. He requested that he be written to there for all those who wish to visit him. His plans were to then continue to Portland, Maine and then onto Montreal. The Banner of Light encouraged all those citizens to have séances with Foster citing him as, “an honest, reliable and excellent test medium.” His manifestations included table and musical instruments being raised up along with chairs moving across the floor.
It was during this time that other noted Spiritualists were in the news. Touring New England, the Davenport Brothers (or the Davenport Boys as they were refereed to at the time, still being teenagers) had just been ordered by the spirit of Sir Henry Morgan* to give all future exhibitions of spirit power in the light.
* Sir Henry Morgan (ca. 1635 –1688) was an Admiral of the Royal Navy, a privateer, a successful pirate and one of the most ruthless and notorious men of all time. He made a name for himself primarily by raiding Spanish settlements in the Caribbean. When the spirit of Admiral Morgan spoke, it was only natural that the Davenport Boys would listen.
The usual classified advertisements in the Banner of Light continued with Foster being a regular every week along with J. V. Mansfield who read sealed messages while still in their original envelopes.
It was in this same issue that an interesting classified ad appeared by a Mrs. W. R. Hayden of Boston advertising herself as a “Clairosympathic Medium.” She not only a Rapping, Writing and Test Medium, but also an “Imprinting Medium.” Her ad clarified this as being “letters written on the arm.” At this point there was not any mention of Charles Foster doing this kind of work and it is possible that she influenced him in adopting this manifestation in the near future. The following week Mrs. Hayden’s classified didn’t mention the imprinting of letters on the arm but rather referred the reader to her larger display ad in that same edition.
Newspapers throughout New England were devoting more and more space discussing the virtues and vices of Spiritualism. Foster got his share of coverage during this mini-tour he was currently on.
The editor of the Portsmouth Journal after being invited by Foster, attended a séance in the past week. He wrote that as he entered the rooms where Foster was staying, the séance was already in progress with six sitters. It seems the editor was there as an observer and reporter rather than a sitter.
He writes that every “spirit” that was called upon responded answering questions promptly with no errors that he was aware of being made in the name or date.
Two of the sitters asked if the spirits would write down their own name. In each instance a piece of white paper being held by Foster was carried to the floor by an unseen power. Each time the table rose approximately 6 – 8 inches off the floor apparently signaling that the writing had been completed. When the papers were picked up and examined they were found to not only have the spirit names written on them, but written in reverse! The editor noted, “Having never seen matter thus influenced by mind, it was an unaccountable novelty.”
Next he reports how he felt a heavy touch upon his hand and could see no visible explanation for it. A professed spirit (spoken through Foster) then said to him, “Are you not conscious of my presence when I touch you?” It is not known if the editor was a skeptic or believer going into the séance with Foster. However, at the end, he agrees with Foster saying that those who live gross lives or are intemperate have no hope of achieving spiritual communication. He concludes the article saying he is not prepared to liken the inspiration of the holy men of the Bible to the spiritual communication he witnessed but it in many respects bears a resemblance.
Also covering the séances there, the Newburyport Herald’s editor spent an hour with Foster. This time there were four persons present and all seemed determined to give it their full attention. (This was the same séance referred to earlier with the broken table being replaced prior to their sitting)
The sitters laid their hands upon the table and the usual raps were heard informing them that a communication was desired with one of them. A name was spelled out with the raps but no one recognized the name.*
Then after a moment of reflection one sitter realized it was the name of a particular friend of his father. This friend had often requested that he, the sitter, should be named after him. At this point the table apparently agreed with this identification. It began rocking back and forth in a violent manner, rising at least two feet off the floor despite everyone’s best efforts to restrain it.
The spirit then purportedly took hold of the particular sitter’s hands and tugged at his coat sleeve with considerable force. The spirit or influence then touched each sitter in turn and ended by pulling a chair out from one of them.
Then a new manifestation for Foster occurred. A violin was laid on the floor. The strings were heard to being plucked as if it were being tuned. Then the bow was manipulated by unseen hands. It is reported that the instrument came up into the lap of one of the sitters. A request was written out (through Foster) that the sitter should take the violin in his hand and the spirit would pull it away from him. This not only happened but with such force that it struck another one of the sitters.
The final manifestation of the evening involved having a card privately marked by one of the sitters. It was then thrown on the floor and picked up a moment later. On the card was now seen the name of one of the sitter’s mother written in a very fine hand.
The editor writes that the séance lasted two hours during which he saw enough to convince him that the manifestations were founded in the laws of the universe. He didn’t know whether they yielded any practical results but were worthy of investigation in pursuit of the truth.
*In the early days of Spiritualism raps were simply held to mean either yes or no, for example, one rap for no and two for yes. Soon patrons desired to know the names of the spirits along with specific messages and a more elaborate system of communicating was developed. The medium or sitter would start calling out the alphabet aloud.
When the correct letter was said, a rap would occur signifying the first letter in the spirit’s name. This procedure was repeated to get the second letter of the name desired, then the third, etc. It didn’t take long to discover that this was a lengthy and tedious process. Eventually an alphabet card was invented to speed up the proceeding. The card displayed all the letters of the alphabet and the sitter would now merely point to a letter and the name could now be obtained at a more rapid pace. The card could be used in either of two ways. One, by the patron pointing at the letters and hearing raps to identify whose spirit was present. Or the sitter could secretly want a communication with a particular spirit and the raps would come identifying the sitter’s thoughts. The alphabet card would prove to be an important tool in Charles Foster’s arsenal. It is not known if it was used in the séance referred to above or if the letters were merely called aloud.
The oldest newspaper in the country, The New Hampshire Gazette also wrote of Foster’s séances while he was in Portsmouth. Here is his account:
“We passed an hour, a few days ago, with Mr. Foster, the ‘Spirit Medium,’ and witnessed some things which not a little surprised us. Audible questions were answered by raps, with considerable accuracy, and mental ones not less so. Some of the phenomena could not by any possibility, have been produced by mechanical means. The phenomena, therefore, must either be as they purport, of a spiritual nature, or we must attribute them to a psychological influence.
We incline to the latter theory; the more readily, perhaps, because our sitting developed nothing more strange than we have before witnessed among clairvoyants. From the interest that attaches to this subject, and the success of Mr. Foster as a ‘medium,’ we do not wonder that his rooms are daily filled with a crowd of anxious seekers after ‘light.’ His visit to this city is soon to close.
When a ‘medium’ shall obtain correct answers to a series of questions, the answers to which are unknown to any person at the sitting, we will drop the psychological theory, and subscribe to the ‘spirits’ – if no rational alternative presents itself.”
For a while the Banner of Light had a column devoted to publishing communications from spirits through various mediums. One that was submitted was received through Charles Foster and purportedly came from the sprit of Mary E. Torry. It was for her husband who had asked her if she is happy in her spirit home. It is one of the rare, full transcriptions of a message from Charles Foster. viz.
“My dear one, you ask me if I am happy in my spirit home? I can answer, yes. I am very, very happy. Just imagine me reclining on a bed of roses, with the perfume of aromatic flowers around me, and listening to the carol of sweet singing birds, and it will give you a faint idea of the home I now inhabit.
I have been praying that the time might come when we could hold communion with each other. I can only thank the Father of the Universe that He bestowed upon me the boon I so much desired. Husband, think of me often, not as in the graveyard, but as an angelic being; I will hover around to comfort and bless you, so that your interior may be brought out, and you may become pure spirit. From your still loving wife, Mary E. Torry.”
Foster, in his personal life, was passionate about flowers and music. It is therefore not surprising that he would describe the angelic scene as such.
In a letter to the Banner of Light dated April 17, 1858 the writer, “Veritatis” [sic] again writes about his Spiritualist community in Newburyport. They have now formed a permanent society promoting their beliefs entitled, “The First Free Religious Society of Newburyport.” A former resident of the town, a Captain Charles Tyng who was then residing in Havana, Cuba who was well known by his neighbors as a distinguished citizen and merchant; being both reliable and intelligent. He had requested that if such a society was ever formed promoting Spiritualism, that he be allowed to be one of its supporters.
Captain Tyng writes that there are few spiritualists in Havana. In his opinion many of the people there are unable to let go of their prejudices and openly acknowledge the truth of Spiritualism. He felt he needed to do all in his power as a firm believer to assist in getting the message out. To that end he sent for Charles Foster to come to Havana paying all his expenses in hopes of enlightening his fellow townsmen. Foster, now 25 years old and a respected medium, consented to make the trip.