Charles Foster – Part 08

Part Eight

These two visions that Foster claimed to have are also common sense and extrapolation.  It seems likely that most bodies in the East River would be discovered within 10 days and be washed.  Also that they would have been eaten somewhat by the fishes is a natural assumption.  It would have been far more unusual for a body to float for a week or more and not  be at least partially consumed by the fishes.

The mother writes in her letter that these are the true circumstances of her son’s death and was recovered on the seventh day, also that he was disfigured.  And also that her other spirit daughter was indeed Caroline and did refer to her mother as “mother.”

She then mentions the New York Daily Tribune notice about the drowning of her son being on Wednesday evening, October 6th.  Assuming this to be true, then they found the boy seven days later on October 13th.   But this notice was placed before after the boy fell off the ship and before his body was found.  Mrs. Kerner says the notice appeared two days after her interview with Foster.  We don’t know if she was referring to the initial or the second sitting.  In either case it was in the Tribune at the end of that week in October; probably Saturday, October 9th or Monday, October 11th, 1858 as there was no Sunday edition of the paper published at that time.  I have looked through every page of that newspaper for the month of October and have yet been able to find that notice of the boy’s body being missing.

Mrs. Kerner wrote her letter to the Banner of Light on Wednesday, October 27th, 1858 praising Foster’s gift.  However, the dates of her visit to Foster and the appearance of the notice don’t quite match up.  Being no doubt, still very distraught, this is perfectly understandable.

In the Saturday, November 13th, 1858 edition of the Banner of Light, Mr. Munson is still advertising Foster, along with other mediums, is available for circles at his rooms.  His claims the mediums are the best in the country and are in attendance constantly.  The daytime circles (séances) are from 10:00am to 2:00pm and from 3:00pm to 5:00pm.  The evening circles were held from 7:30pm – 10:00pm and were limited to eight sitters with the fee being $1.00 per person.   On Thursday evenings the circles were opened to the public for an admission fee of fifty cents.

The next week in the Banner of Light we see the same classified advertisement for Munson’s rooms but also one by his wife, Mary.  She announces that she is devoting her entire time to the examination and treatment of all diseases through hair samples. The address given is on Staten Island but would also make house calls.  Her terms were $1.00 to $3.00 but on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons this charge was waived.

Among the classified ads in the Banner of Light there occasionally would appear one for Spiritualist boarding houses.  For example this one from December 4th, 1858:

“Boarding at Mr. Levy’s , 231 West 35th Street, where Spiritualists can live with comfort and economy, with people of their own sentiments.”

Spiritualism, then as now was never generally accepted among the populace and no doubt these boarding houses were a welcome relief for this new minority of believers.

By Christmas 1858,  Munson was advertising for additional “Good Test Mediums” with “undoubted qualifications” and “terms advantageous” for his rooms.  Foster was hired by Munson around September 11th, 1858 and stayed at least until December 18th.  It is not known why Foster left just before the holidays.

On Mar 13th, 1860, Robert D. Owen attended a Foster séance.  Owen was a spiritualist and would come to think of Foster as one of the very best test mediums he had ever known.  A woman he refers to as “Miss. P.” invited him and described her as, “A lady well and favorably known in the literary world.” (This might have been a noted poet of the day, Phoebe Cary.)  At this point she had never witnessed any spiritual phenomena and wanted to judge for herself.  She had never met Mr. Foster before that day.

Before the séance began, Owen mentioned to Foster that he had received an alleged communication from a stranger, who lived some distance from him, about someone who had passed away many years earlier.  However, Owen purposefully withheld from Foster the name and all other personal information about the spirit.  He told Foster only that he would be glad if, through his mediumship, a further test could be held.

With all the attendees seated, the séance began.  The room was brightly lit by two windows.  Foster devoted the entire first portion of the séance so Miss P.  Initially she was skeptical of the proceeding.  However, as the séance progressed, she became serious and then deeply feeling.  The test that Foster gave that day converted her to a spiritualist for life.

Foster then focused on Owen saying he saw the lady of a spirit standing beside him.  Foster suggested that it might be the same lady about whom Owen spoke of earlier, before the séance began.  Foster says he sees the spirit holding a basket of flowers.  He says, “Ah! that is peculiar; they are all violets.”

Owen inquired, “Does she communicate her name?”  After a pause, Foster said, “No but she has taken one of the flowers – a single violet – and laid it before you.  Has all this any meaning for you?” “Yes.”

“But we ought to get the name.  I usually do.” remarked the medium.

Foster then had Owen write down seven female baptismal names, including Violet, one beneath the other on a single piece of paper.  He cautioned him to be careful not to pause more at one than the other.   When this had been done Foster tore off each name and rolled them into individual pellets and threw them down in a pile on the center of the table.

Previous to this, there were already a pile of pellets in a pile in the center of the table – perhaps twelve to fourteen.  These Foster had made earlier and acknowledged to the sitters that some of them were blank.  With the seven pellets from Owen added to these, this brought the total number closer to twenty.

Foster instructed Owen to take all twenty or so pellets and hold them in his open hand under the table.  After a short time Foster addressed Owen.  He said, “The spirits desire to have your hat under the table.”  Foster took Owen’s hat and proceeded to place it on the floor under the table.

Foster immediately placed both his hands on top of the table and said, “Spirit, when you have selected the pellet, will you let us know by rapping?”  After about a minute passed and raps were heard.  The medium asked the spirit, “Shall I take up the hat?”  The spirit rapped, “No.”  Owen asked if he shall take the hat and the same answer came back, No.  Then Miss P asked if she should take the hat.  This time the spirit answered, “Yes.”

Just then, suddenly, the table made a somewhat violent movement and tilted up away from Miss P enabling her to take the hat from the floor without getting out of her seat. Inside the hat along with Owen’s gloves was one pellet.  She handed the pellet to Owen who was about to open it when Foster suddenly said, “Please do not open it yet.  Let me try if I can get the same name written under the table.”

With this, Foster took a small, thin piece of paper and a pencil in one hand.  He placed them beneath the table for approximately twelve to fifteen seconds.  When he brought them up again, Foster glanced at the paper and said that he believed there was a name now written upon it.  He handed the paper to Owen who while seeing a name written in pencil, he could not make out a single letter.

Foster suggested that he take the paper over to the window and hold it up against the glass pane and let the sunlight shine through.  Owen did so.  The paper was almost as thin as tracing paper and he could now clearly read the name, which was reversed and written in tiny letters, “Violet.”  Owen observed that it was “written in a current lady’s hand” with the pencil having only just lightly touched the surface of the paper.

Owen then returned to the table and first the first time opened the pellet that had appeared inside his hat and it read, “Violet.”

“I did not suffer Mr. Foster to see either.”

A few seconds later Foster’s arm started to convulse slightly as if he had received a mild electric shock.  He said the name was written on his left arm which he bared to the elbow.  Owen and Miss P. were both able to distinctly read the name, “Violet.” However, Owen purposely didn’t say it aloud.  Instead he waited for Foster to say it letter for letter.  Owen describes the writing in great detail saying that the letters were printed somewhat carelessly but still quite legible.  They were pink in color, about one and three quarters inches in height by about an eighth of an inch thick.  The first letter was written near Foster’s elbow extending along the inside of his forearm with the last letter being on the part of the palm next to the wrist and just below the bottom of the thumb.

Owen makes a point of saying that Foster sat quietly and kept both his hands in view at all times except when placing the hat on the floor and for the few seconds the slip of paper was placed under the table.

In summing up the manifestations directed toward himself during the séance, Owen cites four:

  1. The appearance to Foster of the basket of flowers and the single flower placed before him when Owen asked for her name.
  2. The pellet, selected out of about twenty, that was taken from his hand and placed into his hat underneath the table.
  3. The reverse writing of the name under the table
  4. The blood writing on the arm of the same name

Owen wrote that these four manifestations could not rationally be ascribed to chance.  Particularly that Foster had his hands on the table in full view when the pellet was taken from his hand underneath the table; not to mention he could not have known which one to take.

Later that year, on September 28, 1860, Owen had a private sitting with Foster in New York City. He was very much impressed with what he considered a mental test he inquired of Foster.  He said he begged Foster to bare his arm and said, “Can I have the first letter of the family name of a deceased friend of whom I am thinking written there?”  Foster accommodated this request and Owen was startled to see the letter, “W” gradually appear, then disappear on the medium’s arm.  Owen interpreted this as a dual marvel; an answer to a mental question and the writing on a human arm before his eyes in response to an unexpected request.

The next day, Saturday, September 29th, Owen found out that the noted Scottish publisher, geologist and author, Robert Chambers, was visiting New York City.   Both Owen and Chambers were good friends and were with one of the most successful businessmen in America.  They prevailed upon this gentleman to accompany them to a Foster séance.  Owen refers to this businessman as simply, Mr. M. to protect his identity.  The only personal details about him Owen gave were negative; that Mr. M. was not a resident of New York, not a believer in spiritualism and not acquainted with Foster.  Mr. M. said he would attend but only to gratify his friends’ request.

They had not told Foster they were coming, nor told him what Mr. M.’s name was.  The three gentleman were invited by Foster to sit around an ordinary sized table and the séance began.  Owen writes that after several remarkable phenomena occurred, Mr. M. asked Foster for, “a test of the reality of spirit intercourse.”

Foster agreed and asked the skeptic to think of a deceased friend.  And as Owen had witnessed in the previously described séance, Foster had Mr. M. write down on two slips of paper a number of firstnames, among them the first name of his departed friend and a number of family names, among them the family name of his friend. Then to tear them off and roll them into pellets.

When Mr. M. finished this task, the total number of names came to twenty three.  And like before, Foster had the sitter hold the rolled pellets in his cupped hands underneath the table.  Foster, who was sitting opposite Mr. M., took Owens hat and held it in one hand under the table.  He asked, “Spirits, will you please select the two pellets that have your name and surname, from that gentleman’s hand, and put them in Mr. Owen’s hat?”

In less than a minute raps came and Foster brought up the hat and placed it on the table.  He handed the two pellets which were now inside unopened to Mr. M.  Without showing the contents to anyone, Mr. M. confirmed that they were the two slips that contained his family’s names.  Foster continued the same procedure as Owen had witnessed during the previous séance.  Without have seen the contents of the pellets (or so he said), Foster suddenly said, “Here is his first name on my arm.”  Rolling up his sleeve the name Seth,  was written on in in large pink letters.

As they looked at the writing for a minute or two, it slowly faded away.  Foster then asked the spirit, “Will the spirit write the first letter of his family name on the back of my hand?”  With this Foster held out the back of his hand and there slowly appeared before their eyes a pink capital letter, “C”.    At this time Mr. M. showed them the names on the pellets were indeed that of Seth and C________.

Foster asked Mr. M. if the spirit was a relative of his?  Mr. M said he was.  Foster mused over this for a minute or so and then turned to him saying, “Ah!  it comes to me; it is your father-in-law.”  Mr. M. again confirmed that Mr. Seth C______ was his father-in-law, something that neither Owen or Chambers had been aware of previously.

Owen noted that the skeptical Mr. M. became very pale several times during the séance and more than once cried out in surprise.  When Owen returned home later that same day, he wrote down what had transpired during the sitting.  He then gave it to Chambers to make any corrections or additions as he saw fit so as to have an accurate record of the séance.

Foster visited England for the first time in early 1861.  Within a day or two of arriving Foster gave a séance for a lady he had known in America.  She was accompanied by her son-in-law, an eminent London physician, and the distinguished English physiologist and naturalist, William B. Carpenter. (Carpenter has since been considered as one of the founders of the modern theory of the adaptive unconscious observing that the human perceptual system almost completely operates outside of conscious awareness.)

When the small group arrived for the séance, Carpenter made it a point of not giving Foster his name and didn’t believe he would be recognized.   The usual questions were put forth to Foster concerning the names and details of the deaths of the various friends of the sitters.  Foster also brought out names in red letters on his arm which faded away after a few minutes.

Carpenter writes that while he was strongly impressed with Foster’s powers at the time of the séance, on reflection he theorized that the medium  probably had been watching the top of the pencil as they wrote on their slips.  Carpenter believed this along with Foster observing the indications unconsciously given by the sitters of the answers they expected, aided Foster in giving them accurate answers to their queries.  Even though Carpenter did his best to repress any reaction to details Foster had given, he felt the medium must have been able to out-wit him in this regard.

Carpenter observed that Foster had the name of his dead friend appear in red letters on his arm and the year indicated in another manner.  But when Carpenter desired in knowing what month his friend had died, Foster instructed him to use the alphabet card.  Again, Carpenter did his best to be as regular in his tapping out the letters as possible using, “pendulum like regularity,” so as not to give Foster any clue as to the correct letters.  Nevertheless, distinct raps were heard when the letters, “J” and “U” were touched.  However, when the tapping continued to determine whether the month was June or July, something went wrong.

No more raps were forthcoming and Foster admitted he was baffled when the letters, “L”, “M” and “N” were touched.  Carpenter repeated the tapping but Foster admitted he couldn’t tell whether the correct month was June or July.  Carpenter realized the difficulty was probably due to that he himself wasn’t sure of the month his friend had passed.

At this point Carpenter, wishing to clear up the matter, informed Foster of his identity and inquired of the medium if he would be willing to meet with a few scientific investigators to further test his powers.

Foster readily agreed and a séance was arranged to be held at Carpenter’s home.  Before Foster’s arrival, Carpenter explained to his colleagues what the plan would be for the evening.   Two requirements were agreed upon by all.  One of the party was to be designated to sit outside of the “circle” and devote themselves exclusively to observing and recording all that took place during the séance without taking any part in it.  Another requirement was that everyone should write down their slips at a side table, their backs turned towards Foster to prevent him from reading any pencil movement or peeking at their writing.

When Foster arrived and was told of these conditions, he objected to the first one; that someone would sit outside the circle taking notes.  He insisted that every person present must form a part of the circle.  To the second requirement, that of them writing the slips at a separate table, Foster made no objection.