Charles Foster – Part 09

Part Nine

The investigators wrote out their slips at a second table as agreed.  They carefully folded up their slips, handed them to Foster and took their seats at the main table.  At the end of a full hour only one spirit had made contact.    It purported to be the spirit of one of Carpenter’s old schoolmasters.  This did not impress the scientist as he realized that it was a name that Foster could have easily looked up prior to the séance.  In addition, not one of the names the sitters had written down on the slips were revealed.  The other investigator’s patience had been exhausted and at the end of the hour, they left the Carpenter residence.

Earlier, Foster had ordered a carriage to be picked up later in the evening thinking the séance would go on for longer than it did.  Since they had some time, Carpenter’s family asked if Foster would be willing to hold a séance with just them.  Carpenter added, “Now that these incredulous philosophers are gone, perhaps the spirits will favor us with a visit.” With this, the medium agreed.

The family intentionally let Foster hold the séance in his usual manner. This produced successful results except in one instance.  During the tapping out on the alphabet card the name of someone the family recently lost, the rapping suddenly stopped.  Unbeknownst to Foster, at a prearranged time, one of the family members placed a very large music book in front of the alphabet card so as to purposely obstruct Foster’s view.  And no more raps were heard.

In Carpenter’s view this conclusively proved that Foster deduced the correct letters by observing the movement of the top of the pointer.  And that Foster was able to observe the “unconscious ideo-motor action” of the tapping despite the best efforts of the family to not hesitate or otherwise indicate when they landed on a correct letter.

Carpenter concluded his account Foster’s séance saying that later, upon asking his medical friends, he was informed as to how the red letters on Foster’s arm were produced.

Foster, being unknown in England, wanted to obtain letters of introduction to high society.  To this end, Foster sought the acquaintance of solicitor and spiritualist, William Wilkinson.  The previous year Wilkinson had started the respected spiritualistic journal, The Spiritual Magazine.

Wilkinson had a brother, Dr. Garth Wilkinson, a homeopathic physician who also believed in spiritualism and was a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  It was in Dr. Garth’s home in London that in 1855 the much celebrated medium, Daniel Dunglas Home came and held a séance.  Wilkinson was impressed by Home’s séance and wrote a detailed account of it which appeared in a newspaper, The Morning Advertiser.  In addition, William Wilkinson would later ghost write the bulk of Daniel Dunglas Home’s memoirs, Incidents in My Life, published in 1863.  Given the Wilkinson brothers distinguished reputation, it is quite understandable how Foster would have chosen them to introduce himself to England’s spiritualism community.

It was in 1861, at William Wilkinson’s home, that Foster gave another of his initial séances in England. Wilkinson invited noted pioneer British spiritualist, William Howitt over to his home for a séance with this new medium from America. Howitt had extensively traveled through England and Germany eventually writing some fifty books.  In 1852 Howitt went to Australia to dig for gold, and while there first learned of movement of Spiritualism.  He became a champion of Spiritualism after a lively exchange of letters in a newspaper regarding ghosts and haunted houses.  Even Charles Dickens’ interest in haunted houses was piqued and he asked Howitt for more information.

For thirteen years Howitt became a regular contributor to Wilkinson’s The Spiritual Magazinewriting more than a hundred articles on the supernatural.  In addition, Howitt continued to arrange séances with D. D. Home.  Howitt’s most important work was a book of two volumes, The History of the Supernatural in All Ages and Nations and in All Churches, Christian and Pagan, Demonstrating a Universal Faith, published in 1863.

So, when Foster came to give a séance for these gentlemen, he would have to be at the top of his game.  Howitt wrote of the evening that, after dinner, Foster bared his arm and told the company to observe the red letters that were going to appear there.  When they did, Howitt was impressed.  However, Wilkinson was not impressed and got up, leaving the room.  He returned a few minutes later saying, “This (pointing to the red letters on his arm), I have made from a black lead pencil, writing and rubbing the place, so that I do not consider Mr. Foster’s letters are proved to be by spiritual agency.  He may have made them unobserved by us.”

Nevertheless, Howitt was impressed that Foster was able to tell him (through the spirits), the name of his father, Thomas.  He did inform Foster that before he gave him any introductions to people in London, he would have to see more manifestations. To that end, Howitt invited Foster over to his home in Highgate the next evening for another séance.  As might be supposed, Foster readily agreed to this.  Howitt would also invite a couple of his other friends who were familiar with spiritualistic manifestations to help appraise Foster’s abilities.  One of these friends was Colonel A. W. Drayson.

Drayson had been a professor at the Military Academy at Woolwich, an explorer, and the author of a number of books of fiction and travel. More importantly, he also had been a psychical researcher for many years sitting with all the leading mediums of the day.

Howitt writes that Foster’s séance that night was remarkable.  The sitters were particularly impressed with his amazingly accurate pellet work, especially since Foster had only arrived in England only a couple of days earlier. Foster then remarked that he felt his head was being affected by a very powerful spirit.  The spirit spoke through Foster saying that its initials would appear in red on his arm.

Foster bared his arm but no marks were to be seen.  However, soon appeared very clearly the initials, “G. B.”  Colonel Drayson immediately knew the message was meant for him.  He told Foster he would like to hear the name in full.  The medium said that the spirit will give it and with a sudden effort he exclaimed the name was “George Bowes” and that it was intended for the colonel.  This impressed the sitters as Foster had just arrived from New York and probably knew nothing of either Drayson or Bowes.

Later on in the séance Foster said that he saw the spirit of a woman of the poorer class, standing next to Howitt’s wife. This spirit expressed concern about a daughter and was anxious to speak to her.  On being asked who the spirit was it replied, “One who died of cancer.”

Hearing this Mrs. Howitt begged Foster not to refer to things that were so painful for her to hear. The medium responded, “How then was the poor woman’s spirit to identify herself?”  Howitt’s younger daughter and another woman present declared they immediately knew who was this spirit was.  They explained that it was the spirit of a poor woman whom they had come upon in a miserable part of the city.  The poor woman begged that after she died that they should place her young daughter with a respectable woman and take her away from her drunken step-father.

After the poor woman’s death, the two women had indeed done this and placed the young girl with a responsible widow who owned a shop.  However recently, while Howitt’s daughter and friend were out of England, the drunken step-father had snatched the young girl back returning her to the horrid and miserable circumstances her mother hoped she would be freed from.

Howitt’s daughter and her friend asked this spirit of the poor woman what she wished be done for her daughter.  The spirit replied through Foster that she wanted her daughter taken from her step-father and placed in an institution run by the Church of England.   The woman promised to do what she could.

Hearing of the women’s promise to take care of her daughter, the spirit expressed her profound gratification and left the séance.  The two women ultimately were able to fulfill the poor spirit’s final wish with her daughter growing up to be a fine woman.

Foster continued seeing and talking to spirits related to the sitters convincing them at the time he was undoubtedly a true medium.

Howitt would write in later years of that evening saying, “Foster was in these instances an undoubted ‘medium,’ although much has been subsequently alleged against him which was seriously damaging.”  Before exploring just what Howitt meant by that last remark, let’s look at another séance Foster conducted.

Very soon after the Wilkinson séance, Foster gave one to a group of nine distinguished sitters, mostly English authors and well known artists.  Among these was Edward W. Cox, an eminent attorney and legal writer who had an interest in psychology and spiritualism.  The séance was held in the home of one of Cox’s friends.

Cox said that Foster who had just arrived in England two days earlier was a stranger to them all and that no confederacy was possible.  In addition, they all made it a point in not mentioning any of their names to Foster.  One of the sitters had purchased some writing paper at a local stationer and brought it still wrapped to the séance.

Foster invited the group to go over to the table where the paper was and to write on small slips the names of any persons deceased, then to crumple them up into pellets.  The room was brilliantly lit from an overhead gas chandelier.  Cox wrote out three billets while others wrote as many as four or five.  Having been previously warned by Dr. William B. Carpenter that he believed that Foster watched the top of the pencil move as you wrote, the sitters were careful to shield themselves while writing.

A total of thirty one pellets were thrown into the center of the table and mixed up.  Cox claimed that Foster never touched them.  Foster then had one of the sitters take up a handful of pellets and slowly drop them back onto the table.  At some point, when a particular pellet was dropped, a loud rap was heard.   The sitter stopped the dropping and that pellet was separated from the others.  It remained on the table unopened.  The alphabet card was then taken up and letters were called out to identify the name on the slip.

Cox stated the usual calling out of the alphabet was then done rapping out the name on the pellet. When the rapping of the name was finished, the pellet was opened by the sitter and the name was verified.  Foster then asked who had written it and the writer was told that they may ask questions of this spirit.  Foster would subsequently provide answers – either verbally or by rapidly writing them out on a piece of paper.

When one sitter had finished, another took up a handful of pellets and dropped them onto the table.  The same procedure would be followed for each of the sitters.  Before the séance was over, fourteen pellets were dealt with in this manner.  Often the questions related to the date of death, the cause, where they were buried and how old they were when they died.

One woman, who was an eminent author, asked a particularly remarkable series of questions concerning the death of a governess who had died some years earlier.  She asked the spirit the date of death, the disease, the cemetery name and the inscription on the tombstone.  Like the previous sitters, all of her questions were answered correctly by Foster including him giving the difficult Welsh name of the parish.

Going around the table, another sitter started dropping the pellets.  After a number were dropped, a the sitters were startled when a rap as loud as a sledge hammer hit the table.  Again, the correct name was spelled out on the alphabet card when Foster asked, “Any relation here?”  A woman answered, “Yes, his widow.”  The following reply was then spelled out, “Do not fret, your son is innocent.  It was the servant who did it.”  While the spirit message meant nothing to the rest of the group, the widow herself became greatly agitated.  Taking a letter from her pocket she said, “This came by post today. It was opened by myself.  No human eye has seen it.  It is from my son, who is at school in Liverpool.  He says that he has been accused of stealing a watch; that appearances were against him; that he feared he should be expelled in disgrace, but he assures me that he knows nothing of it.”

At this point of the séance, Cox realized that none of his own billets had yet been recognized.  Desiring to not completely rely on the other sitters as to the veracity of the messages, he decided to write out another pellet unbeknownst to anyone.  When no one was watching, Cox secretly took a slip of paper with a pencil and placed them under the table.  In his lap he wrote on the slip the name, “William Trenchard.”  This was a cousin of Cox’s who had died twenty three years earlier.  They had been close friends and he chose that name precisely because it had not been in his thoughts until that very moment.  When it came to his turn to drop the pellets, Cox mingled this one in with the rest.

About ten minutes later, Foster turned to Cox and said, “I see a form standing behind you – a young man with light hair and dark eyes, very pale – he is laying his hand upon your head as if to bless you.  His name is William Trenchard.  He wishes me to make you a communication from him.”  With that Foster took a pencil and very rapidly wrote down the following message, “Dear Edward, I am glad you have called me.  I have long wanted to communicate with you.  Doubt no more.  Be assured there is a communication between the two worlds. William Trenchard.”

This clergyman and his skeptical cousin Cox, often had long discussions about the immortality of the soul.  Trenchard eventually contracted tuberculosis and knowing that he would die soon, had written a long letter to Cox.  In it he said he would soon be able to answer the question they had often debated and if God would permit it, he would make known to his cousin the truth.  When Foster delivered this message from the deceased cousin, Cox, for a time, became a believer in the hereafter.

The dropping of the pellets by the sitters was continued with accurate messages being given.  Going around the table, it was eventually Cox’s turn to again drop the pellets.  As it turned out when a rap came this time it was for one of Cox’s earlier pellets.  On this slip he had written the name, “Rosalinda Butler.”  She had been a cousin of his wife and had died when she was only seventeen.  Cox had been particularly close to her.

As the folded pellet was separated from the others in the pile, Foster addressed Cox.  He said, “I see by your side a young lady, fair, with long ringlets, about seventeen, her name is Rosalinda Butler.”  Foster paused and then continued, “Another girl is by her side.  They seem to be sisters.  She nods assent.  She shows me her name.  Dorinda Butler.  Are they related to you?    ’Tis very odd.  They are the same age.  Were they twins?  They shake their heads.  Have you summoned them?”

The pellet that Cox had dropped on the table was opened and was indeed, the one he had written, “Rosalinda Butler.”  Cox later said that Rosalinda did have a sister, Dorinda, who at seventeen also tragically died of the same malady.  But Cox knew he wasn’t close to her, she being but a dim memory and not on his mind during the séance.