Charles Foster – Part 10

Part Ten

Cox records another incident with one of the other sitters, a distinguished writer of the day, Miss Murlock.  Foster said he saw a vision of an old lady standing by her side.  She had on, “a queer cap and a curiously twisted stick.”  The sitter informed the circle that it was an exact description of her mother, in that she had worn such a hat and always carried a stick curled like a corkscrew.  When that pellet was opened it was seen that she had written her mother’s name.

Subsequently, Cox recorded that all fourteen names given by Foster were correct notwithstanding some that were quite unusual.  Cox wrote that he believed all of the sitters had confirmed the accuracy of Foster’s readings.  He considered them as having the highest reputations and honor and there could be no doubt about them. However, after further investigation and experience with spiritualism, Cox came to believe that all the phenomena he had witnessed was the result of, “mental sympathy and communion” or “thought reading.”

He believed that Foster and other mediums could pick up the echo of impressions that were on his sitters minds.  In other words, Foster was en rapport with each of the sitters in turn.  Cox reasoned that since he could not recall his cousin’s name without also recalling how he looked in life and their heated debates on the soul.   He later wrote, “My recollections were attended by motion of the brain fibers…The same motions of the brain fibers produced the same ideas – that is, the same mental conceptions – in his mind, and with him, as so often with ourselves, mental impressions seemed objective realities.”

The above described incident with Miss Marloc confirmed in Cox’s mind this theory of brain fibers resonating in different minds.  He would summarize this in his book, The Mechanism of Man:

“These also were manifestly not objective, but subjective, impressions on the mind of the Psychic.  The forms were pictured in our minds and so reflected upon his mind.  I was not thinking of Dorinda; but the one sister was, by an association with the other sister, according to a well-known law of mental action, actually present in my mind, although not consciously.  Another proof of this is, that if the name of a living person be written, the description is often given with equal accuracy, showing that it is the mental picture and not the real person, or spirit of the person, which the Psychic has in his mind.”

The tarnishing of Foster’s reputation happened by March, 1861. He had been giving sittings in London initially to great acclaim.  But then Judge Edmonds in America, wrote to Wilkinson (editor of The Spiritual Magazine warning him about the dubiousness of Charles Foster’s morals and character.  Wilkinson, while acknowledging Foster as a remarkable medium, renounces him on the strength Edmond’s letter.  Predictably, the editor of the Banner of Light takes Foster’s side saying none are perfect and that “condemnation never reforms the erring.”  He closes the short notice quoting Jesus, “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.”

The April 12th, 1861 issue of the Banner of Light once again staunchly defends Foster’s mediumship if not his character to the New Covenant, the Chicago based Universalist newspaper.

By the last week of September 1861, Foster has moved out of Salem.  For most of the month he was holding sittings at 75 Beach Street in South Boston to a large number of satisfied patrons including the editor of the Banner of Light.

In the early autumn of 1861, Foster gave a sitting for Epes Sargent, who would go on to write of his experiences in two books.  He writes that he saw an ad for Foster (probably in the Banner of Light) and called upon him at the boarding house where he was staying at the time.

As with many other sincere investigators of the time, Sargent made a point of not informing anyone of his intention to visit Foster.  And also that he had not been asked by anyone to attend.  Sargent had never seen Foster and believed the medium when he said he didn’t know him either. Sargent writes he went to see him to test his capacity of his powers.

It was noontime and Foster was alone in a small, 15’ x 15’ room. The room had two windows looking out to the back of the house.  The curtains were up and the room was well lit by the sunshine.  No one else joined them during the sitting.  Sargent writes, “There was no possibility of deception.”

Foster requested that Sargent write out twelve names of deceased friends on twelve slips of paper, and then roll them up into pellets.  Sargent noted that he was free to use his own paper or to tear the slips from some lying on the table.  This paper which was lying on the table was as thin as tissue paper and that is what was used.  Foster walked to the other side of the room while Sargent wrote out the twelve names being careful to screen the motion of his hand from the medium.  When Sargent was done writing he first folded, then rolled each slip tightly into small pellets and placed the pellets on the center of the plain wooden table.  Then he mixed them up and called Foster over.

The medium ran his fingers rapidly through the pellets without (apparently) taking any of them. However, almost instantly Foster started pushing a pellet toward Sargent and giving the name therein.  This continued without any hesitation on Foster’s part until he came to an unusual name.  Sargent wrote that he was aware of only two persons who had this name.  Foster said, “The name of this person will appear on my arm.”  With that he rolled up his left sleeve and showed the name, Arria,  in red letters clearly written there.  Sargent said Foster correctly gave the correct names to eight of the twelve pellets.

On another pellet, along with a name, Sargent wrote, “Are these things truly from human spirits?” Upon seizing this pellet, Foster took a pencil and rapidly wrote this response, “These communications are truly from the spirit world.  And is it not a glorious thought thus to be able to communicate with the beloved ones who have gone to the far off spirit land?”

Sargent didn’t believe this was an exact answer to his question, but it was close enough for him to be astonished by it.  At this point Sargent is still skeptical as to whether spirits are providing the answers given, but can think of no other solution.

Sargent admits that while he did write the names on the pellets, this was not an experiment in telepathy since Foster had no idea which pellet contained which name.  He says that the medium might have guessed a name correctly once, but eight times in a row “was hardly in the range of possibility.”

Sargent would go on to having many séances with Foster in the coming years.  He equates his experiences with another spiritualist researcher, Dr. John Ashburner of London.  In Planchette, Sargent goes on to quote liberally from Ashburner’s writings about Foster.  Since those sittings took place about a year later in 1863, we will describe it in the coming pages.

On September 29th, 1861 Foster, now 28 years old, gave a séance to three sitters, one who had chronicled the account to the Banner of Light, identified himself as Dr. A. B. Child, a dentist of Boston whom had been described by one editor as a childish simpleton.  Here is that account of the séance with Foster.

Out of Foster’s sight, the sitters wrote out about six names on separate slips of paper for a total of approximately eighteen pellets.  They were all made of the same kind of paper and approximately all the same size.  These billets (as they would later become known) were folded and then rolled into small round balls, slightly larger than a pea.  The balls or pellets were then shaken and mixed together so no one in the party could tell which was which.

While sitting at the table, very loud rapping noises came from various parts of the room; on the table, under it on the walls and ceiling.  The raps were so loud and heavy producing a jarring and rattling effect on the furniture and gas fixtures in the room.

While this was going on Foster quietly stared at a supposed spirit in the room.  He acknowledged and bowed to it.  Then Foster addressed the spirit saying, “What a powerful man!  What did you say?  Desort?  Desart?  I cannot hear; speak louder.  I cannot understand; write you name.”

Foster’s left hand moved as if being guided by an unseen power over to the pile of pellets, took one and handed it Dr. Child.  Foster wrote down a name as the same time saying, “That is the name; he is your friend, De Soto.”  The two other sitters also each received the name of their spirit friends they had written down on the pellets.

Foster took another pellet and handed it to one of the sitters.  The medium took up a pen and wrote, “Call not for the living, for ye have them with you.”  When the pellet was opened it was found to contain the name of a living person.

Foster then called attention to the back of his hand.  Within the space of a few seconds writing mysteriously appeared as if written in blood under the skin of his hand.  It showed the initials, “U. S. P.”  As before, this was done as a pellet was selected by him.  When handed to a sitter who opened it, it read, “Uleyetta Sabine Potter.” The spirit then seized Foster’s hand and wrote, “I am happy; I am happy.”

Foster then said, “What a funny spirit this is; he is a scholar; he is a genius; he is an artist; he is very beautiful; but not in the sense that we see beauty; he holds two hearts and both hands, and says to me, ‘Mary’s affinity.’  What does this mean?  I do not know Mary or Mary’s affinity.”  Foster handed Dr. Child one of the pellets and written on it was, “Mary’s affinity.”

Continuing, Foster commented, “Dr. Child, there is here a beautiful spirit, that is very nearly allied to your own soul, but not by any ties of consanguinity.  Look attentively upon my arm.”

As he said this, Foster handed Dr. Child a pellet and rolled up the sleeve baring his left forearm.  At first no trace of words were visible but after a moment the word, “Flora” appeared in large, distinct red letters.  After a few seconds after the word appeared, another word, “Love” was seen to form while “Flora” had entirely disappeared.  Dr. Child unrolled the pellet showing the words, “Flora” and “Love” were written on it.   This the doctor felt was a beautiful and striking test of Foster’s powers.

These manifestations along with other similar ones gave Dr. Child, “incontrovertible evidence of the existence and identity of spirits around and about us.”  He concludes his letter to the Banner of Light stating Mr. Foster has well developed medium powers and will write further letters in praise of him.

The editor of the Banner of Light wrote that he completely endorses every statement made in Dr. Child’s letter.  He seems to reference this as a new phenomenon writing a preface to the Dr. Child letter saying, “Any reasonable evidence that we could ask to satisfy our outer consciousness that our deceased friends still live and live with the power too, of influencing us, not only through the avenues of feeling, but through the intelligence of words, is given through Mr. Foster’s mediumship, without hesitation; without effort; with perfect ease.”

On November 15, 1861, Robert Dale Owen attended yet another séance with Foster.  He writes that it took place in the evening on East 20th Street in New York City; the home of Alice and Phoebe Cary. The total number of sitters in this circle were eight, somewhat larger than Foster’s usual séances.  Owen would go on to describe similar manifestations as in previous séances emphasizing that names appeared on Foster’s arm at least seven times that evening.

In early 1862, Foster is giving séances in the United Kingdom.  On January 11th he gave one to three distinguished men of various professions.  Mr. Edward Laman Blanchard, Cornelius Pearson and Thomas Spencer.  Blanchard reports that Foster had them write names on pieces of paper which were then rolled into small pellets.  He reports that the correct names were quickly given by Foster by way of raps on the table.  Also that on the arm of the medium there appeared the name written in red letters, William Blanchard, the father of the sitter and that the number, “27”, appeared on the palm of Foster’s hand.  Blanchard confirmed that it had been 27 years since his father had died.  Blanchard notes that he as well as his friends were completely unknown to Foster.   And of particular significance to him, that the writing on Foster’s arm disappeared from sight without the arm of the medium being withdrawn.

This was deemed important by some spiritualists as sometimes magicians who exposed spiritualist tricks on stage, such as Dr. Lynn, the writing would not go away.  This blood writing on the arm was done by another method, such as previously writing the name with red ink, which would not openly fade away.  This was different to what Foster presumably did in scratching the name on the arm with a wooden match.

Several months later in August of 1862 we find Charles Foster back in America holding Spiritualism circles at 30 Chestnut Street in Portland, Maine.  An account of one of his séances appeared in the August 25, 1862 edition of the Portland Daily Advertiser under the title, “An [sic] Half Hour with C. H. Foster, the Renowned Test Medium” written by a C. B. Stetson. From the title of the article this gives us the usual length of Foster’s séances although they may have run shorter or longer depending on the number of sitters. Stetson opens his article that journalism demands that members of the press give heed to all things.

The journalist along with one Charles J. Little, a clerk for the Portland Daily Advertiser visited Foster on Saturday, August 23, 1862.  Mr. Little had never witnessed any spiritual manifestations and was a confirmed skeptic.  After the men introduced themselves, Foster invited them to his room for a sitting. Being a journalist, Stetson gives a detailed account of what transpired.  This is not usually the case with believers who are so caught up in emotion that the specific actions of the medium are not always recorded.