1875: Touching Visitants from a higher life

A Chapter Of Autobiography.

By Hon. Robert Dale Owen

“Dare I say

No spirit ever brake the band

That stays him from his native land,

Where first he walked when clasped in clay?”

—Tennyson.

I am of Tennyson’s opinion. It is presumptuous, in advance of positive evidence, for or against, to assume that those whom we call dead cannot reappear to us. Men who think themselves wise and enlightened are wont to declare — and I myself once assented to the declaration — that superstitious ignorance alone believes in ghosts.(The French more properly call them revenants, returners) Science adds her cogent authority; but science, ere now, has had to reconsider her verdicts. Less than a century ago she denied the reality of aerolites, popularly believed in throughout tens of previous centuries.

Herbert Spencer has brought prominently forward the principle that any world-wide belief, persisted in throughout past ages, may be assumed as having a foundation in truth. The popular version of the day may be erroneous, but there is a reality (to which the universality and longevity of the main principle are due) underneath. Dr. Johnson, long before Spencer wrote, made special application of this principle; putting into the mouth of the sage Imlac the confession: ” That the dead are seen no more I will not undertake to maintain against the concurrent testimony of all ages and all nations. There is no people, rude or unlearned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed. This opinion, which prevails as far as human nature is diffused, could become universal only by its truth: those who never heard of one another would not have agreed in a tale which nothing but experience could make credible. That it is doubted by single cavilers can very little weaken the general evidence; and some who deny it with their tongues confess it with their fears.”

If there be another phase of life; if conduct and character in this world determine our state in the next; if the Great Originating Mind be actuated by benevolence, — all which propositions seem to me reasonable, — then it is, a priori, not unlikely that, as part of the cosmical economy, there may be evidence, palpable to the senses, of a higher life to come. It is an open theory, therefore, with probability in its favor, that there is phenomenal proof of man’s continued existence. Whether we can obtain such proof or not is a simple question of fact, which it is unphilosophical to prejudge.

A simple question; yet where shall we find another, religious or scientific, of which the solution is fraught with results of such inestimable importance to mankind ? Toward that solution I have a contribution to make.

On Monday, April 20, 1874, I had a sitting with Mrs. Hardy of Boston, a trance medium in whose good faith I place confidence. Through her came, unasked, a message from what purported to be the spirit of “Violet.” After sundry recommendations concerning diet, which I have since followed with evident benefit to my health, she said:—

“Before you leave the earth you shall see spectres (as you call them) walking about; and they will take you by the hand and converse with you: me also you shall behold in the form. You shall witness far more wonderful things than you have ever yet seen.”

I interpreted this to mean that, ere I died, I should acquire one among the spiritual gifts enumerated by St. Paul — the “discerning of spirits; ” and, deeming this unlikely, I put little confidence in the promise given. When, some weeks later, accounts reached me from London of experiments in spirit-materialization witnessed and attested by eminent scientists, they failed to recall Violet’s prediction. I thought not of it till I myself had verified all, and more than all, the London phenomena.

On May 29 I received a letter from my friend Dr. Child, a well – known Philadelphia physician, stating that a spirit, purporting to be the same which had appeared to Mr. Crookes and usually known as “Katie King,” had shown herself, during the sittings of a Mr. and Mrs. Holmes, at the aperture of a dark cabinet; had conversed with him in audible tones, and had requested him, on her behalf, to write and ask that I would come and see her in Philadelphia. A startling summons, surely, if in very deed from a spirit! Was such an invitation ever before extended by a denizen of the next world to a mortal in this?

On my arrival (June 5) all appeared fair enough. I found the mediums established on the second floor of a small house in Ninth Street near Arch. There were but two rooms on the floor, a front parlor and a bedroom; the lower floor under both rooms being occupied as a shop for the sale of musical instruments. In a back corner of the parlor was a walnut cabinet, seven feet wide and eight feet high, with a door that opened into the parlor, and two apertures, five and six feet high respectively, both curtained with black cloth. We had lamp-light, shaded but sufficient to enable us to recognize faces and to see everything that passed in the room. After we had examined the cabinet, the medium entered it, closing the door.

Soon at one of the apertures appeared a fair, thoughtful young face, a girl of eighteen apparently, by whom I was cordially welcomed in a low, pleasant voice. She returned and spoke to us several times. At the close of the sitting she twice appeared, robed in white, just within the cabinet door; not coming out, however, into the room: the first time (so I was told) that she had ever shown herself in full form.

It was evidently a living, moving, thinking being. Yet I suspended judgment. One of the mediums was out of our sight. Then there was a door — locked, padlocked, and otherwise effectually secured, it seemed, but yet a door — from the cabinet into the bedroom adjoining. The possibility of a confederate suggested itself.

Forty memorable sittings followed. Gradually test conditions were perfected, and every imaginable ground for suspecting deception was removed;and then, instead of failure, all the phenomena came out in greater perfection than before. I select the more remarkable; to copy my notes in full would involve tedious repetition.

[Under instructions from Katie herself the door of the bedroom was taken off (June 18) and a partition of black walnut boards, an inch thick, eight feet high and five feet wide, was substituted: it was secured on each side by four stout battens firmly screwed on throughout their entire length, and spiked, with twelve-penny nails, to the casing of the discarded door. Suspicion still prevailing among some skeptics that the partition might have been tampered with so that a portion of it could be removed, and speedily replaced, at will, some of the audience, at the close of a most successful sitting at which I assisted (July 5), proposed, and were permitted, to take it to pieces. A tedious and critical examination resulted in a certificate signed by all present (ten in number) to the effect that the partition was faithfully constructed, and that entrance or exit from the cabinet, except by the door opening into the parlor in which the sittings were held, was utterly impossible.]

June 7. Katie allowed Dr. Child to feel her pulse; its beats were distinct, about seventy-two a minute. A lady offered her a gold ring, and asked me to put it on her finger. I did so. The hand, beautifully formed, was like that of a mortal woman, nearly of the same temperature as my own, and slightly moist. At the close of the sitting she advanced into the room, dropped a finger on my head, and touched several other persons.

June 9. I gave her a long chain, composed of Violet’s hair, a present to myself more than forty-five years ago: hoping, as I told Katie, thereby to attract Violet herself in accordance with her promise. I observed that Katie wore the gold ring. But when, at the close of the sitting, I examined with a light every nook and corner in the cabinet, neither ring nor chain was to be found.

June 10. Katie called me up to the aperture, handed me back the hair chain, and said: “Violet wishes you to keep this, in memory of her, until you are called to meet her in her spirit-home.”

Where was that chain during the preceding twenty-four hours? One is lost in conjecture on such subjects.

Ere Katie came forth, a tall figure, partly hidden by the cabinet, laid its luminous hand on her head; then the hand and arm floated up out of sight; the door being seven and a half feet high.

June 15. Present only myself and Mr. Oluf Stenersen, minister to the United States from the Swedish court.

Three different faces showed themselves: one of a middle-aged man, one of a young lady, and another of a child. Then Katie, from the left hand aperture, asked the medium for paper and pencil. Half a sheet of note paper being handed to her, she beckoned to me and gave me the paper, saying: “Mr. Owen, please put your private mark on it.” I wrote at the top of the sheet three words in the German character; and, as I returned it to her, she added: “An English friend wishes to write to you.” In a minute or two we saw, at the left hand aperture, a luminous detached hand, shaded off at the wrist, and holding the pencil as a mundane writer would. Over against this hand floated in the air a half sheet of paper, the surface illuminated as if phosphorescently. At first it swayed to and fro; but presently, without apparent cause, it remained stretched and motionless. Then the hand approached it and wrote, under our eyes, during some three or four minutes; covering the page. Then the sheet, again without apparent cause, turned over in the air, the hand continuing to write until the second page was half filled. Then the hand laid hold of the paper, and passed it out of the cabinet window toward me. I went up and received it, and the pencil dropped on the floor. It was the same paper on which I had written “Ich bin hier;” and proved to be a letter addressed to me, didactic in character and elevated in sentiment, signed: “Fred. W. Robertson.”

[At Dr. Slade’s, in New York (February 9, 1874), I witnessed, by gaslight, a precisely similar phenomenon. The paper, placed on a slate, lay on my knee; and a hand, luminous and entirely detached at the wrist, rose from under the table and wrote while I looked on, what proved to he three verses from the Greek Testament; headed, in English, “Law of Love = Matth. 5; 43-45 —”(punctuation contraction, and dashes exactly as here set down).

To use a common phrase, I could scarcely believe my eyes. My knowledge of Greek has, under half a century of disuse, almost faded out: but, having submitted the manuscript to one of the best Hellenists of our country, I learned that every word and letter was correct, a few breathings and accents only being omitted.]

Afterwards, accompanied by a friend who is an expert in autographs, I took this paper to the Franklin Library; and there, in presence of the librarian, we compared it with Mr. Robertson’s signature as it is given in the English edition of his biography, by the Rev. Stopford Brooke. Both gentlemen agreed that the signature obtained by me was so perfect a fac-simile of the other, that the internal evidence of its genuine character was unquestionable.

June 19. A circle of twenty-five persons. The partition between parlor and bedroom (alluded to in a previous note) had been put up the day before. Each time that Katie issued from the cabinet, a brilliantly luminous hand, emitting light, showed itself at the left upper corner of the cabinet door. It pointed downward, sometimes waving, toward Katie. The second time that she stepped out, she beckoned me to approach her. I did so, extending my hand, which she pressed; then, as I bent my head toward her, she took it in both hands and kissed it, uttering her usual low and earnest ‘God bless you, Mr. Owen.’

June 20. Present only my friend Mrs. L. Andrews, of Springfield, and myself. We both thoroughly examined the bedroom before sitting down. For the first time neither of the mediums, at any time during the sitting, entered the cabinet; so that, when we had searched it and closed its door, we were certain that no human being occupied it.

A remarkable sitting followed. First, we were surprised by a dusky face at one of the apertures. Soon after, the door opened and a girl at least two inches taller and rather stouter than Katie, with dark, handsome Indian features, and lithe figure, arrayed in richly ornamented Indian dress, walked out to within two feet of us. She had a snow-white blanket over her head, which she held under her chin. This she waved toward us; it was very fine, thick, and soft to the touch. She came out three times, spoke to us, the last time quite distinctly, telling us that her name was Sauntee.

“Good God!” cried Mrs. Holmes, in evident astonishment and alarm.

[She explained to me, after the sitting, that “Sauntee” was the name of the (alleged) controlling spirit of Mrs. Fanny Young, an intimate friend of hers and a trance medium; and that she (Mrs. Holmes) had had many a communication, through Mrs. Young, purporting to come from this young Indian girl. Just two months before this sitting, Mrs. Young had died.]

Next there issued from the cabinet the figure of a lad dressed in sailor-boy fashion; his bow and gestures awkward and jerky, his face frank and pleasant. He came out three times, and when we asked his name he answered, in hoarse and broken but audible tones: “Don’t you know me? You’ve heard me speak often enough; I’m Dick.”

We had frequently heard of Dick, as one of the (alleged) operating and talking spirits in the dark circles for physical manifestations which Mrs. Holmes occasionally gave. Both he and the Indian girl presented themselves now for the first time.

At last Katie herself appeared. When she stepped into the room, I asked permission to approach, and gave her a mother-of-pearl cross, with white silk braid attached, together with a small note, folded up, in which I had written: “I offer you this because, though it be simple, it is white and pure and beautiful, as you are.” She took both, did not open the note, suspended the cross from her neck, kissed it and retreated to the cabinet, closing the door. In a minute or two she returned, the cross, shining as with phosphorescent lustre, in one hand, and the folded note in the other; bent over me, and said, in her low, earnest voice and with her charming smile: “White and pure and beautiful like me — is it?” How did she read that note? The cabinet, with its closed door and its black-covered apertures, was, as I have often verified, quite dark. Ever after, when she appeared, she wore that cross on her breast; reminding one of the well-known lines in Pope’s Rape of the Lock.

Immediately after the close of the sitting we critically examined the cabinet. No cross there! Where was it?

June 21. No medium in the cabinet. Katie appeared at the aperture; and Dr. Child, desiring to please all, proposed that every person in the circle (upwards of twenty) might go up, one by one, to the aperture, touch Katie’s hand, and speak to her. They all did so except one young lady, deterred by fear. Toward the close, one of the circle (not a lady) asked if Katie would not allow him to kiss her. She instantly withdrew and we saw her no more that night.

Afterward I remonstrated, in private, with Dr. Child, against this lack of decorum; adding that unless the wishes of the spirit were consulted in all things, I would not attend another sitting, nor countenance the proceedings in any way. He took what I said in excellent part, frankly admitting that I was in the right. Little did I expect what was to come!

June 22. Katie, appearing at the aperture after unusual delay, beckoned to me. the pale and beautiful face, now grown familiar, usually tinged with sadness, wore such a look of weary sorrow and deep depression that I was moved almost to tears when, in low and plaintive tones, she said: “Mr. Owen, indeed, indeed I cannot come out tonight unless I have assurance that my wishes shall be respected.

[At this and all succeeding sittings, both mediums remained outside, unentranced.]

“They shall be,” said I, “so long as I come here.”

“I want your promise,” she added. “When you touch me, it gives me strength; but when others, with whom I have no sympathy, are suffered to approach indiscriminately, it wearies and exhausts me. I want your promise that no such overture as that made last night shall be repeated. They forget that I am a spirit. They forget why I come to them at all.”

Dear Katie,” said I, ” I will protect you, as I would my own daughter, from that and every other annoyance. No one shall approach you except with your express permission.”

The changed, more, hopeful expression was charming to see, as she said: “God bless you! Tell my medium not to urge me; it hurts me to refuse her.”

At a request from the audience, I stated to them, in brief, what Katie had said. Nothing more was needed, that evening, to call forth a hushed reverence such as is not often found, even in church.

I pass by my record of sundry meetings where phenomena similar to those already recorded presented themselves, and come to a memorable seance, June 28. At Katie’s suggestion, coupled with her promise of “a good time,” I had this sitting all to myself, the two mediums only being present, and sitting beside me.

Sauntee again appeared. The materialization seemed absolutely perfect. She wore a rich, dark jacket, reaching to the knee, of stuff resembling silk velvet, embroidered in white spangles, open over the bosom and showing an undergarment apparently of Indian-tanned buckskin; the jacket coming to a point at the waist. She wore black leggins and embroidered moccasins. This time she had no blanket, but some soft, light, gray tissue covering her head and falling over her shoulders. Around her waist was a belt, with lappets that dropped on one side. She held one of these toward us to touch; it was soft and thick as rich velvet. Her motions were more free than before, and there was more spirit in her large, expressive eyes. She spoke, too, more readily and distinctly. Four several times she showed herself, uttering friendly expressions.

Then, after an interval, came Katie. She, too, stepped out, more freely than usual. I showed her a small tortoise-shell box, in which I had preserved several mementoes of her; to wit, a card on which she had written my name, a small nosegay, and a tiny lock of hair which she had given me during the sitting with Mrs. Andrews. She seemed pleased, and said, smiling, “I’ll give you something better worth keeping than that.” Retreating to the cabinet, she returned in a minute or two without the lace veil she usually wore depending from each side of her head; this being the first time I had ever seen her bareheaded. She asked for scissors, and I provided a pair which I had brought with me, hoping to obtain a bit of her dress. Then she stooped her head toward me, and, passing both hands through her back hair, separated a lock and bade me cut it off. I did so, close to the head. It proved to be a beautiful ringlet, about four inches long, literally of a golden color, soft and fine. After four months it has not melted away, and it is not distinguishable from human hair, though one seldom sees any so beautiful.

The next time she came out she asked for a large nosegay which stood on the mantelpiece; and, coming close to me, she knelt down, laid the flowers on the floor, and deliberately picked out two or three lilies. These she handed to me, returning the rest to Mrs. Holmes. As she knelt there, I observed that her hair curled in short, graceful ringlets over the top and front of her head, while several longer curls dropped to her shoulders. One of these, longer than the rest, she had several times shown us, and allowed us to touch, at the aperture.

Once more —and for the last time that evening—she emerged from the cabinet, came quietly close up to me, extending a hand. I passed my left arm gently round her, and sustained her left arm, bare from the elbow, in my right hand. To the touch her garments and her person were exactly like those of an earthly creature.

In low but distinct tones, she made some recommendations in regard to my health. “You have work to do,” she said, “before you leave your earth; and you must rest, that you may be able to do it.”

Then, stepping back, she took my face in both hands, kissed me on the forehead, .and retreated to the cabinet, as is her wont, without turning from us. After closing the door, she half opened it again with a smile and the words: “Didn’t we have a good time, Mr. Owen, as I promised?”

“Indeed we did,” I replied; “you kept your word.”

“But we’ll have far better times, by and by, when you come to us.” The door closed upon that earnest, beautiful face, and we were left alone with the memory of the marvels we had witnessed!

I questioned my consciousness. Had I held familiar converse with a creature who had already, perhaps, returned to her fellow-denizens of the skies?

July 3. Besides myself only two friends, Dr. P and Mrs. B—. Both the mediums outside, as usual.

Sauntee came out in full form, saluting and touching us all: her features handsome, spirited, but unmistakably Indian, and very distinct. The third time she appeared, bending over me till her face was scarcely a foot from mine, she said: “Come pale-faced chief.” Some twenty minutes later, the cabinet door opened and disclosed the form, distinctly materialized, of a man, apparently of middle age, some five feet ten in height, as I judged, with broad shoulders, rather dark complexion, mustache, and short beard; his look earnest and spirited. At the same time that he appeared Sauntee showed herself at the aperture and repeated: “Pale-faced chief.” The male figure showed itself four times; its dress a white robe reaching to the feet, with some sort of dark vest, partially visible, underneath.

We asked its name. After several unsuccessful efforts, it said distinctly, the third time it appeared: ” General Rawlings.”

Katie, appearing ten minutes later, repeated, in answer to our inquiries, that it was General Rawlings.

“Who was General Rawlings? ” asked Mrs. B—.

“Secretary of War under President Grant,” replied Katie.

Of course I knew of the general as one of our bravest soldiers; but neither I nor any one present had seen him or his photograph; so that I am unable to say whether the figure thus unexpectedly presented to us resembled him or not.

This evening Katie came out into the room eight or nine times, appearing more distinct than usual. She wore, as is her wont, a resplendent white robe, falling in loose folds, open at the neck, running to a point on the bosom and belted at the waist. Her arms were bare several inches above the elbow; the gauze sleeves which she wore being open half-way to the shoulder and dropping some six inches below the upper arm. She remained with us three or four minutes at a time; probably twenty or twenty-five minutes in all.

I particularly noticed, this evening, the ease and harmony of her motions. In Naples, during five years, I frequented a circle famed for courtly demeanor; but never in the best-bred lady of rank accosting her visitors have I seen Katie outrivaled. Anything more refined than the gentle sway of the body and turn of the head and gesture of aria and hand, as she passed round, saying something pleasant or playful to each, I do not expect to witness till I reach that higher life whence this visitant descended to teach and to charm us here.

In the course of the evening I had asked her if she could give me a bit of her dress, to which she replied: “I’ll try to materialize it so that it will keep.” The fifth time she came out, receiving from me a pair of scissors, and turning to the left, so as to be just opposite where Dr. P—and Mrs. B— sat, and not more than three feet from them, she gathered up her dress, cutting and handing to me a portion; then afterwards of her veil in like manner.

The piece from her dress, less than two inches long and nearly in the form of a leaf, proved to be a fabric like fine bishop’s lawn; that taken from the veil was nearly circular an inch and a quarter in diameter, apparently a single figure of the finest quality of Honiton lace, with a star-like opening near one edge.

An astounding incident connected with this gift remains to be told. Dr. P— and Mrs. B—, under whose very eyes the cutting was done, unite in declaring that the hole left in the robe where Katie cut from it, was not less than five or six inches long, and that made in the veil at least three or four inches in diameter; further, that in the course of a few seconds both openings disappeared and the garments were whole again. Although, when Katie turned from me, I could not distinctly see the cutting done, yet, intimately acquainted as I am with both these witnesses, I cannot doubt their veracity.

[To those who may read this with incredulity, I state that Mrs. Ross-Church (Florence Marryatt, daughter of the well-known novelist, and editor of London Society) relates, in the (London) Spiritualist of May 29, 1874, a similar experience. After giving various particulars of Katie’s last London seance, she says: “What appeared to me one of the most convincing proofs of Katie’s more than natural power was, that when she had cut, before our eyes, twelve or fifteen different pieces of cloth from the front of her tunic, as souvenirs for her friends, there was not a hole to be seen in it, examine It which way you would.”

In the same communication Mrs. Ross-Church adds: “Katie desired me to place my hands within the loose single garment which she wore, and feel her nude body. I did so thoroughly, and felt her heart beating rapidly beneath my hand.”]

How the pieces cut were thus condensed in size, I do not assume to explain. Katie’s robe looks like the thinnest gauze, and her veil like the fleeciest cobweb-lace. But the bits of each now in my possession seem bona-fide lawn and lace, such as ladies wear in this lower world.

This evening, for the first time, Katie vanished and reappeared, but a part of her form was intercepted by the front partition of the cabinet; at another sitting I witnessed the same phenomenon in perfection.

July 6. Katie exhibited an amiable trait of character. A little, slender, and somewhat infirm old lady, already in her seventy-sixth year, a Mrs. Peterman, who, though never a professional medium, had been for half a life-time endowed with what Paul calls spiritual gifts, was present, and had modestly taken a back seat. Katie spied her, and requested that she should have a seat in front. Then she called me and said: “Mr. Owen, I want to kiss that old lady, she is so cunning; ask her if she would be afraid.”

Mrs. Peterman expressed great delight; and Katie, slowly advancing, in her usual gracious way, lightly touched the gray head, as it bent before her, and imprinted a kiss on the wrinkled forehead.

A well-known artist of Philadelphia attended this sitting; and, after examining Katie through his opera-glass, said to me, ere he left, that he had seldom seen features exhibiting more classic beauty. “Her movements and bearing,” he added, “are the very ideal of grace.”

July 9. This evening, having observed that Katie seemed to delight in flowers, I handed her a large calla lily. She smelt it, exclaiming: “What a charming odor!” And each time that evening when she issued from the cabinet, she carried the flower in her hand.

I had begged her, if she could, to repeat for us the phenomenon of disappearance, and had placed myself so that I could see her entire person without the intervention of any part of the cabinet front.

It is an era in one’s life when one witnesses, in perfection, this marvelous manifestation. Katie stood on the very threshold of the cabinet, directly in front of me, and scarcely nine feet distant. I saw her, with absolute distinctness, from head to foot, during all the time she gradually faded out and reappeared. The head disappeared a little before the rest of her form, and the feet and lower part of the drapery remained visible after the body and the cross she wore had vanished. But the lily was to be seen, suspended in the air, for several seconds after the hand which had held it was gone; then it vanished, last of all. When the figure reappeared, that lily showed itself in advance of all else, at first like a bright crystal, about eighteen inches from the floor; but gradually rising and assuming the lily shape, as the hand which had held it, and the form to which that hand belonged, first shimmered and then brightened into view. In less than a minute after the reappearance commenced, Katie issued from the cabinet in full beauty, hearing the lily in her right hand, with the cross on her bosom, and arrayed in the self-same costume which she had previously worn; then, coming toward us, she saluted the circle with all her wonted grace.

I am not sure whether we have, on record, any account of the vanishing and reappearance, in the light, of physical objects; at least any example when it was observed so closely and in such perfection as this.

During the sitting of July 10, Katie allowed us again to witness this phenomenon; and, on that occasion, a bouquet which she held in her hand vanished and reappeared, as the lily and cross had done.

About this time I obtained incidentally most cogent additional evidence (little needed) that these phenomena were genuine.

An old and valued friend, Mr. Ferdinand Dreer, desiring to allay the suspicions of certain skeptical intimates of his, proposed to bring them to a seance, at which he should be allowed to keep watch outside the parlor door. At ten o’clock on the morning of July 13, he called on me, asking me if I could arrange this for him with the mediums. As soon as he left I proceeded, in accordance with his wishes, to the Holmeses, whom I found just returned from breakfast. We talked the matter over, and I remarked: ” I wish I could know what Katie thinks about it.”

“I dare say we could ascertain,” said Mrs. Holmes; “we can try.”

So we locked the doors, closed the window-blinds, lit and shaded a single gas-burner, and sat down quietly before the cabinet. In ten minutes Katie appeared at the aperture, beckoned to me, and, before I had said a word, asked: “Is Mr. Dreer a man upon whose promises you can rely?”

I. Absolutely. And he has given me his solemn promise that neither he nor the friends he proposes to bring with him will violate any conditions imposed.

Katie. But you must have some of our intimate friends in the front circle. I need such aid.

I. Be sure that we shall attend to that.

Katie. Let Mr. Dreer examine all the rooms before the sitting begins, and leave the door of this parlor open, so that he can see and hear what passes.

It did not occur to me, till after this impromptu sitting closed, what a severe test it was. The Holmses had never, up to this time, had a forenoon or midday sitting. They could not, by possibility, have anticipated my coming, since the intention to visit them preceded my visit by five minutes only. Still less could they have imagined that I would express a desire to hear from Katie at that hour. The hypothesis of preparation is absolutely barred. The door of the cabinet stood open, as usual, when I entered. I examined it carefully, and myself closed its door, before we sat down.

July 14. Mr. Dreer came with four friends. Ere the sitting commenced, he examined the house, inspected the bedroom most critically, saw the outside window-shutter of that room effectually barred, saw its door locked, and placed a bit of adhesive plaster over the key-hole, then sat down in the entry, so that no one could go up or down stairs without passing him. The door opening from the parlor on the passage where he sat remained open during the whole sitting.

Under these strict test conditions, the manifestations were triumphantly successful. Katie came out in full form five or six times. In the course of the evening she jestingly deplored Mr. Dreer’s solitary condition, begged him to let her know in case he saw Katie King pass up or down stairs, and finally invited him into the room, advancing and gracefully saluting him. Ere the sitting closed we had — now for the fifth time — the phenomenon of appearance and disappearance in full perfection. During this and the sitting of June 12, the reappearance seemed to be effected in a somewhat modified way. The form came into view first as a sort of dwarfed or condensed Katie, not over eighteen inches high; then the figure appeared to be elongated, almost as a pocket-telescope is drawn to its full length, till the veritable Katie, not a fold of her shining raiment disarranged, stood in full stature before us. That scriptural expression of “shining raiment” was constantly suggested to me when Katie, issuing from the darkness of the cabinet, shone out upon us in full form.

Another phenomenon, that of levitation, which we witnessed during the sitting of July 12, and on four or five other occasions, recalled some of the old paintings of the Transfiguration. Within the cabinet, but in full view, we saw Katie’s entire form — her graceful garments literally “white as the light” — suspended in mid-air. I observed that she gently moved hands and feet, as a swimmer, upright in the water, might. She remained thus, each time, from ten to fifteen seconds.

July 16. This was my farewell sitting, appointed on the forenoon of the day on which I left Philadelphia, by Katie herself, Dr. and Mrs. Child being present, at her request.

I had a talk with her at the aperture. Producing the mother-of-pearl cross I had given her, she said: “Father Owen, I shall keep this cross forever, and when, at any time, I fall short of my highest conceptions of duty, be sure that the sight of it will recall me to better thoughts.”

[Ever since the day I promised to protect her from annoyance as if she were my own daughter she was in the habit at thus addressing me.]

I told her with how much regret I parted from her, and she added: “But you will return in the autumn; for I don’t think it is intended that you should come to us yet awhile. But if it is, be very certain that I shall be there to receive you.”

I told her I should be quite content to go at once, only that I had some work which I desired still to do.

Katie. I think you will live to do it; yet you ought to rest for two months at least. The excitement of these interviews keeps you up, but you will feel exhausted when that passes off.

She came out four or five times, walking about freely, seated herself on a chair, then came up to us, laying her hands on our heads. She gave sundry instructions touching the sittings to come, and expressed the hope that, in the future, she might still be able to do much for us.

Myself. It is a marvel to me, dear Katie, that you should take such pains about us earthly creatures.

Katie. Why, I love you all. It is beautiful to be here, among dear friends.

Toward the close of this sitting we had a phenomenon somewhat different from any we had yet witnessed. The door of the cabinet opened slowly, without visible cause. Nothing was to be seen within except the black walnut boards; but, after a minute or two, there appeared, exactly as if emerging from the floor, first the head and shoulders of Katie, then her entire body; and, as on previous occasions, after standing a few seconds, she came out into the parlor and approached us. When the astonishment called forth by such a sight had somewhat subsided, I thought of the text which speaks of Samuel, at Endor, “arising out of the earth.”

[At that hour the music store, of which I have spoken as being Immediately below the parlor and cabinet, was open and frequented by customers. ]

She came up to me, kissing me on the forehead, and bestowing her final benediction. Then, after a few pleasant words to the mediums and to Dr. and Mrs. Child, and after looking at us all for some time, she said: “I am very sorry that I shall soon have to part with you all.”

As she spoke, the tears — literal tears — stood in those large, kind eyes, and she wiped them with her veil, slowly retreating to the cabinet. Both the ladies wept; and to us all it was a sad and solemn leave-taking.

The reader who may have followed me to this point will have concluded (correctly) that I no longer entertained the slightest doubt touching the genuine character of these manifestations.

The proof lies in a nutshell, and may be stated in simplest syllogistic form; the only axiom to be conceded being this: Human beings cannot pass, at will, through the substance of a brick wall, or of a stout wooden partition. This conceded, the case stands thus: — Either Katie was, what she professed to be, a visitant from another phase of being, or else she was a confederate stealthily introduced into the cabinet, for purposes of deceit.

But under the conditions as they were arranged, entrance to or exit from the cabinet, except by the door which opened into the parlor where we sat, was a physical impossibility.

Therefore Katie, not being an inhabitant of this world, was a denizen of another, made visible to us, for the time, by some process which has been called materialization.

It was to a similar conclusion that the London scientists, Mr. Crookes, Mr. Wallace, and Mr. Varley, came, after a long, patient, and critically conducted investigation.

To the same effect is the experience (ten years older than ours) of Mr. Charles Livermore. [Formerly head of the well-known New York banking firm of Livermore, Clews, & Co. His experience, running through five years (1861 to 1886), will be found (based on his own record, made fromday to day) in The Debatable Land (Carleton & Co., New York), pages 482 to 501.] He saw the eidolon of his deceased wife on eighty or ninety different evenings. The figure vanished and reappeared, floated in the air, touched him, and suffered him to touch it; all as with us: also a luminous detached hand wrote for him. But there were differences. In his case the materialization was effected, in every instance, during a dark sitting, while all our sittings were lighted. The figure which appeared to him was made visible by spiritual light; being sometimes self-illumined, sometimes lighted from an ephemeral light vehicle which he saw and handled; and when the figure vanished, the light went out with it. Again, it never conversed with him, uttering only (now and then) inarticulate sounds. Nor did the expression of the face vary, as in a human being. It was more or less perfect in resemblance, indeed, on different occasions; depending in part, it seemed, on the weather; but, once formed, it maintained, throughout the evening, a fixed expression, as if crystallized.

There was another marked difference. Mr. Livermore obtained, as I did, a lock of hair and a portion of the dress; but both melted away in ten or fifteen minutes.

Thus it appears that, since that time, spirit artists have made progress. They are now able to materialize the vocal organs, and to give to the features that mobility of expression which thoughts and feelings, as they change, impart to the human countenance. Finally, they have learned how to give permanence to locks of hair and portions of garments, so that these gifts from spiritual hands no longer vanish as we gaze,

“Like fairy-gifts fading away;”

but remain in human possession, tangible vouchers for the reality of spirit-visitation.

It would lead me too far to extend comparison to the sittings of the Eddys, of Vermont, whom I have not seen. Some of the phenomena obtained through them seem to be even more marvelous, and much more varied, than those here recorded: but with them, as in London, it has ever been necessary, in order to obtain materialization, that a medium should remain in the cabinet.

I have seen Katie’s brilliant form walk forth into the room eighty or a hundred times. Nearly as often I have conversed with her at the aperture, sometimes as to the manner of conducting the sittings. On several of these occasions she read, and replied to, my thoughts. I saw her face, day after day, as distinctly as I ever saw that of a human being. I am as certain that it was the same spirit, from first to last, as I can be in regard to the identity of any friend whom I meet daily. Not only by the bright, changeful play of the features, and the large, somewhat sad eyes, with their earnest, honest look, but by the tone and tenor of her conversation, evincing alike good sense and good feeling, did I recognize a distinct and uniform, and, I may add, an amiable and estimable character.

There are, however, certain discrepancies which seem, at first, not easily explained. In somewhat strange contrast with Katie’s high-bred finish of manner when she walks forth from the cabinet, are a few of her peculiarities. When those who ought to know better, making light of the occasion, have spoken to her after what is sometimes called a chaffing fashion, she has replied, if she replied at all, in the same tone~ using such expressions as “Of course I be,” “I can’t,” “I shan’t,” and giving to the a in these words, and in the word “thank,” its broad sound, as in hail; occasionally, too, jestingly calling the mediums or Dr. Child “stoopid.” But whenever I have conversed with her alone, I have detected no triviality; her language has been that of an educated woman, and her sentiments those of a kind and a good one. On such occasions she has more than once reminded me that her mission here was to give to the children of this world evidence of their immortality.

These apparent discrepancies of bearing and manner are, perhaps, philosophically accounted for in a communication purporting to come from Katie herself through the mediumship of a gentleman whose good faith is unquestionable; in which occur these passages: —

“The way in which I sometimes appear and speak, when I am materialized, is not a true exponent of my present condition. . . . Spirits either in or out of the form, as you call it, are, to a great extent, subject to the influences of material elements; and if you could spend a little time with me, in an appreciative manner, in my home in spirit-land, you would not recognize me as the same Katie who calls you ‘stupid,’ and uses expressions that are often repulsive to my inner consciousness. All spirits, when they visit earth, must, in subjection to a law of their being, assume the conditions they had when they left the earthly form, though they may bring to your world many thoughts and ideas which they have acquired in the inner life. . . . All spiritual communications are more or less modified by the channel through which they pass.”

[Holding this for truth, and being desirous not to mix uncertainties with certainties, I refrain from alluding here to certain (alleged) particulars of Katie’s earth-life (with a truthful ring in them), coming to us through such a channel. All that Katie herself ever told me on that subject was, that her true name is Annie Morgan, and that the spirit usually known as John Ring or Henry Morgan is her father.]

As to the side issue regarding the identity of the Katie who appeared to us with the Katie who was the subject, of Mr., Crookes’ investigations, it is less conclusively settled than the reality of the phenomena themselves. Yet I see strong reason for admitting it and little or none for denying it. [On one occasion, without any previous allusion by myself to the subject, Katie said to me, from the cabinet window: “Some of my London friends misinterpreted my parting words. I took final leave, not of your earth, but of dear Florrie cook, because my continuance with her would have injured her health.” This is the only allusion which Katie has ever made to me in regard to her London experience, or her friends in that city. ] In the main, our experience on this side is but the counterpart of that obtained in England, with such advance as, in the progress of all phenomenal experiments, is to be expected. I do not believe that we could have succeeded as we did in Philadelphia, unless the way had been prepared for us in London; nor unless we had been aided by the same spirit which had acquired, during three years’ experience with Florence Cook as medium, the skill—if I may use the earthly expression—which enables her to present herself in veritable earthly guise.

To judge by the London photographs of Katie taken by electric light, the beautiful form and features with which we are familiar here do not resemble those which appeared to the English observers; nor is there here, as there was in London, any likeness between the spirit-form and wither of the mediums. The face of the London Katie suggests the adjectives pretty and interesting.

The face of our Katie is Grecian in its regularity. Earnestness, with a passing touch of weariness, is its habitual expression; and even its smile, though bright, has occasional dash of sadness in it. One thinks of it as unquestionably handsome, as full of character, as intellectual, and withal as singularly attractive; but one would never call it pretty, any more than one would apply that term to Venus of Milo. The nose is straight, not aquiline as in the London photographs, and the large, clear eyes are dark gray with a bluish tinge. The face is a trifle broader than the classical model; the upper lip somewhat less short, and the features, perhaps, less delicately chiseled: yet both features and expression much more nearly resemble those of some fine old statue, than they do the lineaments and looks of Florence Cook, so far as one can judge from her photograph. But in this case identity must be determined by internal evidence not by outward form. The mediums, from whom is doubtless drawn a portion of the elements to materialize, here and there, being entirely different.

The chief advance which, so far as by reading goes, we have made over allprevious observers is, that the mediums remain outside in full view and untranced during the whole sitting. I have not found any record of a case in which a spirit in full form issued from the cabinet, walked about the room, conversed with its visitors, touched them and was touched in turn, unless a medium had preciously entered the cabinet, and had remained there (usually entranced) until the spirit-form returned thither. Our light, too, was sufficient to show the features in perfection (at least when we approached the cabinet); and this has not usually been the case at materializations elsewhere.

Nor do I doubt that, at the sittings which have recently been recommenced, — and at which the self-same Katie has already shown herself, as distinctly as ever, — we shall make important additional progress. [For brevity’s sake I have passed over the record of more than half our sittings, with numerous minor details; among them the appearance, in full form within the cabinet, of a tall, stately figure, purporting to be that of Abraham Lincoln and of another said to be John King. There came also, at different times, to the apertures, fifteen or sixteen different faces, a few of which were recognized by relatives or friends. ]

If, now, I am asked where all this is to end; what is to come of it, in case familiar converse with visitants from a higher life shall continue to be permitted here; I reply that that is not our affair. We have to deal, for the present, with facts, not with the results from facts. We are not the governors of this world, and need not trouble ourselves with predictions looking to the ultimate consequences of natural phenomena. Cosmical order has never, so far, been disarranged by any new class of truths; and if we fear that it ever will be, we shall merit the reproach: “O ye of little faith!”

I hold it of all human privileges the greatest, to have been permitted to witness these phenomena.

Postscript. Since writing the above there has come to my notice a document which enables me to speak with more assurance of the identity of the Katie King of Philadelphia and the spirit appearing under the same name in London.

Mr. J. C. Luxmore, a gentleman of the utmost respectability, has been, throughout the period of Miss Florence Cook’s mediumship, her constant friend and supporter. Many of her sittings were held at his town-house, 16 Gloucester Square, Hyde Park, London.

Now, in The (London) Spiritualist of February 1, 1873, Mr. Luxmore has given, under his own signature, the full details of a seance, by the Holmeses, which he attended on the evening of January 13, 1873. After describing a preliminary dark seance, and then the appearance, in the light at the aperture, of four or five faces, “very plainly seen,” he adds: “Last of all came Katie, who generally, or I believe I may say always, presents herself at Miss Cook’s seances. I have seen her three times at Hackney, and could perfectly identify the face. She spoke, as usual, in a whisper, but not sufficiently loud for me to determine what was said. I, although I had not the slightest doubt of her identity, said: ‘If you are Katie, put out your chin as you do at Miss Cook’s.’ This was at once done. I should think it perfectly impossible for any one who has had the privilege of attending Miss Cook’s seances to have a single doubt of its being the same face we see there.” The italics are Mr. Luxmore’s. [Where Miss Cook and her parents then lived. Katie, at that time, had not appeared in full form. ]

But all those who, like myself, were fortunate enough to converse frequently and familiarly with Katie last summer, will bear me out in asserting that the one peculiarity which marked her appearance at the aperture was, that each time, after she had said something to us, she withdrew the upper part of her face and head, bringing her chin prominently forward. The self-same peculiarity marks her recent reappearance.

It does not at all affect the genuine character of the phenomena whether we conclude that the question of identity is determined, or that it must be left open. Nor do I assert that it is positively settled by the above facts. What I do say is, that these facts, taken in connection with other evidence already adduced, afford to my mind fair and reasonable assurance that (though varying in outward feature) the spirit which conversed with Mr. Crookes and others in London and that which has spoken to myself and others here—in both cases an eminent instrument to advance the cause of Spiritualism—is but one and the same.

From: The Atlantic Monthly—A Magazine of Literature, Science, art, and Politics Vol. XXXV, No. 207 (January 1875) pp 57-69. New York.

This work is not published by the original publishers of this article or by their successors. The print source citation is given for informational purposes only.

Original Disclaimer: The Editors of The Atlantic desire to advertise their friends of the Press and the Public, that with Mr. Robert Dale Owen rests all responsibility for the statements of his articles on Spiritual Phenomena.

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