Annie Eva Fay, Anna Eva Fay,
Medium Annie Eva Fay USA.
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Anna (Annie) Ava Fay Medium
February 1851 - 12th May 1927
Famous American Medium who demonstrated on the theatrical stage, where she produced phenomena quite similar to that of the Davenport brothers. Born as Anna Eva Heathman in Southington, Ohio, she was driven from home by her stepmother. She gave her first exhibition in an old schoolhouse in Ohio. Her first husband, Henry Cummings Melville Fay, had been denounced as a fraud by Spiritualists, and his appearance on the stage with Annie Fay immediately threw doubt on the authenticity of Annie's performance, billed as "The Indescribable Phenomenon."
Her public performances in London in 1874 at the Crystal Palace aroused the interest of researcher Sir William Crookes, who was then finishing a series of tests on the mediumship of Florence Cook. The phenomena involved the movement of objects and playing of musical instruments in the dark. Annie Fay was tested by Crookes at his house in London in February 1875. Crookes had Fay hold two electrodes in an electrical circuit connected with a galvanometer in an adjoining room, which indicated any variation in the Medium's grip. Under these circumstances, a heavy musical box was moved across the room, opened, wound up, started, and stopped again. A handbell was rung, and a hand holding it was thrust through a curtained doorway into the laboratory, where the bell dropped in full view. Crookes's locked bureau was opened, odd things were placed on it, and all the drawers were opened. Crookes was convinced that his electrical control was not broken. An account of the experiment was published in the Medium (March 12, 1875).
Annie Fay's son John Truesdale Fay (born in Ohio in 1877) travelled with his mother's show and was suspected of assisting with "manifestations" while hidden under Annie's dress. In 1881 Annie married David H. Pingree, who promoted her performances, which included a stage clairvoyant act called "Somnolency," now known to have been an ingenious trick.
Some confusion has been caused by the fact that Annie's son John married Anna Norman in 1898 and taught his wife the same stage clairvoyance act, which they performed together as "The Fays." Earlier, another American stage performer using the name "Annie Fay" had copied the "Indescribable Phenomenon" act.
In her later years, Annie Fay made money answering letters by mail, in addition to continuing her stage appearances. In 1913 she was honoured by the famous conjurer's association The Magic Circle in London, which elected her first honorary lady associate. She continued to draw large crowds for her stage shows until an accident in 1924 in Milwaukee, after which she retired.
The great Houdini claimed that she told him how she had tricked Crookes during his experiments in London by holding a handle with one hand and gripping the other with the bare flesh under her knee, thus enabling her to produce raps and play musical instruments. Fay died May 20, 1927.
Christoper, Milbourne. Mediums, Mystics and the Occult. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.
This Article first appeared in Psychic News on 10th April 2010 and is reproduced by permission of the editor
By 8th April 1905 when The Salt Lake Herald published an article, 'Anna Eva Fay - The Modern Oracle of Delphi Lays Bare Life's Mysteries,' Anna was established as a major vaudeville performer whose peculiar 'abilities' were the highlight of her travelling show.
The article described the glamour and mystery with
which Fay surrounded her activities. It reported in vivid terms the
experiences she claimed to have had as a young woman - an 'American Girl,'
residing in the "town of Burmah, India." It was there, she claimed, in a
"pyrimidical [sic] tent," that Anna sat communicating telepathically with a
"High Priest, known the breadth and length of India," learning all the
occult secrets with which she went on to "startle the world".
The Frankfort Roundabout, a Kentucky newspaper, went
even further on 24th November 1906 in its review of her impending visit,
boldly claiming Anna Eva Fay was "endowed with a full understanding of the
limits of spiritualism [sic]," and was "the most remarkable occultist," who
"while still a child went to India where she studied the supernatural arts
of the Mahatmas. So proficient did she become...the high priests bestowed
upon her the title of Fair Mahatma." Such fanciful tales created a wonderful
and exotic image of Anna Eva Fay, and helped to project an aura of mystery
and occult skill. In reality, it is highly unlikely that Anna Fay was ever
in India, or for that matter "Burma"!
Anna was born Ann Eliza Heathman, in February 1851, at Southington, Ohio, the daughter of a cobbler. After troubled family circumstances she apparently left home at an early age and began to exercise skills which indicated abilities as a medium. Around 1871, Anna met the man who would become known as her husband though it is doubtful they ever married. Henry Melville Cummings 'Fay' also became her business partner and it was he who allegedly helped her develop her 'mediumship' skills.
Henry was a Medium with a very dubious reputation. In The Spiritual Magazine of 1st Dec 1867, Benjamin Coleman wrote an article on 'H. Melville Fay inEngland'. Coleman made clear that Henry Fay was not to be confused with William Fay, the man accompanying the Davenport Brothers. This was a common error made at the time, and one which Barry Wiley, in a 1983 article, 'The Fay Family Fight', indicated may have been deliberate on Henry's part. Coleman also claimed that Henry's "power as a Medium was too feeble to enable him to live" and that in fact he had therefore made his living by touring to "expose the 'imposture' practised by Spirit Mediums".
When Henry toured England he travelled to Huddersfield where he met Mr Howarth, a leading Spiritualist, who invited him to run a seance.
Unfortunately for Henry, Professor Gunning, a citizen of Boston, was present and denounced him as one who had been exposing Spiritualism. Henry claimed he had done so on one occasion only, and the seance went ahead, without the Professor, who left in disgust.
When the Professor returned the next day with a copy of Banner of Light containing a report on Henry's full career, the mood of the Spiritualists turned unsympathetic and Henry was obliged to leave quickly.
This, then, was the man who became Anna's partner for the first seventeen years of her career, up to his death in 1889. Yet, when he and Anna came to London in June 1874 to work, no one was overly concerned with their past.
Their act drew great acclaim, notably attracting the interest of both Sir William Crookes and the magician J. N. Maskelyne. In 1932, Maskelyne's grandson Jasper published a book called White Magic. It records that Anna set up as a Spiritualist rival to Maskelyne's Egyptian Hall Magic Show and states "at first no supernatural aid was claimed", but that after some time she was achieving her seance performance with the aid of a Spirit called "Sweet William".
William Crookes undertook to investigate Anna Fay. The tests were spread over several days but the key seance occurred on 19th February 1875. On this evening Sir William was joined by several other scientific researchers, including Serjeant Cox, his helper in the research on D. D. Home. The key control method used was a galvanometer, which required the medium to grip a handle either side of a battery to ensure a complete energy circuit.
A similar control was used in experiments with Florence Cook, and the scientists pointed out a weakness. Adjustments were made to overcome potential problems, and with Mrs Fay in position the lighting was reduced to one very dim gaslight. Almost immediately a variety of visual and audible events occurred, with items also appearing in the room from other parts of the house. At the conclusion of the session all observers agreed that the phenomena which had occurred were genuine and that the flow of current was maintained.
Deborah Bloom, in Ghost Hunter, records that around the same time Frederick Myers of the Society for Psychical Research persuaded Anna to attend a separate test seance with his colleague Henry Sidgwick. With different controls no phenomena occurred and they both dismissed the claims that Anna was able to produce genuine phenomena. Despite such contrary indications, Crookes' findings that Anna was a genuine Physical Medium were published in the 1875 Spiritualist under the title 'A Scientific Examination of Mrs Fay's Mediumship'.
Maskelyne, among many others, did not accept the validity of the tests, and suggested ways in which Mrs Fay could have beaten Sir William's controls. The magician soon incorporated all of Anna's phenomena into his shows, and regularly stopped to explain to the audience how it was done.
Years later Maskelyne's ideas on both Mrs Fay and the Davenport Brothers were the subject of a newspaper article, entitled 'A Chat with John Maskelyne', which was circulated widely.
On 27th July 1885, a copy was published in the Nelson Evening Mail in New Zealand. In the article Maskelyne claimed that on 12th May 1875 he had received a letter from Anna offering to expose all Sir William's scientific tests for a guaranteed sum of money. He alleged he had also been informed by Mrs Fay's manager that for a sum of money they were willing to pass on the way by which Miss Fay conducted her show.
Maskelyne declined the offer, already being sure he knew how she had beaten the tests and how all the tricks were done. Anna returned to America in July 1875, and from then on she neither suggested spirit was involved nor ever admitted her performances used trickery. She made no public statement about cheating in the galvanometer test, although there is some suggestion she privately boasted about it.
Those wishing to debunk the claims of Spiritualists often targeted Anna Fay. On 18th May 1876 Irving Washington Bishop, a one-time assistant, and possibly manager of Anna, gave a public exhibition at Chickering Hall, New York, at which he performed all of Anna's feats and explained to the audience how they had been done. This was widely reported in newspapers and magazines.
One editorial, headed 'Spiritualist Humbug Explode [sic]', in the June 1876 Manufacturer & Builder Magazine, drew a letter response from Dr Von Vleck, the "Spiritualist Medium Detective", published in August.
Von Vleck's letter stated that in late August 1871 he had met Henry Fay in Cincinnati, Ohio, just before a seance. On inquiring whether Mr Fay had any new additions to his repertoire, he was informed of a new one involving the use of iron rings. Von Vleck claimed that Henry, concerned that Von Vleck would seek to expose the Fays, would not go ahead with the seance until Von Vleck promised to remain silent, which he did, provided they did not make mention of Spirit intervention and allowed him to learn the new trick.
Such exposures did not, however, stop Anna from performing, and she continued to travel around the country, with newspapers generally presenting her act as one of wonder, be it trickery or not. By the late 1880s, however, she appears mainly to have worked only in the provincial towns. This preference may relate to two incidents. The first, in New York, where The New York Times wrote on 9th December 1886, in an article headed 'No Bodies Materialised', that her feats were nothing more remarkable than those of everyday magicians. It suggested "the audience went out with vigorous growls of disappointment".
The second event occurred in Chicago on 6th March 1887, where 6,000 people attended her seance at a charge of 50 cents each. On 7th March The New York Times called it an "impudent exhibition of stale tricks" and the audience only left happy after driving Anna and her helpers off stage and smashing up her equipment.
Throughout her career, the first section of Anna Eva Fay's act involved being tied up in a cabinet after which a variety of tambourines, buckets and banjos would be thrown out. In the early years this spectacle, reminiscent of the work of the Davenport brothers, was shrouded in mystery; however, in the later years her approach made it far more humorous than mysterious.
The second part of her public act involved "thought transference" whereby Fay answered questions written by audience members on notepads provided for the purpose by Anna's attendants. The written slip would remain with the individual while the blank notepads were returned to the stage.
After going into a state of "somnolency", as the Fays defined it, Anna's eyes were bandaged and she was wrapped in a sheet and placed in a chair. The particulars of the act may have varied over time, but by 1905 the regular pattern involved her suddenly pointing her arm forward then swinging it round until settling on one direction, following which she would call out the name of a person in the audience, then their question followed by an answer, which was invariably confirmed as correct.
Anna Fay's son John Truesdale Fay was born in 1877, and eventually he also worked in the act. This added to the criticisms levelled against her, with the suggestion that he hid under Anna's skirts and took an active part in helping produce the phenomena.
To counter this Anna undertook a special performance, and on 13th March 1893, the Atlanta Constitution published the headline "She Convinced Them - Anna Eva Fay Shows the Newspapermen that no boy is Hidden in her Skirts."
when John married, he and his wife Eva Dean split from Anna and set up their
own act, modelled entirely upon Anna's performances but with a variation in
presentation, using an Egyptian theme.
This caused a rift between Anna and her son which was only resolved shortly before John's untimely death in San Francisco in December 1908, following an accident with a revolver. Anna had her son's body interred in a specially built mausoleum (see picture) at her home, Heathman Manor in Melrose, Massachusetts.
Descendants of the Pingree family, however, assert that she married Pingree in Canada in 1889, after Henry Fay had died. An obituary in The New York Times of 30th May 1889 records that on 29th May in Cleveland, Ohio, "H. Melville Fay, the wellknown Spirit Medium and husband of Anna Eva Fay, has justdied in hospital of cancer of the tongue."
In 1906, Anna was arrested in Pittsburgh for telling fortunes, an event recorded in The Harford Courier on 28th Dec 1906. Amazingly enough she was bailed the same day and continued with her act, and apparently the charges were dropped. In 1907 she received one of her most interesting challenges when Miss Genevieve Cleve's announced in The Los Angeles Herald of 29th December the production of her work, Death of Modern Spiritualism: An Expose of the Work of All So-Called Spirit Mediums, with its "One Thousand Dollar Challenge to Anna Eva Fay".
Cleve's challenge to Anna was that should she or any other Spirit Medium come and prove they had Spirit contact on the stage with her, she would pay them $1,000. Subsequently she offered to raise that to $2,000 when Anna said she would not even be bothered to consider such a small sum. Miss Cleve's said in the newspaper report "Like hundreds of thousands of spiritualists [sic] I want to see the fakers put out for they work fearful harm on the communities."
As ever, Anna quietly ignored the challenge and carried on with her shows, which continued to draw large crowds. By this time, it seems to have been accepted that she used trickery, even though it was never mentioned.
A report on the vaudeville shows for the summer season on Coney Island, in The Salt Lake Herald on 3rd July 1910, draws attention in particular to Anna's show. It describes the fact that the imprint of the pencils used leaves a mark in the notepad by the use of chemical residue and that this was used by Anna, yet indicates how enjoyable the show was, especially as it made constant reference to the local horse racing with regular requests for the winners. The article goes on to say that Anna's agents kept her up to date with news and hot tips from the stables.
In 1913, the Magic Circle, cofounded by Maskelyne and David Devant in London, where it still resides today, made Anna its first Honorary Lady Associate Member, despite her earlier conflict with Maskelyne, engendering the hostility of some magicians because she had never publicly acknowledged
Anna Fay and Houdini
that she used magical trickery. In 1925 Anna retired after a leg injury sustained whilst performing. Subsequently she became friendly with Houdini and was part of the group involved in the controversial seance with Mina Crandon where both sides claimed they had been vindicated.
Anna died of heart disease on 12th May 1927, at the age of 76, and was buried in the mausoleum with her son at her Melrose home. Five years later, Houdini claimed in his book Magician Among Spirits, that Anna had told him how her tricks were done; however, her biographer Barry Wiley asserts Houdini's report was "pure fantasy".
Whether Anna Eva Fay's public performances were entirely based on trickery, or included the use of genuine psychic abilities, remains uncertain. Anna chose never to reveal the truth during her lifetime, taking the answer with her to the grave. So far as is known, she has not returned to shed light on the real nature of her act, and Anna Eva Fay remains a fascinating enigma in the annals of Spiritualist history.
On March 31, 1848, a new religion called Spiritualism was born. Less than three years later history saw another birth, that of Ann Eliza Heathman to a simple cobbler in Southington, Ohio. While still a child, Annie was told she was a medium for the spirits of the dead, and from that point on she never looked back.
It is believed that Annie was driven out of her home by her over jealous stepmother. After she had left home she became interested in theosophy and mysticism. It is also believed that she became a pupil of Madam Blavatsky living with her and helping her in her work. When she left Blavatsky, Annie was given a shawl as a gift by Madam Blavatsky, but now had to make her own way in life. Annie had been told in her childhood, that she was a medium and so decided to make a life for herself on stage as a mind reader and psychic entertainer and gave her first public performance in a school house in New Portage, Ohio.
It was during this time that she met and married Henry Cummings Melville Fay, a self proclaimed unscrupulous fraudulent Medium (or exposer of fraudulent Mediums-whichever was paying best at the time). They decided to work on stage as a couple and were billed as 'The Indescribable Phenomenon' presenting an awe inspiring performance. Under his guidance, Annie conquered America and then Europe, Henry Fay had been denounced by many Spiritualists, and this threw some doubt on the authenticity of their performance.
However they managed to pack in the audiences where ever they performed. Annie taking her place on stage, she sat on a stool in an open fronted cabinet. Supervised by Henry, members of the audience were invited to tie her to the stool. One volunteer would tie her left wrist with a long piece of material, this tie would be made in the centre of the material and a number of knots would be put one on top of the other. A second volunteer would do the same again with her right wrist. Her arms would then be placed behind her back and the loose ends of the materials from both wrists would be tied together and again heavily knotted and tied to a harness ring that was embedded into an upright post at the rear of the cabinet. Another piece of material was tied at the back of Annie's neck and again, passed through a harness ring which was attached to the same upright post. One end of a long rope was then tied around her ankles while the other end was held by a spectator throughout their performance.
Annie would then deem to off into a trance like state. Henry Fay would then place a hoop in his wife's lap and proceed to close the curtains over the front of the cabinet. A second later he would throw open the curtains again and the hoop by now had moved to being around Annie's neck. He would then remove the hoop and place on her lap a guitar; on the drawing of the curtains the sound of the guitar being strummed could be heard by the audience quite clearly, when Henry re-opened the curtains a few seconds later, the strumming would stop and the guitar would fall to the floor. This continued with a number of other instruments and the same thing would happen. Annie's bindings still appearing to remain intact. Other phenomenon occurred; nails being driven into blocks of wood and paper dolls snipped out of paper. The great climax of the act was Henry placing a knife on the lap of his wife, and although the curtain had only been closed a second or two, the spirits seemingly had time to slice through her bonds and she would stand up and take many bows. The fays never actually billed themselves or claimed Spirit intervention, even though she was bold enough to feature tricks in her main act such as; a 'Spirit Dancing Handkerchief ', a 'Rapping Hand, and a Levitation'.
The Fays arrived in London in June 1874 and the advertisements billing their performances mentioned 'entertainments with light and dark seances every day and mysterious manifestations, with a series of bewildering effects'. There was however, no suggestion from them that they had any relationship to Spiritualism. This denial however made no difference to the British Public who hailed her as a Physical Medium.
This caused a great deal of interest and attention from some Britain's most notorious physical researchers. FW Myers, for instance, who was later one of the founders of the Society for Physical Research, had expressed an interest in completing an extensive investigation of Mrs. Fay's mediumship. William Crooks, who was just finishing a series of psychic tests on Florence Cook, medium to Katie King and later Marie., stated that he wanted to be first to examine her.
By far the most important of all the experiments carried out by Crooks on Annie, were the experiments of the electrical tests. These tests were held at Crooke’s home in 1875. One of these tests consisted of an electrical control circuit that had been provided by another fellow of the Royal Society, Cromwell F Varley, during the tests carried out on Florence Cook but slightly modified. To make sure that the medium who would be seated in her cabinet was unable to slip her bonds, Crooke’s had her clench both handles of a battery, constructed in such a way, that if she was to let go of either handle, the current would send the attached meter to zero.
By Jim and Lis Warwood
The Fay Family
By Barry Wiley
Unpublished photo of Anna Eva Fay c. 1908 from the Harvard Theatre Collection.
Why row?" New York's Vanity Fair asked in May, 1906, in observing, with some satirical humour, the remarkable behaviour of two highly successful performers - Anna Eva Fay at Keith's Theatre, and John T. and Eva Fay at Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre. As Vanity Fair pointed out, "the Keith Fay was the mother of the Hammerstein Fay," but that did not prevent a steady stream of angry words and accusations being exchanged between them for anyone to hear. Both women were noted for holding large audiences primarily by the power of their personalities and skill at answering any questions written, but not collected, from the audience. When that skill for entertaining was turned on each other, the women caused everyone to stand aside. John, Anna's only son who had travelled with her when only a small boy, added little positive value; being know off and on stage for his "surprising talent for making inexcusable grammatical blunders." The only other comment usually made about him was that he had a pale beard.
"It is time for you to retire, O Mother! Make way for the young and wise!" John and Eva declared, while Eva asserted privately to reporters that the elder woman had been arrested in Pittsburgh for "telling fortunes". Anna's retorts, sometimes from the stage, were likewise laced with special, loving invective.
"My mother has no right to the name Fay," John declared, stating that she was divorced form his father (actually his father had died of cancer shortly after his son's birth, but divorce at that time carried particularly strong moral implications) and had married David H. Pingree, her manager. John did not press this point too strongly since his father, Henry Melville Cummings Fay, a notorious spirit medium, was not actually named Fay, either; but had taken the name because of the popularity of William Fay, the chief assistant of the Davenport Brothers. Frequently, in later articles and obituaries, Henry Fay was closely associated with the Davenports because of the confusion in names; though Emma Hardinge, in her Modern American Spiritualism, was emphatic that Henry Cummings "Fay" had nothing to do with the famous Davenports. Further, Henry and Anna had a common-law relationship and were never actually married. Thus it was that Anna, early in her career, had on occasion described herself as Henry's sister, not his wife, when it seemed appropriate to do so; causing her to be described as both Miss and Mrs. Fay, depending on the time period and writer. Yes, John was right about the name, but that was past history in 1906. Whatever the source of the name Fay, both women were doing well financially-so; as Vanity Fair asked, "Why the row?".
The Fay acts that the patrons of Keith's and Hammerstein's were enjoying were virtually identical in every respect. The Fay act was presented in two parts: the first was a rope-tie cabinet act, during which pads of paper were distributed to the audience on which they were to write and retain questions they wanted answered during the second, mind-reading part of the show. It was the second part, the apparent mind-reading, which filled the theatres and made the headlines. The rope-tie presentation was usually passed over by reviewers, but was absolutely essential to provide time for backstage assistants to develop the impression pads used and to prepare the prompter notes for the second part. The Fay women were the act, as far as the public knew, with the men, John Fay and David Pingree, acting only as stage managers and assistants.
While the basic act was identical, the two women placed their own particular stamp on it. Anna played the cabinet portion for all it was worth, striving more to present a humorous puzzle than anything especially' mysterious; though at an earlier point in her career she had presented the rope-tie as a demonstration of genuine Physical Mediumship, usually with considerable success. She also occasionally varied the first portion by adding a rapping hand, a table levitation, or a dancing handkerchief to the basic cabinet presentation. (It was upon witnessing Anna's presentation of the dancing handkerchief, in a Chicago performance, that inspired Harry Blackstone to add such a routine to his own repertoire.) Anna also utilized a small cabinet so that her head would show throughout the rope-tie routine; allowing her to deliver humorous patter to accompany the flying tambourines, buckets, and banjos that would come sailing over the top of the cabinet while Anna was securely tied to a post anchored to the stage. Henry Fay had taught Anna the routine in 1872 with the pupil quickly outdoing the instructor. Anna's early childhood in the little village of Southington, in the wilderness of Northern Ohio, had given her a physical toughness that her small size and slight frame concealed; greatly facilitating the rapid manipulations needed to work the Fay method of the rope-tie. Only once, in London early in her career, was she tied in such a way that no manifestations occurred; and that time was by a woman. There after, she only allowed men to tie her.
Eva learned the rope-tie routine from John who had
learned it from his mother. Again, the pupil quickly surpassed the
instructor; but Eva was not as skilled in humour, with reporters observing
that she sometimes seemed bored with the whole thing. The cabinet portion
was only rarely varied by Eva. It was in the later mind-reading portion of
the act that Eva's personality and stage presence was most effective and in
greatest contrast to Anna's presentation. Let an observer describe her
"Clad in a long, flowing robe of glittering gold, her
russet-brown hair bearing a head-piece of ancient Egypt, her bare feet
sandaled, her bare arms encircled with quaintly carved bracelets of gold,
her hands toying with a long, flexible silver snake in the head of which
glistens an emerald of deepest green; her face oval and dark, lighted by
deep-set eyes that glow and burn; lips that turn upwards to the corners to
relieve the somberness of a thoughtful countenance, Eva Fay, tall and
generously proportioned, suggests the seeress of older times whom
philosophers and poets rhapsodize."
"When she slowly descends the few steps leading to
her high-back chair, the front of which is a great tiger skin, there is a
silence that can be felt throughout the huge auditorium."
"She drops a handful of pungent incense into the two
great Egyptian braziers that flank her chair. As the odour is wafted out
over the footlights, the feeling of suspense has settled down upon the
audience. She blindfolds herself. She is alone on the stage."
The entrance of Eva Fay was an event played against a
large backdrop depicting the interior of an Egyptian temple. It alone was
worth the price of admission.
Eva began to answer questions immediately with remarkable skill and sense of theater. Humor only occasionally; the setting clearly was not intended for prolonged humor. Like Anna, she would cause gasps of astonishment as she dealt quickly with details she simply could not have known even if she could have seen the written questions; which the audience was convinced she had not. The 20-30 minutes of exotic mind-reading was over too soon for most members of the audience; it was not uncommon for people to come 2, 3, or more times to see "The High Priestess of Modern Mystery."
At the conclusion of the question/answering, Eva removed the blindfold, rose from her throne-like chair, slowly ascended the steps, turned slightly to smile gravely to the awed audience, and bowed her head as the curtains swept shut. Little wonder the act closed the show.
In contrast to the barbaric splendour of Eva's
presentation, Anna, "a fragile, lily-like woman with a wealth of blonde
hair," and as one reporter expressed it, "the simple shape of a barrel
stave," generally wore flowing black or white satin gowns with ample
quantities of diamonds. Her entrance was from the wings, moving quickly to
the centre where an ordinary chair was placed. On occasion, the chair would
be placed on a platform built out from the stage to negate the criticism
that she could get help through the stage floor. Her husband, David Pingree,
covered her with a large shawl, supposedly the gift of Madame Blavatsky,
leaving only her thin right arm visible to the audience. Anna immediately
began to answer the audience's uncollected questions at a rate of about
three per minute. Anna's light, quick delivery of answers in a high, clear
voice, which carried to all parts of large theatres, astonished the
audience. There was no struggle for an "impression," a la Dunninger or
Kreskin, but a rapid inclusion of as many questions as possible in the time
available. As Anna noted in her article, Mind Reading, published in the
Chicago Post, January 5, 1907, there were only five subjects about which
audiences usually sought answers: wealth, health, lost persons, lost
articles, and the faithfulness of their spouses; enabling her to move
quickly through the questions selected from the results of the impression
pads. Her advance agents, like Eva's, provided local color and insights to
make Anna's responses more personal and thus more miraculous to the members
of the audience.
After about twenty minutes, Pingree would step to his
wife's side, lift off the shawl, and catch her as she fainted into his arms;
apparently exhausted from her effort in "penetrating the veil of the minds"
of her audience, but with her prompter notes clutched tightly in her left
hand and kept safely buried in the folds of her gown. Pingree carried her
from the stage to resounding applause as the curtains swept shut.
The Fay act was repeatedly and exhaustively exposed
in the press; while other acts, which parodied the Fays, exposed the methods
from the stage. But both women continued to fill theatres wherever they
toured since people came to see and hear them, as well as experience the
atmosphere of mystery which each woman wove in her own unique manner. The
exposers came and went, the Fays remained.
The bitterness between the mother and son was
genuine, not a contrived publicity ploy. Anna had survived and succeeded
with the Fay act, and had built the Fay name into a valuable theatrical
property through showmanship, resourcefulness, and hard work. She had
trained her son to assist her, not to compete. When John married Eva Dean, a
girl he had met in St. Louis, (not a girl working in the Fay show as has
been sometimes stated,) the two women took an immediate dislike to each
other. And, when John left his mother to tour with Eva in their own act,
"The Marvelous Fays," it was taken by Anna as an act of betrayal by her only
child. Friends attempted to find means of reconciliation, without success,
until early 1908 (when Anna became interested in building a large school of
Theosophy on a hill she owned behind her house, Heathman Manor, in Melrose
Highlands, Massachusetts). As the school occupied more of her thoughts, Anna
withdrew from touring; leaving the field to John and Eva, and their
imitators. The relationship between mother and son was restored, with Anna
giving John, in November, 1908, a completely furnished house adjacent to her
property on Franklin Street, and a substantial amount of money. Her feelings
regarding Eva, however, did not change.
During a visit to Heathman Manor in 1903, John had nearly killed himself playing with a loaded pistol. He had a morbid fear of death, but enjoyed flirting with it in handling loaded pistols; actually sometimes carrying two pistols with him. The bullet narrowly missed him, smashing into one of his mother's walls. On December 20, 1908, while again playing with a loaded pistol in their rooms at the Hotel St. Mark in Oakland, the pistol went off in John's face -- killing him instantly. He and Eva had been resting before continuing on to Denver as part of a forty-week tour at one-thousand dollars per week. Initial newspaper reports suggested suicide; however, all evidence pointed to a clumsy and tragic accident. His mother was grief stricken, but even John's death did not bring the two women any closer together. Anna built a large granite mausoleum in Wyoming Cemetery, Melrose, to house her son's remains. After a brief interval, Eva returned to the stage to complete the tour.
Anna dropped her plans for the Theosophy school after
John's death, resuming performances on a somewhat sporadic basis. At one
point she and the magician, Kark Germain, considered touring together; but
Germain felt uneasy about Anna's implied genuineness and withdrew. Her
continuing performances caused Billboard to comment in 1922 that "it
appeared she could go on forever:" However, Anna retired completely
following a performance in Milwaukee in 1924 in which she injured her wrist
during the cabinet routine. She still drew occasional reporters to her home
who wanted her views on various subjects; and on July 9, 1924, she was
visited by Harry Houdini who wanted to learn how she had beaten the controls
used by Sir William Crookes in his investigation of Anna in 1875 as a
genuine spirit medium. Crookes and his associates concluded that Anna Eva
Fay was indeed a genuine medium, giving public reports of their findings.
The liveliest spirit at Crookes' test seance was, in fact, Anna's own; as
she defeated Crookes' electrical control with ingenuity and cool nerve,
rather than by anything supernatural. Anna, however, refused to reveal to
Houdini how she did it. Houdini's subsequent report of their conversation in
his book, A Magician Among the Spirits, was pure fantasy.
Anna finally succumbed quietly to heart disease on May 12, 1927, at the age of 76. The year before, she had achieved one unsought honor, that of being the largest private taxpayer in Melrose; actually paying more taxes than many of the businesses in Melrose. Her comment on achieving such a distinction is not known.
Eva, who was on the West Coast at the time of Anna's death, returned to find that her bank accounts had been closed and that a legal proceeding she had brought had been concluded in favor of the other party; because it was thought that it was she, not Anna, who had died. Anna would have relished the irony of seeing Eva Fay forced to go to court to prove she was alive!
Eva had continued to tour after John's death, always billed as Mrs. Eva Fay; even after marrying Hal Malotte, one of her assitants. Eve left vaudeville to appear in a stage drama called "Howell's Millions" in 1911, but the new career did not succeed; though reviewers were impressed with her stage performance, the play itself was a failure. She went back to vaudeville as "The Reigning Psychic of the 20th Century."
Eva divorced Malotte a few years before her retirement from the stage in 1929. She lived alone in White Plains, New York. On the evening of September 4, 1931, she was returning from the theatre in a car driven by Louis DeRosa when it collided with another car driven by Paul M. Harris. Though both drivers survived the crash, Eva's legs were broken and she suffered severe internal injuries. She held onto life for another seven days, dying on September 11, 1931, at the age of 53. Several obituaries highlighted the fact that she had been the daughter-in-law of "the famous Anna Eva Fay," a statement Eva would have found galling.
Anna had left an estate of $65,191.11 to David Pingree, made up of real estate on Franklin Street in Melrose Highlands. Heathman Manor, however, was not included in her bequest to Pingree; though it was left to him to live in for his lifetime, the house was left to Anna's sisters. Anna's will was written in her usual tortured handwriting which lawyers and the court had trouble deciphering. Some of the provisions of the will were contradictory, and some relations who felt left out challenged the courts' interpretations of Anna's scrawl, but to no avail.
Pingree continued to live at Heathman Manor until his death at 72 from prolonged illness on December 24, 1932. On his death, the estate Anna had built with a rope-tie and showmanship was bankrupt with all the property, other than Heathman Manor itself, heavily mortgaged. All of the property was sold by court order to settle the debts of the estate; leaving nothing to any of the heirs, and actually not much for the creditors either because of the affects of the Depression. Pingree was buried with John and Anna in the mausoleum Anna had built in 1908 for her son. Over the double glass and iron doors to the tomb was carved "Anna Eva Fay Pingree" in six-inch letters. The Fay family fight was over.
I would particularly like to acknowledge the unfailing courtesy and interest shown me in providing information on Anna Eva Fay by Mr. James E. Heathman (now deceased) and his daughter, Mrs. Margaret L. Hitchings, both of Warren, Ohio. In addition, the following individuals have provided specific information, special insights and/or encouragement for which I would like to thank them: Milbourne Christopher, Dr. Eric Dingwall, Eric Franklin, Mostyn Gilbert, Ray Goulet, Bascom Jones Jr., Mrs. Lillian Kimmel, Robert Lund, Jay Marshall, Max Maven, John Mulholland (now deceased), James Randi, Norman Robinson, Dai Vernon, Stuart Cramer, and lrv Weiner. Any errors of fact or interpretation are, naturally, my own.
A great many questions regarding Anna Eva Fay still remain unanswered. Consequentially, I would appreciate hearing from anyone having letters, clippings, etc., relating to the Fay family.
Also additional information and slight alteration in this passage.
(Note: Reprinted, with permission, from The Yankee Magic Collector, 1983, New England Magic Collectors Association. Copyright 1983.
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