Medium Henry Slade
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Henry Slade Medium
Above is a photograph of a hinged, wooden edged, slate used by the Physical Medium Henry Slade in the 1855-ish until his death in 1905. Notice the catch on the lower slate that goes through the lid so a lock can be fixed on the top when it is closed. You can see other aids on the Aids pages.
It is impossible to record the many Mediums of various shades of power, and
occasionally of honesty, who have demonstrated the effects which outside
intelligences can produce when the material conditions are such as to enable
them to manifest upon this plane. There are a few, however, who have been so
pre-eminent and so involved in public polemics that no history of the
movement can disregard them, even if their careers have not been in all ways
above suspicion. We shall deal in this chapter with the histories of Slade
and Monck, both of whom played a prominent part in their days.
Henry Slade, the celebrated slate-writing medium, had been before the public in America for fifteen years before he arrived in London on July 13, 1876. Colonel H. S. Olcott, a former president of the Theosophical Society, states that he and Madame Blavatsky were responsible for Slade's visit to England. It appears that the Grand Duke Constantine of Russia, desiring to make a scientific investigation of Spiritualism, a committee of professors of the Imperial University of St. Petersburg requested Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky to select out of the best American mediums one whom they could recommend for tests.
They chose Slade, after submitting him to exacting tests for several weeks before a committee of sceptics, who in their report certified that "messages were written inside double slates, sometimes tied and sealed together, while they either lay upon the table in full view of all, or were laid upon the heads of members of the committee, or held flat against the under surface of the table-top, or held in a committeeman's hand without the Medium touching it." It was en route to Russia that Slade came to England.
A representative of the London World, who had a sitting with Slade soon after his arrival, thus describes him: "A highly-wrought, nervous temperament, a dreamy, mystical face, regular features, eyes luminous with expression, a rather sad smile, and a certain melancholy grace of manner, were the impressions conveyed by the tall, lithe figure introduced to me as Dr. Slade. He is the sort of man you would pick out of a roomful as an enthusiast." The Seybert Commission Report says, "he is probably six feet in height, with a figure of unusual symmetry," and that "his face would attract notice anywhere for its uncommon beauty," and sums him up as "a noteworthy man in every respect."
Directly after his arrival in London Slade began to give sittings at his lodgings in 8 Upper Bedford Place, Russell Square, and his success was immediate and pronounced. Not only was writing obtained of an evidential nature, under test conditions, with the sitter's own slates, but the levitation of objects and materialized hands were observed in strong sunlight.
The editor of THE SPIRITUAL MAGAZINE, the soberest and most high-class of the Spiritualist periodicals of the time, wrote: "We have no hesitation in saying that Dr. Slade is the most remarkable medium of modern times."
Mr. J. Enmore Jones, a well-known psychic researcher of that day, who afterwards edited THE SPIRITUAL MAGAZINE, said that Slade was taking the place vacated by D. D. Home. His account of his first sitting indicates the business-like method of procedure: "In Mr. Home's case, he refused to take fees, and as a rule the sittings were in the evening in the quiet of domestic life; but in Dr. Slade's case it was any time during the day, in one of the rooms he occupies at a boarding-house. The fee of twenty shillings is charged, and he prefers that only one person be present in the large room he uses. No time is lost; as soon as the visitor sits down the incidents commence, are continued, and in, say, fifteen minutes are ended." Stainton Moses, who was afterwards the first president of the London Spiritualist Alliance, conveys the same idea with regard to Slade. He wrote: "In his presence phenomena occur with a regularity and precision, with an absence of regard for 'conditions,' and with a facility for observation which satisfy my desires entirely. It is impossible to conceive circumstances more favourable to minute investigation than those under which I witnessed the phenomena which occur in his presence with such startling rapidity. There was no hesitation, no tentative experiments. All was short, sharp, and decisive. The invisible operators knew exactly what they were going to do, and did it with promptitude and precision."*
* THE SPIRITUALIST, Vol. IX, p. 2.
Slade's first seance in England was given on July 15, 1876, to Mr. Charles Blackburn, a prominent Spiritualist, and Mr. W. H. Harrison, editor of THE SPIRITUALIST. In strong sunlight the Medium and the two sitters occupied three sides of an ordinary table about four feet square. A vacant chair was placed at the fourth side. Slade put a tiny piece of pencil, about the size of a grain of wheat, upon a slate, and held the slate by one corner with one hand under the table flat against the leaf. Writing was heard on the slate, and on examination a short message was found to have been written. While this was taking place the four hands of the sitters and Slade's disengaged hands were clasped in the centre of the table. Mr. Blackburn's chair was moved four or five inches while he was sitting upon it, and no one but himself was touching it. The unoccupied chair at the fourth side of the table once jumped in the air, striking its seat against the under edge of the table. Twice a life-like hand passed in front of Mr. Blackburn while both Slade's hands were under observation. The medium held an accordion under the table, and while his other hand was in clear view on the table "Hone, Sweet Home" was played. Mr. Blackburn then held the accordion in the same way, when the instrument was drawn out strongly and one note sounded. While this occurred Slade's hands were on the table. Finally, the three present raised their hands a foot above the table, and it rose until it touched their hands. At another sitting on the same day a chair rose about four feet, when no one was touching it, and when Slade rested one hand on the top of Miss Blackburn's chair, she and the chair were raised about half a yard from the floor.
Mr. Stainton Moses thus describes an early sitting which he had with Slade:
A midday sun, hot enough to roast one, was pouring into the room; the table was uncovered; the Medium sat with the whole of his body in full view; there was no human being present save myself and him. What conditions could be better? The raps were instantaneous and loud, as if made by the clenched fist of a powerful man. The slate-writing occurred under any suggested condition.
It came on a slate held by Dr. Slade and myself; on one held by myself alone in the corner of the table farthest from the medium; on a slate which I had myself brought with me, and which I held myself. The latter writing occupied some time in production, and the grating noise of the pencil in forming each word was distinctly audible. A chair opposite to me was raised some eighteen inches from the floor; my slate was taken out of my hand, and produced at the opposite side of the table, where neither Dr. Slade nor I could reach it; the accordion played all round and about me, while the doctor held it by the lower part, and finally, on a touch from his hand upon the back of my chair, I was levitated, chair and all, some inches.
Mr. Stainton Moses was himself a powerful medium, and this fact doubtless aided the conditions. He adds:
I have seen all these phenomena and many others several times before, but I never saw them occur rapidly and consecutively in broad daylight. The whole seance did not extend over more than half an hour, and no cessation of the phenomena occurred from first to last.*
* THE SPIRITUALIST, Vol. IX, p. 2.
All went well for six weeks, and London was full of curiosity as to the powers of Slade, when there came an awkward interruption.
Early in September, 1876, Professor Ray Lankester with Dr. Donkin had two sittings with Slade, and on the second occasion, seizing the slate, he found writing on it when none was supposed to have taken place. He was entirely without experience in psychic research, or he would have known that it is impossible to say at what moment writing occurs in such seances. Occasionally a whole sheet of writing seems to be precipitated in an instant, while at other times the author has clearly heard the pencil scratching along from line to line. To Ray Lankester, however, it seemed a clear case of fraud, and he wrote a letter to THE TIMES* denouncing Slade, and also prosecuted him for obtaining money under false pretences. Replies to Lankester's letter and supporting Slade were forthcoming from Dr, Alfred Russel Wallace, Professor Barrett, and others. Dr. Wallace pointed out that Professor Lankester's account of what happened was so completely unlike what occurred during his own visit to the Medium, as well as the recorded experience of Serjeant Cox, Dr. Carter Blake, and many others, that he could only look upon it as a striking example of Dr. Carpenter's theory of preconceived ideas, He says: "Professor Lankester went with the firm conviction that all he was going to see would be imposture, and he believes he saw imposture accordingly." Professor Lankester showed his bias when, referring to the paper read before the British Association on September 12 by Professor Barrett, in which he dealt with Spiritualistic phenomena, he said, in his letter to THE TIMES: "The discussions of the British Association have been degraded by the introduction of Spiritualism."
* September 16, 1876.
Professor Barrett wrote that Slade had a ready reply, based on his ignorance of when the writing did actually occur. He describes a very evidential sitting he had in which the slate rested on the table with his elbow resting on it. One of Slade's hands was held by him, and the fingers of the medium's other hand rested lightly on the surface of the slate. In this way writing occurred on the under surface of the slate. Professor Barrett further speaks of an eminent scientific friend who obtained writing on a clean slate when it was held entirely by him, both of the medium's hands being on the table. Such instances must surely seem absolutely conclusive to the unbiased reader, and it will be clear that if the positive is firmly established, occasional allegations of negative have no bearing upon the general conclusion.
Slade's trial came on at Bow Street Police Court on October t, 1876, before Mr. Flowers, the magistrate. Mr. George Lewis prosecuted and Mr. Munton appeared for the defence. Evidence in favour of the genuineness of Slade's mediumship was given by Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, Serjeant Cox, Dr. George Wyld, and one other, only four witnesses being allowed. The magistrate described the testimony as "overwhelming" as to the evidence for the phenomena, but in giving judgment he excluded everything but the evidence of Lankester and his friend Dr. Donkin, saying that he must base his decision on "inferences to be drawn from the known course of nature." A statement made by Mr. Maskelyne, the well-known conjurer, that the table used by Slade was a trick-table was disproved by the evidence of the workman who made it. This table can now be seen at the offices of the London Spiritualist Alliance, and one marvels at the audacity of a witness who could imperil another man's liberty by so false a statement, which must have powerfully affected the course of the trial. Indeed, in the face of the evidence of Ray Lankester, Donkin, and Maskelyne, it is hard to see how Mr. Flowers could fail to convict, for he would say with truth and reason, "What is before the Court is not what has happened upon other occasions-however convincing these eminent witnesses may be-but what occurred upon this particular occasion, and here we have two witnesses on one side and only the prisoner on the other." The "trick-table" probably settled the matter.
Slade was sentenced, under the Vagrancy Act, to three months' imprisonment with hard labour. An appeal was lodged and he was released on bail. When the appeal came to be heard, the conviction was quashed on a technical point. It may be pointed out that though he escaped on a technical point, namely, that the words "by palmistry or otherwise" which appeared in the statute had been omitted, it must not be assumed that had the technical point failed he might not have escaped on the merits of his case. Slade, whose health had been seriously affected by the strain of the trial, left England for the Continent a day or two later. From the Hague, after a rest of a few months, Slade wrote to Professor Lankester offering to return to London and to give him exhaustive private tests on condition that he could come without molestation. He received no answer to his suggestion, which surely is not that of a guilty man.
An illuminated testimonial to Slade from London Spiritualists in 1877 sets out: In view of the deplorable termination of Henry Slade's visit to this country, we the undersigned desire to place on record our high opinion of his mediumship, and our reprobation of the treatment he has undergone.
We regard Henry Slade as one of the most valuable Test Mediums now living. The phenomena which occur in his presence are evolved with a rapidity and regularity rarely equalled.
He leaves us not only untarnished in reputation by the late proceedings in our Law Courts, but with a mass of testimony in his favour which could probably have been elicited in no other way.
This is signed by Mr. Alexander Calder (President of the British National Association of Spiritualists) and a number of representative Spiritualists. Unhappily, however, it is the Noes, not the Ayes, which have the ear of the Press, and even now, fifty years later, it would be hard to find a paper enlightened enough to do the man justice.
Spiritualists, however, showed great energy in supporting Slade. Before the trial a Defence Fund was raised, and Spiritualists in America drew up a memorial to the American Minister in London. Between the Bow Street conviction and the hearing of the appeal, a memorial was sent to the Home Secretary protesting against the action of the Government in conducting the prosecution on appeal. Copies of this were sent to all the members of the Legislature, to all the Middlesex magistrates, to various members of the Royal Society, and of other public bodies. Miss Kislingbury, the secretary to the National Association of Spiritualists, forwarded a copy to the Queen.
After giving successful seances at the Hague, Slade went to Berlin in November, 1877, where he created the keenest interest. He was said to know no German, yet messages in German appeared on the slates, and were written in the characters of the fifteenth century. The BERLINER FREMDENBLATT of November 10, 1877, wrote: "Since the arrival of Mr. Slade at the Kronprinz Hotel the greater portion of the educated world of Berlin has been suffering from an epidemic which we may term a Spiritualistic fever." Describing his experiences in Berlin, Slade said that he began by fully converting the landlord of the hotel, using the latter's slates and tables in his own house. The landlord invited the Chief of Police and many prominent citizens of Berlin to witness the manifestations, and they expressed themselves as satisfied. Slade writes: "Samuel Bellachini, Court Conjurer to the Emperor of Germany, had a week's experience with me free of charge. I gave him from two to three seances a day and one of them at his own house. After his full and complete investigation, he went to a public notary and made oath that the phenomena were genuine and not trickery."
Bellachini's declaration on oath, which has been published, bears out this statement. He says that after the minutest investigation he considers any explanation by conjuring to be "absolutely impossible." The conduct of conjurers seems to have been usually determined by a sort of trade union jealousy, as if the results of the medium were some sort of breach of a monopoly, but this enlightened German, together with Houdin, Kellar, and a few more, have shown a more open mind.
A visit to Denmark followed, and in December began the historic seances with Professor Zollner, at Leipzig. A full account of these will be found in Zollner's "Transcendental Physics," which has been translated by Mr. C. C. Massey. Zollner was Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the University of Leipzig, and associated with him in the experiments with Slade were other scientific men, including William Edward Weber, Professor of Physics; Professor Scheibner, a distinguished mathematician; Gustave Theodore Fechner, Professor of Physics and an eminent natural philosopher, who were all, says Professor Zollner, "perfectly convinced of the reality of the observed facts, altogether excluding imposture or "prestidigitation." The phenomena in question included, among other things, "the production of true knots in an endless string, the rending of Professor Zollner's bed-screen, the disappearance of a small table and its subsequent descent from the ceiling in FULL LIGHT, in a private house and under the observed conditions, of which the most noticeable is the apparent passivity of Dr. Slade during all these occurrences."
Certain critics have tried to indicate what they consider insufficient precautions observed in these experiments. Dr. J. Maxwell, the acute French critic, makes an excellent reply to such objections. He points out* that because skilled and conscientious psychic investigators have omitted to indicate explicitly in their reports that every hypothesis of fraud has been studied and dismissed, in the belief that "their implicit affirmation of the reality of the fact appeared sufficient to them," and in order to prevent their reports from being too unwieldy, yet captious critics do not hesitate to condemn them and to suggest possibilities of fraud which are quite inadmissible under the observed conditions.
* "Metapsychical Phenomena" (Translation 1905), p. 405.
Zollner gave a dignified reply to the supposition that he was tricked in these cord-tying experiments: "If, nevertheless, the foundation of this fact, deduced by me on the ground of an enlarged conception of space, should be denied, only one other kind of explanation would remain, arising from a moral code of consideration that at present, it is true, is quite customary. This explanation would consist in the presumption that I myself and the honourable men and citizens of Leipzig, in whose presence several of these cords were sealed, were either common impostors, or were not in possession of our sound senses sufficient to perceive if Mr. Slade himself, before the cords were sealed, had tied them in knots. The discussion, however, of such a hypothesis would no longer belong to the dominion of science, but would fall under the category of social decency."*
* Massey's Zollner, pp. 20-21.
As a sample of the reckless statements of opponents of Spiritualism, it may be mentioned that Mr. Joseph McCabe, who is second only to the American Houdini for wild inaccuracies, speaks of Zollner as "an elderly and purblind professor," whereas he died in 1882, in his forty-eighth year, and his experiments with Slade were carried out in 1877-78, when this distinguished scientist was in the vigour of his intellectual life.
So far have opponents pushed their enmity that it has even been stated that Zollner was deranged, and that his death which occurred some years later was accompanied with cerebral weakness. An inquiry from Dr. Funk set this matter at rest, though it is unfortunately easy to get libels of this sort into circulation and very difficult to get the contradictions. Here is the document:
"Spiritualism. A Popular History from 1847," p. 161.
"The Widow's Mite," p. 276.
Your letter addressed to the Rector of the University, October 20, 1903, received. The Rector of this University was installed here after the death of Zollner, and had no personal acquaintance with him; but information received from Zollner's colleagues states that during his entire studies at the University here, until his death, he was of sound mind; moreover, in the best of health. The cause of his death was a hemorrhage of the brain on the morning of April 25th, 1882, while he was at breakfast with his mother, and from which he died shortly after. It is true that Professor Zollner was an ardent believer in Spiritualism, and as such was in close relations with Slade.
(Dr.) KARL BUCHER, Professor of Statistics and National Economy at the University.
The tremendous power which occasionally manifests itself when the conditions are favourable was shown once in the presence of Zollner, Weber, and Scheibner, all three professors of the University. There was a strong wooden screen on one side of the room:
A violent crack was suddenly heard as in the discharging of a large battery of Leyden jars. On turning with some alarm in the direction of the sound, the before-mentioned screen fell apart in two pieces. The strong wooden screws, half an inch thick, were torn from above and below, without any visible contact of Slade with the screen. The parts broken were at least five feet removed from Slade, who had his back to the screen; but even if he had intended to tear it down by a cleverly devised sideward motion, it would have been necessary to fasten it on the opposite side. As it was, the screen stood quite unattached, and the grain of the wood being parallel to the axis of the cylindrical wooden fastenings, the wrenching asunder could only be accomplished by a force acting longitudinally to the part in question. We were all astonished at this unexpected and violent manifestation of mechanical force, and asked Slade what it all meant; but he only shrugged his shoulders, saying that such phenomena occasionally, though somewhat rarely, occurred in his presence. As he spoke, he placed, while still standing, a piece of slate-pencil on the polished surface of the table, laid over it a slate, purchased and just cleaned by myself, and pressed the five spread fingers of his right hand on the upper surface of the slate, while his left hand rested on the centre of the table. Writing began on the inner surface of the slate, and when Slade turned it up, the following sentence was written in English: "It was not our intention to do harm. Forgive what has happened." We were the more surprised at the production of the writing under these circumstances, for we particularly observed that both Slade's hands remained quite motionless while the writing was going on.*
* "Transcendental Physics," p. 34, 35.
In his desperate attempt to explain this incident, Mr. McCabe says that no doubt the screen was broken before and fastened together afterwards with thread. There is truly no limit to the credulity of the incredulous.
After a very successful series of seances in St. Petersburg, Slade returned to London for a few days in 1878, and then proceeded to Australia. An interesting account of his work there is to be found in Mr. James Curtis's book, "Rustlings in the Golden City." Then he returned to America. In 1885 he appeared before the Seybert Commission in Philadelphia, and in 1887 again visited England under the name of "Dr. Wilson," though it was well known who he was. Presumably his alias was due to a fear that the old proceedings would be renewed.
At most of his seances, Slade exhibited clairvoyant powers, and materialized hands were a familiar occurrence. In Australia, where psychic conditions are good, he had materializations. Mr. Curtis says that the medium objected to sitting for this form of manifestation, because it left him weak for a time, and because he preferred to give seances in the light. He consented, however, to try with Mr. Curtis, who thus describes what took place at Ballarat, in Victoria:
Our first test of spirit appearance in the form took place at Lester's Hotel. I placed the table about four or five feet from the west wall of the room. Mr. Slade sat at the end of the table furthest from the wall, whilst I took my position on the north side. The gaslight was toned down, not so much but that any object in the room could be clearly seen. Our hands were placed over one another in a single pile. We sat very still about ten minutes, when I observed something like a little misty cloud between myself and the wall. When my attention was first drawn towards this phenomenon, it was about the size and colour of a gentleman's high-crowned, whitish-grey felt hat. This cloudlike appearance rapidly grew and became transformed, when we saw before us a woman-a lady. The being thus fashioned, and all but perfected, rose from the floor on to the top of the table, where I could most distinctly observe the configuration. The arms and hands were elegantly shaped; the forehead, mouth, nose, cheeks, and beautiful brown hair showed harmoniously, each part in concord with the whole. Only the eyes were veiled because they could not be completely materialized. The feet were encased in white satin shoes. The dress glowed in light, and was the most beautiful I ever beheld, the colour being bright, sheeny silvery grey, or greyish shining white. The whole figure was graceful, and the drapery perfect. The materialized spirit glided and walked about, causing the table to shake, vibrate, jerk and tilt considerably. I could hear, too, the rustling of the dress as the celestial visitant transiently wended from one position or place to another. The spirit form, within two feet of our unmoved hands, still piled up together in a heap, then dissolved, and gradually faded from our vision.
The conditions at this beautiful seance-with the Medium's hands held throughout, and with enough light for visibility-seem satisfactory, provided we grant the honesty of the witness. As the preface contains the supporting testimony of a responsible Australian Government official, who also speaks of Mr. Curtis's initial extremely sceptical state of mind, we may well do so. At the same seance a quarter of an hour later the figure again appeared:
The apparition then floated in the air and alighted on the table, rapidly glided about, and thrice bent her beautiful figure with graceful bows, each bending deliberate and low, the head coming within six inches of my face. The dress rustled (as silk rustles) with every movement. The face was partially veiled as before. The visibility then became invisible, slowly disappearing like the former materialization.
Other similar seances are described.
In view of the many elaborate and stringent tests through which he passed successfully, the story of Slade's "exposure" in America in 1886 is not convincing, but we refer to it for historical reasons, and to show that such incidents are not excluded from our review of the subject. The BOSTON HERALD, February 2, 1886, heads its account, "The celebrated Dr. Slade comes to grief in Weston, West Virginia, writes upon slates which lie upon his knees under the table, and moves tables and chairs with his toes." Observers in an adjoining room, looking through the crevice under the door saw these feats of agility being performed by the medium, though those present in the room with him were unaware of them. There seems, however, to have been in this as in other cases, occurrences which bore the appearance of fraud, and Spiritualists were among those who denounced him. At a subsequent public performance for "Direct Spirit Writing" in the Justice Hall, Weston, Mr. E. S. Barrett, described as a "Spiritualist," came forward and explained how Slade's imposture had been detected. Slade, who was asked to speak, appeared dumbfounded, and could only say, according to the report, that if his accusers had been deceived he had been equally so, for if the deceit had been done by him, it had been without his consciousness.
Mr. J. Simmons, Slade's business manager, made a frank statement which seems to point to the operation of ectoplasmic limbs, as years later was proved to be the case with the famous Italian medium, Eusapia Palladino. He says: "I do not doubt that these gentlemen saw what they assert they did; but I am convinced at the same time that Slade is as innocent of what he is accused of as you (the editor) yourself would have been under similar circumstances. But I know that my explanation would have no weight in a court of justice. I myself saw a hand, which I could have sworn to be that of Slade, if it had been possible for his hand to be in that position. While one of his hands lay upon the table and the other held the slate under the corner of the table, a third hand appeared with a clothes-brush (which a moment previously had brushed against me from the knee upwards) in the middle of the opposite edge of the table, which was forty-two inches long." Slade and his manager were arrested and released on bail, but no further proceedings seem to have been taken against them. Truesdell, also, in his book, "Spiritualism, Bottom Facts," states that he saw Slade effecting the movement of objects with his foot, and he asks his readers to believe that the medium made to him a full confession of how all his manifestations were produced. If Slade ever really did this, it may probably be accounted for by a burst of ill-timed levity on his part in seeking to fool a certain type of investigator by giving him exactly what he was seeking for. To such instances we may apply the judgment of Professor Zollner on the Lankester incident: "The physical facts observed by us in so astonishing a variety in his presence negatived on every reasonable ground the supposition that he in one solitary case had taken refuge in wilful imposture." He adds, what was certainly the case in that particular instance, that Slade was the victim of his accuser's and his judge's limited knowledge.
At the same time there is ample evidence that Slade degenerated in general character towards the latter part of his life. Promiscuous sittings with a mercenary object, the subsequent exhaustions, and the alcoholic stimulus which affords a temporary relief, all acting upon a most sensitive organization, had a deleterious effect. This weakening of character, with a corresponding loss of health, may have led to a diminution of his psychic powers, and increased the temptation to resort to trickery. Making every allowance for the difficulty of distinguishing what is fraud and what is of crude psychic origin, an unpleasant impression is left upon the mind by the evidence given in the Seybert Commission and by the fact that Spiritualists upon the spot should have condemned his action. Human frailty, however, is one thing and psychic power is another. Those who seek evidence for the latter will find ample in those years when the man and his powers were both at their zenith.
Slade died in 1905 at a Michigan sanatorium to which he had been sent by the American Spiritualists, and the announcement was followed by the customary sort of comment in the London Press. THE STAR, which has an evil tradition in psychic matters, printed a sensational article headed "Spook Swindles," giving a garbled account of the Lankester prosecution at Bow Street. Referring to this, LIGHT says*:
* 1886, p. 433.
Of course, this whole thing is a hash of ignorance, unfairness and prejudice. We do not care to discuss it or to controvert it. It would be useless to do so for the sake of the unfair, the ignorant, and the prejudiced, and it is not necessary for those who know. Suffice it to say that the STAR only supplies one more instance of the difficulty of getting all the facts before the public; but the prejudiced newspapers have themselves to blame for their ignorance or inaccuracy.
It is the story of the Davenport Brothers and Maskelyne over again.
If Slade's career is difficult to appraise, and if one is forced to admit that while there was an overpowering preponderance of psychic results, there was also a residuum which left the unpleasant impression that the medium might supplement truth with fraud, the same admission must be made in the case of the medium Monck, who played a considerable part for some years in the 'seventies. Of all mediums none is more difficult to appraise, for on the one hand many of his results are beyond all dispute, while in a few there seems to be an absolute certainty of dishonesty. In his case, as in Slade's, there were physical causes which would account for a degeneration of the moral and psychic powers.
Volume I, Chapter 13
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Morning Star, October 17, 1993, pg. 6
Continuing with our October series on Riverside Cemetery stories, there is a 12-foot high monument erected right (south) of the cemetery receiving vault. The vault, by the way, is the place where they stored dead frozen bodies during the winter months when the ground was too frozen to dig and bury corpses. The vault contains holding shelves built to house caskets. Today, lawn mower and trimming equipment occupy these spaces. Anyway, the aforementioned monument stands next to a towering pin tree. It is the resting place of Henry Slade, once a world-famous spiritualist. Spiritualism was big in Albion during the 19th century, and many prominent Albion families were involved in it.
Henry Slade was a famous 19th century spiritualist medium known for his independent slate writing abilities. Slade came to Albion in 1855 at the age of 20, and resided here and in Marengo. The story of this man is best recalled again by Dr. Elmore Palmer, who was a clerk in a local drug store during the year Slade came to town. Palmer writes:
In the year 1855 when this writer [Dr. Palmer] was a clerk in S. Tuttle & Son’s drug store in Albion, there came to reside in the village a young man, who claimed to be a spiritual doctor. He was well dressed, very affable and soon became quite well known. My position as a drug clerk brought me in daily contact with him. Our acquaintance grew quite intimate as he purchased all of his drugs and medicines at the store where I was employed.
Occasionally he gave demonstrations of his spirit rappings, slate writings, moving of tables, etc. that seemed quite miraculous.
Dr. Henry Slade was born in 1835 at Johnson’s Creek, Niagara County, New York. When he was a mere child of eight or ten years old, he seemed possessed of strange powers and manifestations. When he was only 18 years o age he could stand five feet from a table and cause it to tip over by a wave of his hand, while a lighted lamp standing upon it never lost its equilibrium. He could hold his hand a few inches from the cottage organ and cause it to rise from the floor.
Slade was one of the greatest slate writing mediums ever known. His fame grew so rapidly that many curious people as well as spiritualists from all over the country were attracted by his demonstrations. At twenty years of age he started on a tour of the cities of the United States, and he astonished and puzzled everyone by the mysterious and wonderful things he performed.
As he grew older his miraculous powers seemed to grow stronger. Soon his fame reached the old world. About 1865 or 1866 he went to Europe and spend several years in giving demonstrations in all the large cities on the continent. He created a great furor wherever he went. He gave seances before many of the royalty. When he returned home he had many valuables that had been given to him by the crowned heads, and among others a three-carat diamond which Emperor Napoleon III had presented to him.
At one time Slade was reputed to be worth $1 million. When he was at the height of his fame it was impossible to gain an audience with him without making arrangements weeks in advance. He lived with great prodigality, but as he grew older, his wonderful powers weakened and gave way under the strain of his dissipation. His fortune was soon squandered and he eked out a miserable existence by slate writings at 50 cents a sitting.
Slade visited his old home near Lockport, N.Y. for the last time in 1899. He was then a poor old man, nearly or quite penniless and friendless. In 1905 he had wandered to Michigan, at Battle Creek he fell ill and was placed in the sanitarium in that city, where he died September 8, 1905. He had no known relatives living and no friends to claim the body. He died in dire poverty.
When it became known that Slade’s remains were buried at Battle Creek in a pauper’s grave, some of the greater spiritualites started a subscription among themselves to re-inter the body at Riverside Cemetery in Albion, where it was ascertained Slade had a lot. This work was accomplished under the supervision of Dr. A.B. Spinney and Grant, in September 1906. Is there not a moral to be drawn from this man’s life?"
Again, Dr. Palmer’s firsthand account of Henry Slade is available in his Biographical Sketches series which is available at the Albion Chamber of Commerce. Another account of Slade appeared in a local newspaper at the turn of the century, and reveals more about this man and his fate:
Henry Slade, the most famous slate writing Medium in the world, who has dropped completely out of sight for several years past, and by many was thought to be dead, has gone to the Phelps Sanitarium at Battle Creek for treatment, said the Detroit Evening News recently. Four years ago while in New York, he was sandbagged on night and robbed of $10,000 worth of diamonds and his money. One side of his body became paralyzed from the effects of his injuries.
With the paralysis of his body, his remarkable mediumistic powers vanished away. Broken in health and shattered in fortune, he dropped out of sight. Slade probably gained more notoriety than any other medium who ever lived. He has appeared before almost every crowned head and royal family in Europe. In Germany he was subjected to the most rigid tests by the most famous scientists in that land of eminent scientists, among whom was Professor Zolner, and baffled them all.
In London he was arrested and placed on trial, charged with fraud and trickery, and gained his freedom by allowing himself to be searched, handcuffed, gagged and blindfolded, and while in this condition in open court, gave a seance. The fact that his wonderful power, whatever it may be, is returning to him will be welcome news to the thousands of spiritualists throughout the country. Mr. Slade has relatives in this city as well as Marengo, and they will be glad to learn that his wonderful powers are commencing to return to him."
Slade’s tombstone in Riverside Cemetery reads, "Henry Slade, renowned throughout the world as the first spiritualist medium for the independent slate writing. Retired to spirit life September 8,1 905 after an earthly visit of 69 years, 5 months and 22 days. With toil now finished, with soul set free, he now enters eternity."
Charles Darwin and Associates, Ghostbusters
When the scientific establishment put a spiritualist on trial, the co-discoverers of natural selection took opposing sides
By Richard Milner
Editor's Note: We are reposting this article from the October 1996 issue of Scientific American in commemoration of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday this week.
After lunch on September 16, 1876, Charles Darwin stretched out on his drawing-room sofa, as was his unvarying routine, smoked a Turkish cigarette and read the “bloody old Times.” He often fumed at its politics (the editors supported the South in the American Civil War), and his wife, Emma, suggested that they give up the paper altogether. But he replied he would sooner “give up meat, drink and air.”
In the “Letters” column, he noticed a report that a young zoologist named Edwin Ray Lankester was bent on jailing a celebrated spirit medium, “Dr.” Henry Slade, who was bilking gullible Londoners. By hauling Slade into court as “a common rogue,” Lankester would become the first scientist to prosecute a professional psychic for criminal fraud--an action Darwin thought long overdue. Although he was delighted at Lankester’s attack on Slade, Darwin was distressed to learn that Alfred Russel Wallace, his friendly rival and co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection, was also a target.
The Slade trial was to become one of the strangest courtroom cases in Victorian England. Some saw it as a public arena where science could score a devastating triumph over superstition. For others, it was the declaration of war between professional purveyors of the “paranormal” and the fraternity of honest stage magicians. Arthur Conan Doyle, the zealous spiritualist whose fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, was logic personified, characterized it as “the persecution [rather than prosecution] of Slade.” But what made the trial unique was that the two greatest naturalists of the century ranged themselves on opposite sides. The “arch-materialist” Darwin gave aid and comfort to the prosecution, and his old friend Wallace, a sincere spiritualist, was to be the defense’s star witness--making it one of the more bizarre and dramatic episodes in the history of science.
Wallace was respected as an author, zoologist, botanist, the discoverer of scores of new species, the first European to study apes in the wild and a pioneer in the study of the distribution of animals. But he constantly courted ruin by championing such radical causes as socialism, pacifism, land nationalization, wilderness conservation, women’s rights and spiritualism. In addition to his classic volumes on zoogeography, natural selection, island life and the Malay Archipelago, he had written Miracles and Modern Spiritualism, which lauded Spirit-Mediums. And he had just allowed a controversial paper on “thought transference” to be read at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science--touching off an uproar that led him to avoid scientific meetings for the rest of his life.
Wallace wanted the best of both worlds. With insects or birds, he was even more rigorous than Darwin in applying the principle of natural selection, but he questioned its efficacy for humans. If early hominids required only a gorilla’s intelligence to survive, Wallace asked, why had they evolved brains capable of devising language, composing symphonies and doing mathematics? Although our bodies had evolved by natural selection, he concluded, Homo sapiens has “something which he has not derived from his animal progenitors--a spiritual essence or nature . . . [that] can only find an explanation in the unseen universe of Spirit.” Wallace’s position did not stem from any conventional religious belief but from his long-standing interest in spiritualism: a melding of ancient Eastern beliefs with the Western desire to “secularize” the soul and prove its existence. When Wallace published this view in 1869, Darwin wrote him: “I differ grievously from you; I can see no necessity for calling in an additional and proximate cause [a supernatural force] in regard to Man.... I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child”---meaning their theory of natural selection.
Darwin the “Materialist” Like Wallace (and his New Age intellectual descendants), many Victorians recoiled from the materialism axiomatic in physical science; they sought a “wireless telegraph” to an intangible world. Although Darwin and most other scientists kept miracles out of their theories, a few shared Wallace’s views. Among them were the physicist Oliver Lodge and the chemist William Crookes, discoverer of the element thallium.
Spiritualism attracted people with a wide spectrum of interests, but its major focus was on the possibility of communication with the dead. This part of the movement began in 1848, with the rise of Margaret and Kate Fox, sisters from Hydesville, N.Y. When the teenage girls conversed with “Spirits,” mysterious rapping sounds spelled out lengthy messages. (Thirty years later, after gaining fame and fortune, one of the sisters admitted that she had always produced the taps by snapping her big toe inside her shoe.) In England, the U.S. and Europe, over the next 80 years, spiritualism enjoyed tremendous popularity.
In the early 1870s Darwin’s cousin and brother-in-law Hensleigh Wedgwood became a convert. Wedgwood yearned to become a respected savant like Darwin, their cousin Francis Galton and Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus. But a pair of swindlers, Charles Williams and Frank Herne, recognized that he was the most gullible of the clan. At their urging, Wedgwood begged Darwin to come and see the self-playing accordions, levitating tables, automatic writing and glowing spirit hands at Williams’s seances. Darwin always managed to be too tired, too busy or too ill to attend. “I am a wretched bigot on the subject,” he once admitted.
In January 1874, however, Darwin sent two close members of his circle to attend a seance with Williams. His friend and lieutenant, the famous zoologist Thomas H. Huxley, was introduced as “Mr. Henry” (his middle name). Darwin’s son George, then 29 years old, went as well. Although bottles moved around and a guitar played by itself, the two concluded they had observed nothing but crude trickery. George, a budding astronomer, wrote that he was shocked to find his uncle Hensleigh’s account of Williams’s seances “so worthless.” Later that year Darwin wrote to a newspaperman, urging him to expose Williams as “a scoundrel who has imposed on the public for so many years.”
"The following year Huxley’s young laboratory assistant, Edwin Ray
Lankester, decided to catch Williams and Herne in fraud-an act he knew would
impress his heroes Darwin and Huxley. But after Huxley and George’s visit,
the medium became wary, avoiding anyone connected to Darwin’s Circle. Then,
in April 1876, a tempting new target moved into Lankester’s sights: a
celebrated American psychic, “Dr.” Henry Slade, had come to London “to prove
the truth of communication with the dead.” Slade claimed that his wife’s
spirit wrote him messages on slates.
Lankester and his fellow medical student, Horatio Donkin, went to Slade’s pretending to be believers. They paid the admission fee, asked questions of the spirits and received mysteriously written answers. Then, in the darkened room, Lankester suddenly snatched a slate out of Slade’s hands, found the written answer to a question he had not yet asked, and proclaimed him “a scoundrel and an impostor.”
The next day Slade and his partner, Geoffrey Simmonds, were in the hands of the police, charged with violating the Vagrancy Act, an old law intended to protect the public from traveling palm readers and sleight-of-hand artists. Throughout the fall of 1876, all London was abuzz over the Slade trial. The little courtroom was packed with Slade’s supporters and detractors and 30 journalists, who spilled out into the street. The Times of London carried trial transcripts day after day.
Darwin, whose beloved 10-year-old daughter Annie had died in 1851, had nothing but contempt for the “clever rogues” who preyed on grieving relatives. Yet he avoided saying so publicly---On the Origin of Species had stirred up enough controversies for a lifetime. Privately, he wrote Lankester an effusive letter of congratulations. Jailing Slade was a public benefit, he said, and insisted on contributing £10 to the costs of prosecution. (Under English law, the complainant paid court costs; £10 was a substantial sum, comparable to a month’s wages for a workingman.)
Packed Courtroom As the trial got under way, the prosecutor announced that stage magician John Nevil Maskelyne was prepared to reproduce all the “alleged phenomena” that were observed at the seance. The judge, in turn, warned that performing magic slate tricks in court would prove nothing; the question was whether Lankester and Donkin had actually caught the defendants faking the alleged Spirit writing.
Both scientists turned out to be terrible witnesses; their observational skills, developed in anatomy and physiology labs, were useless in detecting fraud by professional cheats. As Huxley later noted, “In these investigations, the qualities of the detective are far more useful than those of the philosopher.... A man may be an excellent naturalist or chemist; and yet make a very poor detective.”
Indeed, Lankester and Donkin apparently could not agree on anything much beyond their charge that Slade was an impostor. Did the medium use a thimble device for writing, or did he hold a pencil stub while his thumb was visible on the tabletop? Did he switch the blank slate for one that was previously written on? Was the table of ordinary construction, or did it have sliding bars and trick panels? The two could not establish when or how the writing had been done.
Maskelyne’s courtroom conjuring, in contrast, was perfect. In answer to a question about instant writing--and before the judge could stop him--he began scrubbing a blank slate with a wet sponge until writing appeared: “THE SPIRITS ARE HERE!” Then he wiped the slate clean and ran the sponge over it again. The message reappeared, and Slade’s partner, Simmonds, was fascinated. “Marvelous!” he exclaimed. “May I examine the slate?” Maskelyne shot back, “Oh, you know all about it.”
Whenever the prosecutor could, he had Maskelyne slip in another slate trick until the judge finally barred them. The prosecutor then offered Slade two small slates joined by hinges and a hasp lock. Why not make writing appear inside the locked slates and convince the world? Slade replied he had been so pestered by such tests that Allie, his wife’s Spirit, had vowed never to write on a locked slate.
A chemist named Alexander Duffield was one of many witnesses for the prosecution. He said Slade had convinced him “that there could be established a sort of post office in connection with the ‘other place.’” But now he had his doubts. Another witness testified that a few years earlier, in the U.S., someone had similarly snatched a slate from Slade in mid-seance and exposed him in fraud.
The high point of the trial was Wallace’s appearance for the defense. His integrity and candor were known to all. When called, he said that he had witnessed the alleged phenomena but refused to speculate on whether the writings were caused by spirits. He considered Slade to be an honest gentleman, “as incapable of an imposture...as any earnest inquirer after truth in the department of Natural Science.”
In his summation, Slade’s lawyer argued that there was no real evidence against his client. No one had proved the table was rigged, and Maskelyne’s demonstrations of how the trick could have been done were irrelevant. The writing’s appearance before the corresponding question was asked proved nothing about its origin, and Lankester and Donkin could not agree on exactly what they had seen during the séance. Moreover, such an eminent scientist as Wallace should be considered at least as credible as young Lankester. The barrister concluded by invoking Galileo, remarking that innovative scientists who challenge the beliefs of their time are always vilified. His irony was not lost on the evolutionists.
But nothing could save Slade. The judge said that he understood that spiritualism was “a kind of new religion” and did not wish to offend sincere believers. Still, the question before the court was whether Slade and Simmonds had fraudulently represented their own actions as paranormal phenomena. Concluding that he must decide “according to the well-known course of nature,” the judge sentenced the defendant to three months’ hard labor in the House of Corrections.
Slade never served his sentence. On appeal, another judge ruled that the Vagrancy Act, which prohibited palmistry, was not applicable to claims of spirit writing. Slade and his partner fled England for Germany. Within a short time, Slade had convinced his landlord, a local conjurer, the chief of police and several prominent German scientists (including the physicist Johann Zöllner of the University of Leipzig) that he was in contact with spirits and various paranormal forces. When his act wore thin, he took to the road again. Eventually he wound up an alcoholic in a run-down New York boardinghouse, easy prey for tabloid editors who sent cub reporters to expose him one more time.
After the Trial The controversy took a toll on participants other than Slade. In 1879 Darwin tried to drum up support for a government pension in recognition of Wallace’s brilliant contributions to natural history. Wallace, he knew, had to earn his meager living by grading examination papers. But when Darwin wrote to his friend Joseph Hooker, director of Kew Gardens, the botanist refused to help. “Wallace has lost caste terribly,” he replied nastily, “not only for his adhesion to Spiritualism, but by the fact of his having deliberately and against the whole voice of the committee” allowed the paper on mental telepathy at the scientific meetings. In addition, he thought the government “should in fairness be informed that the candidate is a public and leading Spiritualist!”
Undaunted, Darwin replied that Wallace’s beliefs were “not worse than the prevailing superstitions of the country”-- meaning organized religion. Darwin and Huxley twisted a few more arms, then Darwin personally wrote to Prime Minister William Gladstone, who passed the petition on to Queen Victoria. In the end, Wallace got his modest pension and was able to continue writing his articles and books; he died in 1913, at the age of 90.
In the years after the trial, Wedgwood and Darwin did not see much of each other. In 1878 a reporter for the journal Light had finally managed to unmask Charles Williams, the medium who had attempted to use Wedgwood to win over Darwin’s family. When the journalist suddenly turned on the lights at a séance, Williams was found to be wearing a false black beard, phosphorescent rags and, as Darwin later put it, “dirty ghost-clothes.”
“A splendid exposure,” crowed Darwin when he read of it. But even then, his brother-in-law’s faith remained unshaken; a few faked performances indicated only that the medium was having difficulty getting through to the other side and was under pressure not to disappoint his sitters. For Darwin, this was the last straw: “Hensleigh Wedgwood admits Williams is proved a rogue,” he fumed, “but insists he has seen real ghosts [at Williams’s séances]. Is this not a psychological curiosity?”
In 1880 Wedgwood sent Darwin a long handwritten manuscript: a spiritualist synthesis of science and religion. Would Darwin read it and perhaps suggest where it might be published? In a melancholy mood, Darwin sat down to reply to his cousin. He may have remembered the times Wedgwood had gone to bat for him many years before: he had helped persuade Darwin’s uncle and father to let him go on the HMS Beagle expedition, and it was to his cousin that Darwin had once entrusted publication of his theory of natural selection.
“My dear Cousin,” Darwin wrote, “It is indeed a long time since we met, and I suppose if we now did so we should not know one another; but your former image is perfectly clear to me.” He refused even to read Hensleigh’s paper, writing that “there have been too many such attempts to reconcile Genesis and science.” The two cousins, who had once been so close, were now hopelessly estranged over the question of science and the supernatural.
That same year Lankester, now a professor of zoology, declined requests to continue ghostbusting. “The Spirit Medium,” he wrote in an 1880 letter to the Pall Mall Gazette, “is a curious and unsavoury specimen of natural history, and if you wish to study him, you must take him unawares . . . . I have done my share of the skunk-hunting; let others follow.” He was later appointed director of the British Museum of Natural History.
Ironically, in 1912 Lankester, the nemesis of fakers, was completely fooled by the Piltdown man hoax, one of the most notorious frauds in the history of evolutionary biology. For the next 40 years, scientists accepted the “ape-man” fragments, dug up about 25 miles from Darwin’s home, as remains of the “missing link.” Fired with enthusiasm for the Darwin-Wallace theory, Lankester and the younger generation of evolutionists uncritically embraced this fossil forgery.
Huxley, who died in 1895, knew full well that more than a few scientists were prone to develop their own irrationally held beliefs. While young, he had battled churchmen to establish the scientific approach to unraveling human origins but later quipped to an educator that “we or our sons shall live to see all the stupidity in favour of science”---a fitting prophecy of Piltdown, the ersatz “Stone Age” Tasaday tribe of the Philippines, and cold fusion. In The Descent of Man, Darwin himself had urged a skeptical approach to unconfirmed observations; he believed that accepting flimsy evidence is much more dangerous than adopting incorrect theories. “False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often long endure,” he wrote. “But false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, as everyone takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness.”
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