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A Reading from The American Museum of Photography

The Testimony of Moses A. Dow, Writer and Editor

on the Spirit Photography of William H. Mumler

from The Personal Experiences of William H. Mumler in Spirit-Photography. Written by Himself.

(Boston: Colby and Rich, 1875)

 

I will here Introduce the valuable testimony of

HON. MOSES A. DOW,

editor and proprietor of the Waverley Magazine, Bunker Hill District, Boston. This gentleman had a picture taken which was fully recognized by him. He says:

Having some time since become somewhat interested in the subject of Spiritualism, and being urged to do so by a request which I do not feel at liberty to decline, I have, according to the best of my ability, noted down the prominent items of my experience, hoping they may give encouragement and increase the confidence of those whose minds have not yet become settled on the subject.

I well remember the time when the phenomena of spiritual manifestations were first introduced by the Misses Fox, of Rochester, N.Y., and I did not, even at that early day, when Spiritualism was so little known and its promulgation so new and wonderful, do, as many others did and do now, scout its pretensions, for I saw the germ of a new era--one in which the human mind would become more free and more expanded, and that it would do away with many false and cruel tenets in most of the popular creeds of the day. I was desirous, however, that others should study its reality and its claims to public confidence, as I had neither the time nor the inclination to search into its mysteries, for I had some fears that I might go too deep and that the subject might so involve my meditations as to unfit me for the actual duties of life, of which I had many responsible ones.

 

It was in the early part of 1870 that circumstances brought me in contact with some spiritual manifestations, and what I saw and heard at those meetings set the doors of my understanding "ajar," and the probability of the truth of such manifestations was indelibly impressed on my mind; and it was not very difficult, for the results of my observations, in after researches, made me a sincere believer in the doctrine that the spirits of our departed friends come back to us, and, through proper media, communicate hope and consolation to their nearest friends and those whom they loved on earth.

 

It has not yet become sufficiently popular for a man somewhat known in a community to step forth and avow himself a believer in Spiritualism, much less to advocate its promulgation. But, if he truly, consciously and understandingly believes anything that courts investigation, especially one so important as is this, and dares not acknowledge that belief, he is not imbued with the spirit of liberty and free discussion which our institutions should have implanted within his bosom.

 

It has been my privilege, during the last twelve months, to enjoy the most positive tests of the truths of spiritual manifestations that any one ever had, and I propose, in this imperfect narrative, to give the results of my experience in plain and unequivocal language, that shall neither confuse or mystify those who may honor me by their perusal.

 

I am the publisher of a literary paper in Boston, and in the year 1862 there entered my office a young lady, apparently a recent graduate of our high schools, who offered me some manuscripts for publication in my paper. She was reserved and dignified in her speech and manners, and she seemed the very ideal of what the most imaginative mind would deem almost perfection.

 

Her writings made a favorable impression, and I received several specimens of them during that year. After becoming acquainted with her intellectual ability, and having seen the probability of the rapid advancement that she would make by a little experience, I made arrangements with her to take a permanent place in my office as an assistant on my paper.

 

The situation which she was to fill was that of assistant editor. She was a fine writer of both prose and poetry, and her good taste proved to be a valuable acquisition to my editorial circle. Her amiable disposition, unselfish nature and graceful deportment, as well as her faithfulness and honesty in performing the duties allotted to her, made her an object of admiration to all her acquaintances. She filled the place to my satisfaction for eight or nine years.

 

Mabel Warren, as we will call the young ladyís name, was taken ill on the 12th day of July, 1870. After nine days of severe suffering she peacefully and quietly passed to the spirit-land. I will not attempt to give language to the grief which I felt at her death. She seemed like a dearly-beloved daughter, her natural father having died in her infancy. Her funeral was attended by a large circle of weeping friends, who felt that a vacuum had been made in their circle which could not be again filled.

 

On the seventh day after her death, while riding, I met with an accident, which caused me to keep [to] my house for several weeks. An arrangement had been made with Mrs. Higgins, a Spiritual Medium, to take tea with my housekeeper, (who was a Spiritualist,) my family being away on a vacation. Several other friends of the cause were present. Before the company had assembled I had a short time to talk with the Controlling Spirit of the Medium, which was that of an Indian girl, who said that there was a beautiful Spirit present to see me, but she could not talk then as she was so weak, having been in the "spirit-hunting-grounds" so little while; but that she would talk to me another moon-time, or another night. This Indian Spirit was called Mary, and was generally the first to communicate through this Medium, at her sittings.

 

Later in the evening another little Spirit took control of the Medium, that of the son of an ex-mayor of one of the suburban towns of Boston. After some other remarks, he said:

 

"The beautiful Spirit, Mabel, is here. She is sitting on the banks of a beautiful river, and she is surrounded with flowers, and has a beautiful flower in her hand, and that is for you. She loves you because you were so good to her. The banks of the river look somewhat like the river Nile, but the river Nile had people who were mourning and weeping, but here all are happy."

 

At another time, on the same evening, Mabel took control of the medium herself, though weak and hardly able to sit in her chair. She requested paper and pencil that she might write. They were brought to her, and she proved almost too weak to take the pencil from the table. She at last succeeded, and made an effort to write, and with much difficulty wrote the following, which was in the handwriting she used during her life-time:

 

"And it was my.fate to be taken beyond the----"

 

When the pencil dropped from her hand, she fell back in her chair, unable to proceed any further.

 

On another evening, a week later, Mrs. Higgins, the Medium, made us another visit, and being anxious to have a private interview, in hopes of obtaining some test that would prove to my mind the reality of Mabelís presence, I had a sitting half an hour before the time set for the rest of the company to meet. Mabel immediately took possession of the Medium, and in a friendly manner took my hand and said:

 

"You felt very sad when I passed away, didnít you? But I shall always be near you, to console you. I used sometimes to feel as if I did wrong to think so much of you, but I do not think so now-it was all right."

 

I will not attempt to relate all that was communicated to me at these sittings. My object is only to give prominence to such points in my narrative as shall enable the reader to trace a harmonious line of evidence from first to last of my experience, and, if not very nicely expressed, I hope there may be seen a consistency in my arguments in favor of the truth.

 

About a month after the meeting above alluded to, Mrs. D. and myself made a trip to Saratoga Springs. It was about the first of September. The "season" had passed away, and we rambled over the almost deserted fields of gayety unmolested and unnoticed. The shops and hotels were being closed ; the hidden machinery (as it seemed) which forced the briny waters of the "Geyser" needed repairing, no doubt, and there seemed to be a move among the townspeople toward such improvements as were necessarily laid aside for the better convenience of the throng which had just left. We had ample room for driving about, and plenty of gay teams at our call. We visited the "Lake," the "Fishery" and the "Springs," the waters of which we freely drank.

 

I took a stroll up Broadway [in Saratoga Springs, New York] one pleasant afternoon, and casually stopped in front of a palatial mansion, which was being improved and fitted up by "Lord Willoughby," an English nobleman, who, I believe, intends to make it his permanent residence. While admiring the place, with its beautiful garden of flowers, I noticed approaching me an elderly gentleman, who gave me a pleasant greeting. He informed me that his name was Baker; that he made Saratoga his abiding place; that his family were grown up and scattered over the world, and that he found pleasure in the subject of spiritual manifestations, in which be was a firm believer. He said he was then on his way to the "Waverley House," to meet Dr. Slade, a very powerful Medium; that he performed wonders on the slate. He asked me to go with him, to which I consented, remarking that I had witnessed some manifestations, and had received communications from some of my friends.

"Doctor" Henry Slade Spiritualist Medium

carte de visite photograph circa 1868 by Mrs. S. E. Morrill, Coldwater Michigan

A rare and unpublished portrait of Slade near the beginning of his career. Slade was among the most celebrated of all American Mediums; he took London by storm and counted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle among his admirers. Slade was the first Medium prosecuted in England, in a sensational case that pitted much of the scientific community against Spiritualism. He was convicted of violating the Vagrancy Act but was allowed to leave the country without serving a prison sentence.

I found Dr. Slade to be a delicately-constituted gentleman, of a remarkably fine countenance and of genial manners. After introducing the subject which we called to witness, he seated us around a common fall-leaf table, about four feet square. The Doctor sat on one side, I sat on another side at his right, and Mr. Baker sat on my right, opposite to the Doctor. We placed our hands on the centre of the table, touching each other, to form an electric Circle. Raps came thick and loud under the table, as well as on my chair. The Medium asked the Spirits:

 

"Are there Spirits here who wish to communicate?"

 

Three raps answered "Yes."

 

"We will see what you desire to tell us," said the Medium. He then took a common school slate, and placed on it a small slate pencil about one-sixteenth of an inch long, and held it under the leaf of the table with the four fingers of the right hand, his thumb resting on the top of the table for support. His left hand remained on the centre of the table in connection with both those of Mr. Baker and myself, as before said, to keep the Circle unbroken. There was no space between the frame of the slate and the table, and only about one-sixteenth of an inch between the slate and the table for the pencil to work in.

 

Soon was heard the sound of the pencil writing on the slate. It moved with great rapidity, and the sounds of dotting the i and crossing the t were distinctly discernible. Three distinct raps on the slate with the pencil said, " that is all," and the slate was taken out. On it was written:

 

"Have no fears for the future. This is a beautiful place.--C. Dow."

 

I remarked that I lost a brother Charles about thirty years ago. He died a member of the Orthodox church, and believed in all the peculiar tenets of that creed. He expressed a fear to me that my Universalism was not true; but, said he, "I hope it is." And now to have him tell me in his first communication from the Spirit World to "have no fears for the future," was very gratifying, for it confirmed my previous convictions that the idea of pain or sorrow after the death of the body, as a punishment, was only the fabrication of a false theology.

 

I then said that I had lost a friend in Boston a few weeks before, and had communications from her, in which she said she should always be with me; and that I would like to know whether she had come to Saratoga with me. The slate was held under the table, and when taken out these words were plainly written on it:

 

"She is here!-C. Dow"

 

Then I said I should like to have her write to me. Instantly there was written on the slate-

 

"I am always with you.-MABEL."

 

The Medium then held the slate on the top of my head by his right hand, while his left remained in the center of the table, and on it was written, in Mabelís handwriting, as follows:

 

"l am glad you are interested in this beautiful truth. Ask Mrs. D. to come, and she wilt be convinced.-MABEL."

 

During this manifestation the Medium said he felt a hand take hold of his wrist and pull his cuff. I expressed a wish that she would manifest herself to me in that way, and soon the side of my coat was jerked quite hard, and a hand gently patted me[.]

 

The Medium took an accordion and placed it under the table in the same way he had held the slate. He took hold of the back part of it, and let the bellows and keys hang down loose. The bellows were raised to a horizontal position, and began to move backward and forward to take in wind, and the tunes of "Sweet Home" and the "Last Rose of Summer" were played as sweetly as they could possibly be executed on that instrument by mortal fingers.

 

The Medium also took a silver fruit knife and laid it on the slate with the blade closed, and held the slate under the table. Instantly the knife was thrown across the room on the floor, with the blade opened to Its full extent.

 

On the last evening before our leaving Saratoga I called with another gentleman to have a sitting with Dr. Slade. After witnessing more phenomena, I said that I was going to leave Saratoga on the next morning, and I would like to know whether my friend Mabel was present. The slate was held under the table, and on it was instantly written-

 

"l am glad to meet you; you are so very dear to me.-MABEL."

 

Mr. Baker informed me that if I wished to know of a good Medium in Boston on my return home, I had better call on Mrs. M. M.. Hardy, No.4 Concord Square, as she was one of the best Mediums he had ever seen. I arrived home in about a week, and a few days afterwards called on Mrs. Hardy. As almost every hour of the day is previously engaged, I could only engage to call three days later. I did not see the lady at this time, as she was occupied. At the time appointed I called and saw her. I had never before seen her, neither had she ever seen me, though she may have read my name in my paper. She did not know what I expected to learn; nor whether I wished to meet father, mother, wife or children. I did not tell her my name, or give her any information in regard to myself.

 

I was invited into the sitting-room, and took a seat opposite to her, about six feet distant. In a few minutes she was in a trance, and controlled by a little Spirit called "Willie," who is generally the first that appears to one who has never been there before.

 

After his telling me that there were several Spirits present who knew me, I asked him if I had any friend present, when lie answered with the voice and accent of a child of four years:

 

"Yes, you have a beautiful Spirit here, and she has got flowers for you. Mary is here, too. Who is Mary?"

 

The Indian girl who first spoke of Mabel, and told me of her presence through Mrs. Higgins, came to my mind, and I asked Willie if it was the Indian girl.

 

"Yes, it is the Indian girl, and she has got flowers; they have both got flowers for you. The beautiful Spirit gave you positive demonstration of her presence in Saratoga, through Dr. Slade, by writing on a slate. She is always with you."

 

I asked Willie if my friend would speak to me, and he said she would, and that he would go and let her come to talk with me.

 

The Medium remained silent for a moment, when a deep sigh indicated a change of influences, and both hands were extended toward me, a manner of greeting a friend which was habitual to Mabel when in the earth-form. I took a seat nearer to her, and took her hands, which she clasped in a manner that indicated pleasure in meeting a long absent friend, and with great earnestness of language gave me a hearty welcome.

 

The reality of her presence was so sensibly felt by me that I could not speak for some time. Her wishes seemed to be to impress me with the fact that she was really my friend Mabel.

 

"My dear friend, I am so glad to meet you," said she. "Promise me that you will not use the word death when you speak of me, for I am not dead, but alive, arid am always with you. It is so beautiful to pass away from earth; I do not wish to come back, unless it were to die again, it is so beautiful. I am with your father, mother and brother; they all love me, and are waiting for you when you come over the river, and will meet you half way over the bridge. It is only a breath long; when the breath is gone you are here, and it is such a beautiful home and we are all so happy here. I will go now, and let your friends come to you."

 

After she had gone I had a talk with father, mother and brother. They all spoke of the beautiful Spirit which had recently come among them. My brother Charles said:

 

"Brother Moses, I am glad to meet you. You are the first one I have ever communicated with. We are very happy. The beautiful Spirit is with us, and she can teach us our alphabet in spiritual progress because she was so good and pure when she came. I will go now, and let our mother come. Give my love to your daughters, and tell them their Uncle Charles lives."

 

I would remark that my brother died about thirty years ago. My father died about fifteen, and my mother about forty-six years ago. My mother next came to meet me. She said I should find a beautiful home when I came to the Spirit-land to meet my friends who were waiting for me. My father talked pretty much in the same manner; and altogether, the good things they told me make life here seem not very desirable, and take from death all its terrors.

 

At another sitting I asked Mabel if her father would speak to me, as she had told me that he was her Guardian Spirit while she lived on the earth, and that he was ever present with her. She said he would, and went away to let him come. The voice of the Medium was changed from feminine to masculine, as he said:

 

"I am glad to meet you, sir. I passed away when this child (Mabel) was in her infancy. It was my doings that she was placed under your care and protection. Had it not been for that care and protection she would not have been the bright and pure Spirit that she now is. I thank you for what you have done for her. I thank you for what you have done for her mother and sister. Good by."

 

At another time, when I was holding converse with Mabel, she said, voluntarily, without such a thought coming to me-

 

"I shall give you my Spirit picture some time."

 

I supposed that it would have to be done with colors by a medium artist; and, not comprehending her meaning the matter dropped from my mind. I now reminded her of her promise to give me a picture. She said it would be a photograph, and it must be taken by a Medium Artist. I asked her when we should have it done, and she said she would tell me the next time I came. I called again in just one week, and she voluntarily spoke of the picture first:

 

"Now I am ready to give you my picture. I met the Spirit of Rufus Choate, and I asked him if he could tell me where I could get a picture taken for a friend. and he told me I could get it at No.170 West Springfield street, in Boston, of Mr. Mumler. I went there to see if that was the right number, and found that it was. I went in to see how they did it, and I got so near the instrument that I was taken on the glass. They didnít know who I was and so they rubbed it off. Now, when you leave here, you must go there and make arrangements for us to go at one oíclock, a week from to-day. You call here at twelve; then we will go there at one."

 

On arrival at Mrs. Mumlerís, I told her that I had called to see about having a picture taken, that a Spirit friend had said she would give me one.

 

"When will you come?" asked she.

 

"I will call a week from to-day, at one oíclock."

 

"What name shall I put down?"

 

I did not like to give my true name, as I had heard that Mr. Mumler was an impostor, and told her she might call me Mr. Johnson, which she did; and I came to my place of business.

Mrs. W. H. Mumler -- By Mumler

Wood engraving after a photograph

Harper's Weekly, May 8, 1869

 

Just a week from that time I called at Mrs. Hardyís to have a chat with Mabel previous to our going to Mr. Mumlerís to get the picture. When I first came, Mrs. Hardy gave me a letter which Mabel had written through her mediumship, from which I will make an extract or two:

 

"MY DEAR FRIEND--I again come to you. I am never absent from you so but what I can hear you speak. I promised you my picture. I am ready to give it you any time when you may try to get it. I will bring you flowers of beauty, and the Great Spirit will paint for you the lily with whiteness and the rose with blushes. We can trust that Great Spirit through the infinite future. I am one of his ministering spirits to you. Grasp death with a smile when it comes, for we will meet you and lead you through the valley. I will meet you again soon.-MABEL."

 

The meeting alluded to was no doubt that at Mr. Mumlerís house to get the picture.

 

Mrs. Hardy then went into a trance, and Mabel was present in fine Spirits. The first thing she said was-"How do you do, Mr. Johnson? I did not know that you was ashamed of your name. I was there when you gave them the name of Johnson."

 

I told her I did so because I hardly believed that Mr. Mumler could take her picture, though he might take my own.

 

"Oh you skeptic! Oh, you skeptic!" said she, and laughed at my lack of faith.

 

At two different sittings Mrs. Hardy has seen the spirit of Mabel standing at my side, with her hand on my shoulder, dressed in a light striped dress, which was the last dress she wore on earth. Just before going to have our pictures taken, she asked-

 

"What dress shall I wear ?-a white robe, or my light striped dress?"

 

I told her I should prefer the striped dress, as that would distinguish hers from other Spirit Pictures, but I did not care much for the dress if I saw the face of my friend there.

 

"You wish to see Mabel, donít you?"

 

"Yes, I wish to see my friend Mabel."

 

"Well, I shall wear my striped dress, and I shall stand by your side and put my hand on your shoulder, and I shall bring you many beautiful flowers. Now we will go for the pictures. Good-by."

 

I left and went directly to Mr. Mumlerís house, arriving there before one. He said he had no one in, and would proceed with my sitting for the picture. I was seated in a chair in the centre of the back parlor, about ten feet from the instrument, which was placed near the window, to take in as much daylight as possible, as it was a cloudy day. The first time I sat about two or three minutes, when he took the plate and went out of the room to wash it. In a few moments he returned and said it was a failure, and that sometimes it required half a dozen trials before a picture could be secured.

William H. Mumler (1832-1884) from Harper's Weekly May 8, 1869

The second trial was not much better, though he said he saw traces of something, but rather indefinite. I told him I had just conferred with my friend, and she said she would be there.

 

"Well, then, we must persevere," said Mr. M.

 

The next time I sat just five minutes by his watch, which he kept his eye on, with his back to me all the time, with his left hand on the instrument. He took the plate out as before, and Mrs. Mumler came into the room. She looked as if she was under spiritual influence. I asked her-"Do you see any Spirits present?"

 

"Yes," said she; "I see a beautiful Spirit;" and immediately she was entranced, and under the control of Mabel, who said:

 

"Now I shall give you my picture; it will be here in a few moments. I shall have a wreath of lilies on my head, and a dress that will not be positively striped, but the lights and shades will indicate stripes. I put into it all the magnetism which I possessed."

 

Mrs. Mumler then came to herself, and at the same moment Mr. Mumler entered with the plate.

 

"Have you got a picture now?" ask Mrs. M. "Yes, I think I have," said he.

I took the plate and looked at it, and saw on the glass my own picture distinctly given, and close to my side was that of a lady with a wreath of flowers around her head, as she had promised. Mr. Mumler said he would send me proof the next day. It did not come, however, till two days after. The picture was small, but by the aid of a microscope it was magnified to the natural size of the human face, and in that face I saw the perfect picture of my friend. I was both surprised and delighted, and wrote to Mr. Mumler and told him I was perfectly satisfied, and gave him my true name.

 

The next time I met Mabel at Mrs. Hardyís she said she wished I would get it enlarged while the conditions were favorable for doing so. I suppose if Mr. or Mrs. Mumler should die, the conditions would be changed, for I think the combination of magnetism is the source of the remarkable power which they have of taking this kind of pictures.

I have given here a simple and condensed account of my experience in spiritual manifestations. Should I write them out in detail, they would fill a large volume. I wish to say a word about Spirit-pictures, and then I have done. It is often said that such pretensions are an imposition, because Mr. Mumler was prosecuted in New York for making them. It may do for rival photographers to denounce him, for it places him in a position which they cannot attain. But when the Spirit of a friend, whom I have known for years, tells me that she will give me a picture of herself on a particular day, and at a particular hour, and tells what shall be the dress and decorations, what she will wear and what position she will take, and the picture is then taken and thus costumed, where is the humbug?

The picture presents me as sitting upright in a chair, with my legs crossed. My hands lie on my lap, with the fingers locked together. Mabel stands partially behind my right shoulder, dressed in a white, well-fitting robe. Her hair is combed back, and her head is encircled by a wreath of white lilies. Her head inclines forward so as to lay her cheek on my right temple, from which my hair is always parted. Her right hand passes over my left arm, and clasps my hand. Her left hand is seen on my left shoulder, and between the thumb and forefinger of this hand is held an opening moss rosebud, the exact counterpart of the one that I placed there while she lay in the casket, at her funeral. Her head partially covers my forehead, showing that my picture was not taken on a previously prepared plate.

William H.. Mumler (U.S., 1832--1884):

Moses A. Dow with the Spirit of "Mabel"

Albumen carte de visite, 1870

That picture contains in itself a volume of proof of the reality and reliability of spiritual manifestations. I have indubitable evidence that in this instance it is true; and if this is true, may not other similar pictures be bona fide? It also proves the truth of all that Mabel has told me in her communications, as she has sealed the document with her honest and truthful face. 

It also proves the immortality of the soul of man, and that that immortality is a blissful one. It also negatives the idea of there being any misery for the soul after it has left this body of clay, in which alone are garnered all the seeds of temptation and sin. Freed from that body, it is a Spirit form, and is free to act itself; and that it will advance in brightness and glory during the endless ages of eternity.

 The picture also assures me that we have our friends about us, watching over us at all times; and the influence of such thoughts is to warn us in the hours of temptation, and also to reconcile us to the trials of life, and open our hearts to deeds of charity. 

 

--Moses A. Dow, as quoted in The Personal Experiences of William H. Mumler in Spirit-Photography. Written by Himself. (Boston: Colby and Rich, 1875, pp. 31ó40.) Transcribed by the American Museum of Photography from an original in the collection of the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

 

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