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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Twixt Two Worlds: Dr. Hutchinson's Dial Plate, 1878

My esteemed colleague, Marc Demarest, has made recent attempts at unraveling the dual authorship of an important (and beautifully illustrated) Spiritualist text: 1886's Twixt Two Worlds. While I'll leave him to discuss the finer points of its confusing composition first here and again here, his recent post on the matter leave me a fantastic opening to address a more easily-deciphered topic found in the materials--the Hutchinson Dial Plate.

The device is revealed when the subject of the book--the well-traveled spirit medium William Eglinton--was invited in May of 1878 to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, for seance sittings with the Cape Town Psychological Society. His host and sponsor was one Dr. Berks T. Hutchinson, with whom he would stay 9 months as the subject of psychical study when the preliminary sittings with the Psychological Society soured with dissent, and with whom he would also study dentistry during his months abroad, to the extent that he was a "duly-qualified practioner" on his return to England the following year.

Eglinton made the trip in July of 1878 and arrived in August, apparently after enduring contention while trapped aboard his steamer with a dissatisfied former client who saw fit to prejudice the other travelers against the medium's claimed abilities. On his arrival in Cape Town, the author of the book--here most likely T. L. Nichols--relies heavily on Dr. Hutchinson's own notes taken during the nine-month span to build the narrative of Eglinton's time abroad.

Dr. Hutchinson had first become acquainted with Eglinton's mediumship in 1877 while on a trip to England, and while he did not have a chance for a sitting then, was impressed enough with what he heard of the medium's abilities to sponsor his visit to South Africa, where he was a houseguest of the dentist and even inducted into Hutchinson's Cape Town Masonic Lodge.

Eglinton at play with the slates, from Twixt Two Worlds.
Some 3 years previously, so Hutchinson claimed, he had invented a test apparatus for spirit communication but, unable to find a "good physical medium" to put the device to use, he was "compelled to put it on one side until a favorable opportunity occurred." That opportunity came with Eglinton's visit. Hutchinson described the dial-telegraph-inspired device as:

"A disk made of galvanised sheet iron, eighteen inches in diameter, had white paper pasted over the upper part, and around the edge were arranged the letters of the alphabet, together with the words " Yes " and " No." (Fig. 4). In the centre a small round hole, about half an inch in diameter, was cut, and a pin about three inches long by one-eighth of an inch thick put through; on the top of this was a wooden pointer, arrow-shaped, fixed on so that by having a small crosspiece of wood fixed to the under part, a materialised spirit hand could move the arrow round to any letter. In the centre of my seance table I had cut out a small circular piece (which I leave in when not wanted), so that spirits might project their hands ; the space immediately beneath the wood of the table made a sort of camera, which prevented the light falling on the spirit hands, and thereby dissipating the material molecules collected over them. Having taken out the circular piece of wood, I placed the circular disk over the hole, and then fixed the cross-piece to the portion of the pin that was beneath the table. The apparatus looks very much like a telegraphic instrument I have seen, where the operator moves the key round to the different letters."

According to Hutchinson's account of Eglinton's sittings with his dial plate, the initial communications and the method of their attainment were quite remarkable: the isolated dial plate, surrounded by 9 sitters and the medium, produced a full-light message as Eglinton entered a trance. Hutchinson attested that the "arrow of the dial began to oscillate and revolve alternately" and "spin round at a very rapid rate, then stop, and oscillate, and vibrate strongly; the sensitive shivered, and was much agitated whilst the arrow was in motion" in conditions in which "no blind force could act on the apparatus." In other words, by Hutchinson's account, the dial plate produced rapid messages surrounded on all sides by 9 sitters, physically unmanipulated by the medium. This phenomenon produced only a two messages in this fashion, however--"Godunderstandsiloveyoualljoeyiswithyou" and "Isolatethemedium"--before Eglinton lapsed from his trance and "suggested that his eyes should be blindfolded and his hand be allowed to guide the arrow" in a more traditional and believable display of device manipulation.

Hutchinson, at least, was convinced: "Where there was no confederate, scientific mechanism, or a properly arranged platform or apparatus with secret machinery, nothing would make the simple apparatus act as I have stated, except guided by supernatural means." It may be that the device was manipulated from beneath as the design intended, though whether it was the work of manifest spirit hands or Eglinton's own efforts I leave my scrupulous readers to decide. Other sittings with the device followed, but none matched the initial hands-free phenomenon:

"At one improvised sitting, we received several messages by the aid of the dial, the hand of the medium directing it. To get messages by direct agency is too trying for the sensitive; hence, when his hand is used, it greatly economises power."

One of Twixt Two Worlds incredible cover plates, showing
Eglinton in a stage of proto-ectoplasmic manifestion.
There is more to Eglinton's Cape Town adventures, but here his adventures with Hutchinson's Dial Plate come to a close. I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to pursue those stories of automatic writing and materialization (emanations of fine mists produced by the medium's body and eventual full-form veiled spirits, in the days before the term "ectoplasm" was coined) and public quarrels for yourself, found in Chapter 7 of Twixt Two Worlds. Happy reading!

Monday, December 9, 2013

George Blackie & Company's "Mysterious Planchette"

It is always jarring to see the phrase around which you've sculpted your entire public front used in a context years-removed from its original source. Which is why a recently-discovered ad for George Blackie & Company's "Mysterious Planchette" came as such a surprise.

Readers more familiar with the website than I have any right to expect know that my site's title comes from a relatively common planchette produced for an exceptionally long term by Glevum Games in the UK. For an inordinate amount of time, this item vexed and avoided my inquiries into the real identity of its manufacturer. For years, these most-commonly-encountered planchettes were discovered with only an elusive "British Manufacture" byline on their boxes. Commonly encountered more than planchettes by other makers, I've affectionately referred to them as "the Fulds of the planchette world" or even "the Parker Bros. of planchettes" in a bit of harassment to my best pal and longtime associate (and Ouija and William Fuld scholar), Robert Murch.

Luckily, one collector, who's one of my favorite folks and a phenomenal spirit communication device maker--Madame Sheol herself--managed to discover a specimen printed with the actual manufacturer's name: Glevum Games. And thus the case was--finally--burst wide open, and the manufacturer revealed. With that, we learned more--quite a bit more, in fact--from the man himself, Malcolm J. Watkins, the leading expert on Roberts Brothers/Glevum Games and author of the spectacularly exhaustive Games-Makers to the Empire: Robert Brothers of Gloucester 1890-1957. Mr. Watkins was kind enough to investigate his own archives for the earliest evidence of a Glevum planchette, and shared what is their earliest known advertisement: a Gamages catalog image from 1913, which until a few weeks ago remained the earliest known hint of a device using the "mysterious planchette" moniker.

It was the earliest use of the term, that is, until I met antiquarian bookseller and bibliophagist Garrett Scott. Garrett runs the always-entertaining Bibliophagist blog, and one entry in particular caught my eye. Garrett's post explored a fantastic little relic of a book by George Blackie & Company called Kuaint, Kueer & Kurious and Book of New Receipts, with Catalogue of Novelties and Wonders. As you can see for yourself in his post, it is a wonderful little novelty catalog chock-full of quackery, rubber mustaches and bowties, magic tricks and illusions, fortune-telling accessories, marked cards, and all manner of hoo-has, geegaws, and doodads that would make Pee-Wee Herman lock up his beloved bike and run inside to shop

The cover of Kuaint, Kueer, & Kurious, courtesy of Garrett at
Imagine my surprise when Garrett's blog mentioned an ad for a "Mysterious Planchette." It wouldn't have been too surprising in and of itself, except that the catalog dates from the mid-to-late 1870s, just about a decade after the planchette's first great craze, and pre-dating the earliest known Glevum Games ad by a good 35 years! And since Glevum wasn't established by Harry and John Roberts until 1894, I had an honest-to-goodness mystery--and a likely new addition to the "undiscovered devices" archive--on my hands.

So Garrett was kind enough to provide a scan of the page for my inspection. As it turns out, George Blackie & Company did indeed list a "mysterious planchette" offering previously unknown to this humble researcher. The ad is full-page, and includes an oft-quoted passage from an 1868 article printed in the New York Evening Post explaining the mysteries of planchettes as well as a previously-unseen illustration of the planchette in use: depictions of which I never grow tired:

Much more often than not, I find these illustrations to be pretty accurate depictions of the product they are pitching. If that's the case here, the Blackie planchette would conform to the typical American form--a classic heart shape--but would sadly be lacking true castors. But planchettes without wheels aren't unheard of. Both Wilder's "Mystic Hand" planchette and Singer's "Mystic Wanderer" had only tiny turned dowels to hold them above the table, for example. And forgoing castors would likely be an effective cost-cutting measure in a time when production of planchettes was at an all-time low and castors unlikely to be readily available from other firms or jobbers. Which, of course, begs the question of whether or not Blackie & Co had a manufacturing branch, or were simply acting as distributors for another firm's product in the grand stationer's tradition that gave birth to the planchette industry in the first place. If that's the case, there isn't currently a known planchette from the period that matches the depiction in the catalog, so for now that determination will remain a...wait for it...mystery.

So, yet another to add to the list, true believers! And since the catalog would make such an awesome Christmas gift to those like me that grew up flipping through Sears and Montgomery Ward holiday catalogs in search of hidden treasures, keep in mind that the "Kuaint, Kueer & Kurious" volume is a stunner, full of fantastic engravings of this nature, and for sale! You can find Garrett's listing for the catalog on his website.  Many, many thanks go out to him for his kind generosity and assistance in this exciting discovery!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Countess & the Caveman: The Cercle Sadyana Murders

Never before have I so badly wanted to add something as gaudy as a jeweled dagger to my collection of seance paraphernalia, buuuuuut:

I can never predict the alluring mysteries that my research will uncover. During an archive search for spirit trumpet mediums, I uncovered what is likely the most fascinating accounts of spirit communication, murder, and paleoanthropology(?!) I have ever read. Because just how often do you stumble upon forgotten accounts of the rampaging spirit of a jealous Neanderthal in a French sanitarium killing 13 socially-elite seance enthusiasts? Well, just this once, apparently...

The Countess Marie Amelie Vernet-Lord was found murdered in November, 1928, "at her villa in Nice, with the hilt of a jeweled dagger sticking out of her breast." For some time, the Countess had been engaged in the seances of the Adyar Circle of Theosophy, also known as the "Cercle Sadyana," lead by "priestess of the occult" Mme. Arnelle. It was at one particular seance held on the grounds of the Domaine Les Courmettes sanitarium that the Countess felt a disturbing presence in the chamber. Mme. Arnelle offered to materialize the spirit, and, to their surprise:

"The mist...thickened into a shape. And it was no courtly gallant, no gentle giant. There stood a huge and hairy man, and ape-man with beetling brows, retreating forehead and a brutal head crowned with a bush of course hair. There was a malignant desire in its eyes, and as it stretched its long arms out to her, Arnelle wrenched her hands away from those of the Circle that held them. The Circle was broken and the figure blurred and vanished."

Countess Amelie Vernet-Lord

So it was that the mysterious spirit of a Neanderthal, which the Circle named "Ajax," began its unhealthy obsession with Countess Vernet-Lord. From that point onward, the prehistoric spirit became a thuggish nuisance in the Cercle Sadyana's sessions. The language barrier proved frustrating, and the ectoplasmic entity simply "waved his arms, thumped his chest, and made grimaces. Nobody could understand what he was trying to say, but clearly he wanted Amelie, and was always angry and threatening because she wouldn't understand what he was trying to tell her."

A Trio of Courmette's Prehistoric that Ajax's old homestead to the left?

The presence of the Neanderthal's spirit was particularly appropriate given the locale; the Domaine Les Courmettes was a popular a sanitarium for the wealthy, and the land on which it is located is lousy with prehistoric middens, monoliths, and paleolithic shelters dating as far back as 50,000 years. So that ancient spirits of smitten Neanderthals wander the craggy hillsides comes of little wonder. And the sanatorium where these seances took place still stands, making it a must-visit for historians of Spiritualism.

The Sanatorium de Courmettes in 1920, as it would have appeared during the Cercle Sadyana's residency.
Ajax's spirit continued to disturb the group, even after the departure of the Countess to America upon her marriage to Horace Wilfred Lord. The arrangement didn't last long, however, and within months, the Countess had returned to Nice and her spiritualistic endeavors with the Cercle Sadyana, where Ajax's fervor and jealousy gained momentum.

Then the deaths began.

1920s Advertisement for the Courmette Sanatorium D'Heliotherapie.

Of the 15 people in attendance at the wedding of Countess Amelie to Horace Lord just a few months previously, only 2 would survive in a supposed spiritual rampage that would make believers of Tutankamen's curse sit up and take notice. It all happened in the course of weeks after Amelie's return. The presiding pastor dropped dead of a sudden heart attack. Alfred Vernet, the bride's cousin, was found dead in his porch chair, and his brother Edmund found dead under the exact same circumstances the very next day. Madame Louise Raegger, a member of the Cercle Sadyana, "died while laughing and chatting with visitors," while the maid of honor died in the middle of a public reception. There were many others, with the 13th victim being the Countess Amelie herself. The authorities arrested Count Wencelas de Klupfel for the Countess's murder. Not only was his jeweled dagger plunged into her chest, he confessed to the crime, though maintained: "There's no use asking me why I did it. I don't know. I remember nothing." 

The Cercle Sadyana had a different theory.

It was the belief among Countess Amelie's intimates that Count Klupfel had not murdered Amelie in cold blood. Rather, they surmised, the jealous spirit of Ajax, their "l'homme prehistorique," was to blame for the murders:

"The theory of the occultists is that "Ajax" was so angry at the marriage that he wiped out almost everybody concerned in it before he finally took possession of de Klupfel and used him to convert his too material sweetheart into another ghost."
The Forgiving Husband: Horace Wilfred Lord

The alibi is fascinating not only in its premise, but in the insistence by which the murdered Countess's intimates subscribed to the belief, including her own husband, Horace Wilfred Lord, who wrote to French authorities asking all charges to be dropped: "In the name of God, and in the memory of my dear wife, have pity on poor Wencelas de Klupfel." Indeed, de Klupfel invoked this as his defense, which the newspapers were quick to point out had not been used in the French courts since the Middle Ages. 

The defense, as one might expect, didn't work, and de Klupfel was found guilty for the Countess's murder.

The sanatorium still stands, and there is a beautiful picture gallery of the grounds some 5 years past located here. It is a locale I hope to one day explore. To wander the grounds where the Cercle Sadyana once assembled, and see the prehistoric middens they claimed Ajax once called home is just too alluring. By plane, train, or automobile, this is one destination at the top of my list.

The former sanatorium in 2007, currently closed but well-maintained.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Rogues Always Have Money: Florizel's "Itongu"

Last week's blog post reviewed Florizel von Reuter's use of the newly-rediscovered "Additor" and "Hesperus" talking board set the violinist detailed over the course of 3 books and multiple articles. As we've seen, Von Reuter was always quick to dismiss Ouija and planchettes in the pages of his works, but his distaste for another item he witnessed actually reveals yet another device not previously in the talking board record. It was found as I studied the pages of Florizel's 1928 book The Psychic Experiences of a Musician (in Search of Truth) at the Harry Ransom Center here in Austin 

The new device is called the "Itongu," first introduced to Florizel and his mother in late March or early April, 1926, while they were in New York:

"A few days later a gentleman brought us an American writing-apparatus called "Itongu," which consisted of a flat heart-shaped piece of wood, which one placed on a board similar to the Additor but much larger. In order to simplify the task of writing, the inventor of this apparatus had obligingly prepared a series of printed words and answers to the questions. One table contained all the words pertaining to family relations such as mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, wife, husband, friend, even ''sweetheart'' was not forgotten. Another list of questions could be inserted at will, such phrases as: "You did right," "You did wrong," You will make a journey,'' '' You will receive a letter,'' ''I advise you to keep on as you are doing,'' etc."

Answer Overload! By the 1920s, many planchette manufacturers piggybacked on the
Ouija craze with printed sheets that allowed the planchette to act as an indicator, rather than
an automatic writer, resulting in an overload of printed replies.
It is a confusing description. The "flat heart-shaped piece of wood" and "writing apparatus" description immediately invokes the image of a classic American planchette, with the accompanying "printed words and answers" calling to mind the exhaustively wordy paper inserts to convert writing planchettes to pointing ouija-like indicators that were popular accessories included with planchettes of this period, including the Chad Valley "Futuroscope & Mystereone" sheets, the Glevum Games "Physio-Psychophone," and the Weyers Bros "Ouija-Planchette Combination" sheet. Except that we know it was a board, not a sheet, and "similar to the Additor" (which was 12-inches by 5-inches), "but much larger."

A Refresher: Detail of the Additor.
But there's an important distinction in Florizel's record, as well. The Additor, through descriptions and pictures, is positively a slide-plate device akin to W.T. Braham's "Wonderful/Telepathic Spirit Communicator" apparatus, patented in 1910 and still for sale by Two Worlds Publishing around the period Florizel's communications flourished. But despite the sliding operation of the indicator of this apparatus that is decidedly *not* actually writing, it is important for our review of the Itongu here to note that Florizel frequently and erroneously refers to the Additor itself as a "writing apparatus":

" immediately began to write..."  

 "Upon this second occasion the writing was much more fluent. Apparently he had mastered the technique of the apparatus."

"...the sentences it had written were aphorisms..." 

"...I deduced that the writer was not a German..."

"...inverted writing is being transmitted..."

Given his misleading term for the Additor's operation (forgivable, given that Florizel, as the transcriber, was doing an awful lot of actual writing to record the Additor's messages), it is safe to assume that the Itongu is not a writing planchette, and more akin to a slide-plate device, particularly with the following passage:

"Thus the entire contrivance did not rise above the level of a child's plaything. If one's finger-tips got the little wooden slab (that moved on a narrow wooden axis, being kindly provided with a groove to assist its motion) to move at all, one was sure to receive a message from one's mother (even if living), one's wife (even if one never had one), or one's sweetheart even, or anyone else under whose name the slab happened to stop."

An evolutionary selection of slide-plate devices
So, more clues. We now have a heart-shaped "slab" for an indicator that "moved on a narrow wooden axis, being kindly provided with a groove to assist its motion." Which immediately calls to mind the grooved rail of the aforementioned Braham's and Two Worlds' models. And, this all takes place on a board "similar to the Additor, but much larger." Which would nearly have to be a prerequisite, given the numerous printed answers on the boards face, including an exhaustive list of possible relatives and "another list that could be inserted at will," which makes it likely the device had multiple insert answer cards ("a series of printed words and answers") that one would change out depending on the topic of conversation.

Despite Florizel's distaste for the Itongu, which was rivaled only by his scorn for the Ouija, he had his mother take the device for a spin at his friend's insistence:

"My friend was anxious to have us test the Itongu in comparison to the Additor, so my mother placed the fingers of her left hand on the Additor, and those of her right hand on the Itongu, closed her eyes, and awaited results. The slab on the Itongu did not move, but almost immediately Euphrosyne [Grace von Reuter's primary spirit guide on the Additor] wrote on the Additor in inverted German, ordering us quite dictatorially to remove the' 'swindle-board'' from the table, as she absolutely refused to have anything to do with it."
Indeed, the Additor's controlling spirit was outright hostile toward the new arrival competing for her attention:

"Upon being asked to state her reasons for preferring the Additor, she replied: ''Herr Schwenke'' (the inventor's name) ''is an honest man''; and later: ''Bad luck goes with the swindle-board'' (which statement we afterwards discovered was true). My Italian friend also promptly made known his disapproval with the word: ''Rascals." Afterwards he wrote : ''I birbanti hanno sempre denaro'' (Rogues always have money)."

No word on exactly what "bad luck" was afterward discovered relating to the "swindle board." Florizel's final assessment reminds us, once again, why that important--no, vital--hollow box: the "Hesperus" indicator for the Additor, was so important to his acceptance of Schwenke's device even as he totally dismissed all others:

"Such contrivances, where a scientific principle such as the Hesperus Od-Collector is entirely lacking, debase the spiritualistic idea into a farce."

Who knew that a little hollow box was so integral to the operation of an entire class of historical devices? And here I've been collecting these totally bunk spirit communicators for all these years, with nary a one carrying a hollow Od amplifier. I'm so embarrassed. At least Bang Williams got one right.

So, another contrivance to the list then, dear readers!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Florizel von Reuter's "Additor" & "Hesperus"

I'm fortunate to have my pal Marc covering my ass. 

There's no one more passionate about not only the preservation of data, but the sharing of that data than Mr. Demarest, and it is one of my great joys in life to receive snippets and hints from him in my inbox that lead me toward incredibly fruitful chases. No wild geese here--only golden, egg-laying ones. 

The Direct Voice, August, 1930

Marc's endless hunt for obscure esoterica to add to our ever-increasing digital library of occult knowledge brought a couple of exceedingly rare issues of The Direct Voice into his brief possession for digitizing, and the result is another previously-unknown contribution to the world of talking boards. 

I saw the inside cover of the September issue first, and there, in all its glory, was evidence of a new, hitherto unknown artifact: the "Additor," offered by the Direct Voice's publisher, Sunshine Publishing Company, which is most likely the enterprise of Dr. Henry J. Smythe, and not to be confused with the later Sunshine Publishing Company of "Solaire Universelle Nudisme (SUN)"--a magazine for nudists--fame, who's right-to-distribute Supreme Court decision paved the way for High Hefner's Playboy, Larry Flynt's Hustler, and countless other purveyors of pornography and, errrr...articles. 


An immediate frustration appeared right there in the September issue: it tantalizingly says, right there, that there's an article "last issue" regarding the device. I frantically switched windows to see what the only other surviving issue sent to me was. August! YES!

Unfortunately, the August issue contains the exact same ad (only in a baby-shit green cover--nice!) with the exact same promise of an article in the preceding issue, so, unless more issues came to light that finally cover the period that von Reuter's article actually does appear (not likely, warned Marc), I was afraid he would have to stay silent on the matter for the time being.

Boy, was I wrong. Turns out Florizel has a LOT to say on the Additor. About 3 novels worth, in fact.

Any readers who are fans of classical music may already know Florizel von Reuter. He was a child prodigy violinist, born in America, raised there as well as in London and Switzerland, and graduated from Europe's venerable and famed music conservatory, the Conservatoire de musique de Genève, at the ripe old age of 11 (though he later claimed 9). He was an acclaimed performer in his day (take a listen), and toured America and Europe extensively in his teenage years and beyond, though his early career was interrupted by the Great War. His talent as a performer and composer was widely recognized, and Sir Conan Doyle said of his concerts in Great Britain: "He appeared unsupported twenty times in the largest halls of London, and he gave eighty-five concerts in the provinces: He also appeared three times in Buckingham Palace before Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII."

Florizel in 1901, aged 11, and an advertisement for a tour stop at Boston's Chickering Hall  the following year.
In June 1925, von Reuter became interested in spirit communication after attending his first séance. By his own account, this interest was sparked with a visit to the San Diego home of Lyman Gage--President McKinley's former Secretary of Treasure--who occasionally hosted séances in his home. Gage was an accomodating host to the famous musician, but apparently much less so to the mediums whom he hired to lead his family's sessions: Florizel reports such fraud-busting tests as Gage filling the palms of the medium's hands with flour, her mouth with purple grape juice, draping her in fishnet, and the requisite arm and leg binding. 

Gage spared Florizel's witness of such controls for his first séance, however, and the attending trumpet medium, Mrs. Stella White, "simply sat on a stool in the middle of the room. with two aluminium trumpets on the floor before her" before producing "spirit-voices," "spirit-lights," "spirit-hands," along with the expected trumpet manifestations and personal revelations of the 10 people assembled.

Von Reuter--his mother's faced obscured by spirits--and a few extra "friends."
Von Reutuer remained somewhat dubious of the produced phenomenon, though was struck with the personal knowledge the medium displayed regarding both he and his mother, particularly when the voice of the spirit of the great violinist Paganini--whose musical heir Florizel was largely thought to be--issued forth from the trumpet in fluent Italian. 

Florizel then began investigations into the psychic sciences, seeking out mediums and clairvoyants wherever he traveled, where he was always impressed with the knowledge the spirits exhibited of him, particularly when he assumed he was incognito, famous violinist though he be. He also posed for numerous spirit photographs with good results. But soon, he returned to Europe and his explorations went briefly dormant.

Florizel's beloved mother and medium, Grace von Reuter.
But while staying at the castle of an anonymous Count in northern Germany, "in the heart of a great pine and beech forest," Florizel and his mother encountered the device that would change his life. He visited the apothecary at the nearby village, and happened upon "herr apotheker" poring over a book on the occult. The two struck up a conversation on topics esoteric, and the pharmacist revealed his "wife had recently became the possessor of a psychical apparatus that gives such remarkable messages that I feel impelled to study the subject."

His wife was soon called in, revealing the device to Florizel. It is described as:

"a board of polished wood about twelve inches long by five wide. Along the upper half of the long side of this board the alphabet was printed, [other passages describe "Ja" and "Nein" as the printed affirmative and negative] in addition to numerals up to ten, and the German phrase, ''Gott zum Gruss '' (Greeting in the name of God). With this simple board went a peculiar little round hollow box with a pointer protruding from it. According to the apothecary, if one put this box, hollow side down, on the lower half of the board, turning the [little black] pointer towards the letters, and then placed the tips of one's fingers on the smooth top, the box would soon begin to move automatically and messages of the most complicated character would be forthcoming. ''Oh, yes," thought I skeptically,''just another kind of ouija-board or planchette.""

If the last sentence is not indication enough, Florizel had no small amount of disdain for the Ouija, and he stated his distaste explicitly: "I have never been interested, even superficially, in the ouija-board. Its little easily moved three-legged table that jumps about over the big board encircling latter after letter has always seemed to me much more likely to be guided unintentionally by the operator than by any spirit force."

That's a burn.

According to his further descriptions (for our sharp-eyed readers to discover, of course, and come running back to me!), the device's instructions were pasted around the outer perimeter of the "hollow box." The indicator is what fascinated von Reuter more than anything. The explanatory text indicated "it had a much
deeper significance than anything connected with the well-known ouija-board, the box being, in fact, an "Od-collector,"
" with "Od," of course, referring to
Reichenbach's vital life energy later harvested by George Lucas for his Force.

Despite his distaste for the Ouija, Florizel was incredibly smitten by this take on the talking board. The hollow box operated under the same theories as mediums' cabinets, concentrating the Odic force and ectoplasm necessary for spirit manifestation. "This Hesperus idea appealed to me. The fingertips pressing lightly on top of the receiver; the electro-magnetic force flowing into the vacuum of the hollow box; the concentrated force propelling the box: there was something logical, scientific, about this consequential result that gripped my common sense." This indicator had its own name: "Hesperus" (Evening Star), while the board was dubbed the "Additor" (Italian for "indicating with the finger"). The pasted instructions dubbed it the "most authentic bridge between the Earth and the Hereafter," and Florizel immediately sought out the device's inventor.

As it turns out, the inventor, a "poor old scientist," lived in a village just an hour's drive from the castle where Florizel was then residing. His name was Paul Schwenke, and as von Reuter specifically mentions that he had "invented other things and been awarded several gold medals in different countries for his inventions," it is very likely it is the same Schwenke, "a subject of the Duke of Anhalt, residing at Zerbst, in the Dukedom of Anhalt, German Empire" responsible for the 1889 electric lock patent in the US

Revealed at last: Florizel transcribes his blindfolded mother's Additor communications, 1926.
Florizel purchased a set of the communication devices and returned to his mother, where they initially obtained few and disappointing results. "It seemed as if our bodies were entirely devoid of the mysterious force from which mediumistic phenomenon emanate, so that we could not charge the little box. We were almost ready to throw the whole apparatus away when suddenly things began to happen." 

Additor detail
Indeed, things certainly happened. With his mother acting as the medium,  the "Hesperus floated from one end of the board to the other, stopping at different letters en route, my mother became conscious of a peculiar impelling force which caused the box to glide and stop, although her fingertips were barely touching it." The communications were varied, and oftentimes came in reverse script, and in various languages. As hurriedly scribbled by Florizel, the very first communique read:

h c i e z t u h c s h c i e n o h
c s h c i e t h c a  b o e b h c i e n r a
w h c i e t a r h c i e h c a w n e b e i
s n e t h c i l f p e b a h h c i...etc, etc

The inverted German would read: "Ich habe pflichten sieben wache ich
rate ich warne ich beobachte ich schone ich schutze ich
" or, translated: ''I guard, I protect, I observe, I warn, I advise, I watch. Seven duties have I." Eventually, the board's primary guiding spirit would reveal itself, a formerly "Latin and Catholic" entity called Euphrosyne--the saint, the couple surmised. 

A solicitation for von Reuter's 1931 book of spirit communications: A Musician's Talks with Unseen Friends
Thus began the communications that would not only conjure messages from a who's who of famously dead classical musicians, including Paganini and Pablo de Sarasate, the late Professor Heinrich Barth of Berlin, and Joseph Joachim, among many, many others. In fact, over three novels worth of communications followed, the first published with a foreword by Sir Conan Doyle (with whom Florizel corresponded and visited frequently) as The Psychic Experiences of a Musician (in Search of Truth) in 1928, its shorter predecessor The Hesperus Additor: Planchette Experiences in 1927, its sequel The Consoling Angel following in 1930, and A Musician's Talks with Unseen Friends in 1931, as well as assorted other essays. He also participated in some of Baron von Schrenck-Notzing's investigations of the Austrian mediums, the brothers Rudi and Willi Schneider, in the late 1920s. Eventually, Florizel gave up his psychic investigations and refocused full-time on music, dying after a decade's worth of "farewell" concerts in 1985 after a long and fruitful life.

Investigating the Schneider Brothers at Baron von Schrenck-Notzing's estate. Von Reuter not pictured.
Florizel von Reuter's records of the spirit communications received by his mother and transcribed by him make fascinating reading, if nothing more for the dedication and enthusiasm the pair had for their experiments with the Hesperus and Additor. The writings have become the gift-that-keeps-on-giving for a device researcher such as myself, and include an account of another device previously-unknown device we'll be investigating in an upcoming post.

It's actually kind of funny we didn't know all about this before. While digital editions of von Reuter's work aren't available (God bless the HRC!), there was already ample evidence in the public eye of this board's existence. There's a shot of the device in use on the youtube video posted above, for example, and Florizel's wikipedia page even mentions the Additor and his work with it, for crying out loud. Sometimes, these things are just hiding there, right in front of you, eluding discovery by the right researcher concealed in plain sight.  

As for the Additor and its Hesperus indicator, we know some reached American shores. The Sunshine Publishing Company advertised that they imported "only a few sets" from Germany, if the ad's claims are correct, and likely at the insistence of the Additor's biggest fan and Direct Voice contributor, Florizel himself. No known specimens have appeared, but we do know what to look for, between von Reuter's detailed descriptions and the picture that gives us some indication. Unfortunately, the little village where my research indicates inventor Paul Schwenke lived was flattened by Allied bombs in WWII, so it seems the possibility of finding one at the source is highly unlikely, and it is unknown how popular the device was in its homeland. As always, eyes open, true believers!

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Survey of Automatic Writing (not Written Automatically)

One question that pops up constantly in radio interviews and seminars is why the planchette eventually went the way of the dodo. I am always quick to remind listeners of two realities: the planchette had a long and vibrant career right up through WWII, and the Ouija and other talking boards are just a natural evolution of the device, with more popular appeal. Of course, there's always that curious leapfrog of technology from really-refined-and-darned-near-talking-board-like alphabet card use, not to mention alphabet calling, but from the early 1850s until the late 1880s, automatic writing reigned.

Why is it curious? I thought I'd take a blog post to let the words speak for themselves--literally--and provide some examples of automatic writing for your perusal and interpretation. Some of these are planchette-produced. Others are produced directly from the medium. All are scrawl. So, imagine trying to interpret these significant messages from deceased loved ones in the dimly-lit chamber of a seance room, and wonder if you, too, wouldn't seek a better way, and welcome the more refined talking board once it makes its appearance.

An early automatic writing specimen, from Judge Edmund's Spiritualism, received May 25, 1853.
One of the earliest facsimiles of automatic writing was reproduced in the pages of Judge John Worth Edmund's Spiritualism in 1855. It is a spidery, scrawling script, received by Dr. George T. Dexter acting as medium, which reads: "What is one moment of joy = the joy of the spirit when it realizes the good it has done, to years of this world's pleasure - - I.T.T." Other similar communications, in various handwritings, were received in prior and subsequent seances, from such luminaries as Swedenborg and Bacon among them.

Automatic Mirror-Writing (original, left) from L.A. Sherman's Science of the Soul, 1895.
There are many instances, such as the specimen pictured above, of spirits writing in automatic "mirror-writing." The above example is taken from Loren A. Sherman's Science of the Soul, a book written after the author turned to Spiritualism in the wake of his son's death.  The author received this example from his own father via the anonymous medium "Mr. R.," who also served as the house trumpet medium. When held to a mirror (or reversed in Photoshop), it reads: "You must know it a pleasure to see and commune with you. We are so glad to see you. Rest assured we will assist you and watch over you and yours. Father."  Kate Fox famously had a brief revival of her fading star when she revealed she was capable of mirror-writing in this manner.

Automatic Writing Specimen of W. Stainton Moses, Appleton's Popular Science Monthly, August, 1896.
In some cases, entities channeled through automatic writing attempted to prove claims of their former identities by providing signatures meant to match theirs in life, such as the case with the above example. In this instance, a channeled spirit claiming to be that of William Stainton Moses, channeled through the medium Mr. B______ in the early 1890s, provided the signature, above, that hardly matched his actual signature from life, posted immediately below.

Matching signatures from L.A. Sherman's Science of the Soul, 1895
Although in some cases, as with this specimen again taken from Sherman's Science of the Soul, the matched results of automatic writing signatures to the hand of the recently-deceased would be pretty convincing. Can you imagine a grieving father receiving this kind of proof of life-after-death in the wake of his son's death, or the means he would go through (or money he would pay) to continue the communications. In this case, the seances lasted for years.

Automatic writing specimens from the medium Elizabeth Poole, 1947.
The Hamilton Files website is a rich, fascinating, and exhaustive research into the investigations of its eponymous inspiration, George Hamilton, and specimens there, more than other examples here, show the difficulty in interpreting automatic writing text. This one particularly telling example, from the hand of the medium Mrs. Elizabeth Poole, channeling the spirit of W.T. Stead on April 24, 1927, demonstrates some other technical problems with automatic writing: space and time. That is, one needs ample space to write, particularly when planchettes are involved (though that's not the case here), and, with any lack of space, seance sitters must be quick on the draw to renew the writing surface for the medium before their entranced hand falls off the page. Never mind taking the time to interpret the results in real time: 

In other words, that's an awful lot of work to gather the rather appropriate message: "Why your classroom is too should get...a larger classroom." No mention is made by Mr. Stead, it should be noted, of the sitters acquiring a larger notepad.

Mrs. Poole summons her ectoplasmic guide, Walter, in preparation for automatic writing as given above.
For those that have not yet had the chance to lose hours to the Hamilton Files site, I encourage you to do so. It is an absolute treasure-trove, and this certainly won't be the last time you see examples from that research appearing in the Mysterious Planchette pages.

A message from Sarah Underwood's Automatic or Spirit Writing, 1896. Transcription below.
And, finally, one of my personal favorite specimens of automatic writing, particularly due to the absolute mind-bending complexity of the sentence received, produced by Sarah Underwood in her 1896 book, Automatic or Spirit Writing, after she posed the question: What should, in your opinion, be our most reasonable attitude toward the existing religious systems of to-day? The written answer reads:

The attitude of convicted believers in spiritual life toward the blind leaders of the blindly dogmatic in spiritual matters should be that of the Seers to those yet in the dark—as full of lovingness and tenderness as one who sees to those bereft of sight, eager to remove the disability but patient with their natural mistakes and halting steps. Remember as they are, so once were ye, and they too shall be ultimately led to the light.

Does the spirit move you? Grab a pen  (the Waterman company recommends the model above) and see what they have to say!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mysterious Planchette on Coast to Coast AM

Late tonight (or early tomorrow morning, depending on how you look at it), your curator Brandon Hodge will appear alongside his collaborator and Ouija board historian Robert Murch on Coast to Coast AM, hosted by George Noory, on their Contacting the Dead program. Show runs 1am-4am CST, and we'll be on for the full stretch, so please join us as we explore the bizarre world of spirit communication and the history of seances, talking boards, planchettes, and Ouija!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Auburn Company's "Kyro" Unveiled!

I love the end of long searches.

The Auburn Company of Providence, Rhode Island has already gotten a fair assessment of its known history and products in my previous Wanda Tipping Table blog, given there due to the fact that for years collectors and researchers had assumed that their Syco-Graf was somehow related to Grover Haffner's creation due to the similarity of facial design. Unfortunately, that theory doesn't look to be playing out any more now than it did when I first revealed that info on the Auburn Company and its owners, and no new company information has come to light since that time. So it goes.

Various Syco-Grafs and ads for same, 1920s.
But there's been a major discovery, nonetheless! We'll recall from our previous post that Whitfield J. Hainer of 227 Sackett St. registered “The Auburn Company" as a sole proprietorship manufacturing novelties in Rhode Island on March 1, 1920. He had a partner, C.H. Martineau, and duo's company was located at 64 North Main Street, in Room #2.

Beyond the company info, we have surviving ads for the Syco-Graf, or, the "Micro-Psychic Machine," and the search for them had led us to ads for another of Auburn Company's creations, the aforementioned Kyro, the Psychic Writer.

Kyro Psychic Writer advertisement, The Independent, March 1921
So, the hunt was on to uncover the Kyro. While I wish I could report the discovery of a flesh-and-blood specimen, for now we'll have to be content with images of the item as revealed through what is either a period sales pamphlet or instruction sheet. Thank you to my buddy Brian Altonen and his Amazing Cures, Astonishing Beliefs blog for uncovering this little gem, nestled as a bookmark between the pages of 1000 Years in Celestial Life. Introduction to Science and Key of Life. Manifestations of Divine Law. [Received through Psychic Telegraphy.] Autobiography of Clytina; Born in Athens 147 B.C. Passed to Celestial Life, 131 B.C. which is, as the title indicates, an autobiography of an ascended deific spirit channeled by the psychic W.E. Cole through a radio receiver. Pretty fitting, I'd say.

The pamphlet is a beautiful, petite little single-fold, expounding on the wonder of the Kyro psychic writer. We're blessed to finally, after this long search, to have a picture of the device, and in use, at that:

While we could have wished for a less-obscured view, the illustration and accompanying text tell us a lot about the Kyro. We know it is hexagonal and constructed of three-ply mahogany with a "birch inlay finish." This, of course, is also how the Syco-Graf is described, and as I've noted before, this isn't the most honest of descriptions. The "inlay" is actually stamped sections in the wood that are stained a lighter color. While is is an interesting touch, it becomes painfully obvious what the process of construction is, if the Syco-Graf is any frame of reference, when one sees the darker-stained areas surrounding the lighter "birch" sections, and the old towel marks left in the stain as the makers tried to deftly apply an even coat by mopping around the lighter sections without bleeding into them, with mixed results (the upper-lefthand Syco-Graf pictured above shows this inconsistent staining).

Operationally, the Kyro differs from other planchettes in that its aperture is centrally-placed, and  "consists of a pencil and a special receptacle processed from silicated xylonite. The receptacle is covered by a thin diaphragm which connects with the pencil through a sensitive composition styled a "float," the same composition in effect as is now used on the latest model SYCO-GRAF."  Xylonite is an early Bakelite-like celluloid substance, often used for knifes handle and imitation coral jewelry, so it seems we basically have a celluloid ring used as a retention for a thinner membrane in the window which holds the pencil, not unlike Fuld's classic clear-plastic-windowed planchettes from this period, only instead of holding a small needle as an indicator, the diaphragm is designed to hold the device's pencil. The illustration shows the planchette in use, and, sure enough, the young woman's hand is clasping the pencil, not the planchette's body--a possible clue into the potentially fragile nature of the celluloid diaphragm.

What is more mysterious is how this material is incorporated on the Syco-Graf, as the excerpt maintains. While the Syco-Graf in the Mysterious Planchette collection is admittedly missing its wooden indicator wheel, the remaining housing is brass, though it may be that the accompanying housing in the indicator itself was made of xylonite for "insulation" purposes, or the specimen I have wasn't the "latest" model incorporating this feature as the pamphlet hints.
Kyro detail.
The planchette's legs do not seem to be wheeled castors, and instead appear to be turned pegs, like earlier versions of Ouija's planchette. If there are wheels, they are tiny, and given that the pamphlet notes the legs are also made of this xylonite material, this is a possibility. Another interesting feature of the Kyro is a "domed pearl partly inset in the top...affording the visualizing properties of a gazing crystal when at rest, and diminishing self conscious mental interferences when used while the writing is in progress." They thought of EVERYTHING! An automatic writer AND a scrying crystal! Finally, it is noted that the Kyro contains no metal.

So, what are we looking for? The Kyro is a red mahogany-stained hexagonal plywood planchette, with some sections stained in a lighter "birch color," so it probably looks a lot like the woodwork of its larger sibling, the Syco-Graf.  It is likely stamped with its name. It has bakelite-like legs that may or may not have tiny little wheels, and have the turned-wood appearance of early Ouija planchette legs. The aperture should have a retention ring of the same substance surrounding a celluloid film with a hole in the middle to hold a pencil. And, of course, somewhere on top is that essential faux-pearl.

Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure this thing couldn't be confused for anything else! So, eyes open, stalwart readers, and here's hoping that somewhere, a perfectly-preserved Kyro is lurking in a dark basement or attic, just waiting for its rediscovery.You just come whispering back to me...