For questions, comments, and inquiries please email Brandon

Monday, February 10, 2014

Talking Tables, March 1853: Pack's "Medium Table"

Marc and I have undergone the same tactic we recently used in mapping out the evolution of spirit trumpet mediums and mediumship, and decided to take all of the accumulated evidence on the earliest years of table-turning (in this case 1849-1853) from our respective blog posts and other evidence since gathered, and created a chronological timeline of accounts. It has shaped up nicely and, I think, verifies our working theory: that the "physical phenomenon" of mysteriously moving tables begins with the Fox Sisters as early as 1849, and, as news spreads, cooperative, non-mediumistic table-tipping morphs into a popular parlor entertainment. In America, at least, it is near-synonymous with, yet still distinct from, spirit rappings, and is more often than not attributed to some spiritual agency. By 1852, communications are being received through the tables' tappings and tiltings. We know table-turning enters Europe the following year, most likely via Bremen, Germany, in March of 1853, and from their spreads over the Continent and to the UK by the summer, where it is viewed somewhat more pragmatically, and assigned an animal magnetic cause for a time before some sects settle on the explanation of spirit manifestation already long-adopted by Americans. We can see clearly now. The rain is gone.

During all of our digging, I ran across a fantastic account of a great mechanism. I've long been on the hunt for some manufactured, specialized tipping-table appearing this early in the record. It just seemed to make sense that among the Wagners and Peases and Hornungs, some burgeoning entrepreneur would take advantage of table-tipping's popularity and market something to ride that wave. This thought seemed confirmed after glimpsing an interesting snippet in Ronald Pearsall's Table Rappers that a manufacturer in Florence produced a table specifically for turning, sold under the advertising byline "It Moves!" Unfortunately, as we often find in his study, Mr. Pearsall failed to provide documentation of any sort on this claim, and while I have little doubt that he found something, somewhere, we can't confirm the discovery without knowing his source.

But now we have something. One of the earliest spirit-rapping-and-table-turning expose texts--and now by far my favorite for its detailed descriptions--is Reverend H. Mattinson's Spirit Rapping Unveiled! I'm really taken with Reverend Mattinson's enthusiastic efforts to debunk the spirit rapping and table-turning fervor that has swept the nation as he's writing. In particular, I enjoy his plain, pragmatic language and efforts to shed light on a subject that he doesn't see as being all that mysterious. I particularly like his real-time breakdown of alphabet calling, as he and a friend indulge in some experimentation, spelling out simple sentences to one another as they call through the alphabet again and again, to not only show the ruthless inefficiency of the method, but also the improbability of the veracity of massive blocks of alphabet-called spirit communications that are being published at the time, given that even their expedited, rapid process produced only 240 characters per hour. That's less than two tweets, folks.

But on to the mechanism: Hiram Pack's "Medium's Table." Mattinson's account is a personal one, gathered when he was approached after a lecture in Hartford, Connecticut, by a man who claimed that a cabinet-maker friend of his had been approached about creating a fraudulent table for a rapping medium, with the caveat that the craftsman would be oath-bound not to reveal the method. Which he didn't accept, leaving him free to divulge the inquiry:

This set Mattinson on the hunt, and, as chance would have it, directly to the cabinetmaker Hiram Pack, who not only admitted to the manufacture of at least two such tables, but penned a lovely detailed affidavit for Mattinson, dated March 25, 1853, which the Reverend subsequently published:

I think it's lovely, particularly for its details--the internal hammer, the wires, the routed recess and hollow resonating chamber. It reminds me, of course, of how Houdini and Dunninger often resorted to complicated descriptions of possibly non-existent mechanisms to describe mediumistic phenomenon when, more often than not, a good medium just needed a dark room and a believing audience. But then again, in the absence of the biological propensity for repeated, resonating knuckle-cracking, maybe some mediums felt the need for a mechanical means to ply their trade.

The tables are now, no doubt, in some stodgy old estate or Manhattan skyrise, with the owner nary-aware that a subtle nudge with their foot or hand on a concealed trigger could set the spirits a'knocking. I'm sure my wife would be thrilled each night at dinner with the retinue of bad jokes I'd have at my disposal if only I had spirits to answer. When I shared the account with Marc, he wanted to make sure the account wasn't too convenient on the part of the author, so he quickly confirmed Mr. Pack's identity and NYC residency in the 1850 census (no occupation listed), found is occupation as "cabinetmaker" in Brooklyn in 1869, and spotted him again in the New Canaan, CT census of 1870, where he's listed as a chairmaker. We have a winner, folks.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The First Three, Part 3: Hornung's "Emanulector"

This is all new.

While the American press was debating the merits and drawbacks of the first two alphabetic spirit communication inventions of Wagner and Pease, the German press was firmly focused on the growing schism between Adolphus' "Psychograph" invention and the introduction of a new device--the last of a trio of history's earliest known alphabetic spirit communication devices: Daniel Hornung's "Emanulector."
Diagram of the Emanulector, from Gustav Gessman's Aus Übersinnlicher Sphäere (1890)
I like Hornung.

Daniel Hornung was an enthusiastic experimenter of the best sort, exemplifying the spirit of discovery of new scientific phenomenon in his era. Pragmatic. Dedicated. A favorite quote is: "Truth remains Truth; Facts remain Facts, even though nobody believes them." He was secretary, paymaster, or treasurer ("rendant") of the Berlin Magnetic Union--a guild of like-minded animal magnetists--and a well-respected and vocal authority on mesmerism and, later, spirit communication. He participated in the growing public interest in table-turning and other mysterious movements. In 1864, the Spiritual Magazine termed him one of the "great names in the history of German Spiritualism." And, they stated, for good reason: Hornung was one of the few respected Animal Magnestists to give Spiritualism its due:
Amongst the great names in the history of German Spiritualism none deserves a more honourable place than that of Daniel Homung, late Secretary to the Berlin Magnetic Union. He is the more deserving of this[*], because he is one of the very few Magnetists or Mesmerists who have been able to step out of that degree of newly-fought-out knowledge into the higher one of Spiritualism. It is a singular fact that the Magnetists and the Swedenborgians have, almost to a man, made a dead stand against all further progress of that spiritual development of which their recently-founded faiths were but the basement story. They had nobly stood the test of the ridicule and persecution which every new faith must undergo; but when a higher truth appeared, arising out of theirs, they regarded it as something usurping and not perpetuating their triumph.... In other words, stereotyped by pride into what had once been the highest truth, they resented the farther advance of Mother truth which they might have claimed as originating in theirs; they obstinately closed their eyes to it, and became merely a root where they might have been a tree.

[MP: more deserving of what? To be the *late* secretary, implying he was removed from office for his attribution of forces to spiritualistic means? Worth investigating. ]

The turning point for Hornung from Animal Magnetist to Spiritualist seems to have come during a public experiment on May 24, 1853, just as the table-tipping fad was sweeping across Europe in the early summer of that year. The test--performed in the canal of Berlin's Moritzhoff park--repeated a popular demonstration in which participants where able to significantly alter the course of a small canoe through the autonomous movements of a table screwed to the floor of the watercraft.  This experiment, as well as the rash of others (including "Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board") involving the mysterious movements and rappings of "tables and chairs, hats and caps, keys and plates, glasses and cups, kitchen and house apparatus," convinced Hornung that the "vitalizing force" behind these manipulations was not only dynamic, but intelligent:
"Satisfied however that the dynamic force was not mechanical, Hornung proceeded to examine other phenomena attending it, for it was now continually seen, as it had been in America, that there was not only power but intelligence manifested in most of the demonstrations."
An 1890's depiction of German table-turning.
Despite Hornung's enthusiasm for experimentation and his longevity in the movement, when it came to apparatus, Wagner still got there first--we know this, and I'll demonstrate how--but within a few years, the issue was as muddled as the New York Daily Tribune has made the propriety between Wagner and Pease. Even as early as 1856, just two years after the Emanulector's debut, the book Naturkräfte und Naturgesetze: populäres Handbuch der Physik zum Selbstunterricht für die Gebildeten jeden Standes. Elektricität, Magnetismus, Galvanismus struggled with which device had come first:
In Berlin in 1853 there appeared at the same time two distinguished men of the science of ghosts-knocking, each with a wonderful invention over which they mutually made ​​their dispute. The Nachwell will decide whether the first was the inventor of Psychographen or the Emanulektors!
But there's an important contemporary account that, coupled with the timing of publications featuring the competing devices and the consistency of witnesses and public testimonials, pretty clearly shows what happened in those initial Psychograph sessions with Wagner--Hornung, first, was present at the debut of Wagner's device, and only thereafter set out to devise his own, as both initially reported by, and then explicitly stated (in the next quoted passage) by, Forstner:
"Herr Conductor Wagner (who approved this report for publication) most cordially allowed us to invite several friends and acquaintances to an inspection of the instrument and its performance yesterday afternoon [MP: the date is July 11, 1853, the day before the letter is dated], and all witnesses, fifteen in number, were completely satisfied by the phenomena; they gladly granted me permission to publish their names in this report of mine; I cite them (omitting the names of five ladies present) below, just as they signed a sheet of paper themselves: Dr. Scharschmidt, Prof. Lammatsch along with his son, Colonel von Roehl, First Lieutenant von Eberstein, Major von Berg, Paymaster D. Hornung, Consul Schiller from Memel, Lieutenant v. Forstner (son of [your] correspondent)."
We don't know exactly when Hornung decided he could build a better apparatus, but we know that by late February of 1854, Wagner had left Berlin, settled in London, applied for a patent there on January 23 which received provisional protection but was never followed-up on, and advertised the Psychograph very briefly in early February. We don't know if he conceded defeat to Hornung in Berlin, but he didn't fare much better in London. According to planchette-maker Thomas Welton in his 1884 treatise, Mental Magic: "a German residing in Orchard Street, Portman Square, advertised an article for a similar purpose [MP: to planchette]. It was cumbrous, complicated, and expensive; and so it failed, though true." So it goes. 

Meanwhile, fortune smiled on Hornung back in Berlin. He had assembled enough communications through his own device that he saw fit to collect and publish them as a small folio entitled "Emanulector's Psychographic Studies," complete with an introduction by Forstner, who had published the account of Wagner's Psychograph just a year previously:

At the request of the author what follows here is an introduction to a larger essay under the title "Emanulector’s Psychographic Studies"—I am adding a few words from my quill, after considering fulfilling his wish, after I once, for the inventor of the Psychograph (soul writer), music director Mr. Wagner, both spoke and wrote about in public.

The treasurer Mr. Hornung invented Emanulector as a simplified version of the Psychograph (the instrument itself seen), but in general, yes, both are the same devices, the given explanation insufficient as the effect of the soul writer is without doubt identical with the so-called table knocker.

Even though the very interesting results, which are produced by the soul writer and Emanulector, are not the topic of the attention for the whole public as the first performances once were, the experiments now being continued in certain circles. They are conducted by the author Mr. Hornung, who writes down the results of his opulent observation and will share these with the audience in a written form...

The essay of Mr. Hornung though, will definitely contribute a victory for some of the so-called new phenomena and grant pure pleasure, and also offer the opportunity after gaining conviction of facts the to strain willpower and give the explanation of that which can't be denied, and at the same time give deep glances into the hidden soul life of a human being.

Written by the end of February 1854
A. V. Forster
Hornung's first published foray (which he called his "dieses werkchens," or "little work") wasn't a complicated one--the tiny folio isn't much longer than Forstner's introduction, clocking in at only about 10 additional pages or so. It describes the Emanulector in detail, gives instructions for its use, as well as  some accounts of subject of studies in animal magnetism and table-tipping. The text finishes with something of a sales pitch, emphasizing the advantages of his inventions over those of the "storchschnabel-psychographen" (or, "cranesbill psychograph," ie. Wagner's device), not the least of which was ease of use, accessibility to "non-sensitives," and, of course, cost--the Emanulector cost 2 thalers, which was either 1 or 3 thalers less than the Psychograph, which by three differing accounts sold for either 3 (one account) or 5 (two accounts) thalers

And in another move that was sure to set more fires ablaze, Hornung also claimed to have invented an automatic writing device of some sort--just as the Wagner Psychograph was able to convert into. It was what he termed the "Krenz-Psychographen" or "cross-psychograph," which his book describes as:
"I invented the cross-psychograph, which consists of a pointer, in front of which is screwed a threaded extension to show curved metal letters, and a sleeve for attaching a pencil to write and draw appropriate tests. The removable sleeve into which the pencil is pushed sufficiently to lay up on the specified paper in sheet must remain turned on the experiment with its extension upwards, otherwise the writing would be hidden by the sleeve."
The sparring demonstrates, I think, the threat that Hornung's devices posed to Wagner, and helps explain the resulting rivalry, particularly since by Forstner's account it was Wagner himself who introduced Hornung to the concept of  alphabetic spirit communication apparatus. And though we only see Hornung's defense from Wagner's attacks in the historical record, rather than the prosecuting side of the public rivalry (alongside public commentary on a bitter feud), it turns out Wagner had every right to be threatened with Hornung's invention. Because within a few short years, the Emanulector gained enough ground on the Psychograph that Wagner's claims of originality faded away. We know he left Berlin for London in 1853 or 1854, where his device sputtered. As we've seen, by 1856, Naturkräfte und Naturgesetze was arguing over which even came first. In 1857, Diesterweg's Rheinische Blätter für Erziehung und Unterricht attributed both devices to Hornung. And as the truth faded into history, Hornung's device not only eclipsed Wagner's, but it even absorbed its admittedly generically-descriptive name, as the two terms for their respective creations eventually because synonymous for just a single item--Hornung's Emanulector. By 1883, the German encyclopedia Meyers Hand-Lexikon Des Allgemeinen Wissens: Bibligraphischen Instituts even lumps the two terms together as interchangeable in the same listing. And by 1890, Wagner has totally disappeared--along with any mention of his device--in Gustav Gessmann's exhaustive overview of German paranormal disciplines, Aus Übersinnlicher Sphäere.

But to be fair, Hornung was the greater enthusiast. Beyond Wagner's move to London, we have no evidence that Wagner ever capitulated in the feud, but Hornung's energy and promotion of his discoveries does not waver and fade by the end of 1854, by which time Wagner's London patent application had been abandoned for nearly a year. In 1858, long after traces of Wagner have evaporated, Hornung kept the ball rolling with a more exhaustive text gained through his Emanulector experiments, and while his magnetism theories have not entirely dissipated, the title alone demonstrates the shifts from animal magnetist worldview to one aligned more closely with Spiritualists: Neueste Erfahrungen aus dem Geisterleben. Thatsāchlicher Beweis eines Zusammenhanges des diesseitigen mit dem jenseitigen Leben, or Recent Experience from the Spirit Life. Factual Evidence of a Relationship of this World to the Afterlife. And, of course, there's the 1864 Spiritual Magazine multi-part biography of Hornung. There's Alexander Schupp's 1890 reference in Psychische Studien to a consultation with an Emanulector in 1864. And, finally, as late as 1872 Hornung is being actively cast as that possenreißer mit am psychographen ("buffoon with the psychographs") by C.F. Winter in Die Mystischen Erscheinungen der Menschlichen Natur.

But it is to Gustav Wilhelm Gessmann's 1890 treatise, Aus Übersinnlicher Sphäere. Die Wunder der Modernen Magie, that we owe our largest debt for descriptions of the device itself. The text itself is amazing, as is my amazing translator, Bianca Ramos, and her efforts in unveiling the original German in English for me. But let me warn you--the depicted history of the evolution of the device's prototypical forms gets a touch convoluted, and I assure you that it isn't because of a language barrier, especially given how closely my two independent translations match. If you want to get an idea of where we're heading, you have my permission to take a sneak-peek at the last picture to see an actual Emanulector in the flesh so you can make some sense of the diagrams and some admittedly contradictory descriptions.

Top view of the Emanulector, right, and an interchangeable alphabet disc, left. The Emanulector had multiple
variations of these disc, which were randomized and could be switched-out to prevent fraud.
In operation, it seems the Emanulector was, in its first form, at least, most like Pease's Spiritual Telegraph Dial: primarily a counter-weighted table-top device, with its motive force being the tipping of the table itself. But the matter is also confusing given the multiple depictions illustrated in Aus Übersinnlicher Sphäere, which represent evolutionary refinements of two "proto-Emanulectors" (the text generically calls these "devices to verify mediumistic power") in the first two depictions. For example, in the first illustrated below (Figure 83), the counter-weight is obvious, and a device of this nature would work almost identically to the Pease dial, with the exception that the round dial itself turns on the spindle to reveal letters through a small window, rather than a moving index over a stationary dial. 
A depiction of the earliest "proto-Emanulector." Note counterweight "G" attached to pulley "Sch," right.
The next illustration--which the text still doesn't designate an "official" Emanulector, but rather a second refinement of Hornung's first illustrated attempt--is below (Figure 84). The text notes that the refinement was a further safeguard against "fraudulent interference," and the redesign includes a smaller disc now captured in an enclosure and topped with a glass disc to (the text claims) prevent users from blowing on the cardboard disc to manipulate it. Note that the counter-weight system that translated the table's tipping to drive the spindle is now missing, and a needle (Z) now points to the selected letter on the dial below the top faceplate, which must rotate freely as the table tilts this way or that, entirely replacing the need for a counter-weight. The text also notes this mechanism was somewhat sluggish, perhaps confirming the absence of the counterweight.
The first refinement, and final prototype, before the official form of the Emanulector.

Finally, the third, fourth, and fifth illustrations (Figure 85 shown below, 86-87 above) depict the Emanulector's final commercial form.  From this diagram, as well as the actual picture of the device, it is obvious that the counterweight of the earlier models is totally discarded, and the revolution of the disc must be caused by the tipping of the table itself, though the descriptive text takes great pains to assure the reader that "movements of the disc are fully independent of the table's movements" and that "the medium is unable to cheat and move the disc with his hands, as the medium has to lift his hands, which are placed at the table and under the disc and this would be easily observed." Lastly, the text notes that the medium can't even observe the letter disc during use, obstinately to avoid cheating, which really confuses matters when you look at the device diagrams, imagine its mechanism, and, finally, see pictures of the device in use, with the user staring right down at the letter-window. 

I'm admittedly confused.

To add to the confusion, Hornung also claimed that one could
"experiment with the dial sitting or standing, even on his lap rather than on the table," which likely means the user would just hold the upper faceplate and tilt it back and forth to cause the disc to revolve below and stop on chosen letters, which doesn't seem quite as convincing and foolproof as the various accounts would have us believe. 

There are two final diagrams, Figures 88 (which is the first illustration in this post, above) and 89, that I'm not going to repost since they are a bit redundant with Figures 85 and 86 (the framework and the dial, respectively), but the text includes them both, noting they represent "an even more advanced form" that was "dismountable" to fasten to any table (again, not sure how this is a refinement since the other models seem dismountable as well) and included a luminescent disc for dark seances.

It is also worth noting that, according to Hornung, the device could also, much like the Pease dial, be used in the composition of music: "musical compositions for the dial to the staff, the required scale, rhythmic and dynamic character must be provided." Geez. Three shows under one tent.

Lastly, there's a picture of this final refinement in use. We're lucky to even have one diagram, not to mention multiple variations, but a contemporary photograph of such a venerable device is an incredible treasure for talking board researchers, and, of the first 3, the only such known depiction.

The Emanulector in use. Note the placement of the medium's hands for tipping the table, and the
bystander which, the descriptions note, is supposed to be the only one who can see the messages.
So, there you have it--third time's a charm. I want to close with a joke. The 1854 edition of Kladderadatsch, the German equivalent of Punch, published this humorous little back-and-forth, and I though it a fitting close for those of us who struggle to play the game of "first."
Miller: Tell me, Schulze, do you know the difference between the "Psychograph" and the "Emanulector"?

Schulze: Oh yes--look, the Psychograph is pure nonsense!

Miller: And the Emanulector?

Schulze: It is, too!

Miller: Well then, there is no difference at all!

Schulze: Oh yes there is: one is dumber than the other.

Miller: Well now, which one is dumber?

Schulze: I can't decide!

You know, folks, this little series has been a hoot. But, I end with a cautionary tale about this "Game of Firsts." While none of us will ever stop trying to put things in their proper place in history, we must recognize that the unsuspected is always lurking, and the story we tell one day might be a different tale the next. Right now, this is what I--we--know, and the best evidence I can give you for where these items belong in history. Here's hoping for the next piece of the puzzle, whether we're proven right or wrong.