Friday, December 23, 2022

On the Eve of Christmas Eve in 1872

If it were 150 years ago, this is the sort of entertainment you could enjoy tonight. The item below was found in the Hudson Daily Star for Monday, December 23, 1872.

City Hall, of course, is what we now know as Hudson Hall, Laura V. Ellis (the Star misspelled her name) was a spiritualist, and 1872 was the heyday of the Spiritualist Era in America. Gossips' research uncovered two more news items about Ellis, these from the Lowell Daily Citizen and News--Lowell, Massachusetts, being, according to the University of Massachusetts Lowell Library, "one of the locations with the highest levels of spiritualist activity in the country, especially in the third quarter of the 19th century."   

What "cabinet manifestations" were requires a bit of explaining. "Spirit cabinets" were used by mediums in the 19th century. They were introduced into the American Spiritualist movement by Ira and William Davenport in the middle of the 1850s. The website American Hauntings explains:
The idea behind the cabinet was to be able to section off the medium from the sitters so that they would be out of direct view when producing strange phenomena. This would prove to be both popular and astounding to audiences as the mediums were generally bound hand and foot in the cabinet while seemingly impossible phenomena manifested around them. 

The Davenport Brothers first got the idea for such a cabinet thanks to a suggestion from an audience member. This person asked if they could produce their phenomena in a sealed container to prevent any sort of collusion by accomplices. . . .
The wooden cabinet soon became an essential part of their séances and it would be widely imitated for many, many years to come. The Davenports' cabinet was seven feet high, six feet wide and two feet deep. It was always located on sawhorses that kept it about 18 inches off the floor. A hole was cut into the middle door for air (and for spirit hands to protrude). Behind the doors, the Davenports were bound hand and foot by audience members and musical instruments were often placed on the floor. Once the audience was satisfied that the Davenports could not move about, the doors were closed.
Within moments, spirit hands of men, women and children appeared in the hole in the door, the musical instruments began to play and musical sounds were heard coming from within. When the doors were opened though, the brothers would still be found tied up.
The act was an immediate sensation and soon no practicing medium could continue his or her séances without a similar cabinet. . . . 
This was the entertainment the people of Hudson could look forward to on this night 150 years ago. 

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