The Spook Factory: 1904

seance

ALL PLAIN WHEN OUTFIT COMES

“Spook Factory” Makes Lives of Mediums Safe and Profitable.

Establishes Business and Insures Immunity From Exposure.

New York, Sept. 25. Direct intercourse with the other world is now procured by way of Chicago, according to Rev. Dr. Isaak K. Funk, head of the publishing firm of Funk & Wagnalls, and the author of the “Widow’s Mite,” which sets forth his own remarkable experiences spiritualistically, and is regarded as the greatest work on the history of Spiritualism ever published. In the October number of the Homiletic Review, he tells of the manner in which a spiritualistic medium may equip himself in Chicago with everything needed in his business at prices ranging from $50 to $1,000.

For $1,000 a medium may provide himself with such paraphernalia as would have made him leader of a new, worldwide religion in the olden days, or would have placed him in great danger of being broiled at the stake in the presence of unnumbered thousands.

Dr. Funk gives the information he has acquired with a completeness of detail which might stagger those who have regarded him as one of the leaders of spiritualistic thought in this country, were it not for the fact that he announces that nothing revealed to him concerning the Chicago factory for the manufacture of phantoms has destroyed his faith in the mediums who are really sincere and who work without Chicago accessories.

“I have known all along that there are frauds,” said Dr. Funk yesterday, “and I would never hesitate to expose them. My attitude toward the psychic phenomena has not changed in the least through the disclosures concerning the Chicago salesman of ‘mediums’ supplies. Nothing could better serve the advancement of Spiritualism than the weeding out of the frauds.”

It was through his brother, B.F. Funk, that Dr. Funk made his investigations. A short time ago a card bearing a star and reading, “Radium—Medium’s Paraphernalia,” fell into the hands of Dr. Funk, and he at once sent his brother to Chicago to investigate the business of the advertiser.

radium business card

The card stated that “Crowns, Belts, Hands, Heads, Veils and Full-size Figures all illuminated with the new RADIUM light, would appear gradually, float about the room and disappear.” [One wonders if this light was the same old phosphorus or some lethal radio-active substance.]

This sounded promising, and B.F. Funk, when he gained the confidence of the medium’s supply agent, found that he could purchase anything he needed to cause a belief in the return of spirits to earth.

No orders were taken for less than $50, but for that amount one could gather together enough material to entertain a crowded room with but little exertion on the part of the operator. Some of the specialities handled by the Chicago dealers are as follows:

“Spirit hands that tap the believer on the face and float through the air $10

Floating cross $5

Materialized veil $5

“Little Bright Eyes,” a child figure,  that walks out into the room and dematerializes in the center of the floor $100

Masks, old man, smooth face $10

Bearded $12

Old woman $10

Child $10

Negro for light comedy and “control” effects $10

Indian “control” $15

Floating guitar, “dummy” $25

“Practicable” playing religious airs $75

Talking baby, materializing and de-materializing $200

Full-sized figures, materializing, de-materializing, floating, with crowns, veils and various marvelous effects from $100 to $1,000

Mr. Funk stated that he wanted to start a young woman in the east in business as a journeyman medium, but that he wanted her to do no wrong.

“No chance of it,” said the spruce, well-dressed young man in charge of the salesroom. “I have many such among my clients. It is my business to help mediums make a good show. They do not do wrong. On the contrary, they are doing a great deal of good in getting people to believe that their friends who have died are really alive. My business is to put clever people in the way of making the world happier.”

Mr. Funk stated that he wanted his friend to be able to materialize human forms, hands, sparks, rays of light, musical instruments, trumpet talks, slate writing, etc. His report of the interview continues.

“He smiled at the modesty of my wish, then said: ‘All this is merest child’s play, provided your lady friend is apt, quick witted and has nerve. I am furnishing help after this sort to the mediums of Chicago—they all come to me; I know them all.’

“’Is there no difficulty in manipulating this machinery or paraphernalia?’

“’It is so simple you will wonder why it is that people do not at once detect it. When you understand it, and understand the modus operandi of handling it, you will be much amused.’

“’How about slate writing?’

“’Perfectly simple.’

“’With tied slates, glued and sealed?’

“’Yes, oh yes. I have laughed until my sides ached after a séance at the remembrance of how easily and completely the d.e.’s (‘dead easies’) were fooled. To see a doting father take the materialized form of his dead child on his knee and pet it and kiss it and then hear the little one say: “Now, papa, I must go. I feel I am getting weak,” and then see the child slip from his lap and disappear, to the infinite surprises of all the faithful—it is more laughable than an Artemis Ward “wax figger” show.’

“’But is there no danger of getting caught?’

“’No. There are 200 mediums in Chicago. How seldom you hear of an exposure.’

“’But I have been where I was permitted to touch the hand of a form. It seemed warm, as if flesh and blood.’ “This seemed to amuse him greatly. Finally he said: ‘Yes, it does feel precisely like flesh. But this is another phase of the business. It is all explained when the outfit is sent.’ Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 26 September 1904: p. 8 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil sees little difference between the human hyenas who unearth the dead for sale to the dissecting laboratories and the human jackals who purport to raise the dead to extort money from the sorrowing. “Dead Easies,” was the medium’s contemptuous term for the overly credulous. There was a network of traveling mediums who worked various towns. They shared information on “marks” in the so-called “Blue Book,” which had entries like these excerpts from the book for Cincinnati, Ohio [the names have been changed]:

S. 0. Atwood, Shoe Dealer

Spt. Son, Albert E., ’74, lung fever, 19 years, blonde, only child. His parents keep his books and clothing. He is always described as a student with book in hand. Good mark for private sittings. 

R. B. Barker, Rich

Spt. Dau. Alice E., age 19, pneumonia, ’79, upper front teeth gold-filled. Extraordinarily long hair. Quite an artist, and one of her landscapes hangs in the parlor in gilt and plush frame. Spirit painting of her in the sitting-room, that is kept curtained. She is an artist in spirit world. Supposed to have a son in spirit that had no earth life, named Egbert O.

Spt. Son, Egbert O., never had earth existence; an inventor in spirit life and supposed to work through Thos. Edison. Is especially interested in electrical work.

Spt. Fath. Robert B., died ’69, paralysis. Manufacturer of machinery, two fingers off left hand.

Spt. Mother, Sarah, died when he was a child.

Spt. Broth. James and Samuel.

Spt. Aunt, Lucy Wilkinson, Mary Wilkinson, and Eliza Shandrow.

Remarks. — A good mark for private séances at his home, and will pay well. Dead gone on physical manifestations and materialization. Will get up lots of séances. Agree with everything he says and you are all right. 

A. T. Baton

Spt. Son, Albert F., drowned under suspension bridge, May, ’87. Sends message of greeting to Aunt Mary and Cousin Harry.

Spt. Father, A. O. Baton, died ’84, railroad accident in Illinois. Is looking for private papers supposed to have been left by him. Sends love to his wife Kate in Covington.

The reader may see at a glance how easily a medium could lay claim to information directly from the Dear Deceased. A vile practice, and one that, alas, still goes on today in the performances of famous mediums and psychics of stage and screen some of whom have been accused of recording audience members as they filed into the theatre or even of rifling through handbags for information. Others plant “shills” in the audience to verify their astounding “psychic impressions” or are simply very clever about doing so-called “cold readings,” where one makes deductions from a person’s appearance and then begins fishing for data. “I see an ‘S’ around you, does that mean anything to you?” It is almost impossible to resist answering such a question, especially when put by one who has “demonstrated” their power in contacting the dead. Mrs Daffodil would like to rap sharply several times for “no” on these despicable frauds’ heads.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Spook Factory: 1904

  1. Pingback: Spirit Fakers

  2. Pingback: The Divine Sarah at a Séance: 1892 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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