Tuesday, March 15, 2011

That's the "Spirit"! (Civil War Ghosts) - Part I - A Ghost in the Machine

A Spiritual Invention

"Mr. Frank Chase, of South Sutton, N. H., states that the blind fastener, illustrated on another page of this number, was revealed to him through Emma Hardinge, a spiritual medium, by the ghost of his uncle, a worthy mechanic sometime deceased. Acting upon the hint of Miss Hardinge, he made the fastening, which is certainly a good one, and if done by the spirts, as Mr. Chase claims, is certainly no discredit to their inventive genius. People often dream of valuable inventions, but they do not always turn out so well as they dream they will." - Scientific American, April 28, 1866

I have written before (here, here, and here) on a growing fascination with the Spiritualist movement in the mid-19th century. I want to be clear: I am not a Spiritualist myself. As I understand it, my own faith prohibits trying to contact spirits but does not dismiss the possibility that they exist to bring messages to the living. In any case, I don;t hunt ghosts but I don't judge those that do. That said, I do have an interest in the movement itself, its personalities, its treatment in period literature (from Henry James to Mark Twain and everything in between), and - especially - its re-emergence after the Civil War, and more.

I have a few period Spiritualist-related pamphle
ts in my collection. One pretty "fun" - which I share below, and another more "somber" which I will share soon.

So, first for the fun!

The pamphlet (1867) is The Spiritual Invention by Frank Chase. It seems to be a pretty rare pamphlet as I could find only one holding in WorldCat, so I'm pretty excited to have it in my collection. It is 36 pages, with additional front and end papers.

Basically, it's the story of how inventor Frank Chase, of South Sutton, NH, was given the idea for an invention by his dead uncle through Emma Hardinge, one of the prominent Spiritualist mediums of the era. I say b
asically, because - in fact - the story is much more than that: as delightfully told by Chase, it's also a story of how Spiritualism was viewed in a small New England town in the Civil War years (the story also features a local soldier who had died in a hospital but whose body had just arrived in town).

Chase used the idea and secured the invention through the Scientific American Patent Agency, which - as it happens - is another strong interest of mine! (here, here, here, here, and many more posts!), and Chase happily endorses their services in the pamphlet. And - as you can see in the excerpt that began this post - the Scientific American magazine featured (only half tongue-in-cheek?) Chase's invention in their pages! Indeed, Chase held several patents for improvements in window blinds and blind fasteners.

Emma Hardinge (1823-1899) - the other principal "character" in the booklet - was a leading voice of the American Spiritualist movement and author of two
important and detailed books on the subject, based on her experiences: Modern American Spiritualism (1870) and Nineteenth Century Miracles (1884). (She writes herself of her influence on Chase). She proves to be a lightning rod of criticism from some of the locals described in Chases's account. There is an excellent website devoted to Emma Hardinge here.

I'm working on some other writing projects right now, but eventually I hope to fond a publisher for an edited version of the booklet, publish it as an e-Book myself, or use it as the basis for my first novel...or all of these...or none of them...I don't know.

And now, the "Spiritual Invention": (!)

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