Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Love Lives of Spirit Mediums

The spirits say that my
husband is a monster!
When we think of “free love,” we tend to think of the 60s, and we’re more–0r-less right, except that we should be thinking of the 1860s, or even before, and was closely tied to a number of nineteenth century social reform movements, including feminism (the concept[1] that marriage is a patriarchal institution designed to oppress women[2] had to start somewhere). In a way, we live in a world that the Free Love moment hoped for, one in which couples who are no longer in love may readily separate.[3]

The spiritualist movement was also strongly tied into the free love movement, according to this article printed in the Memphis Daily Appeal on September 24, 1858, which had previously appeared in the New York Post. It was actually part of a pair of articles, with the second item headed “Another ‘Free Love’ Feast.” The connection between Free Love and spiritualism is only referenced in one paragraph in the middle of the article, but I’ve typed out the whole thing, since I just couldn’t get enough of the lurid details.

The Memphis Daily Appeal was slightly delayed in getting this to the press; there are earlier stories that condense the Post article, but since this is the fullest account, I’m giving it notice.
Separation of Cora V. L. Hatch and Husband.
From the New York Post]

Cora V. L. Hatch, who a year or more since gained a wide notoriety as a trance speaking medium, and her husband, Dr. Hatch, have separated. The prominence which Mrs. Hatch has occupied among spiritualist has given the matter much importance in the eyes of this class of our citizens.

The cause of his separation is differently stated by the friends of the parties.

Dr. Hatch states that up to July last they lived happily together; that during that month he went West, and while absent received, as he expresses it, “a beautiful and affectionate letter.” But upon his return, or soon after, she took a decided dislike to him, would have nothing to do with him, nor scarily speak to him. Since that time they have lived separately. At the Doctor’s request she placed herself under the direction of some friends of both parties, and one of them—a prominent chemist—obtained from Mrs. Hatch a promise not to come before the public until the difficulties were adjusted.

A week ago last Sunday, however, she was requested to lecture at Clinton Hall, Brooklyn, in a week from that time. She at first refused, but subsequently sent word that she would comply. The lecture was to be free, and a collection taken for the benefit of the society.

At the time appointed for the meeting, an audience was present, by Mrs. Hatch did not appear. Mr. McFarlan, who has the chief management of the meetings, received and read publicly from here, in which she expressed regrets at not begin able to fulfill her appointments, and said that Dr. Hatch had expressed the determination to prevent her holding a meeting by forcible measures, and, under the circumstances, she did not wish to appear. In the original the words forcible measures are underscored.

Dr. Hatch affirms that he never used threats, but upon hearing of her appointment, went to the chemist referred to, and told him he did not wish her to speak; but if she insisted, not to prevent her; and that he subsequently called upon his wife, and told her the same thing, and offered to go with her or not, as she choose, if she was determined to speak.

The Doctor’s theory of the matter is, that his wife is possessed of demoniacal influence, and he further believes, if we understand him correctly, that this is the inevitable result of such mediumship as hers; that under this influence she has become reckless of moral principle, as have nearly all others of her class.

The writer of this has been shown a list of forty trance speaking mediums, of both sexes, which will soon be made public, who have either separated from their husbands and wives, or are living in extreme unhappiness. The list includes most of the prominent speaking mediums of the country. Some women have abandoned their husbands for other “affinities.” One who has figured int he recent Free-Love Conventions is set down as having abandoned two husbands—both of whom are living—and one woman traded husbands with a sister spiritualist. The male mediums are represented as of the same sort.

A friend of Mrs. Hatch, in whose house she visits a good deal since the separation, represents her as extremely afraid of the Doctor, and says that upon one occasion, when he was seen coming from the house, “she turned as pale of death, and trembled like an aspen leaf, and begging the privilege of concealing herself, hid in a bedroom.”

Some of the friends of Mrs. Hatch do not hesitate to express their convictions, very freely, that all the devil in the matter belongs on the other side of the house.

Dr. Hatch was married to his present wife—his fourth one, we believe—about two years ago. He was upwards of forty, and she about sixteen. The marriage at the time, we believe, was understood by them to be a spiritual affinity as well as a legal union. The friend of Mrs. Hatch claim that it was unnatural and produced by psychological influences, and not by spiritual affinities; since that marriage Mrs. Hatch has been compelled to lecture too much—often when physically unfit to do so—the Doctor reaping therefrom a large pecuniary benefit.
There are so many details here that just beg to be dug into, but the first had to be the identity of the chemist.[4] Another article named the chemist: J. J. Mapes, or as Wikipedia puts it, James Jay Mapes. The Wikipedia page on Mapes doesn’t note his connection to spiritualism, but clearly Mapes was friends to both of the Hatch’s during the time prior to their divorce.

Then there’s the whole matter of demoniacal influence. I suppose if you’re communicating with beings from the spirit world, that would be a likely danger. As for the “reckless of moral principle,” this was apparently a charge laid on both sides, as another article on the Hatch divorce noted:
that he had frequently brought her into association with immoral characters of both sexes; that he had been guilty of indecent and immoral practices in her presence
So clearly someone was to blame.

As for difference in their age, the newspapers seem to have it about right. Benjamin Franklin Hatch (who was indeed a physician, before becoming a mesmerist) seems to have been born in 1817, so when he married Cora in 1856, he was 39 to her 16; the marriage only lasted two years. He wasn’t “upwards of forty,” but nearly there (unless the records I’ve found are inaccurate as to his date of birth[5]) Also, the record I have found may not have been him. Physician, born about the right time, but beyond that, it’s hard to tell. Hatch’s name turns out to be fairly common, which is a research nightmare.

But while government records may be lacking, this divorce certainly gathered a lot of press attention. Cora Scott Hatch Daniels Tappan Richmond (choose the surname, based on the period of her life) also went through four marriages,[6] which certainly underscores the contention of the Post that members of the spiritualist movement were prone to frequent divorce and remarriage.
In the case of Dr. Hatch, the allegation was that his determination to stay married to Cora (which, as I noted, he did not manage to do) was based on financial interests; he received the financial benefits of his wife’s prominence in the spiritualist movement.

Finally, in researching this topic, I found that Assumption College has a fairly extensive set of web pages titled Making Sense of Cora Hatch. These pages confirm that James Jay Mapes (the chemist) was indeed interested in spiritualism. As the (unsigned) pages note,
there are virtually no biographical records to work with.
Certainly this is what I found trying merely to document Dr. Hatch’s age.
The same essay points out one of the fascinating things about the spiritualist moment:
Spiritualism began as a hoax. Many people nonetheless sincerely believed in it.
Here was a religious movement, based in part on Protestant Christianity, but with the a large dose of the idea that one could communicate with the dead[7], all managed by bits of stage magic. There are lots of religions whose beliefs are derided by outsiders, but whose adherents hold them to be true. In Spiritualism, the most prominent practitioners, the spirit mediums themselves, knew they were hoaxing people. Number of spiritualists who actually communicated with the dead: 0.

Cora Hatch made one communication with the dead that was not received. The Arizona Republican repeated an item from the Indianapolis Journal which called it “a cheap forgery,” “a vile forgery,” and “ a miserable forgery” (just in case you might think they were giving it any chance of credibility). Cora Hatch claimed that Abraham Lincoln had dictated a letter to her from beyond the grave.
The letter which Candidate Stevenson[8] attributes to Abraham Lincoln in his article in the North American Review is a vile forgery that has been used by cranks and political quacks for years, and was written in 1868, three years after Mr. Lincoln’s assassination, by Cora Hatch, a spiritualist medium, who claimed that it was dictated to her while in a trance, by the spirit of Lincoln. Mr. Bryan[9] has also used this miserable forgery. — Indianapolis Journal

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  1. One with which I do not agree.  ↩
  2. In When Gay People Get Married, M. V. Lee Badgett notes that in the early 2000s, some Dutch lesbians opposed marriage for same-sex couples because for them marriage was by definition an institution that oppressed women.  ↩
  3. Episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1962–1965) frequently deal with individuals who murder the spouse they cannot divorce.  ↩
  4. Because what could be more fascinating then a chemist implicated in the divorce trial of a spiritualist?  ↩
  5. That can happen, particularly with nineteenth-century records.  ↩
  6. According to Wikipedia  ↩
  7. Its appeal was no doubt enhanced by the great loss of life in the Civil War.  ↩
  8. Aldai Stevenson I. Vice President to Grover Cleveland. Vice-Presidential candidate in 1900 on the ticket with William Jennings Bryan.  ↩
  9. William Jenning Bryan. American politician. Lost in 1900 to William McKinley.  ↩

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