The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism by Herbert Thurston is the result of the author’s tireless study of a wide range of psychic phenomena, including, levitation, stigmata, telekinesis, luminous phenomena, inedia (living without food), and more. The book delves into the phenomena attributed to the likes of, the Catholic stigmatic, Therese Neumann, St. Francis of Assisi, and includes the fascinating story of Mollie Fancher, who it was alleged, following a life threatening accident, could see without her eyes, took little or no food for 14 years, traveled out of body, and demonstrated clairvoyant abilities.
Thurston was a Catholic priest, a member of the Jesuit order, and a historian. He wrote extensively on Catholic mysticism and psychic phenomena. He was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, and was widely read on the subject.
Given that he was a practicing Catholic, it is unlikely that he attended séances, and therefore his opinion on spirit communication, clairvoyance, and mediumship in general, may not come from personal experience. That said; he comes across as an honest skeptic (rather than a debunker) with some empathy for his subjects.
Explaining his position he says,
The role of Devil’s Advocate is a thankless one and does not make for popularity, Indeed, I may confess that, when writing somewhat in the character of a doubting Thomas, I have felt at times, in spite of good intentions, that I was even playing a mean and an unworthy part.
“Why, I have asked myself, should a skeptical line of argument be put forward which may possibly trouble the simple faith of many good people much nearer and dearer to God than I can ever hope to be? And yet in these days of widespread education, universal questioning and free discussion, a premature and ill-grounded credulity cannot in the long run be of advantage to the Church. The Christian has to be able to justify his beliefs, and adequate equipment for an encounter with rationalists or agnostics requires some previous study both of the position, which it is intended to take up and of the form of attack to which that position may be exposed.”
The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism is essential reading for those interested in Catholic mysticism, and physical and psychic phenomena often attributed to miracles.
About the author
Fr. Herbert Henry Charles Thurston, S.J. (15 November 1856 — 3 November 1939) was an English priest of the Roman Catholic Church, a member of the Jesuit order, and a prolific scholar on liturgical, literary, historical, and spiritual matters.
Thurston wrote more than 150 articles for the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-1914), and published nearly 800 articles in magazines and scholarly journals, as well a dozen books. He also re-edited Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints (1926-1938).
He was a close friend of the Modernist theologian George Tyrrell.
Many of Thurston’s articles show a skeptical attitude towards popular legends about the lives of the saints and about holy relics. On the other hand, his treatment of spiritualism and the paranormal was regarded as “too sympathetic” by some of his fellow Catholics.
THE CASE OF MOLLIE FANCHER
THE present chapter aims at illustrating the difficulty of assigning precise limits to the range of those natural but unusual manifestations of man’s spiritual being which science now takes account of under the name of abnormal psychology. Two centuries ago such phenomena were summarily dismissed, by Catholics and Protestants alike, as witchcraft, sorcery, or, in brief, the work of the devil. But this was before the reality of the hypnotic trance was recognized, and before attention was thus directed to possibilities of which earlier ages had no conception. We are somewhat wiser now, and the delays which have so far held up any pronouncement by the episcopal commissions appointed to report upon the happenings at Limpias or the case of Theresa Neumann, seem to show that, in enlightened ecclesiastical circles, the lesson of caution has been taken to heart. In the pages which follow I propose to confine myself almost entirely to the strange facts recorded in the Life of Miss Mollie Fancher.
Let me begin with a very brief outline of those features in the case which constitute its principal interest. Mollie Fancher was born in 1848. Her life was spent at her aunt’s home in Brooklyn, New York, and she died in the same house shortly before the end of the last century. She seems to have been a tuberculous subject from childhood, but as the result of two very serious accidents in 1865 and 1866, not long after leaving school, she became an incurable invalid and never for more than thirty years quitted her room or, practically speaking, her bed. Her lower limbs, being bent under her, became twisted and atrophied, and this was followed by permanent blindness and a complication of nervous disorders which had curious manifestations. For long years she was incapable of swallowing and lived almost completely without food, but in this crippled state she developed remarkable clairvoyant faculties. It was alleged that she often discerned what was happening in distant towns, that she had knowledge of the contents of scaled letters, that she could read books with great rapidity by passing her hand over the printed page, and it seems certain that she executed the most delicate artistic work in a position over her head—the only position which her paralysed arm rendered possible—where even the full use of her eyes could not have served her. Further, many witnesses attest that she could distinguish, with unerring accuracy, by touch alone the colours of the worsteds, the wax sheets, and other materials she employed in her work.
In addition to this there were manifested in her four separate personalities, each with distinctive characteristics and a handwriting which differed from that of her normal state. She never in any proper sense slept, but these personalities revealed themselves during the night—not, apparently, in the daytime—their appearance being ushered in by violent convulsions and a trance condition which was frequently cataleptic.
What lends exceptional importance to Miss Fancher’s experiences is the fact that she had no interest in, or sympathy with, anything which bore the name of Spiritualism. She seems to have been a very religiously minded woman, and several of her most trusted friends were ministers—either Presbyterian or Baptist—in whose eyes any attempted communication with the spirits of the dead savoured of devilry. When an account of this extraordinary case was being compiled by Judge Abram H. Dailey in 1893, Miss Fancher’s consent was asked, and she was requested to make known all she could concerning her own experiences. In certain communications received from her with this object, she declared:
It has been charged and stated that this publication is being prepared in the interest of what is commonly known as Spiritualism. Nothing could be further from the fact, in so far as I am concerned. ... I have been repeatedly asked to undertake to act the part of a medium for spirit communications, and I have invariably refused to attempt anything of the kind.
At the same time she adds a little further on:
It has been said, as the public generally knows, that I frequently speak of having seen my mother and other friends around me who are dead. Then in answer to these questions I frankly and truthfully say that at times, at least in spirit, away from the scenes of this world, I am with friends in most heavenly places. My consciousness of these things is to me as real as the experiences of my life upon this earth. I often see my mother and other friends around me, and in my dreary days of sickness, pain and suffering, and when my spirit is depressed, I can hear her tender voice speaking to me words of cheer, bidding me “bear up, be brave and endure”... Who with body and limbs racked and disjointed by disease, bedridden for upwards of twenty-seven years, will not long to be released from pain and suffering, even though that relief is only to be found in utter annihilation? … At times I have seen around me, and around my friends who call to see me, the angel forms of those persons who are supposed to be dead. Whether I see what it seems to me I see, and hear what I seem to hear, let others form their own conclusions. I know what I see as well as they know what they see.
Whatever judgment we may pass upon these visions, it seems clear that they were as real to Mollie Fancher as those which Anne Catherine Emmerich or Teresa Higginson believed so confidently to be revelations of God’s special favour. Unfortunately, no details are preserved to us of the impressions Mollie received during her sojourns “with friends in most heavenly places.” She certainly seems to have convinced other people that there was something in what she saw in the course of these unusual experiences. A certain Professor C. E. West, the head of Brooklyn Heights Seminary, was an intimate and very early friend of hers. A letter of his to the Buffalo Courier in 1878, while describing her as a most devout Christian who “shrinks from any public exhibition “herself,” mentions that “Spiritualists and curiosity-seekers have sought access to her, but have failed. Her power of discriminating character is so great that she is rarely, if ever, imposed upon. Some fifteen years later the same Professor West records:
She has revealed things to me of which I had no conception mainly while we were talking on religious topics. She is as earnest a Christian as I ever knew. What she sees [he means clairvoyantly only makes her faith the stronger ... I think she has glimpses o the other world, if she has not indeed been there. I cannot tell you that strangely interesting part of her experience. After she is dead it will be known, but it is more of a revelation than that seen by John from the Isle of Patmos.
And here it may be well to say something of the book in which these testimonies are printed, a book which is unfortunately almost the only available source of information regarding Mollie and her strange phenomena. The compiler, as previously mentioned, was a certain‚ “Judge Abram H. Dailey.” This title seems to imply some sort of official legal position, but whether on account of the writer’s advanced age or some other reason, it is not the kind of book which one would expect from a man accustomed to marshal evidence and estimate its value. The narrative is confused, ill-written, full of repetitions and by no means free from misprints, especially where dates occur. If the volume represented nothing but Judge Dailey’s impressions one might be pardoned for thinking the whole record worthless. But the author, partly, perhaps, to save himself trouble or to swell out the volume to a respectable bulk, has thrown together pell-mell a number of testimonies from the friends and acquaintances of the invalid, and there seems no reason to suppose that these have not been printed as they were written, for the contributors of the statements in question were nearly all living when the book was published. Some of them certainly were men of standing and intelligence. For example, the Professor West who has just been quoted, delivered, in 1882, an address entitled “Fifty years of Progress.” From a copy of this brochure of 150 pages, which I have been able to consult at the British Museum, one is led to infer that the writer was a man much respected among his fellow ministers of religion, and the essay also gives proof of intelligence, wide reading, and a religious spirit. A letter is included addressed to Dr. West by Padre Secchi, S.J., in 1877, from the Observatory of the Collegio Romano. I may add here that apart from Professor West’s positive testimony (to be quoted later) regarding Miss Fancher’s gift of clairvoyance, and her inability to retain nourishment, he, like many more of her intimates, expresses a strong conviction as to her truthfulness. He says for example:
I never knew a more truthful, sincere and intelligent girl than she has proved herself from the very first of our acquaintance. … I have spent my life in study and I have devoted much of it for the past twelve years to Mollie Fancher’s case.
Naturally in such a case it is the medical evidence which is of most importance. One would have liked fuller details than we possess, but Judge Dailey has, at any rate, preserved a statement which was made on July 26, 1893, by Mollie’s ordinary medical attendant, Dr. S. Fleet Speir, and taken down from his dictation, at the patient’s residence, 160 Gates Avenue, Brooklyn. From this I copy the more salient points: Dr. Speir informs us that he had been in charge of the case since April 6, 1866, a period of twenty-seven years, and also that Dr. Robert Ormiston had been associated with him in consultation during most of that time. It is important to note that Dr. Ormiston was present when the statement was made and that he formally corroborated it, declaring: “I am familiar with nearly all the facts to which Dr. Speir has referred, and in so far as I recall them they are correctly stated by him.”
Regarding the general impression that Miss Fancher was paralysed, Dr. Speir raises some demur as to the correctness of the term.
As a matter of fact [he says] she has never been paralysed in the sense in which that word is usually understood. She has lost the use of her limbs and at times has lost the power of sensation. As nearly as I can recollect, for a period of about nine years her lower limbs were in a three twist. The result to the limbs has been that, instead of being the natural hinge joint, the knee approaches the condition of a ball and socket joint; her limbs are drawn up backwards the ankles bent over, and the bottom of the foot upwards—and remaining in that condition. This is so of both feet. The limbs cannot be straightened out; they are contracted underneath.
For a period of about nine years, day and night, she was subjcct to trances, spasms and catalepsy. During this time the most constant care and attention were required to prevent personal injury. In these spasmodic conditions she was liable from time to time to be thrown upon the floor, so that barricades were placed around her bed to prevent this happening. Her spasmodic conditions were so violent that she was hurled backwards and forwards with great force and rapidity. There was a back motion which is hard to explain, by which she seemed to be thrown into the air, rising from her bed. At times her body would become rigid, and upon one occasion one portion of her body was turned to the right, and the other to the left in a distressing manner, and remained so for quite a time, she being in a rigid condition.
These violent convulsive movements are of much interest in connection with those cases in which the sufferer was believed by mediaeval observers to have been assaulted and thrown about by the devil. Not less important are Dr. Speir’s comments on Mollie’s rejection of all nourishment. He seems evidently to have suspected at first that there was some deception in the matter, as the following passage shows:
To be certain that Miss Fancher was living without solid food for the long period of time which was stated, I resorted to giving her emetics, and the result was that nothing was thrown from the stomach, showing conclusively that the stomach was empty. During the period of nine years the quantity of food which she took into her stomach was so little that it was a matter of great astonishment how life could be sustained.
We learn from the notes of Miss Crosby, the patient’s aunt, that enemas, bathing with oil and other indirect methods of nutrition had been employed, but they were abandoned as useless after more or less prolonged tests. In 1866 at the beginning of this period of inanition we are told that on May 20th she asked for food, ate a small piece of cracker and took a teaspoonful of punch, this being the first food which her stomach had been able to retain since the beginning of April. On June 2nd food was introduced through her contracted throat by the aid of a stomach pump, but “it threw her into convulsions and her throat closed. She could neither take nourishment nor utter a sound.” Miss Crosby, who seems to have kept careful notes at this period, records that “the only nourishment she has retained on her stomach from April 4, 1866, to October 27th, has been four teaspoonfuls of milk punch, two of wine, one small piece of banana, and a small piece of cracker.” A Mrs. Townsend, a friend who was constantly and out of the house at this early period, confirms this. “It is well known,” she writes, “that for the first nine years she could keep nothing solid on her stomach. I am positive that she was unable to keep anything down and in fact could not swallow during the first years I knew her.”
What renders this testimony the more convincing is the fact that Mollie in her crippled state was certainly incapable of getting out of bed, and for a long time, on account of the convulsive spasms to which she was subject, could not apparently be left alone during the night. To eat by stealth, for her, must have been impossible. Dr. West, who also visited her frequently, stated in a printed letter to a newspaper (1878):
Water, the juices of fruits and other liquids have been introduced into her mouth, but scarcely any of them ever make their way into her stomach. So sensitive has this organ become that it will not retain anything. In the earlier part of her illness it collapsed so that, by placing the hand in the cavity, her spinal column could be felt.
When some attention was drawn to the case in 1878, the New York Herald on October 20th published an article which seems to have escaped the notice of Judge Dailey. The reporter of the Herald had very rightly been refused admittance to the house in which the poor invalid was living, but he managed to discover the names of her medical advisers. Dr. Ormiston, on being interviewed, is stated to have said: “It seems incredible, but from everything I can learn, Mollie Fancher never eats.” The doctor went on to declare that the aunt, her constant companion, who testified to this, was a person of the highest character, and he added: “During a dozen visits to the sick chamber I have never detected evidence of the patient’s having eaten a morsel.” Finding his way thence to Dr. Speir, the reporter put the question: Has she eaten nothing during all these fourteen years? “ The reply was in these terms:
I can safely say she has not. I do not believe that any food— that is, solids has ever passed the woman’s lips since her attack of paralysis consequent upon her mishap. As for an occasional teaspoonful of water or milk, I sometimes force her to take it by using an instrument to prize open her mouth. But that is painful to her. The case knocks the bottom out of all existing medical theses, and is, in a word, miraculous.
After referring to the emetics he had administered, Dr. Speir went on:
I have taken every precaution against deception, sometimes going to the house at eleven or twelve o’clock at night without being announced, but have always found her the same and lying in the same position. My brethren in the medical profession at first were inclined to laugh at me and call me a fool and a spiritualist when I told them of the long abstinence and keen intellectual powers of my interesting patient. But such as have been admitted to see her are convinced. These are Dr. Ormiston, Dr. Elliott and Dr. Hutchison, some of the best talent in the city, who have seen and believed.
The reporter then went back to Dr. Ormiston, but found him in no way inclined to withdraw from his former declarations. On the contrary, he strengthened them by saying: “Her tenacity of life for fourteen years, without sustenance enough to feed a baby for a week, appeals strongly to my unwilling belief in supernatural visitations.”
I cannot find in subsequent issues of the Herald that the doctors who were so reported made any attempt to repudiate the language attributed to them.
The nutrition trouble seems to have begun in Mollie Fancher’s school days. Her stomach even then “rejected most kinds of food,” and the doctors, being persuaded that she suffered from nervous indigestion, recommended her to take up riding as an exercise. This resulted in a very bad fall in which she struck her head against the kerbstone and broke a rib, though her completely crippled condition only followed upon a second accident when in stepping out of a tram-car her crinoline got caught in the vehicle and she was dragged for many yards along the roadway. A curious remark is recorded of her in the early stages of her illness when they were trying to force food upon her which her stomach rejected, and which caused her great distress. Her aunt, Miss Crosby, urging her to make an effort because it was necessary to eat in order to maintain life, she is said to have replied that she received nourishment from a source of which they were all ignorant.
In the presence of the facts just quoted it seems difficult to affirm with confidence that the disinclination for food which we find so constantly recurring in the case of almost all visionaries—Anne Catherine Emmerich, Domenica Lazzari, Louise Lateau, Teresa Higginson, Theresa Neumann, etc., not to speak of many canonized Saints—is necessarily of supernatural origin.
To return, however, to Dr. Speir’s statement of 1893, we have still to quote the observations made by him concerning Mollic’s very abnormal faculty of sight. He says:
With reference to the condition of Miss Fancher’s eyes. When I first attended her it seemed to me that her eyes were in such a state that she could not see by the use of them. On that date her eyes were glaring open, and did not close day or night, and there were no tears or secretion in them. I made the usual test for anaesthesia, even going to the extent of touching the ball of the eye with my finger, without provoking any reaction. During the first part of her troubles, the pupils were considerably dilated and the impression of light effected no change. The pupils are still considerably dilated, though not so much as formerly and still do not change at the approach of light. We have caused a careful and critical examination to be made by a competent expert—an oculist—in whose skill we have great confidence, and agree with him that she cannot see by the use of her eyes—at least as a person ordinarily can see. She has the power of seeing with a great deal of distinctness, but how she does it I am unable to state. The condition has remained substantially unchanged since I first began to attend her. This feature of Miss Fancher’s power of sight has attracted a great deal of comment. At one time she did all her work, crocheting, etc., at the back of her head. When she selected worsted or colour she put it behind her head to see it. For nine years her right arm was behind her head, where she did her work by bringing the left hand up to the right hand, which was at the back of her head.
I recall one instance, when, Dr. Ormiston and myself being present, Miss Crosby received a letter from the postman. I took the letter in my hand; it was sealed, and Miss Fancher, at the time being unable to speak, took a slate and pencil and wrote out the contents of the letter, which, on being opened and read, was found to correspond exactly with what she had written. During that time she maintained conversation with her physicians and friends by the use of the slate, she being unable to speak. On another occasion she gave me warning that I was likely to be robbed, and told me to be on my guard. The sequel was that, immediately after, I was robbed of a valuable case of instruments. On another occasion I had invited a number of doctors to call at Miss Fancher’s house, and we were waiting for one to arrive, when she said: “He is coming; I see him coming now,” and told where he was, which was correct.
During my acquaintance with Miss Fancher and her aunt, Miss Crosby, during her lifetime, the actions and conduct of both entitle them to what they always had—our highest respect and esteem. . . .
Upon one occasion when she had lost the power of speech, I was present when someone made a remark to which she took exception. She took a pencil in her left hand and rapidly wrote a reply, which at first none could read. She had written backward, commencing at the end of a line and end of a word and so to the beginning. By holding a looking glass we readily made it out. It was a sharp, caustic reply.
One remarkable feature during all these years she has been confined to her bed is that she has never been afflicted with bedsores, although her right hip, from constant pressure, is flattened, and the flesh is gone, so that the bone is merely covered by the integument. She has always explained, when asked how she saw without the use of her eyes, that she saw out of the top of her head.
Miss Fancher experiences quite remarkable conditions from the action of her heart. At times the chest over the heart seems considerably enlarged; it presents something the appearance of oedema, but responds to pressure in a different manner. It seems more elastic, and every day she coughs up about half an ounce of blood, which comes from the mucous membrane of the throat and bronchial tubes.
These are the principal data attested by Miss Fancher s ordinary medical attendant, Dr. Speir, and confirmed by his colleague, Dr. Ormiston. But so far as regards her powers of vision there is abundance of corroborative evidence contained in the statements of other intimate friends of hers. Judge Dailey avers, apparently as the result of what he himself had witnessed, that if one took a sharp knife and made a movement as if to thrust it into her eyes, she would not recoil or exhibit the slightest apprehension of danger.
At the same time in her most sensitive conditions—he admits none the less that the acuteness of her perceptions varied considerably according to the state of her health, the weather, and other causes—”she is able to distinguish colours, even to the most delicate shades, not only when absolutely concealed from her normal sight, but while in the pocket of another and when the experimenters did not know the colour of the article to be described.” He also remarks: “that she did see, could and can see, from the top of her head and from her forehead, cannot permit of a reasonable doubt. She reads letters placed upon her forehead, and has done so hundreds of times.” Her friend, Mrs. Townsend, referred to above, states: “she used to put sealed letters under her pillow and read them. Sometimes she read by rubbing her hand over them, and I have seen her read books in the same way.” Professor West testifies similarly:
When I first saw her she had but one sense, that of touch. With that she could read with many times the rapidity of one by eyesight. This she did by running her fingers over the printed pages with equal facility in light or darkness. With the fingers she could discriminate the photographs of persons, the faces of callers, etc. She never sleeps, her rest being taken in trances. The most delicate work is done in the night. She performs none of the ordinary functions of life except that of breathing.
Some further details which have still to be given concerning Miss Fancher’s visions, her power of sight, and her different personalities, must be postponed to another occasion, but there is one final remark I should like to make before concluding this chapter. Whatever we may think of the statements of fact contained in Judge Dailey’s book, they certainly were not made with any arriere pertsee of discrediting the phenomena of Catholic mysticism. When we are dealing with such writers as Pierre Janet, Charcot, Paul Richer, Binet and others, we may not unreasonably suspect the possibility of some underlying purpose hostile to theories involving belief in the supernatural. But there is not in the American book, so often referred to, the faintest indication of any acquaintance with Catholic hagiology or its phenomena. No, hint emerges of a controversial motive. Certain friends of Miss Fancher, profoundly impressed by what they had seen, thought it desirable that the circumstances should be put on record: that is all. It is quite likely that some of them were guilty of considerable exaggerations. Everyone with a novel discovery to announce is anxious to make his story as impressive as possible and inevitably errs in the direction of overstatement. But I cannot persuade myself that such a book as Mollie Fancher, the Brooklyn Enigma could have been compiled and published if the experiences and faculties laid to her credit were not substantially in accord with facts. What is certain is that the oral statement taken down in 1893 from the lips of Drs. Speir and Ormiston, then still in charge of the case, is in full agreement with the account communicated by them fifteen years earlier to the reporter of the New York Herald. Anyone who wishes to do so may verify the fact, as I have done, by consulting the file of that journal accessible in the British Museum.
Perhaps the most satisfactory evidence preserved to us regarding Mollie Fancher’s strange powers of vision and in particular her faculty of reading sealed documents, is contained in certain communications of a Mr. Henry Parkhurst who wrote to the New York Herald when the case was being discussed by the American Press in 1878. Mr. Parkhurst was a scientist of some standing, and a little later held an official position in connection with the observatory of Harvard University. He and his wife lived near Miss Fancher at Brooklyn and were welcome visitors in Mollie’s sickroom. In the earlier stages of the case—the year, to be precise, was 1867—while the poor paralytic was still unable to speak, Mr. Parkhurst devised a crucial experiment to test her alleged power of reading without the use of the organs of vision. A slip of printed paper, so chosen at random that neither Mr. Parkhurst himself nor any other person knew its contents, was given to the blind girl in a carefully sealed envelope, precautions being taken against fraudulent opening. As Mollie at that time could neither speak nor even write, she communicated laboriously by knocks, spelling out single words letter by letter as the alphabet was called aloud.
“Consequently,” says Mr. Parkhurst, “all that was expected or desired of her was so much of an indication of the content of the printed slip as should be absolutely beyond guessing or chance.” She first intimated that the slip was about “Court.” She next read the word “jurisdiction,” stating positively that the word was there. Finally, she notified that the cutting contained the figures 6, 2, 3, 4. This Mr. Parkhurst regarded as sufficient information for his purpose, for, as he explains, “I had no idea that there were any figures on the slip and should have guessed that there were not. The letter was returned to me with the seal intact and was opened in my presence. The word “Court” occurs four times, jurisdiction once, and there are the figures 6, 2, 3, 4, 5, and no other figures.” The cutting, he explains, was taken from the printed draft of a bill before the Maryland Constitutional Convention. Mr. Parkhurst had no notion that there were likely to be numbers on the slip he had submitted. “It was not,” he writes, “until the envelope was opened and found to contain section 6 with the lines numbered 2, 3, 4, 5, that the idea occurred to me that the line numbers could possibly have been upon the slip.” The details furnished by Mr. Parkhurst are somewhat too copious for quotation in full, but he states clearly that the account printed in the New York Herald on November 30, 1878, was copied by him from documents drawn up and witnessed at the time, and also that the printed slip used for the test was still in his possession.
An editorial comment was appended to these communications. It seems thoroughly to endorse the trustworthiness of the experiment, and begins as follows:
Professor Parkhurst’s interesting letter detailing an attempt to test the clairvoyant powers of Miss Fancher ... is the most important paper yet called forth by the discussion of the case. It seems hardly probable that a man of scientific bent and methodical business habits, as the writer of the letter is known to be, could have been deceived at any stage of the experiment, the details of which he gives so minutely to the public.
It is noteworthy that the publicity given to Miss Fancher’s case by the newspaper discussion of 1878—it was, in fact, carried on in several other journals besides the New York Herald—was extremely distasteful to the invalid herself. Mr. Parkhurst, for example, remarks in his letter: “these publications have been thus far made without the consent and against the wishes of Miss Fancher and her friends; and as one of her friends I shall continue to keep silence with reference to the physical aspects of the case.” He adds, however, that he had obtained her permission to make known the facts of the test he had carried out, because “it demonstrates, as it seems to me, so far as it is possible for a single experiment to demonstrate a general principle, that there may be a clairvoyance independent of mind-reading.” We can feel little doubt that Mollie was greatly harassed by curious would-be investigators, and the New York Herald, in its comments, wishes her “good riddance of the swarms of inquirers who beset her without respect for her feeble health.” What made her, no doubt, quite resolute in closing her door to all except those whom she recognized as personal friends, was her consciousness of her pitiable impotence and the knowledge that convulsive spasms often came upon her with little or no warning. Of these curious states it will be necessary to speak further on. She seems by nature to have been sensitive and reserved. From the testimony of Professor West and Judge Dailey, one gathers that she was by no means anxious to talk of her visions. This, we must believe, is also the case with Catholic mystics. Teresa Higginson reiterates again and again that only the positive order of her director could induce her to speak of what she had seen in her ecstasies, and whatever we may think of the record of Anne Catherine’s revelations made to Brentano, he often complains of the difficulty he found in inducing her to continue her narrative. Mollie Fancher had no confessor to put her under obedience, and when she was questioned about her trances by Judge Dailey she replied only in general terms as follows:
Well, when I go into my trances, I am usually conscious of being in existence, but they are not like dreams. They are like indistinct wanderings, something like the dreams I used to have when asleep before I was injured. When I come out of my trances, they at times leave quite distinct recollections or impressions upon my mind. Sometimes they are dim and are slowly recalled and then become very distinct. Now, as a usual thing, when I go into a trance, I go out and around and see a great deal. Sometimes I go into a house and view the condition of the rooms, and do not see anyone in the rooms. Sometimes I see persons and nothing more. I very seldom speak of where I have been and who I have seen. At the time when Mr. Sargent was incorporating this company I am connected with, he was at Muskegon, Michigan. I went into a trance and was gone for hours. My friend, Bert Blossom, was present in the room, and when I came out of the trance I found him greatly alarmed thinking I was dead. I told him I had been away to where Mr. Sargent was, and saw him on a stage, and he was singing to an audience of people in a large room. I had seen and heard him.
Mr. Blossom said that that was most unlikely; but within the next three days I received from Mr. Sargent a letter, informing me of the fact that a Mr. Chase, at Muskegon, had opened a large piano factory, and that they had celebrated the event by a concert, at which he had taken a part in singing; and he also sent me a newspaper giving an account of the affair, and I subsequently learned from him that I had correctly described the event and scene.
Several similar incidents, in one or two of which he was personally concerned, are recorded by Judge Dailey. But most of Miss Fancher s friends had something of the sort to relate. Mrs. Townsend on one occasion was sitting in the invalid’s room with Mrs. Parkhurst, the wife of the Professor whose test experiment has just been described, when suddenly Mollie “went into a rigid trance.” When she came to, her two visitors asked her where she had been. She told them that she had been to see “Aunt Susie” (Miss Crosby) then on a visit to Cornwall, a small town about thirty miles off on the Hudson. “She gave a description of the people in the Cornwall house and of what they were doing.” Miss Crosby, we are assured, on her return corroborated every detail. This faculty of clairvoyance, if we may so describe it, seems to have varied greatly in intensity, and on the whole to have diminished as Miss Fancher’s physical condition improved in the course of years. Answering some questions put to her by Dailey on June 15, 1893, Mollie is stated to have replied:
Well, as I have said, my vision is not always the same; much depends upon how I am feeling, and the weather conditions. Sometimes the whole top of my head seems on fire with the influx of light; my range of vision is very great, and my sight astonishingly clear. Then again it seems as if I were seeing through a smoked glass, and my vision, or consciousness of things, is dim and indistinct. Sometimes I can see all through the house. When my aunt was alive it was the most common thing for her to mislay her purse, veil or gloves, and not know where to look for them.
She used to come to me to find them, and I would go rummaging through the house and finally tell her where they were lying. I have the same powers now, but not at all times. Were someone to come suddenly and ask me to do such a thing, I might not at the moment be able, but after a little, when not anxious to see, I can see most clearly.
Professor West, who had known her when she was most afflicted, declares:
She knows who her visitors are long before they are ushered into the hall below, and she allows them to see her, or refuses, just as the whim takes her. I took Kossuth’s sister there just before her departure for the Old World. Miss Mollie refused to see her. Afterwards I asked Mollie for an explanation. “Why! I didn’t like her looks when she entered the door,” was the reply. The door is on the floor below.
At the time when Dailey’s book was in preparation (c. 1893) Mr. Sargent formed the impression that Mollie was regaining her natural sight. Judge Dailey did not agree. They were both conversing in the invalid’s room, and the last named, as he tells us, took steps to prove to his friend that her vision was still altogether preternormal.
I immediately rose, and securely covered her eyes by placing a double handkerchief over them, and covering the lower part of her face as she lay upon her bed. There was not a movement any of us could make, or a thing which we could do, which she could not distinctly describe to us, with as much readiness as either of us could have done had the same been done before our eyes. . . .
She sees best and reads most readily when the room is so dark that others can scarcely see the print. The most hardened sceptics in these matters have been compelled to succumb when in the presence of Miss Fancher.
I should be the first to admit that such tests as that of the folded handkerchief just described afford a very inadequate guarantee against the practised impostor, but when we are dealing with a sufferer, bedridden for twenty-seven years, whose sincerity, patience, charity, and simple religious faith are commended by all her most intimate friends, the case seems to me to be very different from that of a professional medium who depends for a livelihood upon the impression he produces on his dupes. Ever since girlhood Miss Fancher s condition had been most pitiable, and her own statement regarding the beginning of her illness in 1866 is borne out by the evidence of her aunt and of the doctors.
For two months [she says] after my traduces commenced, fourteen persons were in constant Attendance on me, a relay of seven being required to hold me upon the bed during the spasms. My body and limbs were drawn together until I was almost a ball; then I leaped forward like an arrow, and would have been killed but for the protection of friends and the wadded obstruction placed in the way. These conditions continued until the first week in May of 1866, when I went into a long trance.
Her aunt’s contemporary diary corroborates this, stating, for example, in the early part of February 1866: “Her head and feet coming together, she would roll like a hoop, she would also stand on her toes and spin like a top. Several persons were required to prevent her from doing personal injury to herself.” These and similar convulsive spasms recurred at frequent intervals down to the time at which Dailey’s book was compiled, in all, twenty-seven years. For anything that I have been able to learn to the contrary, they continued until her death, which, from a statement made in Bulletin No. XI of the Boston Society for Psychical Research, seems to have occurred not, as I previously supposed, before 1900, but after the beginning of the present century. What is certain is that as late as April 6, 1887, in one of her convulsive seizures, Mollie Fancher fell out of bed and severely injured the back of her neck. Similar falls had occurred many times previously when she had been left unattended. A barricade had been erected all round to prevent her hurting herself in such circumstances, but on this occasion it proved ineffective.
These alarming spasms were particularly liable to recur at night, and were often marked by a dissociation of personality. Besides the normal Mollie Fancher known to those who visited her in the daytime, her very intimate friends, and in particular her aunt, were acquainted with no less than five other Mollie Fanchers, who manifested themselves with varying frequency. One of them persisted for nine years (1866 to 1875), during what she was accustomed to refer to as her “great trance,” but when that crisis was over, this personality never came to the surface again. During the nine years’ period spoken of, her right arm was rigidly bent in such a position that the hand was fixed over the back of the head. She had some control of the thumb and index finger, and in order to do her work of flower making, sewing, etc., she had to bring up her left arm, of which she retained full use, to meet the right hand at the back of her head. The work which she learned to do in that position, as previously stated, was extraordinarily delicate and minute. When, however, this condition passed, she remembered absolutely nothing of all that had happened to her during those nine years, and the skill which she had acquired in her craftsmanship was as if it had never been. She had to begin to learn her flower work all over again.
This period of nine years, which remained to the end a perfect blank in her memory, began on Sunday, June 3, 1866. Her medical attendant, Dr. Speir, was visiting her that morning and by way of excuse for a rather hurried departure he remarked that his wife was giving him “chicken-pot-pie” for dinner which would be no good if it was allowed to get cold. When, nine years later, after endless trances and more convulsive seizures, the rigidity of the right arm suddenly relaxed, it was in some sense a new Mollie who awoke to consciousness. On the appearance of Dr. Speir, though he had never ceased to visit her in the interval, Mollie asked him, “Well, Doctor, were you in time for your “chicken-pot-pie?” To her aunt she said: “Why, Aunt Susie, what has become of your red cheeks? You look so old and changed.” Her brother, who was a lad of thirteen at the time “the great trance” came on, was immediately repelled by her as being too familiar for a stranger. She remembered him a boy; he was now a man wearing a moustache. She had kept a diary and written thousands of letters with her left hand during the interval, but she did not recognize the handwriting, and had some difficulty in recovering the use of pen or pencil.
One of her most intimate friends during this later stage of her suffering life, was a Mr. George Sargent, a manufacturer of invalid furniture, with whom she entered into a sort of business partnership. He used to visit her quite late and relieve her aunt in sitting up with her. In this way he became acquainted with Mollie’s different personalities, and, to distinguish them, christened them by such rather absurd names as “Idol,” “Rosebud,” “Pearl” etc. He has left an account of his personal experiences, dated July 5, 1893, which Judge Dailey has printed and from which I venture to quote. Mr. Sargent tells us, for example:
My first acquaintance with “Idol “ began April 8, 1886. Three days previous to that date, Miss Fancher had accidentally fallen from the bed, striking her head on the floor, which added injury to injury, causing unusual suffering.
On the evening mentioned her aunt Susie (Miss Crosby) and I were sitting by her bedside, when Miss Fancher went into a trance.
While in this condition her aunt left the room. When she came out of the trance I was alone with her, and was startled to see her eyes wide open, since I had never before seen her except with closed eyes. She looked strangely at me and asked “Who arc you? as though it was an impertinence for a stranger to be sitting by her bedside, and at the same time asked, “Where is—————?” naming a person wholly unfamiliar to me, and then asked about a matter of which I was entirely ignorant. ... I was nonplussed, and each moment added to my confusion. ... I was trying to explain my identity when her aunt returned. She was almost as surprised as I, and she said it was three or four years since “that Mollie “ had made an appearance.
Mr. Sargent was then formally introduced, “as a friend of the other Mollie,” whereupon—
She made all sorts of inquiries concerning the other Mollie, wanted to know if I would think as much of this Mollie as I did of the other Mollie. She said nobody cared anything for her. They put off her questions and tried to get rid of her. . . . After a stay of about three quarters of an hour, she said: “I am very tired,” and with the saddest, sweetest expression on her face, and with pleading arms outstretched towards her aunt Susie, she said, with a voice of such pathos that
I shall never forget it, “Hold me close, kiss my eyes down,” and in the twinkling of an eye her features became rigid as sculptured marble.
After a lapse of some ten or fifteen minutes she returned to consciousness, and the original Mollie again appeared on the scene and seemed wholly ignorant of what had happened.
From that date, for perhaps a year, the second Mollie came at frequent, though irregular, intervals, and the length of her visits increased. She seemed to have no note of time; there were no yesterday or to-morrow in her calendar. When she came, it was always through a trance condition, and usually accompanied by severe spasms, and her exit was in a similar manner. If she had been talking at the time of her departure on any subject, on her return, whether it happened to be an hour, a day or a week, she would take up the thread of conversation where she dropped it, if the same people were present.
The curious thing was that these personalities, learning in the course of conversation of each other’s existence, were apt to be very inquisitive about the character and doings of her whom they were each disposed to regard as a sort of rival. Mr. Sargent came in time to know them all and found them easy to distinguish.
“Pearl “ seemed to reproduce the characteristics of Miss Fancher at the age of sixteen, just before her terrible accidents, and her memory covered all that she had experienced up to about 1865.
Her expression and accent were those of a very properly brought up young lady of that period. “Her visits,” we are told, “were very brief, sometimes five, at others ten or fifteen minutes, and sometimes only a minute. Then she makes her presence known by the pressure of her fingers and holds no conversation at all.” There was nothing evil about any of these personalities, but they were inclined to be jealous of “Sunbeam,” the name given to the normal Miss Fancher whom her friends knew in the daytime.
I soon found [writes Mr. Sargent] that when we told “Idol” of the numerous friends of “Sunbeam,” of her beautiful work which we showed her, she seemed to become exceedingly jealous, and was sad that she had no friends, and that she could not do the work that the other Mollie, “Sunbeam,” could do. She would get hold of u Sunbeam’s “ work, and hide it away about the bed, or in other places within her reach, and to prevent this, “Sunbeam” secretes it, or asks others to put the work away. “Idol “ sometimes unravels her crochet work.
Undoubtedly the most attractive of all the personalities is that which Mr. Sargent christened “Rosebud.” He gives the following account of his first introduction to Mollie Fancher in that character.
One year after “Idol “ came I first saw “Rosebud.” It was the sweetest little child’s face, the voice and accent that of a little child. She was apparently frightened, and was asking for her mother. I inquired “Who is this?” Without answering she asked me who I was. I asked her whom she knew. She said she knew Spencer, who, I have since learned, was a friend and a little boy acquaintance of Miss Fancher’s childhood. Miss Crosby told me that “Rosebud” came first eight years before, but only at intervals. I began to strike up an acquaintance with her. She asked me if I loved her? I asked how old she was, and she said “Six years old.” I asked her if she went to school, and she said “Yes, sir.” She told me the names of her playmates. … She is a great mimic and can imitate animals and fowls very nicely. I asked her to sing for me and she sang “I want to be an angel” and other children’s songs.
Let me here remark in passing that the “Rosebud “ personality presents a remarkable analogy with the case of Anna Maria Castreca, discussed above. This nun, at the age of twenty-seven, suddenly put on the outward semblance of childhood, completely forgetting all that she had previously learnt. The condition persisted for some months, and then as suddenly disappeared. She had also before this exhibited the phenomena of paralysis, loss of sight, inability to take nourishment, clairvoyance, and innumerable convulsive seizures in which she was violently thrown to the ground. She was subsequently marked with the stigmata and died as Abbess in the odour of sanctity A.D. 1736.
As Mollie’s personalities hardly ever emerged except at night, we have, unfortunately, no medical report regarding them, but Mr. Sargent and Miss Crosby are far from being the only witnesses. Such intimate friends as Dailey, the Townsends, Mr. Howard S. Jones and his wife, whose presence at late hours Miss Fancher in no way resented, all give similar descriptions. It is stated that Mollie, like Teresa Higginson, never slept, but Mollie, also like Teresa Higginson, was subject to frequent trances, and she herself was of opinion that the trances served her in place of sleep. What is perhaps most noteworthy in connection with these trances is the passage from what Dailey calls the “rigid trance” through the “relaxed trance “ to normal conditions. In these convulsive seizures there must have been much that was painful to look upon.
The rigid trance was followed by a relaxed trance, then by violent spasms of the body, and the shaking of the bed and floor; and then came swinging of the arms, the beating of the breast and the top of the head with her fists, and the efforts to restrain her, and finally a reawakening to consciousness.
Again he describes how he himself witnessed the relaxing of her arms from their rigid condition which was “the first evidence of returning consciousness.”
Then came violent spasms and twitching of the limbs, then the rapid swaying of her head from side to side set in, followed by moans as of distress, then she violently beat her breast over the region of the heart with one fist and with the other hand attempted to tear her hair and beat her head. These acts were restrained as much as possible, but the violence of the spasms perceptibly shook the floor.
Supposing Mollie had been going through this crise de nerfs alone behind a locked door, I ask myself what would have been the impressions of some pious companion outside who had inherited all the mediaeval traditions as to the physical interference of the demon with those who led lives of exceptional austerity. Teresa Higginson reported to her director in 1880:
Sometimes the Devil used to throw me completely out of bed, throw things at me that were in the room, and make awful noises, and I used to be afraid at first that Miss Gallagher or the people of the house would hear. . . . Whenever our dear good God accepted my poor prayers and little nothings in behalf of poor sinners, he, the Devil, used to be infuriated, and beat and drag and almost choke me. . . . The Devil used to make me strike myself as I have seen children playing with each other.
So again we read, in connection with other experiences of the same mystic, that‚ “these strange illnesses were supernatural—Teresa was, in fact, in ecstasy, a condition which became very constant at this time,” and Miss Ryland is further quoted as saying “There are two ways in which Teresa was taken. In one the body was supple and she showed either excessive grief or excessive joy. In the other the body was rigid and it was almost impossible to move her. . . . Twice she was like that in the street.” It would certainly be presumptuous to deny that these seizures may have been supernatural,” but remembering Teresa’s sickly childhood, her fall into a saw-pit and her fall from a tree (“after which she was ill for six or seven weeks”), her persistent insomnia and abstention from food, is it quite safe to affirm that her experiences were specifically different from those of such an invalid as Mollie Fancher? No doubt Teresa was not bedridden as Miss Fancher was, but Miss Fancher was just as busy so far as her mind and hands were concerned, and it is not obvious that the privation of the powers of locomotion would greatly affect the conditions of these inexplicable seizures. The same Miss Ryland who is responsible for the above thus describes Teresa’s vision of the Passion:
She sees Him bound in the garden, stretches out her hands and legs to be bound instead. Blow on the right cheek by the mouth. Blow on left eye. Heavy groans. A blow on mouth. Pulling of beard. Holds her chin. Low cries of pain. Sickness. A blow on the left side of the head. Beard is pulled, etc.
So, after contemplating the first fall under the Gross—
“Oh Jesus let me raise Thee.” A blow on the left cheek. “Stand back.” A blow on the right cheek. . . . Five fearful blows about the head and face, one on the mouth. “Oh, my heart will break. . . Fearful fall. Galls out in pain. Seven blows about head and face. One on the stomach.
The blows here referred to are, of course, the blows which Teresa in her trance-state struck herself, with her own closed hands. She seems exactly to have reproduced the self-inflicted injuries with which the stigmatica Elizabeth of Herkenrode, in the year 1275, punctuated her visions of the Passion, and there are numerous similar examples. One is impelled to ask whether we have any sufficient guarantee that the noises heard in Miss Higginson’s room “as if someone gave her five heavy blows on the side of her head; then as if she was taken and banged violently against the room floor three or four times,” were not simply due to some convulsive seizure analogous to Mollie’s “spasms?”
Again the whole question of Miss Fancher’s five personalities seems to me a matter of considerable interest to the hagiographer. The normal Mollie, “Sunbeam,” was absolutely sincere in disavowing all knowledge of anything which had been either said or done by “Idol “ or “Pearl.” It was the mere accident of her helpless condition, entailing more or less continuous observation, which led to the existence of these dissociated personalities being discovered at all. “Pearl “ might have eaten, or drunk, or stolen, or lied, without “Sunbeam “ having the least idea that anything of the sort had happened. In the case of Theresa Neumann we know that she who answers questions while the ecstasies of the Passion are in progress exhibits an intelligence of the most rudimentary kind, incapable even of counting numerals or of grappling with any abstract idea. Can we positively say that this is not a new personality—the more so that the history of the case with its spinal injuries, six years immobility with paralysed members, supervening blindness, inability to absorb nourishment, clairvoyant knowledge, and sudden recoveries of faculties in abeyance, exhibits striking analogies with the experiences of Mollie Fancher? When the phenomena of the lady last mentioned were being discussed in the New York papers in 1878, a prominent American neurologist, Dr. W. H. Hammond, in a letter to The Sun, remarked: “This girl in Brooklyn is a Protestant; so she confines her vision to seeing heaven and her dead friends. Were she a Catholic, she’d see the Virgin Mary or the Saviour, like that girl at Lourdes.” The observation is offensively worded, and the present writer for one, after devoting a good deal of attention to the history of the apparitions at the Grotto, would indignantly reject any attempt to class St. Bernadette with the type of invalid we have here been considering; but where neurotic symptoms are conspicuously in evidence, it does not seem clear that the sarcasm of the New York scientist is altogether devoid of foundation. If the thoughts of such a patient were concentrated upon any particular class of religious mysteries, these impressions would be likely to recur in the visions or dreams appertaining to a state of trance.
Among the various articles which were published in the periodical Etudes Carmilitaines in April 1933 upon the phenomena of Theresa Neumann, a contribution by Père Lavaud, O.P., commented incidentally upon the inedia of Mollie Fancher, which had been not long since discussed in The Month. Whether Pdre Lavaud had himself seen what was written in those pages, or whether he was speaking from some second-hand report, I am unable to say; but he reproved Dom Mager, O.S.B., for introducing the name of “the fasting girl of Brooklyn” in such a connexion, and he declared that there is overwhelming evidence that Miss Fancher’s fast was far from being absolute. Dom Mager in his Paris conference had made reference to the matter in these terms:
Konnersreuth remains a problem also from another point of view. What seems more than anything to be established beyond doubt is Theresa’s complete fast. In 1927 a watch which was maintained for a fortnight confirmed the belief that she neither eats nor drinks. It is true that at present, specialists are inclined to think that the watch then kept was not sufficiently strict. Moreover in modern times a case of fasting has been heard of which even if it is not so absolute as that of Konnersreuth affords matter for reflection. I refer to the case of Mollie Fancher at Brooklyn in the United States which has been described and appraised in The Month, the periodical of the English Jesuits. If we admit the possibility of so prolonged a natural fast it is not inconceivable that Theresa Neumann’s fast may find a more or less natural explanation. However this may be, it would seem desirable that Theresa should accept the invitation of the Bavarian bishops to undergo a fresh medical test.
It will be noticed that Dom Mager expressly declares that Miss Fancher’s fast was not so absolute as that of Konnersreuth, and this also was made clear in my articles in The Month. I quoted Dr. Speir, her most regular medical attendant, as saying in 1878: “I do not believe that any food—that is solids—has ever passed the woman’s lips since her attack of paralysis [in 1866]. As for an occasional teaspoonful of water or milk, I sometimes force her to take it by using an instrument to prize open her mouth. But that is painful to her.”
But Père Lavaud appends a footnote to the remark quoted above as to the overwhelming proof that Miss Fancher’s fast was not absolute. It runs in these terms:”
With regard to her being without food Dr. George Beard said that he had evidence unsought which showed that not only was she eating but she was living on the fat of the land.” This is quoted [in English] by de Hovre. See also the two articles of Dr. Witry, a psychotherapist at Metz, in Schildwache, 28 Nov. and 5 Dec., 1931. The author shows how entirely the observation of the case was devoid of any scientific character. If Theresa’s fast had not been better controlled and more solidly demonstrated no one would trouble to enter into explanations; everyone would simply refuse to credit it. It is strange to find Catholic writers like Father Thurston, S.J., whom Dom Mager here refers to, taking these marvellous statements on non-Catholic authority at their face value, without criticism, and on the other hand showing a hypercritical rigour when there is question of phenomena duly observed and attested in Catholic surroundings.
It is such a passage as this which makes me wonder whether Pere Lavaud can himself have read the articles of mine which are here criticized. I have never expressed any doubt as to the genuineness of Theresa Neumann’s fast, or as to her stigmata. On the contrary, I have on more than one occasion very clearly affirmed my belief in them. For example, in September I931, wrote: “There can be no thought of disputing the fact that the fortnight s observation of Theresa Neumann has proved to the satisfaction of all unprejudiced persons that she did not during that period take either food or drink. And in Studies for March I929 I said, “for the last two years nothing has passed her lips save the particle received in Holy Communion. There seems absolutely no reason to doubt the fact of this inedia.” What I have hesitated to accept is not the fast, but the inference that the fast is miraculous. Neither have I denied that it may very well be miraculous; I have only urged that with such cases as those of Mollie Fancher and a number of others before our eyes, we shall do well to suspend our judgment until medical science is in a position to pronounce more positively upon the abnormal faculties of paralytic subjects with complicated neuroses. Père Lavaud objects that the observation of Mollie Fancher’s fast was devoid of all scientific character. But so, most assuredly, was the observation of the fast of all the previous stigmatics—of Louise Lateau, of Anne Catherine Emmerich, of Domenica Lazzari, of Marie-Julie Jahenny, not to speak of St. Catherine of Siena and others in the Middle Ages. We have much better evidence for Mollie Fancher’s fast, incomplete as it was, than we have for most of those just mentioned.
Let me in proof of this call attention to one or two points which must press themselves upon the notice of anyone who reviews the circumstances of the Fancher case with any care. We know that she was bed-ridden for nearly thirty years. Details are lacking for the period after Judge Dailey’s book was published in 1894; and it is not disputed that before this date she had begun to take a little nourishment again and had partly recovered her sight. It is certain, in any case, that for twenty-six years she lived in one room upon the second floor of a house in Brooklyn, that during practically the whole of this period she was attended by two respected medical men (who sometimes brought other doctors to see her) and that they, not only in 1878, after the illness had lasted twelve years, but again in 1893, when she had been a prisoner for twenty-seven years, both affirmed that for at least twelve years together she had lived “without sustenance enough to feed a baby for a week.” If it be objected that her doctors only visited her at intervals, we have to remember that a patient who was not only bed-ridden, but who had one arm in a fixed position above her head, and whose legs “were drawn up backwards, the ankles bent over and the bottom of the foot upwards,” so that “her limbs could not be straightened out,” could not possibly obtain food without assistance. Moreover, the very first point to which a doctor’s attention would inevitably be directed would be the question of natural relief. Did anything pass, or could anything possibly pass without those in attendance being aware of it? For some years Mollie Fancher’s aunt, Miss Crosby, did everything for her niece, and during a few months she kept a diary from which Judge Dailey quotes, and in this occurs an entry: “Since the 6th day of August (a period of three months) the natural functions for relief have not been exercised at all.” If there were any indication that during this early period of her illness Mollie Fancher courted publicity, we might suppose that she had a confederate who had found means of hiding such matters from her aunt and from the doctors. But even apart from the tribute which all who knew her paid to her truthfulness and sincerely religious character, there is not a hint of the likelihood or even the possibility of such confederacy. Moreover, I should find it hard to believe that anyone afflicted, as the reports of her doctors show Miss Fancher to have been, racked and thrown about by nerve storms which gave no warning of their approach, should have been engaged all the time in carrying on an elaborate and apparently motiveless imposture. At the beginning of the trouble, Dr. Speir, as he tells us, perplexed by the nutrition problem, succeeded on one or two occasions in administering an emetic, “with the result that nothing was thrown from the stomach, showing conclusively that the stomach was empty.”
But Dr. George Beard declared, so Pdre Lavaud assures us, that he had “evidence that she was living on the fat of the land” Lest anyone should suppose that this piece of information was brought to light by diligent research on the part of himself or Canon de Hovre because they had access to sources of which I knew nothing, let me point out that Dr. Beard’s statement is quoted at length and answered in the same book of Judge Dailey to which most of my references were made. Dr. George Beard and Dr. W. H. Hammond were in the ‘seventies of the last century prominent neurologists in New York, and entirely identified with the out-and-out scepticism characteristic of the scientists of that period.
Virchow and Huxley and Tyndall and Haeckel had set the fashion, and to all this school the slightest hint of a belief in the preternatural was like a red rag to a bull. Even the mention of the word telepathy “ infuriated them. As late as 1914 Sir H. B. Donkin wrote to The Times that “all the evidence produced in support of telepathy was valueless, not only to scientists but also to men of ordinary common sense.” Similarly Sir Ray Lankester described telepathy as “simply a boldly invented word for a supposed phenomenon which has never been demonstrated,” and Mr. Clodd spoke of it “as invoking the unknown to explain the non-existent.” No sooner had the case of Mollie Fancher begun to attract some attention in the New York papers than both Dr. Hammond and Dr. Beard plunged into the fray, and, as experts in up-to-date neurology, they sought to overwhelm with ridicule these preposterous assertions about a girl seeing without using her eyes and living almost entirely without food. They neither of them had any personal knowledge of the case, and it is interesting to note that Jr. Hammond denounced the
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published October 2013
Size: 229 x 152 mm