Life after Death, Guilt & Remorse
Posted on 28 July 2014, 14:22
Dr. Minot Savage, a Unitarian minister and psychical researcher, (below) reported on a December 28, 1888 sitting which his brother, the Rev. William H. Savage, had with trance medium Leonora Piper, of Boston, Mass. Speaking through Mrs. Piper, Phinuit, her spirit control, told William that somebody named Robert West was there and wanted to send a message to Minot. William Savage had known West, also a minister, but did not understand the message.
The message was in the form of an apology for something West had written about Minot “in advance.” William Savage passed it on to his brother, who understood it and explained that West was editor of a publication called The Advance and had criticized his work in an editorial. During the sitting, William Savage asked for a description of West, who had died in 1886. An accurate description was given along with the information that West had died of hemorrhage of the kidneys, a fact unknown to either William or Minot Savage but which was later verified by Minot.
“There was no reason for the [apology] unless it be found in simply human feeling on [West’s] part that he had discovered that he had been guilty of an injustice, and wished, as far as possible, to make reparation, and this for peace of his own mind,” Minot Savage offered.
When William Savage sat with Mrs. Piper two weeks later, West again communicated, stating that his body was buried at Alton, Illinois. He gave the wording on his tombstone, “Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” William and Minot Savage were unaware of either of these facts, but Minot later confirmed them as true. “Now the striking thing about this lies in the fact that my brother was not thinking of this matter and cared nothing about it,” Minot Savage ended the story, feeling that this ruled out mental telepathy, a popular theory of psychical researchers, on the part of Mrs. Piper.
Curious as to whether the tombstone of Robert West could be located, Amos Oliver Doyle, (see his website at http://www.patienceworth.com/about/) drove to Alton Illinois on July 9, 2014. “I can’t say that the cemetery was difficult to find although I did drive around a little bit until I found an access road,” he told me by e-mail. “I finally got to Broadway Street which is a river road in the flood plain of the Mississippi River and found Pearl Street, an access road to the cemetery. The cemetery is the old Alton City Cemetery situated on a high point overlooking the Mississippi river, although the river has changed course somewhat over time and trees and houses have sprung up obstructing the view from Robert West’s grave. It is one of the oldest cemeteries in Illinois and appears somewhat unvisited in the older parts but I did see a new grave being dug in a newer section at the time I was there. The neighborhood is somewhat run down and the city has moved away from this older core area.”
Doyle discovered that some of the graves date to the 1700s. “I must say that I was somewhat disappointed when I saw the tombstone,” he continued. “I think that after spending so much time locating the grave and considering the import of the grave relative to the Piper materials, I fantasized that I would find some granite monument with a statue of an angel with a trumpet on top, but alas, Robert West’s tombstone is a non-photogenic, modest stone located in the fourth plot from the cemetery iron entrance gate in what is probably the oldest part of the cemetery.”
The stone, Doyle observed, is of limestone and was badly weathered with lichens over it. “I could barely make out the names on the stone although ‘WEST” is clearly visible in raised letters at the base of the stone,” he said. “Now I don’t know that this Robert West is the one referenced by Phinuit in the Piper materials but a few things do fit. The burial is in an Alton Cemetery of the appropriate time period. The death date on the stone of October 25th, 1886 agrees with the date ascertained from The Advance. Although his birth date is badly weathered, I believe it is September 14, 1848 (or 1842?) which would make him between 38 and 44 when he died. Apparently he was not married. He is buried next to Margaret (?) West who was born in 1806 and died in 1887 making her 81 years old when she died. The other person buried there is probably Cornelius (?) West with birth and death dates of 1806 and 1877 respectively making him 71 years old when he died. It might be reasonable to assume that these two people were his parents.”
Based on the appearance of the stone and some research, Doyle concluded that the West family was not well-to-do or prominent in Alton society as there are far more impressive monuments there. As for the epitaph, possibly the most evidential part of the reading William Savage had with Mrs. Piper, Doyle could not make out the wording. However, the length of the wording seemed to be appropriate for what little that he could discern. “If I use my imagination I think I can see an ‘ing’ at the end of the first line and an ‘F’ at the beginning of the first line. On the second line I imagine I see an ‘L’ and sometimes a ‘T’ at the beginning of the second line but, then again, I know it is supposed to say ‘Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.’ Nevertheless, there was an epitaph there and I do believe that it was as reported.”
Changing hats and playing the “devil’s advocate,” Doyle can come up with a number of debunking theories, all based on speculation. Even though William Savage had an anonymous sitting with Mrs. Piper, it was apparently arranged by Minot Savage, and she could have seen the brotherly resemblance between the two and concluded that it was his brother. As Robert West lived in Boston, Mrs. Piper’s city, from 1881 to 1882, before moving to Chicago and becoming editor of The Advance, she could have known him or known of him. Mrs. Piper could have read that West had died in Illinois and someone could have told her what he died from and about the epitaph. Doyle can add several more “could have” possibilities to the story along with some ad hominem arguments.
It’s like the man accused of a crime after his DNA was found at the crime scene, a place he claimed to have never visited. It’s possible that someone had it in for the accused man, obtained hair or other body material from the man, and planted it at the crime scene. If such a “could have” argument is accepted, nobody would ever be convicted of a crime. It is the same with evidence for psychic matters; there is always a “could have” connected with it?
But if we look at the testimony of distinguished researchers, including William James, Richard Hodgson, Frederic Myers, Sir Oliver Lodge, and James Hyslop, Mrs. Piper’s integrity and honesty were beyond rebuke. Hodgson, a skilled debunker when he first met Mrs. Piper, studied her for some 18 years and there was no doubt in his mind that fraud was not a factor. Moreover, there was much evidence that came through her mediumship that stretches any “could have” speculation beyond reason. If we accept all the spirit communication gathered by Hodgson and the others as genuine, why not the Robert West communication?
Consider an earlier sitting, in 1886, with Mrs. Piper by Minot Savage, apparently arranged by Professor William James of Harvard, a friend of Savage’s. In that sitting, Dr. Phinuit, speaking through Mrs. Piper, told Savage that an older man was there and was referring to Minot as “Judson.” Phinuit also said that the man had a peculiar bare spot on his head. Savage understood this, explaining that Judson was his middle name and the name by which his father called him, even though everyone else called him Minot. Also, his father had suffered a bad burn at an early age, which left a large bare spot on his head, something he tried to disguise by brushing his hair over it. (It should be noted that spirits generally show themselves in a manner that they will be remembered, not as they are in spirit life.)
During the same sitting, Phinuit also said, “Here is somebody who says his name is John. He was your brother. No, not your own brother, your half-brother.” This brother also related personal facts from his life, including how he died, all of which Minot confirmed as true. “Many other things occurred during the sitting,” Savage related. “But I mention only these, because, though simple, they are clear-cut and striking, and because I see no way by which Mrs. Piper could ever have known them.”
And we must also ask what Minot Savage and William Savage had to gain by distorting or inaccurately reporting the facts, especially considering that most clergy of the day were very much opposed to mediumship of any kind and were anxious to find ways to discredit it. But like the weathering of the epitaph, good evidence seems to deteriorate with time and there seems always to be a need for new evidence.
As for Robert West’s guilt and remorse, I wonder if the debunkers who scoff and sneer at all psychic phenomena while attempting to defame certain gifted and credible mediums, psychics, and near-death experiencers will feel similar regret after their deaths. My guess is that they will, but that it will take them a hundred or more years in earth time for them to even realize they are dead before they can begin to apologize.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores.
His latest book Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I is published by White Crow Books.
Next Blog: August 11