A Mountebank Seducer

E. D. Babbit, “An Expose,” Religio-Philosophical Journal, September 13, 1873

For several months Mrs. Stewart has been giving so-called Spiritual manifestations at Pence’s Hall, which are claimed to be the features of persons who have departed this life.

Miss Ida Hart, under the management of T. J. Lewis, assisted by Charles H. Read, has been giving a performance identical in its features and has come to grief.  In last Sunday morning’s Indianapolis People, Laura C. Owen, well known here in Spiritual circles, tells of the expose, from which we extract the following:

Miss Ida Hart is a young lady of prepossessing appearance, with large brown eyes, dark hair, cut short, medium height, rather stout built and very fair, her show was good indeed, her first séance delighted my very soul, and I said to my mother, that if Mr. E. C. Owen would only appear at the aperture so I could recognize him, I will be wholly converted to the faith and knowledge of Spiritualism.  On looking at the cabinet door I saw what I supposed was a young man of our acquaintance, and I spoke to the apparition, “John is that you?” and a slow bowing of the head, with three light raps, assented it was John.  Somewhat puzzled and yet not satisfied, I asked Miss Hart to allow me to examine her; she declined having anything to do with me.  Getting a little doubtful and more determined, accordingly, I had my mother invite her to partake of our hospitality—she accepted; and on the morning of July 21st, (after giving a séance at the residence of Mrs. Potts, on North West street, the evening before) I found, under some clothing in her room, a small scarlet bag, with whiskers, mustaches and an old lady’s cap contained therein; upon finding these articles, I was so startled at first, I hardly knew what to do with them, but decided to keep them and then offer the Miss $10 to give our family a private séance.  The offer was made and she declined, not knowing at the time that I had in my possession all her farcical articles, that she could not well dispense with and be successful; her reason she afterward explained by saying Mr. Read had forbidden her ever to give a séance, saying “beware of such as her or you will be caught.”  The same Monday morning Mr. Read becoming somewhat uneasy, had the manager discharge Miss Hart.  After receiving her discharge, she set to work packing her trunk for home.  After finding out what I had in safe keeping she cried like a truly repentant child, and like a woman, owned up to the truth, and seemed glad her work was done.  Her feelings were so overcome that she could not converse with my mother, and the following letter she left to Mrs. L. Combs, showing the low, mean, contemptible nature and principles of Charles H. Read:

Mrs. Combs: I can not go without at least saying what little there is to be said in my behalf.  It is the first time in my life I was ever placed in so miserable a situation.  I would not for any thing have you believe I sought the position in which I came to you or conceived myself the idea of duping people so meanly.  Mr. Charles H. Read advertised in the Chicago Tribune of May 11:

WANTED—A young lady of prepossessing appearance, between the ages of 15 and 20 years, to travel in the amusement business; to one that is quick and active a rare chance is offered.  Address C. H., Tribune office.

For mere curiosity I answered it, received a reply to call at a machine office, 416 West Madison street, where I went to and saw Mr. Read.  Of his many replies he chose mine, and made known to me his business.  He wanted to show me how to do the business, and then in an exaggerated manner held forth all manner of inducements, such as $20 a week, and so on.  He then introduced me to Mr. T. J. Lewis (who is as true and honorable a man as lives, I believe) as a medium of very wonderful power.  He first taught me some tricks with ropes, but Mr. Lewis wanted materialization, and so he (Read) procured from a hair store the things you found and had a cabinet made, and at the rooms of Mrs. A. Crooker, magnetic physician, 297 West Randolph street, I went all through the “developing,” and then went on with them to travel.  For the sake of the pleasure and novelty of travel I went, scarcely realizing how much wrong I was doing until we went to Attica, Indiana.  Mr. Read, according to promise would always hand to me the false beards after the examination of my person, but since then I have kept them on my person, because, when at Crawfordsville, Indiana, through the honest vigilance of Mr. Lewis, he (Read) failed to get them to me, and no faces were shown.  I am glad the sickening part is finished; it has not been pleasant to me, and I shall go home wiser for the experience.  This is the honest statement.  I can prove it pretty well, but of course Mr. Read has left me rather helpless.  He was afraid of detection, and was very careful indeed.  Ida Hart is but my assumed name.


Miss Ida played her part well, and had only traveled with them four weeks and has no doubted converted many boobies to Spiritualism.  At 1:25 a.m., I took her to the depot, put her on the train for Chicago, and she is to-day with many friends and dear, kind sisters and brothers in Chicago, at 191 West Jackson street.  She is of a respectable family; her father is well known in Chicago for his benevolence and integrity, and for the sake of him who over a year ago left all scenes of earth I suppress Ida’s true name from the public gaze and gossip.

In conclusion I will just say that my spiritual strength is not one bit invigorated, and just as long as Spiritualists countenance any such actions and refuse to expose them, I am just so sure will the better class of people keep silent as the grave upon a subject that ought to interest all the human race.  I am really beginning to think that our earth is a humbug and life a delusion and a snare—Saturday Evening Mail, Terre Haute, Ind.

Laura C. Owen speaks the sentiments of every lover of truth.  Let Spiritualists adopt the plan of giving no countenance to imposters, and they will soon become scarce.  Such vagabonds as Charles H. Read, Melville Fay, VonVleck and many other mountebanks travel over the country as mediums, practicing the new “nearest to good” doctrine of loving where they please, when they please and changing it as often as they please,” and leaving a disgusting stench wherever they go, and yet Spiritualists will take them into their homes despite all warning of their unworthiness.

While it is a fact that Charles H. Read has wonderful mediumistic powers for physical manifestations, he is, as everybody that has ever become acquainted with him, will testify, the most low-bred, disgusting braggart, and, the most contemptible liar that ever polluted the atmosphere with the foul breath of dissipation.

It now appears beyond controversy that he has added to his heretofore manifest meanness that of downright imposition and fraud.  If he would seduce a young lady away from home to practice such imposition upon people, he will not hesitate to deceive them whenever he can.

The villain seduced a young German woman to travel with him as a wife, and when her condition became such that she could no longer appear in public, he started her from Texas to her mother in Corry, Penn., alone with scarcely money enough to prevent absolute hunger, allowing her the most meager and common-place clothing to go home in.  He retained her trunk of best clothing, saying she did not want to be bothered with it, that he would take it to her in three or four weeks.  That is the last she has ever seen of him.  Over a year afterward she learned that he was in Chicago, she and her mother and baby made the journey to Chicago to find him.  But when they got here he was no where to be found—probably hid away.

By perseverance she found her trunk where he had left it stored in a barn.  She took it and went home, but not until the money to defray her railway expenses, (she being entirely out of money) was raised by voluntary contributions at this Publishing House.  Read soon after she had gone home in poverty, bearing his own offspring in her arms, turned up and with malignant charges of theft, etc., threatened to persecute the people where he had her trunk concealed in their barn.

This is a brief chapter in the life of this mountebank, who is traveling the country as a medium.  Spiritualism needs no such creatures even if they have mediumistic gifts.

Hereafter we hope Spiritualists will give him a wide berth.  When he applies for countenance and support, tell him emphatically no.  Preserve this article that you may not forget these facts—remembering that if they are not facts, he has a good ground for libel suit against us as ever a man had.  But to tell the truth is our business when it becomes necessary.

Our readers may rest assured that in a libel suit for what we here say, we would not only plead justification but, we would prove it.


[ Ephemera Home] [ Trying the Spirits ]