Frederick Douglass Views an Image Developed upon a Living Parchment

Emma Hardinge Britten, History of Modern American Spiritualism: 196-197.

A certain celebrated orator and editor of one of the New York State papers was dining at Mr. [Lewis] Burtis’ [Rochester] house, and after the meal was ended, sat with his host and family under the shade of their garden trees, whilst the medium [Mary Comstock, a young woman residing in the Burtis family] was at some distance from the party, engaged in domestic avocations.  Being an uneducated person, she could not read clearly the raised letters which from time to time appeared on her arm, and hence she generally applied to one of the family for an interpretation of their meaning.  On the present occasion she proceeded cooly to dry her hands, and advancing to the party, addressed Mrs. Burtis aside, asking her to explain the meaning of the figures which had just then appeared on her arm, and which, she added in an undertone, she thought had some reference “to the nigger there,” motioning to the visitor, whose nobility of soul and intellectual powers were veiled beneath the sable skin of Africa; in fact, the party referred to, though then holding the position of equality with his host and hostess to which his mental acquirements entitled him, was by birth a Negro, and had been a slave.

On examining the young woman’s arm, Mrs. Burtis discovered that the red lines coruscated upon it had formed into a distinct and beautifully represented picture of a kneeling man, with a woolly head and African cast of features, a chain round his waist terminating in two balls, which were ingeniously fitted into the veins at the bend of the arm, whilst above the whole was written in fine characters the words, “A POOR OLD SLAVE.”

Perhaps a stranger scene could hardly be imagined than that quiet garden arbor presented.  The immobile aspect of the medium, gazing indifferently at the mystery wrought in her own organization; the dark-hued stranger regarding with obviously intense emotion this touching memento of the beloved and martyred dead; the tearful faces of the rest of the sympathetic group, and the phantom picture itself, with its deeply significant meaning and an origin in the silent land, where it was vainly supposed the wrong and ruin of many a wretched captive was lost in the mysteries of eternity!  And as they gazed, the work of the unknown artist faded from their eyes, dissolving as it had come, leaving behind neither sign nor token—nothing but conjecture to prove that they had been “entertaining an angel unawares;” yet something more than conjecture that the records of every deed, good and bad, though faded out of earthly sight and memory, are treasured up in the archives of eternity forever!


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