Neshaminy Falls Grove

Frederick (Md.) Weekly News, August 21, 1884.

Spiritdom Let Loose.

The Beautiful and Romantic Retreat of Neshaminy Falls Under the Rampant Reign of Spiritualism—The Hell of Orthodoxy Versus the Peaceful Sweets of the Spiritualists Belief—The Woods Swarming with Disembodied Spirits That Make Their Presence Known to Their Friends on Earth—The Terrors of a Policeman’s Spirit and the Toy Pistol’s Contribution to the Summer Land of Song—Our Correspondent Tries Her Hand at the Weird Business and Meets with Unexpected and Appalling Success.

    Philadelphia, Pa., August 19th—Winding down through the fertile valleys of Pennsylvania, and singing its way on to the sea, flows a stream with the quaint name of Neshaminy.  At a point about eighteen miles from Philadelphia and just where it is crossed by the Bound Brook Railroad the stream is broken by a picturesque ledge of rocks and comes plunging over them in frothy billows, that dash their white spray about in the glad sunshine, and seem to dance a merry welcome to their many visitors.  The name given to this romantic spot is Neshaminy Falls.  A wooded hill rises to the right bank of the stream at this point and rolling out before it the rich fields of Bucks County teem with the glorious wealth born of productive nature and intelligent cultivation.  The murmuring stream, the quivering falls, the wooded hill, the well-tilled land, all unite in forming a view that is at once fascinatingly beautiful and strongly impressive.  It charms the eye with its grandeur and it fills the heart with reverence for the divine power of God.

    Appreciating the advantages of a situation so pleasing to the sense of sight to help along a cause which is of too sensational and dubious a nature to make very fast progress against the sound common sense and skepticism of the day, the First Association of Spiritualists of Philadelphia have annually, for the past six years, held a Camp Meeting at this place and are conducting one there now in all the intensity of their peculiar doctrine and belief.  When I look over this curious class of long-haired humanity I am fain to ask what particular crime the barbers have committed against them that they are so generally excluded from them.  Humming over in my mind Hecate’s song in the tragedy of Macbeth,

 “Black spirits and white,
  Red spirits and gray,
 Mingle, mingle, mingle,
  You that mingle may.”
    I recently betook myself along with 7000 or 6000 other inquisitive mortals to this camp for a day’s experience, and I am willing to make affidavit that I had it.  I arrived just in time to secure a seat in the open-air auditorium for the morning exhibition.  Here with the rippling Neshaminy upon one side, a grass-grown hill upon the other and a host of study trees growing up all about us and interlacing their graceful branches at the top into a leafy canopy, through which the sun’s rays splintered in dazzling little shafts, we sat in rapt attention during the two hours’ of song, lecture, and séance.  Holding a prominent place in their little book of hymns and songs I noticed the old familiar lines of “Nearer my God to Thee,” “Beulah Land,” “Shall We Meet Beyond the River,” “The Sweet By-and-By” and a host of others.

    The ceremonies of the day were opened by a few remarks from Mr. Joseph Wood, the President of the Association, in which he recommended all to provide themselves with one of the new hymn books which, he said, contained, in addition to their chosen songs, a declaration of their principles—a statement of what they believed, what they thought and more particularly what they knew.  “Morn amid the mountains” was then sung to an orchestral accompaniment, after which the lecturer of the day, Mr. J. William Fletcher, of Boston, came to the front in a way to make one think he had been fired from a catapult.  He stared fixedly into vacancy for a minute or so, and then seeming to be taken in hand by some mysterious power he shuddered, lifted his eyes to Heaven and made a really beautiful prayer, calling upon that “Infinite Spirit whose revelation is nature, whose interpreter is science, and whose most acceptable worship is doing good to all, to make His presence felt while we turned away from temptations and the sorrows of this life, from its selfishness and its care, its ignorance and its prejudices, and laid ourselves in the hollow of His hand.”

    At the close of this invocation his body quivered, his eyes snapped and his whole appearance was that of one returning to consciousness.  He then announced the subject of his lecture to be, “What is Orthodoxy?” and answered the question in the next breath by saying it was a relic of past religion.  There was a great deal of Ingersolism in his address, but in Mr. Fletcher met an attractive personal appearance, unusual eloquence, rare dramatic power and a voice which though somewhat affected, soon won upon one and became very pleasant in the end; and so with these notable qualities it was little wonder that he held the earnest attention of his audience.  He believed that the Orthodox doctrine held out but two alternatives to man: he must either believe in its creed and subscribe to its laws or be damned, and man pretty generally took up with this kind of offer and saved himself—which was very good of him.  Every creed, he said, be it Baptist, Methodist, Catholic or any other, had some brimstone in and the hotter they made hell and the nearer they brought the devil the sooner they started the wings to grow upon the candidate for salvation.  But he contended that it was a pretty severe strain upon some of them to have to sit through a two hours discourse upon hell-fire in the middle of July.  And he farther declared it as his belief that the majority of the converts to the Orthodox faith were won over by fear rather than love.  He however hailed with delight the gradual decline of the potency of the devil as a scare-crow and thought if one should make his appearance upon the hillside at that moment, instead of running from him his audience would run toward him to see what kind of a looking chap he was.  He thought all Christians believed in a devil—not for themselves but for somebody else.  He would not deny that the spiritualists had a devil—each one had a devil of their own, and the name of it was Habit.  What could be stronger for evil than a bad and controlling habit?

    He exalted Tom Paine and Theodore Parker far above John Calvin and Lorenzo Dow and thought that Parker and Ingersol only marked the way to advanced theology.  As to the creed of Spiritualism it was comprised in the one word, Humanity.  With them it was not, “How good am I?” but “How good can I make this brother below me?”  They held that all truth was sacred and its authority absolute to the individual who apprehended it, but that each must determine for himself what truth and duty are, and believe and act upon individual responsibility; and they farther held that realized communion with those who have gone before to the spirit world is practicable under suitable conditions, and is a privilege of high value to those who use it wisely.  But, he admonished, it must not be thought that simply believing in and experiencing manifestations from the spirit world constituted Spiritualism or would secure one happiness in the hereafter.  Nothing of the sort.  They must follow the teaching of these manifestations, be guided by them and perfect themselves in knowledge, wisdom and love.  He closed with a magnificent tribute to woman, to which I think no creed could take just exception, declared her to be man’s equal and that not until man and woman stood side by side, sharing alike in the world’s work and reward, would the world grow better.  He had something to say and he said it well, and however much one might be opposed to and disbelieve in his eccentricism they could not help listening to and being interested in his discourse.

    It seems a shame that any good opinion one might be induced to form of the speaker should be dispelled a moment afterwards when he engaged in what he termed spirit delineations.  In the opening scene of Shakespeare’s “King Henry IV” we find this bit of wit:

 Glendower—“I can call spirits from the vasty deep.”
 Hotspur—“Why, so can I, or so can any man; but will they come when you call for them?”
    Mr. Fletcher had no trouble in this particular.  They came for him readily enough.  To the murmur of a weird refrain upon the organ he twitched the muscles of his face, wrinkled his fine forehead, clutched his head in his hands, rolled his eyes, and appeared to be in the greatest mental and physical and spiritual agony imaginable, and just when I began to feel sure that the top of his head was going to blow off, he eased up a little and said in a giggling girlish voice “I seem to see a great confusion, and I hear a low rumbling noise.”  Heavens! thought I, can we be going to have another earthquake?  Mr. Fletcher continued: “A great crowd seem to have assembled and appear to be greatly excited.  It seems an explosion has taken place and I see the form of a man very much shattered.  He calls out the name Sailor; now, he makes the letter J. H.; now, he writes James Heddiman, and he wants to send his love to some one here in the earth-time.”

    Just then a stout, middle-aged lady rose up and recognized the spirit of her departed husband who had been killed in an explosion.  She disavowed any acquaintance with Mr. Fletcher, and said it would be impossible for them to know these things except through spirits.  Mr. Fletcher then said that the spirit wished him to say that the first name should have been “Sallie” not “Sailor,” and Mrs. Heddiman acknowledges her first name to be Sallie.  A murmur of awe ran through the assemblage.  Another contortion upon the part of Mr. Fletcher and he said: “I see a man who seems to be a policeman—he is dressed more like a policeman than a soldier.”

    At this point there was a considerable sensation throughout the audience and many people looked as if they wanted to get quickly away.  The spirit of a policeman is truly a moving matter.  I never flinched.  Says Mr. Fletcher, “Yes, he is a policeman.  He writes out the letters K. H. J.  And now Kennard H. Jones.”  A very short man with a very red beard popped up like a cork out of a bottle of catsup and recognized Mr. Jones as a former Chief of Police of Philadelphia.  I don’t know which produced the greatest fright, the earthquake intimation or this Knight of the Club.  Mr. Fletcher was now taken in hand by a female spirit and from his facial gymnastics I was led to believe that woman loses none of her power by becoming a spirit.  From the way this one wrung Mr. Fletcher’s physiognomy I concluded she must have been a wash-woman without a clothes-wringer in the earth-time.

    “I see,” says Mr. Fletcher, “a young woman, and I think I hear the name Anna M. Lynch.”
 The red beard and the short man came promptly to time again and recognized Anna—he had known her very well.

    “Well, she sends her love to her friends in the earth-time and says that when with you she believed in Spiritualism, that she died believing in it and that now she comes back to say she knows it to be the true and saving religion of the world.”

    Mr. Fletcher now saw in the mysterious vacuity surrounding him three children who called out to him the names “Hannah, Mary and Josie.”

    A slim, white faced gentleman slowly unfolded himself to our gaze and in a solemn, earnest voice said:

    “I recognize them as my children.  I sat here just now and made a mental wish for them and this is the result.”  Mr. Fletcher became so beset with spirits about this time that it kept him in a very tempest of torture, and he called out names and incidents as fast as he could speak.  Finally his face became wreathed in smiles and he lisped out: “A little boy comes running to me now and says, FOURTH OF JULY WAS TOO MUCH FOR ME!  And he shows me a little box with a toy pistol in it and makes me to know that through it he now inhabits the spirit world.  His name is Willie Winner.”

    A gray haired lady with gold framed spectacles and an intelligent face who had been sitting next to me arose.  Three hair pics flew straight up in the air out of my head and came near letting my back hair down.  It had come within one of me, what, thought I, if it should hit me next time and dangle before my sorrowful eyes the old familiar form of Mr. Pilsen?  And I felt my face turn as red as an Atlantic and Pacific Tea Store.  Not that I felt ashamed of Mr. Pilsen’s bow-legs but I trembled to think he might forget to put his wig on, and HOW could I get up and own a bald-headed spirit in the face of that audience?  If I had known a single man at the grounds I would have fainted then and there.  The gray haired lady recognized Willie as her grandson and intimated that he had failed to profit by Mr. Samuel Butler’s warning, namely, “Ay me! What perils do environ the man who meddles with cold iron,” and had wounded himself with a toy pistol of the Fourth and died of lockjaw upon the 5th of July.

    At this juncture, much to my relief, Mr. Fletcher wrenched himself away from the spirits, smoothed the furrows out of his face and dismissed his audience.  It looked very strange to see this gentleman while under the influence of the spirits, and conveying their messages to the people about, consult his watch every few minutes and arrange his collar every now and then.  Their influence over him was not great enough to force him beyond his dinner hour or make him unconscious of the hitchings of his collar.

    They have about fifty tents upon the ground which rent from 10 to 16 dollars for the season, and are mostly occupied by mediums, slate-writers, seers and other peculiar adjuncts to the long haired tribe.  In one off them a phrenologist holds forth, and as “He has since childhood, been a careful observer of the laws of nature in all their forms of expression, carefully tracing effect to cause, and since 1874 has been isolated from the business world, and under the most rigid tuition by the Angel of the Divine Presence, and has thus been placed in the Great Centre of Cause, and enabled from that High Altitude to look into a World of Effects and know from Cause,” he is thoroughly calculated to make a timid creature like myself take to their heels and flee his powers.

    I talked with several of these people who had had manifestations and they as thoroughly believed in their truth as I did in their humbuggery.  I sat a half hour with the President, Mr. Wood, and talked the matter over with him.  He traced Spiritualism back to the days of Socrates and Plato but said that it has only begun to assume character and organization and be known by the name of Modern Spiritualism since 1848.  He thought it to be the only true and safe belief extant, the most advanced, the most exalted, the most rational religion in the world.  He perceived and inculcated the wisdom of the old injunction to be found in I John, 4 chap. 1st verse: “Beloved, believe not every Spirit; but try the Spirits, whether they be of God.”  He believed that arisen spirits can and do communicate with man to aid, console, heal and correct him to higher truth and happiness.  He frequently receives tests from his daughter now some time dead and in the fifth sphere, and finally he believed it to be the grandest, noblest, happiest belief possible, the summum bonum, the sine qua non, the ultimate!

    They have a large dancing pavilion and on week days enliven their worship with dances, concerts and various other amusements.  One of the directors of the association seriously related to me the following: says he, “One night last week about half past ten o’clock I wrote on a piece of paper, ‘Dear wife, Give me a test tomorrow morning so that I may have some help to sustain me in our separation.’  I then put it in an envelope sealed it up and put it in my pocket.  I sat through the services the next morning but received no manifestation and was beginning to feel disappointed, when the medium, just as he left the stand, grasped me by the hand and speaking under the influence of my wife’s spirit said, ‘Pap I was with you last night!’”

    I am so full of this matter that I think I can manipulate a spirit or two myself.  Le me see if I can call one from the vasty deep.  Imagine me with my face twisted up like a bad case of the cramps.  I now take the plunge.  I think I see coming rapidly towards me a large, voluptuous ear.  I call it a generous ear.  It is pretty badly mangled.  Has the marks of teeth upon it.  It flaps itself in the breeze and says: “I belong to a man in the earth-time.  I was chewed off by a Willoughby Pug.  I have heard a deal.  More than I would like to rep at.  I used to be around telephones a great deal.  You know what that means.  You know you can hear more from a telephone than from anything else in existence.  The man I belong to is a miller; no, you’ve got it wrong.  I say his name is Miller.  I come to reproach him for his ill-treatment of me.  I always wanted him to put a coat of weather paint upon me and he would never do it.  May his other ear stop up on him.  I hear the dinner bell and must leave you.”  And the spirit walked off on its ear.  Does anybody recognize it?  Do you know anybody by the name of Miller?  And is he mixed up with telephones?  And is there a Willoughby Pug in his neighborhood?  If he has not lost an ear he can take this for a token.  He will lose one before long.  Here we go again.

    I think I see a slender, uncertain-aged woman, with her hair combed smoothly down over her temples and a high back-comb standing guard over the top of her head.  She has on square-cornered spectacles.  Her mouth looks like a crack in the side of a dried lemon.  The whole appearance of her face is that of a woman who had suddenly set her bare feet on a lump of ice.  Her ear-rings look like miniature hams, put up in Peerless Paper Meat Sacks.  She wears a breast pin as big as a door-plate.  It has in it the picture of a man who looks as if he had been born in a thunder-storm and still saw the lightning.  She wears a broad collar, evidently intended to conceal the dimples in her neck.  She moved towards me, with a sylph-like motion; now she stops and blows her nose, which leaves it more crooked than it was.  Now she smiles; it makes me real ill to see it.  Now she makes sure her back hair is not coming down.  Now she says: “How air ye, sis?  Don’t you know me?  Land sakes, why I’m Pill.”  Well, I should say she was “I’m Pilsen’s widow—Old Digby Pilsen’s widow, and I’ve known you nigh on seventy-tw—“  Great Heavens!  What have I done?  Dipped into the sea of spiritualism and brought to the top my miserable self—exposed to the world none other than, Yours in the spirit,
Mrs. Pilsen.


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