Mediumship, spirit writings and the séance were becoming all the rage by the late 1860s and perhaps would peak in England and America around end of the 19th Century. After, say, 1910, the fascination with hard science began to gain steam, and before long, science fiction magazines were emerging, displacing that sense of wonder one filled by the spiritualists and occultists.
But in 1869 a klatch of free-thinking transcendentalists gathered somewhere in America -- and apparently they had access to one incredibly talented medium. The result is this remarkable document, "Strange Visitors."
Download the free ebook here: Strange Visitors
It's a collection of "original papers" which are the messages channeled from the dead, but not just any of the dearly departed. This ambitious project goes for the cream of the crop. They seek contact with luminaries from the world of science and literature, philosophy and government, art and poetry, and more.
Such VIP Dead as Lord Byron, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Napoleon Bonaparte, Edgar Allen Poe and William Thackeray are contacted and queried for their impressions of what it is like to die and what the `The Other Side' is like.
Also, people who were famous at the time, but more or less forgotten today, are tapped for after-death reports.
For example, there is a session with Lady Blessington, who was born to poverty in late 18th Century Ireland as Margaret Power. She suffered through a bad marriage to a drunken sea captain (which ended with his death in debtor's prison), until she finally married into the aristocracy, landing Charles Gardiner, the 1st Earl of Blessington. Upon her elevation into high society, Lady Blessington became something of a celebrated literary figure across Europe and among elite, over-educated Americans.
But who is Henry J. Horn, the editor of this document?
I've done considerable sleuthing, and the best candidate might be a lawyer who spent most of his life here in my native Minnesota. Today, the "Horn House" at 50 Irvine Park in St. Paul is a prominent landmark listed with the Minnesota Historical Society. Born in Philadelphia in 1821, Henry J. Horn passed the bar in Pennsylvania and moved to the Twin Cities area in 1855. He purchased the Horn House in 1881. The home was built by Dr. Jacob Stewart in 1874 and designed by the German-American architect August Gauger. Henry J. Horn died in 1902.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any connection between Mr. Horn and spiritualist groups, mediums and séances -- but is it likely that a high-profile, respected Minnesota attorney would lend his name to such an arcane publication? It's a mystery.
An even bigger mystery is the identity of the medium himself/herself. Who was this remarkable person who contacted these disincarnate souls, and via "automatic writing," produced reports an array of richly divergent writings (and poetry)from beyond the veil?
What's even more amazing is that these manuscripts are much more than musings about the Afterlife -- for example, an entire Gothic novel is presented, purportedly written by the ghost of Charlotte Brontë herself!
There are also political ravings by Napoleon -- clearly still a megalomaniac-imperialist in the hereafter. A dirge by Edgar Allen Poe reveals that he remains a bleak, dreary, haunted poet despite having cast off the agony of the flesh!
The examples of Napoleon, Brontë and Poe might lead one to believe that these missives are not so much after-death communications, but rather, impressions of a creative medium with a literary bent -- except that the majority of these works read like "authentic" contact with the dead.
Here's what I mean:
In recent decades an interest in mediumship has experienced a resurgence. It all goes hand-in-hand with the rise of all things "New Age," but interest in the idea that "no one truly dies" has also received a boost from medical types, such as Dr. Raymond Moody and his groundbreaking book "Life After Life," and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross with "On Death and Dying."
Others have since have gone much further with talking-to-the-dead kinds of books -- consider the likes of psychologist Michael Newton and psychiatrist Brian Weiss who use hypnotic regression to document volumes of intense information from people's past lives, but also from deceased loved ones.
Then there's a whole string of folks from all walks of like who are either channeling the dead or reporting intense experiences in the Afterlife --books I've read recently (some reviewed here) along these lines include those by Natalie Sudman, Erika Hayasaki, Julia Assante., Dr. Eben Alexander, Dr. Allan Botkin, Bill Guggenheim, Dr. Don Miguel Ruiz -- and many more --
-- and the point is, the descriptions and communications these folks report about the after-death environment are remarkably similar the writings presented in "Strange Visitors" -- which suggests that there is a certain authenticity to these works.
So this obscure gem published in 1869 is of great significance and interest.
Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer and AmeriCorps volunteer in which he worked with poor and homeless people. He also taught writing at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER