Seances with Dr. Henry Slade

BACK to Contents

With the exception of the Medium just alluded to [Mrs. Patterson], not a single Professional Independent Slate Writing Medium was known to us at that time in this city, nor is there one resident here even at this present writing, as far as we know.

We were, therefore, obliged to send for one to New York. With this Medium, Dr. Henry Slade, we had a number of sittings, and, however wonderful may have been the manifestations of his Mediumship in the past, or elsewhere, we were forced to the conclusion, that the character of those which passed under our observation was fraudulent throughout. There was really no need of any elaborate method of investigation; close observation was all that was required.

At the risk of appearing inconsequent by mentioning that first which in point of time came last, we must premise that


in our investigations with this Medium we early discovered the character of the writing to be twofold, and the difference between the two styles to be striking. In one case the communication written on the slate by the Spirits was general in its tone, legible in its chirography, and usually covered much of the surface of the slate, punctuation being attended to, the i's dotted, and the t's crossed. In the second, when the communication was in answer to a question addressed to a Spirit the writing was clumsy, rude, scarcely legible, abrupt in terms, and sometimes very vague in substance. In short, one bore the marks of deliberation and the other of haste. This difference we found to be due to the different conditions under which the communications were written. The long messages are prepared by the Medium before the seance. The short ones, answers to questions asked during the seance, are written under the table with what skill practice can confer.

With this knowledge, it is clear that the investigator has to deal with a simple question of legerdemain. The slate, with its message already written, must in some way be substituted for one which the sitter knows to be clean. The short answers must be written under trying circumstances, out of sight, under the table, with all motions of the arm or hand concealed. It is useless to attempt to limit the methods whereby these two objects may be attained. All that we can do is to describe the processes which we distinctly saw this Medium adopt.

In its simplest form (and one which any person can try with astonishing results upon an artless, unsuspicious sitter), a slate, on which, before the sitter's visit, a message has been written, is lying face downward on the table when the seance begins. There are other slates on an adjoining table within easy reach of the Medium. In order that the Medium may be brought into Spiritual relationship with the sitters, contact with the Medium is necessary, and the sitters are therefore


requested to place their hands, palms downward, in the middle of the table; on these hands the Medium places his own and the seance begins. Before long, the presence of Spiritual power becomes manifest by raps on the table, or by vibratory movements of the table, more or less violent, and by spasmodic jerkings or twitching of the Medium's arms or body. When sufficient Spiritual power has been generated, the Medium takes up the slate, and, still controlling with his left hand the hands of his sitters, places on it a minute fragment of slate pencil. No offer is made to show both sides (the prepared message is on the hidden side), the side in full view is perfectly clean, and it is on that side that the Spirits are to write with the slate pencil; there is no need of showing the other side. With his right hand the Medium holds the slate under the edge of the table, barely concealing it thereunder, and drawing it forth every few seconds to see if any writing has appeared. After waiting in vain for five or ten minutes, the Medium's patience becomes exhausted, and he reaches for another slate from the table close behind him, and, ostentatiously washing both sides of it, lays it on the table in front of him (still controlling with his left hand the hands of his sitters), and removes the pencil from the first slate to the second, and on top of the second so places the first slate that the prepared message is underneath, on the inside and next to the other slate. The trick is done. All that now remains for the Medium to do is to hold the two slates under the table for awhile, or rest them on the shoulder close to the ear of the sitter on the Medium's right, and, by scratching with the finger nail on the frame of the slate, to imitate the writing by the Spirits with the enclosed pencil. When there are two or more sitters it is only the one on the right of the Medium who is privileged to hear the writing. To apply the slate to the ear of any other would disclose the way in which the sound of the writing is counterfeited. To him,


therefore, who sits on the Medium's left, so that the Medium's hand, while holding the slates on the shoulder of the sitter on the right, is sharply outlined against the light, the motions of the Medium's fingers while the sound of writing is imitated by him may be distinctly seen.

By such elementary tricks of legerdemain as these are guileless, honest folk deceived.

Dr. Slade prefers to have only two sitters at a time, one on his right and one opposite. The fourth side of the table he prefers to have unoccupied; his manipulations of the slate can be from that side more readily observed; moreover, strange Spiritual antics may be there manifested, such as upsetting chairs which happen to be there, making slates appear above the edge of the table, etc. These manifestations are executed by the Medium's foot, which, on one occasion, was distinctly seen before it had time to get back into its slipper by one of our number, who stooped very quickly to pick up a slate which had accidentally fallen to the floor while the Spirits were trying to put it into the lap of one of the sitters.

At the first two seances an ordinary wooden table was used, belonging to the hotel where Dr. Slade lodged. At the third seance a similar but larger table was used, somewhat the worse for wear, and the joints of its leaves were far from fitting close. Every crack, however, and every chink had been carefully filled up with paper to prevent, so the Medium said, 'the electricity from flowing through.'

The method of producing the long message which opened the seance has been described above. Whenever we received other long messages, written with some care and more or less filling the side of the slate, the agency employed was adroit substitution, generally effected when the Medium supposed that the attention of his sitters was engrossed with an answer just received to a question addressed to the Spirits. Prepared


slates resting against the leg of the table behind him were substituted for those which but a moment before he had ostentatiously washed on both sides and laid on the table in front of him. The handwriting of these long messages bore an unmistakable similarity to the Medium's own.

When a question is written on the slate by a sitter, equal dexterity to that used in substituting the prepared slate, or even greater, is demanded of the Medium, in reading the question and in writing the answer.

The question is written by the sitter out of sight of the Medium, to whom the slate, face downward, is handed over and a piece of pencil placed on it.

The task now before the Medium is first to secure the fragment of pencil and to hold it while the slate is surreptitiously turned over and the question read, then the slate is turned back again and the answer written.

Every step in the process we have distinctly seen. In order to seize the fragment of pencil without awakening suspicion, while holding the slate under the table, the slate is constantly brought out to see whether or not the Spirits have written an answer. By this manoeuvre a double end is attained: First, it creates an atmosphere of expectation, and the sitters grow accustomed to a good deal of motion in the Medium's arm that holds the slate; and secondly, by these repeated motions the pencil (which, having been cut out from a slate pencil enclosed in wood, is square, and does not roll about awkwardly), is moved by the successive jerks toward the hand which holds the slate, and is gradually brought up to within grasping distance. The forefinger is then passed over the frame of the slate, and it and the thumb seize and hold the pencil, and under cover of some violent convulsive spasms the slate is turned over and the question read. At this point it is that the Medium shows his nerve: it is the critical instant, the only one


when his eyes are not fastened on his visitors. On one occasion, when the question was written somewhat illegibly in a back hand, with a very light stroke, and close to the upper edge of the slate, the Medium had to look at it three several [sic] times before he could make it out.

After reading the question, it may be noticed that Dr. Slade winks three or four times rapidly; this may have been partly to veil from his visitors the fact that he had been looking intently downward, and partly through mental abstraction in devising an answer. He evidently breathes freer when this crisis is past.

Convulsive spasms attend the reversing of the slate, which is then generally held between his knees; only once did we note that he placed it on his knees, and once we believed that he supported it by pressing it against the leg of the table. The answer is written without looking at the slate, in a coarse, large, sprawling hand, at times scarcely legible. While writing he keeps his eyes steadily fixed on his visitors, and generally rests a minute or two after it is finished. Presently the slate is held near the edge of the table and close up to it, and a tremulous motion imparted to it suggests that Spiritual power is then at work and that the writing is in progress.

Dr. Slade performed several little tricks which he imputed to Spiritual agency, but which were almost puerile in the simplicity of their legerdemain, and which have been repeated with perfect success by one of our number; such as tossing a slate pencil on and sometimes over the table from a slate held apparently under the table, or the playing of an accordion when held, with one hand under the table. This Medium's fingers are unusually long and strong, and the accordion, being quite small and with only four bellows folds, can be readily manipulated with but one hand, and when under the table is held by the keys.


Two compasses, which we placed on the table during one seance, remained unaffected by Dr. Slade's presence. At our last seance with him we noticed two slates which were not with the other slates on the small table behind him, but were on the floor resting against the leg of that table, and within easy reach of his hand as he sat at the larger table. As we had previously seen prepared slates similarly placed we kept a sharp watch on these slates. Unfortunately, it was too sharp. Dr. Slade caught the look that was directed at them. That detected glance was sufficient to prevent the Spirits from sending us the messages which they had so carefully prepared. The slates were not produced during the seance, but when it was over one of our number managed to strike them with his foot so as to displace them and reveal the writing. None of us present that day will be likely to forget the hurried way in which these slates were seized by the Medium and washed.

We think it worthy to be recorded that, in reply to a question, Dr. Slade said that Professor Zoellner watched him closely only during the first three or four sittings, but that afterwards Professor Zoellner let him do just as he pleased, fully and unreservedly submitting to all the conditions demanded by the Spirits.

We received from Dr. Slade a written expression of his satisfaction with our treatment of him, which had been throughout, so he said, entirely fair and courteous, and of his willingness at any time hereafter to sit with us again, should we desire it and his engagements permit.

BACK to Top