Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 29, 1877 --- A Rogue & Vagabond

Dr. Henry Slade, an American born medium, who had been convicted of being "a rogue and vagabond," escapes to the Continent. 

Slade's case had become a cause celebre for followers and debunkers of the occult. The London Spiritualists Society declares: "He leaves us not only untarnished in reputation ... but with a mass of testimony in his favor which could probably have been elicited in no other way."  During his brief vogue, Slade drew the susceptible to his Bloomsbury rooms by claiming to communicate with the spirit world through his dead wife. What a marvelous woman! Visitors delighted in her rendition of Home Sweet Home on a magic accordion which Slade held beneath his mysterious table.  Beyond her musical talents, Mrs. Slade brought messages from beyond.  Her communications were scrawled on a slate produced, again, from beneath the table.  The charge was 2 pounds a session.

In September 1876, an elderly woman came to Slade hoping for news of a dead friend.  With her were two "family members." Actually, they were (incognito) Professor Lankester of the University of London and Dr. Donkin of Westminster Hospital.  Watching closely - while they simulated the "considerable agitation" of ardent believers - the two doctors observed matters quite carefully.  In a letter to The Times, they concluded that Slade was a fraud who relied on eaves-dropping, sleight-of-hand, and even pencil lead beneath his fingernails.  Slade was soon arrested under the seldom used vagabond laws. 

As he stood in Bow Street police court, a spiritualist journal thought there had been no such proceeding "since the days of Galileo."  Jurors witnessed unique demonstrations.  Slade's table and slate were subjected to the most thorough perusal.  In the end, Slade received three months hard labor but would never serve a day.  The Appeals Court threw the indictment out, claiming the Elizabethan law had been mis-applied.  The tireless Lankester hoped for a new trial but Slade had already left the UK for France and "it is doubtful that his health will permit him to return."  The Times suggested that it was time to let it go: "We may be sure that the persons who can be duped by Slade have only yielded to one form of delusion instead of another." 

Slade continued to practice his "arts" in Europe and in the USA.  He was later caught in an outright fraud and ended his days penniless in a Michigan asylum.

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