Spiritualism in Vermont with Joe Citro

Joe Citro
Spiritualism in Vermont: Religion, Politics and the Preternatural
Presented by Joe Citro, A Vermont Humanities Council Sponsored event.
October 19, 2011 Martin Memorial Hall Ascutney VT
Hosted by the Weathersfield Proctor Library
Library Director, Amity Aldridge DeAngelis introduces Mr. Citro
On a dark and rainy Vermont evening, 25 adventurous Weathersfield souls made their way to the basement of Martin Memorial Hall in Ascutney VT to hear about the history of Spiritualism in Vermont. Spiritualism was very popular in the United States in the 19th Century. Many traveling lecturers brought the works of mediums to all corners of the urban and rural regions of the US.

In May of 1844 Samuel Morse invented Morse Code and typed out " What hath God wrought" according to Joe Citro, "Four years later, Spiritualism!" Citro explained that Spiritualism moved from being a fade to a religious movement to a religion in America on the late 19th century. This was a time of great change in the US with slavery, the Civil War, medicine coming into play. There was no formal religion, no voting for women, and science was in it's infancy.

Citro laid out the path for Spiritualism in the US, giving the audience a brief history of some key players: Emmanuel Swedenborg, who was believed to talk with angels; Anton Mesmer, know for trace like states; the Shakers, who regularly held dialogues with departed souls; Andrew Jackson Davis, who communicated with Swedenborg's spirits--he had one year of formal schooling yet wrote 800 page books.

In a small town of Hydesville NY, 30 miles east of Rochester NY, population 40 souls in 1848 in a cabin in the woods, the Fox family reported hearing strange rapping and noises at night. Margaretta and Katherine Fox the young daughters of John B and Margaret changed the world. Their house was "haunted" by Mr. Splitfoot (a name used in the 19th century for the devil). This spirit later communicated, through an alphabet of raps, that he was a 31 year old peddlar, Charles Roseman that was murdered in the house. In 1904 some human bones were found in the house basement--Roseman's or not??

To enhance communication with the spirit world, in 1855 G. P. Cobb of Woodstock VT invented the Rapping Machine. Other forms of communication included: auto-writing--when in a trance-like state the medium would write, sometimes in unknown languages to the medium; a Planchette--a precursor to the Ouija Board and a spirit trumpet.
A Spirit Trumpet
 Citro told the audience that Queen City Park in Burlington VT (behind the current KMART) was founded by spiritualists who would "summer" there during the late 19th Century.

Of the Vermont Mediums covered by Citro's extensive research, the one he believes to be the first was Achsa Sprague a young school teacher from Plymouth Notch VT, she even performed one of her trans-lectures (a lecture given in a trance like state, typically not remembered by the speaker when awoken from the trance) at the Union Church in South Reading VT.

Another was Lucy Ainsworth, was a medical clairvoyant from Calais who treated folks in Cavendish, Reading, Montpelier and Boston MA. One of her clients/patients was Mary Baker Eddy the founder of the Christian Science religion.

Then there was Mrs Blanchard, would reveal strange images through a mixutre of water and clay--when the water evaporated images would appear in the clay.

And Miss Coggswell of Middlebury who could be asked questions when in a trace and have the answers revealed in what appeared to be blood on her skin.

But, Citro explained, not all mediums were women. One very famous male medium lived in Brattleboro Vt and attended a seance as a form of entertainment and channeled Charles Dickens. Thomas Power James in 1873 allegedly was contacted by Dickens (who died in 1870) through auto-writing to complete his novel "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."

The most intriguing events took place in 1874 in Chittenden, The "Spirit Capital of the Universe"; the Eddy brothers William and Horatio were extensively investigated by Col. Henry Olcott for fraud but after 10 weeks of intense scrutiny, Olcott declared the brothers true mediums. Olcott even penned a book entitled "People From the Other World". The skeptic had become a believer.
Mr. Citro took a few questions from the audience then made his way out into the dark and rainy night to spread more tales of interesting things that have happened in this little Green Mountain state of ours.

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