I'm currently working on a book called The Madness of Angels. It's the third in my Vermont Trilogy and goes back and forth over the last hundred and fifty years of one family's history. Like many families in Vermont, this one was swept up in the horrors of the Civil War and its aftermath, particular the Spiritualist movement.
Coming initially out of Protestantism, The Spiritualist movement was in many ways a response to the collective mourning that was taking place in our shattered country. Stories of spooks, haunts, spirits and such came over on the boats with the new arrivals to America and no doubt made for wonderful fireside stories, but Spiritualism was different.
People who could summon up and communicate with the dead began to come forward and there was a ready audience for what they had to say, given the horrible loss of life that had taken place during the war. It started over in Upstate New York with the Fox sisters and spread throughout the country, but it remained most prevalent in the North East.
Most of the mediums were women, but there were some men as well and two of them were the Eddy brothers in Vermont. By most reports they were virtually illiterate and thought to be simple-minded by many, but they were known to hold stage shows that featured spirits that people in the audience readily recognized, along with a favorite device of mediums, the floating trumpet. Parading across the stage were what appeared Cossacks, Indians, soldiers and children, all looking suitably otherworldly. Attempts were made to debunk them, but the attempts failed and people probably wouldn't have believed them anyway. These were true believers who had come from near and far and they didn't come to be disappointed.
The Spiritualists provided hope and comfort to the people who had lost so much and so many. Imagine if you will the reassurance of knowing that your darling son, that now silent young soldier, was happy in Summerland, the beautiful place where the dead, now alive again, enjoyed an eternity of joy and sunshine. It's what I would need to hear, I'm certain of that.
Spiritualism went on for quite awhile, not only communicating with the dead, but supporting causes such a universal suffrage for women and equality for the newly freed slaves. Their followers fell away for the most part in the 20's and 30's, but an enclave held on and is still in operation.
The Lily Dale Spiritualist Assembly is located in Chautauqua County, New York. A picturesque little village, it is home to dozens of mediums. I'm going there this week-end with my dear friend Jeanette who is the daughter of my late and greatly missed friend Nedra Barrett.
I'm an agnostic, more or less, a skeptic, most of the time, so I'm calling this a research trip. That being stated, I would love to know that Nedra is in Summerland, enjoying an eternity of youth and sunshine. I might even settle for a floating trumpet.