Dr. Slade, the Medium
Things were not going well for celebrity Spiritualist medium Dr. Henry Slade in 1892.
Dr. Henry Slade, the New York spiritualist, has been at Duluth for several weeks delivering lectures to immense audiences. He was caught in vicious practices, so that the hotel people thrashed him soundly and then kicked him out into the street. He was then brought before Mayor D. Autremont, who ordered him to leave town on the first train.
Pittsburg [PA] Dispatch 21 April 1892: p. 12
Slade Is Paralyzed.
A short time ago Dr. Henry Slade, the Spiritualist and Christian Science preacher, was driven out of Duluth because of unnatural and disgusting practices. A few days ago a Dr. Slade, said to be the same person, arrived in this city and took lodgings at Hotel Grace, on Washington avenue south. Yesterday the doctor was stricken with paralysis and had to be removed to the city hospital in the patrol wagon.
The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 23 April 1892: p. 5
Yet on May 29, the same paper announced an appearance by Dr. Slade, lecturing on “Lights and Shadows of Mediumship” and “How I Became a Medium” before The Progressive Spiritualists’ Society. Then things went south again…
Dr. Slade Insane
Dr. Henry Slade, the spiritualist whose career in London and subsequent trial for fraud created a sensation fourteen years ago, and who in late years has been a leading medium in Paris, has been taken to the Sanitarium hospital in Sioux City, suffering from nervous prostration bordering on insanity. He is without money and utterly friendless.
The Algona [IA] Republican 23 November 1892: p. 2
But in 1893 we find him again the toast of the Spiritualist world. In 1896 Harry Kellar the Magician was replicating his slate-writing feats, indicating that he was still well-known by the American public. It is said that he made and lost several millions in the course of his life, but died penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave, although some fellow Spiritualists raised money later for a monument. Here is a sketch of his career, as given in an obituary.
Death of the Medium Dr. Slade.
The death is announced of Dr. Henry Slade, one of the most celebrated mediums which the second half of the last century produced. He was of English nationality, but the climax of his career consisted in a series of séances given by him in Germany in 1878. These experiments had been organised by the indefatigable Aksakoff; they were held at Leipzig and were responsible for the conversion of Professor Zollner, a conversion which was followed by discussions in which men like Wundt and Helmholtz took part, and which have remained famous in the annals of Spiritism.
A few months before he went to Germany, Dr. Slade had been subjected to a trial in London, which created a great sensation and which, even now, is all concerning Dr. Slade of which the ordinary public is aware. It is known that the speciality of this medium was chiefly direct writing on slates. Professor Ray Lankester constituted himself Dr. Slade’s principal accuser, founding his accusation upon the following fact: The medium had scarcely placed the slate under the table when Lankester seized hold of it suddenly and, observing that the slate already contained writing, charged Slade with having himself written the brief message which was upon it, for, said the professor, “the spirits could not have written the message in such a short time,” and he considered therefore that the medium had cheated. It is chiefly thanks to this extraordinary reasoning that Dr. Slade was condemned, and that the public remains convinced that this medium was a trickster and condemns him to-day as such. However, our intention is not to maintain that Dr. Slade never cheated, but simply to point out on what astounding arguments public opinion is sometimes based.
Arrived at middle age, Dr. Slade unfortunately gave way to drink and ended his days in a sanatorium at Michigan, to which he had been sent by the American spiritualists.
The Annals of Psychic Science, Vol. 4, October 1905, pp. 253-4
An obituary in the Pittsburgh [PA] Daily Post 11 September 1905: p. 5 described how he had been “a rich man at least twice, and pauper twice. He had exhibited his ‘powers’ to monarchs and to paupers in almshouses in which he lived during his times of adversity. He had been indorsed as having genuine powers by people as eminent as Henry Ward Beecher, and he was the star performer in a sensational expose of spiritualism in England—an expose which nearly cost him a three months’ term in jail.” He got off on a legal technicality on appeal and fled the country.
Slade’s star once again rose after the trial: he seems to have had the same Teflon qualities as D.D. Home. For more details of his life see this site.
It seemed that the medium’s career fluctuations were echoed by a certain ambiguity about his sex. As you can see from the illustration, the medium had a substantial, masculine appearance. Yet strange stories were whispered…
Disputed By the Doctors.
Sensational Stories About Medium Slade
Told by Physicians Who Were Called To Attend Him.
The Clairvoyant Declares He Is a Man, and Talked Too Much in Delirium
Jackson, Mich., March 9. Dr. Henry Slade, the world-renowned medium and clairvoyant, began his career in this city over thirty-two years ago. Since that time he has been in all parts of the world and suffered several months’ imprisonment in St. Petersburg, where he was declared a fraud of the most pronounced type. To-day his remarkable statements to several physicians, who have been called to attend him in sickness, is the talk of the town among physicians. The doctor’s mistake seems to have been that he had too many doctors.
The first one called was the oldest and of the largest practice in the city. Several others followed, and that is why they came to compare notes. An Enquirer correspondent called on the old physician to learn
WHAT THE FACTS WERE.
“I am under no professional obligation, and I did not treat Slade much, and he made no confidant of me,” said the doctor. “He refused to allow me to put my hands on him, beseeched me not to ‘betray him,’ and acted so strangely that I left the case. Dr. __ was called, as he tells me, in my place. After spending some time with Slade he came to my office in a state of extreme excitement, and said Slade was a woman. He said the latter had told him so, and that he could not help but believe it from what he saw and the nature of the sickness. He continued that Slade had made the most sensational revelations to him, and that he was afraid he would get into some scrape, and wanted my advice. I told him to go ahead, say nothing, and observe closely; that if this was so
SLADE SHOULD BE EXPOSED.
“He reported many strange statements to me as having been made by Slade, the latter saying for one thing that he was the mother of a daughter now alive in Amsterdam, Europe. Slade said that an officer of the Czar’s household was its father. Dr. ___ is a level-headed, honorable practitioner and does not exaggerate.”
The doctor was visited by The Enquirer. He admitted the report was all true and added many sensational features.
The correspondent called on Slade, and after casual conversation stated the object of his visit was to learn the facts. Slade was told all the doctors had said. He denied the story. When informed that several physicians had said the same thing, he changed his denial to the assertion that he had said what he did in delirium.
Slade said that he had been accused of being a woman before.
The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 10 March 1892: p. 2
Well, not only a woman, but one seduced by an officer of the Czar’s household! In fact there had been doubts voiced about the medium’s sex as far back as 1879.
Slade, the Medium.
Disclosure of the Fact that the Great Spiritualist is a Woman.
Spiritualism is said by some people to be a thing of the past. Steady-going orthodox people are inclined to believe that its days are numbered, and that it is already nothing but a nightmare, of nights that are dead and gone. The wish is too palpably “the father of thought,” for this strange, unholy, sensational and unhealthy belief is quite as strong today as it ever was. In our own staid city, among the descendants of our famous old Presbyterians, there are hundreds of staunch believers in spiritualism. They are not men of small intellectual caliber or limited social and business experience. Among the most ardent advocates of the belief are several of the most profound lawyers at our bar, men who lead their profession, merchants who are among the shrewdest and wealthiest in the city, physicians who have spent long lives at their calling and are among the leading scientists of the State. They are scattered through dozens of professions, trades and classes of mercantile business. For the information of these persons and as a warning to the public generally, the Telegraph gives a story which it vouches for as coming from first hands and from one whose integrity cannot be questioned. The discovery which was accidentally made by a Telegraph man, is on a par with the showing up of the “Cock Lane Ghost,” fraud, or the exposure of the famous Katy King. About three years ago, one of the most famous leaders in the spiritualistic ranks was
SLADE, THE MEDIUM AND LECTURER.
He was very daring in his exploits, and became notorious throughout the country for his audacity and the number of persons whom he drew under his influence. He made a considerable amount of money here, and in the latter part of 1876 he went to England, where he continued his career as a medium, and for some time he was a rival of Home, the lucky medium who married a rich widow whom he had taught to believe in “spirits.” Finally Slade was arrested, and was tried in London on January 29, 1877, for fraudulently obtaining money by means of the unlawful power he obtained from his occupation as a medium. It was charged that as Spiritualism was not a belief sanctioned by the law, it was a delusion and a fraud, and that its use to extort money from the credulous was against public policy. The trial brought up the question as to whether spiritualism was a fraud or not, and the case became the talk of the day, and Slade was given a worldwide reputation thereby. Slade was found guilty of fraudulent practices, and was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment at hard labor, but his sentence was afterward quashed on some technical ground. Slade went to Australia and then came to San Francisco. A few days after the steamship arrived, a conversation was heard between the ship’s doctor and an intimate friend of his, in which the startling statement was made by the medical man that Slade,
THE MEDIUM, WAS A WOMAN.
And as perfectly developed as any of her sex. The physician gave the following account of the manner in which he made the strange discovery. The gentleman who occupied the stateroom with Slade on board the steamer was a man who is well-known here in Pittsburg, where he has many friends. He was not an admirer of Slade or his doctrines, and did not have much conversation with him—or rather her. One day, while in mid-ocean Slade was stricken down with something like paralysis while in his stateroom. The other occupant of the room came in, and finding Slade ill and probably unconscious, he began to remove Slade’s clothing and rub his (her) sides and chest to bring back the circulation for the blood. It was then that the discovery of Slade’s sex was made. When Slade recovered sufficiently to talk she begged that the gentleman would not expose her. He said that he would not do so publically if she would acknowledge the truth to the physician of the steamer. Slade at last consented and told the doctor all about it.
One of the queerest parts of the story is that Slade wears a heavy mustache. She said that she had had always wanted to be taken for a man and had
SHAVED HER FACE DAILY
When very young and had kept the practice up until she had a long, heavy mustache, of which she was very proud and which she took great care of, and could have had a beard and whiskers if she dressed them. The physician is a man who is well known in San Francisco, and stands well among his professional brethren. After the story had been overheard the person who heard it asked Slade’s room-mate if it was true, and he said every word of it was correct. In corroboration of this story the experience of a well-known young Pittsburger, who now holds an important Government office abroad may be related. He had been reading “Footsteps on the Borders of Another World” and other Spiritualistic works, and was a partial convert to Spiritualism. He went to New York for the purpose of seeing Slade and having a talk. This was just before Slade started for England. What took place in the interview was never fully known, but enough was said by the young gentleman to show that Slade had said or done something which was not to her credit, and which partially exposed her sex. The young man returned to Pittsburg thoroughly cured of his attack of Spiritualism, and he warned all who spoke to him about the matter “to shun Slade as they would the devil, and never even speak to him.” There is no room to doubt the story, and it shows that Slade is even a greater fraud and of rather lower character than the “mediums” who have been exposed before her.
Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 31 August 1879: p. 8
At this point, like a pantomime audience we are shouting: “Oh yes, he is!” “Oh no, he isn’t!”
One fearless reporter undertook to ascertain the Truth.
HENRY SLADE A MAN
THE PATRIOT MAN ASSUMES THE ROLE OF A DOCTOR
And Proves the Fact Beyond Question
The Most Ridiculous and Scandalous Sensation that Has Been Attempted by a Paper
The Patriot Censured by Physicians.
Is Dr. Henry Slade, the world-famed spiritual medium, a man or woman? is the substance of a most scandalous rumor that has been current for the past few days.
The Patriot would believe him to be a woman, although there was no more foundation for such a belief than for this paper to believe ex-Officer Snyder to be of the gentler sex. Anyway the Patriot man entertained this opinion and would not be satisfied until proved to him beyond a doubt. The story had some believers, as dispatches were sent out to New York, Cincinnati and Detroit papers, stating that Slade was a woman and had given birth to several children. Notwithstanding the reports published in these papers were the laughing stock of everyone, they acted like magic upon the “doctor of the only morning. Enthusiasm was kindled to its highest. It was to do or die. He was to make the effort of his life.
Dr. Slade has been ill with pneumonia and several physicians were called to attend him. Rumor also credited them with giving it out that Slade was no other than a woman. All these facts (?) made a strong case for the only morning. Consequently the Patriot man started to make the long premeditated investigation. At about 7 o’clock he walked into the Hurd house. The stern look which graced his countenance showed that he was determined to get at the bottom for the facts. It was a grave proceeding and he realized the risk he was undertaking. The elevator boy gave a pull at the rope and presently the “doctor” appeared before this wonderful person, accompanied by a friend, for the purpose of determining his sex.
After the usual greetings and remarks upon the weather; the Patriot man made a bold break: “Are you a man or woman?” he nervously asked.
Dr. Slade looked at his visitor through the corners of his eyes. The remark dazed him for an instant. He thought the “bomb” cranks had reached Jackson, and he nervously watched every movement of his visitor, to see that he did not disclose a package for the purpose of blowing him off from the face of the earth. Dr. Slade determined to make the best of it and commenced to humor him. He was quietly relieved when his visitor produced a copy of the Cincinnati Enquirer containing the article. Dr. Slade then assumed a different manner. He was indignant and threatened to bring suit against the paper. Yet the Patriot man would not be satisfied. He came to have an investigation and investigate he would.
Dr. Slade was requested to submit to an examination, which caused the doctor to burst forth in laughter, but he readily consented, again thinking that perhaps he was a “bomb” man after all. In the meantime Chief Winney arrived on the scene. The officer had received many anonymous letters regarding the matter, and came on an investigating tour for himself. Slade was now ready for the examination, and the ordeal was gone through with much ceremony, the result leaving no doubt that the doctor is a member of the stern sex.
Here the idea struck the Patriot man that they should have called a regular physician. After a brief consultation he rushed out of the hotel, pale and excited and soon returned accompanied with one of Jackson’s leading physicians. What kind of a tale of woe had been poured into the talented gentleman’s ear is unknown, but the sarcastic smile that he bore showed that he was a little bit skeptical. Dr. Slade began to realize the seriousness of the scandalous rumors, and requested the physician, as a favor, to make a thorough examination, which the doctor did, while the Patriot man looked on, his eyes bulging out like a couple of Bermuda onions. The physician at last informed the brilliant light of the Patriot that he could go back and rest in peace.
Dr. Henry Slade is a man!
Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 12 March 1892: p. 6
Glad we could clear that up, but not exactly the stuff of a Nobel Prize for Journalism.
And what about those “vicious,” those “unnatural and disgusting practices” that got Dr. Slade expelled from Duluth? Possibly he was a homosexual/transsexual, something for which the 19th century had little tolerance. Native American shamans or other persons claiming to communicate with the spirit world were often homosexual or of ambiguous sexuality. While this gender fluidity was said to grant special paranormal powers, the Duluth authorities of 1892 were not impressed.
The controversy over whether Slade was a man or a woman seems to echo the ambiguity of his Spiritualistic career. For every Professor Lankester, determined to prove that his slate writing was all a conjuring trick, done with toes or trick tables, there were a dozen Spiritualists who swore that, at the peak of his powers, the manifestations were miraculous—not unlike the inexplicable cycle of triumph, repeated exposure, and adulation that followed Dr. Slade throughout his life.
While Daniel Dunglas Home is usually given as the inspiration for “Mr Sludge, the Medium,” savaged by Robert Browning in the poem of that name, Slade was making much the same circuit in London. Did he ever sit for the Brownings? Rap once for yes; twice for no to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.