Madame Alberti’s Wings
It’s the first of many crunch times on The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past so here is some vintage blather from, of all people, an opera singer about human flight, cosmic laws, levitation and the “engines of the human body.”
PUT ON WINGS AND FLY, SAYS MME. ALBERTI
Retired Boston Opera Singer Claims to Have Solved Secret of Levitation by Rediscovery of Old Greek Cosmic Laws—Asserts “Engines” of Human Body, Controlled by the Will, Can Be Made to Propel It Through the Air, Even Without Mechanical Aid
By Carl Warton
Mme. Helen Noldi Alberti, internationally known opera singer of 25 years ago, who now resides in the Back Bay, believes she has hit upon the method whereby you and I may fasten a pair of wings to our backs and fly.
Whether we are to be able to flap along just over the heads of the crowd or wing our way lazily about in the upper strata of the air depends, it would appear, on our ability to master the underlying principles of the thing as laid down by her.
MAY RUN MARATHONS WITHOUT GETTING TIRED
By virtue of the same principles which are to make flying possible we are also to be able to run marathon races without fatigue and at incredible speed; in fact, to overcome in varying degrees the bodily limitations we now experience in all the physical activities of life. It is not inconceivable to her that sometime we may be able to levitate ourselves at will without the aid even of wings or any other contraption.
As to running, Madame points to a young man by the name of Whalen whom she prepared for the marathon race last April. He finished well up in the race, she says, and was not the slightest bit tired. Under her training he has actually been able to take several strides with his feet completely off the ground, she declares.
Madame Albert lives at 175 Hemenway street. We interviewed her there relative to the fascinating prospect of being able to strap on our wings and flutter out to the Harvard-Michigan game at Ann Arbor, with neither an aye, yes or nay from any one. Or, for that matter, to sprint out, since we may do so tirelessly. She explained these principles at length. They are necessarily abstract and difficult to put into words, like the Einstein theory. You get the story in four dimensions and tell it in three—that’s about the substance of it.
Mme. Alberti bases her theory on the Greek laws of cosmic motion. They were actual laws, she says, unknown in those times, but since lost—lost in the sense that our present civilization has no knowledge of them. She has worked out an understanding which is virtually a rediscovery of those laws.
Roughly it amounts to this: the Greeks were able to avail themselves of hidden forces within and about them-a cosmic energy which they tapped through the medium of the big nerve centres. The Greeks, she points out, were super athletes. They built up marvelous bodies. Once a Greek runner got up speed, he couldn’t stop. Something inside of him kept him going automatically. He had to stop himself by running into a padded wall. We can do that now, says madam, if we will learn how.
We propose to let her explain it herself, but first, for the sake of seeing how far we can boil this complicated matter down to simple pictures, we will try to draw a parallel or two.
The body, we are told, embraces several big nerve centres, or ganglia, which play a similar part in administering the affairs of the body as divisional headquarters do in directing the operations of an army. Mention of three of them will suffice for the present—one in the abdomen, one in the chest, and another at the base of the spine. Our loose anatomical geography will shock the anatomist, perhaps, but it is near enough for our purpose.
Madame calls these nerve centres “engines,” in the sense that they provide the energy to produce motion. You make those engines work by conscious effort of the will, because, after all, these nerve centres are controlled by the mind.
“ENGINE” IN THE CHEST
Now, the nerve centre, or “engine” in the chest is what pulls the marathon runner along—or pushes him along—from the inside, if that is easier to grasp. All the athlete needs is to understand the principles. Then he can set the “engine” in motion and be carried along automatically without fatigue.
That’s one part of the theory. But there is another part. It has to do with the structure of matter—molecules, electrons, etc. You can expand the body and make it lighter, or contract it and make it heavier, says Madame. She will explain that later. That is where flying comes in. You lighten the body on the one hand and operate the wings on your back by means of the tremendous power that can be generated from these internal engines.
The bodily motion of flying, as Madame visualizes it, is not, as one might suppose and as some of the ancients conceived it, that of using the arms with wings attached to them, but of rocking the torso back and forth after the manner of bowing. This would not be a purely muscular effort. The “engine” in the chest would pull the body forward and the one at the base of the spine would draw it back. And so on ad infinitum. Put on wings, constructed to aeronautical principles, turn on the motive power, and up you go, just like an airplane or a bird.
NOT FANTASTIC TO HER
That all seems fantastic, of course. Many will say that it is putting it charitably. Nevertheless, Mme. Alberti does not impress you as a fanatic. You may be unimpressed by the theory itself, but we doubt if any one could talk with her 15 minutes without forming the opinion that on the whole she is a very practical woman.
“Please,” said she, “do not make me out a fanatic. I have proved to my own satisfaction that these old Greek laws of motion, once understood can be made to work today. I believe they can be made to hold practical value for us. That is what I am trying to demonstrate. If they have no practical value they are no good.”
Mme. Alberti is 55 or thereabouts today and strikingly handsome with her snow-white hair and dark brown eyes. She has lost none of the queenly poise of other days; rather she seems to have increased it. Her figure is youthful and strong; in fact, she told me she can run farther, walk farther, and has more stamina and vigor than at any time in her life.
TESTS WINGS AT SPOT POND
A short time ago Madame, accompanied by a woman companion who is interested in her work, went to Spot Pond early of a morning, before people were about and tried out a set of wings she had made herself. They were crude affairs and rather out of whack with the principles of aeronautical design, as she was later informed by experts. Moreover, a heavy wind was blowing that morning. She failed to fly, but succeeded in tripping over the grass blades—almost gliding at times—with a lightness which, she says, proved that she was on the right track. The wings finally crumpled up in the gale.
And now we will present Madame’s views as she expressed them to her interviewer:
“I firmly believe the day is not far distant,” she said, “when we will be able to entrust our bodies to the air in the same manner and in the same degree of safety as the swimmer yields his body to the water, breasting the air currents with the same confidence as he does the tides. And I have solid reason for my belief in the actual accomplishment of a runner under my training, who has, when going at a great speed, run a few paces in the air without his feet touching the ground.
“I am proud of this achievement, but it is only the dawn of a day of greater accomplishment, of achievements based on a centuries-old foundational law. All the art of the western world—Roman, medieval, renaissance and modern—is descended from the Greek art. Its sculpture, accepted for centuries as standards of physical perfection, are the models most studied. Whence came the originals?
“The fathers of ancient Greece were obliged by law to provide gymnastic instruction for their children, training the body and the will alike. The Olympic games, which are the goal of modern athletes, were the natural outlet of the unbounded energy of youths trained to a degree of mental and physical fitness that our aspirants for honors might well be envious of.
“Then came the ages when mortification of the body acquired the dignity of religious exaltation and was regarded as the means and measure of human excellence. It was well into the period of the Reformation before recognition was again accorded Greek methods of training and physical well-being and good carriage as well as intellectual polish marked the gentleman.
WOULD SHARE PRECIOUS GIFTS
“But while the sculptured models of Greek bodily perfection remained, certain laws of cosmic motion through which this physical perfection had been attained were lost. From that time on physical culture has been a more or less blind groping for those lost laws.
“Many years ago, in the midst of my career as an opera singer, I was led to the rediscovery of these laws and began to put them into practice. The resulting health and energy, bodily poise and ease of manner are the precious gifts I would share. The attainment of those gifts is possible to any one.
A”As the result of false, because misunderstood training from childhood we have been made to believe that flash, blood, bones, muscles, and nerves are the body, and are ofttimes painfully conscious of the number of pounds we are carrying about. Prof. Einstein has helped some in this present day to do away with this thought of weight, as he has shown us that everything is relative, and that an object in motion has not the same weight as when at rest.
“The body is wholly a state of consciousness. If the thought is body-bound, tense, inactive, the motions of the body will manifest the same degree of tension and it will be burdensome to carry such a body around. If, on the contrary, one can acquire a sense of freedom in the body, and joy in the rhythm of right activity, the body will be freed from this false law of tension and inaction.
OUR BODIES NOT OPAQUE
“The old Greek laws of cosmic motion are the laws of dynamic forces.
“First of all, we must realize that these bodies of varying weight that we are carrying around with more or less creaking of the machinery are not solid and opaque, as we have mistakenly been taught. If you could look at this body with a sufficiently powerful microscope you would see, not solid flesh, but molecules with big tunnels between them—open spaces that can be contracted or expanded at will. Queer, isn’t it?” And electrons are not solid, either.”
“In support of this let me quote from a lecture from that eminent authority Dr. Arthur A. Noyes. He says that the seemingly solid earth and objects about us are in the structure of their atoms almost as true voids as the solar system.’ Under the atomic theory of the structure of all substances, he says, atoms are mostly holes. They are made of positive and negative charges of electricity, and the number grouping the weight of the charges, determine whether the atoms are the helium, which lifts the dirigible Los Angeles, or tin, or something else.’
“BODY WILL OBEY WILL”
“As further proof that this theory has sound basis, Dr. Noyes points out that the whole structure of modern chemistry, which is creating articles by synthetic processes, has been erected upon it. Illustrating the emptiness of an atom, he said that if an atom of helium were to be magnified so that its centre or nucleus could be teed up on a golf course, the electrons which compose the remainder of the atom and which are supposed to revolve around it, would be on the green 200 yards away. In between would be tremendous forces of attraction and locked-up energy, which, however, are no more tangible than empty space.
“Searing in mind, then, these tunnels or spaces between the molecules of the body, you can with the right thought contract the body to a state of solidity, and with relaxation expand it to a state or feeling of thin air without weight. You can take possession of your own body and make it obey your will.” “”Just how is this to be done?” she was asked.
“Centralize your thought,” she replied. “Relax the whole outer body—wear it as a garment. Now, from that center begin to move, letting the force within you raise you up; feel yourself filled with energy. Now let it out slowly in rhythm; again, sideways, expanding the universal laws of forces around, above, beneath, and on either side of you.
“Why cling to the railing when going up and down stairs? Why swing the arms when walking, thus wasting or using up false energy? We do these things—perhaps unconsciously—because they seem to help us on our way; while in reality they make moving just that much harder, so that by the end of the day the body is weary from having spent its energies where they are not needed.
“AVOID STIFFENED SPINE”
“To sit with a stiffened spine, so as to seem upright, is likewise a waste of energy because it tightens up the entire muscular system—and if you top off the spine with a rigid neck, the whole body is under strain. To be at east, the head must rest, free and relaxed on the top of the spine. Another important point is the base of the spine; in fact, the whole spine must be kept in a state of perfect relaxation, both when sitting and when rising. There is a natural curve to the movement of the spine which lends grace and beauty f to both these actions.
“I am not speaking boastfully, but in my teaching I have yet to find a man as strong as myself or who can do some of the things I can do now, for I am stronger today than ever in my life before. I can walk farther, lift heavier weights, and I have more endurance than when I was 20 or even 30 years old. By using the inner force from the Center, I can push over a whole line of people. So can anyone if he will make use of that inner force in moving around instead of using the outside of the body only.” Thus Mme. Alberti gives us an idea of her theory. Meanwhile, we await the newly designed wings, wondering if Madame’s law of cosmic motion is about to bring to this age fulfillment of the scriptural prophecy: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; walk, and not faint.”
The Boston [MA] Herald 27 October 1929: p. 3
Mme. Alberti claimed to have trained a man to hover briefly while running—does anyone know the source of this claim or who her light-footed associate might have been? Wing your answers 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.