The weather outside has been frightful, as we would expect in December, inspiring thoughts of some “seasonable manifestations” by that Snow Queen of the séance room, Mrs Guppy. We have previously looked at her dubious record as a materializer of flowers and as a spirit photograph medium. Now, spirit photographs and exotic fruits and flowers were produced with monotonous regularity by garden-variety mediums. But Mrs Guppy, during a spell of wintery weather, brought something very special to the table.
During the recent frost and snow, at the séances with Mrs. Guppy, the manifestations have consisted chiefly in the production of snow and ice. Dr. Dixon, of 8, Great Ormond Street, relates that recently, on paying a casual visit to Mr. and Mrs. Guppy, they proposed to sit for manifestations. Among others that occurred, they were profusely sprinkled with a shower of snow, and about a quart of snow was also found upon the table. Subsequently a block of ice, about twelve inches long, nine wide and six thick, was placed upon the table. It being signified by the raps that his son was present, Dr. Dixon asked for something to take home to his mother. Something cold was placed upon his head, and fell into his lap; it was a chaplet made of fir, laurel, and mistletoe, and on the table were loose branches of the same, with some red-berried holly. The fir-fronds were glistening with fine ice. The chaplet was tied at two points with thin locks of long hair.
Dr. Dixon adds:—” Through my hand spirit-writing sometimes comes; this happened to be the case on the following morning. It was the spirit of my son who professed to be writing. I asked:—’How is it that these things are brought into closed apartments?’ The answer was:—’The objects to be brought are polarised by the bringing spirit to the medium’s sphere, and the obstacles themselves are, by the same agency, changed in their polar relation to allow them to pass. The holly branch—symbol of immortality—is for Aunt Jane; the garland—symbol of the garland she will soon wear—is for my dear mother; the mistletoe—symbol of the soul’s dependence upon God, as the mistletoe depends upon the oak—is for yourself. The grace of God be with you. Farewell.'”
Let me interject that wreaths placed on the heads of sitters in Spiritual circles were another Spiritualist cliche. It is said that Robert Browning was moved to his hatred of mediums by an incident at a D.D. Home séance, where Mrs Browning was crowned with a wreath by “spirit hands.” But back to Mrs Guppy….
Nor is it only at Mrs. Guppy’s own house that this class of manifestation has occurred. As one instance of this we subjoin the following letter:—
“20, Rochester Road,
Camden Road, N.W.
January 17, 1871.
“My dear Friend,—You have asked me to give you some account of the snow manifestation which I witnessed, through the mediumship of Mrs. Guppy, on New Year’s Eve.
“We met at Miss Houghton’s, 23, Delamere Crescent, W., for the séance at seven, and Mrs. Guppy, Miss Neyland, and myself arrived punctually at that time. We were in the cloak room together, and afterwards went up to the drawing rooms, in which there were two good fires. After the arrival of the other guests, refreshments were passed, and the circle was formed, as nearly as I can now recollect, at about a quarter to eight. Just previous to this time, the fire had been removed from the front drawing room in which we were to sit, and the doors communicating with the back room, where a good fire remained, were closed. Three stone bottles containing hot water were so arranged as to keep our feet warm; and a number of paper tubes, drawing paper, &c., were placed upon the table. The lights were now extinguished, and Miss Houghton opened the séance with the Lord’s Prayer. Very soon there were movements of the table, and communications were spelt out by raps in the usual way. We were still engaged in conversation with our invisible friends, when a sudden and violent motion among the tubes startled us, and a quantity of snow and ice came down upon the table. We had the light at once, and found that although such a large quantity had fallen, there was none upon the carpet, or in any other part of the room. The lumps of ice were irregular in size, but the smallest must have weighed more than half a pound, and they were literally buried in snow. I noticed that the snow had the peculiarities of newly fallen snow, and for a moment distinct feathery flashes could be seen, but the warmth of the room soon changed this appearance.
“I have given you the circumstances attending this wonderful manifestation; and have, in conclusion, only to remind you that Mrs. Guppy had been in warm rooms about an hour before the snow was produced.
“I remain, dear Sir,
“Very truly yours,
“Mary E. Tebb.”
We especially invite attention to these manifestations as we think they effectually preclude all possibility of imposture: our readers can judge for themselves as to the possibility of concealing snow and ice in comfortable well-warmed rooms, and under the circumstances here described. Nor do we see how they can be satisfactorily accounted for on any principles of purely physical science. If any scientist can inform us as to the physical laws which are adequate to these productions, we shall be glad to be enlightened on the point.
The Spiritual Magazine, Volume 6, 1 February, 1871
Mrs Guppy performed the same feat at the residence of a lawyer with an interest in mediumship.
The first whose testimony we cite, is the late eminent jurist, Serjeant Cox, who, in a paper read before the Psychological Society of Great Britain, relates in very minute detail, how he one day called at Mrs. Guppy’s residence at Highbury, and solicited the favour of her company at a Spiritual circle, to be held that evening at his own residence. Serjeant Cox candidly states, that he desired to take Mrs. Guppy unaware of his invitation, and the lady in her own simple and amiable way, immediately complied with the request preferred.
It was winter time, and the ground was covered with snow. Mrs. Guppy having arranged her dress, entered the hired cab which Serjeant Cox had brought, and drove with him some four miles to his residence. From the time of her arrival at his house, till the period of the séance, about five hours later, Serjeant Cox or the ladies of his family never for one moment lost sight of Mrs. Guppy, and yet within three minutes of the time that the circle had assembled, in a room which had been thoroughly searched, the one door locked, and the key deposited in Serjeant Cox’s pocket, when the light was extinguished, heavy thuds were heard on the table, the lights were called for by signal, and the table was found to be covered with heaps of pure white snow. When this unwelcome freight of matter had been removed, the party re-formed, and the gas extinguished, more deposits were heard falling, fresh signals were made for lights, and the table was found literally piled up with lovely hothouse flowers, arranged with exquisite taste into divers fanciful groups. Nineteenth Century Miracles, Emma Hardinge Britten, 1884
Both accounts specifically mention that the season was winter and the weather snowy, rendering the miracle less startling. But however did she do it? Confederates blowing snow through the gas pipes? A cooler under the table? Mrs Guppy was a large woman–perhaps some of her bulk was accounted for by capacious pockets stuffed, implausibly, with–snow and ice?
There is a curious account from the 1860s of a fall of snow in a heated Russian ballroom. There is no mention of the windows of the rooms being opened, but could something of this sort have been worked by Mrs Guppy and a confederate?
A writer in Once-a-Week gives a description of a Russian ball at Moscow during which the scene in the ball room was enlivened by the strange phenomenon of a snow storm, produced by the sudden lowering of the temperature of the room. The writer thus describes it:
“The evening passed pleasantly enough, but toward the close the heat began to get intolerable, and although the gentleman did their duty well, it is only fair to say, in fanning the fair ones, and bringing them ices, it became more and more oppressive. At last a gentleman braver than the rest—(probably his arm ached) —threw open the top part of a window, and now happened the phenomenon. A cold gust of wind blew suddenly in through the window, and the heated air which was congregated in the upper part of the room became suddenly condensed, and descended upon the assembled party in the form of snow-flakes. Probably there never was seen so curious a sight in a ball room. Ladies and gentlemen in ball toilet, in the midst of a dance, and snow flakes descending; and were it not for the incongruity of the attire, more like a skating party. The snow storm was, as may be imagined, the conversation of the guests for the rest of the evening, and of the inhabitants of the town for the ensuing week.” The Vincennes [IN] Times 23 December 1865
Other conjuring effects or theories to explain the snow apports? Precipitate to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
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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.