TOO MUCH PRUDENCE
Prudence is undoubtedly a good thing, but there may sometimes be too much of it. There is an extremely prudent man in Iowa, who recently married a wife in what he regarded as a wonderfully prudent manner; but there is reason to believe that he already bewails his excessive prudence, and acknowledges that any amount of matrimonial rashness would have been wiser and safer.
In order not to lacerate the feelings of this prudent Iowan, he shall be introduced to the reader under the general name of Smith. Mr. Smith had long desired to enter the matrimonial state, but he had a fine head of hair, and a skull which responded with unusual sensitiveness to the contact of broomsticks and stove-lids. For some time be fancied that a weak, consumptive woman might meet the necessities of his case, but having on one occasion gone home from a torch-light procession with a friend whose wife was a confirmed invalid, and having caught a glimpse of her through the crack of the door, standing grimly erect in a corner, with a deadly pie-board grasped in both hands and poised above her head in very nearly the position of “right shoulder shift,” he promptly decided that no prudent man could rely with confidence upon womanly weakness. Probably, he would have remained a bachelor until this day had not the truths of Spiritualism suddenly enlightened his mind and filled him with hope. A powerful medium of great skill in the materialization of spirits happened to visit Mr. Smith’s native town, and as the latter witnessed the successful opening of an unequalled collection of the latest styles of female ghosts, the happy thought occurred to him that a materialized spirit would be precisely the sort of wife for a really prudent man.
Full of this inspiriting idea, Mr. Smith sought the medium, and unfolded to him his new-born hopes. The medium naturally did not underrate his ghostly stock in trade. He told the prudent Smith that a spiritual wife would be the cheapest and safest article of the kind that could possibly be obtained. He showed him that a materialized spirit always supplied its own clothes, and disdained to follow the fashions or wear the fabrics of the material world. Moreover, a materialized woman cannot be induced to eat earthly food, but always seeks the restaurants and boardinghouses of the other world when she is hungry or desires to stimulate her mind with tea. There is thus no possible expense attending the entertainment of ghosts, and, for an Iowan husband of a frugal turn of mind a ghostly wife would be an unalloyed blessing. As to the dangers which, in districts inhabited by strong-minded women, menace the heads or hair of disobedient or careless husbands, they are unknown in the spirit world. A materialized wife can only handle a materialized broom-stick—the real article being too gross to be wielded by spiritual hands—and a blow from such a weapon would be entirely imperceptible. To these eminently satisfactory explanations Mr. Smith listened with the utmost joy, and when they were ended, he requested the medium to materialize a neat, attractive ghost, with blue eyes, yellow hair, and a handsome wedding dress, and he would promptly make her Mrs. Smith.
The next evening the desired ghost appeared. She was in all respects a first-class ghost, and as she issued from the cabinet with a step so light that she seemed to float on air, Mr. Smith felt that the dream of his life was about to be realized. He stepped forward, took her shadowy hand in his, and, without carping at the fact that it was rather warmer than the hand of a ghost who had been kept in a comfortably cool place ought to be, underwent the marriage ceremony with the coolness of a veteran missionary who had returned from an unhealthy climate to lay in his fourth or fifth wife. When the ceremony was finished he kissed his bride, and permitted her to withdraw to the cabinet to change her dress, while he waited for her at the stage-door of the spiritual theatre.
It is sad to relate that Mr. Smith has waited for his wife ever since. He has seen her but once since the evening of his marriage, and she then merely put her hand out of the cabinet and mentioned that while she should be true to her beloved husband, circumstances over which she had no control would prevent her from meeting him until he should reach the spirit world. The medium has replied to the reproaches of Mr. Smith, who, exhibiting to him the ragged edge of his wristbands and the decimation of his shirt buttons, piteously demanded his wife, that no one could compel a spirit to materialize unless the spirit wished to undergo that process. He warned Mr. Smith that if he rashly deserted his spirit wife and married an earthly woman, the former would make the future world an uncomfortably lively place for him on his arrival there, and further explained that the spirits had no divorce courts of their own, and that the jurisdiction of Indiana courts was not recognized except in that unpleasantly warm part of the spirit world where Indiana politicians chiefly reside. Thus Mr. Smith, who had thought it imprudent to marry an able-bodied woman found himself wedded to a totally invisible wife, who could not be of the slightest use to him, and from whom he could obtain no possible decree of divorce. This was the result of his excessive prudence, and it is understood that he now openly calls the “good gosh” of New England mythology to witness that he has made a “t-rn-t-n fool of himself,” and that he would have been wiser if he had married a six-foot woman with red hair and a father in the wholesale broom trade.
The New York Times 12 December 1876
Domestic Explosives and Other Sixth Column Fancies: (From the New York Times.), William Livingston Alden, 1877.
Spiritualists and their delusions were always good for a cheap laugh. There are a fair number of reports of Spirit Weddings; usually involving a wealthy, elderly bridegroom.
A QUEER PROCEEDING
Unique Ceremony Recently Performed in Cincinnati
Married to a Pretty Spirit Bride—
Dr. Stevens, A Deluded Enthusiast,
Made Happy by the Most Astonishing Wedding Ever Heard Of.
The marriage of a disembodied spirit, a woman, and a man who is still in the flesh, is by all odds the strangest nuptial event in many years.
It happened in Cincinnati. The bridegroom was Dr. Stevens, a wealthy Australian physician, and his ghostly bride was his sweetheart of forty years ago. There is an uncanny flavor about the tale of marriage of the living and dead. Here is the story two eye-witnesses tell:
To W.R. Hearst, New York Journal:
Mrs. Helen Fairchild came here and held a series of séances at No. 520 West Eighth street. After attending several séances, she told me that some important event would happen soon, and she would invite me and the doctor. She said a physician from Australia met her in San Francisco and attended several of her séances, at which a beautiful spirit always materialized, in whom she recognized a former lady friend in England. They had been engaged to be married, but she died before the marriage could be celebrated.
Mrs. Fairchild left San Francisco and arrived here, en route to her home further east. The gentleman followed her here and insisted on having séances every day in the morning. His name was Dr. Stevens, his fair lady’s name Emma.
At one of the séances he attended Miss Emma materialized and consented to a spirit marriage. Dr. Stevens accordingly made preparations by buying flowers, and asked Mrs. Fairchild to provide a couple of witnesses. Mrs. Fairchild wrote Dr. and Mrs. Slossen to call at 11 o’clock a.m. Wednesday.
No other invitations were issued, and the only ones present were Dr. Stevens, Dr. and Mrs. Slossen, Mrs. Fairchild and her eldest son, who acted as master of ceremonies.
Dr. Stevens seated himself a short distance in front of the cabinet, and Dr. and Mrs. Slossen were seated near him, facing the cabinet. Young Mr. Fairchild also sat near. Mrs. Fairchild, as usual, wound the music box and stood herself in the room, outside the cabinet, walking back and forth by us. The day was beautiful , and the sun shone brightly in through the lace curtains of the room. Every move made was plainly visible. They waited but a moment, when, with a noiseless tread, a gentleman, dressed a la mode, stepped out of the cabinet. There was nothing ghostlike or uncommon in his dress or manner.
Mrs. Fairchild announced the gentleman as Dr. Rush, the former dean of the Medical University of Pennsylvania. He soon began to address Dr. Stevens on the appropriate subject of marriage. He must have talked five minutes at least before he turned to the cabinet and took the fair bride by the hand as she came from the cabinet, dressed in the white bridal array, with a long lace bridal veil descending nearly to the floor, being held in place by a wreath of roses on her head.
As she approached Dr. Stevens he handed her a beautiful bouquet of flowers, and as he stood by Dr. Rush requested them to join their hands. The ceremony was brief, but impressive and as soon as the benediction was pronounced the company waited for an invitation to greet the bride, but she turned and smiled sweetly. She kissed her husband and Mrs. Slossen, and grasped Dr. Slossen’s hand.
This proceeding occupied five minutes when she bowed gracefully, and the groom led her back to the cabinet, which she entered and disappeared. Dr. Rush then bowed, and, going to the cabinet, also disappeared. The groom conversed pleasantly with those present, and we then left.
Dr. Stevens was a strong, hale man, about sixty years old, of medium height and white hair. The bride was seemingly eighteen, slightly taller than the bridegroom. Mrs. Fairchild left the city shortly afterward. The marriage was not made public until recently. A friend of Dr. and Mrs. Slossen, hearing of it by a chance conversation with Mrs. Slossen, told a reporter. It thus gained its first publicity without our authority or consent. – New York Journal.
Oak Park [IL] Vindicator 20 November 1896: p. 6
Dr. Rush is Dr. Benjamin Rush, who died in 1813. He was, of course, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States as well as an educator, physician, and scientist. Mrs. Fairchild was a materialization medium who specialized in standing outside the medium’s cabinet while she created her effects. An account of a séance with Mrs. Fairchild is found in Materialized Apparitions: If Not Beings from Another Life What Are They, Edward Augustus Brackett, (Boston, MA: Richard G. Badger, The Gorham Press, 1908)
In The Ghost Wore Black, you’ll find a weird story about a young woman who married the spirit of her dead fiancé and seemed blissfully happy with her spirit-spouse. Dr. Stevens also seemed content with his spirit-bride. Yet I’ve found a surprising number of stories where spirits are named as co-respondents in divorce suits. [Another post; another day.]
Despite the threats made to Mr. Smith (and I wonder if the medium eventually extorted some money from that gentleman to enable him to get a “spirit divorce.”) it is a nice problem whether a materialized entity has any legal standing. Despite suffering from an excess of prudence, Mr. Smith does not seem to have done the thing properly with a ring and a license, and was obviously ignorant of his legal options. I don’t know that I feel all that sorry for the prudent Mr. Smith. He probably would have starved his “spirit-bride” or refused to buy her a new dress.
Other spiritual weddings? Throw bouquets to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Wealthy elderly gentlemen were not the only persons to wed spirit-spouses; Mrs Daffodil writes of a wealthy widow who married her dead fiancé, as conjured up by the Spiritualist Bangs sisters. So many of these spirit weddings hint of the feverish, sexually-charged atmosphere of the séance room….
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.