The Spirits Giveth and the Spirits Taketh Away

The Spirits Giveth and the Spirits Taketh Away

And 1883 Liberty Half Dollar. [source:]

In the Spiritualist world, money was openly disdained. Oh, small coin apports might jingle on séance tables, genuine Widow’s Mites might be revealed through spirit agency, and amorous widows could regret signing over fortunes to willowy and plausible mediums, yet earthly lucre does not often figure in the miracles of the Spiritualists.  Possibly this is because the average medium was too busy trying to shift it from clients’ wallets to his own. The Spiritualists liked to foster the illusion that they lived like the lilies of the field, untroubled, for the Spirits Would Provide. The trouble was that discreetly pocketed “love offerings” or séance admission fees would scarcely keep a respectable medium in cheesecloth and phosphorus. One was always on the look-out for a well-heeled mark and little cash could be spared as spirit apports.

I’ve previously written about an apparent religious materialization of cash in “The Bridgnorth Shilling.” Here is a similar, if rather less ethereal story from Dr. Silas J. Chesebrough, a New York state Spiritualist enthusiast. It features his protégé, the young medium Joe Caffrey, also known as Joseph A. Caffrey/Caffray, who went on to became a prominent slate-medium.  I am not sure how old “the boy” was at the time of this story–possibly 11, if I have the correct information from the 1880 census.

Money Materialized.— We were all three — myself, and wife, and the boy, Joe Caffrey—sitting in the kitchen, when I said something about finances being short, and I didn’t know where we should come out. In an instant the boy was controlled and said: “Mr. Chesebrough, we don’t like to hear you talk in that way. You and the boy go with me up stairs into the seance room.”

We did so, and sat down to the table, when some spirit through the boy said: “What do you mean by this talk? We don’t want to have you feel that way. You never need to feel any anxiety about finances; and, to prove that, put your hand out.”

I did so, and felt something drop into it. I said: “What is it?”

He said: “Two half dollars.” [About $25 in today’s money.]

“Where did they come from?” said I.

He said: “I made them. If you will keep still, it will be all right; but if you tell of it, we will take it away from you.”

The boy was then taken down town. [Is this supposed to mean he was teleported by the spirits?] I was impressed to go, and was so excited I didn’t know what to do. Those half dollars were in my pocket.

I thought, “Could they have robbed the boy?”

When he came to tea I said: “Joe, have you got any money?”

“No, not much; only a few shillings,” he said. [Not British shillings. The term was still used for various small coins in the 19th-century United States.]

“Do you carry any money?” I asked.

He replied: “No, I haven’t had any to carry only a few shillings for some days.”

Said I: “Haven’t you had a couple of half dollars?”

“No,” he replied; “what makes you ask?”

“Oh, nothing,” I said. So I went to the store and passed off one, and then the other. I waited a week or two and then told Mrs. Chesebrough, telling her that they said if I told of it they would take it away.

She said: “Then what a fool you are; you did wrong.”

Said I: “It was so immense I could not keep it. I don’t intend to tell anybody else: nobody hears it.”

She said: “You will find out whether anybody hears it or not.”

The next day up comes this boy, Joe Caffrey, from the city, walks in, and with a strange voice, says: “Mr. Chesebrough, you have broken your pledge; we heard you, and you knew well that we did. Now, then, we must have that money back. We are loath to take it from you; but you are very exacting with us and we must be so with you. If we don’t do as we told you, we might as well drop you right here.”

“But I have passed it off,” said I.

“Very well, you have $5, go and get it changed; we want the amount.” So I went to the store and got it changed, the boy, meantime, asking what I had gone to the store for. Then Mrs. Chesebrough told him. He said I was foolish to give them back the money.

Said he: “I would not give them back any money.” When I came in he said: “Are you going to give them back this money? You are foolish; it is some Diakka come here from pure ‘cussedness.'” [Diakka was the term used by clairvoyant Andrew Jackson Davis to signify wicked, ignorant, or “low” spirits.]

Then he was controlled and said: “Be expeditious,—come right up stairs.” So they took him right along, I following. He stepped into the middle of the room, and the voice said: “Drop it into this hand.” I reached out and heard a swishing noise; then I turned the light up and there was the boy standing with his pockets all turned wrong side out. This was done as quick as a flash, and there he stood, with his pocket-book and handkerchief in his hands, and his watch dangling. I think it was a materialized hand that I dropped the money into. Then we went down stairs, and pretty soon he came to himself. He looked at his pockets and watch, and said: “What is the matter with me?” We never knew anything more about the money, nor where it went to.

Facts, Volumes 2-3, 1883 

As in the Bridgnorth Shilling story, we find that the supply of miracle money is cut off when the spiritually inspired instructions are not followed. We can only speculate as to where the half-dollars came from and what young Joe spent them on when he got them back.

Caffrey seems to have been a precocious young fraudster. Chesebrough told of him claiming to be controlled by the spirit of “Texas Bill,” who took him into a gambling parlor and made sure he got a good hand so he’d “win” a fine gold watch from another gambler. He channelled “Confucius” on several occasions and Horace Furness, editor of the Seybert Commission report, wrote an amusing account of being “developed” as a slate-writing medium by Caffrey. [Source: Preliminary Report of the Commission Appointed by the University of Pennsylvania to Investigate Modern Spiritualism,  Seybert Commission for Investigating Modern Spiritualism,1920.] Perhaps it was merely Spiritualist discretion, but young mediums, often from the lower classes, always seemed to spring, fully-grown, from the forehead of Daniel Dunglas Home. Where did they receive their training in sleight-of-hand, cold-readings, and other séance tricks? Was Chesebrough a dupe or, despite his disingenuous letters to Spiritualist journals, a Fagin-like character, teaching young Joe until the apprentice exceeded the master?

While Joe Caffrey went on to a long and frequently-exposed career as a medium, Chesebrough sank back into comparative obscurity, dying in 1916. This little news item suggests an ongoing concern for hard cash.  


Thomas F. Quigley, the well-known Syracuse druggist, is wondering whether spirits had anything to do with the return of his fox hound after an absence of one year and six months. Prof. Silas Chesebrough. a local spiritualist and soothsayer, has presented him with a bill for $25 for influencing the “diakkas” to allow the dog to return. Mr. Quigley was disturbed in his slumbers early one morning last week by a deep throated howl. It was 3.30 a. m. and Mr. Quigley was not inclined to pay any attention. But the dog let out a few more yelps, whereupon Mr. Quigley recognized his voice. In rushed Dan. The animal is a valuable one and it had been Mr. Quigley’s companion on many a hunting trip. Prof. Chesebrough threatens to send or take away the dog again if his bill is not settled.

The Pharmaceutical Era,1903 

“Trilby” refers to the novel by George du Maurier about the lovely Trilby, entranced into an operatic career by Svengali, suggesting that the “Professor” had lured away the dog with his magical arts.  This seems a little unlikely (although you never know with Spiritualists). Perhaps Chesebrough merely tried to take advantage of the dog’s mysterious return. 

Thoughts about the training of young mediums? [See The Psychic Mafia by M. Lamar Keene for a sensational modern version.] Any other stories about the spirits giving and then taking away?  Drop into the materialized hand of Chriswoodyard8 AT

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 Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.



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