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Territorial Enterprise, January, 1866

SAN FRANCISCO LETTER [dated January 24, 1866]

Also included:
More Outcroppings [I.]



There was an audience of about 400 ladies and gentlemen present, and plenty of newspaper people -- neuters. I saw a good-looking, earnest-faced, pale-red-haired, neatly dressed, young woman standing on a little stage behind a small deal table with slender legs and no drawers -- the table, understand me; I am writing in a hurry, but I do not desire to confound my description of the table with my description of the lady. The lady was Mrs. Foye.

As I was coming up town with the Examiner reporter, in the early part of the evening, he said he had seen a gambler named Gus Graham shot down in a town in Illinois years ago, by a mob, and as probably he was the only person in San Francisco who knew of the circumstance, he thought he would "give the spirits Graham to chaw on awhile." (N. B. This young creature is a Democrat, and speaks with the native strength and inelegance of his tribe.) In the course of the show he wrote his old pal's name on a slip of paper and folded it up tightly and put it in a hat which was passed around, and which already had about five hundred similar documents in it. The pile was dumped on the table and the medium began to take them up one by one and lay them aside, asking "Is this spirit present? -- or this? -- or this?" About one in fifty would rap, and the person who sent up the name would rise in his place and question the defunct. At last a spirit seized the medium's hand and wrote "Gus Graham" backwards. Then the medium went skirmishing through the papers for the corresponding name. And that old sport knew his card by the back. When the medium came to it, after picking up fifty others, he rapped! A committee-man unfolded the paper and it was the right one. I sent for it and got it. It was all right. However, I suppose "all them Democrats" are on sociable terms with the devil. The young man got up and asked:

"Did you die in '51? -- '52? -- '53? -- '54? --"

Ghost-" Rap, rap, rap."

"Did you die of cholera ? -- diarrhea ? -- dysentery ? -- dog-bite? -- small-pox? -- violent death? --"

"Rap, rap, rap."

"Were you hanged? -- drowned? -- stabbed? -- shot?"

" Rap, rap, rap. "

" Did you die in Mississippi? -- Kentucky? -- New York? -- Sandwich Islands? -- Texas? -- Illinois? --"

" Rap, rap, rap."

"In Adams county? -- Madison? -- Randolph? --"

"Rap, rap, rap."

It was no use trying to catch the departed gambler. He knew his hand and played it like a Major.

I was surprised. I had a very dear friend, who, I had heard, had gone to the spirit land, or perdition, or some of those places, and I desired to know something concerning him. There was something so awful, though, about talking with living, sinful lips to the ghostly dead, that I could hardly bring myself to rise and speak. But at last I got tremblingly up and said with low and reverent voice:

"Is the spirit of John Smith present?"

"Whack! whack! whack! "

God bless me. I believe all the dead and damned John Smiths between hell and San Francisco tackled that poor little table at once! I was considerably set back -- stunned, I may say. The audience urged me to go on, however, and I said:

"What did you die of?"

The Smiths answered to every disease and casualty that man can die of.

"Where did you die! "

They answered yes to every locality I could name while my geography held out.

"Are you happy where you are?"

There was a vigorous and unanimous "No!" from the late Smiths.

" Is it warm there?"

An educated Smith seized the medium 's hand and wrote:

"It's no name for it."

"Did you leave any Smiths in that place when you came away? "

" Dead loads of them "

I fancied, I heard the shadowy Smiths chuckle at this feeble joke -- the rare joke that there could be live loads of Smiths where all are dead.

"How many Smiths are present?"

"Eighteen millions -- the procession now reaches from here to the other side of China."

"Then there are many Smiths in the kingdom of the lost?"

"The Prince Apollyon calls all newcomers Smith on general principles; and continues to do so until he is corrected, if he chances to be mistaken."

"What do lost spirits call their dread abode?"

" They call it the Smithsonian Institute."

I got hold of the right Smith at last -- the particular Smith I was after -- my dear, lost, lamented friend -- and learned that he died a violent death. I feared as much. He said his wife talked him to death. Poor wretch!

But without any nonsense, Mrs. Foye's seance was a very astonishing affair to me -- and a very entertaining one. The Examiner man 's " old pard," the gambler, was too many for me. He answered every question exactly right; and his disembodied spirit, invisible to mortal eyes, must have been prowling around that hall last night. That is, unless this pretended spiritualism is only that other black art called clairvoyance, after all. And yet, the clairvoyant can only tell what is in your mind -- but once or twice last night the spirits brought facts to the minds of their questioners which the latter had forgotten before. Well, I cannot make anything out of it. I asked the Examiner man what he thought of it, and he said, in the Democratic dialect: "Well, I don 't know -- I don 't know -- but it's d___d funny." He did not mean that it was laughable -- he only meant that it was perplexing. But such is the language of Democracy.

Personal - text not available

How They Take It - text not available

[reprinted in The Washoe Giant in San Francisco as "Among the Spirits" edited by Franklin Walker, (George Fields, 1938), pp.122-24.]


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