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ing this impromptu séance (I would hardly have been surprised, after rap number two, to see aunts, or any other defunct female relatives) my self-possession did not once forsake me, although my thoughts ran riot. The condition of my finances at first suggested the idea of setting up as a "medium" myself, and doing a little spiritual speculation “on my own hook ;" the pocket-book conception, particularly, beginning to reassert itself with a force and vividness unfelt since boyhood. But I soon dismissed so mercenary an idea as unworthy the occasion, on discovering that my “communications" were cut off, leaving me rapt in wondering meditation, not unmixed with a feeling nigh akin to chagrin and disappointment.
Since then I have heard this Table rap many times, on very cold nights, but I now disregard its “communications,” having found out that night, indeed, that they (the raps) were mere involuntary rheumatic complainings, caused by the unequal shrinkage and straining of its joints from excessive cold on one side, while the other was heated by the fire. Still, if it should rap again to night - now, while I am writing on it and of it — I'm not sure but that I should feel inclined, if not ignominiously to retract, at least to so qualify my remarks as to avoid giving offence to either “spirits” or furniture. At any rate, I think the reader will agree with me that it is a remarkable Table a capital T-table.
A truce now to levity. If I had not thought it worth while to offer an apology for the subject of this paper, save in so far as the foregoing disjointed prefatory remarks may serve in that stead, it is because I assure myself that there will hardly be found one among the intelligent readers of the SOUTHERN MAGAZINE who will not confess to sharing in a greater or less degree, according to mental idiosyncrasy and opportunity for observation, in the newly awakened but almost universal feeling of curiosity in the phenomenal facts of these twilight sciences, clairvoyance, mesmerism, animal magnetism, or "electro-biology”—even Spiritualism with its reason-insulting “rappings and tiltings,” and subjects of de lunatico inquirendo. If asked to assign a reason or motive for such interest, I should unhesitatingly refer it in great part to a certain other feeling or idea especially prevalent among minds of an imaginative, speculative, poetic turn, an idea, namely, that the soul of man to-day is near, very near to some stupendous psychical secret, possibly the solution of the sublime problem of its own existence.
Assuming, then, that an intelligent interest in these things is felt by many, I ask, is the grand secret, or anything indeed that is worth knowing, at all likely to be imparted to the rest of the world by the “High-moral-Show-men” of the day? If so, one may be permitted still to entertain a doubt as to whether the secret can best be promulgated through a hole in a portable wardrobe, called “cabinet," and
at the ridiculously low price of fifty cents a head, with liberal compliments to the press.” That is the question with which we at present have to do. It is now many years since the Davenport Brothers began travelling with their wardrobe and "familiar spirits," and there are perhaps very few among the readers of this article unacquainted, at least by report, with their very peculiar, unique, and startling per
formance, called generally the “Cabinet Mystery." The Messrs. D. by their own report have met at times rough usage at the hands of indignant or irritated audiences, having been even mobbed on at least one occasion in some English city, I believe. Indeed, essentially unlike the funny tricks and mirth-compelling delusions of the avowed juggler and prestidigator, there has ever been a something in the very nature and pretensions of the Cabinet Mystery well adapted to irritate and anger an audience that might detect the imposture, if it be one. Appreciating this fact, it would seem, after the rather rough hints referred to, the Messrs. D. have found it expedient and politic of late years to leave off directly asserting a spiritual or super-human agency in the “mystery;" although this claim is certainly put forth with sufficient force in the little books, purporting to be their biographies, which are sold or distributed at the time and place of the performance. If these books are credible, the Brothers have been from childhood most distinguished "mediums” indeed, and the sample of their peculiar “powers,” which they are kind enough to exhibit to the public at fifty cents a head, is but a trifle compared with what they can do; a significant circumstance enough, the full weight of which will be presently perceived. Besides, from their own politic silence the inference left to be drawn is still equivalent to a downright denial of anything like trickery or deception in the matter. Hence the irritation and dissatisfied state of ill-humor in which it must be remarked they almost invariably leave the more intelligent, or perhaps I should say the less credulous, among their audiences. The latter feel themselves to be victims of something worse than a delusion, to wit, a lie.
If, now, I could succeed in offering even a probable and plausible solution - rejecting the idea of a super-human or "spiritual” agency =of this so-called “mystery” which has been, for some ten or fifteen years, the "hard knot” of scientific and rational “investigators,” the glory and delight of wonder-loving credulity; might not I fairly, and with all necessary modesty, estimate that I had done the state (of men's minds) a little bit of service? But if I can do more than this ; if, as I believe, I shall present such an explanation - mere hypothesis though it be- of the means and modus operandi of this particularly successful foolery, as shall satisfy the mind of every person not hopelessly given up to “the pleasure of being cheated ; " shall it not be said that I “ deserve well of my countrymen," if for nothing else than the tendency of such exposition to lessen the number of unprofitable nonworkers in this busy world by at least two ? These particular “two " being, as I expect to show, by the way, men from whom the world (which owes no man a living, unless he honestly earns it) has a right to expect even more work than from the average member of society. Here, however, I shall probably be met by the oft-repeated, but groundless, assertion, that the exposure has already been made ; an assertion sufficiently refuted by the simple fact that the Davenports still continue to give their performances, the "mystery" still "drawing" and "paying" wherever they exhibit ; for it is not more certain that a pricked bubble bursts, than that a sham — an imposture like this — must die of exposure. The personage who generally does the "exposing " business wherever the performance is given, might very fairly
be paid by the Messrs. Davenport for his services, inasmuch as his exposition is so ridiculously inadequate to account for their feats on natural grounds, as to tend strongly, though indirectly, to what they most desire, namely, a condition of receptivity on the part of the audience, an entertainment by the mind of the possibility of a super-human agency in the matter. This so-called «
exposure” usually takes the form of a most supremely contemptuous assertion that there is “nothing in it” (i.e. in the “mystery "); that so-and-so knows a man who is well acquainted with an old Indian, or else a sailor - never a marine - who can slip his hands out of the very tightest and hardest sort of knot ever invented by Gordius himself. This little story - whether true or false is of no slightest moment — is caught up and industriously circulated. In an incredibly brief time Mr. So-and-so or Don'tyou-know has taken a hundred aliases, while it will appear that nearly every man in the audience has an aboriginal or a maritime acquaintance possessing a miraculous talent for knots. Meantime, the Messrs. D. proceed with the “mystery" just as if they had not been "exposed." Let us, then, first see what they do ; after which will be in order a modest, but none the less confident, suggestion on my part as to how they do it.
When the curtain rises, there is seen in the centre of the stage, fronting the auditorium, a piece of furniture made of some darkcolored wood (probably walnut), and in size and shape somewhat resembling an ordinary wardrobe. This is the celebrated “Cabinet." To the footlights steps then the business-man or general agent of the exhibition, a dapper, polite, well-dressed gentleman, “Professor” Day, or May, or some such name. [What he is supposed 10 be“ Professor of, I cannot say, unless it be of knots.] After a few remarks, of a historical, somewhat mysteriously spiritual, but decidedly non-committal character, the Professor invites the curious among the audience — the investigators - to come upon the stage and examine the cabinet. This process is accomplished " by detail ;" the occupants of a desig. nated number of seats going up, “investigating," and yielding place to others. Come, 'tis our turn. We find the cabinet to be what it appeared to be, a very ordinary piece of furniture, light, but strongly constructed, as it should be, to withstand the rough handling of irrererent draymen and materialistic baggage-smashers. Without measurement, and describing it from memory, I should say its dimensions are about seven feet in height by five in width, and a depth of say three and one-half or four feet ; the walls, top and floor being from one-half to five-eighths of an inch thick. It stands on four legs sufficiently high to afford an unobstructed view under it to any one inclined to suspect the aid of confederates beneath the stage. It is furnished with folding doors, secured by what appear to be ordinary sliding bolts, so arranged as to admit of one remaining fastened while the other is open.
Both being thrown wide open, the interior of the cabinet is found to be quite as simple in arrangement as the outside: no secret hiding places, no traps, no machinery of any sort; merely a plain seat, or bench, projecting from the wall at either side (or end) of the cabinet. It should be remarked, however, that unlike the common wardrobe to which it has been compared, the outer, or hinge
edges of the folding doors are not coincident with the corners, or sides of the cabinet; the seats, and the persons on them, being thus partially concealed from the audience even when the doors are opened to the full extent, which, so far as concerns the one on the left (i.e. the right of auditorium) is never once ( fairl;) done during the entire performance. In the front wall, or entablature, immediately over these doors, is seen a round hole about eight or ten inches in diameter. Everybody, not excepting the most wary and watchful “ investigator,” is soon satisfied that there is “nothing wrong about the cabinet.” The audience being reseated and order restored, but never until then, i.e. never while a crowd is on the stage, the Messrs. D, make their entrée and their bows, in silence. (It may be noted here, that throughout the entire performance the Davenports are remarkably silent and solemn in their demeanor — as indeed beseems men officiating in such awe-inspiring mysteries! The Professor does all the talking needed.) They are not ill-favored men. The heavier, thick-set one who is, I believe, the younger of the two - might fairly be called good looking. The elder is a dark, nervous, thin-visaged, keen-eyed personage, altogether a remarkable figure. If you met him in a crowd, or on the street, and he chanced to look at you, you would inevitably feel a curiosity to know why he did it. He is very round-shouldered, which gives him
. an awkward, gawky appearance, as if his coat did not fit him. (It is true that very few in the audience take note of such seeming trivial facts as this, e.g; but, for our present purpose, it is proper that we "stick a pin " even here: we must not, as do nineteen-twentieths of the audience, permit an eager curiosity to usurp the seat of our observant faculties.) This peculiarity of form will be readily explained by the man's apparent feeble health and the habit of sitting, when tied, in a constrained and unnatural position. The Professor then brings on the stage a lot of small ropes, pieces of bed-cording or clothes-line, cut into different lengths, from two or three feet to five or six. The Davenports now standing, one at each side of the stage, a number of ropes near each, the Professor calls upon the audience to select from among themselves “two well-known and reliable gentlemen " to come upon the stage and bind the Messrs. D., or, as the “funny man" in the audience inevitably suggests, to “show 'em the ropes. The vote is taken viva voce ; and the gentlemen selected go on the stage and proceed to bind the wrists and arms of the Davenport Brothers in the hardest knots and most impracticable and complicated entanglements their ingenuity can suggest. These gentlemen, however, are usually in such condition of blushing confusion from the “gratifying evidence of their fellow-citizens' confidence ” (as they say when they speak their little pieces, thanking the audience for "the unexpected honor," etc., etc.,) and at being the target for hundreds of bright eyes and dull shafts of wit, as to pretty effectually incapacitate them, at least, for any very astute efforts at investigation. Nevertheless, the knots are tied at last, and generally well tied. The Brothers then, tightly bound as to the arms and hands, step into the cabinet, on the floor of which, I should have mentioned, are seen, loosely lying about, various old musical instruments — to wit, a guitar and tambourine, a bell, a
little riding-whip, etc. Seating themselves on the projecting seats
hereinbefore described, the doors are closed on them, and the Professor withdraws a pace or two. Instantly, then, sounds are heard within, as of fingers lightly and carelessly striking the discordant strings of the guitar; the tambourine is ever and anon rattled and thumped ; the bell is rung, then thrown out through the circular hole, or window, to which reference has been made; a hand — a white, delicate-looking hand — is seen now and then to quiver like lightning at the opening, being sometimes thrust outside, but quickly withdrawn, when suddenly, in the midst of the hurly-burly - bang! the doors (or one of them, that on the left of auditorium) fly open, and there are the Messrs. D., sitting just as they were left, bound tightly. The selected investigators go up and examine the fastenings; then declare positively that they (the knots) hate not been loosened nor in any way altered or molested — and they probably tell the truth. (Stick a pin here.)
Greater wonders are in order: the Davenports are then bound down to the seats, fastened hand and foot. . This being satisfactorily accomplished by the “reliable gentlemen " (who usually take occasion here to express their confident opinion of the utter impossibility of “any man getting himself loose from those knots"), the doors are shut as before. This time there is considerably less indiscriminate noise and general hubbub than on the previous occasion, the guitar being only occasionally touched. Instead, the "spirits" seem to be busily engaged in untying the ropes, the sound of which operation is very plainly heard ; and in a wonderfully brief time-say a minute or less
the doors fly open again, the Brothers rise from their seats, loose, freed from every knot and complicated “impossibility” of tangled clothes-line, and step triumphantly from their futile prison. I call attention here to the fact that whenever the doors fly open the Professor leaps with extreme quickness to the place of the elder Davenport, thus interposing his person between the latter and the audience. By this time, however, the skepticism and suspicion of the spectators are generally merged in wondering admiration : they do not examine, they absorb. The performance is then varied by the Brothers going in free, and being found, on the opening of the doors, tied hand and foot, and tied also to their seats. The knots in this instance are not very complicated, but are wonderfully secure. Now comes the climax, the very essence of the “mystery." The Professor explains that inasmuch as "some people will persist in asserting and actually pretending to believe (!) that the Brothers themselves untie and refasten the ropes," he will now proceed to put such hardened doubters to shame by demonstrating beyond the possibility of a lingering, infinitesimal fraction of a shadow of a doubt (or words to that effect) that "such is not and cannot be the case.” His mode of demonstration is as follows: upon the open palms of each of the Davenports – closely watched by the “reliables," and in full view of the audience — he carefully pours a small quantity of fine flour, upon which they shut their hands and then submit to be tied as before. They being dressed in suits of black broadcloth, it now seems - nay, it now is — quite evident that if they open their hands some little speck of flour will be sure to betray them; nevertheless they confidently enter the cabinet and