Phelps, Eliakim (fl. 1850)
Phelps, Eliakim (fl. 1850)
Presbyterian minister and early mesmeric healer of Stratford, Connecticut, whose house was the scene of alarming poltergeist disturbances from March 10, 1850, for a period of eight months. The documents on the phenomena consist mostly of letters written to the New Haven Journal during the progress of the events. Additional testimony from neighbors was collected and published by C. W. Elliott in his book Mysteries or Glimpses of the Supernatural (1852).
The phenomena started with the mysterious displacement of objects when the family was at church. After their return, inanimate things began to fly about and stuffed effigies were discovered in empty rooms.
The following letter in the New Haven Journal describes the early activity:
"While the house of Dr. Phelps was undergoing a rigid examination from cellar to attic, one of the chambers were mysteriously fitted up with eleven figures of angelic beauty, gracefully and imposingly arranged, so as to have the appearance of life. They were all female figures but one, and most of them in attitudes of devotion, with Bibles before them, and pointing to different passages with the apparent design of making the Scriptures sanction and confirm the strange things that were going on….
"Some of the figures were kneeling beside the beds, and some bending their faces to the floor in attitudes of deep humility. In the center of the group was a dwarf, most grotesquely arrayed; and above was a figure so suspended as to seem flying through the air. These manifestations occurred sometimes when the room was locked, and sometimes when it was known that no person had been there. Measures were taken to have a special scrutiny in regard to every person who entered the room that day, and it is known with the most perfect certainty that many of these figures were constructed when there were no persons in the room, and no visible power by which they could have been produced. The tout ensemble was most beautiful and picturesque, and had a grace and ease and speaking effect that seemed the attributes of a higher creation."
The effigies were constructed from clothing and other materials in the house, stuffed with pillows to represent human figures.
The New Haven Journal correspondence reported that on another occasion, Phelps was writing in his room alone. For a moment he turned away, and resuming his seat he found the sheet of paper, which was quite clean before, now covered with strange-looking writing, the ink still wet. Thus began spirit correspondences to him which mostly came in hieroglyphs. Jocular messages on scraps of paper fluttered down from the ceiling. Other communications were scrawled on walls inside and outside the house. In one case, mysterious symbols were inscribed on a large turnip.
Phelps never discovered how the phenomena were produced. "I witnessed them," he said, "hundreds and hundreds of times, and I know that in hundreds of instances they took place when there was no visible power by which the motion could have been produced."
The family had four children: two girls; Harry, a stepson of eleven; and another son of six years of age. The phenomena mostly seemed to attach themselves to Harry. In one case, his bed was set on fire. When he was sent to school in Philadelphia he was pursued there, his books destroyed, and his clothes torn. There was such an uproar in the school that he had to be brought home. One of the girls also had some invisible share in the disturbances. When both Harry and she were away, peace reigned in the house.
Andrew Jackson Davis, the pioneer Spiritualist medium, paid a visit to the house. His explanation was that the raps were produced by discharges of vital electricity from Harry's being. Indeed he attributed an actual share in the phenomena to Harry, in saying: "Young Harry frequently failed to discriminate during certain moments of mental agitation between the sounds and effects which he himself made and those sounds which were produced by spiritual presence." Davis also offered lofty spiritual interpretations of the symbolic communications.
(See also Ashtabula Poltergeist ; Cock Lane Ghost ; Drummer of Tedworth ; Enfield Poltergeist ; Epworth Phenomena )
Capron, E W. Modern Spiritualism, its Facts and Fanaticisms. 1855. Reprint, Boston: B. Marsh; New York: Partridge and Brittan, 1976.
Elliott, C. W. Mysteries or Glimpses of the Supernatural. New York: Harper, 1852.