Awesome Things I Learned at the TSLA Today

1. If the Allens had weekly seances, they weren’t talked about in the papers while the Allens were alive.

2. But when Ben Allen’s cousins contested his will, they did so on the grounds that his belief in spiritualism throughout his life showed he wasn’t in his right mind, ever, and any will he made shouldn’t count for shit. They lost and Sue inherited everything. Which probably goes to show that you shouldn’t fuck with a woman whose brothers-in-law were lawyers.

3. Ben died, it seems, because he had stomach troubles AND because he became so despondent over the death of one of his friends that he lost his mind.

4. In 1873, the Republican Banner sent a reporter to a seance who had, due to some kind of childhood episode (folks, I don’t know. The past is a strange place), the ability to see in the dark and he completely just debunked mediumship–here’s how it’s done, here’s what the medium is doing, etc.–but it did nothing, seemingly, to quell Nashvillians’ love of seances.

5. The Memphis Ledger also ran a story about a kid who had lit a match during a seance and revealed the medium up and doing shit. Here’s the best part. They explained this away by saying that the spirit took on so much of the medium’s essence that often they were indistinguishable. Conveniently.

6  Professor Gilman and his wife did have a couple of incredibly high profile seances at their house–145 North Cherry. Judging by the Sanborn map, 145 North Cherry is now under Commerce Street, which was an alley when the Gilmans lived there. (Cherry being 4th). More interesting is this tidbit from the Nashville history blog–“The site of 146 and 148 was previously occupied by the Church of Rev. Mr. Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson who was said to have been a brilliant orator, and a man of much personal magnetism, was a Campbellite (that is and obsolete word now but it used to be Campbellite, and as this sketch is largely about old names and old people I take the liberty to use it in this connection) but he became a convert to Spiritism or Spiritualism, and most of his flock went with him into the new faith. The church was totally destroyed by fire early one morning, about the year 1857.” This, as far as I can tell, is under the Batman building.

7. This is perhaps the most mindblowing thing–and I can’t decide how to read it–in 1907 (so after people had been pretty regularly debunking seances) the lawyers for the lynchers of Ed Johnson and the lawyer for Shipp (yes, Shipp of United States v. Shipp, though I suppose that was obvious once we were talking about Ed Johnson) and the former Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, Judge Snodgrass, had a seance in which the “ghost” of “Johnson” “admitted” to raping the woman he was lynched for raping. Someone–Bridgett?–help me understand this. Was this some kind of racist theater–oh, the black Chattanoogans are all upset about the lynching and we know how superstitious black people are. Let’s fake a seance, fake an admission of guilt, and that will calm them right down, since they’ll see justice was done? Or was this some kind of bizarre theater for the benefit of the court systems–Look, yes, these men are on trial for lynching a dude, but he says he was guilty of the crime and the Sheriff looks like he’s about to be in huge hot water with the U.S. Supreme Court, but maybe they’ll totally buy the testimony of a ghost? Or is this some kind of effort to appease the consciences of the lawyers? Like, did they know the tide of white public sentiment was turning against lynching, so they had to come up with some justification for themselves about why they were on the side of the lynchers that let them believe they were still good people? Who, exactly, needed to hear from “Johnson” here?