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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Letter to the Editor of "Light" (S435: 1891)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor describing a California woman with some unusual mediumistic talents. Printed in the 21 March 1891 issue of Light; reprinted here with the Editor's lead-in comments included. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S435.htm

     [[p. 133]] I have received the following letter. The facts stated in it recall to my memory some curious feats performed in 1872 or thereabouts by a lady who was called "The Infant Magnet." She possessed some curious power of glueing objects to the surface of a table by laying her open hand flat upon them, and of raising them by the magnetic attraction of her hand. I think I have somewhere read of some less remarkable phenomena, which were exhibited on public platforms, not unlike those detailed in Mr. A. R. Wallace's letter:--

     Sir,--I have just received from my brother in Stockton, California, a curious handbill, of which the following is a copy:--

"Annie Abbott's Mysterious Force.

'Accomplishes, among other things the following:--

'The four strongest men in the audience cannot lift her from the floor.

'Standing upon one foot, she will resist the united efforts of four strong men to move her.

'Four men cannot take a cane from the palms of her open hands.

'A raised umbrella cannot be held over her head.

'She lifts men into mid-air by placing her open hands upon their heads.

'She lifts 1,500lb. without physical effort.

'She lifts eight men clear from the floor at one time with ease and grace.

'Eight men strive in vain to hold a pole to the floor, with the heaviest man seated on it, while she lifts it from the floor.

'All these, and many other feats, this little marvel will accomplish under the closest investigation by a committee selected by the audience.


     My brother has seen this marvel, and writes to me as follows:--"I have been much interested lately in an [[p. 134]] exhibition here of Mrs. Annie Abbott, who performs some surprising feats of strength, or more properly of passive resistance to the combined strength of three or four men. She gave two exhibitions here, at one of which I was on the stage with six or eight others to thoroughly investigate the phenomena, and I am perfectly satisfied that there is no trick or deception. She was examined by a committee of ladies previous to the performance, and at a private exhibition she was given a bath and different clothing without altering the result. She does all she undertakes to do with perfect ease and with no apparent muscular effort, and as she is a small woman, weighing less than 100lb., it is surprising that four men, two lifting at each elbow, cannot raise her from the floor. Standing on one foot she resists the efforts of four men to push her back from the perpendicular, she holding a stick horizontally with her hands, and the men pushing on the stick. I send you a part of a handbill mentioning the feats she performs, and she does them all. We had two physicians on the stage, and they examined her temperature and circulation, and stated before the audience her temperature to be 82° Fahr., and her pulse 105, and that medical works say that 95° is the lowest temperature compatible with life. Physical strength fails to explain any of her performances. I was inclined to think, before I personally investigated it, that it was a species of hypnotism by which the opposing force of the experimenters was taken away from them, but I did not feel any unusual sensations while on the stage, and appeared to exert my usual strength. Have you any hypothesis?"

     We have, I think, in the case of this lady, a remarkable development of physical mediumship producing effects analogous to those most of us have seen in which chairs or tables appear fixed to the ground or are rendered light or heavy at request. It is to be hoped that the American branch of the Society for Psychical Research will examine and report upon these very interesting manifestations. It is clear that the theory of hypnotism will not explain them, unless it is assumed, and proved, that the whole of the audience are equally hypnotised, since they believe they see her lift men from the floor and do other things which she certainly could not do by mere physical strength."

Alfred R. Wallace.

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