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Jan. 14, 1909: 'Psychic wonder' astonishes Minneapolis

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: January 24, 2011 - 8:56 PM
A "Russian psychic" in town for a show at the Bijou Theater promised Minneapolitans an audacious public demonstration of mind-reading. John Neuman, the Morning Tribune reported, would find “an article hidden by a committee of five men, chosen by The Tribune, the article itself being absolutely unknown to Neuman.” But wait, there’s more:
He will drive blindfolded through the streets of Minneapolis and drive to the place where the article is hidden. Neuman will not only find the article, he says, but will perform the unusual "stunt" of driving a pair of horses through the streets strange to him with his eyes covered. … He announces that he will not fail in locating the hidden article, whether it be a toothpick or a dry goods box.
A large crowd gathered outside the Tribune building at 3 p.m. Jan. 13, 1909, to watch the spectacle play out. Readers who picked up the paper the next day didn’t have to read far to see whether Neuman succeeded.

Neuman, the “Psychic Wonder,” Finds Hidden Key; Committee Members Call It “Muscle Reading”

Drives Blindfolded
Through Streets

Goes to Drug Store at Nicollet and Lake, Where Quest Ends.
 
Witnesses Credit the Russian With a Clever Performance.
 
 
  John Neuman
Following a blind drive through Nicollet avenue yesterday afternoon, Prof. John Neuman, “the psychic wonder,” found a key hidden in a safe at Goodrich & Jennings’ drug store, 2 E. Lake street, yesterday afternoon.
 
An immense crowd waited in front of The Tribune office and saw Neuman drive away, blindfolded. A number followed in automobiles, and when the hidden article was picked from beneath a pile of envelopes the crowd cheered enthusiastically.
 
Professor Neuman naturally claims that the key was found through reading the minds of the committee, but of the six members of the committee the majority credit “the psychic wonder” with nothing more remarkable than a clever sense of muscle reading.
 
All admit, however, that Professor Neuman is very clever, and that as he delivered the goods, he is deserving of all credit.
 
The committee was compose of J.B. Miner, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota; Rev. J.S. Montgomery, pastor of Fowler M.E. church; Dr. Charles A. Erdmann; W.W. Heffelfinger, Frank T. Corriston, superintendent of police, and James F. Ellis.
 
TOOK OVER AN HOUR.
 
It took Professor Neuman 1 hour and 15 minutes to announce himself victorious. For a while a burglar proof safe balked him, but after working the combination he rushed along to victory, and afterwards announced that the committee had given him the hardest test of his career. This view is indorsed by members of the committee.
 
A curious crowd began arriving in front of The Tribune building at 2:30 o’clock. A few minutes later Professor Neuman arrived and met the committee in the reception room.
 
He said that Northwestern and Twin Cities telephone directories were necessary to the mind reading stunt and these were produced. Four members of the committee – Rev. Mr. Montgomery, Dr. Erdmann, Professor Miner and Mr. Ellis – were sent out in an automobile to hide the article.
 
It was explained to them that if the article was hidden where there was a telephone, that the number of the phone, the name of the subscriber and the address must be committed to memory. In case there wasn’t a phone at the hiding place, the committee was told to leave the number, name and location of the nearest phone.
 
PROFESSOR BLINDFOLDED.
 
When the hiding committee returned to The Tribune office Professor Neuman closeted himself with them. All others were excluded.
 
The professor was blindfolded. “Is the name in this book?” he asked, picking up a Twin City directory.
 
The committee admitted that it was. Taking Rev. Mr. Montgomery by the hand, Professor Neuman slowly turned over the pages of the directory with his free hand.
 
“The name of the place where the articles is hidden is on this page,” Neuman announced when he had reached page 46.
 
Still holding Rev. Mr. Montgomery by the wrist, the professor took a pin in his band and slowly ran it down the page. The committee stood around expectantly.
 
When the pin point reached the name, “Goodrich & Jennings,” it hesitated and then was stuck in the paper. It is the general of members of the committee that the involuntary movement of Rev. Mr. Montgomery’s muscles gave Professor Neuman his cue and enable him to pick out the right name. The experiment was tried on Mr. Ells and the pin stuck in the same identical hole.
 
BEGINS HIS DRIVE.
 
Professor Neuman was then led to his carriage in front of the Tribune, and with 5,000 persons looking on began his blind drive on Nicollet avenue. The carriage was obtained from the Minneapolis Livery company. N.M. Kayler, the driver, occupied the seat beside Neuman.
 
Picking his way through the crowd, Neuman turned west in Nicollet avenue and drove along at a brisk gait. The sight of a blindfolded man driving through a crowded street was one of the spectacular features of the performance.
 
Professor Neuman turned down Twelfth street and proceeded to Clinton avenue and thence to Lake street. At Lake street Neuman alighted and groped around, apparently hunting for a scent. After a few moments he climbed to the seat again and drove in Lake street to Nicollet avenue. Here Neuman, followed by the committee and a large crowd, entered the drug store of Goodrich & Jennings.
 
He groped around the store for a few minutes and then walked behind the counter. Finally the “psychic wonder” centered his attention on a pile of papers and books in one corner of the room. In a moment the professor had discovered the safe beneath the papers and thereafter h never left it until the missing key was produced.
 
GUESSES COMBINATION.
 
“Will someone open this safe?” asked Neuman.
 
“We’ll get the proprietor and you can read his mind and get the combination,” said a member of the committee.
 
Neuman objected to this at first, but later agreed and with Dr. James Crew, a member of the firm, holding his hand, began turning the combination.
 
Neuman was not successful in his attempt to work the combination and professed to b angry that two tests should be given him, those of finding the missing article and working the combination of a safe.
 
“Give me a piece of paper, and I’ll write the combination and you can open the safe,” he said after a while and the members of the committee agreed.
 
The figures “90” were traced slowly out by the blindfolded mind reader and the committee members showed their astonishment. The first number of the combination was 90. The second number was also given and after the third number had been given partially, the safe was opened.
 
NEUMAN PUZZLED.
 
The professor was undoubtedly looking for a strange article and when he found a small pair of tweezers he had a great deal of trouble in deciding whether he had the article.
 
Personal contact was resorted to again. Holding Rev. Mr. Montgomery by the hand he asked him to think whether the tweezers were the missing article. The pastor of the Fowler M.E. church must have thought right, for the “wonder” gave the tweezers up as a bad bet and after a short time fished the key from beneath a pile of envelopes and proclaimed it the article which had been hidden. He was right.
 
The key had been furnished by Rev. Mr. Montgomery and is to one of the front doors of Fowler church.
 
“The committee gave me the hardest test of my career,” said Professor Neuman after the key had been found. “Minneapolis is worse than Boston. I want to say since it is all over that there was not trick or collusion. I found the key by reading the minds of members of the committee.”
 
The members of the committee were surprised at the success of Professor Neuman. While none would admit that he thought him a mind reader, they all admitted the cleverness of the performance and congratulated him on finding the hidden key.
 
NOT CONVINCED.
 
Professor Miner made the following statement last night: “I am ready to be convinced that there is such a thing as telepathy, but I am not convinced by the work of Neuman today.
 
“I think that a purse of several hundred dollars should be made for the person who successfully demonstrates telepathy under scientific conditions.”
 
Dr. Montgomery said: “Professor Neuman surely performed a clever stunt. Everything was done in the open and on the square. Whether it was muscle reading or mental telepathy, I know not. However, he found the key and is entitled to great credit for his piece of work.”
 
“It was an exhibition of straight muscle sense reading and nothing more,” said Dr. Erdmann. “It was in no sense telepathy, and so far as being a muscle-reader is concerned, there are many in the business who are the superior of Professor Neuman in my opinion.”
 
Professor Miner explains Professor Neuman’s performance in this manner: “The page of the telephone directory and the number on the page were made known by involuntary muscular movement on the part of Rev. Mr. Montgomery. The professor was able to see under the bandage and read the address on Lake street. His superficial knowledge of the city enable him to drive there.
 
“When Neuman reached Lake street on Clinton avenue he was not sure which way to go. His wanderings in that vicinity were to enable him to find which way the numbers ran and after doing this he drove in the proper direction. His location of the hidden key in the drug store was worked out by native cleverness and muscle-reading.”
 
Professor Neuman is filling an engagement at the Bijou theater. He will appear there tonight, Friday and Saturday.
 
Members of The Tribune staff followed the professor in his drive with J.C. Jordan in his seven-passenger Franklin and Fred Starr’s 40-horsepower Pierce-Racine.
 

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune's photo of the blindfolded psychic driving a pair of horses looks as if it was shot through a blindfold.

 

Imagine driving blindfolded up Nicollet Avenue, an arterial street most likely teaming with horses and horseless carriages during what passed for the afternoon rush hour in 1909. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 

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