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Sept. 23, 1911: Clairvoyant in court on vagrancy charge

  • Blog Post by: Ben Welter
  • September 17, 2011 - 2:55 PM

 

One hundred years ago this month, a Minneapolis fortune teller – er, clairvoyant – landed in court, facing charges of vagrancy for charging an undercover cop $1 to tell his fortune. The Tribune’s account captures the color and detail of Mrs. Mary Jacobs-Solomon’s first day on trial. 

Mystery of Spirits
Too Much for Court


Psychic Testimony Baffles
Judge C.L. Smith at
Mrs. Jacobs’ Trial.
 
Woman Accused of Vagrancy
Under Fortune-Telling
Cause of Law.

Expert Witness for Defense
Tells of Woman’s
Supremacy.

After several months of postponement and continuation, the case of Mrs. Mary Jacobs-Solomon, clairvoyant, charged with vagrancy under the fortune telling clause of the state law, came to trial yesterday.
 
The case was called at 2:30 p.m. At 4:30 p.m. Judge C.L. Smith wiped the perspiration from his brow and announced a continuation until next Friday. Stenographer Durant, who was taking the testimony, fell back in his chair, pale and trembling, but was revived with a glass of water, while Assistant City Attorney Compton thumbed the pleats of his Norfolk jacket, and seemed thirsting for more. This is the way the testimony sounded:
 
Mr. Compton: “You testify that while in the clairvoyant state you are conscious and that while in the trance condition you are not. Will you describe these conditions and tell why this is so.”
 
Mrs. Jacobs: (The way she is reported by a stenographer not conversant with the arguments of spiritualism.) “The clairvoyant habit of mentality is due to certain physical phenomena which have been demonstrated by science and which cause the subject while in a state passive and receptive to the rhythmic vibrations to become attuned to the spirit manifestations of the inhabitants of that sphere of life known to us as the realm of the spirit body. In a state of clairvoyance the subject is governed by the psychic forces which emanate from the physical, but in the deeper state of trance the normal mind is crowded out of the physical into the spirit body and the mind of the spirit control takes possession of the body of the medium, giving thorough that body expression to its own spiritual intelligence of the prophetic, or soul-sensing manifestation.”
 
Motherly Looking Woman.
 
To look at Mrs. Jacobs and to listen to her is a most astounding experience. All that is perceptible to the ordinary individual is a pleasant countenance and a motherly expression. It is not until she begins to speak that the remarkable part of the woman is recognized. She explained it all by this part of her testimony:
 
“I am constantly in touch with the spirit side. As I sit here testifying there are about four or five controls constantly about me ready to receive me into the state of trance.”
 
With these words Mrs. Jacobs’ eyelids began to tremble, she sank into the witness chair. She quivered and shook off the influence with a struggle and asked for a glass of water. This was the only relapse to the custody of the controls that she suffered while on the witness stand.
 
Mrs. Elizabeth Harlow-Getz of Springfield, Mass., one of the trustees of the national organization of Spiritualists, was put on the stand to testify to the tenets of the church to which Mrs. Jacobs-Solomon is said to belong. Mrs. Getz was fortified with whole passages of the spiritualist books and kept the stenographer busy.
 
After stating with rapidfire precision the list of her beliefs Judge Smith interrupted:
 
“Madam, I believe every one of those things myself but I am not a spiritualist.”
 
“Your honor must then be a spiritualist without knowing it,” rejoined Mrs. Getz.
 
Judge Talks of Spirit Power.
 
“Do you believe that when the subconscious mind, or spirit body as you call it, becomes more powerful the normal or conscious mind becomes weaker?” asked Judge Smith among other questions suggesting many hours of special reading for this particular case.
 
“I do,” said Mrs. Getz. “The trained thinker or the highly educated person has difficulty in developing the spirit body. Illiterate persons furnish our most phenomenal mediums. Mrs. Jacobs is a phenomenal medium and demonstrator.”
 
“Are women more perfect mediums than men?” asked the judge.
 
“Woman is the great pulse of the world and its rhythmic manifestations,” replied Mrs. Getz, or words to that effect. “Men are attuned to the lower vibrations and move on a more materialistic plane.” The judge changed the subject.
This testimony was offered to prove that Mrs. Jacobs (as she has been known in Minneapolis), was not guilty of the violations of state law when she accepted $1 for a “reading” she gave Detective Mealey, with Detective Gleason listening from a point of vantage just outside the window of the séance room.
 
“It was the same talk fortune tellers always give,” said Gleason, when he told of the séance and declared he did believe Mrs. Jacobs when she says as she did on the stand:
 
“I know that I can communicate with the spirit side of life and I am firmly convinced that what I told Mr. Mealey while in a trance was a bona fide message from the spirit controls which guide me.”
 
POSTSCRIPT: Judge Smith issued his verdict two months later. “A decision in municipal court yesterday,” the Tribune reported Nov. 16, “holds that the alleged transmitting of a ‘fortune’ told by spirits through an earthly medium makes the medium not a fortune teller, but a spiritualist, and therefore not a vagrant as adjudged by the recent state laws.”
 

I predict you will be more intrigued than enlightened by the Minnesota Historical Society's caption for this 1894 photo: "Edith Gardner, in gypsy costume, telling Mabel Gardner's fortune." (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

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