Ghosts in Special Collections & Archives

Guest post by Heather MacDonald. Heather is currently on contract in Special Collections & Archives, transcribing material from the Maines Pincock family fonds.

Just in time for Hallowe'en, we bring you a post about the ghosts hiding in our Spiritualism and Theosophy collection! These spirits lurk in the séance transcripts and can be heard through the spirit trumpet, which make up part of the Maines Pincock family fonds.

Jenny O’Hara Pincock, along with her sister Minnie Maines, her brother-in-law Fred Maines, and their daughter Colleen Maines attended dozens of séances with the medium William Cartheuser in Lily Dale, New York, in St. Catharines, and in Galt (now Cambridge), Ontario from 1927-1935. One of the sitters, usually Jenny, would take notes during each séance in a notebook. Afterwards, Jenny would use the notes to compile a transcript of the séance to send to each sitter for confirmation. I am currently working on transcribing these notes and séance records as part of a digitization effort.

The transcripts of séances are really interesting to read through. There is this mix of themes and emotions constantly being played out around the séance table. On the one hand you have Jenny O’Hara Pincock and her sister “catching up” with their departed parents, with lots of “jollying and joking”, and the occasional recipe being passed down from the great beyond. On the other hand is this tearful reuniting of Jenny with the ghost of her late husband Newton and their two spirit children, Jane and Bobby, who, tragically, were never carried to term. These personal experiences are interspersed with advice, sometimes “unsolicited”, to use Jenny’s word, on financial matters, diet, and spiritual development, passed down from a variety of spirits including Cartheuser’s spirit guide Dr. Anderson. Jenny later compiled the transcripts into a collection of “evidence” proving the existence of an afterlife titled Trails of Truth.

The transcripts also tell of candy and flowers being passed around, perfume being sprayed, songs being sung and spirits caressing the faces and arms of sitters during the séances. One particularly interesting séance was held specifically for children. Sitters such as the young Colleen Maines, had advice imparted upon them by her spirit cousins Jane and Bobby. The advice focused on the importance of listening to their parents, going to bed on time, and being good children.

I encourage anybody interested in Spiritualism, séances, or the occult to come and check out the collection and see what the spirits have to say.

spirit trumpet

The spirit trumpet.

Trails of truth front cover

The front cover of Jenny O'Hara Pincock's Trails of Truth.

photograph of seance

This photograph of a séance shows plenty of ectoplasm in the air.

photograph of seance

The gentleman on the right certainly looks as if he just saw a ghost.

Handwritten note regarding children's seances

"Account of a childrens Seance. To be used at some future date for children."

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