Wednesday 21 November 2012

No Wedding for the Dead

I've been writing a lot about Spiritualism recently, since I find these reports fascinating. Whenever possible, I try to avoid second or third hand reports written decades after the event, and stick to contemporary writings.

Nevertheless, I'm aware that I have to read any newspaper articles with half an eye on a journalist's desire to please his audience/make a good story. For example, I've seen the following story in several papers (and in a few websites too, proving that you can't keep a good story down).

The story, titled “Most Shocking Affair in Bordentown” (or in other papers recounting the same story “Married With A Corpse”) describes a Spiritualist ceremony in which a woman is wed to her recently deceased fiancée. The story explains how the young lady “acted at the grave like one really possessed with an evil spirit; she raved and flung herself into the grave and was with difficulty borne from the spot to the residence of the madman whom she regards as her father-in-law.” It adds that at the dinner afterwards, a place was set at the table for him.

However, a couple of months later, a letter appeared in the Daily News explaining that the event was entirely fictional. While there had been a deceased young man and a bereaved fiancée, there was no marriage, no boy medium, no raving and no meal. Just a simple funeral service. And it was a bit of luck that I found this article, since no other newspaper published anything like a retraction of the original story that I can find.

As the letter-writer, John Jones, says “it is a sad pity that the astounding phenomena of spirit manifestations, so general in America and not scarce in England, cannot be opposed by a keener weapon than that of "false witness against thy neighbour".” As it is, I am often doubtful of some of the more colourful descriptions of Spiritualist meetings published in newspapers of the day.

“Most Shocking Affair in Bordentown”, New York Times, August 9, 1856
“Married with a corpse”, Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, August 31, 1856
“Spiritualsim: to the editor of the Daily News”, Daily News (London, England), Tuesday, September 2, 1856

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