Phelps, Eliakim (fl. 1850)
Presbyterian minister and early mesmeric healer of Stratford,
Connecticut, whose house was the scene of alarming poltergeist
disturbances from March 10, 1850, for a period of
eight months. The documents on the phenomena consist mostly
of letters written to the New Haven Journal during the progress
of the events. Additional testimony from neighbors was
collected and published by C. W. Elliott in his book Mysteries or
Glimpses of the Supernatural (1852).
The phenomena started with the mysterious displacement
of objects when the family was at church. After their return, inanimate
things began to fly about and stuffed effigies were discovered
in empty rooms.
The following letter in the New Haven Journal describes the
early activity
‘‘While the house of Dr. Phelps was undergoing a rigid examination
from cellar to attic, one of the chambers were mysteriously
fitted up with eleven figures of angelic beauty, gracefully
and imposingly arranged, so as to have the appearance of
life. They were all female figures but one, and most of them in
attitudes of devotion, with Bibles before them, and pointing to
different passages with the apparent design of making the
Scriptures sanction and confirm the strange things that were
going on. . . .
‘‘Some of the figures were kneeling beside the beds, and
some bending their faces to the floor in attitudes of deep humility.
In the center of the group was a dwarf, most grotesquely
arrayed; and above was a figure so suspended as to seem flying
through the air. These manifestations occurred sometimes
when the room was locked, and sometimes when it was known
that no person had been there. Measures were taken to have
a special scrutiny in regard to every person who entered the
room that day, and it is known with the most perfect certainty
that many of these figures were constructed when there were
no persons in the room, and no visible power by which they
could have been produced. The tout ensemble was most beautiful
and picturesque, and had a grace and ease and speaking effect
that seemed the attributes of a higher creation.’’
The effigies were constructed from clothing and other materials
in the house, stuffed with pillows to represent human figures.
The New Haven Journal correspondence reported that on
another occasion, Phelps was writing in his room alone. For a
moment he turned away, and resuming his seat he found the
sheet of paper, which was quite clean before, now covered with
strange-looking writing, the ink still wet. Thus began spirit correspondences
to him which mostly came in hieroglyphs. Jocular
messages on scraps of paper fluttered down from the ceiling.
Other communications were scrawled on walls inside and
outside the house. In one case, mysterious symbols were inscribed
on a large turnip.
Phelps never discovered how the phenomena were produced.
‘‘I witnessed them,’’ he said, ‘‘hundreds and hundreds
of times, and I know that in hundreds of instances they took
place when there was no visible power by which the motion
could have been produced.’’
The family had four children two girls; Harry, a stepson of
eleven; and another son of six years of age. The phenomena
mostly seemed to attach themselves to Harry. In one case, his
bed was set on fire. When he was sent to school in Philadelphia
he was pursued there, his books destroyed, and his clothes torn.
There was such an uproar in the school that he had to be
brought home. One of the girls also had some invisible share
in the disturbances. When both Harry and she were away, peace
reigned in the house.
Andrew Jackson Davis, the pioneer Spiritualist medium,
paid a visit to the house. His explanation was that the raps were
produced by discharges of vital electricity from Harry’s being.
Indeed he attributed an actual share in the phenomena to
Harry, in saying ‘‘Young Harry frequently failed to discriminate
during certain moments of mental agitation between the
sounds and effects which he himself made and those sounds
which were produced by spiritual presence.’’ Davis also offered
lofty spiritual interpretations of the symbolic communications.
(See also Ashtabula Poltergeist; Cock Lane Ghost; Drummer
of Tedworth; Enfield Poltergeist; Epworth Phenomena)
Sources
Capron, E W. Modern Spiritualism, its Facts and Fanaticisms.
1855. Reprint, Boston B. Marsh; New York Partridge and
Brittan, 1976.
Elliott, C. W. Mysteries or Glimpses of the Supernatural. New
York Harper, 1852.

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