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Large numbers of people from Syracuse, Auburn and Ithaca flocked to Moravia, New York to see spiritual manifestations in the 1870-80s. The Morris Keeler House stood at the base of a range of hills that overlooked the town of about 1200 people. The Keelers provided lodging to a dozen people at a time, but lodging was not what the house was known for. It was thought to be built on a magnetic hill. “There [was} something undefinable in the atmosphere of the place,” the Genesee Courier stated in 1871.

Every spirit house needs a medium. Mary Mehan was born to Denis and Hanora Mehan in 1841. As a young girl, she was adopted out to a family in Moravia, but her parents wanted her back because of a disagreement about religion. Mary ran away from home after her return and ended up moving in with the Keelers where she worked as a domestic servant.

The Keelers soon discovered that Mary had a talent for contacting the spirit world. In a second–floor room, about twelve by fourteen feet in size, they partitioned an alcove to create a cabinet. The partition contained a small rectangular-shaped window with a black cloth curtain. It was at this window that spirits appeared.  There was also a piano in the room which often played.  

Mary held seances twice a day, every day, charging 50 cents per person for large groups.  The seances generally lasted about two hours. Half was held in darkness and half by lantern light. Some spirits visited regularly, including: Honto, a Native American woman: Rosa, an angel guide; and Sukey, a Native American girl.

Mary was known for physical displays, voices, and piano music. Physical manifestations included hands touching attendees while they sat in darkness; hands, arms, and faces appearing at the window in a lit room, lights flickering and dancing about, and colored clouds gathering overhead. Voices spoke in whispers to normal speech, and some spirits spoke with accents.

Mary married John Andrews in 1863 and they had three daughters, Minnie, Nettie and Fannie. The family lived with the Keelers, John working as a farmhand, until about 1870, when they moved next door. Mary continued to hold seances at the Keeler House, apparently making enough money that the family could afford to move to a better house in town by 1880.

Mr. Keeler died in 1886 and his family disputed his will, questioning his sanity because of his association with Spiritualism. In the court case, it was found that: “While to some minds a belief in spiritualism might seem strange and be an evidence of weak and even morbid intellect, it cannot be held as a matter of law or fact to be evidence of insanity.”

Mary’s ability to continue her seances at the house is unknown. She died in Monrovia in 1901.

Additional Reading:

Hazard, Thomas R. (1872) Eleven Days at Moravia. William White & Company, NY.


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