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Charles H Foster

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Charles H. Foster was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1838 and began to experience loud raps on his school desk when he was 14 years old. At night he woke to the noise of furniture being tossed about the room. This activity continued until the sounds were heard during the daylight hours also. His mother said she had conversed with the spirits and that her parents also possessed the same ability.

Foster was known for two abilities, skin writing and pellet reading. The skin writing appeared mostly on Foster’s forearm as red welts.  Three initials, usually of a spirit’s name, would appear. For pellet reading, Foster asked the sitters to write the names of their deceased relatives on slips of paper while he was out of the room, roll them up, and mix blank pellets together with them in a pile on the table. When Foster returned, he went into trance, delivered addresses from the spirits listed on the pellets, and gave clairvoyant and clairaudient descriptions of spirits.

According to Conan Doyle, Foster was referred to by a close friend as “extravagantly duel.” He was contradictory and stubborn. “He was not only Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but he represented half a dozen different Jekylls and Hydes.” He was not bothered by the opinion of others and would go his own way, even if it was the wrong way.

In 1861, when Foster visited England he added materializations to his repertoire.  His first séance was given in the house of William Wilkinson, the editor of Spiritual magazine. John Ashburner, an authority on animal magnetism and Spiritualism, recorded that he saw nine materialized hands floating over the table and witnessed Foster levitate while playing the piano. Foster left England for the Continent, visiting Paris, where he appeared before Napoleon III.

Foster met George C. Bartlett in 1870 at the home of a mutual friend in New York City. After attending a séance, Mr. Bartlett was so impressed, he took on the job of advertising and promoting Foster’s seances. The newspapers were not only skeptical, they would only advertise the events as amusements. Later, other newspapers published articles on Foster’s seances. In the Philadelphia Bulletin, 11 April 1873, they described how Foster began his séance with 12 questions for spiritual loved ones sealed in envelopes. He would answer these questions without looking. While he did that, “a word of three letters appeared upon the back of Mr. Foster’s hand—the letters were formed by a red discoloration of the skin.”

Mr. Bartlett describes in detail his association with Foster in his book, The Salem Seer. Foster was married twice. He had a son with his second wife, named Louis. Louis died in infancy and his second wife died several years before him. Foster traveled across the United States and back, holding seances. In 1874, he toured Australia, visiting Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide.

Mr. Bartlett wrote that, “One summer day in the early eighties, Mr. Foster and I took a walk. He told me he was completely tired out, had pains in his head, and thought he had overworked, that in a few days he was going to his home in Salem, where he would remain quiet, and take a long and much needed rest.”    Foster did not recover. In 1881, he was taken to Danvers Insane Asylum, suffering from softening of the brain. “He lingered in this condition on the border-land for many months, finally stepping over on Dec. 15,1885.” He was 52 years old.

Additional Reading:

Bartlett, George C. (1891) The Salem Seer. New York.

Brown, Slater. (1970) The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York: Hawthorn Book.

Conan Doyle, Arthur (1926 ) The History of Spiritualism. Chapter XVI: Great Mediums from 1870 to 1900: Charles H. Foster, Madame D’Esperance, William Eglinton, Sainton Moses. Reprinted 2009: CSP Classic Texts, Cambridge, UK

Truesdell, John W. The Bottom Facts Concerning the Science of Spiritualism. New York: G. W. Carleton, 1883.

If you liked this blog, check out my collection, Treasures from the Spirit World.

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