Romance Between Two Worlds

Spirit photography by William Hope

Two souls with hearts that beat as one,
ever to travel the starry nights
in search of greater knowledge.
~ Edward Shippen

One reason the idea of multiple universes has been on my mind of late is that I’ve been doing some work with materials in our archives about Spiritualism. More specifically, looking at pages and pages of transcriptions of séances and spirit writing. For those not familiar with the term, spirit writing, or automatic writing, is writing that a medium or psychic does while in a trance. The theory is that the writing is actually that of whoever took over the body of that medium, therefore the writing is directly from the spirit.

The Spiritualism papers belong to Edward Shippen and are part of a larger collection, the Martha McClellan Brown Papers, in Special Collections and Archives at the Wright State Libraries. Mrs. Brown was a prominent political figure around the turn of the twentieth century, directly involved in national reform issues, especially that of temperance and women’s suffrage, and she is credited with helping form the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. One of Shippen’s three sons married Mrs. Brown’s second daughter, Charme Brown. The séance writings ended up in the Brown collection because of Shippen’s continued efforts to convince Mrs. Brown of the power of contact with the spiritual world.

Séance transcript - Stonewall Jackson, Box 15, MS-147, Martha McClellan Brown Papers, WSU Special Collections and Archives

Shippen’s experiences with séances during the final decade of the nineteenth century brought him into spiritual contact with many great names from history. His journals and séance transcripts contain records of spiritual conversations with a wide variety of personages: ancient figures, including Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras, Pontius Pilate, and Cleopatra; Blackhawk Indians; and European nobility, including Mary, Queen of Scots, Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth I, and Mazarin of France. Most of these conversations are rather mundane quips, passages of general information or advice, with little to ground them to the historical personage behind the spirit voice.

Shippen also encountered the voices he was most looking for in his spiritual journeys, those of his family and loved ones. The voice of his first love, Emma Swift, lost to him so early in her life when she passed away at sixteen, is found again, as she communicated through slate writing as well as through several of Shippen’s mediums. She returned, in one case, a drawing of the nosegays Shippen had given her fifty years before. Shippen also encounters the voice of his more-recently departed wife, Ellen, and the spirit of the newborn child they evidently lost during the early years of their marriage. Ellen frequently spoke to Shippen of the glories of the spirit world, how pretty and beautiful life there was. Occasionally, the spirits of Shippen’s mother and father and his sister, Sarah, appeared, lending support to Ellen’s comments that the afterlife was nothing to fear.

"Yermah and the Airships", Shippen's Journal B, 1895, Box 15, File 4, MS-147, Martha McClellan Brown Papers, WSU Special Collections and Archives

The most surprising and intriguing elements in his journals, however, were the commentaries on the world of Atlantis. The primary voice in these encounters was the spirit voice of Yermah, the Chief of the Atlanteans. Many of the conversations concerned the history of Atlantis and life within its world. Two areas were discussed in detail: women’s rights in Atlantis, which Yermah argued were far superior to those of nineteenth-century America, and technology in Atlantis, most notably airship technology. The two images here are examples of Yermah’s spirit conversation with Shippen concerning the great airships of Atlantis.

"Yermah and the Airships 2," Shippen's Journal B, 1895, Box 15, File 4, MS-147 Martha McClellan Brown Papers, WSU Special Collections and Archives

Originally a skeptic, Shippen’s first slate writing from his first youthful love Emma convinced him that “Death can not part hearts that love.” In the end, Shippen became an active participant in the Spiritualist movement, forever seeking another encounter with those on the other side. His romance across two worlds ended with his death in 1904, an event he had been looking forward to for several years.

Shippen’s journey into the Spiritualist movement of the late nineteenth-century is one of several projects I’ve been working on lately, and certainly one of the most intriguing ones!

Or perhaps I’m just getting ready for Halloween a little bit early this year…..

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