Whenever you run into a story featuring 19th century spiritualists, you know the good times are about to roll. This account of a real "Dead Man Walking" appeared in the "Elkart [Indiana] Times," December 9,1858. It is a reprint from the "New York Evening Post."
The spiritualists of this city, or a portion of them, at least, are gravely discussing the question whether the spirit of a man whose dead body was dissected by medical students in Hartford, Connecticut, is picking himself up piecemeal, and bringing his bones, one by one, to this city, to be put together again. The weekly spiritual conference, have seen fit to make this a subject of inquiry, and the "Spiritual Telegraph," from time to time, informs its readers of the progress of the affair.
The story is related substantially as follows:
When Dr. Redman, the partner of Dr. Orton, in Twelfth street, New York, was a medical student, a body was to be dissected upon a certain occasion, and the students agreed to draw lots to determine which one should have the bones. Dr. Redman was already a medium, and before the dissection took place the spirit communicated with him, and expressed the wish that the bones might fall into Redman's possession. The doctor replied that since possession was to be determined by lot, he might not get them.
"Draw first," replied the spirit, "and I will make you draw the prize."
Acting upon this hint, the lucky Redman drew first and took the bones. He conveyed them to Hartford, where he subsequently left a part of them, removing the rest to his office in the city.
Having related to his partner the singular history of the skeleton, Dr. Orton requested him to bring the remainder of it to the office; whereupon the ghost who once owned and occupied the dilapidated and abused tenement, set up a loud knocking, and claimed the right, which no reasonable man could deny him, of having a word to say about the disposition of his bones. He expressed a willingness that they should be taken to New York; it made no especial difference to him whether the ossified portion of his frame was in one place or another; still it was natural he should feel some pride in the matter, and expressed the determination of bringing the bones from Hartford to this city himself.
This extraordinary determination, which, we believe, has no parallel in ghostology, ancient or modern, it is alleged, is being carried out. The very next day after it was announced, a bone dropped on the sidewalk, in front of the two doctors, near their house, and since that time, bone after bone has been removed, sometimes dropping from the ceiling and sometimes upon the walk. On the 26th day of May the ghost done an unusual good day's work. As the doctors were crossing Broadway near Thirteenth street 3 o'clock, P.M., a bone dropped at their feet, and at 6 o'clock the same afternoon another encountered them in Fourteenth street; both being portions of the spinal column.
The ghost whose body has been cut up and moved, does not however, claim the exclusive credit of the removal. With the fairness which, we trust, will ever characterize his transactions, he acknowledges with gratitude the assistance of other ghosts, who have kindly consented to help do the job; but what compensation he gives for their services, is not stated.
The ghost commenced picking himself up sometime in the spring. Whether he is yet done is not stated; but the "Telegraph" of this week brings additional testimony, in the shape of an anonymous statement, (regarded as conclusive by many spiritualists) the substance of which is contained in the following paragraph:
"On the 2d of last June Dr. Redman held a seance at a house where I was visiting.--When the circle was over I accompanied him down stairs; on the way down, my spectacle case, which had been missing during a part of the evening, was thrown over my shoulder. He picked it up, and was holding it with both his hands, conversing with me about its disappearance. While thus engaged, standing facing each other, with a full blaze of gaslight shining on us, the front door closed, and no other means of egress or ingress being near, something came dropping down, as if from the ceiling, and fell between us. On being taken up, Dr. Redman recognised it as a bone belonging to the vertebrae of the neck of this much talked-of spirit."
When the Spiritual Conference and the "Telegraph" arrive at a satisfactory conclusion, we will inform our readers.
The "Spiritual Age," for June 12, 1858, reported that Dr. Orton informed them that the bones of his spirit pal, whose name was Cornelius Winne, "continue to disappear from Hartford, and to arrive mysteriously in New York." The final bits of Winne were finally delivered on December 15, but the good doctors claimed to remain in spiritual communication with the peripatetic departed.
The story inspired a less-than-reverent contemporary ballad, "Migratory Bones":
We all have heard of Dr. Redman,
The man in New York who deals with dead men,
Who sits at a table
And straightway is able
To talk with the spirits of those who have fled, man!
And gentles and ladies
Located in Hades,
Through his miraculous mediation,
Declare how they feel,
And such things reveal
As suits their genius for impartation.
'Tis not with any irreverent spirit
I give the tale, or flout it, or jeer it;
For many good folk
Not subject to joke
Declare for the fact that they both see and hear it.
It comes from New York, though,
And it might be hard work, though
To bring belief to any point near it.
Now this Dr. Redman,
Who deals with the dead men,
Once cut up a fellow whose spirit had fled, man,
Who (the fellow) perchance
Had indulged in that dance
Performed at the end of a hempen thread, man;
And the cut-up one,
(A son of a gun !)
Like Banquo, though he was dead, wasn't done,
Insisted in very positive tones
That he'd be ground to calcined manure,
Or any other evil endure,
Before he'd give up his right to his bones!
And then, through knocks, the resolute dead man
Gave his bones a bequest to Redman.
In Hartford, Conn.,
This matter was done,
And Redman the bones highly thought on,
When, changed to New York
Was the scene of his work,
In conjunction with Dr. Orton.
Now mark the wonder that here appears:
After a season of months and years,
Comes up again the dead man,
Who, in a very practical way,
Says he'll bring his bones some day,
And give them again to Redman.
When, sure enough
(Though some that are rough
Might call the narrative "devilish tough "),
One charming day
In the month of May,
As Orton and Redman walked the street
Through the severing air,
From they knew not where,
Came a positive bone, all bleached and bare,
That dropped at the doctor's wondering feet!
Then the sprightly dead man
Knocked out to Redman
The plan that lay in his ghostly head, man:
He'd carry the freight,
Unheeding its weight;
They needn't question how, or about it;
But they might be sure
The bones he'd procure,
And not make any great bones about it.
From that he made it a special point
Each day for their larder to furnish a joint!
From overhead, and from all around,
Upon the floor, and upon the ground,
Bones,and thigh bones,
Jaw bones, and thigh bones,
Until the doctors, beneath their power,
Ducked like ducks in a thunder-shower!
Armfuls of bones,
Bagfuls of bones,
Cartloads of bones,
No end to the multitudinous bones,
Until, forsooth, this thought gained head, man,
That this invisible friend, the dead man,
Had chartered a band
From the shadowy land,
Who had turned to work with a busy hand,
And boned all their bones for Dr. Redman!
Now, how to account for all the mystery
Of this same weird and fantastical history?
That is the question
For people's digestion,
And calls aloud for instant untwistery!
Of this we are certain,
By this lift of the curtain,
That still they're alive for work or enjoyment,
Though I must confess
That I scarcely can guess
Why they don't choose some useful employment.