"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This peculiar--and very sad--story appeared in the “Washington Post,” November 10, 1909:

Somerville, N.J. Nov 9. While Arthur Everton, self-styled professor and traveling hypnotist sobbed in his cell, three calm medical men witnessed a weird performance in the morgue of the Somerset Hospital late this afternoon.  There William E. Davenport, secretary to the mayor of Newark and a student of hypnotism, vainly tried to bring back signs of life in the rigid body of Robert Simpson, a former street car conductor of Newark who apparently died last night after having been put Into a hypnotic trance by Everton before a large audience at the Somerville Theater. 

Davenport failed. Simpson was declared officially dead and an autopsy was held tonight. This disclosed a rupture of the aorta. 

Meanwhile, charged with manslaughter, unnerved and shaken, Everton remains in prison where he must await the action of the grand jury as a sequel to a stage trick familiar throughout this country and abroad.

It was at the piteous insistence of Everton, while in jail after his ineffectual attempts to revive Simpson, that Davenport, a friend of Everton, came into the case today. Notwithstanding the declarations of physicians that Simpson was dead, Everton asked that Davenport be allowed to try to rouse him. Accordingly the autopsy first arranged for 2 o’clock this afternoon was postponed and the student of hypnotism was summoned.

Just as the sun was sinking Davenport arrived in Somerville accompanied by the manager of the Arcade, an amusement place in Newark where Everton had performed last week.  At the hospital they were met by W.H. Long, county physician, and three members of the hospital staff, Drs. Pecht, Stilweil, and Halstead. Davenport explained to them that he had long been a student of hypnotics, that he practiced it only as a student and that he had come in response to a pupil’s cry for help, and would, with the doctor's permission, attempt to revive the subject, Simpson.

Dr. Long, for himself and the members of the staff, said that they had not only agreed that the experiment should be permitted but that it might be made they had postponed the autopsy. In their opinion, Everton’s subject was dead. Besides the physicians there crowded into the room four of the women nurses of the hospital in their white caps and nurse uniforms, Mrs. Everton, the correspondent of The Post and a reporter for a local paper.

Mr. Davenport, after laying aside his coat and hat, pulled the black covering off the body and applied his ear to the chest as if listening for heartbeats. Then he slightly opened the eyes of the man and after bringing his own eyes close to them looked into them intently.  Dr. Halstead, standing close by the body, took the one electric lamp in his hand and swung it out so that more light brightly shone on the white still face. 

Davenport was manifestly sincere in what he was doing. He was impressed with Everton’s belief and he had been moved by the tearful appeals of Everton’s wife. His manner affected all those who silently watched him. The little room was in absolute silence as Davenport again applied first his ear and then the tips of his fingers over the motionless heart. Next he bent his head down low over the head above the black cloth, placed his lips close to an ear of the body he sought to revive, and said sharply and eagerly, “Bob!” 

It was a trained voice, the voice of a man drilled to shock or command the senses, and it startled without moving the intent group of watchers.

“Bob! Your heart!”  There was another silence as tensely dramatic as the mind can imagine. Then followed the words, “Bob! Your heart! Your heart is beating!” 

If after the sound of the operator’s voice the subject's eyelids moved it seemed as if none there would have been greatly surprised.

But there was no motion. But the operator eagerly felt again over the heart and again listened and then again spoke into the unhearing ear. 

“Bob! Listen! Hear what I say! Your heart! Your heart is beating!” 

There was no response, no movement of the eyelids, no fluttering of the heart, and Davenport motioned to the manager under whom Everton had exhibited last week. He stepped to the side of the body and repeated the phrase Davenport had used. After that Davenport pressed upon the breast as If artificially to start a movement of the heart and then spoke into the other ear. 

“Bob!” Now there was an accent of pleading--”Bob! You hear me! Your heart is moving!” 

Davenport stepped a little aside, looked at the unseeing half-open eyes, took up his coat and hat and with a bow to the doctors started to leave the room. As he passed Dr. Long the latter said, “What is your judgment?”

“I did not come here to pronounce judgment,” Davenport responded quietly, and followed by the Newark manager and by Mrs. Everton walked out of the room, up the stairs, through the hall, and out onto the veranda of the hospital. There he was overtaken by a messenger and recalled. 

Dr. Long spoke to the man again.

“Do you think he is dead?” he said. 

“I think he is dead,” Davenport replied.

Then Davenport went out, and the medical men began preparations for the autopsy.  

Eight physicians assisted in performing the autopsy, and they issued a signed statement at its close stating that death was due to rupture of the aorta, the trunk line of the arterial system. This indicated, according to the coroner, that death primarily was due to natural causes, and that the man probably had been suffering for some time from an aneurysm. A generally weakened condition of the organs through the dead man’s body was found and the physicians were disposed to attribute this to habitual drinking.

Death was practically instantaneous and probably occurred just as Simpson was coming out of the trance. Whether the strain he was put under when Everton stood on his body during his rigidity caused the rupture cannot be ascertained. The result of the autopsy will more than likely bring about Everton's release on bail.

Simpson, the victim, was 25 years old and was accustomed, it is said, to drinking heavily. It is generally admitted that he was intoxicated during the test last night. No relatives have appeared to claim the body. 

Everton has employed counsel and will fight the case. It has been suggested that he will make the novel plea that the man was still alive when the autopsy was performed, citing various cases of suspended animation as proof of this. 

Everton on Monday began a week’s engagement in a little 6 and 10 cent vaudeville show called the Somerville Theater. He was engaged only on the day previous. Everton’s terms were to bring with him two subjects and place one of them in a hypnotic trance on exhibition in a show window if that was desired. For himself and his subjects he was to receive $30. 

The men, Everton, Simpson, and a youth named Edward Thompson arrived Monday morning in Somerville and went to board at a little hotel called the Waldorf separated from the theater only by a store and a dwelling.  The hypnotist, a man about 35, rather a good looking fellow with a long and carefully trained mustache, looked like a prosperous showman and wore a fashionable frock coat and silk hat. But he was needy and Weldon advanced him $10 for his and his subject’s immediate expenses. Part of the money which Everton in turn advanced to Simpson the latter appears to have spent in the bars of the town. Of this, however, Everton claimed he was unaware.

The afternoon performance was satisfactory and the manager of the little theater sent out to a number of the local physicians an invitation to attend the evening and witness the performance. At least three physicians of good standing are known to have attended: Dr. Long, the county physician, Dr. Flynn, and Dr Francis McGonaughey. 

Dr. Long said today, “Everton took the subject Simpson, who had been hypnotized, apparently stretched him out with his head upon one chair and his feet upon another and commanded him to be rigid. I watched this performance closely and to all appearances the subject was in a cataleptic condition when the operator stepped from a table onto the subject’s abdomen. There was no yielding of the body. 

“When Everton stepped down upon the stage again he told some of the stage attendants to put the subject Simpson on his feet. This it appeared was to be done by lifting the subject’s feet from the chair and then to raise his stiffened body. But as the assistants were doing this, I noticed that the subject’s body lost rigidity and collapsed sinking to the floor. The operator was apparently surprised and shouted to Simpson, ‘It’s all right.’  Everton also used his hands in the familiar way, apparently trying to restore the subject to a normal physical condition. This was without result however. Then the subject was dragged off the stage and out of our sight. 

“Presently the manager Weldon came down into the auditorium and spoke to me in a manner which left no doubt in my mind that there was some trouble, and of course I immediately responded. Dr. Flynn also accompanied the manager to the rear of the stage and there we saw at once that Simpson was in a bad state. I discovered that there was no pulse and no heartbeat and I ordered that the man be taken at once to his room where we could more conveniently apply restoratives. He was carried out of the rear of the theater and back of the intervening buildings to the Waldorf and there Dr. Flynn and I worked on him. 

“I gave hypodermic injections of strychnine and glycerin. These produced no favorable results. Then I attempted to produce artificial respiration.  Dr. McGonaughey joined Dr. Flynn and me there and assisted us in trying to restore the patient, but after using every method for which we had appliances we agreed that life was extinct. 

“As I am a county official, I could not ignore the circumstances. I sent for a couple of police officials and told them to take Everton into custody. 

“Then the chief and I had a little interview with Mr. Everton. I told Everton I wanted to know If there was any fake in the matter. He assured me there was not. He was in a very nervous condition. He said he knew nothing of catalepsy and had never seen a man in Simpson’s condition. He could not know and could not understand how it came about.  He did say however that before he went on with the exhibition he had learned that Simpson had been drinking.  I then told the chief of police to take care of Everton, and as Everton was so positive that Simpson was still in a catalyptic state, I ordered Simpson to be taken to the county hospital.  I sent then for other members of the staff and they agreed with me that the man was dead.  The stethoscope revealed no heart action whatever.”

By the time the county physician had removed Simpson from the hotel, apparently all Somerville had heard of the affair.  Among those who heard of it promptly was Ralph Edwards, manager of the Bijou.  He at once sent for a hypnotist named Pelham, who is appearing at the Bijou, and told him of the trouble.  Pelham, in evening dress and in makeup as he was, went at once to the Waldorf to see if he could give any aid to his brother performer.  Pelham is a more experienced hypnotist.  In talking today, he said:

“I went to the Waldorf hoping to be able to take Everton's subject out of hiss cataleptic state, if he were in that state. I went first to Everton hoping that he would be in a condition to transfer his control of Simpson to me. But Everton was in no condition to do that. He was in a highly excited state and I could do nothing with him on a hypnotic basis. Then I examined Simpson and I made up my mind that he was gone. It did not look to me like catalepsy. In my opinion, Simpson probably died of shock through the transference to him when he was recovering from his abnormal state of the excitement in the operator, the man who had him in control. Had not Everton lost his head when he saw Simpson collapse, he could, I think, have brought about his recovery.”

In December, the Grand Jury exonerated Everton from causing Simpson’s death.  I have no idea if Everton continued to pursue a career as a hypnotist, but if he did, I’m wagering he had a hard time finding subjects.


  1. A terrible accident, and Davenport's attempt was one of those instances when you hope the impossible could happen.


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