Spiritualism has been a part of Battle Creek history since the rise of the movement in the 1800s

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Editor’s Note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s On the Ground Battle Creek series.

Cornflakes and spiritualism may seem like they have nothing in common, but they do, says Battle Creek Historical Society volunteer Jody Owens.

She says Battle Creek gained fame from each in different ways. While cornflakes established Battle Creek’s place as a leader in the grain industry, Owens says the spiritualist movement, based on the belief that the dead were eager to communicate with the living, drew the national attention on the city from the middle to the end. -1800.

She will share her insights and the history she learned about this movement in two sessions Nov. 22 and 29 titled “The Origins of Spiritualism in Battle Creek.” Both sessions are part of Lifelong Learning at Kellogg Community College offers for the current semester.

“The two great Spiritualist centers in the country were Battle Creek and Buffalo, NY,” says Owens. “Spiritualism reached its peak between 1840 and 1920. There were eight million practicing Spiritualists in the United States and Europe and it is still a church today called the Spiritist Church.”

Owens says, “These psychics like (Battle Creek) Mrs. Walling were wanted because there were so many lives lost in the Civil War and in World War I and their loved ones were desperate to find ways to communicate with them from beyond. falls.”

In March 1877, she says, about 50 spirit mediums from across the United States gathered at Stewart Hall in Battle Creek to celebrate the 29th anniversary of modern spiritualism.

“During the summer of 1881, spiritualists thronged to Lake Goguac for the annual camp meeting of their state association,” says Owens. “Battle Creek was attractive because we were right in the middle between Chicago and Detroit and there were all these religious groups growing up here.”

These groups have been influenced by the teachings of various religions and movements, including Mormons, MilleritesQuakers, abolitionists, Phrenologistsand the Swedenborgian Church. Another religious movement supported vegetarians.

Owens says Battle Creek provided fertile ground for spiritualism and different religious views because “we were just very open to ideas. The thinking back then was that if you disagreed with certain religious teachings, you started your own. At one time we were the only city in the United States to have a Swedenborgian Church and a Spiritualist Church.

Mary Green, Director of Lifelong Learning at KCC, explains that Spiritualism courses “have been part of our offerings for years. They’re like that little gem that no one knows about.

In addition to the Spiritualism classes, Owens will also teach a class Oct. 27 called “Ghosts and the Supernatural.”

Green says assessment forms completed by lifelong learning students and research into the types of subjects offered in larger markets are used to determine what courses KCC might offer.

“We’re looking at a few of those and getting some lesson ideas and deciding if that’s something we want to offer,” Green says. “We use a network of connections to find instructors and people in the community. You don’t need a degree, you just need to have a passion for the subject and a desire to teach.

Owens, who retired from teaching in 2009, has been a lifelong learning instructor for several years. His previous courses were on insane asylums and weather phenomena from the 1890s to the present.

“The bloodier they are, the more people I get,” she says.

KCC’s Lifelong Learning component was established in the early 1970s as a non-credit option with a mission to connect the community to the college in ways other than attending traditional courses at credit, says Green.

“It’s a way to engage and socialize and be part of college in a different way for people who may not be interested in taking traditional college courses,” she says.

The Roots of Spiritualism in Battle Creek

The spiritualist movement began in the 19th century in the bedroom of two young girls living on a farm in Hydesville, NY One day in late March 1848, 14-year-old Margaretta “Maggie” Fox and her 11-year-old sister Kate attacked a neighbor, eager to share a strange and frightening phenomenon, according to an article in the Smithsonian Magazine. “Each night around bedtime, they said, they heard a series of knocks on the walls and furniture – knocks that seemed to manifest themselves with a special, otherworldly intelligence.”

The family abandoned what appeared to be a haunted house and the sisters were eventually sent to Rochester, NY to live with an older sister. They would continue to practice their ability to communicate with spirits in small and large gatherings of the curious. Coincidentally, Rochester was a hotbed of reform and religious activity; the same neighborhood, the Finger Lakes region of New York State, gave rise to the two Mormonism and Millerism, precursor of Seventh-day Adventismsays the article.

Besides the Fox sisters, Owens says the other big name in Spiritualism at this time was Dr. James Peebles which combined Swedenborgianism and Spiritualism. Together with a group of Quaker pioneers from Battle Creek who had embraced spiritualism, Peebles formed the village of Harmonia, a utopian community whose most famous resident was Sojourner Truth. Harmonia, now a ghost town, was located on land occupied in part by Denso’s facility in the Fort Custer industrial park, says Kurt Thornton, a local historian.

As the advent of a community like Harmonia and different religions found their way into Battle Creek, new ideas took hold that complemented non-traditional ways of thinking, such as the emphasis on the vegetarianism movement pioneered by Ellen White, founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, founder of Battle Creek Sanitarium.

“They were so ahead of their time with their beliefs about health, no smoking, no alcohol, and vegetarianism,” Owens said of Kellogg and White. “Vegetarianism comes from Reverend Dr Sylvester Graham who invented crackers that don’t contain refined sugar, an ingredient he was adamantly opposed to. He also spent time at Battle Creek.

Not without its share of skeptics

Legitimate and well-intentioned efforts that fostered different religions and ways of thinking for some time in Battle Creek overshadowed attempts by people like Mrs. William Walling who sought to take advantage of individuals seeking to connect with the spirits of loved ones. deceased.

Owens says she was unable to come up with a first name for Mrs Walling, which is not unusual as, in the late 1880s, women’s identities were still tied to that of their husbands.

A written account titled “The Walling Expose – December 1883” authored by Owens, recounts a particular seance which revealed his fraudulent tactics.

“Mrs. William Walling, when she started doing her sessions at Battle Creek, she was doing them out of her home. People had to pay 50 cents and they were in a dark room and sitting around a table where everyone was held her hand and she could summon spirits, she had a spirit guide like all psychics,” says Owens.

The Wallings’ home was an octagonal house at 41 North Avenue. (This address has since been changed to 159 North Avenue.)

Owens says, “Everyone in Battle Creek flocked to his seances to see what spirits would materialize. Spirits of famous local figures were seen, including Sojourner Truth, who died weeks before a seance.

However, Walling would be exposed as a fraud by a group of prominent male citizens who attended a seance to see if the “protests were genuine,” Owens says in his written account.

During the seance, one of the men, Dr Wattles, insisted on shaking hands with a “spirit” through the partially closed cabinet door. Soon Mrs. Walling was exposed.

“She was in the cabinet and at one point some spirits were supposed to materialize and someone in the session wanted to shake hands and one hand comes out and when Wattles shakes her hand and ‘the spirit’ goes out, he brought someone out and he was Mrs. Walling.

Mr. Walling would be arrested and charged with breaching a municipal ordinance relating to the authorization of exhibitions. He was arrested instead of his wife because he owned the house where the activity took place. He was ordered to appear and paid a fine of $39.60.

The city’s two local newspapers – the Journal and the Moon – began their own investigations and found that Ms Walling had been “reported as a con man and a fraud” in Chicago and Terre Haute, Indiana before moving to Battle Creek with Mr. Walling to ply his trade.

Owens says the couple moved outside the city limits to avoid further legal issues and she continued to hold seances. Despite the negative publicity, Walling continued to be very successful.

As a spiritualist movement continues across the world and maintains its share of believers and detractors, Owens says she will continue to present information that will leave her audience to draw their own conclusions.

“My role as a historian is to share what I have discovered about Battle Creek’s rich past and to share those anecdotes and stories with others,” she says. “There is so much the people of Battle Creek don’t know about their town and the past events that helped shape it into the town we see today.”

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