The French John Jay de Beaumont Museum sheds light on the history of spiritualism


Karli Stansbury gave a talk titled “Spirits and Spiritualism,” with the subtitle “A (Mostly) Serious Discussion of the Afterlife,” on October 1 to a packed house of over 60 people. Obviously, it’s not just spirits looking to make a connection.

Stanbury, deputy director of the Beaumont Heritage Society, immediately set the tone. She admitted to being obsessed with Halloween and all things scary, and her enthusiasm for the subject was evident.

Spiritualism is both a religion and a philosophy, she says, and dates back to Emmanuel Swederborg in the 1840s. Basically, spiritualists believe that heaven is a place on earth and the spirits residing there have moral guidance. and ethical for us and want to communicate.

The immutability of the soul is a concept shared with mainstream Christianity, but instead of souls passing through a distant sky, souls occupy a spirit world on Earth.

Stansbury said that early spiritualism had an element of feminism. First Reps Kate and Maggie Fox claimed that their parents’ house held the soul of a murdered cobbler. They were able to communicate through taps, knocks, and knocks to answer simple questions. They quickly became celebrities, touring the country.

Suspicions were raised and when it was revealed that not only had there never been a murder in the house there was no trace of a cobbler and the Foxes were discredited. Of course, as Stansbury points out, record keeping wasn’t really thorough at the time. So who knows? Be that as it may, the rise of religion continued.

Spiritism was an acceptable way for women to speak in public, men thought, because they received messages from spirits—indeed, women were thought to be better at receiving messages than men.

As the spirits were thought to give wise counsel, women could speak on issues of female suffrage and abolition. As radical thinkers became uncomfortable with their churches, they found that spiritualism suited their ideas better.

A vocal woman, Victoria Woodhull, earned the moniker “Mrs. Satan,” which showed that not everyone was quite ready for radical ideas.

Stansbury laughed that the death was popular in the 1800s, which made the audience laugh. The population was faced with smallpox, dysentery, cholera and all kinds of diseases. Then came the civil war which deprived many people of a “good death”. Soldiers would die on the battlefield or away from home, meaning the family would not have the option of burying them or saying goodbye. They could be thrown into a pit.

Spiritualism was a way for people to connect, to say goodbye, to give their loved ones the “good death”. It spread, both as a religion and as a business. Mediums are popping up everywhere. The truly macabre thing about tapping into the spirit of the season is that where people are weak and desperate, other people will look to cash in. Stansbury showed a 1902 leaflet, “Gambols for the Ghosts”, which advertised an average do-it-yourself kit with all the gadgets and instructions for conducting a seance. It also included the disturbing instruction; Don’t fail!

Spiritualism also embraced science. Morse code was similar to the concept of suppressing call-and-response messages, so it was adopted as a means of establishing contact. Photography was making inroads and ghost images were popping up everywhere (Stansbury showed the last photo taken of Mary Todd Lincoln by William Mumler, with the faint image of Honest Abe behind her, her hands resting on her shoulders (Imagine if Photoshop was there at that time. Oh, the money that could be made).

Franz Mesmer believed that minds were made up of magnetic energy, so he used his “animal magnetism” to extract the minds of his patients who were “hypnotized”.

Stansbury added tidbits about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who made good money doing seances, and Harry Houdini, who, after the death of his beloved mother, made it his mission to expose Hucksterism.

Stansbury has linked ghost hunting through Ouija boards, automatic writing, radio and telegraph, to video, EMPs and EVP technologies as seen in YouTube and Netflix videos today.

Stansbury had a good laugh when she said she wouldn’t use a Ouija board because the ceremony has strict rules for opening and closing the spirit portal, and with her ADHD, she would probably forget to close it.

But why does the John Jay French Museum speak of spiritualism?

Well, it turns out that old man French himself was a spiritualist. While spiritualism was more prevalent in the North than in the South, Texas, with its philosophy of individuality, was quite receptive to it, with seances giving way to mass revivals, which Stansbury said involved much snakes and spoke in tongues.

Stansbury said Methodism and Spiritualism overlapped, and French’s wife was a Methodist. John Jay French believed in spirits and the ceilings of the house museums are painted blue to keep spirits away from the house (this mimics water and apparently spirits can’t walk through water which raises questions on King Arthur’s Lady of the Lake, but I digress). The color is “haint blue”, to haunt.

After the tour, we were invited on a flashlight tour of the house where we saw the clock he built and other items, each with a deliberate ‘flaw’, for only God is perfect . No spoilers for the imperfection of the clock, you’ll have to visit and see for yourself.

French liked to say, “Tempors are restless tonight. But Stansbury said, with a hint of sad resignation in her voice, that she didn’t believe the house was haunted, although she said it would be cool if it was like she spends all day there (j mentioned that she is obsessed, it’s true).

Now where is that blue paint?

The Beaumont Heritage Society, which operates the French Museum, will host more events during the month, with a celebration of Florence Chambers’ birthday on October 8 at Chambers House, and its annual Pumpkin Walk, the October 22, the company’s largest fundraiser. Admission for the walk is $5.

The John Jay French Museum is located at 3025 Chemin des Français in Beaumont. For more information, visit


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