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Medium causes riot

Anna Fay an American medium/stage Mesmerist created a riot when the audience uncovered the secrets of her tricks. The police had to be called in to break up the crowds. The story made national news and featured in papers all over the country.

(article transcriptions)


The Exchange Hall, Blackburn was the other night a scene of extraordinary disturbances. Miss Anna Fay, an American, and her company which includes Miss Edmonson, a ‘magnetic lady’ began on a preceding evening a series of entertainments which consisted of ‘spirit demonstrations’ and ‘mind-adling’, including the ‘floating of chairs and tables mid-air’, ‘the materialisation of flowers’, a plaster Paris hand which is ‘endowed with intelligence’, ‘dark seances’ and so on. Miss Fay claims to have a gift of magnetism in a very large degree, and alleges that her remarkable powers have been subjected to every possible test by scientific men with entire satisfaction. She states that her exhibitions are due to conjuring, science and spiritualism, and the handbill quotes eulogistic descriptions of entertainments from metropolitan and other journals. Blackburn Spiritualists, however, have refused to accept her as a medium. The audience fancied at they were being deceived, and owing to noisy interruptions the entertainment had to be terminated abruptly.

Next night, the disturbances were still worse. Miss Fay’s greatest feat was to make an ariel flight above the heads of the audience from the platform to the back of the hall, the transit being accomplished in darkness. The gas was turned down, and a bright object looking exactly like the figure of a woman was seen floating over the centre of the long hall from the platform towards the top of the cupola over the main entrance. By preconcerted arrangement, a number of matches were struck by persons in the audience, and one man thrust a sharp hooked stick into the floating body and brought it to the ground. It was found to be nothing more than an inflated linen bag, to which was attached a string to draw it rapidly along a very fine wire.

Miss Fay was discovered standing on top of the entrance cupola which had been reached by a ladder. When the matches were struck she shouted for the lights to be turned out, as upon darkness depended the success of the experiment and she was not quite ready to begin. The conspiritors, however took no notice of her cries, and when the deception was laid bare, a great disturbance commenced. So threatening, in fact, was the aspect of affairs that a strong body of police was sent for. Miss Fay attempted to explain, but could not make herself heard. Suspicion had been aroused by the wire over the hall, and by the attendant whispering to some young men about to enter that ‘she was too soon’ evidently thihnking he was addressing Miss Fay.

The entertainment was delayed, but ultimately comparative quiet was restored, and it proceeded. Miss Fay alleged that the figure siezed was simply one she always employed to ascertain whether conditions were satisfactory, but the audience had seen led to understand that  her actual body was in transit when the image was captured and it also had been announced that she would float from the platform to the rear of the hall and not vice versa, as she afterwards asserted.




From the British Newspaper Archives