Believing he might be going insane, Frederic L. Thompson, a New York City goldsmith, consulted Dr. James Hyslop, who specialized in abnormal psychology, during January 1907, explaining that around the middle of 1905, he was “suddenly and inexplicably seized with an impulse to sketch and paint pictures,” and that he continually had “hallucinations or visions” of trees and landscapes. Prior to that, he had no real interest or experience in art beyond the engraving required in his occupation. He further informed Hyslop that he sometimes felt like a man named Robert Swain Gifford and would remark to his wife that, “Gifford wants to sketch.”
Gifford was a successful landscape artist who died on January 13, 1905. Thompson had met Gifford some years earlier in the marshes of New Bedford, Massachusetts, as he was hunting and Gifford was sketching. He recalled talking to Gifford for a few minutes on one occasion and just seeing him on a couple of other occasions. He also once called upon Gifford to show him some jewelry, but he assured Hyslop that his contact with Gifford did not go beyond that.
During the latter part of January 1906, Thompson, unaware that Gifford had died, saw a notice of an exhibition of Gifford’s paintings at the American Art Galleries in New York City and decided to visit it. While looking at one of the paintings on exhibition, Thompson heard a voice in his ear saying, “You see what I have done. Can you not take up and finish my work?” Thompson didn’t know what to make of it, but the impulse to sketch and paint became stronger; and over the next year, he produced a number of paintings of artistic merit and was able to sell them, concealing the Gifford connection from all but his wife. One art connoisseur told him that his work resembled that of Gifford, even though Thompson made no mention of the Gifford influence.
Thompson was especially haunted by a vision of some gnarled oak trees, feeling he had to find the scene and paint it. It was at this point that he contacted Hyslop for help. He sketched the gnarled oak trees for Hyslop, stressing that the need to find the trees and paint them was overwhelming him and causing him to lose interest in his job. Hyslop saw no motive or incentive for Thompson to make up such a story.
In addition to his study of abnormal psychology, Hyslop, who had taught philosophy, logic, and ethics at Columbia University before organizing the American Institute for Scientific Research, was interested in psychical research and was in the process of studying several trance mediums. Although Thompson initially objected, saying he did not believe in “spiritualism,” he finally consented to Hyslop’s suggestion that Hyslop make arrangements for him to sit with three different mediums. With Hyslop accompanying him and taking notes, all three mediums hit upon the Gifford influence and provided various degrees of evidential information.
Hyslop took precautions to be sure that the mediums knew nothing about Thompson or the reason he was sitting with them. Some 20 bits of information came through medium Minnie Soule, including a reference to Thompson’s fondness for rugs and rich and flesh colors, to a tarpaulin that he frequently wore, to his sudden death, his unfinished work, to the condition of his studio, to misty scenes, and finally to a group of oak trees. But Soule could not get the name of the location of the oak trees. Thompson then contacted Gifford’s widow and was told that Gifford’s favorite place was one of the Elizabeth Islands. While Thompson was visiting Mrs. Gifford, he was shown around Gifford’s old studio and was shocked to see three paintings there that were almost mirror images of those he had sketched during his “hallucinations,” one of a man with an ox team.
Thompson then went to the Elizabeth Islands and found the gnarled oak trees on the island of Nashawena, a place he had never been to. He immediately painted the scene. He also found several other scenes he had sketched or painted. While viewing one of them, he heard a voice similar to the one he had heard at the art gallery say, “Go and look on the other side of the tree.” There he found Gifford’s initials carved in the bark of a beach tree in 1902. Two months later, Hyslop visited the island with Thompson and observed the scenes and the initials, concluding that the initials were old and weathered and thus could not have been recently carved by Thompson as part of a fraudulent scheme.
Hyslop also investigated the strange case of Etta de Camp, a young New York City legal secretary who claimed to be receiving stories by means of automatic writing from Frank R. Stockton, the author of 23 books for adults and children, who had died in 1902.
De Camp said she knew nothing about automatic writing until reading a newspaper article about it by William Stead of London. Intrigued, she decided to give it a try. After sitting with pencil in hand for some time, she felt a “thrill” go from her shoulder to her fingertips as though she had been touched by an electric battery. “To my utter amazement the pencil began to move,” she recalled. “I watched it, fascinated, for I was absolutely sure I was not moving it myself. It seemed as though my arm and hand had become detached from my body and did not belong to me.”
It was not until her third attempt that she received more than circles, scrolls, and illegible words. A week or two later, she received several messages from her father, who had died 12 years earlier. The messages were for her mother and contained much information that de Camp knew nothing about. However, her mother confirmed them as fact. De Camp said she had no idea what the next word would be until she saw it on the paper.
On March 23, 1909, de Camp’s hand wrote, “I am Frank R. Stockton. I have many stories I wish written out. I am glad I can write them through you. I have one I wish to write called What Did I Do with My Wife. We will go on with it now.” At a later sitting, Stockton wrote that he had been searching for years for the right person to continue his stories. “I am very fortunate in finding you, my dear madam, as you are sensitive to my vibration, and so I reach you easily,” he informed her. “We are in perfect accord, and, together, will do a great work, and teach the old world what can be done even after the so-called end of man.”
Stockton went on to dictate (or write himself using de Camp’s hand) his first short story. In later sittings, he would dictate another six stories, all assembled in a book published in 1913, titled The Return of Frank R. Stockton.
“These stories are not yours nor do they belong to anyone living on your plane,” Stockton informed de Camp through her own hand. “They are mine and I shall never consent to their being sold under any other name.” He also asked that 10 percent of the proceeds from the sale of any book be given to his estate.
Henry Alden, the editor of Harper’s Monthly, informed Hyslop of the strange case and said that the stories were sufficiently like those of Stockton. John R. Meader, who had studied Stockton’s writings, claimed that those produced by de Camp were “very characteristic” of Stockton’s writing when he was alive.
As with Thompson, Hyslop arranged for de Camp to have an anonymous sitting with Minnie Soule. Stockton communicated, providing proof of his identity and confirming that he was the source of de Camp’s stories, although adding that her subconscious sometimes distorted the stories though not to any great extent.
It may be that some child prodigies are a result of such spirit influence, or “overshadowing,” as it came to be called by various researchers. Dr. Charles Richet, a professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Paris and the 1913 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, reported on the strange case of Pepito Arriola, when, at age 3 years, 3 months, he performed at the 1900 Psychological Congress in Paris. Richet stated that the boy played brilliantly on the piano. “He composed military or funeral marches, waltzes, habaneras, minuets, and played some twenty difficult pieces from memory,” Richet wrote. “A hundred members of the Congress heard and applauded him.”
It was noted that little Pepito’s hands could not stretch more than five notes, yet he appeared to sound full octaves. Some onlookers said that his hands seemed to increase in size during the playing, and Rosalie Thompson, a clairvoyant, claimed that she saw the child dissolve into the figure of a man while at the piano.
Pepito’s mother said that she did not teach her son to play the piano. Her first awareness of the boy’s talent was when he was just two-and-a-half. She heard one of her own difficult pieces being correctly played, entered the room, and found her son at the piano.
As Pepito’s mother and other family members were accomplished musicians, the explanation by mainstream psychology was that Pepito’s ability was purely hereditary, but scientists and researchers, such as Hyslop and Richet, were courageous enough to consider explanations that did not fall within the materialistic paradigm and report on them.
Another amazing story is that of Jesse F. Shepard, a musical medium who performed on the piano in Great Britain, Australia, France, Russia, Germany, the United States, and other countries, often before royalty. He also sang and it was said that his voice filled cathedrals. However, he performed mostly in the dark and always while in a trance state. Occasionally, the piano could be seen playing without Shepard’s hands on it. In the normal (non-trance) state, he could neither play nor sing, and thus it was believed that spirits were overshadowing him and producing the music through him.
Reporting on a performance that took place on September 3, 1893, Prince Adam Wisniewski stated that the second piece played by Shepard that night was a rhapsody for four hands, by Liszt and Thalberg. “Notwithstanding this extraordinarily complex technique, the harmony was admirable, and such as no one present had ever known paralleled, even by Liszt himself, whom I personally knew, and in whom passion and delicacy were united. In the circle were musicians who, like me, had heard the greatest pianists in Europe, but we can say that we never heard such truly supernatural execution.”
Of Shepard’s voice, Professor M. Bernardin Rahn said that it was very unique. “There is no imitation of it possible,” he added. “The compass of the voice can have nothing likened to it. A bass of profound depth, full expression, is first heard. Thereupon it is answered by a soprano, which attains the utmost heights with clear and thrilling notes. Brilliant shakes follow the most amazing staccato.”
According to Professor J. Kiddle of New York, Shepard was not only a gifted trance musician, but also gave trance addresses in English, French, German, Latin, Greek, Chaldean, and Arabic, dealing with scientific, philosophical, and social subjects. He also wrote two volumes of discourses. Renowned Belgian author Maurice Maeterlinck, the 1911 Nobel Prize winner in literature, said that he knew of nothing in literature more admirable or more profound.
Probably the best known case of musical overshadowing is that of Rosemary Brown, a widowed London housewife who, beginning in 1964, purportedly received compositions from the spirits of many great composers, including Beethoven, Liszt, Mozart, Chopin, Bach, and Debussy. Although Brown had taken some piano lessons, she had no real talent and was unacquainted with the technicalities of writing notes. Mediumistic since her childhood, Brown received a message from Liszt via automatic writing in which he said that a group of composers from the spirit world would be using her to dictate new compositions through her by means of automatic writing. “You have sufficient training for our purposes,” Liszt told her. “Had you been given a really full musical education it would have been no help to us at all.” He further explained that a full musical background would have been an impediment to them as she would have had too many theories and ideas of her own that they might not have been able to overcome.
Brown proceeded to produce many musical works, all of which were well beyond her previous capabilities. She went on to perform on both British and American television. Music critics were divided as to whether her music resembled or approached that of the old masters. “I’ve no doubt she’s psychic,” said composer Richard Rodney Bennett. “She’s told me things about myself she just couldn’t have known about. I was having trouble with a piece of music and she passed along Debussy’s recommendation—which worked… A lot of people can improvise but you couldn’t fake music like this without years of training. I couldn’t have faked some of the Beethoven myself.”
Renowned pianist Hephzibah Menuhin was also impressed. “The music is absolutely in the style of these composers,” she said.
Apparently, Chopin had overshadowed others before Brown. Communicating through direct-voice medium Leslie Flint in 1956, Chopin mentioned having been aware, during his earth life, of some kind of beings giving him inspiration and assistance while he was composing. In fact, he gave that as his reason for making so much effort to contact those on Earth. That is, he was grateful for having had help and he wanted to extend any help he could to others.
Many who believe in spirit influence or overshadowing see it as coming from spirits at various levels—some low-level or “earthbound” who influence people in negative ways, some more elevated or advanced and thus providing positive influences. This, it is further believed, is done by the spirit somehow tapping into the person’s aura or energy field. Of course, modern day psychology and journalism, both subscribing to materialistic explanations, want nothing to do with such “ridiculous” ideas and thus any overshadowing taking place today, whether of destructive terrorist activity at one extreme or highly creative pursuits at the other, is likely to go unrecognized and unreported.