Jeptha Homer Wade (1811-1835) was a man of many interests, a portrait painter, a telegrapher, and a spiritualist. The finding aid for WRHS MS. 3292 The Jeptha Homer Wade Family Papers describes the contents of Box 2, Folder 16 as follows: Correspondence, communications with the ‘spirit world’ through various mediums, 1880 to 1882 and undated.”
When researchers show up at the library to look at materials related to spiritualism I sometimes get to meet them and exchange stories. A recent visitor left me with xerox copies of articles from the “New England Spiritualist” dated 1856 and 1857 because they notices of events in Ohio and one of them caught my eye because the headline read “Portraits of Spirits.” (New England Spiritualist, March 28, 1857, p.7) Here’s how the article begins:
“Our readers will remember the passage in brother FORSTER’S letter, which we published two weeks ago in relation to the portrait of Professor DAYTON, which he had obtained in Columbus, Ohio, and which was executed by the hand of E. ROGERS, who is a medium, but was never an artist. At the present writing–Thursday, March12th–we have two beautiful portraits standing in our office, each of which was executed in ten minutes in colored crayon.”
It was the mention of colored crayon that caught my eye. Like anyone who has dipped into Spiritualism research I already knew about spirit photography (see Mrs. Lincoln below)
This idea that artists had prepared spirit portraits in the same way you might get a caricature or a silhouette made of your children at Disneyland was a new idea (at least to me) and a lazy, end-of-the-day-Friday search online brought little more information to light about hand-drawn spirit portraits, or E. Rogers.* I left work yesterday with more questions than answers.
–Who was Rogers?
–How did he get started in the spirit portrait biz?
–If handed a quickly drawn portrait of the 19th century, how would I know if it was a spirit portrait or not without a note specifying the fact?
The article goes on to relate that the two portraits mentioned had been obtained by a Mr.D.A. Eddy, Esq., of Cleveland, Ohio. Eddy had made a special trip to get portraits of his spirits friends and was slightly disappointed to acquire two portraits of women who were unknown to him. When he got back to Cleveland at 11 p.m. that same evening he woke up his eighty year old father who identified the women as a great aunt and a childhood friend of Eddy’s mother.
The more I thought about it the more I began to feel sorry for Mr. Rogers. Sounds as if he had a pretty good gig going providing hand drawn images that could be shopped around until someone recognized the sitter. How was he to know that photography would make his drawings seem passé, he was a buggy whip maker in a world which wouldn’t need them for much longer.
*This E. Rogers should not be confused with the English Edmund Rogers (1823-1910) who as far as I can tell was not shilling drawings in Columbus, Ohio in the early Spring of 1857.