Society for the Advancement of Belief in Ghosts

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The Ghost Club of Crawfordsville
Formation 31 October 1887 (Hallowe'en)
Headquarters Crawfordsville, IN

The Society for the Advancement of Belief in Ghosts (or the Ghost Club of Crawfordsville) was an American private society dedicated to the study of ghosts, according to J. A. Greene, correspondent for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. It was reported as having been formed by William Ridley, Dr. Henry de Caux, and Professor Robert Burton in 1887 (on Hallowe'en, naturally) at Crawfordsville, Indiana, for the purpose of sharing personal stories of ghostly encounters and the collection of a society library and museum of artifacts in support of the reality of ghosts. Membership was reputedly open exclusively to persons willing to publicly attest that they had a personal experience with a ghost (and for such attestations to be accepted by all members via a blackball vote on initiation).

Dramatis Personae

As far as we have been able to ascertain...

  • William Ridley and Dr. Henry de Caux, who were, perhaps, based on Dr. William DeCaux Tilney (1841-1925), British-born physician and notable resident of Crawfordsville,[1] "professor of magic", automatic writer of Experiences in Hades and Heavens, Communicated through the Hand of W. D. Tilney (Crawfordsville: The Indiana Printing Co., 1912), later reported as having legal troubles arising from his medical trade at Colorado in 1900.[2][3] Dr. DeCaux Tilney was cited as a witness to spiritual manifestations in the mid-1870s at Pence's Hall in Terre Haute, Indiana.[4]
  • Professor Robert Burton, who one finds in the newspaper records of the area described as a "popular colored crap shooter" with an unusual collection of good luck "hokes".[5]
  • Jesse A. Greene (1866-1923), secretary (and later editor) of the Crawfordsville Journal, "correspondent" for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, relater of the story of the "Ghost Club" in the Halloween 1891 report.

The "Ghost Lodge"

Greene described the meeting place of the Society in an 1891 newspaper article as follows:

The club-room, or "ghost lodge," as it is called, can certainly lay claim to being the weirdest affair extant. It is a room about twenty by forty feet, in the fourth story of one of the principal business blocks. Its windows on the north overlook Oak Hill Cemetery, while those on the west look directly down into the jail yard, where four red-handed murderers have been swung off into eternity in as many years. In the room itself occurred a murder, many years ago, upon the very night that it was dedicated as a dance hall, and the ghost of the promising young buck then slain is said to frequently revisit the scene of his untimely taking off. From a scaffold on the same building a painter fell some years later and was dashed to death on the cruel flagstones below, while still later an old lady dropped dead from heart disease while searching for an erring son who was playing poker in the hall, which was then a gambling hall.
These terrible associations had much to do with the selection of the room, and when it was once fitted up its ghastly decorations made its hideousness complete. It is hung entirely in white. White cheese cloth drapes the walls and ceiling. White canvas covers the floor, and even the window glass is painted white. On the other hand every article of furniture is as black as midnight, except such paraphernalia as the skeletons. In each corner of the room stands one of these genial customers, grinning horribly, and each one has a duty to perform, for in every empty cranium there is a small lamp with a red glass chimney, and for the hall these lamps furnish the only light which pours in lurid streams through the empty eye-sockets and grinning mouths of these four repulsive sentinels. The table at which the President and Secretary sit is an old dissecting table, purchased some time ago from the Indiana Medical College. The President to call order rings a large dinner bell, which hangs from the ceiling above. This bell was obtained from the ruins of a farm house in the conflagration of which an infant perished, and in order to ring it the President pulls the identical rope with which Jack Henning was hanged, not yards away, in 1887, for the murder of his sweetheart. The seats in the room were all made from the timbers of the scaffold from which Henning and three others dropped to glory, and which the Sheriff was only too glad to sell when the law requiring all executions to take place in the Penitentiary went into effect. There is a library of some hundred books in the hall, all treating of ghosts and ghost life. There is a museum also, and in it are to be found relics most ghastly and curious. There is the blood-stained club with which Chris Coffey beat old man McMullen and his wife to death; the spade with which the old sexton of the Masonic Cemetery dug over 500 graves, and which he was clutching tightly in his stiffened hand when found cold in death one fine morning; there is the cap in which Rev. Pettit is said to have mixed poison tor his wife, the knives and revolvers of murderers and and other implements of a similarly hair-raising character. The club has expended no little money in preparing its quarters, and every month or two a new horror is added to its already startling outfit.
There is no particular secrecy about the organization, and its stories are often related on the outside, the papers even being loaned for perusal to non-members.

Resources

Newspapers

Online

References

  1. http://www.ingenweb.org/inmontgomery/bios/t/tilney-william-decaux.htm
  2. "DR. TINLEY RETURNS. Talks of His Colorado Trouble and Declares It Was a Conspiracy.", The Weekly News Review (Crawfordsville, Indiana): 2, 1900-04-21, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2310&dat=19000421&id=5wpKAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OyENAAAAIBAJ&pg=4282,2015436&hl=en, retrieved 2016-08-07 
  3. Brockett, D. A., "He Bought the Farm", Wicked Western Slope: Mayhem, Mischief and Murder in Colorado, Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, p. 104-105, http://amzn.to/2b15Uj9 
  4. Bundy, John C., ed. (1879-11-01), "The Prosecution Closes Its Case Against the Pence Hall Tricksters", Religio-Philosophical Journal (Chicago) 27 (9): 4, http://www.iapsop.com/archive/materials/religio-philosophical_journal/rpj_nov_1879.pdf, retrieved 2016-08-07 
  5. "THE CRAZE FOR CRAPS. A Gambling Game That Has Taken Crawfordsville By Storm.", Crawfordsville Weekly Journal (Crawfordsville, Indiana), 1891-07-04, https://newspapers.library.in.gov/cgi-bin/indiana?a=d&d=CWJ18910704.1.3, retrieved 2016-08-07, "A pair of dice and you are equipped as a "crap shooter." Well, not exactly equipped either, you must have your "mascott" or "hokeybo" without which your name would be Dennis. The old time rabbits foot is still popular its a "hoke" but turky necks, sow hoofs, chicken's crops and other trinkets are considered to be in equally good form. "Prof." Robert Burton, the popular colored crap shooter, has the weirdest collection probably ever seen in the city. When he plays he has them all huddled in a heap at his knees and will touch them according to the number he wishes to throw. His most potent "hoke" is a dead child's dried hand and it is said its power is infallible."