Back from that Bourne by Edward Page Mitchell
Practical Working of Materialization in Maine
A STRANGE STORY FROM POCOCK ISLAND--A MATERIALIZED SPIRIT THAT
WILL NOT GO BACK--THE FIRST GLIMPSE OF WHAT MAY YET CAUSE VERY
EXTENSIVE TROUBLE IN THE WORLD
We are permitted to make extracts from a private letter which bears
the signature of a gentleman well known in business circles, and whose
veracity we have never heard called in question. Ills statements are
startling and well nigh incredible, but, if true, they are susceptible
of easy verification. Yet the thoughtful mind will hesitate about
accepting them without the fullest proof, for they spring upon the
world a social problem of stupendous importance. The dangers
apprehended by Mr. Malthus and his followers become remote and
commonplace by the side of this new and terrible issue.
The letter is dated at Pocock Island, a small township in Washington
County, Maine, about seventeen miles from the mainland, and nearly
midway between Mt. Desert and the Grand Marian. The last state census
accords to Pocock Island a population of 311, mostly engaged in the
porgy fisheries. At the presidential election of 1872 the island gave
Grant a majority of three. These two facts are all that we are able to
learn of the locality from sources outside of the letter already
The letter, omitting certain passages which refer solely to private
matters, reads as follows:
"But enough of the disagreeable business that brought me here to
this bleak island in the month of November. I have a singular story to
tell you. After our experience together at Chittenden I know you will
not reject statements because they are startling.
"My friend, there is upon Pocock Island a materialized spirit which
[or who] refuses to be dematerialized. At this moment and within a
quarter of a mile from me as I write, a man who died and was buried
four years ago, and who has exploited the mysteries beyond the grave,
walks, talks, and holds intercourse with the inhabitants of the island,
and is, to all appearances, determined to remain permanently upon this
side of the river. I will relate the circumstances as briefly as I
"In April 1870, John Newbegin died and was buried in the little
cemetery on the landward side of the island. Newbegin was a man of
about forty-eight, without family or near connections, and eccentric to
a degree that sometimes inspired questions as to his sanity. What money
he had earned by many seasons' fishing upon the banks was invested in
quarters of two small mackerel schooners, the remainder of which
belonged to John Hodgdon, the richest man on Pocock, who was estimated
by good authorities to be worth thirteen or fourteen thousand
"Newbegin was not without a certain kind of culture. He had read a
good deal of the odds and ends of literature, and, as a simple-minded
islander expressed it in my hearing, 'knew more bookfuls than anybody
else on Pocock.' He was naturally an intelligent man; and he might have
attained influence in the community had it not been for his utter
aimlessness of character, his indifference to fortune, and his
consuming thirst for rum.
"Many yachtsmen, who have had occasion to stop at Pocock for water
or for harbor shelter during eastern cruises, will remember a long,
listless figure, astonishingly attired in blue army pants, rubber
boots, loose toga made of some bright chintz material, and very bad
hat, staggering through the little settlement, followed by a rabble of
jeering brats, and pausing to strike uncertain blows at those within
reach of the dead sculpin which he usually carried around by the tail.
This was John Newbegin."
HIS SUDDEN DEATH
"As I have already remarked, he died four years ago last April. The
Mary Emmeline, one of the little schooners in which he owned, had
returned from the eastward, and had smuggled, or 'run in,' a quantity
of St. John brandy. Newbegin had a solitary and protracted debauch. He
was missed from his accustomed walks for several days, and when the
islanders broke into the hovel where he lived, close down to the
seaweed, and almost within reach of the incoming tide, they found him
dead on the floor, with an emptied demijohn hard by his head.
"After the primitive custom of the island, they interred John
Newbegin's remains without coroner's inquest, burial certificate, or
funeral services, and, in the excitement of a large catch of porgies
that summer, soon forgot him and his friendless life. His interest in
the Mary Emmeline and the Puttyboat recurred to John Hodgdon; and as
nobody came forward to demand an administration of the estate, it was
never administered. The forms of the law are but loosely followed in
some of these marginal localities."
HIS REAPPEARANCE AT POCOCK
"Well, my dear ----, four years and four months had brought their
quota of varying seasons to Pocock Island, when John New-begin
reappeared, under the following circumstances:
"In the latter part of last August, as you may remember, there was a
heavy gale all along our Atlantic coast. During this storm the squadron
of the Naugatuck Yacht Club, which was returning from a summer cruise
as far as Campobello, was forced to take shelter in the harbor to the
leeward of Pocock Island. The gentlemen of the club spent three days at
the little settlement ashore. Among the party was Mr. R.---E.--, in
which name you will recognize a medium of celebrity, and one who has
been particularly successful in materializations. At the desire of his
companions, and to relieve the tedium of their detention, Mr. E.--.
improvised a cabinet in the little schoolhouse at Pocock, and gave a
seance, to the delight of his fellow yachtsmen and the utter
bewilderment of such natives as were permitted to witness the
"The conditions seemed unusually favorable to spirit appearances,
and the seance was, upon the whole, perhaps the most remarkable that
Mr. E.-- ever held. It was all the more remarkable because the
surroundings were such that the most prejudiced skeptic could discover
no possibility of trickery.
"The first form to issue from the wood closet which constituted the
cabinet, when Mr. E.---- had been tied therein by a committee of old
sailors from the yachts, was that of an Indian chief who announced
himself as Hock-a-mock, and who retired after dancing a 'Harvest moon'
pas seul and declaring himself, in very emphatic terms, opposed to the
present Indian policy of the Administration. Hock-a-mock was succeeded
by the aunt of one of the yachtsmen, who identified herself beyond
question by allusion to family matters and by displaying the scar of a
burn upon her left arm, received while making tomato catsup upon earth.
Then came successively a child whom no one present recognized, a
French-Canadian who could not talk English, and a portly gentleman who
introduced himself as William King, first governor of Maine. These in
turn re-entered the cabinet, and were seen no more.
"It was some time before another spirit manifested itself, and Mr.
E.-- gave directions that the light be turned down still further. Then
the door of the wood closet was slowly opened and a singular figure in
rubber boots and a species of Dolly Varden garment emerged, bringing a
dead fish in his right hand."
HIS DETERMINATION TO REMAIN
"The city men who were present, I am told, thought that the medium
was masquerading in grotesque habiliments for the more complete
astonishment of the islanders, but these latter rose from their seats
and exclaimed with one consent: a is John Newbegin! It is Johnny for
sartain!' And then, in not unnatural terror at the apparition, they
turned and fled from the schoolroom, uttering dismal cries.
"John Newbegin came calmly forward and turned up the solitary
kerosene lamp that shed uncertain light over the proceedings. He then
sat down in the teacher's chair, folded his arms, and looked
complacently around him.
"'You might as well untie the medium,' he at length remarked. 'I
propose to remain in the materialized condition.'
"And he did remain. When the party left the schoolhouse among them
walked John Newbegin, as truly a being of flesh and blood as any man of
them. From that day to this he has been a living inhabitant of Pocock
Island, eating, drinking ( water only ), and sleeping after the manner
of men. The yachtsmen, who made sail for Bar Harbor the very next
morning, probably believe that he was a fraud hired for the occasion by
Mr. E.--. But the people of Pocock, who laid him out, dug his grave,
and put him into it four years ago, know that John Newbegin has come
back to them from a land they know not of."
A SINGULAR MEMBER OF SOCIETY
"The idea of having a ghost--somewhat more condensed, it is true,
than the traditional ghost--as a member was not at first over-pleasing
to the 311 inhabitants of Pocock Island. To this day they are a little
sensitive upon the subject, feeling evidently that if the matter got
abroad, it might injure the sale of the really excellent porgy oil
which is the product of their sole manufacturing interest. This
reluctance to advertise the skeleton in their closet, superadded to the
slowness of these obtuse, fishy, matter-of-fact people to recognize the
transcendent importance of the case, must be accepted as an explanation
of the fact that John Newbegin's spirit has been on earth between three
and four months, and yet the singular circumstance is not known to the
"But the Pocockians have at last come to see that a spirit is not
necessarily a malevolent spirit, and, accepting his presence as a fact
in their stolid, unreasoning way, they are quite neighborly and
sociable with Mr. Newbegin.
"I know that your first question will be: 'Is there sufficient proof
of his ever having been dead?' To this I answer unhesitatingly, 'Yes.'
He was too well known a character and too many people saw the corpse to
admit of any mistake on this point. I may here add that it was at one
time proposed to disinter the original remains, but that the project
was abandoned in deference to the wishes of Mr. Newbegin, who feels a
natural delicacy about having his first set of bones disturbed from
motives of mere curiosity."
AN INTERVIEW WITH A DEAD MAN
"You will readily believe that I took occasion to see and converse
with John Newbegin. I found him affable and even communicative. He is
perfectly well aware of his doubtful status as a being, but is in hopes
that at some future time there may be legislation which shall correctly
define his position and the position of any spirit who may follow him
into the material world. The only point upon which he is reticent is
his experience during the four years that elapsed between his death and
his reappearance at Pocock. It is to be presumed that the memory is not
a pleasant one; at least he never speaks of this period. He candidly
admits, however, that he is glad to get back to earth, and that he
embraced the very first opportunity to be materialized.
"Mr. Newbegin says that he is consumed with remorse for the wasted
years of his previous existence. Indeed, his course during the past
three months would show that this regret is genuine. He has discarded
his eccentric costume, and dresses like a reasonable spirit. He has not
touched liquor since his reappearance. He has embarked in the porgy oil
business, and his operations already rival those of Hodgdon, his old
partner in the Mary Emmeline and the Puttyboat. By the way, Newbegin
threatens to sue Hodgdon for his undivided quarter in each of these
vessels, and this interesting case therefore bids fair to be thoroughly
investigated in the courts.
"As a businessman he is generally esteemed on the island, although
there is a noticeable reluctance to discount his paper at long dates.
In short, Mr. John Newbegin is a most respectable citizen [if a dead
man can be a citizen], and has announced his intention of running for
the next legislature!"
"And now, my dear ----, I have told you the substance of all I know
respecting this strange, strange case. Yet, after all, why so strange?
We accepted materialization at Chittenden. Is this any more than the
logical issue of that admission? If the spirit may return to earth,
clothed in flesh and blood and all the physical attributes of humanity,
why may it not remain on earth as long as it sees fit?
"Thinking of it from whatever standpoint, I cannot but regard John
Newbegin as the pioneer of a possibly large immigration from the spirit
world. The bars once down, a whole flock will come trooping back to
earth. Death will lose its significance altogether. And when I think of
the disturbance which will result in our social relations, of the
overthrow of all accepted institutions, and of the nullification of all
principles of political economy, law, and religion, I am lost in
perplexity and apprehension."