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Vintage Vermont Lore II: The Eddys of Chittenden

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Vintage Vermont Lore II: The Eddys of Chittenden

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Chittenden Road comes off as more benign than most. The lane takes you from the outskirts of Rutland to the idyllic Chittenden, straight through a rather scenic wood. Every now and then you may meet a wayward car heading in the opposite direction or a resident out walking their dog, but otherwise the drive is a peaceful one. The houses are scattered on either side of the road; a few appear to be built before the turn of the last century. One in particular may catch your eye; it’s a large white farmhouse with a large front porch and a red metal roof. A sign marks it as the private High Life Ski Club. For all intents and purposes, it is an unassuming building, attractive and well maintained for an old Vermont farmhouse, and a superbly picturesque addition to the already serene scenery.

This house is not all it appears to be though; at one time spirits supposedly filled its rooms, attracting spectators from all over the country. Unlike many of the stories we will cover this term, the case of the family of mediums who lived on Chittenden Road is not one simply mired in superstition, legend, and old folk tales. Much of it is based in fact; the Eddys really did live, and if you are skeptical you can visit their graves less than a mile away from their childhood home. There are also first hand accounts of the happenings at the Eddy Farm throughout the 1870s, so the story itself cannot be doubted. Instead, it is the nature of the young men which should be examined, and whether they truly were mediums (able to summon spirits from ages past) or simply con artists looking to benefit in a time when spiritualism had wrapped its tight grip around the country.

Quite a bit is known about the Eddy family thanks to diaries, eye-witness accounts, and a retired Union colonel by the name of Henry Steel Olcott, the definitive historian on these mediums, and one of the men who investigated the assassination of President Lincoln. From all these accounts we know that their story did not begin in 1874 when Olcott first visited them, but rather in 1692 with the Salem Witch Trials. The family claimed Mary Bradbury, a convicted witch who had escaped her execution, as a distant relative. According to the matriarch of the Eddy family, Julia Ann Eddy nee Macomb, the line had carried powers ever since. She herself had been plagued by visions and trances since she was a young girl growing up in Weston. When she married Zephaniah Eddy in the early 1830s, they had to move to escape the local superstition and ridicule aimed at the young couple due to her powers. They already had eight of their thirteen children.

Escaping to the seclusion of Chittenden, some may say that the Eddy’s had a real chance at making a normal life for themselves and their brood, but it was not meant to be. Several of Julia’s children began to display a behavior similar to her own. They would go into trances, speak to children only they and their mother could see, and summon seemingly ethereal figures out of thin air. They were shunned from the local school they attended, due to their very presence inviting otherworldly visitors, filing the small building with whispers. The only education they would receive was to be inside their home where, as Olcott would later mention, Julia groomed them to be mediums.

Now where was Zephaniah, the patriarch in all of this? By all accounts he was not the kind of man anyone would want as a father; allegedly abusing the children, and more specifically those that showcased superior spiritual talent. It was his belief that he could beat these “gifts” out of his children. William and Horatio, the ‘brothers’ in question, were often even taken out into the forest after their spirit “friends” attempted to defend them from their father. They would be chained to a tree for days on end without food or drink. When their powers persisted, their father came to the conclusion that if he could not get rid of their “darkness”, so he might as well profit from it. In the year 1857, Zephaniah sold four of his children, the gifted Horatio, William, Mary, and Sophia, to a travel agent who would tour them around the country so that they might perform their miraculous powers.

People came far and wide to witness the powers of these young mediums. However, it was not the type of performance we would expect to see today. The show revolved around the four teens displaying their powers while the audience was invited to do whatever they could to stop them. If they could be stopped it was obviously all a hoax, right? They were bound, gagged, burnt, cut, chained, beaten, and in at least one case, shot. In his book on the case of the Eddys, Olcott writes of deep scars that still remained permanently engraved in their flesh, a souvenir from their childhood as performing mediums. 

Many first-hand accounts attested to the validity of the Eddys’ talents. After their father passed away and they moved back home, they opened an inn with their mother, advertising their abilities on their own terms. This is when they began to receive notoriety and caught the attention of Colonel Olcott, who travelled to Vermont in the late summer of 1874 to see if there really was something to the Eddy family or if it was indeed a hoax, as he suspected. The performances were set up in such a way that the medium (either Horatio or William) would sit in a chair outside of a cabinet. They would commune, and once the cabinet was opened, a spirit would step out to join the seance.

Olcott’s first such seance occurred on September 17, 1874:

“Outside a violent gale of wind was blowing, the clouds hung low, the rain fell, and the atmospheric conditions seemed unfavourable. A company of twenty-five persons assembled in the circle room, among them several who, like myself, had arrived that day. Shortly after seven o’clock, William entered the cabinet, and we waited expectantly for our weird visitors….We had not sat many minutes in our first circle before a voice – the piping treble of an old woman – addressed to us some remarks… [the spirit] called me to bring a light and see the condition of the medium, the instant the last shape retired behind the curtain. I found everything as usual in the cabinet – no costumes scattered around, no signs of dressing having been going on. The window was closed against the admission of light.”

This old woman, who Olcott would come to affectionately refer to as “Mrs. Eaton”, was first thought to be William hiding behind a curtain. However, the Colonel became convinced of her authenticity as time went on. She visited frequently and often engaged with guests in conversation, according to Olcott. A young Native American spirit was among those most often seen with Mrs Eaton. They were not alone though, as Olcott claimed that on one particular occasion, as many as 17 spirits made an appearance and that he had witnessed the summoning of over 400 apparitions during his 10-week stay on the Eddy homestead. In a full room of guests, these “spirits” were easily recognized by loved ones. Olcott recounted a time when a German couple in attendance recognized their two young children who had passed years before as among those summoned.

Accounts by other guests include an event where the house was actually turned. According to the story which was relayed to Olcott and appeared in his ultimate report, the house was built so it ran parallel to the road. During a seance though, it was lifted off its foundation and turned, so it faced the woods, the same direction it still faces to this day. Others claimed that they had never seen the Eddy boys on their own. When working the fields, they were almost always accompanied by someone else, usually figures that seemed to manifest out of thin air, and that they were almost always in conversation with someone, even if the person could not be seen, they could be heard.

Though today this all sounds ridiculous to most of us, Olcott was convinced of the Eddys’ gift, going so far as to announce that if one is investigating fraud, then that alone implies that the real thing exists, and according to him, the Eddys were the real deal. Many people, even today, would agree with him, and there are still many local legends about them. In particular their house is said to still visited by the otherworldly guests of the family, and their graves have been frequently vandalized over the years. Some say the perpetrators are fans of the brothers, while others point to spirits, seeking their companionship in the world of the living, though it has been some time since the Eddys joined the realm of the dead. Further testimony states, as the story goes, there is a hole next to William’s tombstone, that appears bottomless, and no matter how many times caretakers fill it in, the hole reappears.

Were the Eddys real psychics though? Their act was famously debunked in 1893, and they themselves had given interviews on the art of trickery and power of suggestion. Modern theorists liken their psychic trances to seizures, either a residual effect of the abuse they suffered at the hands of their father, or a congenital condition they inherited from their mother. As for the disembodied voices, it is far more likely that they were all trained ventriloquists. So, did they really have the gift to speak to the other side? Most likely not, but the Eddy legacy is one of Vermont’s most famous stories. If you find yourself moseying down Chittenden road, pause for a second at the old farmhouse. Better yet, visit the Eddys’ final resting place and see for yourself if you can sense something ‘not of this world’.

 

Sources:

Heagerty, N.R.. “The Mediumship of the Eddy Brothers”. 2007. The Voice Box. https://www.the-voicebox.com/eddybrothersthe.htm. Accessed Feb. 15, 2019.

Taylor, Troy. “From Another World: The Strange Mystery of the Eddy Brothers.” 2008. The Haunted Museum. https://www.prairieghosts.com/eddy.html. Accessed Feb. 13, 2019.

Olcott, H. S. People From the Other World. American Publishing Company. 1874. Hartford, Connecticut.

 

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