Daniel Dunglas Home

America experienced a period of intense religious revivalism in the early nineteenth century that historians have come to refer to as the Second Great Awakening. This new religious movement essentially rejected the traditional rational view of the common person’s relationship with God in favor of a more supernatural belief system.

These new beliefs in turn laid the groundwork for the social religious movement of Spiritualism beginning in the 1840’s. The philosophical foundation of Spiritualism rested on the belief that humans seeking guidance on matters concerning the earthly realm could contact spirits in the afterlife. Spiritualism, unlike other religious movements had no single formal organization. It was a movement characterized by a lecture circuit of charismatic individuals touring the country.

One of the most prominent spiritual mediums of the nineteenth century was Daniel Dunglas Home (pronounced Hume). Born in Currie, Scotland in 1833, his mother’s ancestors were renowned locally for their gifts of “second sight” or their ability to foresee the future. In 1841, Daniel moved to the United States with his aunt and uncle, eventually settling in the Greenville section of Norwich. He attended the local school but being a loner by nature he did not make friends easily. He preferred solitary walks in the wooded areas nearby and was devout reader of the Bible.

Like his forebears, Daniel foresaw two deaths that prefigured his future as spiritual medium. The first was his vision as a young boy of the death of his only childhood friend in Norwich. The second vision in 1850 at the age of seventeen of his mother’s impending death convinced him that his clairvoyance was a gift from God. During this same time, the house where he resided with his aunt began to experience loud noises and heavy furniture moving about the room without human intervention. Convinced by local pastors that satanic forces had taken possession of her nephew, his aunt banished him from her Greenville house.

Stories of Daniel Home’s clairvoyant powers reverberated throughout the spiritualist community. He soon was conducting séances at the homes of some of the state’s wealthiest and elite citizens. During one well-documented séance at the Manchester home of the successful silk manufacturer Ward Cheney, participants in the séance witnessed “spirit light” emanations and Home twice levitating his body to the ceiling.

His notoriety and fame took him to New York and eventually to Europe where he performed séances for the likes of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Leo Tolstoy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Arthur Conan Doyle stated that Home was unique in that he was proficient in four types of mediumship: using direct voice, as a trance speaker, a clairvoyant and a physical medium (levitation and movement of objects). Although he had some detractors, notably Harry Houdini, no one ever detected any fraudulent conduct by Daniel Home. An esteemed scientist of the era, William Crookes conducted a series of tests of Home’s mediumship abilities over the course of several months and concluded that his abilities were genuine.

To view images of Daniel Dunglas Home visit the collection of historical photographs on the Otis Library’s website.

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