Thaumaturgy in Skaneateles

Anna Eva Fay NYPL

It began in the 1850s with Ann Heathman of Ohio, an 11-year-old girl cast upon the world by an impoverished father, then by a jealous foster mother. Finding shelter with a family of spiritualists, the girl saw an opportunity and began to exhibit abilities as a spirit medium. She was discovered and taken under the wing of Henry Melville Cummings, a spiritualist and con man who tutored the blue-eyed blonde and monetized her skills under the name of Anna Eva Fay. (Henry, who changed his name often, began going by Fay in order to trade upon the name of William Fay who worked with the Davenport brothers, popular spiritualist magicians.)

Henry and Anna Eva Fay lived as man and wife, or brother and sister, depending upon the local circumstances, and in 1877 their variable union was blessed with a son, John Truesdale Fay. Much of Anna’s early work involved séances with small groups and spirit readings in hotel rooms. Detective Allan Pinkerton described her as “a woman possessing a terribly fascinating power and capable of any devilish human accomplishment.” Once, after failing to con a wealthy man via spiritualism, she simply put a derringer to his forehead and took all his money.

In 1894, when spiritualism wore thin, Henry put Anna on the vaudeville stage and she was an instant hit, filling theater seats across the nation, billed as “the indescribable phenomenon” and “the modern oracle of Delphi.”

Anna Banner

Her first act involved a “locked cabinet” illusion, with Anna bound with ropes, the knots sealed with wax, while spirits she summoned played instruments. It wasn’t much, but it gave her assistants time to go into the audience to prepare for the second act. Members of the audience were given a pad and pencil and asked to write down questions, then tear off the slip of paper with the question and hold it tightly in their hand. Only the blank notepads were returned to the stage.

Anna was blindfolded, seated in a chair, and passed into a state of “somnolency.” Suddenly she would call out the name of a person in the audience, point to them, repeat their exact question and follow with an answer. At the end of the act, she would swoon into the arms of an assistant, exhausted by her feats of “thought transference.”

Anna’s methods were exposed on occasion, by other illusionists or disgruntled former employees. Her mind-reading bit was lifted from magician S.S. Baldwin, “The White Mahatma,” but audiences didn’t care. They loved the show and people came back two and three times to see it, not caring how she knew the question, but just wanting to hear her answer.

The one who knew the most about the inner workings of her act was her son John, who had grown up behind the curtain. John was not the most principled of sons, and after he met and married Eva Norman Dean in 1898, they quickly ripped off Anna’s act and went on tour as “The Marvelous Fays.”

Marvelous Fays

Eva Fay, easily confused with Anna Eva Fay (and that was the point) performed the same act only with an Egyptian theme, and an even stronger dose of drama. One observer described her entrance:

“Clad in a long, flowing robe of glittering gold, her russet-brown hair bearing a head-piece of ancient Egypt, her bare feet sandaled, her bare arms encircled with quaintly carved bracelets of gold, her hands toying with a long, flexible silver snake in the head of which glistens an emerald of deepest green; her face oval and dark, lighted by deep-set eyes that glow and burn; lips that turn upwards to the corners to relieve the somberness of a thoughtful countenance, Eva Fay, tall and generously proportioned, suggests the seeress of older times whom philosophers and poets rhapsodize.

 “When she slowly ascends the few steps leading to her high-back chair, the front of which is a great tiger skin, there is a silence that can be felt throughout the huge auditorium. She drops a handful of pungent incense into the two great Egyptian braziers that flank her chair. As the odour is wafted out over the footlights, the feeling of suspense has settled down upon the audience. She blindfolds herself. She is alone on the stage.”

John and Eva, “the High Priestess of Thaumaturgy,” raked in the money, between $700 and $1,000 a week. Anna Eva Fay was rich, and now John and Eva Fay were getting rich, too. But mind-reading on the road can be tiring, and so in June of 1905, John and Eva Fay took a break and came to Skaneateles, renting what the Syracuse papers described as “the Shepard estate” for the summer.

Shepard House

The Shepard “estate” was actually just a large house on the corner of Genesee and Hannum Streets, today the Sherwood House. The property was once the home of Shuler Conover (and owned by Spencer Hannum before that). It had been sold to Norman O. Shepard in 1898 by Conover’s daughter, Carrie Converse, who was tidying up the estate after her father’s death in 1895. Norman O. Shepard and his son, Norman J. Shepard, summered with their families in the Thousand Islands, running a boat rental business, and so the Shepard house was available to summer residents.

Sadly for me, there is no record of the Fays performing wonders or summoning spirits, or of strange lights in the windows.

Three years later, after a successful run in Oakland, California, the Fays rested up again, at that city’s Hotel St. Mark, before going to Denver as part of a 40-week tour that was bringing them $1,000 a week. But for John, at least, the Mile High City was not to be.

After dinner, alone in a room, John shot himself in the face and died instantly. The initial reports said it must have been suicide, but there was a more reasonable explanation. In spite of a morbid fear of death, John got a thrill from handling loaded pistols. He’d once put a bullet into a wall at his mother’s house. The evidence on this night pointed to a clumsy accident.

But, it wouldn’t be right to end without giving one more version of the events. It has been said that Eva Fay had a “spirit rapping hand,” designed by the legendary Martinka magic shop, that enabled a spirit who was invoked during séances to answer questions with soft, tapping noises. And the particular spirit that communicated through Eva’s hand had become jealous of John. When his body was found, the spirit hand was on the floor next to the gun. Perhaps John just wanted to see what kind of shot the hand was.

Eva Fay

After a brief interval, Eva returned to the stage to complete the tour.

 * * *

Theatrical poster of Eva Fay from the Courier Lithograph Company of Buffalo, N.Y., circa 1910.

The Mogul of Ginseng

It was an unlikely beginning for a mogul. Charles Maurice Goodspeed (1854-1927) was the son of a Baptist pastor, the Rev. William Lester Goodspeed, and Esther Goodspeed. After time in the local schools wherever his father served – Navarino, North Manlius, Thorn Hill – Charles was sent to study for the ministry at the Colgate Academy in Hamilton, N.Y. But trouble with his eyes, caused by “over use,” ended his college career and his ministerial aspirations.

Instead, he went to work as a farmer in Thorn Hill (the area around the intersection of today’s Church and Rose Hill Roads in the town of Spafford). Charles was drawn to more unusual crops and items that other farmers ignored, such as small fruit plants, clover, fancy poultry, and queen bees. In 1880, he had printed 5,000 copies of a small catalog, offering such items along with “a small list of periodicals at club prices,” i.e., magazines grouped together at a discount. Soon he was selling queen bees by mail to customers all over the world. In 1881, he issued his first catalog devoted to magazines, and that business mushroomed, with 100,000 catalogs going out and $50,000 a year coming in.

William Beauchamp, in his Past and Present of Onondaga County (1908), gave a hint as to why Goodspeed was so successful:

“In childhood he was timid in the extreme but this very quality perhaps enabled him, as a spectator, to put a more correct value upon the things of life than if he had been a more active participant therein. He gained a more impartial view and he learned early to set a high value on promptness in business matters.”


Beauchamp also wrote that Goodspeed’s magazine business was so successful that the U.S. Post Office made him postmaster of his own post office. But that’s not exactly how it happened. Although the Thorn Hill post office was only a mile from his house, Goodspeed prevailed upon his Congressional Representative, James J. Belden, to have the U.S. Post Office establish a new post office, which Goodspeed named “Shamrock, N.Y.” The postal locale of Shamrock was, essentially, Goodspeed’s house. As a postmaster, Goodspeed received the face value of every stamp he sold – to himself, his only customer. In short, he mailed his advertising circulars and magazines for free.

However, this gravy train could not roll forever. Goodspeed’s patron left office in March of 1899, and a few months later the post office of Shamrock, N.Y., was officially discontinued by Presidential decree.

But Goodspeed had made enough money to branch out. In 1896, he bought 18 wild acres at Five Mile Point, where Factory Gulf meets Skaneateles Lake. He began building a summer home, cottages, a caretaker’s home and a pavilion. He bought the artist’s studio of Nelson Bowdish and moved it to East Lake Road, at the entrance to his new summer place. He called it Edgewater Park. He planted trees for shade and maple trees, which he began tapping 20 years later for maple syrup.

Goodspeed always had a lot going on, and in 1900, ginseng appeared. On a camping trip, his friend Elmer Van Benschoten pointed out some ginseng plants in the woods; Goodspeed brought about a dozen home, thinking he could cultivate them. He was right. Soon he was doing mail-order business in ginseng and goldenseal, two hot items in herbal remedies and tonics. He grew his own, and bought and resold the produce of others. In 1902, he began publishing his own magazine, Special Crops, filled with advice to growers, notes on medicinal roots and herbs, letters and advertisements. He soon had more than a thousand subscribers and was bringing in tens of thousands of dollars a year from the sale of ginseng alone.

In spreading the word about ginseng, he was not afraid that too many growers would glut the market. He later wrote:

“The following few facts insure that there will be no overproduction, at least for a long time to come: The time it takes to mature a crop is longer than the bulk of tillers of the soil will wait for returns. The cost of shade and other matters needed to make a good large start looks too large and that, coupled with the long wait for returns, is too much for Young America. The man of leisure and means hesitates because it needs too much of his personal time and attention.”

In 1903, Goodspeed bought a lot in the village of Skaneateles from Henry Tucker. Over the next two years, he sold off his Thorn Hill home, with its 13 acres of property, and two farms, and his magazine subscription business. He continued building at Edgewater and built a home in the village at the northeast corner of East Genesee and East Lake Streets (where it still stands).

In 1906, he wrote, “Through all this shifting and moving you can imagine that we have had our hands full. We have had not only the ordinary moving but have had to move our gardens twice.” The gardens in Skaneateles were on the land now occupied by Goodspeed Place, and were open to visitors every day but Sunday.

In 1908 and 1910, Goodspeed bought lots from Mrs. Margaret Benson and Mrs. C.J. Horsington to build more houses on East Genesee Street. In July of 1910 he wrote that he didn’t even have time to go fishing at Edgewater, and shortly thereafter he collapsed from overwork, to which you may fairly say, “Finally.” His doctor told him to take several months off.

Perhaps as a sign that he was cutting back, in 1911 he hired Albert “Bert” Dudden, a recently arrived English gardener, to help out at Edgewater. (In 1918, Bert Dudden accepted a position at the new Skaneateles Country Club where he served as the groundskeeper for 40 years.)

Goodspeed added to his workload with service to the community. At various times he served as a village trustee, as the supervisor of schools, as the Town of Skaneateles Supervisor and as chairman of the Onondaga County Board of Supervisors. He was on the board of the Syracuse State Home for Mental Defectives. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge, Commodore of the Skaneateles Yacht Club (which had no yachts), and active in the Skaneateles Baptist church.

In that regard, a Skaneateles Press clipping from December 9, 1910 is worth sharing:

“The banquet of the Pastor’s Bible Class, held in the home of Bro. Charles M. Goodspeed last Wednesday evening was a success. The house and the tables were decorated with beautiful carnations and chrysanthemums and everyone received a cordial reception at the door by Miss Nellie Goodspeed [Charles’ sister]. At 7:30, forty-two found themselves seated at the tables to a chicken-pie supper served a la Krebs, after which an elaborate program began. Mr. Surdam sang in fine voice, ‘Sailor, Beware.’ Dr. Milton Gregg, president of the class, acted as toastmaster and called on Lawrence Whiting and the pastor, who responded, ‘The Class and Teacher –The Need of the Sunday School for the Present Day.’ It was a blessed time of fellowship.”

Goodspeed’s business was also in the news. In December of 1911, Goodspeed sold $15,000 worth of goldenseal roots to a buyer in Los Angeles, and planned to go south in May and June to supervise the gathering and shipment of the order. In November of 1913, the Skaneateles Free Press reported that Goodspeed had just sent 1,000 pounds of ginseng to Manila.

In the village, his building continued. In 1912, he had a cellar excavated for a fifth house to be built on his property, and in July of that year, Edward S. Dent, who was building the house, tumbled from the roof, breaking both wrists. In 1917, Goodspeed acquired a permit to build yet another house on East Genesee.

On August 8, 1922, the Syracuse Post-Standard ran an article that tells us as much about the era as about Charles Goodspeed:

“Superstitious Chinese Buy Ginseng from Skaneateles – C. M. Goodspeed Carries on Commerce with Far East – Sells for Others, Too – Supervisor Grows Root to Ward Off Evils for Celestials.

“Your superstitious ‘Rastus’ totes about in his left hip pocket the left hind foot of a rabbit, killed in a cemetery at midnight. Whites, just as superstitious, carry other ‘luck’ pieces. Some pack a lucky coin, others have hidden about their persons other charms to ward off trouble. But the superstitious Chinese carries about in his blouse a strip of ginseng and believes himself safe from the powers of evil that have swarmed about his ancestors and now have turned their attention to him. What the rabbit’s foot is to ‘Rastus,’ the ginseng root is to Jack Chinaman.

“The tentacles of this strange superstition reach right into Onondaga county, for the county boasts the only white man who makes a business of selling this charm root to the superstitious in far-off China. He is Charles M. Goodspeed, supervisor of the Town of Skaneateles. Mr. Goodspeed not only grows this root himself but he buys relatively large quantities from other growers, shipping his batch each six weeks to China, where the root is used not only as a luck charm but where every medicinal prescription contains some trace of ginseng and it is even used in religious ceremonies.”

Charles Goodspeed continued in the “strange” ginseng business, although by the mid-1920s its value was down to about $4,000 a year.

Special Crops

On another note, in the May 1926 issue of Special Crops, Goodspeed wrote about the maple and locust trees he had planted at Edgewater 20 years before, now mature and beautiful. “My friends laughed at me,” he wrote, “saying I would never live to get any benefit from either planting. The lesson is: just because you are along in years don’t hesitate, because if you should not happen to live long enough to reap the benefit, someone else will be benefited.”

In April of 1927, Charles M. Goodspeed died at home of heart disease. He was 73 years old, and survived by his wife, Elizabeth A. (Harris) Goodspeed. He left an estate of $43,000, most of it in real estate. Elizabeth died in 1939.

In 1945, Charles and Elizabeth’s daughter, Mrs. Raymond V. (Minnie) Surdam, tried to sell Edgewater to Onondaga County for a park, but the Mayor of Syracuse nixed the idea, saying it would endanger the city’s water supply. Minnie said her father would have liked it to become a park, but she wasn’t going to fight City Hall.

* * *

Views of Charles Goodspeed’s Edgewater Park at Five Mile Point, from covers of Special Crops:

Edgewater 1

Edgewater 2

Edgewater 3

Edgewater 4

Edgewater 5

Not Easy to Part With, 1905

“Only Keuka furnishes better fishing than Otisco, and none have lovelier scenery than Skaneateles. We reached its east shore after a drive of eight miles during a thunder-storm, and were picked up by one of the two or three comical steamers that ply that water during the summer. This boat landed us at Glenhaven, on the south end of the lake; but we saw nothing but driving rain, darkness, and angry water.

“At Skaneateles one needs a guide for a day or two, to help locate the best ground for trolling and still-fishing. There are more perch here, a very few rock and black bass, pike and pickerel, and many sunfish and bullheads. We rowed the length of the lake, and then fished a whole day off the end of the dock, each convulsed to see the other anxious to get one more little sunfish or perch. Then we sailed and trolled, getting several fine pickerel; but it was long between hooking them, and the sport was abandoned for bullheading at night.

Glenhaven Inlet

“Note the accompanying picture of the tourist who has been out to scatter bits of raw meat over a certain part of promising ground at the south end of the lake, the cows seeking to avoid the flies, the pickerel-weed and scanty bullrushes, and the fine hillside with its dense woods and sloping fields of grain. The building shown is the Glenhaven hotel, — not at all a bad place for anglers and canoeists.

“And the unique feature of this beauty show was the way the bullheads liked the fresh beef on our hooks, and took it in spite of all the turmoil and uproar around our boat straining at anchor and curveting and bowing. We soon had a dozen of about a pound each, their sharp teeth and trap-like jaws, and their peculiar bark taking us away back to the time when we fished for them together by a night fire on the shore of the pond in southern Michigan.

“’Skin a ‘paout with bilin’ water, ‘n fry ‘im,’ drawled our guide from the hotel, as he took a fresh wad from his tobacco pouch, ‘ ‘n he’s good ‘ni for me. Let me show yer a trick naouw. Jes’ wait till I up with ther anchor.’

“There was strenuous pulling of the boat into the wind, and grunts while he heaved at the heavy stone being lifted from the bottom. It appeared as we drifted away fast toward shore, and was covered with bottom grass and weeds. Then a long, silent pull at the oars, and the veering to one side toward the east shore, the slap! slap! slap! of the waves, the uplifting of a little shower of spray from the port side of the the boat as it came up to a straight point, with her bow into the wind, after the anchor was resting on the gravel of an almost unknown reef twenty-five feet below. Then that guide reached in under the bow and pulled out a surprise, — a tin pail with about twenty minnows brought just for this juncture.

“We caught bass. No matter how many. But let the angler who wants a good time at night with black bass ask C.M. Goodspeed at Edgewater to hand one of his men a dollar and tell him to show where the bass may be taken.

“There is a very serious objection to angling and loafing at Skaneateles lake: It is not easy to part with it, and its memories are apt to grip the heart in longing to return.

“And where do all its fireflies come from? Night after night those shores were without a gleam from them. Yet on July 1 at midnight, the shores for miles were fairly lighted with myriads of their tiny lanterns, actually giving a steady, faint radiance of phosphorescence to the air, — as if snowflakes of fire were tormented in a blizzard. Yet the night was without wind.

“Dick sat by me and smoked and looked for an hour, and growled his regret at leaving as he went back to bed. Whether he was so impressed as I was at the fire show I do not know. He merely laughed as he told me a good-night story of the landlord who had been feeding us on ham and eggs. ‘I asked him for a steak in the morning, and he wanted to know how I could expect him to lend money to a stranger. Confound him!’”

– From “Being a Boy Again” by L.F. Brown in Shooting and Fishing, November 30, 1905

* * *

The “C.M. Goodspeed” mentioned had a camp at Five Mile Point, “Edgewater Park,” and loved to fish. He was best known as a ginseng tycoon. He built a number of houses on East Genesee Street and our Goodspeed Place, once his garden, is named for him.

The author of this piece, Levant Frederick Brown (1850-1915), was a prolific writer of articles on nature, fishing and camping, and poetry on the same subjects, for magazines such as Travel, Western Field, Forest and Stream, Recreation, Rod and Gun and Outdoor Life.


– From The Four-Track News, March 1906

Beating the Draft

During the Civil War, after the initial waves of patriotism passed, a bleaker reality set in and voluntary enlistments were insufficient to feed the war. On April 16, 1862, the Confederate Congress passed an act requiring military service for three years from all males aged 18 to 35. The Union passed the Militia Act of 1862, authorizing a militia draft within each state; in 1863, the Enrollment Act went into federal law, to enroll and draft men aged 20 to 45.

But both sides permitted men to hire substitutes to serve in their place. In fact, of the 168,649 men procured for the Union army through the draft, 117,986 were substitutes. And until mid-1864, men of the north didn’t even have to find a substitute; they could avoid service by simply paying $300 “commutation money” directly to the federal government.

When riots broke out in New York City, on the second day of the draft, most of the rioters were working-class. They resented a system where wealthier men could pay $300 – equivalent to $5,746 in 2015 – and side-step the draft. (The rioters also feared that freed slaves would compete with them for jobs, and thus the draft riot quickly became a race riot, with black New Yorkers beaten, lynched and set alight. The mobs even attacked the Colored Orphan Asylum and burnt it to the ground, but not before the police saved the 233 children inside.)

One among the New Yorkers who “opted out” of military service was Grover Cleveland, a future President of the United States, who paid George Beniski, a 32-year-old Polish immigrant, to serve in his place.

In Skaneateles, the most ardent and vocal supporter of the Union cause, George Barrow, held fast to his civilian status and when, representing Skaneateles on the steps of the Onondaga County Courthouse, he drew his own name in the draft lottery, he found someone else to carry his water. But George Barrow was not the only patriot devoted to the cause of self-preservation.

In Syracuse, a “Volunteer Committee” gathered funds and offered enlistees “liberal bounties” so the ranks might be filled with volunteers before the draft became necessary. The committee’s public statements were masterworks of rationalization:

“While we are now again called upon to put our shoulder to the wheel, to fill up the ranks of the army and save the city and county from the impending draft, let it be done in a spirit of patriotism… While we bring out our flags, with inspiring music, let those who have the means to do it give to those who are willing to go such assurances for the maintenance of their families as will enable them to go forth with a stout heart for the conflict.” (Syracuse Courier and Union, December 17, 1862)

After three more years of war, even the flags and music were dispensed with. In the issue of the Skaneateles Democrat (February 2, 1865) which carried an account of the funeral of village hero Lt. Benjamin Porter – “our honored comrade” – there was this report:

“A meeting was held at Lyceum Hall on Wednesday evening of last week to take into consideration measures for clearing the town of Skaneateles from the impending draft. The meeting was organized by appointing Jacob C. DeWitt, Chairman, and Henry T. Webb, Secretary. The Chairman staged the object of the meeting, and said that he could make arrangements with responsible parties to furnish substitutes at the rate of $200 per man. Committees were then appointed for each School District to solicit subscription, and the meeting adjourned to Friday evening.”

On Friday evening:

“The report of the Committees were then heard, when it was found that $3,000 had been subscribed. Mr. DeWitt was requested to confer with the party furnishing substitutes. The meeting then adjourned to Tuesday evening of this week.”

And on Tuesday evening:

“The Committees’ reports were received, when it was found that the total amount subscribed was $4,300… It is earnestly requested that the meeting shall be fully attended, as there are but one or two days remaining in which the work can be done.”

This wasn’t the student rabble chanting “Hell no, we won’t go.” It was the village’s leading citizens, working openly, without a hint of embarrassment, to beat the draft.

Too Fresh

“Local bicycle riders are getting ‘too fresh’ in using the sidewalks. They have rights on the roadway, but none on the sidewalks. The noiseless tires these dark nights give no warning to pedestrians, and bell ringing and shouts of ‘track’ greet the unfortunate pedestrian at every turn. A number of collisions have already occurred.

“In broad daylight, Tuesday, Frank Lukins was thrown down by a strange rider in front of the Free Press office, striking against a stone step. The bicycler left hurriedly, without so much as ‘begging his victim’s pardon.’

“Bicycle races occur at the Skaneateles Driving Park tomorrow afternoon. The net receipts will go to the Library. A fine afternoon’s sport is promised.”

Skaneateles Free Press, September 13, 1895

Frank Lukins survived the accident.

Riding a bicycle on the sidewalks along Genesee Street was made illegal in 1898.

The Skaneateles Driving Park, a half-mile track with grandstand, was in use between 1870 and 1947, primarily for horse racing, but during the 1890s it was also a popular spot for bicycle racing. The track was located on the site of the now-shuttered Chevrolet dealership on East Genesee Street.