The Trance Man

A former Methodist minister, E.S. Tyler came to Auburn and Skaneateles in 1857 to lecture on spiritualism and the rights of women. It was an odd time in America; depending upon one’s capacity for belief, it was possible to be a spiritualist, abolitionist, phrenologist and woman’s rights activist all at the same time. A lecturer on any of these topics could pack a hall with listeners and make quite a bit of money by touring.

In Tyler’s case, spiritualism was window-dressing. He billed himself as a “trance medium,” but shortly after his arrival he was being described as an “egregious blockhead,” “humbug,” “despicable villain,” “sensualist” and a “festering mass of moral corruption.”

It would appear that Tyler’s modus operandi was to impress his listeners with the supernatural, then glide into a discussion of the rights of women and show that marriage was an institution designed to reduce a woman to slavery, when actually a woman should be a man’s equal and free to have sex with a charismatic man like E.S. Tyler.

In Skaneateles, he lodged with the family of Dr. Harlow Lewis, complained of illness, and was nursed by Mrs. (Mary) Lewis. In later divorce proceedings, Dr. Lewis said that Tyler “received from Mrs. Lewis attentions that no woman could, with propriety, render to any man but her husband.”

In September of 1857, Mrs. Lewis was off with Tyler to a “Free Lovers Convention” in Berlin Heights, Ohio. Also that month, letters were published in the Auburn newspapers stating that Tyler had a wife and four children in Farmington, Illinois. He had been expelled from two different Methodist churches, and the Odd Fellows lodge, for improper familiarities with an “adopted daughter” and then with a prostitute he had brought home to “reform.” After the reformed prostitute began to exhibit “the best evidence for having had illicit intercourse with Tyler,” he took her to Kansas. Returning alone, he lectured on that state’s struggle against slavery and collected funds for “Bleeding Kansas.” It was doubtful, however, that he’d be taking the funds to Kansas, as he was wanted by the authorities there.

When Tyler and Mrs. Lewis returned to Skaneateles from Ohio, they asked Dr. Lewis for $300 with which to buy a “water-cure” in Berlin Heights, “the best investment he could make.” Mrs. Lewis then left her husband and three sons (George, Sanford and Otis) and returned with Mr. Tyler to Berlin Heights.

When Dr. Lewis followed, he discovered that his investment was in fact a “Free Love Hotel.” He appealed to the local authorities in Berlin Heights for help in extracting Mrs. Lewis from the clutches of Mr. Tyler. The authorities obliged by arresting all seven tenants of the hotel, including Tyler and Mrs. Lewis, on charges of adultery and fornication, and conveyed them to the nearest courtroom, in Sandusky. At the arraignment, two of the women wore bloomers and “avowed their repudiation of the legality of marriage, and the right of affinnitive or attractional cohabitation.” Mrs. Lewis, on the other hand, appeared to have been weeping.

At the trial the next day, all were convicted, but released when they agreed to post bail and leave the county. Mrs. Lewis departed with her husband and father. “The whole colony is broken up,” the newspaper claimed. Two weeks after the trial, Dr. Lewis filed for divorce. The Sandusky Register noted, “He looks, acts and talks like a man upon whom a heavy burden has fallen.”

The final chapter appeared in January of 1858 in the Auburn Advertiser:

“E S. Tyler, the free love villain, has left Skaneateles in company with his leman, Mrs. Lewis, for a lecturing tour through the East. He leaves the husband of Mrs. Lewis insane, under the care of a guardian. He will pollute every town he enters, and damn every community he visits. Eastern editors will do well to post him. Tyler is a man six feet in height, thick shoulders, long hair and very long whiskers; always-wears a heavy gold chain dangling across his breast — He assumes meekness and piety, carries a pistol, and is the most arrant knave and coward in existence. Look out for him! He will lecture on spiritualism, free love, or Kansas.”

And so E.S. Tyler slithered from our midst.

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Note: “Leman” is a medieval term for mistress; I had to look it up.

Sources: “E.S. Tyler – Some Ugly Facts” Auburn Daily American, September 18, 1857; “Berlin Free Lovers Arrested” Buffalo Courier, November 29, 1857; “The Free-Love Trials at Sandusky” New York Daily Tribune, Dec. 1, 1857; “A ‘Free-Love’ Development” The New York Times (quoting the Sandusky Register) November 28, 1857; “Parting Salute – Post Him!” the Auburn Advertiser quoted in the Putnam County Courier, January 12, 1858

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Healing Peace

Two postcards, one from the Livingston, Williams & Hunt Series, and a 1905 Rotograph Co. postcard, mailed many years after it was purchased.

Part of the message reads, “Meanwhile, I am on the shore of this beautiful lake & a good deal of its healing peace seeps into me.”

Hideous Boys of 1912

“The observance of Hallowe’en has greatly degenerated of recent years. Once it was quietly observed by dances and social gatherings where the young people played quiet, innocent games. Now the night is given over to the pranks of mischief-loving boys, who make the occasion hideous with their noises and do a lot of wanton destruction of property. It is hoped by our quiet-loving citizens that the special police will be able to curtail this annual nuisance next Thursday night.”

— “The Rambler” Skaneateles Free Press October 25, 1912

A Tale of Two Roosevelts

In October of 1910, Skaneateles enjoyed one of its many Presidential visits, this one of a transitory nature, as Theodore Roosevelt, campaigning in the Republican presidential primary, passed through on the interurban trolley. He had spoken in Auburn during the afternoon, and was headed to Syracuse for an evening speech, accompanied by Senator Francis Hendricks. There is no mention of his stopping here to chat.

However, in her book The Roosevelts of Skaneateles, Helen Ionta claims that Roosevelt came through in 1911, by trolley, and “spoke to a group of citizens from the rear of the trolley as it made its station stop at Jordan and Genesee Streets.” So we can be certain he came once on the trolley, maybe even twice.

Theodore Roosevelt’s next visit to Skaneateles was framed in more interesting circumstances. In 1914, while speaking on behalf of a Progressive candidate for the Governorship of New York, the former President declared that William Barnes, the boss of the Republican political machine, was cutting deals with the Democratic machine in the interest of crooked politics and crooked business.

Mr. Barnes, prompted by old hatreds and a new opportunity for revenge, sued Roosevelt for libel. In the interest of fairness, the trial was moved from Albany, Barnes’ center of power, to Syracuse in the spring of 1915.

From April 19th to May 22nd, the attorneys and witnesses slugged it out. Barnes was asking for $50,000 in damages; Roosevelt said six cents was a more appropriate sum. In the end, Roosevelt won, although it cost $52,000 in legal expenses to defend his name and prove that Barnes was indeed crooked.

During the libel trial, Roosevelt stayed with supporters in Syracuse and went home to Oyster Bay on the weekends for much-needed rest. However, during the first week in May, probably on Sunday, May 2nd, he came to Skaneateles on something of a family errand.

A storm packing heavy rain, hail and lightning had passed over Skaneateles on Thursday, April 29th, and around noon a bolt of lightning nailed Roosevelt Hall, starting a fire in the attic. Flames shot to the heavens, the servants called for the fire department, and after 40 minutes of roof chopping and watery dousing, the fire was out. A happy result, but not before an estimated $1,000 in damage was done.

On May 8th, the newspaper reported, “Former President Roosevelt was in town the first part of the week inspecting the damage caused by the fire at Roosevelt Hall.”

Perhaps his cousin, Samuel Montgomery Roosevelt, was detained elsewhere and asked Teddy to take a look and get back to him. Or perhaps Teddy just wanted to “get out of Dodge” for a day and put the trial out of his mind.

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s visits to Skaneateles do not make for riveting reading.

His first was brief. On September 23, 1920, Franklin Roosevelt was campaigning for the office of vice-president on the Democratic ticket. En route between Syracuse and Auburn, he stopped in Skaneateles to make a short speech. He spoke from the back of a truck at the corner of Genesee and Jordan Streets. According to the local paper, he was enthusiastically received by a small crowd that would have been larger if anyone had been told of his plan to speak. It was said he had “a fine presence and made a good impression.” FDR was in the company of Thomas Mott Osborne, a former mayor of Auburn and noted advocate of prison reform; they traveled in Osborne’s then-famous automobile, “The Green Dragon,” thought to be a 1907 Stevens-Duryea, in which Osborne had toured Europe, afterwards writing Adventures of a Green Dragon (1908).

In April and September of 1932, Franklin Roosevelt visited again. He was serving as the Governor of New York and in September running for the Presidency of the United States. He took a New York Central Railroad car to Syracuse from Poughkeepsie and was driven directly to Roosevelt Hall, the summer home of his cousin, Henry Latrobe Roosevelt. There he met a number of local Republicans who politely wished him well while inwardly hoping for his defeat. Those of you present in Skaneateles for the visit of President Clinton in 1999 may recall similar moments.

As time passes, it becomes more difficult to remember just how strongly members of the upper classes disliked Franklin Roosevelt. In 1936, Marquis Childs wrote a piece for Harper’s magazine entitled “They Hate the Roosevelts” in which he detailed and analyzed the phenomenon. The village even earned a mention:

“It may well have its origin in a primitive source. It would seem that we can forgive, or at least understand, an act of hostility from our enemy, but not from one of our own kind. Certainly if there is an aristocracy in the United States, the Roosevelts are of it. They have owned landed estates in the neighborhood of Skaneateles and Poughkeepsie since early in the seventeenth century. They have always had sufficient money to enable them to lead cultivated, pleasant lives. And so there is no forgiveness for their seeming disloyalty.”

And so Franklin Roosevelt was sent off from Skaneateles to the New York State Fair, politely but with no new friends. He won the election anyway. He was our fourth Presidential visitor – after Millard Fillmore, Martin Van Buren and Theodore Roosevelt – and would be followed by a fifth, President Clinton, in 1999.

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My thanks to “Skaneateles Notes” Syracuse Post-Standard, May 8, 1915; Theodore Roosevelt: An Intimate Biography (1919) by William Roscoe Thayer; They Hate the Roosevelts! (1936) Marquis W. Childs; The Roosevelts of Skaneateles (1999) Helen Ionta

Flying Visits

Some people of note have gone through Skaneateles quickly, qualifying as visitors while the coach horses were changed.

Martin Van Buren passed through Skaneateles on September 30, 1834, while Vice President (before his Presidential term of 1837-41). “It was quite an event,” wrote the Rev. William M. Beauchamp, in his “Notes of Other Days” (1914) but it didn’t leave much of a trace, as Beauchamp’s account is the only one I can find.

Although he didn’t stay long, Van Buren was an interesting passerby, the first U.S. President to be born an American citizen, his predecessors having all been born as British subjects, before the American Revolution. Van Buren was also the only President not to have spoken English as his first language, having grown up speaking Dutch.

Four years later, New York Governor William Learned Marcy passed through Skaneateles on January 18, 1838, on his way to Buffalo where the burning of the American steamer Caroline by British troops threatened to ignite a border war.

The incident occurred when an overly ambitious William Lyon MacKenzie sought to drive the British from Canada. His rebels lost a skirmish in Toronto and retreated to Grand Island, in the middle of the Niagara River. MacKenzie named Rensselaer Van Rensselaer as his general, and as generals do, Van Rensselaer invaded Canada’s Navy Island in December of 1837. His small army set up some cannons (borrowed from the State of New York) and began firing upon the Canadian mainland, an unwelcome act that actually killed someone and irritated the British. To supply their army of occupation, the rebels hired a little steamer named the Caroline to ferry goods and volunteers over from the American shore. After a couple of trips, the boat was tied up on the American side for the night.

Under the cover of darkness, several boatloads of British troops crossed the river (and the border), seized the Caroline, towed her out into the Niagara River and sent her blazing down the rapids toward Niagara Falls. Seems only fair, but an American was killed during the skirmish, turning a farce into an international incident.

In short, British armed forces had invaded American waters, killed an American citizen and destroyed an American vessel. But the American citizen and vessel were aiding an armed invasion of Canada, which was British territory. A war with England was on the verge of starting in Buffalo.

Hence Governor Marcy’s flying visit. In the end, cooler heads prevailed. Governor Marcy went back to Albany, and in the future served as the U.S. Secretary of War. Mount Marcy, the highest peak in the Adirondacks, is named in his honor.

Louisa Shotwell’s Wild Ride

“The Opportunity Class. That’s where the bean-pickers got put. Roosevelt Grady wondered what it meant. Roosevelt knew about schools. Third grade, fourth grade, things like that. He knew about schools from experience: three weeks here, six weeks there, a day or two somewhere else. But Opportunity Class. This was something new.”

These are the opening lines of Roosevelt Grady, published in 1963, a novel for young adults, the work of author Louisa R. Shotwell, easily the finest writer to live in Skaneateles.

Louisa Rossiter Shotwell was born in Chicago in 1902, but her family moved here, to her father’s boyhood home, when she was nine. After graduating from Skaneateles High School, she went off to study at Wellesley (Class of 1924) and then returned to Skaneateles to teach English. In 1928, she earned an M.A. from Stanford. In the 1940s, she served as Dean of Women at two schools: Hanover College in Indiana and Wilson College in Pennsylvania. But travel would always be a big part of her life. While researching books on minorities, migrant workers and families in other lands, she went to Japan, Indonesia, India and Thailand.

Some of her best known books, Roosevelt Grady, Adam Bookout and Magdalena, are still being read today. Roosevelt Grady, the recipient of at least three book awards, has been translated into German and Danish.

Louisa is also remembered here in connection with Shotwell Park, the site of our village’s war memorials. The funds used by the village to buy the land and beautify the park were bequeathed by Florence Thorne Shotwell, wife of William J. Shotwell, Louisa’s uncle. In her will, Florence requested that the park be dedicated to her late husband. Later, Louisa gave the village a maintenance fund for the park.

Louisa Shotwell wrote this about Skaneateles:

“This became my symbol of ‘a satisfactory stay-put place,’ as Matthew Grady would say. I grew up there and taught English in the high school after my graduation from Wellesley. Through the years, as I’ve taught and traveled and studied and done a variety of things in a variety of places, I’ve always managed to get back there at least once a year. Now I spend my summers there in a cottage on Skaneateles Lake, elastic summers that begin in early May and end only when late October brings killing frosts.”

About her writing, Louisa noted:

“Most things I do rather fast, but I am a slow writer, especially of fiction, which is what I like best to write. I am always working on a story and I think about it all the time, even when I’m busy at something else. After a while, and it takes a long time for this to happen, the characters begin to talk back to me, and when they wake me up in the morning, I know the time has come to get them down on paper and see what happens.”

But I promised you a wild ride.

Back then to Wellesley College, April of 1922, and a hidden chapter in the life of Louisa Shotwell as first reported in the New York Times on May 1st:

“Names of four students of Wellesley College who were suspended last week for violation of college rules became known today. The students, who were charged with taking part in forbidden auto rides with Harvard undergraduates are: Louisa R. Shotwell, of Skaneateles, N.Y., Ethel M. Rogers, of Newark, N.J., Bernice Anderson of Hamilton, Ont., and Mary McCarthy, of Marlboro, Mass. The girls have been sent to their homes, but will be permitted to re-enter college in the fall if they desire.”

Miss Shotwell was not going to let this rest. Her clarification appeared on May 2nd in the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News:

“Miss Louisa R. Shotwell, daughter of Trumbull Shotwell of Skaneateles, mentioned as one of the four girls suspended from Wellesley College for having remained away from her dormitory overnight, denied the report tonight. Miss Shotwell said they were automobiling riding with two young men, friends of one of the girls, and remained out a couple of hours over the time prescribed by college authorities. They aroused the janitor to let them in at 10:00 o’clock at night, they said.”

In the New York Times on May 3rd, Wellesley responded:

“Motoring at night and attending theatres without chaperones after registering the intention of spending the evening otherwise caused the recent suspension of four juniors at Wellesley College, the college authorities said today. A college official said the young women had not remained away from their dormitories over night at any time.”

Motoring, the theater, out until 10 p.m.: torrid stuff in 1922. But Louisa lived it down, graduated from Wellesley, and became a Dean of Women herself, a teacher and an author. She died in 1993. She was a gift to us all.

* * *

My thanks to Jean N. Berry, at the Wellesley College Archives in the Margaret Clapp Library for biographical information and the photo of Louisa Shotwell from her yearbook. Also, the Third Book of Junior Authors (1972), edited by Doris de Montreville and Donna Hill, for Miss Shotwell’s insights into Skaneateles and her writing.

The Sad Visit of Millard Fillmore

Born in Summerhill, just south of Moravia, Millard Fillmore fished and bathed in Skaneateles Lake’s waters. He visited the village again shortly after his Presidency, in August of 1854, in the company of his son.

Fillmore’s wife had died in March of 1853, just a few weeks after he left office, and his daughter Abby had stepped into the role of housekeeper and hostess. But in July of 1854, Abby was stricken with cholera and died within 12 hours of its onset; she was just 22 years old. Fillmore sought to escape from Buffalo and his grief, and left by train on July 29th with his son.

When he arrived in Auburn, N.Y., a waiting telegram informed him that his 36-year-old brother, Charles DeWitt Fillmore, had died in St. Paul, Minnesota, on July 27th, also of cholera.

On August 1st, Fillmore went from Auburn to Moravia and New Hope, to revisit the scenes of his boyhood. One account notes that he stayed with longtime friend Mrs. Olive Fuller in Niles, and there it was decided that Rhoda Fuller, her daughter, should keep house for Fillmore in Buffalo (which she did until he remarried in 1858).

From August 7th to 11th, Fillmore stayed in Skaneateles at the Lake House hotel; William Beauchamp later wrote that Dorastus Kellogg “showed him around” the village; on at least one day took a carriage to travel down to Glen Haven. On his last day in Skaneateles, he received a letter of sympathy at the Lake House from the new U.S. President, Franklin Pierce, and wrote in reply:

“Your kind letter of condolence of the 3d inst has just reached me here. That you should have remembered me in my sorrows amid the anxieties incident to the closing of a long session of Congress shews the deep sympathy of your breast and can not be otherwise than grateful to my bleeding heart. That Heaven may prosper you and your administration is the sincere prayer of Your friend & obt Servt, Millard Fillmore”

Fillmore returned to Buffalo, and in late August wrote to friend, writer and reformer Dorothea Dix:

“I feel life has little left for me. My good son, only of all my little family remains. I have none other now to sympathize with me in grief or rejoice with me in prosperity; and my dwelling, once so cheerfully and happy, is now dark and desolate.”

Fillmore spent time in Europe, and ran for President again in 1856, as the nominee of the third-party Whigs; he finished third among three candidates, with 22% of the popular vote. In Buffalo, he served as Chancellor of the University of Buffalo and was a founder and first president of the Buffalo Historical Society. He died in 1874 and his grave is in Buffalo’s Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Closer to home, Moravia celebrates Fillmore’s January 7th birthday each year; the Moravia elementary school is named for him; Fillmore Glen State Park is a mile south of Moravia, and Millard Fillmore Replica Birthplace Cabin is on State Route 38. There also is a picnic area overlooking Skaneateles Lake that Fillmore used to frequent as a boy.

* * *

The details of Fillmore’s 1854 visit to Skaneateles come from Robert J. Scarry’s excellent Millard Fillmore, first published in 2001. Scarry was a history teacher in the Moravia schools, and the town and village historian there. His biography showed that previous histories had been unkind and unfair to Fillmore, blaming him for things he did not do, and failing to give credit for things he did do. I am happy to refer readers to Scarry’s book, but must admit a vested interest in Fillmore’s reputation, as I was brought into this world at Buffalo’s Millard Fillmore Hospital.