The house was always dark, except for a blue neon sign in the front window that read, “Electro-Tone.” A teenage boy in the 1930s, walking up Leitch Avenue toward Elizabeth Street, would see the house sitting there, a shadowy mass at the head of the street, a blue glow in the window, and wonder what went on within.
The mysterious house belonged to Fred McLennan and his wife Effie. Mr. McLennan was a painter and decorator who came to Skaneateles in the 1920s, but in 1930 he began talking about his supernatural gifts. He had long been aware of his powers, but did not know what to do with them until a dream in 1928 spelled it out for him.
“It is not generally known that the mystery of the age is right here in Skaneateles,” he wrote in 1930 for the Skaneateles Press, “something that Ripley or science has not picked up yet… I have it, and have no control over it, other than to pick it up or lay it down.” Fred McLennan used his mysterious power to find water flowing underground (for farmers drilling wells), to tell visitors about their physical condition, to heal various ailments, and to answer questions.
In the 1930s, he began calling his gift “electro-tone” and advertised its availability. He wrote letters to the editor of the Press, like this one in 1937:
“To establish an honest understanding of Electro-Tone is the object of this article. It is a God given gift. Life is an Electric Phenomenon. Man operates by electricity… There is only one Electro-Tone. It is here in your village , open to the good that it may do… In what condition are you? Ask Electro-Tone.”
In 1938, he began using an “electric chime,” which consisted of a length of copper wire, a silver coin and a glass bowl. He attached the wire to himself and the coin. When he was asked a question, his electric energy passed through the wire and gave the answers, the coin striking the edge of the dish and ringing three times for “yes” and twice for “no.” The chime could also count, telling farmers how many feet down their water would be found. It could also chime out the height and age of a tree.
McLennan was not completely happy with the public reception to his gift. “People in this village think I’m crazy, but my system is something new and different. They just can’t believe anything they see,” he told a Syracuse reporter in 1938.
By 1941, McLennan had taken the name “Mac-O-the-Mystic,” and he began foretelling the future.
Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II, the Press reported:
“ ‘Mac-o the Mystic,’ Skaneateles’ supercharged prognosticator, who last July predicted the United States would be at war within 10 months, this week presaged a long struggle in which America and her allies would triumph. ‘It will be a long and costly war,’ said “Mac-o,’ whose real name is Fred McLennan, ‘but we will win.’”
In April of 1942, McLennan asked the glass bowl how many months the war would continue and it rang 52 times, placing the end of the war at August, 1946. But in August of 1942, his predictions took on a more immediate character:
“That electrotone process, by which Fred ‘Mac-o the Mystic’ McLennan of East Elizabeth Street claims to get messages from beyond, was working again this week and it had some very definite things to tell its proprietor. Among them was the disquieting news that California will be invaded ‘in 20 days’—that is, on or about August 24—which will be followed by the invasion of New York in October. ‘Mac-o’ divulged the news matter-of-factly.
“Other electrotone news of the week included these prognostications: America will defeat Japan in about 26 months; the war between Russia and Germany win take an entirely new picture in 21 days; there will be no second front by the Allies; Hitler will be defeated in Egypt.” — Skaneateles Press, August 7, 1942
While California and New York were spared invasion, Mac-O’s predictions were accurate in two regards: The Battle of Stalingrad began on August 23, 1942, and was in fact the turning point in Germany’s war with Russia; Mac-O was only off by two days. And the Second Battle of El Alamein, which took place in October and November of 1942, ended the German/Italian threat to Egypt and was the turning point in the war in North Africa. Sadly, however, Mac-O-the-Mystic did not live to see the end of the war. In July of 1945, the Press reported:
“Fred McLennan, 79, a well known resident of Skaneateles, mystic and self-styled prophet died at Wlllard State Hospital about five o’clock Wednesday evening after a long Illness. Though born In Canada, Mr. McLennan has been a resident of the village for many years, making his home with his wife on Elizabeth St. He was a familiar figure about the village and was noted for making prognostications about coming events. He was frequently engaged to locate water wells by the divining rod method and in printed cards referred to himself as Mac-O the Mystic.
“He is survived only by his widow. Mrs. Effie Gillens McLennan and a sister-in-law Miss Lulu Gillens. The body was removed to the funeral home of Bernie J. O’Neill & Son, 33 Jordan St., where friends may call. Funeral services will be held from the O’Neill home tomorrow, Saturday at 2 p. m. Burial will be in Lake View Cemetery.”
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My thanks to John “Scoop” Baker – who as a young man wondered what was going on inside that house – for bringing this story to my attention. The McLennan’s Elizabeth Street house is no longer standing; the site is today occupied by the high school parking lot at the head of Leitch Avenue.