Mary's first 6 years of mediumship consisted of private seances and tests. Her first public seances were in a dialect which was, “half African, half Indian and wholly ungrammatical, but spoke with great fluency.” (*6) While Mary was married to George Pepper, ex-Judge Abram H. Dailey, of the Surrogate Court of New York, worked with her (and Bright Eyes) on dialect and grammar. As time went on this work proved to be beneficial as her messages were given in flawless English. Bright Eyes true identity came forth during a public message service in New Bedford, Massachusetts when Mary pointed out a skeptic in the audience, “Why Hello Mr. So and So.” The skeptic said he knew nothing of this spirit and Bright Eyes insisted, “Yes, you do. You got my picture- you took my picture,” and she proceeded to give details of how and when, way out west, this gentleman had taken a picture of her as a small Indian girl. When the photographer returned home and searched through his negatives he found the photo she had described. The photographer brought Mary the photo which she wore in a locket around her neck.
Camp Etna's Most Famous Medium
by Diane Jackman Skolfield, Camp Etna Historian
Mary Scannell was born May 7, 1867 in a community known as Happy Hollow in West Mansfield, Massachusetts. Her mother died when she was 3 years old and her aunt took her into her care. At the age of 15 the two went to Narragansett, MA where Mary had her first vision of spirit recorded some 25 years later in an interview which appeared in the Lewiston Journal in 1908; “I had retired, but still was wide awake. I became aware of a human form in the room, near the bed... There was something about it that differed from the persons I knew... and I screamed. “When I described the person I had seen, the family there said I described one of their relatives, who had died-a person I had never seen, nor even heard of.”
In 1882 the people of this household knew only table tipping as a means of receiving messages from spirit world. During their seance that evening the name of Mary's mother was spelled out letter by letter and then it was made clear a spirit of a little Indian Girl named Bright Eyes desired to speak through Mary. Bright Eyes requested Mary stay in the house for 3 months for training in spiritual development and, at first, Mary refused. She declared she would “not remain (in the house) one hour beyond the time her aunt must leave for home”. When it came time for her aunt to leave Mary could not be persuaded to go. She remained there for 3 months and Bright Eyes spoke through Mary for the next 34 years.
Elizabeth Harlow Goetz, well known lecturer and Spiritualist best known for her lecture on The Simplicity of Greatness and the Greatness of Simplicity about Abraham Lincoln's life delivered in San Diego in 1915, spent the years from 1895 to 1898 by Mary's side. She was present and attested to the events of the validation of Bright Eyes and the countless, flawless messages given to the masses. Throughout the years she practiced her mediumship to great crowds around New England. Harrison D. Barrett appointed Mrs. Pepper as one of the National Spiritualists' Association's State agent to promote spiritualism. She traveled extensively always returning to New England. She was tested frequently with sealed letters and questions proving her abilities time and time again. She was invited to visit the Czar of Russia and toured throughout Europe as a result of her “envelope readings”. In 1893 she was considered a good platform medium; in 1898 a remarkable speaker and medium; and in 1903 as a peer of all demonstrators of spiritual phenomena.
Dr. Isaac K. Funk, of Funk and Wagnalls publishing firm, began corresponding and visiting with Mary in 1903. In 1907 he offered his book, The Psychic Riddle, which described testimony after testimony of events validating Mary's communication with Spirit World for learned scholars of the time. On February 16, 1907 The Progressive Thinker published a story of one of Mary's messages and how she offered the most precious evidence Dr. Funk ever received in all his wide experience of psychic phenomena."
An article which appeared in the New York Times on June 11, 1907, was not complimentary. Mary Scannell Pepper married Edward Ward Vanderbilt on June 1 and Minerva, one of his daughters, claimed Mary was a “woman of unscrupulous habits... a fraud upon the community … and nothing more nor less than an adventuress, seeking notoriety and profit.” Minerva, along with her sister, and a brother and sister of Edward, brought forth a request for an application to the Supreme Court of Brooklyn, NY, questioning the sanity of the 66 year old and very wealthy Vanderbilt. Ex-Supreme Court Judge Abram H. Dailey represented Mrs. Vanderbilt. Mary's husband Edward adored Mary and supported and encouraged her work as a medium. Mary Cadwallader stated in her book about Mary Vanderbilt, "In later life, when fame brought laurels, when wedded happiness became her portion, when affluence sheltered and royalty sought her, she was not ashamed to speak of the occupations of those humbler days (she was a cleaning lady; a noble position at the turn of the century). Nor did she ever attempt to conceal the fact that her first marriage-with George Pepper-resulted so unfortunately that she found herself obliged to divorce him."
In 1916 The Banner of Life published the following statement from a prominent Spiritualist speaker, “They come in farmer's carts, in wagons, in anything, the Lord only knows how they do all get there.” It was not uncommon to have well over 5000 people in attendance at Camp Etna when Mary spoke. In the same year The Banner of Life published these words from Mary, who felt Camp Etna was the dearest spot on earth; “Sixteen miles west of Bangor, nestling among the pines in one of Maine's productive valleys, lies Camp Etna, the camp where Harrison D. Barrett received his early physical and mental training as well as his first spiritual lessons; and where, as president of the National Association of Spiritualists, he returned just twenty years ago, with a party of friends...Each year as I journey back to camp I review the years and what they have brought to Etna, and what Etna has contributed to the cause. Etna has the distinct honor of being the only Spiritualist camp where a nominee for governor came for strength and courage, and found the light in a personal message which his election verified. During his term of office as a mark of respect to Spiritualism he gave the camp a “governor's day,” Spiritualism being the only religious cult receiving such an honor. From a small camp of early days when three or four hundred congregated on Sundays to hear our speakers, many thousands now constitute the audiences at our Sunday services. And all over Maine this great truth from Etna has shed its light, unto this Mecca of Spiritualism have come Maine's most gifted sons and daughters. In consequence it became the birth spot of new thought along theological and scientific lines, and the baptismal fount of the knowledge of life's continuity.”(*6)
Mary served at Camp Etna for 17 years, and as it's president the last 10 years of her life. After the 1918 season, an especially busy summer, Mary returned home and became ill. During her last address at the 71st anniversary of Modern Spiritualism in Berkeley Hall she remembered appearing there almost 24 years earlier. Her voice declared her devotion to Spiritualism urging all to be true to the cause. She spoke of all of the blessings they had received because of their knowledge of the continuation of life. Her last words to the public were, “I have found Spiritualism a good thing to live by, and I have come pretty close to finding it a good thing to die by.”(*6)
(*1) Thesis by Christopher Evan Miller, Boston University, 2004, Geological Setting of Sebasticook Lake Fish Weir
(*2) History of Etna, Maine-A Gazetteer of the State of Maine By Geo. J. Varney Published by B. B. Russell, 57 Cornhill, Boston 1886
(*4) A Short History of Camp Etna by Clarence A. Stewart
(*5) Etna History 1820-1995 by Etna-Dixmont School
(*6) Mary S. Vanderbilt Twentieth Century Seer by Mary Cadwalladder
(*7) Mary Waitsfill Drake Jenne
Camp Etna A spiritual summer camp run by the Etna Spiritualist Association
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