Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Christmas Craft Fair is Now Open!

Today marked the first day of our annual Christmas Craft Fair. Didn't make it over here today? Don't despair! We will be open Monday - Saturday, from 10 am - 4 pm through December 19. We will be closed on Sundays and on Thanksgiving Day. There is no admission fee to enter the fair, located in the 1848 Shaker Meeting House.

Our Craft Fairs are an opportunity for visitors to discover the unique and beautiful items made by local artisans. Each purchase supports the Shaker Heritage Society as well as the artists and crafters represented in the fair.

We are located on Heritage Lane. For directions, please see this post about how to find us. (Please note: If you are using a GPS device or an online mapping service, please be advised that 875 Watervliet Shaker Road is our mailing address, not our physical location.)
The following photos showcase just a fraction of the items available at our Craft Fair.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shakers, Spiritualism and Séances: Part II

Spiritualism was of great interest to the Shakers and many went to presentations about the topic. For those unfamiliar with Spiritualism, it is the belief that the living can communicate with those who have passed on, often using psychically sensitive individuals called mediums.*

In the mid nineteenth century, two Shaker brothers went to observe the Fox Sisters in action. We believe that “Elder Richard” is a reference to Richard Bushnell and the “Brother Frederic” is Frederick Evans, both of the Mount Lebanon Shaker Community. A letter from 1850 offers a very detailed description of their experience.

July 1850
Elder Richard and Brother Frederic attend meeting with us this evening and relate the singular manifestations which they witnessed both in New York and at Stratsburg, Connecticut. While in New York they went to see the family of Fox girls for the purpose of witnessing the “mysterious rappings” as they are universally called. They witnessed the questions that were asked by others and heard the answers that were given. Those that asked the questions were well satisfied that there was something supernatural about it, as the questions which were asked and answered related to matters which were known to none but those that asked the questions themselves. Elder Richard asked questions something after this manner:
Question: Are disembodied spirits capable of corresponding with spirits that are embodied?
Answer: In the affirmative by rapping.
Question: Are any of my relatives present?
Answer: Yes
Question: Who is it?
Answer: Your mother.
Question: What is her name?

These questions were multiplied to quite an extent, entering into the particulars as to where she lived before her departure from this world, the name of the town she lived in etc, etc., all of which were correctly answered. Elder Richard said that they were not obliged to spell the word out by the alphabet but could receive answers equally as well by [writing] the question upon a slate or paper and [answering] the question thus. If my mother is present, what is her name? He remarked that previous to his asking this question he had written down names indiscriminately, some of which were his relatives and some were not. He then took his pencil and began to trace the column downwards and the moment he touched his mother’s name there was a rap. In this manner he received the answers in relation to the name of the town in which she lived etc, etc.

This is truly a singular manifestation; it appeared from the intelligence displayed that something more than blind chance governs it; the hand of the source of intelligence undoubtedly is in it and that it may effectively open the eyes of mankind and convince them of the fact so thoroughly understood by believers- the close proximity of departed spirits- their attendance as guardians, etc is much to be desired. And that it may finally terminate in causing all to be troubled for their sins and bring many into a closer relation to God is my prayer.

This conclusion of this passage is truly fascinating as it details why many of the Shakers were open to psychics and séances. They were not defying their religion or beliefs; rather, they felt they were utilizing Spiritualism to further promote it.

* For more information on the Fox Sisters and Spiritualism, please see Nancy Rubin Stuart’s fascinating book The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox. An article the Fox Sisters from American History Magazine is available at:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Shakers, Spiritualism and Séances: Part I

Most modern people are surprised to hear that throughout their history, many Shakers thought it possible to communicate with the Spirit World. In their extensive journals, the Shakers frequently mention going to Spiritualist meetings and hosting mediums. Throughout the next few blog posts, we hope to explore these interesting topics.

In the 1850s, a little person who claimed to possess psychic powers visited the Watervliet Shakers at least twice. The Shaker journal keeper unfortunately does not go into detail or name this woman.

“8 March 1856- The little dwarf medium and another young woman here from Waterford.”

“8 January 1858- The dwarf medium and two other women here from Waterford.”

“16 January 1858- Dwarf medium and friends taken to the depot.”

It is interesting to note that in 1858, the medium seemed to stay for eight days. The Shakers often tried to limit the length of stay for most guests from the general public, yet this implies that the Shakers were close friends with or were receiving a service from this woman.

If any of our readers have found other references to the "Little Dwarf Medium," please contact us as we would love the opportunity to do more research on this topic.