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Medium hot, medium cold

In case you’re wondering what I was doing Sunday afternoon during the snowstorm I can tell you I was attending a spirit session in the Inn at Saratoga.

By a spirit session I mean a gathering at which a medium receives messages from the dead and passes them along to relatives, the relatives being those who are gathered and who have paid $50 a head for the purpose. There were 32 of them at this session, from young to old – 28 women and four men, not counting me, in my fly-on-the-wall capacity.

The stout velvet-gowned woman up front, with the curly locks and girlish voice, was the medium, Georgia O’Connor, age 32, originally from Johnstown, now resident in Stillwater.

The aging-hippy-looking fellow operating the videocamera was her husband, Dennis, originally from Kentucky, now also of Stillwater, “a full-time stay-at-home daddy,” in Georgia’s words. (They have two small children of their own, and a grown one of Dennis’s.)

The medium business has been their living since they moved up here from Texas a year ago. Georgia told me she does anywhere from three to seven private sessions a day, at $160 an hour if by telephone and $300 an hour if in person, and she does it four days a week.

If that’s true – and I cannot vouch for it -- it’s a pretty good living, for a graduate of Fulton-Montgomery Community College.

(Four sessions a day, four days a week, at the base rate, would come out to about $128,000 a year, not counting group sessions like this one.)

She said she has been hanging out and socializing with spirits since she was a little girl and for a long time didn’t realize there was anything unusual about it.

After a one-hour introductory lecture on the habits and customs of her invisible companions, we went into the meaty part, the “readings,” when she “lets down her boundaries,” as she puts it, and receives messages from the beyond. If you want a reading, you raise your hand and get called on.

But first she said she wanted this family right here, pointing to an old lady and a middle-aged couple in the middle of the room.

She said she was seeing four men in uniform, four soldiers who had been shot in the head in Germany, and she wanted the old lady to come up front and receive their messages.

She said the spirit-soldiers wanted to talk to the one who flew their plane, and this turned out to be the old lady’s husband, something like “D.C.,” but nothing to do with Washington. Georgia would close her eyes and concentrate on these things, as if receiving them in bits and pieces and struggling to put them together.

The old lady – she was Joan Conway of Chestertown, age 78 – was flabbergasted. Her mouth dropped open time and again as Georgia talked about this husband of hers getting shot down over Germany during World War II and riding the plane as far as he could even after the crew bailed out, and so forth, and assuring Joan that the four guys who got killed on the ground did not blame her husband for it.

“Wow!” she said more than once. “Wow!” All the details, the place the plane went down, everything. And D.C. for her husband, Douglas C. Van Weelden.

So this would have been what’s known in the medium racket as a “hot” reading, that is, one in which the medium has done her research and has learned some good sexy details, guaranteed to produce a jaw-dropping effect and soften up the rest of the customers who are waiting their turn.

The details of Douglas C. Van Weelden’s World War II mission are available at And Joan Conway’s recent marriage to him was written up in the Glens Falls Chronicle on Aug. 21 of this year.

It was a great beginning, but it was only a beginning. Next up was Joan’s middle-aged daughter. Georgia told her that she, Georgia, was hearing from a young girl, a daughter that this woman had lost, and the girl was telling her that it happened very fast, she was not afraid, and she did not have pain anymore, and immediately the poor woman started to sob, so of course we knew it was true, the woman really had lost a young daughter.

Georgia told her what a high-energy and friendly kid the girl was, and how she’s loves it where she is now, on the other side, and is friends with everybody there, and wherever she wants to go she either walks or flies because she doesn’t like cars anymore, and the woman kept sobbing, her husband kept comforting her, and pretty soon half the women in the room were dabbing at their own eyes.

So this was another hot one. It turns out the girl had died in a car crash at the age of 16, back in 1992, and Joan Conway had told Georgia about it when she called to register for the seminar, even though she forgot about that and at first insisted to me, in a later conversation, there was no way Georgia could have known about the girl except through the agency of spirits.

Even when I pointed out to her this little discrepancy, she said it was still amazing that Georgia knew the girl’s character so perfectly. But of course most kids are high-energy and friendly, and even if they’re not, their parents think they are, so there’s not much to that, but it shows you how eager some people are to believe.

Not all readings are hot. Some are merely warm, with a just a little information to work with, scrabbled from the Internet or obituaries or wherever it can be scrabbled from. And some are cold, like an unannounced call by a salesman, and then the medium has to put out feelers and gauge the reaction of the customer in order to proceed.

I had a private reading of my own, by telephone, a few days before the group event, and it seemed like a warm one, with a few accurate details nestled among gauzy generalities that I could appropriate to my situation if I was so inclined.

Of course in any session where the customer is paying $50 or $160 or $300, there is a predisposition to appropriate whatever can be appropriated and to disregard and forget what cannot.

It’s an art form that has been practiced at least since ancient Greek times and probably long before that. It was revived in this country in the mid-19th century, when there was a great wave of spiritualism and has never really gone away since then.

A Gallup poll in 2005 found that 41 percent of Americans believe in communication with spirits, so Georgia O’Connor probably has a more secure customer base than General Motors or even the Daily Gazette, and I certainly wish her the best with it.

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December 23, 2008
11:53 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

"There's a sucker born every minute" - P.T. Barnum

December 25, 2008
11:10 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

We're doomed.

But we knew that already

December 27, 2008
9:01 a.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Hopefully a person who claims to speak with the dead is not trying to make money off of something that is bordering on being fraudulent. In the early parts of the 20th Century, Harry Houdini exposed frauds and mediums who bilked people of their money.

Using the phrase"...the dead are able to see their life and ours from a perspective free of selfish materialistic impulses and, like the fictional Marley, they want to enlighten and assist their friends and family who are still living" is playing into people's emotions, and is a lie. Nowhere in her publicity is this being touted as "for entertainment purposes only".

Don't be fooled by charlatans!

January 1, 2009
12:09 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Excellent piece, however to the writer who attributed "there's a sucker born every minute" to Barnum, it was actually said by a Barnum competitor in reference to the Cardiff Giant hoax. It was actually a hoax of a hoax, as Barnum was displaying a replica of the original hoax and billing it as the original, and people still paid money to see it even after the real original hoax was exposed and admitted. The Cardiff Giant was a purported missing link fossil that was really just a carving made from gypsum.

Wikipedia has an excellent article on this bit of Upstate New York history, long displayed at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown:

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