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Kleefeld demonstrates deceptive methods of spiritualists

Jim Kleefeld pulls ectoplasm out of his hands at the Barlow branch of the Washington County Public Library. (Photo by James Dobbs)

BARLOW — Jim Kleefeld gave a demonstration of deception in spiritualism in the 1900s at the Barlow branch of the Washington County Public Library on Monday.

The presentation explained how mediums were deceptive in their practices and discussed topics such as different mediums, spiritualism, ethereal voices, and spirit photography, among other things.

Kleefeld made an interactive showing of his spiritual practices and interacted with the audience on more than one occasion. He brought a collection of unusual antique artifacts for the audience to view, including spirit trumpets, voiceless dolls, ectoplasm, and message frames. He used said artifacts to demonstrate how mediums in the 1900s tried to initiate contact with spirits and how they duped their customers.

“It’s an adventure in fake spiritualism and fake mediums,” Kleefeld explained. “It’s a historical look at what some mediums did to defraud people.”

He said he doesn’t claim that all mediums were fake, but a lot of the mediums that he has studied have cheated their customers out of money. He also mentioned that it bothers him, that the mediums were being deceptive toward those who were in the process of grieving a loved one’s death.

Jim Kleefeld shows a whales tooth with scrimshaw etched into it at the Barlow branch of the Washington County Public Library. (Photo by James Dobbs)

Kleefeld said spiritualism grew as an industry after the Civil War, because husbands and fathers went off to war and never came back. This created a want for mediums from people who wanted to get closure from their lost loved ones.

“It was a great step, in one way, a positive step for women’s rights,” he said.

He said up until 1850 or the 1900s there wasn’t a place for women to earn accolades. He then explained how most women stayed home and ran the household, and how very few women had jobs where they were able to earn money.

“And then along came the spiritualist world and mediums, because of Kate and Maggie Fox, sort of came from a feminine perspective. A lot of almost all of the beginning mediums were women, and they thought they could go out, do something that other people recognized them for and get paid for it,” he said.

Kleefeld said that he has been a magician for most of his life, and started doing magic tricks when he was in Cub Scouts. As he grew up, he made a living as a magician in the summers, and taught kindergarten through Cleveland Public Schools the rest of the year. He learned about spiritualism through magic.

Jim Kleefeld’s collection of antique and unusual artifacts at the Barlow branch of the Washington County Public Library. (Photo by James Dobbs)

“So the more I studied magic and magicians and magic history, the more I came across things the spiritualists did or used,” he said. “They used a lot of magic to trick people because they could.”

Kleefeld has studied books like The Problem Spiritualist and Revelations of a Spirit Medium. He has even written his own book called The Spirits Speak, which he told stories from at the presentation. Kleefeld said there are several books on spiritualism and mediums at that the Washington County Public Library and its branches.

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