hudson tuttle

Before I knew anything else about Hudson Tuttle, I knew he was a man aware of his own importance. I bought a book at a flea market inscribed by Tuttle to his daughter Clair: “To Clair from her father Hudson Tuttle.” Not “To Clair from Dad,” or “To my darling Clair from her loving Papa,” but “To Clair from her father Hudson Tuttle,” shifting the focus from poor Clair to her father.

However, if he hadn’t inscribed the book in that way, I never would’ve been curious and googled him, so I guess his careful preservation of self worth paid off. Perhaps I should think again at how I address my own kids.

Born in 1836 on a homestead in Erie County, Ohio, Tuttle would spend his entire life on the same plot of land, which became known as Walnut Grove Farm, located near the village of Berlin Heights (population 714 in 2010). He spent his life breeding horses, farming, publishing and being a spiritualist. Yes. He communicated with spirits.

He became skeptical of organized religion when young. His father’s house was a stopping point in the wilderness for itinerant Unitarian preachers and little Hudson was witness to many lively theological discussions. He had access to few books and a mere 11 months’ formal education and yet by the time he was 19, he had written Scenes in the Spirit World and published articles in The Spiritual Telegraph. His lack of education was made up for by his guidance from those in the spirit world. His ambitious scientific work, Arcana of Nature, was helped along by the spirits of French naturalist Lamarck, Alexander von Humbolt and other great minds.

Begun when he was only 18 and finally published in 1859 (his spirit instructors bade him destroy most of his early version to “weed out the imperfections”), it was written without access to libraries, to any reference books, and without an education. Instead, Tuttle (who had early on attended a séance hosted by a Congregational minister where he’d discovered in the process that he was able to enter a trance-like state, produce automatic writing and strange knockings) let the spirits speak to him and impart their knowledge. In Chapter 7 of Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man, Darwin references Tuttle’s writings. FCL Buchner quoted from Arcana of Nature in his book, Force and Matter. Neither of these realized, or course, that Hudson Tuttle was an uneducated farm boy.

Although, since everything we know about Tuttle seems to come from his own writings, I think it must be taken with a sizeable grain of salt.

Still, however it was produced, Arcana of Nature was an ambitious work, endeavoring to explain the origins of man and the cosmos from astronomic, philosophic and anthropologic viewpoints. Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species would be published later that same year, but Tuttle preceeded him with his own theories of evolutionary biology. Darwin’s theories, however, have held up much better than Tuttle’s, some of which are described as “bizarre” and “crackpot.”

After reading some poetry by 17 year old Emma D Rood (also a spiritualist) in a Cleveland publication, The Universe, Tuttle sent her a letter with a copy of his book, Life in Two Spheres. The inevitable ensued and they were married the following year. The two wrote books seperately and together, lectured and taught, ran their publishing house, The Tuttle Publishing Co, as well as continuing to breed horses and manage a farm and raise three kids – one of whom was the aforementioned Clair.

In the 1880s, due to a shortage of planchettes, Tuttle stepped in and began producing an inexpensive spirit communication tool called the Psychograph, which, although it wasn’t entirely original and seems to be based on the Alphabetic Planchette produced in the 1860s by a man named Holmes, was quite successful for the Tuttles, selling quite well on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s sort of Ouija Board-ish, with a cardboard square printed with letters and words like “yes” and “no” and “goodbye,” but instead of a planchette moving to the letters, this featured a wooden circle that spun and pointed to the various letters.

Examples of the Psychograph are quite scarce today, probably due to the fragile nature of the cardboard base, and are highly sought after by collectors. A total of four are known to exist.

As well as their many spiritualist publications, in 1910, Tuttle and his wife Emma published a collection of traditional spiritual folklore, Stories from Beyond the Borderland, which includes a local Native American story, The Legend of Minehonto, which is one of the few existing early accounts of Western Reserve pre-European oral traditions.

Hudson Tuttle died 15 December 1910 and is buried in Berlin Heights.

But what about Clair? you ask. What little I could find about her has made me curious for more, but what’s out there is tantalizingly small. I’ll update you if I find more. At Find a Grave, she’s listed as Claire (with an “e”) Tuttle Yerance, 1871 – 1952, and she’s buried by her parents. I couldn’t come up with an obituary. I did, however, find an obituary for her husband, Frank L Yerance in the 3 May 1902 New York Clipper, which was a theatrical newspaper. He was an actor who died 10 April 1902, aged 45. He’d been in the theatrical business for many years and was well respected (according to the Clipper). There is a huge list of actors/companies/productions he was associated with, including Claire Tuttle, his widow (so she was an actress!). At the age of 17, Frank Yerance’s Hamlet was a success in New York. At one time, he managed the Lyceum Theater. He’s listed as having an acting company as early as 1878. One of his troupes, by the way, was called Yerance’s Double Uncle Tom Company, so it seems he must have been involved in minstrel shows.

But very little can be found about Claire (it seems only her father spelled Clair without the “e.”) After Frank’s death, there is a mention of the Claire Tuttle Yerance Entertainers, so obviously she kept on in the business at least for awhile.

Research-wise, poor Claire is overshadowed by the men in her life, her flamboyant, over the top father, and her actor husband. And she doesn’t seem to have had any children to remember her.

I have a few theories about Claire’s acting career. Growing up with famous parents, perhaps she craved the spotlight for herself. Or perhaps watching her parents’ spiritualist productions, she learned a bit about theater and was merely carrying on the family tradition, without the ghosts and crystal balls.

Assuming that the elder Tuttles were a sham. Perhaps they weren’t. Perhaps they were true spiritualists. Or perhaps they believed they were. I can explain to myself everything but the spirit rapping – apparently, the medium would call out the letters of the alphabet, and the spirit would knock when the proper letter was called – I can’t imagine any honest way this could happen. A trance, yeah. Look at the snake handling preacher-types and their rabid congregations. You can get that emotional frenzy going. You could imagine yourself taken over by spirits, and writing their messages (although the Arcana of Nature is a bit of a stretch…). I can picture all that. But not the rapping.

Unless it’s all true? (…thinks about this for a second, says Nah and shakes head…)

I would love to know more about Claire. I would love to see photos – somewhere I’m sure there must be photos of Claire the actress. I’d love to know about her life. Did she capitalize on the Tuttle name? Or not? How long was she in the business? I’ll keep looking. Somewhere there has to be something. But for now, this is what I’ve got.

For more reading: (New York Clipper collection)

HUDSON & EMMA (Rood) TUTTLE: Spiritualist Authors

Ghosts in the Machines: The Devices and Daring Mediums That Spoke for the Dead