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The Davenport Brothers Magic Wardrobe

“Currito must go to Novedades so that the Davenport brothers evoke the spirit of their father, in order for him to give him some rules to kill bulls,” wrote a bullfighting critic from Madrid in April 1875. I don’t know if the right-hander, son of the also matador Francisco Arjona Herrera, Cúchares, followed the ironic advice and attended the show of the two American mediums at the Novedades theater. What there is evidence of is that the Davenport passage through Spain was somewhat bumpy. In Madrid, the civil governor ordered their performances to be suspended after the scandal that broke out the second night; in Barcelona, ​​two conjurers replicated the miracles of the brothers days after their last performance. It was not the first time that the public rebelled against them, nor that the magicians exposed them.

Ira Erastus and William Henry Davenport were born in 1839 and 1841 in Buffalo (New York), very close to where modern spiritualism emerged a few years later. On April 1, 1848, sisters Kate and Maggie Fox, aged eleven and fourteen, respectively, pretended at home to communicate with the dead through blows. The clicks from beyond – which they actually made with the joints of the fingers and toes – impressed first his mother and then his neighbors. And what was initially an April Fools joke got out of hand. A year later, and mentored by her older sister, Ann Leah, they earned more than $ 100 a night in Rochester holding séances.

The success of the Foxes encouraged many to follow in their footsteps, and by the mid-1850s there were already some 40,000 mediums in the United States.

The children of a police officer in Buffalo, about 75 miles from Rochester, the Davenports began communicating with the dead in 1854. At first they did so in completely dark rooms, where musical instruments were flying that sounded as if someone were playing them as they moved. magically from one extreme to the other. The public, devoted, did not consider that the adolescents roamed the room with total freedom, taking advantage of the darkness. He assumed that things happened thanks to the power of the spirits.

When they put on a traveling show, they did it with a large three-door wardrobe. Behind the sides, they sat on benches facing each other, bound hand and foot; behind the center, they deposited a guitar, a trumpet, a violin, a tambourine and other instruments. Then the closet would be closed, the light would go out, and the spirits would make the music start playing and some instruments would fly out of the closet. When the light came back on and the doors opened, the Davenports were still tied up.

For ten years they toured the United States with their show and in 1865 they set out to conquer Europe. “They had successfully undergone all the tests that human ingenuity could conceive, without anyone being able to tell how they got the results. They had achieved a great reputation. However, they had to start over ”, the very credulous Arthur Conan Doyle would indicate in his book The history of spiritualism (1926).

The Davenports arrived in Madrid from Lisbon in mid-March 1875 and stayed at the Ambassadors inn. As was customary on their tours, the first thing they did was invite journalists to a private session. According to Antonio Torres-Solanot, viscount and president of the Spanish Spiritist Society, the demonstration they carried out was a success. And, thanks to the mediation of local spiritists, three performances were scheduled at the Novedades theater. The first, on April 2, hung the sign “No tickets” despite the capacity of the room was around 1900 seats.

In his section ‘Letters to my uncle’, on the front page of El Imparcial, the critic and humorist Fernanflor –Isidoro Fernández Flórez– gave an account of the events, including the reactions of the public. “You already know, uncle, the public in Madrid,” he wrote. An irreverent spectator whistled; another shouted: ‘To jail!’; they screamed wildly; those wanted to impose silence. The commotion rose to a terrible crescendo; it was not possible to understand each other… The theater had become a true Davenport closet ”.

The audience responded with shouts and laughter to the music of the instruments locked in the cabinet with the mediums. In the midst of the row, “the poor Davenport brothers, bound in the back of the closet, silently deplored the disbelief of modern times,” Fernanflor said. The Madrid press was practically unanimous in its opinion: the brothers were a fraud.

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