Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Walter Hubbell, Ghost Buster or Gullible Believer.

Walter Hubbell (1851-1932)
Born to a family of lawyers, Walter Hubbell must have felt a bit of an enigma.  Walter was the second of six children of William Wheeler Hubbell and Elizabeth Catherine Remley (or Ramillie). An actor by profession, Walter never married.  He was not the only bachelor in his family, brothers Lawrence and Paul were both single late into adulthood and both worked in New York.  Walter was the family historian and wrote several books including "The History of the Hubbell Family".

Walter’s grandfather Trueman Mallory Hubbell was a well known Pennsylvania settler. Truman was unrivaled as an expert shot with the rifle, pistol and shot-gun in hunting for deer, bear, wolves and panthers. He was personally acquainted with James Fenimore Cooper, the celebrated novelist. He was the original "Deerslayer" in Cooper's novel of that name and became the owner of the rifle "Killdeer" mentioned in the Deerslayer. In 1811 Truman rented a saw mill in Chester, Pennsylvania, and married the owner's daughter in 1817. He continued in the lumber business and established a lumber yard in Philadelphia in 1818. He took a prominent role in establishing public schools and was elected to the Legislature of Pennsylvania in 1834-5. He also had an adventure in Georgia of defending a stage coach carrying two million dollars against an armed robbery attempt. Late in life, he and his wife went to Philadelphia to live with their son William Wheeler Hubbell (Walter’s Father) until his wife's death in 1876, then living with another son until his death in 1878 at the age of 90.

I think that Walter inherited his grandfather’s taste for celebrity. According to Walter, he was first on the professional stage in 1872 at the age of 21.  Walter travelled North America, working as an actor while based in New York. He lived on Madison Avenue, in Yonkers and later in Queens.  In one of his books, Hubbell provides the following view of his acting career,  “He has been on the stage since boyhood, and has played every line of parts in the classic and standard drama with, among others of renown, Charlotte Cushman, Adelaide Neilson, Edwin Booth, John McCullough, Charles Fechter and Barry Sullivan. In 1890 he first appeared as a star in Western provincial towns, as Macbeth, Hamlet and in other tragic parts, appearing in Chicago in 1891, at the Windsor Theatre, under Benjamin Leavitt's management, as Hamlet, Othello and Richard III, meeting with instant success, not only as a Shakespearean scholar, but as a tragedian of the very highest class.”  Hubbell often played the role of Aguila, in “A Royal Slave”, a performance that brought him to Amherst, Nova Scotia.  By the age of 68, he was still performing, playing the voice of the ghost in Hamlet in San Jose, California in 1919.

But Hubbell is most noted for his relationship with Esther Cox.  Hubbell wrote “The Great Amherst Mystery” a book which has kept the story of Esther Cox’s experience alive for well over 100 years.  Professed to be a debunker of all things mysterious, in fact if we look at Hubbell we seem to see  a gullible man who cannot separate himself from spiritualist encounters.  Not only did he immerse himself in Esther’s story, exaggerating her experiences; he also had a habit of involving himself in other similar events.  He became a member of a small inner circle of admirers of Washington Irving Bishop a noted mentalist who died supposedly by being autopsied during a trance.  Hubbell was fascinated by John Wilkes Booth (assassin to President Lincoln) and followed reports of Booth’s whereabouts through acquaintances with family members.  Hubbell sought attention on the stage of Reverend F. A. Wiggin, a pastor of the Spiritual Temple in New York and supposedly was controlled by the spirit of John McCullough, a fellow actor.  During that stage event, Walter wrote on a piece of paper a supposed quote by the former actor and placed it on a table on stage requesting that the medium identify his unseen quote, which of course Wiggin did.

The most revealing hoax was when Hubbell reported that a friend and neighbour, Edward Serviss, had been kidnapped in broad daylight, only to be told that Serviss was picked up by police being one of the most notorious swindlers of western America.
Hubbell's home courtesy of Kathy Hufnel

Other books that Hubbell published included “The Curse of Marriage” in 1888 and “Marcus Brutus, and Other Verses in 1886”.  Upon retirement he lived with his sister Eleanor.

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