Inside Look: Chapter One_Portrait


Testimony of Mrs. Eugenia Stephenson Concerning a Meeting at the Boston Spiritualist Lyceum

I was seated amongst thirty others in the audience in a meeting hall of the Boston Spiritualist Lyceum on Tremont Street when Ignatius Jones entered, accompanied by his close friend and tour manager Mr. William Price following several steps behind.

Ignatius Jones seated himself behind a table at the front of the room.

To be sure, I’d heard the whispers emanating from certain quarters in Boston, that he takes liberties with women without regard to their marital circumstances, and that his appetites in that quarter cannot be sated.

They say that unaccompanied women enter and depart his house on Pinckney Street at all hours in plain view of his Beacon Hill neighbors, that they flaunt their identities without shame, even some who are well-known in polite society.

Such calumnies failed to dissuade me. I resolved to see for myself the most renowned spiritualist in Boston and to hear his words directly.

Now that I was in his presence, I had to acknowledge that he was as striking a man as I had imagined, exhibiting no indicia of the horns and tail that might be inferred from the malicious stories about him. Tall, strong featured, and elegantly dressed in a fine wool suit and purple silk cravat, he made a wonderful impression. In particular, his eyes, as dark as coal, which at first glance appeared harsh in their intensity, in truer fact expressed a most powerful empathy once they were met with an open accepting mind.

In short, I cannot deny that my heart beat faster on seeing him in person for the first time.

Mr. Price also offered an attractive appearance, being about the same age and height as Ignatius Jones, and very light complexioned with long blond hair and blond eyebrows. He grasped in his arms a painting that he carried in such a way that we could not see its subject. He carefully leaned the painting against Ignatius Jones’ table so that it continued to face away from us, and then strode to the back of our meeting room where he stood to watch the proceedings.

We remained completely quiet, except for a gentleman behind me who could not control his infernal cough, while Ignatius Jones surveyed each of us, saying nothing. When his eyes met mine, I felt with the greatest certainty that they were penetrating into my very soul.

Finally, he spoke to us in a voice so deep that it rumbled like thunder even while his tone remained conversational as if he were addressing just one other person.

“This evening I will conduct five readings,” he said.

He reached into a straw basket on the table. It contained note cards on which I and other audience members had written our names. An assistant had dropped the cards in the basket after we paid a fee, ten dollars each, to attend the session.

“Mrs. Eugenia Stephenson.”

“That’s me!” I ejaculated, incredulous that Ignatius Jones would ever have occasion to utter my name, let alone in public before an audience.

“Please come forward, Mrs. Stephenson, to join me at my table.”

I did so, not daring to look at the others in the room. I dreaded to see the envy they must have felt that I was selected for his first reading.

His firm, warm hand enveloped mine as he held it on the table.

“You have lost someone,” he said.

That was true. I was recently widowed.

“Yes,” I said. “My husband.”

“He is with us now,” Ignatius Jones said. “He is telling me that he died unexpectedly. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“He suffered a mishap of some kind. Am I making sense to you, Mrs. Stephenson?”

“Yes,” I said. “An accident.”

“He is telling me that he lost his balance and he fell. Is that what happened?”

I was struck speechless. Indeed my poor husband had fallen while hiking in New Hampshire.

“Is that what happened?” he repeated.

I nodded, still unable to speak.

“I regret having to recount this history,” he said, looking at me with the kindest sympathy imaginable, “but it is important that you know that my communications are truly with your husband.”

“I understand,” I said, finally locating my voice.

“He is telling me that he was present with you in spirit when you learned about his accident. He says that that you should not worry about him, that he passed into spirit so quickly that he didn’t suffer.”

On hearing this, I felt tears welling in my eyes. Ignatius Jones pressed my hand, and said, “He is telling me that he remains near you always.”

Then, to my growing wonderment, Ignatius Jones recited to me facts, one after another, that he could only have learned from my dear departed husband or from me, except that the great man and I had never conversed before this evening. He noted that I had been ill but had now mostly recovered; that the brooch I was wearing was a gift from my husband that he gave to me just after we were married; and that I was introduced to my husband by a close relative, my dear older sister, now also passed.

After I returned to my seat, my mind was too occupied with all that I had just experienced to pay close attention to his next four readings, although I did join in the audience’s exclamations as undeniable proofs were delivered that he was in contact with his subjects’ loved ones.

Then, having completed the readings, Ignatius Jones addressed all of us in the room.

“I will now show you a truly wondrous object.”

He turned the painting that was leaning against the table so that it faced us directly.

It was his portrait, a perfect likeness, in which he wore the same suit and cravat as he did this evening. But it was more than his image captured by skillful application of oil paint on canvas. The portrait that Ignatius Jones held in his arms was alive. It glowed, positively radiant from an internal source as if charged with Edison’s electricity. His eyes, as represented in the portrait, exerted a magnetism that was almost beyond description; they touched my soul as profoundly as those of the living and breathing man who stood before us.

“As you can plainly see, this is my portrait.”

Some members of the audience chuckled. Yes, that was plain to see.

“It was painted by Desmond Wilkins.”

All around me I heard murmurs of recognition. Of course we knew well of Desmond Wilkins, the most sought-after painter of members of Boston’s leading families.

“However what I hold here is more than an oil painting,” Ignatius Jones continued. “For a full day and night after it was completed, I clutched it in my hands, staring into the image of my own face and of my own eyes. By sheer force of will, I invested in this object a portion of my aura, of my very self, so that it will forever remain part of me, and I of it.”

A quiet settled onto the room as we contemplated the portrait that we understood now to represent so much more than it first appeared.

“Someday I will pass into spirit.”

“No!” cried out a large young man in the front row.

“Yes, I will pass into spirit, like all men, indeed like all creatures,” Ignatius Jones replied. “Even so, I will continue to communicate with you from the Other Side.”

We tried to comprehend. Were we beholding a man who was in fact an immortal being who would speak to us from his grave?

Upright men of the church held spiritualism in low regard as I well knew having suffered their lectures on that topic, and in particular they looked askance on wonderful personalities such as Ignatius Jones. How would they react to what he was telling us now? How should we react? Were we like the Israelites in the time of Jesus when they heard prophecies of His resurrection?

“You are wondering how I will speak to you,” Ignatius Jones said. “My answer is that those who possess the gift of sensitivity will feel my presence in this very portrait, and they will hear my voice.”

“But how will we know the truth of what we hear?” persisted the large young man, clearly still in distress.

“You will know,” Ignatius Jones said. “Believe in me, and through this portrait you will witness proof of life eternal.”