Psychic Phenomena and Lake Forest, from the Earliest Settlers to Modern Times
For this season of Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and the Day of the Dead, it has become an annual occasion here for ghost walks and visits by ghost hunters. But this is not just a new fad in Lake Forest. Two of the 19th century settlers of east Lake Forest were Anna Farwell (Mrs. Reginald) De Koven (1860s) and Grace Garrett (Mrs. Scott) Durand (1890s), both of whom published books on spiritualism in 1920 and 1917, respectively.
By 1920, Anna De Koven was a noted author based in an elegant townhouse on Park Avenue in New York; she wrote A Cloud of Witnesses (New York: E. P. Dutton) that year, which sought to provide evidence from psychic research of the survival of personality after death. She also wrote about this episode in her life in her 1926 autobiography, A Musician and His Wife (New York: Harper & Brothers). Unlike some authors, Anna wrote books of many types, from a literary translation (of Pierre Loti’s An Iceland Fisherman, published in Chicago in 1889) to novels (A Sawdust Doll, 1895; By the Waters of Babylon, 1902) and historical works (notably The Life and Letters of John Paul Jones, 2 vols.). By 1920, she was a well-respected and widely read woman author.
But the losses of her sister, Lake Forest’s Rose Chatfield-Taylor, and her composer husband, in 1918 and 1920, respectively, left her with a difficult readjustment. As she recounts in A Musician and His Wife, it was of great interest to her when at this dark time she was visited by Sir Oliver Lodge and his spouse, Lodge being a noted British physicist and also a student of psychic phenomena. Like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes, etc.), the Lodges lost a son in World War I, and Lodge wrote books about visiting mediums after this loss. Reports Anna, “I investigated the published records of that new scientific inquiry regarding the survival of personality and, like many who have made that investigation without prejudice, have been convinced that this is reasonably established.” (A Musician and His Wife, p. 245.)
She then traveled to Oxford to interview Professor William McDougall, who was responsible for bringing experimental psychology to Britain and by 1911 published Body and Mind also with an interest in paranormal psychology. After all this, and her two deeply felt losses, Anna concluded in 1926 that “[t]he horizon of one who believes he has seen authentic glimpses of a continuing life is wider, is happier, than that of a skeptic.”
As a child, Anna first had come to Lake Forest summers to stay with her parents, Mary and Charles B. Farwell, and siblings at the home of the Sylvester Linds, the site on which the house at 550 East Deerpath now stands. By 1870, her parents had built their home, Fairlawn, at 965 East Deerpath, overlooking Forest Park and the lake. She then often was with her family during her Ferry Hall and Lake Forest College years here in Lake Forest, and later, when the family summered in Lake Forest and then lived in Washington, D.C., especially while her father Charles B. Farwell was a senator from Illinois (1887–91). Her education at home was the occasion for the first class of the reconstituted Collegiate Department at Lake Forest University in 1876 after the Civil War and the 1871 Chicago Fire. So, Anna’s story goes back to some of the early phases of the community. The introduction to her A Cloud of Witnesses was written by James H. Hyslop, a professor at Lake Forest University in the early days, too, beginning in 1880–82, and a friend of the Farwell family. Hyslop, as well, was one of the first American psychologists to relate that new field to psychic research in this country.
Grace Garrett Durand was another well-known independent Lake Forest/Lake Bluff woman, who started her own dairy in Lake Forest, on Crabtree, and then moved it to Lake Bluff (Crab Tree Farm) in 1905. In 1917, she lost a “beloved” sister, which led her to discover “the great revelation of Spirit communication.” So she states in her dedication to her sister in her book with her characteristic certitude and self-confidence, Sir Oliver Lodge Is Right: Spirit Communication a Fact, privately published in Lake Forest in 1917. She quotes Emerson and Tolstoy indeed to support her position (p. 62).
The problem with psychic research stems from its conflict with basic scientific method, the ability to replicate an experiment—to do something over and over to prove its invariability. Ghosts don’t appear on schedule to those who see them, and they have not been able to be summoned on request by researchers. But the whole field blossomed in the formative days of psychology, and some of its roots are here in this community. Not surprisingly, as well, modern Lake Forest and Lake Bluff residents, along with Lake Forest College students, report encounters with spirits or ghosts.
—Arthur H. Miller