Silver Belle Lives: A Brief Review of a Remarkable Book and My Experiences at the Famous Spiritualist Resort

10 May

The Ephrata Mountain Springs, Volume II: The Later Years, 1882-2004, Including The Von Nieda Years, Camp Silver Belle and the Temple of Truth, and Ephrata’s First Hospitals, by Clarence E. Spohn, 2010. Detailed illustrated history of the Ephrata Mountain Springs Hotel from 1882 until its demolition in 2004. The volume includes over 450 photographs and illustrations relating to the historic resort, included are photographs from the public auction of the hotel’s contents in 1989 and its demolition in 2004. Clothbound, 528 pages, illustrated, endnotes, 8-3/4″ x 11-1/4″.

As a professional medium I love studying the history of Spiritualism and the pioneering mediums involved in the movement as I learn so much from their experiences.  I always wanted to write a book detailing the history of Camp Silver  Belle, the famous Spiritualist resort in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, named after the Native American spirit guide of it’s founder, the Miami, Florida-based physical medium, Ethel Post-Parrish, so I was extremely happy when I found out that this thick volume documenting the camp’s establishment had been published by the local historic society as it contains a vast treasure of hundreds of photographs and never before revealed details the camp and the lives of the mediums involved.

A sister camp to Chesterfield in Anderson, Indiana, Silver Belle flourished for from 1932-1991 as the mecca for physical phenomena in the United States. The resort operated for several years at the Ephrata Park before the historic Mountain Springs Hotel was acquired for the camp activities.  In it’s heyday Spiritualists from throughout the United States as well as internationally traveled to participate in the sensational physical phenomena seances that took place on the grounds.  Maurice Barbanell, the medium for the famous spirit teacher Silver Birch and founder and editor of the British Spiritualist weekly Psychic News reported on the full materialization’s he experienced when he visited in the late 1930′s.  In 1965 renowned Brazilian medium and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Chico Xaviver attended physical seances at Silver Belle on his famous Spiritist missionary visit to the United States.

Many prominent mediums from all around the USA served at Silver Belle.  Peggy Barnes, Ethel Post-Parrish’s cabinet attendant and author of a series of popular treatises on Spiritualism and mediumship was based there.  Hugh Gordon Burroughs, Vice President of the National Spiritualist Association of Churches and founder of the Church of Two Worlds in Washington, DC, served Silver Belle as a medium for decades and took over as president after Ethel Post-Parrish’s physical passing in 1958.

I first heard about Silver Belle as a student medium at the Church of Two Worlds in Washington, DC.  Many of the mediums and members of the congregation described to me their wonderful experiences attending the physical seances at Silver Belle.  My friend Fern, the elderly church organist, was especially impressed by the materialization seances that she experienced in which spirit personalities utilizing ectoplasm fully materialized and communicated with the seance participants.  At the time I was taking development classes with a trance medium named Sylvia, who had studied for years at the world’s largest Spiritualist camp, the Lily Dale Assembly in western New York.

One evening Fern went with me to Sylvia’s home circle and described to the group how Thomas Edison had materialized at a Silver Belle seance. Immediately Sylvia challenged Fern asking her; Why would Thomas Edison want to materialize at a seance? She bluntly explained to Fern that the phenomena at Silver Belle were tricks performed by fraudulent mediums. Sylvia had read a book written by a former bogus medium named Lamar Keene called the Psychic Mafia, which detailed the fake mediumship practiced at Camp Chesterfield in Indiana and his church in Florida. Ethel Post-Parrish was born in Indiana and her cousin Mabel Riffel was involved in running Camp Chesterfield for decades.

In 1976 a split had taken place between members of the board of the camp with one group maintaining meetings at the Mountain Springs Hotel under the name Temple of Truth and the other group using the name Silver Belle operating at another location in Ephrata.  I wanted very much to visit both establishments myself.  I did not care whether the phenomena was genuine or trickery. My main interest was experiencing Spiritualism in all it’s forms and as a student even fake mediumship would be educational for me.

In June 1988 I drove with Fern and several of her elderly friends to the Temple of Truth.  We arrived Saturday morning after the morning healing class was finishing just in time for the philosophy class.  At the Temple of Truth there were activities scheduled all day that were held mainly in the large chapel on the grounds. There were only a handful of people present as Joseph Reilly, Ethel Post Parrish’s grandson, lectured on the philosophy of Spiritualism.  Although the lecture took place almost twenty-five years ago I still vividly remember the content of his talk and his dramatic manner of presentation.

At the time of my visit the entire camp was extremely dead with only 20 or so visitors for the weekend, most of whom were registered to attend the week long seminary week.  Besides myself, there might have been one other person, a lady from Manhattan, who was under the age of 55.  Most of the attendees were well over the age of 80.

At 1 PM there was a worship service in the camp chapel.  During the spirit message portion of the service the medium told me that I needed to meditate more, which seemed odd given the fact that at the time I was doing mantra meditation diligently for several hours a day. At 4 PM there was a development class on physical mediumship conducted in one of the seance rooms by a staff medium from Massachusetts.  I will never forget this class for as long as I live.  After an opening prayer the medium proceeded to pretend to go into trance and began to speak in a high pitched squeaky voice.  My Mommy she is asleep now 

Thank God that I had never been exposed to anyone pretending to channel Joy Guides before this as I would have been completely turned off by Spiritualism.

The medium continued speak in the same silly, childish voice as she taught the class the class for the next hour and a half. Although I was deeply eager to learn I found the entire experience to be extremely boring and a waste of time.  I would have preferred that the medium skip the phony theatrics and taught the class as herself, but I guess she wanted to please the mainly thrill seeking participants.   A number of different sized spirit trumpets were positioned on a table in the center of the room and she instructed the participants to get up and feel the energy around them.  Do you feel the energy around the trumpet ? She asked.  I cannot express the happiness I felt when the class finally ended and the medium pretended to come out of trance. When the medium was asked by one of the ladies what she had experienced while she was in deep trance she explained;   I went out of my body to the spirit world and took a walk around …

Sunday morning another worship service in the chapel involving billets.  A lady at the door handed us a slip of paper in which were were to write a question with our name or initials for identification.  After which we gave back to the lady who came around with a basket to collect them.

During the service the billets were read by the medium who proceeded to bring through deceased loved ones for the recipients.  Several of the elderly participants received their billets back on which were written in ball point pen messages from the spirit world.  One elderly medium in his 90′s stood up and exclaimed to all present the marvelous message that he had received.  We are with you always. Of course it was the lady that distributed and collected the billets that undoubtedly wrote the messages.

To make a long story short none of the mental mediumship I observed at the services and programs that weekend was genuine and on Saturday night they would not let me attend any of the physical materialization seances that were being held.  If  someone touches the ectoplasm, it could kill the medium. True the medium could suffer injury, but the real reason is that they did not know me and did not want to risk the possiblilty that I might disrupt their bogus seances.Image

The next morning Fern remarked how wonderful the seance she had attended had been and proceeded to name off the famous historic and Biblical personalities who had appeared.  She remarked to me that she could not understand why a particular famous person, who had materialized in the seance room, had told such dirty jokes to the seance participants.

1988 was the last year that the Temple of Truth operated. Camp Silver Belle, which was holding meetings at the Dutch Gardens Motel in town, closed down after the 1991 season.  I managed to visit Silver Belle at this location in 1990 and experienced the same low standard of pseudo mediumship.  When you experience and do the real thing, it is difficult to deal with poor quality imitations.

In terms of the fake phenomena the author does not take a position and attempts to document the history of Silver Belle and let readers draw their own conclusions.  When I was a member of the Church of Two Worlds, a number of people showed me alleged spirit photographs obtained at Silver Belle depicting their portraits with spirit extras or faces of spirit guides around them. When the contents of the Mountain Springs Hotel were publicly auctioned off in 1989, the local historical society managed to purchase many of the items on sale, including several boxes of such photographs, along with an extensive collection of  various cut out heads used to produce the fake spirit extras when producing the phony spirit photography.

I am sure that genuine physical mediumship did at one point take place at Silver Belle, but unfortunately it was mixed in with much trickery and theatrics.

The amount of research to produce this book is truly staggering as it took many years and much effort.  As a volume it should be part of the library of every Spiritualist church.  The author grew up in Ephrata and knew many of Ethel Post-Parrish’s family and others involved with Silver Belle personally.  Drawing from public and private records, media accounts and personal interviews the author does an excellent job in meticulously detailing the history of the camp.  I highly recommend purchasing this book as the information contained is priceless and will greatly benefit anyone interested in the development and history of physical mediumship in the United States.

To order contact the Cocalico Valley Historic Society at:

http://www.cocalicovalleyhs.org/publication.htm

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One Response to “Silver Belle Lives: A Brief Review of a Remarkable Book and My Experiences at the Famous Spiritualist Resort”

  1. Tanika Palm (Tatyana Elmanovich) May 11, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    To Everyone: SILVER BELLE LIVES is a fantastic article, please, read it and comment on it. It brings back sense of community… SO many of us are lonely, and walking this path alone, sense of community may save many talents…Thank you, Stephen. Keep writing! Tatyana Elm…

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