The Startling Dr. Veeder: A Tentative Solution to Last Week’s Mystery

Last week, I explored a 1904 report about human bones being uncovered at an upstate New York home. Not just any home, though. About half a century earlier, this home was where the Fox Sisters claimed they had made contact with the spirit of a murdered man, and that claim ignited an international burst of interest in Spiritualism. The 1904 bones at least hinted that a murder might have taken place long ago.

Ralph Shirley, the editor of a British magazine called The Occult Review, requested that Dr. Major Albert Veeder investigate the bones. Veeder, after all, lived in nearby Lyons, New York. Alas, the doctor’s findings suggested a hoax.

In that post, I touch on the mystery of how Shirley, an ocean away, knew about Veeder and knew that the doctor would be interested enough to consider the assignment. I can’t say as I’ve solved the puzzle, but it appears that Shirley had visited the U.S. He returned in 1907, though, which is pretty long after Veeder’s 1905 report on the bones. More importantly, I discovered that Veeder was interested in psychical subjects.

In fact, Dr. Veeder was interested in all kinds of things. He wrote a piece on thunderstorms, and he titled it: Thunderstorms. He also studied the aurora, a.k.a. the northern lights, along with how activity on the Sun affects Earth’s weather. But why did this guy who spent a lot of time peering upward agree to look into formerly buried bones? Well, I also found out Veeder kept an eye on fringe science, too.

Major Albert Veeder
Major Albert Veeder (1848-1915)

In 1905, a letter to the editor of The New-York Tribune appeared, one written by Isaac Kaufman Funk. Some might recognize this name, since the same man was the first part of Funk & Wagnalls dictionary and encyclopedias. He had also authored a 1904 book called The Widow’s Mite and Other Psychic Phenomena, which reveals his support for Spiritualist mediums, spirit photography, and similar phenomena. Funk’s letter to the editor follows the same lines, and Veeder’s name is mentioned in connection to an experiment in long-distance telepathy:

By an arrangement with Dr. M. A. Veeder, of Lyons, N.Y., a medical scientist of wide repute, I in Brooklyn drew the figure of a fish and then pointed to the zenith. Sensitives whom Dr. Veeder had at his office told him at that moment that I drew a fish and pointed to the zenith. No one but myself, four hundred miles distant, could have known either fact by any scientifically recognized method of communication.

And the versatile Veeder also appears to have done some psychical researching of his own, including performing an experiment in, well, let’s call it “thought photography.” According to the front page of the February 1, 1906, issue of The New-York Tribune, the doctor had gathered some friends, visited the local photography studio, and attempted to mentally project an image onto an unexposed photographic plate!

1906 Thought Photos Next

Keep in mind, the photo revealed a spot, not an image, that matched a silver dollar. I’m a bit sorry Veeder hadn’t chosen, say, something star-shaped. Or a scissors. A bottle, a banana, a bagel even. Another newspaper report says the object the group were focusing on was “a ball thrown down on the floor,” and this conflicting information was repeated in journals and books: The Annals of Psychical Science reported it was a silver dollar while, in Spiritism, Edward Barrett Warman says it was a ball of surgeon’s gauze.

My research led me to believe that Veeder had a more lasting impact on meteorology than on telepathy. I found no evidence of his ever conducting a ghost hunt, though, which I confess was my original hope. Still, he was an interesting man. If you’re ever at Vale Cemetery in Schenectady, why not pay your respects?

— Tim

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