Flint The Mesmerist, a Case Study

* New information added 4/2006

The Victorian era brought enormous leaps in science and technology but was also a fertile period for what we now consider "quisi-science" or "pseudo-science". In addition to spiritualism and spirit photography there was wide spread interest in areas such as mesmerism (hypnosis) and phrenology, the study of head and face shape to predict character and personality. We have sections on phrenology related material and spirit photography in other areas of this site.

On this page we want to share one special photograph and discuss the search for information about it as a case study of our fascination for the internet as a research tool.

As soon as we saw the cabinet card above we were sure it had an interesting story to tell. A woman, ridged as a board, is held aloft by two men. The back stamp identified the photographer as Mrs. G. W. Sittler of Springfield Missouri.

The hand written text on the card (shown in close up below) reads "Flint the Mesmerist" "Marina Flint" and a third name that we read as "L. J. Meachum." We made several searches for "Flint" and "mesmerist" and different spelling of the name we thought was "Meachum" with no success. We assumed one of the men was Flint and the woman his wife but for a number of years got no further in identifying the group.

One day we Googled "Flint" and "hypnotist" and there they were! Dr. Herbert L. Flint (the L. for Longley) and at least one of his wives and his daughter were stage performers in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1897 Flint published "Dr. Flint's Hypnotic Routine" about his stage performance. On eBay we found reproductions of posters for the act that show Flint as the man on the right in the picture. Marina took longer to identify with certainty. A web site with reproduction theatrical posters shows a picture of a poster for "The Little Hypnotic Sunbeam Mrs. Herbert L. Flint" with no first name. This suggested to us the woman was Mrs. Flint. A Flint family genealogical web site states that his daughter's stage name may have been Marina and that she appeared in his act.

Several weeks after this page was posted we received an email telling us that the man on the left in the picture was Leslie J. Meacham, author of "Lessons in Hypnotism and the Use of Suggestion Based Upon the Neuron Motility Hypothesis" published in 1898. With this information we now are sure that "Meacham" is the correct spelling of the name.

A helpful visitor to the site (thank you Hugo!) wrote to say he had a book that might interest us. It was titled "Leaves From the Note-Book of a Hypnotist" by Eugene F. Baldwin and Maurice Eisenberg. It was published in 1897 by Baldwin, Eisenberg & Flint. Yes, it was THAT Flint. The book was so fragile that it was literally turning to dust but we were able to photocopy the pages about the Flints and remove the pictures. The book describes performances by Flint and his daughter Marina in 1896 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that were studied by a committee from the International Society for Psychical Research. Marina is described as a 20 year old, petite girl who, when hypnotized by her father, became ridged enough to support a heavy rock that could be broken with a sledgehammer. Illustrations show her with short curly hair and in one she is wearing the same Grecian-style costume as our photograph.

The photograph of a man with a sledgehammer breaking a large rock that rests on the catatonic Marina relates to a tantalizing story discovered on several sites about hypnotism. The story says that while performing onstage in Switzerland Flint, as was his custom, hypnotized his wife and brought her to a state of rigidity. He then placed a heavy piece of rock on her stomach and invited volunteers from the audience to come and smash the rock with a hammer. One night the volunteer misjudged a blow and hit the performer’s wife instead. She died from the injuries. Did this really happen or is it a 19th century urban legend? If it did was it Flint's wife or daughter who died?
Links to images of the Flints (Note: these pages open in a new window. They are on a site selling prints of vintage posters):
Reproductions of poster for "Mr. & Mrs. Herbert L. Flint" act
Reproduction of poster for "The Little Hypnotic Sunbeam Mrs. Herbert L. Flint"

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**NOTE** All items on the Collection of Collections web site are in our private collection and are NOT for sale. From time to time duplicate items from our collection will be offered for sale in the Do You Remember This? shop on the GoAntiques cyber mall. Visit the Do You Remember This? inventory page for photographica and toaster related collectibles.

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Updated on 4/2006