Mr. Donnelly and the Speaking Dial

Over a year ago while discussing my research into the Ignatius Donnelly Papers (published on microfilm by the Minnesota Historical Society) I mentioned Donnelly’s journal entries in the later years of his life in which he described his experiments with the “Speaking Dial,” a sort of Ouija board. At the time, I tried to find out more about the Speaking Dial, but about all I knew from Donnelly’s journal was that the device was invented by a Mr. Dempsey in Minneapolis. At one point, in 1899, Dempsey’s daughter even visited Donnelly, and they proceeded to test the dial by attempting to contact Donnelly’s deceased brother and mother. From Donnelly’s descriptions, the Speaking Dial seemed to be identical in purpose and operation to a Ouija board, spelling out cryptic or seemingly knowing messages of purported spirits. Donnelly himself, while seeming to believe that there was some sort of unknown intelligence behind the messages, considered the device’s statements to be “utterly unreliable.” (As an aside, Donnelly’s experiments took place over the period during which The Cipher in the Plays and on the Tombstone was being prepared and published, and at one point he exclaims in his journals that he can’t help but believe that the Freemasons were attempting to divert the public’s attention away from the book. This despite the fact that in the book itself he makes some conciliatory statements about Freemasons and instead places the blame for the suppression of Bacon as the author of the Shakespeare plays on the Rosicrucians. Fascinating stuff.)

In any case, I could find little information about the Speaking Dial at the time besides a vague reference on one site about Donnelly having used it. The other day, however, I decided to do another online search and this time turned up a couple more hits, the most fascinating being this wonderful photograph on the Minnesota Historical Society (perhaps not so coincidentally the custodians of the Ignatius Donnelly Papers) site. Here we see a man holding a Speaking Dial, which looks remarkably like a modern day Ouija board but with something like the hand of a clock attached to it. I’m still not sure exactly how the dial works, but it looks like it might have some sort of elastic string that somehow moves the hand to indicate a letter or number. Most interestingly, the name on the left-hand side of the photograph says “Dempsie” and the “Minneapolis, Minn.” This, of course, leaves open the question as to whether this is a portrait of the Dempsie family (Donnelly spells it “Dempsey,” but I am assuming he just got the spelling wrong), perhaps including Marie “Dempsey,” the daughter of the Speaking Dial’s inventor who visited Donnelly and with whom he experimented with the device. There is also a mention of the Speaking Dial, which seems to have been something of a regional fad, in the Saint Paul Globe: “The speaking dial, the latest scientific invention, is in operation daily at the N. W. S. camp, Como.”

Later in his journals, Donnelly also writes of experimenting with what he calls an “Odic Telegraph.” I’m still looking for more information on this device, but so far have only been able to dig up this account from the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research.

A Pluritopian Chronology

To celebrate the release of Tales of the Shadowmen: Grand Guignol, which includes my story “Caesar’s Children: A Tale of Pluritopia,” I’m posting the chronology I worked out for the historical framework of the pluritopian world that makes up the setting for my story. This past year I made a survey of nineteenth-century utopian and dystopian literature, and while I was doing this the meta part of my brain kicked in when I realized that many of these stories seem to exist in a sort of shared creative milieu (probably as a consequence of arising out of common social and economic conditions). I began to wonder how such a world might function if the disparate elements of the stories were brought together. The result is my story “Caesar’s Children,” conceived as a prelude to a novel, or even possibly a series of novels, as the scope is wide open. Where possible in the chronology below, I’ve included links to the online texts from where the references derive; otherwise I’ve included links to where the works referenced can be obtained. I should note that the pluritopian world and the chronology below exist in a universe parallel to the usual Tales of the Shadowmen continuity. Tales of the Shadowmen: Grand Guignol is available from Black Coat Press and Amazon.

c. 9,600 B.C. A great cataclysm sinks the continent of Atlantis. [Plato, Timaeus and Critias]

1507 A.D. Having been left by Amerigo Vespucci in Cabo Frio, Brazil, Raphael Hythloday again sets out on his travels and discovers the island of Utopia. [Sir Thomas More, Utopia]

1703 Lemuel Gulliver discovers Brobdingnag (historically called Brobdingrag by the locals). [Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World]

1871–1876 In Oregon, the French doctor Sarrasin founds the city of France-Ville, and the German engineer Schultze, founds the city of Stahlstadt (Steel Town). Hostilities between the two communities result in Stahlstadt’s destruction. [Jules Verne, The Begum’s Millions]

1878 A man known only as Graham falls asleep in the kitchen of a Mr. Isbister in Boscastle, England. Graham will not awaken for another 203 years. A Council of Trustees, later to become known as the White Council, is founded in Great Britain to oversee Graham’s investments. [H. G. Wells, The Sleeper Awakes]

1890 Ephraim Benezet of Kansas is visited by a mysterious being claiming to be from another dimension; the being gives him a revelation of an alternate future for the earth. Upon awakening from his vision, Benezet founds the Golden Bottle movement to free the common people from the shackles placed upon them by the Oligarchy. [Ignatius Donnelly, The Golden Bottle]

1892 Ephraim Benezet is sworn in as President of the United States. Within the first year of his term, he socializes the banking system and begins raising a great army to overthrow the Oligarchy.

1894 Sophie Hetherington Benezet, wife of Ephraim Benezet and founder and president of the Golden Bottle Women’s Suffragist Union, reads Vera Zarovitch’s account of a feminist utopia in the far north and leads an expedition to the arctic in search of it. [Mary E. Bradley Lane, Mizora: A Prophecy]

1896 A single letter, accompanied by a declaration of marital divorce, is delivered to Ephraim Benezet’s Kansas home. The letter is postmarked “Mizora” and signed “Sophie Hetherington, formerly ‘Mrs. Benezet.’” Ephraim Benezet leads his great army into Europe to rid it of the Oligarchy. Benezet dies on a battlefield in France. The conflict will later be known as the First Revolt.

1898 A brief invasion by beings from Mars is repelled. [H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds]

1910 The 1910 Great Wars are waged, leaving many live mines floating off the Pacific coast Central America that will menace seafaring ships more than fifty years later. [Albert Robida, The Twentieth Century]

1917 Commencement of Tunnel Project to reach the underground city of Hesperus by the citizens of Soir, France-Ville (Evening, Oregon). [David Herter, Evening’s Empire]

1932 The Second Revolt is led by Ernest Everhard, who dies in the great struggle. [Jack London, The Iron Heel]

1945 Unsuccessful American invasion of France. Civil war breaks out in the Danubian Empire, lasting three months. First reported case of Molinas Fever. [Albert Robida, The War of the Twentieth Century]

1960 Inauguration commemorating the completion of the sixth continent, Helenia, in the Pacific Ocean. [Albert Robida, The Twentieth Century; Paul Di Filippo, “Return to the 20th Century”]

1988 Gabriel Weltstein, a sheep herder from a Swiss colony in Uganda, arrives in New York City and witnesses the outset of the Third Revolt against the Oligarchy, led by Caesar Lomellini and his Brotherhood of Destruction. Edmund Boisgilbert, M.D. edits correspondence between Weltstein and his brother Heinrich dating to this period; Boisgilbert’s book becomes an international bestseller. [Ignatius Donnelly, Caesar’s Column: A Story of the Twentieth Century]

1989 Following Caesar Lomellini’s revolution, a socialist government rises to power in America. This is the state recounted by Julian West in Bellamy’s Looking Backward. The government ruthlessly rewrites history and represses the truth that it is in reality a Big Brother state, in league with the White Council in Europe. The Council of Trustees overseeing the Sleeper’s estate is now immensely wealthy; using their financial might, the trustees aggregate power in Europe and found the White Council Protectorate, uniting the region under its banner. [Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward 2000–1887; H. G. Wells, The Sleeper Awakes]

2002 The events of “Caesar’s Children.” [Short story in Tales of the Shadowmen: Grand Guignol]

2081 Graham, “The Sleeper,” awakes from his coma that began in 1878.

Copyright © 2009 by Christopher Paul Carey. All rights reserved.


Donnelly did indeed write an unpublished book about a cipher in Ben Jonson’s (and other writers’) plays.

I am dog tired after spending the evening at the library reeling through rolls of microfilm. But my goodness, what fantastic stuff. My only disappointment is that one of the five boxes of microfilm contained the wrong reel, thus depriving me of the opportunity to peruse more unpublished writings. In any case, there is more than I can possibly read in the time I have allotted (besides the manuscript, there are diaries, memorandums, correspondence, and countless newspaper clippings), so if you have problems getting hold of me before January 18th, you know why: I’ll be at the library in research mode.

Unveiling a mystery…?

A phone call from the library came in today that five boxes of microfilm from “the Ig-nah-tee-us Donnelly Papers” have arrived via interlibrary loan and await me at the reference desk. I was so overjoyed at the news that I didn’t correct the nice fellow’s pronunciation–I was beginning to think the rolls would never come. I am now very close to solving the mystery I mentioned back here. I’m planning for a late night at the library tomorrow night after work so I’d better get to bed.

The Book That Never Was #2, Part One

In the continuing research, I’ve run across a reference to God and the Sun, an incomplete, unpublished manuscript by Ignatius Donnelly on Altantean religion. I am adding this to this list (along with Ben Jonson’s Cipher, and also an incomplete, unpublished novel manuscript by Donnelly) of things I am actively investigating and about which I will post if I find out anything interesting.

Donnelliana: An Appendix to Caesar’s Column (1892)

So you thought I just made up the word, didn’t you?

Impossible for me to find anywhere but through interlibrary loan, here follow images of Donnelliana: An Appendix to Caesar’s Column, Excerpts from the Wit, Wisdom, Poetry, and Eloquence of Ignatius Donnelly. The book is a curious one, with a curious history. Donnelly and the editor, Everett W, Fish (who also wrote an interesting book on Egyptian pyramids, by the way), had a falling out over money and politics about a year after Donnelliana was published , with Fish accusing Donnelly of rather vainly having written and compiled the whole book himself. Evidence points to much truth in Fish’s claim about the true editor of Donnelliana, although if you read Fish’s introduction it’s laid out pretty plainly in the book itself that Donnelly’s brother-in-law provided the book’s contents with help from Donnelly, making the controversy seem to be somewhat overinflated from this vanatge over a century later. In any case, for the sake of my research, I’m glad the book was published.

Say, in the picture below, who is that fellow in the little circle on the right…?

Ah, yes: It’s Donnelly’s hero and obsession, the esteemed Francis Bacon. I’m guessing Donnelly himself suggested and provided the illustration and quote.

There’s some terrific biographical information in the book that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Not to mention lots of great journal entries, like “The Cat.”

There’s a lot more fascinating material, but I’m saving that for the book I’m writing. . .