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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Wisconsin's Oddest Governor


February 8 was the birthday of Nathaniel Tallmadge (1795-1864), Wisconsin's strangest chief executive.

After serving as U.S. senator from New York, he was appointed governor of Wisconsin Territory in 1844. He served less than a year, though, losing the office when administrations changed in Washington. In addition to being a politician, Tallmadge was a medium who claimed to have many encounters with ghosts. One of those was his former Senate colleague, John C. Calhoun.

In February of 1853, Tallmadge wrote to a friend, that he attended a seance in Washington at which Calhoun supposedly communicated with him by rapping out letters on a heavy dining room table. When Tallmadge inquired why spirits manifested themselves in the human world, the ghost tapped out, "It is to draw mankind together in harmony, and convince sceptics of the immortality of the soul."

At this, the massive table began to dance, moving two feet to the left and then two feet to the right. When Tallmadge and his companions attempted to lift it, the table would not budge. After asking the spirit's permission, though, Tallmadge reported that "I then took hold of it alone and raised it without the least effort." The spirit then instructed him to sit on an adjacent side table: "Two legs were first raised from the floor, then the other two to a level with the first, until the whole table was held suspended in the air about six inches from the floor. While thus seated on it, I could feel a gentle vibrating movement as if floating in the air. After being thus suspended for a few moments the table was gently set down again to the floor. "

If that were not remarkable enough, a few days later Calhoun "directed me to bring — for the purpose of exhibiting physical signs of spirit-power — three bells and a guitar. The three ladies and myself then took our seats, leaning our hands and arms upon the table. The bells were played upon in a sort of melodious and rhythmical chime, whilst numerous raps were made, as if keeping time to a march. When the raps ceased the bells rang violently for several minutes; they were also pressed on my feet and knocked most vehemently against the under side of the table, raising up the candlesticks by the concussion."

Calhoun's spirit then asked for the guitar and gave a performance worthy of Jerry Garcia or Jimi Hendrix:

"When all were seated as before, the guitar was at first touched softly and gently, giving forth sweet and delicious sounds like an accompaniment. Presently the tones grew louder and louder, and struck into a bold symphony. Then they diminished, becoming softer, sweeter, and almost dying away, as if at a long distance ; then they returned, increased in power, grew louder and nearer, and anon died away again in long, vibrating echoes of the most indescribable beauty and sweetness. I have heard the guitar played by the most skilful and scientific hands, but I never could have conceived of that instrument being able to produce sounds of such marvelous and fascinating beauty, power, and even grandeur as this invisible performance that night executed."

Tallmadge was ultimately laid to rest in the Rienzi Cemetery in Fond du Lac. We are unaware of any reports of his own ghost being seen in the vicinity.

[Source: Britten, Emma H. Modern American Spiritualism: A Twenty Years' Record of the Communion Between Earth and the World of Spirits (Published by The author, 1870): 89-90]
:: Posted in Bizarre Events on February 8, 2009

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