Dead men tell no tales, but living ones tell whoppers.
On the night of Sept. 13 – Friday the 13th, it’s worth mentioning – I attended a theatrical seance at George Brown House in Toronto. There the self-proclaimed mentalist Jaymes White led a group of 18 people through a performance built around a questionable summoning of spirits. It is doubtful anyone attending took the paranormal stuff as anything other than staged shenanigans.
The Beverley Street Seance runs to Nov. 30. If anyone is contemplating attending the production on Halloween or any other night, they should probably stop reading this right now. A plot is sure to be spoiled, like a gutted pumpkin.
Before the seance proper, White gave a tour of the National Historic Site named after its original resident, a Father of Confederation, leading abolitionist and founder of the Toronto Globe newspaper. In the very parlour where in 1880 Brown died of a nasty infection (six weeks after being shot by a drunk, disgruntled employee at his newspaper office), White gave a truthful account of the distinguished man’s death. He then proceeded with a detailed history of the other residents of 186 Beverley Street (near the Art Gallery of Ontario), with special attention paid to a businessman whose wife and three children were allegedly poisoned to death at the house.
It was a ghastly story, rich with lurid detail. The seance that followed was consumed with contacting those victims, whether by Ouija board or other Victorian-era means. It was clearly performance, all in good hokey fun.
Afterward, I was interested in the family’s poisoning. However, looking through Globe and Mail archives, there was no mention of any arsenic incident at the private residence Brown had dubbed Lambton Lodge. Between 1889 and 1916, a banker (Duncan Coulson) did live there with his wife, Eliza, and three children, but they were not victims of foul play, suspected or otherwise. (They didn’t die there at all.)
Because I was writing a story on the production, I followed up with White’s publicist. What was the name of the family who died at the house? I was told by e-mail that Jaymes White Entertainment Inc. had signed a non-disclosure agreement with Ontario Heritage Trust (the owners of George Brown House), which prevented them from using the names of the family. When I took a different tack and asked for verification of the poisoning event, White’s publicist explained that details used in the seance were based on documents provided by the Trust.
However, according to the Trust official I then contacted, the staff there was unaware of the story about the poisoned family. Moreover, I was informed there was nothing in its agreement with White that would prevent him from sharing any information found in the Trust’s research materials.
When I went back to White’s publicist for authentication of the event in question, I received a strange “off the record” e-mail response that consisted of nothing more than online links to a couple of books: Paranormality, by Richard Wiseman, and The Ghost Studies, by Brandon Massullo.
Now, obviously the seance was not to be taken seriously. On his website, White even says that he will be “the first to admit" that he has no psychic powers. I’ll second that. Still, the apparently fictional story on which the fake seance was based, was presented, in my eyes, as factual. The postperformance runaround from Jaymes White Entertainment can be seen as evidence of a ruse afoot. I mean, not since Houdini has an escape act been so diligently performed.
Anyway, those looking for Halloween entertainment have options. I highly recommend Ghost Quartet, a spooky song cycle by Dave Malloy at Streetcar Crowsnest in Toronto to Nov. 10. The bewitching, tuneful production has something to do with a tree house astronomer, a subway murder, an evil bear and an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Is it possible the premise might be untrue? A fantasy? One could ask the ghost of George Brown, but a newsman never reveals his sorcerers.
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