(Have you read part I?)

Safe-cracking and mind-reading aside, the Great McEwen was primarily a hypnotist, and at a time when controversy churned over its practice. Critics thought hypnotism was potentially dangerous and should be banned (it was outlawed in Cincinnati) or performed only under a physician's care. After a stage hypnotist's assistant died of diabetes in 1896, a coroner's jury was told by one critical "expert" witness that repeated hypnosis might cause "cerebral softening," and the jury decided that "nervous exhaustion, caused by hypnotic practices" was a contributing factor in his death. Scottish-born P. H. McEwen argued against any medical control of hypnotism. In his self-published 1897 book, "Hypnotism Made Plain," he protested, "Not until doctors have proven themselves more intellectual and virtuous than their fellow men, should they be given the monopoly of one of the greatest God-given benefits to mankind."1

McEwen also insisted that hypnotism resulted in a spiritual transformation that "accomplished much towards the development of the soul" and had curative powers. He apparently claimed to be a lay healer, but it's unclear whether he was promising cancer cures, a quick way to stop smoking, or something in between, or both. McEwen did have a reckless confidence in his skills; he convinced a physician to remove a tumor in a 50-minute surgery with only his hypnosis as an anesthesia.2

McEwen was somewhat of a contradiction. While he was making the case for scientific and spiritualistic respectability, he was also wowing small town crowds with his stage hypnotism, and his "mind reading" was purely magician's skill. Known today to be muscle reading, McEwen watched his subject to reveal unconscious cues, or easier yet, did the trick while touching the subject in some way.

So ultimately McEwen was just a showman -- and not even a particularly original one, at that. Every single thing McEwen did in Santa Rosa was exactly described in an earlier how-to book written by "Professor Leonidas." Here can be found long sections on muscle reading, how to best perform a hypnotism act, and even tips on promoting your appearance via "driving blindfolded on the streets, locating hidden articles and unfolding the hidden forces of Mind."3 Nor was the Great McEwen the only entertainer with a copy of Leonidas' book in his back pocket; the "Great Newmann" was another hypnotist-mind-reader whipping through western streets blindfolded.4

Only a single trick appeared remarkable, and that was his cracking the safe. To explain that, the account published in the Aug. 18 Santa Rosa Republican reveals what really happened: "[McEwen] worked the combination of the mammoth safe by simply taking hold of the hand of Deputy G. W. Libby while he thought over the combination." In other words, he had used elementary muscle reading.

The Republican's account of the "street test" also lacked the golly-gee found in the Press Democrat. This paper offered a pair of terse paragraphs, concentrating mostly on the accident: "...though he afterwards denied injuries, there was every evidence to believe that he did injure his arm and head. That he escaped getting his neck broken is remarkable." The item was only a few lines longer than the story in the adjacent column, which described a local man breaking his thumb.

It's fair to say the Press Democrat coverage demonstrated a little (okay -- a lot) of gullibility as to McEwen's powers. Readers were badly misinformed. But editor Finley loved to tell a good story, and McEwen was a one-man factory turning out interesting tidbits daily. Again, McEwen was apparently following advice from Professor Leonidas' how-to book, particularly the section where he urged fellow mentalists to work the "country route" because pickin's were easier than in the cities. One key to success, the author suggested, was to cozy up to the editor of the local paper: "I know a Professor who is one of the most successful operators who, a few years ago, was playing mere villages and school houses up in Wisconsin. An editor of a country weekly got hold of him, sold out his plant, advertised in the right way and the whole company have been able to enjoy what comfort they desired. They made money, lots of money..." 5

1Wonder Shows: Performing Science, Magic, and Religion in America; Fred Nadis, Rutgers University Press, 2005, pg 106- 108
2The Eclectic Medical Journal (Wm. Phillips & Co. 1907) pg 328
3Stage Hypnotism: A Text Book of Occult Entertainments; "Professor Leonidas," Bureau of Stage Hypnotism, 1901 pg 97
4Wonder Shows, pg. 145
5op.cit, pg. 25-26


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