The New Motor
It is not our place, via hindsight, to say what exactly happened that one particular night. It’s easy to dismiss, with scorn or even a kind of parental, historical, fondness, that he was just visited by vivid dreams, a hallucinatory fever, a form of 1854 delusion (after all, we smile, frown, grimace, laugh or otherwise, this was 1854), or some hybrid kin of them all: a vision 1/3 unresolved traumas, 1/3 bad meal of steak and potatoes, 1/3 19th century crippling social situation. What we cannot dismiss—because it’s there with minuscule precision, in detailed blocks of blurry type in rag pulp sidebills, in the fine-filigreed pages of the genteel or just the skilled—was that John Murray Spear, a spiritualist of some quite personal renown and respect, did indeed depart Miss August’s Rooming House for Gentlemen of Stature (near the corner of Sycamore and Spruce in Baltimore, Maryland), and go forth to tell anyone who would listen—and some did, as those news- papers reported and those diaries told—about his visitation by the Association of Electricizers.
Close your eyes, metaphorically, and envision the images that might have fluttered through the expansive and trained consciousness of Mr. Spear as he lay, barely waking on a cheap mattress more tick than stuffing, the too-warm embrace of a humid Baltimore summer morning pouring through the thin gauze of the window. Amid the jumble and clutter of a day’s thoughts, they walk—as contemporary A. J. Davis expressed: “spirits with a mechanical turn of mind”—into the far-reaching mind of John Murray Spear. Perhaps gears lit with fairy energies, they turn and tumble through his waking, shining metal honed with eldritch tools, playing inadvertent peg-toss with his sheet- raising morning priapism. Maybe a great churning clockwork con- traption whose complexity echoes Medusa’s curse of knowing equally insanity or death. Or they might have taken the form of a Con-Ed employee in bedazzling ethereal refinements, in a saintly pose of divine grace while the animated logos and mascots of every power company that was, is, and will be flitted around his nuclear halo—commercial cherubs to His crackling, humming, arcing, power.
Their form was something that even escaped Spear himself, for when he spoke of their visitation—and he did, oh yes, he did from his own mount and other less spiritual soapboxes—a 220-watt gaze seemed to consume him and his articulations became less detailed and more abstract: “Their form,” he said to his breakfast companions and, often, for many weeks thereafter to any stranger on the street, “is fast and incorporeal. I don’t possess the mind to express their appearance in words, but their message, dear—” Sir, Madam, Officer, Friend “— is clear and ringing in my ears: Go forth, they spoke, go forth and with these two simple hands bring into the world a machine, a great work of engineering, that would take motive power from the magnetic store of nature, and therefore be as independent of artificial sources of en- ergy as this, our own the human body. Go, this conglomeration of spirits pronounced, and build the Physical Savior of the Race,The New Messiah... the New Motor!”
John Murray Spear did, indeed, say these words: from that rea- sonably expensive boarding house in summer heated Baltimore, to the swampy humidity of the capital, then upwards towards the cooler en- virons of the Northeastern states. He spoke of the visitation of the Elec- tricizers to a shocked and tutting crowd of theosophists in Providence, his hypnotic description of the coming glory of the Motor and how it would bring about a new Age of Man Through Machine ticking out of synch with their slowly shaking, disbelieving heads.
He spoke of the Motor in Boston before a hall not as packed as it had previously been for the spiritualist of some repute, and answered with complete sincerity questions of the Motor’s construction (“things of this earthly sphere coupled with the energies of transcendent mo- tion and ethereal force”), creation (“for a small donation you can speed its manifestation and arrival here, to us”), method of operation (“can one envision a locomotive, some new machine of human use and creation, that might come during the new millennium? The works of the Motor may be visible to some of us with the enriched spiritual vision, but the true powers of it will be as unseen as that machine of ages undreamed”), and patentability (“if the material servants of this, our Government of Country, should grant me the license of its man- ufacture then I see no reason not to accept”).
Coal-and-snow beard, hair wild with his feverish retellings, sup- ple (for a man of his forty summers) body bending wildly with each description of the glory of the Motor and his saving of mankind through its mechanical enlightenment, Spear made himself a sight as he traveled. For some he was a sight that brought smiles, frowns, or sadness at his state of affairs. But as he slowly, town by town, street by street, meeting by meeting, told his tale, made his claims, his en- treaties, he gathered people who listened earnestly to his description of the Mechanical Savior of the Race, the New Motor...
On a weird side note, the tale of the New Motor is based on reality - and you can read about John Murray Spear and his spiritual contraption in my non-fiction collection, Welcome To Weirdsville