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Friday, November 13, 2009

Sleeping Lucy (I think I saw her in the post office line)

I have always had a special place in my heart for clairvoyant healers. I don't really know why, but I think it has something to do with how they dabbled in mental telepathy, astrology, numerology, and other shadowy subjects which feel forbidden but fascinating to me. They were able to control two worlds at the same time. Upon being mesmerized (i.e., hypnotized), they were are able to keep their patient waiting breathlessly as they sank into an unconscious world to find the cure; when I try it, I just sink to sleep.

There were bunches of these mystics in the 1830s and 1840s especially, honing their skills in mesmerism (it was also called animal magnetism); then in 1848 the Fox sisters took clairvoyance to the next level by introducing the living to the world of angels and ghosts and Great Grampa who died 52 years ago.

In the 1830s and 1840s, it was a little bit simpler. People looking for cures that their regular doctors couldn't give them often tried "the next new thing" in desperation - and one of those new ideas was clairvoyant healing. I have a few such healers to tell you about, but today I want to highlight Lucy Ainsworth Cooke, known in her day as "Sleeping Lucy."

She was one of twelve children of poor parents waffled between poor and broke; in 1860 her father was recognized as a pauper. He lost the family farm in central Vermont in 1829 and the nine living children had to be shuffled off to various homes. At just 8 years old, Lucy had to learn a trade to earn her keep. She learned to make straw bonnets then later became a tailor's apprentice. Then she became ill - desperately, dangerously ill - lucky girl. (Painting of Lucy Ainsworth Cooke from the Vermont Historical Society at

You see, one of the key formulas for the success of a nineteenth century healer or medicine seller was to have a near-death experience, followed by a miraculous recovery, finished by a pure desire to share their miracle with fellow sufferers. So our young heroine Lucy was on her sick bed for several months, "given over to die by three physicians," but finally, falling into an unusual sleep, in a dream-like state, a "suggestion" came into her mind to heal herself using certain roots and herbs prepared in a certain manner. She had not spoken aloud for six months, but when she awoke she was suddenly able to call aloud for some friend, requesting the roots and herbs and explaining how to prepare them. And guess what happened? She was cured and arose from her death bed!! Shocker.

She then resolved "to commence life anew by a constant study of disease and cure." She repeatedly experienced inner visions in her sleep and would awake speaking some mysterious instructions to the benefit of someone who had asked her for assistance. Sometimes the inner voice gave clairvoyant instruction to find a missing purse or to help the sheriff solve a crime; it even revealed where Captain Kidd had buried a chest of gold - deep in Vermont's countryside (although no gold has been found there yet). Most of the mysterious messages told her and her patients what cures they needed to get well: cordials, panaceas, syrups, liniments, salves, tinctures, powders, plasters, rheumatic pills, bitters, cough lozenges, diaphoretic drops, rose ointment, "R. W. Bitters," and golden ointment - she wasn't a clairvoyant healer, she was more of a clairvoyant pharmacy.

Lucy married Charles Cooke who had been her magnetizer (the person who would put her into an hypnotic trance) for two years, so that her clairvoyant voice could pronounce miraculous instructions. And thus she became known as "Sleeping Lucy," the clairvoyant healer.

One of her brothers also looked to medicine to make a few dollars. Luther Ainsworth became known as "Doc Ainsworth" even though he had no medical school education. He was remembered for prescribing buckshot as his panacea for "all human ills." Buckshot was supposed to make the patient immune to further illness - by being swallowed, not by being shot from a gun.

Colorful family; colorful times.


  1. It is so refreshing to see an erudite and very accurate treatment of "Sleeping Lucy." My wife has a scholarly interest in this woman and collected many documents, including quite a few original printed and manuscript items. We might have a bit to add to this story, but not to contradict any of the factual material presented here. The most amazing observation is the number of people my wife interviewed or collected reminisces from who personally met and remember well this important Vermont figure. All of these reporters were born in the 20th century although Lucy died in 1895 (if memory serves). We think there is an important insight in this. We also think a closer inspection of the parallels and differences between Lucy and Edgar Cayce would open up some other lines of thought.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words. As an English and History double major, being called "erudite and very accurate" is the perfect buff and polish combo for my ego. After two years of trials and struggles, I have decided to pull the dropcloth off my blog to resume matting, framing, and displaying my on-line collection of quackological rarities. Your encouraging words helped me get back in the saddle; thank you.


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