Monday, May 2, 2016

Spirits and bad grammar

In New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961), Gay Talese writes about New York City policewoman Clare Faulhaber (1923–2008), undercover catcher of fortunetellers. (She could make an arrest only when someone predicted the future or stole money.) Here Faulhaber describes a visit to a séance. She wore a maternity dress as a disguise:

“Anyway, soon the medium came in. She was a small, elderly woman with white hair, dressed in a dinner gown. The people got into a circle around her, and soon she was saying, ‘I’m getting vibrations — vibrations for a woman who is holding a new life within herself. Is there anyone present who is holding a new life within herself?’

“And there I was,” says Miss Faulhaber, “wearing the maternity dress for all to see and the only thing I had bulging out under it was the belt and holder containing my 32-caliber pistol. Later the medium had a plate passed around, and people put $1 and $5 bills on it, and the lights dimmed. This is when she started to go into a deep trance and began talking. First she was somebody’s ‘Uncle Bill’ and then later she was somebody’s mother, but what really bothered me was that no matter who the spirits happened to be, they all made the same grammatical errors.”
These passages earlier appeared in an article Talese wrote for The New York Times , “The Occult Cult Flourishes” (October 12, 1958). Faulhaber was the subject of a later Times article, “Policewoman Yclept Faulhaber Gave Up Chaucer for the Force” (April 10, 1964), in which R. W. Apple Jr. notes Faulhaber’s earlier career teaching Middle English at Marymount College, her 1963 award as New York City’s outstanding policewoman, and a 1961 incident in which Faulhaber was attacked by two panhandlers posing as Roman Catholic nuns. And then:
FAULHABER — Clare W., of Manhattan, 84, died January 19, 2008. Clare was a Police Detective for the City of New York for 20 years before retiring. She was a member of the New York City Veterans Police Association.
Also from this book
Chestnuts, pigeons, statues : “Fo-wer, fi-yiv, sev-ven, ni-yen” : Klenosky! : Leeches, catnip oil, strange potions : A real-life Bookman : Tie cleaning in New York

[The photograph is from the 1964 article. Click for a larger view. New York Review Books, please reissue this wonderful book.]

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