Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Welcome to Weirdsville: The New Motor

John Murray Spear and a guess at what the New Motor looked like

As promised, I’m continuing to dig through my dusty books to pull up odd-tasting tidbits of information, which is to say hard-core, certifiable, definitive, positive, and no-shit Weirdness.

And few things are as strange as the tale of the The New Motor.

1854, America, the Northeast. The time, particularly, is important. Think about it: 1854. Years before even the civil war, a time of technological innovation. No electric lights. The safety match was even a year away. No elevators. The hypodermic syringe and spinal anesthesia was either just developed (the former) or just a little ways away (the latter). So don’t even THINK of getting sick. Think coal, wool coats, the Crimean War, legal slavery, and Sir Richard Burton in Mecca and Medina.

Also John Murray Spear.

Go ahead, look him up. If you’re lucky, you might find him as a footnote, a side-thought in the spiritualist movement of the time. You know: ghosts, table-turning, trances, automatic writing, levitations ... in other words, spirits. Spear was part of that world, a medium-temperature medium. Then sometime during that coal and Crimean War year of 1854 Spear was elevated from mediocrity to the domain of the truly, magnificently ... unusual.

See in 1854 Spear was contacted by a bunch of spirits, with an “apparent mechanical turn of mind” (to quote A.J. Davis) that included the ghost of Benjamin Franklin: the Association of Electricizers, who commanded him to go forth unto this world and build The New Motor.“The Physical Savior of the race,” was how Spear described the Motor. As to its mysterious workings he said it was to be powered by “power from the magnetic store of nature, and therefore to be as independent of artificial sources of energy as was the human body.”

What the hell the New Motor looked like anyone’s guess. A clockwork Jesus? A steam-powered messiah? A rubber-band savior? A locomotive God? The fact that we haven’t the foggiest idea of what his “The Physical Savior of the race” looked like doesn’t diminish the fact that Spear and his spiritual mechanical gizmo really existed -- at least according to the eminent Lewis Spence in his An Encyclopedia of Occultism.

Slowly, Spear collected quite a little cult of followers … who did just that: Trail behind him and the New Motor, which they worshipped as a god, on tours throughout the Northeast. Eventually, this little band ended up in the lovely little town of Lynn, Massachusetts. There a certain lady received a vision of the New Motor and, while in its presence, suffered “birth pangs” for over two hours.

After this certain lady went through her “pangs” it was said that “it was averred that pulsations were apparent in the Motor”. After learning of this wonderful bit of unusual (okay, weird) history, the term “jump start” has not meant the same to me ….

I really wish this story had a better ending: like maybe Spear vanishing one day with the Motor, or that it ascended into some kind engineering nirvana, or was lost only to be discovered to our fascination and delight in some farmhouse in Connecticut. But, sadly, real like is too often stuffed with clich├ęs: I can only hope that the “outraged” citizenry of Randolph, New York, who smashed the Motor to bits, had been carrying torches.

Still, who knows? Maybe someone someday will discovered a twisted bit of spring and cylinder, a crumpled mixture of glass and copper, a wind-up collection of gears and pendulums in a old barn, at the bottom of a filled well, on a dusty shelf somewhere and, to his surprise and shock, he will notice certain ... movements ....

No, that’s not quite right. Not movement, rather: “pulsations” ….

And so maybe The New Motor of John Murray Spear will tick and tock, and live again …

High Rock Cottage, Spear's home

Here's a bit more info on Spear and the Motor, compliments of
Old Is the New New:
In 1851 or 1852, Spear and his daughter Sophronia began seeking messages from the spirit world. In 1853, they announced that Spear had become the mouthpiece for the General Assembly of Spirits, a benevolent association of departed worthies like Franklin, Jefferson, and Emmanuel Swedenborg. The Assembly of Spirits was divided into a number of committees and subcommittees: the “Educationizers,” the “Governmentizers,” the “Healthfulizers,” the “Agriculturalizers,” and so on, but it was the “Electricizers,” headed of course by Franklin, who had immediate plans for Spear.

Franklin tasked Spear with building a series of electrical inventions—a “wizard’s suit” made of minerals and batteries, an electric ship shaped like a duck (they ply the waters of Boston Harbor to this day!), and most famously, a perpetual motion machine known variously as the New Motor, the New Messiah, and the God Machine. From all this I deduce that Franklin got a little freaky in the half-century after his death. The New Messiah, which Spear constructed in Lynn, Massachusetts, was a roughly human-shaped machine, with an electric “brain,” magnetic “lungs,” and many more strange attachments. Bringing it to life involved much channeling of spiritual energy by male and female mediums “mingling into one,” and a “New Mary” going through simulated pregnancy and labor. (Spear had a string of “New Marys” as he drifted into Free Love circles, at least one of whom simulated pregnancy so well as to bear him an un-simulated son.)

Other delightful details can be found on the Fortean Times site.

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