Date of Award
Dr. Nicole Sackley
No doubt, “eccentric” is one word that describes John Armstrong Chaloner, a lawyer, entrepreneur, anti-Spiritualist, “scientific” medium, millionaire heir to the fur-trading fortune of John Jacob Astor, and, at one point, an incurably insane paranoiac. After he married and amicably divorced the Virginian novelist Amélie Rives, in 1888 and 1895 respectively, Chaloner discovered he could communicate with his subconscious, his “X-Faculty” as he named it, using a planchette, an early form of a Ouija board. He claimed to have changed his own eye color from brown to grey using this strange X-Faculty and boasted about winning $600 off of a stock market tip from it. He believed it directed him to go into a trance in which his facial features would appear to be exact copies of those of Napoleon Bonaparte. By the time he burned his hands carrying hot coals he claimed his X-faculty said he could safely transport, Chaloner’s family and friends had begun to question his sanity.
Haislip, Amanda Lynn, "The case of "who's looney now?" : psychologists, psychiatrists, the public, and contested notions of insanity in turn-of-the-twentieth century America" (2014). Honors Theses. 867.