The Original Story about Mount Horeb’s Psychic Boy

When I wrote about this in an earlier post, I offered to post my transcription of the original newspaper articles, if anyone was interested. Thanks to all who said they were. Here you go.

Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wis, Thursday afternoon, April 1, 1909


Sub-headline: Residents Divided on Question of Possession of Occult Powers by Henry James Brophy, Former Madison Boy

by Staff Correspondent

Mt. Horeb, Wis, April 1–Is Henry James Brophy, the Mt. Horeb boy of mystery, really possessed of occult powers, or are the remarkable manifestations which are alleged to have taken place at the home of his grandparents nothing but cleverly carried out deceptions intended for some purpose not known?

Whatever the fact, the nine-day wonder of the town has already outlived its proverbial span and the end is not yet. The town is divided on the proposition; families are being set against families and if the excitement continues it may even develop into a political issue. The noise is all about strange doings that center around an 11-year-old boy, who, if you would believe the exaggerated stories, is possessed of psychic powers quite out of the ordinary.

The case is attracting the attention of scientists, societies of psychic research, clairvoyants, and newspapers from far and near. As to the boy himself, he is a combination of Irish and Norwegian, a good mixture to produce fanciful results. He is the son of Mrs. Patrick L. Trainor, 133 West Main Street, Madison, by a former marriage. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Knute Lunde of Mt. Horeb, who are among the pioneer Norwegian settlers of the town of Springdale, where they lived for fifty years before their removal to Mt. Horeb last year. The home is on Main Street, one of the finest in town. The boy is a strikingly beautiful child, with fine brown hair, inclined to curl, brown eyes, and an oval face suggesting sensitive intellectuality. His features are delicate, almost girlish looking, and the complexion pale, due doubtless to poor health. It is a child that would be noticed in a crowd because of a certain flower-like beauty and shyness.


He has lived with his grandparents since he was two years old, and when brought to them had been crippled by having a wagon wheel pass over his body at the hips. He finally recovered from this accident but has always been delicate and sickly. An aunt of the boy also lives in the same house.

He is a pupil in the grade school, is normally mischievous and but an ordinary student. Perhaps if he were not sickly he might be a stronger student.

The first manifestations of the occurrences that have set the town by the ears were noticed March 9. As the boy was entering the house at the side door at noon he was struck in the back by a snowball which broke and scattered all over the floor, so the story goes. Inspection revealed no one outside who could have thrown the snowball. The same thing occurred the following day at the same hour. This was on Wednesday. While things appeared somewhat unsteady in the house that evening it was not until the next evening that things occurred that put the household in a panic. Cups would fly from the table and break, lamp chimneys be shattered, spools of thread would unreel, and bars of soap go flying wildly about.

Mr. Lunde, the boy’s grandfather, became nearly distracted with terror, and the news of the strange happenings spread rapidly.


The next day there was a funeral in the family, which was attended by the boy’s mother, who spent the night at the home of her parents. It was a night of turbulence and terror, and things about the house were particularly nimble. Finally word was sent to the neighbors asking that someone come to try to comfort and compose the grandfather, who seemed on the verge of collapse. Rev. Mostrum was appealed to, and Sam Thompson, a highly respected citizen, went to the house. As soon as they entered a hymn book, which had been reposing on a window sill near the door, fell to the floor. The old man and the women pointed to it and said wildly, “There, you see it.”

The minister heard the story and tried to make light of it, and explained things rationally. They remarked that things were particularly bad if anyone played the organ, whereupon to compose them the minister sat down and played. Mr. Thompson was walking about the room with the boy at his side when in passing a table the boy remarked “look out,” and immediately a big butcher knife which had been seen on the table came flying through the air and fell on the floor in front of them. The boy could not have touched it, said Mr. Thompson. The same phenomenon occurred with a hat pin. While inclined to be skeptical Mr. Thompson and the minister confessed afterwards that they could not sleep for hours that night. It recalls some of the old witchcraft tales that used to end “all that night there was heavy thunder.”

For some days panic reigned in the household. Things were continually flying about the room, screws would come out of the hinges in the doors, covers would fly off the stoves, and lamp chimneys would be shattered as fast as they were put up. Pieces of soap seemed particularly sensitive to the diabolic influence and when the family retired showers of coal would follow them to bed. The news spreading, the people of the village and surrounding country began going to the house out of morbid curiosity to see “what there was to see.” The family was literally overridden, and night, it is said, 200 people streamed through the rooms with muddy feet and open mouthed expectation. They saw no manifestations but saw the wreckage that had been wrought.


For some days the strange occurrences were not associated with the boy. The house had been equipped with electric lights and telephones and it was thought perhaps the house had become “electrified,” causing the disturbances. Accordingly two prominent citizens went to the house one evening during the height of the excitement and insisted, in the face of the protestations of the distracted family, who did not want to be left in darkness, that the electric wires should be cut and thus put an end to the “spell.” They failed of their purpose, however. When the boy finally came to be suspected of unusual powers it was proposed to remove him from the house. This would prove if electricity had anything to do with it. Accordingly he was taken to the homes of his uncles, Andrew and Hans Lunde, in the Town of Springdale.

As soon as they entered the house there a pail half filled with water went spinning over the floor, upsetting its contents. A spooky night followed. All sorts of articles and utensils apparently went on a spree, outdoing those of the Mt. Horeb home. This proved that the boy was the cause, willingly or unwillingly.

“You better take down that looking glass,” said the boy to his uncle, pointing to a mirror on the wall. The uncle laughed but soon afterward the mirror fell to the floor with a crash. As had been the case in Mt. Horeb the country people now came in droves to see the wonderful boy. Many tales are told of his few days in Springdale. At the suggestion of the boy’s grandmother, it is said, a bag of salt was placed in his pocket, this on the suggestion of a cheesemaker who said this means had been found effective in the old country in exorcising evil spirits and breaking fairy spells. A neighbor boy came next day to play with little Henry but was taken back when the sack left Henry’s pocket and struck the visitor in the back. The boys later engaged in a game of marbles, and Henry proved, as the story goes, that he is not entirely a blind and helpless medium, but has divining powers as well. Hidden marbles were found with ease, even when tucked deep into beds. The uncle declared he placed the boy in a chair in front of him, holding a cigar box containing some marbles, and three marbles jumped out of the box without the boy touching it. When the boy went to bed that night a great racket was heard, apparently in the wall next to his bed. Investigation revealed nothing outside. “You better look out or the plaster will fall on you,” said the lad. His uncle then took him out of bed and placed him on a couch on the other side of the room and a neighbor woman sat down on it, but could not remain there because of the dancing motion of the couch. Investigation showed the next day a big hole in the plastering next to the bed.


Finally it was decided to take the boy to a specialist for an examination, and he was sent to Dr. George Kingsley of Madison, a clairvoyant physician, being accompanied by Otto Dahle, who was on his way to Milwaukee.

Since his return from Madison the boy has apparently been more normal, and there have been fewer disturbances at the house. The family is greatly exercised over the notoriety it has attained, and has practically closed its doors to callers. They admit that things are still occasionally unstable, but the opinion is that they will hereafter minimize any occurrence unless something of a remarkable nature should occur.

The manifestations never appear when the boy is asleep, nor when a crowd is present. It is explained by clairvoyants that the spirit influences are overborne, so to speak, by a crowd. Hence nothing happens while the boy is at school or when any number of people come to the house to see things. The boy has no magnetic power, apparently. Clairvoyants say that three spirits, those of two women and one man, hover about the boy, though why three is not explained.

The occurrences have recalled all manner of stories of trolls among the older Norwegian settlers, and has led to the interesting information that a grandfather of one of Mt. Horeb’s oldest citizens saw the last of the hill folk before that interesting people disappeared from Norway—saw him sitting on a green [word unclear] and heard him playing on his fairy oboe. Memories of “Vise-Knut” (Wise Knut), the hero of Bjørnson’s story of that name are also recalled. He could foretell future events, locate hidden and lost things, etc.


The more hard-headed citizens of the place, some of whom have been eye-witnesses of the so called manifestations, scouts the idea that there is anything occult about the occurrences. Dr. N.C. Evans and former sheriff G.E. Michaelson are in this class of doubters. They visited the house one evening at the height of the excitement. They say they were seated with their backs to the kitchen door, with the boy in the kitchen, it being explained that he was shy of visitors. While they were there two pieces of sausage, a piece of soap and a couple of chunks of coal came flying from the kitchen. Dr. Evans whirled around and asked the boy, who stood in the doorway, if he threw them, and says the boy did not deny doing it. “I am satisfied that the articles were thrown by someone,” said one of them, “for the people of the house guessed what the articles were as soon as they were picked up and before they had seen them.”

The writer of this article was shown a broken mirror which it is said was struck by a piece of broken cup which left its place on the table and flew into the glass. On careful inquiry he learned that at the time the boy’s grandfather was putting an armful of wood in the woodbox and had his back to the mirror. The boy was either in the kitchen or just outside. No one else was in the kitchen. One story difficult to explain is that an egg once flew out of a basket striking the boy in the face.

Dr. Kingsley who examined the boy believes the lad is destined to become famous as a spiritualist. He says that at present he has not the spirits under control but will have in time, and that at his age he is a wonderful medium. The boy was at Dr. Kingsley’s home only a few minutes but during that time a pronounced manifestation occurred.

The boy appears frank and open and said to the writer, “I can’t help these things. I want to stay here with grandpa and not go away.”

The family have been wrought in a great pitch of nervous excitement and frequently all have been found in tears. The boy is becoming shy of visitors and sometimes cries when they come. Strange stories have been set in circulation having to do with wills and ulterior motives but if there is any dissembling done by anyone it appears remarkably clever.

The case certainly has put Mt. Horeb on the map as effectively as the Ridgway ghost of nearby did its town. To spiritualists it may all appear simple enough but unless the supposed manifestations continue and no one succeeds in exploding them, the affair will remain a mystery and become a permanent tradition of the neighborhood.


Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin, Friday, April 2, 1909


Sub-headlines: Scientific men agreed some delusion is being practiced in case.

Family seeks protection.

Advertises that unscrupulous equivocators will be dealt with according to law.

[No writer credited]

Medical and other scientific men seem united in the view that the alleged mysterious occurrences that center around Henry James Brophy, the 11-year-old Mt. Horeb boy, are all delusions or fakes and can be explained on natural grounds. In fact they are emphatic on that point and laugh at any other suggestions.

Dr. Joseph Jastrow, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, when asked for his opinion on the case laughingly remarked that he had to hurry to catch a train for Milwaukee, but added, “such things have been pretty generally exploded.”

Prof. B.W. Snow of the physics department said he knew nothing of this case or anything like it and apparently also took it lightly.

Dr. N.C. Evans of Mt. Horeb scouts the idea of there being anything mysterious or supernatural about it. He says:

“I went to the house one evening and while there a ball of yarn came flying out of the kitchen into the sitting room where we were. The boy was in the kitchen behind me, but the women folks were in the room with me. Nothing else out of the ordinary happened while I was there. I am satisfied the ball of yarn was thrown by someone from the kitchen. Whatever may be the cause of the doings reported I am satisfied they can be explained on natural grounds. The whole thing is a fake of some sort; there can be nothing supernatural about it.”

Dr. Clarke [Gapent?] said: “It is nonsense to waste any time on such cases unless it be to explode them or expose them. They can always be explained away and have been time and again exposed. In New York City there is a school which teaches boys tricks of this character, advertises for them and makes money out of their mystification of credulous people. This Mt. Horeb boy must be playing tricks by design or under delusions, or else he is being made a tool of by others for some purpose.”


Relatives of the boy adhere stoutly to their original statements, that they are completely “up in the air” so far as understanding the cause or reason for the queer occurrences. Hans Lunde of Springdale, an uncle of the boy, when called up by telephone today said:

“Henry was at my house one day, at my brother Andrew’s for two days and spent some time at a neighbor’s, Alfred Thorson. I didn’t see much of the boy at my house, but saw a few small things fly around the house, but at my brother’s house it was much worse. Cups were broken, marbles, spools of thread and soap were flying around everywhere. I’ll tell you what I did see though very plainly. When I took Henry back to Mt. Horeb I took a basket of eggs along and set them on a chair in the house. While we were standing there one egg flew out of the basket and struck Henry in the face. I saw it leave the basket with my own eyes and there was no one anywhere near the basket. Two more eggs jumped out of the basket on the floor and one jumped off the table. Henry has been quieter since he came back from Madison. He says he is not afraid of these things and that he feels nothing when they happen.


The more serious and rational people of the town are pondering the motives that might inspire such occurrences and various stories and explanations are set on foot. In the meantime the family has issued a public warning for its protection; the following notice appearing in the Mt. Horeb Times:

“A Notice to Mt. Horeb and Vicinity.”

“We acknowledge we have been the victims of a number of mysterious happenings. But we are not accountable for the same. We have been doing our best to solve the mystery but are unable to do so. However, we hoped that we have friends enough here to endeavor to stop the scandalous stories that are going broadcast through the country. We wish to remain friends with all and have nothing but the kindliest feelings toward all; and we hope that the public will have the same feelings toward us. But we also wish to state for the benefit of those that do not take matters in the right light, that all unscrupulous equivocators will be dealt with according to law. Very respectfully,

“Knute K. Lunde and Family.”

2 Comments on “The Original Story about Mount Horeb’s Psychic Boy”

  1. I think it’s interesting how they use the word “explode” for “explain” (?).

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