Consulting Madame Ferris: Detective Jourdain Turns to a Psychic for Help in the Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case of 1870
Pursuing all possible leads, Afro-Creole Detective John Baptiste Jourdain convinced Thomas Digby (the father of kidnapped Mollie Digby) to join him at the City Hotel for a consultation with Madame Ferris, a famed clairvoyant who was in New Orleans for a July performance. Although Police Chief Algernon Badger placed little faith in the power of psychics, Jourdain and many New Orleanians believed in them. The city had a flourishing “Magnetic Society,” which published its own journal, Le Spiritualiste, and elite Creole families hosted séances and spirit circles in their French Quarter townhomes. White people who criticized adherents of Voodoo for their purportedly heathenish practices nevertheless offered their own credulous accounts of communications from dead relatives, Catholic saints, and other spirit guides. On the eve of the Civil War, New Orleans had an estimated 20,000 Spiritualist believers and the movement was still flourishing during Reconstruction.
Some skeptics mocked the police for turning to a medium. The editor of the Commercial Bulletin, having caught wind of Jourdain’s mission, needled the “over-credulous” police for employing an “astrologer, clairvoyant, and table-rapper.” “If she proves to be a prophet,” the paper joked, “it is hoped she will next gratify the curiosity of the worshippers of Dickens by solving the ‘Mystery of Edwin Drood.’” Others applauded Jourdain for pursuing all possibilities. Madame Ferris, a correspondent to the New Orleans Times maintained, had “done so many extraordinary things” that she could “certainly find the child.” “Let it be tried,” he urged.