Anna Eva Fay

Anna Eva Fay Pingree (March 31, 1851 – May 12, 1927) was a famous medium and stage mentalist of the twentieth century.

Anna Eva Fay (Ann Eliza Heathman)
Anna Eva Fay.jpg
BornMarch 31, 1851
DiedMay 12, 1927
Occupation(s)Stage mentalist, medium
Anna Eva Fay, from a 1907 publication.


Fay was born Ann Eliza Heathman in Southington, Ohio. She married Henry Melville Cummings, a medium, who went by the name Henry Melville Fay. She adopted the stage name of Annie Fay and began to perform as a stage medium. She became famous for her stage performances in the 1880s and 1890s.[1]

Through her career, Fay was exposed as a fraudulent medium.[2] Fay was known for employing assistants including several who would dig up information about séance sitters in the towns that she visited.[3]

In the early 1870s the American stage mentalist Washington Irving Bishop was the manager of Fay's spiritualist acts, but in 1876 exposed her trick methods to the media.[4] In 1883 the ex-medium John W. Truesdell revealed her method of freeing her hands from cotton bandages.[5]

Her first husband died on May 29, 1889.[6] Her second husband was stage manager David H. Pingree, who died in 1932.[7] Her son John Fay also a magician, married to Anna Norman committed suicide in 1908.[8][9] Fay applied for a membership to The Magic Circle and in 1913 during a tour in Britain, she was elected the first Honorary Lady Associate of The Magic Circle in London.[10] Fay died on May 20, 1927. She is buried at Wyoming Cemetery in Melrose Massachusetts.

In 1942, Harry Price of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research exposed the 'mechanical stool' trick of Fay.[11][12]

Crookes experimentEdit

In a series of experiments in London at the house of William Crookes in February 1875, Fay managed to fool Crookes into believing she had genuine psychic powers.[13] Crookes had Fay hold two electrodes in an electrical circuit connected with a galvanometer in an adjoining room. Movement of objects occurred in the room and a music instrument was played. Crookes was convinced that the electrical control had not been broken. Psychical researchers pointed out that Fay could have used other parts of her body or a resistance coil to maintain the electric current intact whilst her hands could be free to produce the phenomena during the experiment.[14] Frank Podmore described the experiment in detail.[15]

Fay used magic tricks to accomplish her mediumship feats. She confessed in 1913 to Eric Dingwall that she had duped Crookes and other scientists.[16] She was investigated by the magician Harry Houdini, to whom after her retirement in 1924 she confessed fraud and revealed the tricks that she had used.[17] Fay told Houdini the trick she had used on the Crookes galvanometer test: she gripped one handle of the battery beneath her knee joint, keeping the circuit unbroken, leaving one hand free.[18] Magic historian Barry Wiley suggested that Fay had beaten the galvanometer tests by working with a secret accomplice Charles Henry Gimingham (1853–90), an assistant of Crookes who had built the experimental apparatus.[19]


  1. ^ Will Rogers, Steven K. Gragert, M. Jane Johansson. (2005). The Papers of Will Rogers. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0806137049
  2. ^ Kerry Segrave. (2007). Women Swindlers in America, 1860-1920. McFarland & Company. p. 14. ISBN 978-0786430390
  3. ^ Maurice Zolotow. (1952). It Takes All Kinds. Random House. p. 60
  4. ^ Simon During. (2004). Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic. Harvard University Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-0674013711
  5. ^ John W. Truesdell. (1883). The Bottom Facts Concerning the Science of Spiritualism: Derived from Careful Investigations Covering a Period of Twenty-Five Years. G. W. Carlton: New York. pp. 272-273
  6. ^ San Luis Obisbo Tribune Volume V, Number 9 May 30, 1889, p. 1
  7. ^ Anthony J. Pagano. (1998). Melrose. Arcadia Publishing. p. 58. ISBN 978-0738564487
  8. ^ Frank Cullen. (2006). Vaudeville Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performances in America. Routledge. p. 369. ISBN 978-0415938532
  9. ^ Massimo Polidoro. (2003). Secrets of the Psychics: Investigating Paranormal Claims. Prometheus Books. p. 103. ISBN 1-59102-086-7 "Her son, John T. Fay, married Anna Norman, one of the assistants in Eva's show, then left home and set up on his own with his wife, calling themselves "The Fays." When John died in 1908, his widow set up her own show and billed herself as "Mrs. Eva Fay, The High Priestess of Mysticism." Obviously, Annie resented her using a stage name so similar to her own, but never took legal action to stop her."
  10. ^ Milbourne Christopher. (1975). Mediums, Mystics & the Occult. Thomas Y. Crowell. p. 178. ISBN 978-0690004762
  11. ^ Harry Price. (1942). Search for Truth: My Life for Psychical Research. Collins. p. 48
  12. ^ Paul Tabori. (1966). Harry Price: The Biography of a Ghosthunter. Living Books. p. 36. "He described the simple yet ingenious mechanism of the Anna Eva Fay mechanical stool, which had an automatic catch to release the right arm of the medium, enabling anyone to produce a large variety of phenomena— provided the sitters were gullible enough."
  13. ^ Massimo Polidoro. (2000). Anna Eva Fay: The Mentalist Who Baffled Sir William Crookes. Skeptical Inquirer 24: 36-38.
  14. ^ Sherrie Lynne Lyons. (2010). Species, Serpents, Spirits, and Skulls: Science at the Margins in the Victorian Age. State University of New York Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-1438427980
  15. ^ Frank Podmore. (1897). Studies in Psychical Research. G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 62. "In February, 1875, Mr. Crookes, assisted by Dr. Huggins and others, held a séance with another medium, Mrs. Fay. The medium was seated in Mr. Crookes library, and her hands grasped two wires attached to a battery, her body being this made to complete an electric circuit. A galvanometer, which flashed light on to a graduated scale, was placed in the adjoining room, in a position where the scale was clearly visible to the circle of experimenters. Under these conditions, whilst the light remained steady on the scale, showing, that the resistance was practically uniform, a bell was rung and a musical box was wound up in the library; a hand was shown at the curtain which hung over the doorway; and a book and a library ladder were pushed through the opening. Finally there was a slight noise, the circuit was broken, and the medium was discovered in a fainting condition."
  16. ^ William Hodson Brock. (2008). William Crookes (1832-1919) and the Commercialization of Science. Ashgate. p. 199. ISBN 978-0754663225
  17. ^ Burton Gates Brown. (1972). Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century America. Boston University. p. 231
  18. ^ Massimo Polidoro. (2001). Final Séance: The Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle. Prometheus Books. p. 177. ISBN 978-1573928960 "She told him how she had tricked Crookes at the electric test: she had simply gripped one handle of the battery beneath her knee joint, keeping the circuit unbroken but leaving one hand free. Annie Eva Fay's revelation to Houdini of the way she had gulled Crookes was confirmed years later when psychical researcher Colin Brookes-Smith found at the Science Museum in London one of the galvanometers used by Crookes. The machine was repaired and brought to working order. Brookes-Smith reports that "there was no difficulty at all in sliding one wrist and forearm along over one handle and grasping the other handle, thereby keeping the circuit closed through the forearm, and then releasing the other hand without producing any large movement of the galvanometer spot."
  19. ^ Barry H. Wiley. (2012). The Thought Reader Craze: Victorian Science at the Enchanted Boundary. McFarland. p. 190. ISBN 978-0786464708

Further readingEdit