Friday, September 27, 2013

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Forewarned (By a Witch Doctor)

The Detroit Free Press, March 9, 1910
Mrs. John Skowerinski was no Rose Veres. Hell, she wasn't even a middling Samantha Stephens but rather a congenial neighbor who came face-to-face with a real life witch named Josephine Gawronski. Mind you, she was neither a witch in the impractical sense of the word; broom, pointed hat, a brood of black cats primping by a smoking cauldron; nor the practical tradition, but one in the metaphysical realm. More simply put, a lunatic.

This was confirmed when Gawronski invited Skowerinski to her home for the sole purpose of attacking, beating and bloodying the unsuspecting woman. Surely, she must have done something to provoke this episode of senseless brutality. Gawronski's reasoning? Skowerinski was a witch who had put a spell on her attacker and inflicted upon her a stomach malady.

As queer as it may sound to the progressive thinker it was a common superstition among our forebearers up until the last 50 or so years. In Mrs. Gawronski's defense she was also a sick woman. Physically ill, that is, with catarrh of the stomach. Not deathly ill but sick enough. Which may or may not have led to her mental afflictions and plans for retribution against Mrs. Skowerinski, but it was a prime mover in the matter.

With the onset and continuation of her illness unabated, she apparently received a diagnosis from a medical doctor but was unsatisfied with his determination. So Jospehine decided that she needed a second opinion and called upon an east side witch doctor who convinced her that she was bewitched. Encouraged to think back to a galvanizing moment before the symptoms occurred she recalled a wedding party a month or so earlier where Skowerinski had secured Gawronski a drink and then possibly wished an incantation against her. To reverse the effects of the spell she would have to accost the witch and draw blood. Which she did. Once completed, for good measure, Gawronski made the poor prone woman chant thrice, "I take it back."

Needless to say, the catarrh persisted and the witch doctor was summoned once more. Whereupon he proclaimed Mrs. Skowerinski innocent and ordered another woman beaten! That woman apparently didn't come forward to tell her story. Skowerinski did though in the form of a lawsuit. Whereby the gathered raucous anti-witch revelers in support of Gawronski were admonished by Justice Lemke for their beliefs in superstition. He deemed them worthy of a spanking and Mrs. Skowerinski $25 in damages.

L'abeille de la Nouvelle-Orleans, May 19, 1910

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Maude Roose: Ruse or Raphael Reincarnated? [UPDATED]

The Detroit Free Press, November 17, 1922 (enlarge)
In the world of art comparing an amateur's rendering on the easel to one of the master painters is akin to matching up skill sets of a little league baseball player with those of the legendary Babe Ruth. Simply put, there is no meting out similarities between the two. Whether it was through hubris or naivete, Detroiter Maude Roose did just that.

Roose, a clerk in her 20s and a resident of the city since 1910, found interest in painting after talking to the master Raphael himself via a medium. She had come upon spiritualism with much skepticism but after being put in touch with her deceased father and grandmother--who forecast a promising future for the young woman--she patiently awaited the rewards of her faith. The grand master was such a gift.

Raphael imparted to her that his early death deprived him of future endeavors he had oft ruminated upon. Some 450 years later his weary spirit had come to her to complete the arduous task. Further masters such as Hals, Rueben and Murillo joined in to aid the tutelage. They even directed Roose to an art store on Grand River and the Hayward studio at 513 Shelby street.

Borrowing from each in her five week stint at Hayward, she completed several works which Raphael dreamed up but sickness prevented, all with the spirit guidance of their ghostly hands. Included were a life sized portrait of "Christ" and "Christ and the Rich Man's Son." Though sometimes tedious to bring to fruition, with the aid of the spirits--and occasionally the public library--she produced marvelous canvases utilizing minimal experience and technique to semi-perfection.

The Detroit Free Press, November 18, 1922
F. Harold Hayward, instructor at the academy which bore his name and a well-versed artisan himself, had no answer for the adept touch of his mysterious pupil--while also noting similarities between the works of Roose and Raphael--simply quipping, "It's a puzzle to me." Being a practical man he discounted the notion of a spook or spirit-hand guiding Miss Roose but could offer no reasonable alternative either. Though he did muse upon one mitigating factor, "She has inspiration." while motioning to the painting of Christ. Divinely inspired? We shall never know.

Even the reporter from the Free Press seemed convinced in a back-handed way, noting that the hand of Christ seemed to be reaching out towards him and touching the ethereal believer within that had long been maligned by academics and the study of humanity at large. The mystery, indeed, was both the question and answer itself.


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April 30, 2016

The unfortunate thing about online research is that sometimes the sources run dry. As was the case with this story. Not due to a lack of material but because the parameters of the searches are confined by the available databases.  

The Detroit Free Press Historical Archives through Pro Quest--which I have a free subscription to via my public library--abruptly end in 1922.

Such isn't the case with Newspapers.com but they charge $100+ per year to use and searches are limited to a dozen or so a month. Which is not a feasible expense for me since I have an 8-year-old child to provide for. But enough of my postscript preamble.

A recent post on Wet Canvas provided the impetus for this update. Also shown there is a press photo of Miss Rouse that is selling on eBay which wasn't available at the time of my original blog.


And if you dig deep enough on Google you can find the photo below which was available on eBay a few years back:


Both coincide with the newspaper articles posted above though I've doctored them a little with my minimal photo editing skills and my even less discriminating palette, considering that I am red-green colorblind.

Regardless of our pratfalls here's the "big" update:

The Owosso Argus-Press, May 19, 1923
Six months later Miss Maude was showcasing both her Spiritualism and artwork alongside Charles Whaley, who had some notoriety himself in the movement:


Though he probably didn't get the kind of respect that he desired:

The Owosso Argus-Press, May 28, 1930
As for Maude: whether her career continued or she faded away into further obscurity has yet to be revealed to me. I shall update further when or if the pertinent answers come my way.


*     *     *

August 1, 2017


It's hard to believe that it's been a solid year and a quarter since I last updated the story but since that time I have purchased both a Detroit Free Press and a Newspapers.con subscription (the latter cross-cancelling out the other) and not only do I have a minor update on Maude Roose, with the prospect for many additional developments, but also several leads to other so-called spirit painters from the Detroit area.

Detroit Free Press, November 27, 1927
She joined Vaudeville in 1927! Or at least was set to. I've yet to get around to a follow-up but will in due course. Having briefly browsed other articles she is listed in many Spiritualist advertisements around that time as well so it's likely that more interesting things will be gleaned from the archives. I shall update the blog with further related articles very shortly. Other photos of Roose appear on this post.