c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article originally appeared in the Frontier Gazette.
The psychics and seers which swept the nation during the 1890’s were not lost on Prescott. Ouija boards and crystal balls were all the rage, making for colorful tea parties and other soirees. Thus Prescott saw more than its fair share of clairvoyants in town. One such person, Mrs. Weils-Bedell of Denver, set up shop for about a week right next to Brinkmeyer’s Hotel in 1896.
But Mrs. Weils-Bedell had nothing on the great hypnotist, psychic and mind reader Dr. Alexander J. McIvor-Tyndall. Born in England, Tyndall had immigrated to America by 1893. The earliest articles about his psychic “gifts” place him in St. Louis, Missouri where he not only hypnotized at least one fellow, but also played out his most magnificent talent: driving a carriage, blindfolded, while reading the thoughts of whomever sat next to him to figure out where he needed to go.
News writer Theodore Dreiser later recalled how Tyndall requested several men to accompany him on the ride. “And, amusingly enough, I was ordered to get up the committee,” said Dreiser, “and sit on the seat and do the thinking while he, blindfolded, raced in and out between cars and wagons, turning sharp corners, escaping huge trucks by a hair only, as my thoughts directed him. When written up as true, which it was, it made a very good story indeed.”
At an 1899 appearance in Ouray, Colorado, it was announced that Dr. T’s fees were “not less than $5 in any city in the world. For the next few days, however, he will give his full $5 reading at a special rate of $2.50, and a short reading at $1.00. Those who cannot afford these fees will please not call, as McIvor-Tyndall’s time is limited. He is a busy man.”
Prescottonians surely had their money in hand when Tyndall arrived in town on New Year’s Eve in 1901. The Arizona Weekly Journal Miner called him “the celebrated exponent of the occult”, who “enjoys the distinction of being the most famous scientist along psychic lines of the present day, and his demonstrations are unique, mystifying and highly entertaining.” The good doctor stuck around for over a month, ending his visit with the famed blindfolded carriage ride.
Notably, the Journal Miner recalled a time in the not-too-distant past when the same carriage ride was attempted by Tyndall in San Francisco. After riding around for several hours unsuccessfully, the psychic had become “unconscious and remained in a trance for seven days”. Another time, in Seattle, businessman Herman Miller bet $1,000 that Tyndall could not open his safe by gleaning the combination by reading Miller’s mind. The feat was carried out successfully, but a passing police officer saw the men in the dim light of Miller’s office, believed them to be thieves, and arrested them as “safecrackers.”
The incidents in San Francisco and Seattle didn’t seem to bother the good people of Prescott. They wanted to see the blindfolded carriage ride, and they got it. In this instance, “a committee of prominent citizens” were to hide an item somewhere in the city. Tyndall would then drive around town, blindfolded, and find it. Whether Tyndall’s ride was successful was never reported, but the celebrated carriage ride performance eventually faded in favor of his giving lectures and writing books—as well as a titillating love triangle.
Around the same time he was in Prescott, Tyndall found a new love in his life, just as was predicted by a London psychic many years before. She was an actress named Laura Hughes, who eventually moved in with Tyndall as well as his wife, Margaret. Most surprisingly, Margaret didn’t mind. “Is there any chance for me to fight against fate?” she explained. “It is the cosmic law, the cosmic urge.”
Even after Laura became pregnant and married Tyndall in 1917, Margaret continued living with the newlyweds in Illinois where they were “celebrating, eating ice cream in a world peopled by nomads and tadpoles and Philistines, blissful in their own company and scornful of carping jeerers. It is a strangely contented triangle.”
Predictably, Margaret eventually disappeared from the picture as Tyndall continued his tours and writing under various names. The new Mrs. Tyndall and her husband became pastors of various spiritual churches in New York. By 1940 the couple had returned to California. When he died there in 1940, Tyndall was remembered as “one of the most astounding workers ever to appear on the platform” across America.