Camp Chesterfield and the So-Called Ghosts
Camp Chesterfield is an unusual side note in Indiana history. Originally founded by the Spiritualist Church in 1886, the camp had a poor reputation almost from the start.
John Westerfield was a doctor who heavily believed in clairvoyance, phrenology (the reading of bumps on the head), and all aspects of Spiritualism, including those who claimed to contact the dead. While living in Evansville, Indiana he began inviting in speakers to give lectures and demonstrations at the Union Hall. To prove the speakers were not frauds, he allowed skeptics at the talks, convinced they would learn the truth, and walk away a believer.
Westerfield managed to bring Spiritualism to Evansville at just the right time. The Spiritualist movement was sweeping the country, and more people were beginning to believe in mysticism. John had watched in horror as his only son slowly passed away, and sought out help from Spiritualists to speak to his son in the afterlife. After a particularly successful meeting, he believed enough that he converted to the Spiritualist faith, and increased the speakers passing through Evansville.
The creation of Camp Chesterfield came about after Westerfield visited the Frazier's Grove Spiritualist Camp in Michigan. Less than three years later Westerfield helped form the Indiana Association of Spiritualists, a group still in operation today. Only a few years later the group met on the spot where the Camp would be formed, and in 1891 Camp Chesterfield officially opened.
Camp Chesterfield quickly grew to be one of the most popular and well known Spiritualist camps in the country, with visitors coming from as far away as California to experience the wonders of the camp. In the beginning years, visitors and members of the Association slept in small tents that leaked during rainstorms, were too warm in the summer, and were completely inadequate during the harsh southwestern Indiana winters. Before long the need for real buildings became apparent, and the first wood building was finished in 1891 and used as a meeting hall.
Considering the nature of Camp Chesterfield, it shouldn't be surprising that the camp has its share of ghost stories. The most famous of these revolves around a tale that the Camp vehemently denies ever occurred, but one that has survived for over sixty years now. Camp Chesterfield experienced a strong resurgence following the end of World War II. Visitors arrived, hoping to speak with family and friends they lost in the War. Others came, hoping to find answers to the horrific conditions they saw and faced overseas.
The medium they all arrived hoping to speak with, was Madam Mimi, who claimed to have the ability to communicate with the dead by allowing them to speak through here, and move small objects around her body. Once Madam Mimi gained a popular following, dozens flocked to Camp Chesterfield with the intention of disproving her claims, and nearly every one of them left a believer.
Madam Mimi's claim to fame was seen in action again and again. Audience members were asked to write a question only they knew the answer to, and put the piece of paper in a large glass bowl. Madam Mimi would then be led blindfolded onto the stage, where she would pull out a piece of paper, and answer the question, without reading or seeing it. Time and time again she accurately completed the trick.
Then, in a move reminiscent of famed psychic John Edwards, she would wander through the meeting hall, sending messages to people there from their departed loved ones. At the end of each performance, the medium was placed in a large wood box, similar to a wardrobe, blindfolded, and her hands tied behind her back. Once inside, she would call to the spirits, who would play music inside the locked cabinet. She could also produce a male voice, and a white fog poured from a small hole in the cabinet. Inside the fog were several faces, one after the other, morphing into each other. When the cabinet was opened, she was always bound in the same position.
The unmasking of Madam Mimi was led by two men with connections to an association of magicians operating in Indiana. All of her tricks could easily be explained by simple tricks most magicians knew.
Despite the rumors surrounding Camp Chesterfield, it remains a friendly and laid back place. The blindfold was not really a blindfold, the restraints tied loosely to allow her freedom of movement, and even the mysterious white smoke was medical tape, while the faces were masks hidden inside the cabinet. The two men manipulated her séance in such a way that the medium herself fled the room in fear and shock. Camp Chesterfield tends to pretend that the Madam Mimi event never happened, and instead focus on the true Spiritualists inside their membership ranks.
Located near the White River, this spot has a tranquil and peaceful feel. Still in operation today, the Camp offers a teaching center, and demonstrations for the curious. They also hold services every Saturday at 6:30 pm, and occasionally offers services on Sunday, though they encourage you to check in advance, as it isn't a weekly event. Camp Chesterfield may not be home to a real ghost story, but its still worth a visit.
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