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Features, National Obituary Review

Dead Person of the Day August 31 – Elsa Barker

No Comments 01 September 2011

Elsa Barker (died August 31, 1954)


Folks, I don’t know how you feel but to me Elsa was practically born to be a DPD. Obits for her were hard to come by, sadly. However, she still merits 2 minutes of your time to read about.This is courtesy of The Writers Almanac via The Poetry Foundation…….

Elsa Barker was born in 1869 in Leicester, Vermont, and died in 1954. She worked as a shorthand writer, wrote for newspapers, and produced novels and mysteries and a volume of stories from the New Testament for children, but it is for the trilogy Letters from a Living Dead Man, War Letters from the Living Dead Man, and Last Letters from the Living Dead Man that she is best known.

Elsa’s parents died when she was young, and all the mention that is made of them in her short biographies is that her father had an interest in the occult and shared this interest with his daughter. She would eventually join the Theosophical Society, a group that encouraged the comparative study of religion, philosophy, and science, and that sought to explain the mysteries and undiscovered laws of nature and the latent powers of man. Barker also joined the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega occult order, a group formerly known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Barker spent most of her adult life in New York City, except for the years between 1910 and 1914, which she spent first in Paris and then in London. One evening in Paris in 1912, Barker felt the sudden compulsion to write a message, although she had no idea what the message would be. As she explains in the introduction to Letters from a Living Dead Man, she took up a pencil and, “Yielding to the impulse, my hand was seized as if from the outside, and a remarkable message of a personal nature came, followed by the signature ‘X.'” She soon found out that X was the nickname for a man known to her friends, who was 6,000 miles from Paris and presumably still alive, though a telegraph a few days later informed them of the sad news that Mr. X had in fact died in the western United States a few days before Barker received her mystery message.

Perhaps it is inaccurate to say that Barker was the author of the Letters books given that all three were a dead man’s messages, which she produced spontaneously through automatic writing. Her initial attitude was blasé to being outright disinclined to continue the correspondence, and it was only through the persuasion of arguments made by her friends that Barker agreed to continue.

“‘X,'” Barker wrote, “was not an ordinary person. He was a well-known lawyer nearly seventy years of age, a profound student of philosophy, a writer of books, a man whose pure ideals and enthusiasms were an inspiration to everyone who knew him.” X soon wrote again to say, “I am here, make no mistake. It was I who spoke before, and now I speak again. I have had a wonderful experience … I found almost no darkness. The light here is wonderful …” and the messages kept coming and Barker kept writing them.

X implored Barker to take certain precautions to protect herself against those who pressed around him, telling her to lay a spell upon herself morning and night, so that her energy could not be sucked out by “these larvae of the astral world.” He would reproach her if he came to call and she would not let him in, and then follow the rebuke with assurances that he was not rebuking her. X informed Barker that there was a large organization of souls on the other side who called themselves a League, and whose mission was to help those adjusting to the new conditions, a group, X said, that “work on a little — I do not want to say higher plane than the Salvation Army, but rather a more intellectual plane.”

X found a great deal of unconventionality among the dead. No two dressed the same, in clothing from the most modern styles to the most ancient, though X explained that each wore what he or she liked, and even got to thinking that he might enjoy a Roman toga. There were charming children on the other side, elderly folk who slept a great deal, and sometimes frightful forms and decayed faces falling to pieces that the League workers referred to as hopeless cases.

One day, X’s Teacher showed him the archives where those who lived in that other place recorded whatever observations they may have had on their post-life experience, a vast library filled with millions of volumes. The teacher handed X a thick book printed in large black type — it was a book by Paracelsus, the Renaissance physician and alchemist who is sometimes called the Father of Toxicology, written “soon after he came out,” which is to say, soon after he died.

When the Letters from a Living Dead Man ends on Letter 54, X informers Barker that he is going to leave for a time, perhaps a very long time, “to soar out upon the wave of ether — far — far — and to forget, in the thrill of exploration, that I shall some day have to make my way painfully back to the world through the narrow straits of birth … In Jupiter, they say, there is a race of beings wonderful to behold. I shall see them … Let this be my final message to the world. Tell them to enjoy their struggles, to thrill at the endless possibilities of combination and creation, to live in the moment while preparing for long hence, and not to exaggerate the importance of momentary failures and disappointments.”

X would return for two more volumes.

Read War Letters of the Living Dead here

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