The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

October 30, 2012

Emma Knight Wythe Puffer: A tale of clairvoyance

By Barb Mask
Special to the Herald

FULTON, Ill. — An interesting phenomenon in Fulton’s history is told here.  Is it macabre, eerie or incredible? You decide.

Warren P. Hall, co-owner of the Langford & Hall Sawmill located on Fulton’s riverfront, was fatally injured on July 7, 1881, by a falling log.  He was supervising the raising of a tall smoke stack that had been blown down in a storm.  His death, however, was not the first tragedy for the Hall family.

On January 16, 1876, five years earlier, George Hall, age 16,  the only son of Warren and Catherine Hall, went to the river to ice skate and never returned.  The Halls’ residence was on the northeast corner of Third Street and Eighth Avenue (current site of the Fulton Corporation office).  The Fulton citizens, gripped with great concern and anxiety, aided in the search for the missing boy.  Most of the concentration was at the site of the C & NW railroad elevator located on the west end of 11th Avenue.  

At the time, Mrs. L. F. (Emma) Puffer, a quiet woman who had demonstrated clairvoyant powers in the past, offered her advice as to the location of the body of George.  She was hesitant about getting involved as she had experienced public animosity in a previous town, but her desire to be helpful gave her courage to use her “one talent, clairvoyance, toward directing others where to search.”  In the presence of four others, she laid her hand on a coat that George Hall had worn and “from a clue given by the magnetism in the coat as it appeared to her, she saw the boy leave his home, go to the river, put on his skates and skate to the north above the sawmill,” according to an article written by Wayne Bastian.   She could clearly see the boy’s body under the ice in that location.  This would have been the Smith & Culbertson Sawmill at the mouth of the Cattail Slough (current site of Rick Brown’s property).

Later that day, William Stuart, who resided in the neighborhood, stopped by the Puffer home and said that people no longer thought that George had drowned and that he had run away from home.  Mrs. Puffer refused to accept this theory and reiterated her belief as to the body’s location.  “Billy,  George Hall is dead and is under the ice….” That evening George’s body was located exactly at the site that Mrs. Puffer had envisioned.  

Many people doubted Mrs. Puffer and claimed that someone had told her, but she rose in righteous wrath and defended her clairvoyant talent.  In a lengthy letter to the Fulton Journal on April 7, 1876, three months after the drowning, she defended herself and expressed resentment for being accused as an imposter.  The letter is well written and reflects an intelligent and educated woman with a caring nature.  In closing, she wrote,   “and although I am a woman, I claim the rights of citizenship enough to defend myself when there have been false accusations made, and for the use of your columns through which to do so, you have my thanks.” Signed:   Emma E. Puffer.

There was an affidavit that accompanied her letter signed by the people that were present when she first described the location of George Hall’s body.

Emma was not the only clairvoyant noted in Fulton’s history.  Dr. A. W. Benton,  a medical physician, arrived in Fulton in 1853.  His advertisements offered both medical and clairvoyant services. He owned the first drug store.  Dr. Benton is best remembered, however, because the house he built in 1855 is now the Fulton (Martin House) Museum located at 707 10th Ave.

Writer’s note:  The reference to another community in which Emma Knight Puffer experienced public animosity was in Nauvoo.  She and her family moved to Fulton in 1847 when the mass exodus of Mormans departed for Salt Lake City.  

Emma practiced Spiritualism while she lived in Fulton. She is buried in the Fulton Township Cemetery.  Emma Knight Wythe Puffer was Helen Wythe’s grandmother; Wythe was a well-known Fulton resident who died  March 17, 1993.   

Sources:  Wayne Bastian; Fulton Journal articles.