“Who Done It? The Medium Knows!”
by Carolyn Marie Wilkins
I have been talking to dead people since 1996. This behavior is considered an oddity bordering on mental illness by many people. So you can understand why I avoided writing about subjects that that might call attention to my psychic skills for many years.
Instead, I wrote about myself, my family, and our complicated relationship to African-American history. My first book, Damn Near White: An African American Family’s Journey from Slavery to Bittersweet Success, is a memoir about my grandfather J. Ernest Wilkins, the first African American to be appointed a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor. The next book, They Raised Me Up: A Black Single Mother and the Women Who Inspired Her, focused on the women in my family, many of whom were musicians.
Even with these “non-spiritual” nonfiction books, I knew I was being guided by the voices of my ancestors. In dreams, I would receive inspiration about where to look for a crucial piece of information. During my research, I cannot count the number of times I was intuitively guided to find the perfect source, book, or magazine article necessary to tell the story I wanted to tell. At some level, writing history books for me had become another form of mediumship.
After I finished the two memoirs, however, I was ready to move on. Like every other psychic I knew, I adored murder mysteries. I’d been figuring out “who done it” on everything from Agatha Christie to Perry Mason for years. Why not write a mystery of my own? For my first fiction book, I made it a point to follow Mark Twain’s famous dictum – “write what you know.” Bertie Bigelow, the central character in my novel Melody For Murder is an African American music teacher who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, just as I did. When one of her students is accused of murder, Bertie sets out to prove his innocence.
While writing this book, I took a class in mediumship given by James Van Praagh, a TV psychic and co-executive producer of the popular Ghost Whisperer series. Spending two weeks in a class with seventy-five other aspiring mediums gave me the confidence to address psychic themes in my next book. Mojo for Murder tells the story of the hexes, hoaxes, and hijinks that ensue when a 300-pound Jamaican psychic advises Bertie Bigelow about her love life.
Writing these mysteries was big fun. But after my two Bertie Bigelow books, I felt my ancestors calling me once again. I’d shared a great deal of family history in my first two books. But I had yet to write about the earliest ancestor in my family line. My great-great-grandfather Jeremiah McFarland was a skilled furniture maker who purchased his freedom from a Kentucky slave master and moved with his family to Evansville, Indiana around 1860. By 1920, ancestors from both sides of my family tree had lived in this rowdy and rollicking river town. Evansville at that time had a fabulously corrupt government, a notoriously dangerous cohort of gangsters and bootleggers, and the largest Ku Klux Klan membership North of the Mason Dixon line. The colorful setting alone should have gotten my creative juices flowing. I should have been excited at the prospect of writing a book about my Evansville ancestors. But for some reason, I couldn’t get beyond the first chapter. Maybe I lacked discipline. Or maybe, I was just too busy with my mediumship.
In 2018, I traveled to England to study at the Arthur Findlay College of Psychic Science. Staffed and maintained by the Spiritualist church, the College is housed in a 350-room castle that would not be out of place in a Harry Potter novel.
The modern Spiritualist Church traces its beginnings to 1848. In the farm town of Hydesville, in Upstate New York, Maggie and Katie Fox heard a strange rapping sound emanating from the walls in their home. Believing the sounds were made by a discarnate spirit, the sisters began to communicate with the entity, who told them he had been murdered in the home many years earlier. When human remains were discovered in the basement of their home, the girls became celebrities. But from its very inception, the movement was embroiled in controversy. In 1888, Katie Fox renounced Spiritualism and, for $1,500, a staggering sum in those days, confessed to being a fraud, but recanted her confession the following year.
Nonetheless, while my great-grandmother was raising her five children in a dilapidated Evansville tenement in 1920, the Spiritualist movement had over two million adherents.