Schlatter The Miracle-man

The town of Denver, the "pearl of Colorado," was _en fête_. Hundreds

of thousands of pilgrims were flocking to it from all parts of America,

and all, immediately they arrived, made straight for the house of

Alderman Fox, where dwelt Francis Schlatter, the greatest

miracle-worker of the century. For two months Denver was able to

contemplate an unparalleled variety of invalids with illnesses both

rare and common, all-
or nearly all--of whom departed reassured as to

their progress, if not completely cured. The trains were overcrowded,

the hotels overflowed with visitors, and all the States rang with hymns

of praise in honour of Schlatter, the saint of Denver.

But perpetual joy is not of this world. On the 14th of November, 1895,

there were still thousands of people outside Alderman Fox's house, but

their grief and despair were pitiable to witness. The women sobbed,

the men cursed, and all this, mingled with the woeful complaints of the

sick, created an extraordinary atmosphere in the usually gay and

cheerful town.

The cause of it was that Saint Schlatter had fled from Colorado without

warning in the night--whether for a short time or for ever nobody knew.

The news spread far and wide, the affair assumed the proportions of a

public calamity, and the _Rocky Morning News_ and other Colorado

journals shed copious tears over the sad lot of the abandoned pilgrims.

Even the American newspapers, which so often foresee events that never

happen, had not been able to foresee this thunderbolt that had

descended in the midst of their readers.

On the previous day the saint had, as usual, given his blessing to the

thousands of pilgrims gathered from all quarters, and had appeared to

be in his customary state of serene kindliness. Nothing had suggested

his desertion--for the disappointed crowds considered it a desertion

indeed. Even Alderman Fox, deeply troubled as he was, could offer no

consolation to his fellow-citizens. He, who was formerly stone-deaf,

had gone one day to see Schlatter at Omaha, and when the latter took

his hand his deafness had completely disappeared. Full of gratitude,

he offered Schlatter a large sum of money, which was refused. He then

offered the hospitality of his house at Denver, and this being

accepted, Schlatter arrived there, preceded by the glory of his saintly

reputation and his miraculous cures. Two months passed thus, and never

had prophet a more devoted and enthusiastic disciple than the worthy

alderman of Colorado's capital city. Then fell the blow!

When Alderman Fox had entered his guest's room the night before, the

bed was empty. Dressed just as he had arrived, in his unique costume,

Schlatter had disappeared, leaving behind him as sole trace of his

visit this message:--"Mr. Fox--my mission is ended, and the Father

calls me. I salute you. Francis Schlatter. November 13th."

After that he was sought for in vain. He who "intoxicated the weak

soul of the people"--to quote one of the Colorado clergy--and made the

land of sin ring with songs of heavenly triumph, had completely

disappeared. In the words of another of them, "the plant that had

grown up in barren soil was withered away by the wrath of God."

But the grief of those who had believed in him lasted for many years.

Schlatter was born in Alsace in 1855, and after his arrival in America

he followed many avocations, finally adopting that of a "holy man."

With head and feet bare, he traversed the States from one end to

another, and proclaimed himself a messenger of heaven. He preached the

love of God and peace among men. He was imprisoned, and continued to

preach, and though his fellow-prisoners at first mocked at him, they

ended by listening.

He only had to place his hand on the heads of the sick, and they were

cured. After being released from prison, he went to Texas. His

peculiar dress, bare feet, and long hair framing a face which seemed

indeed to be illuminated from within, drew crowds to follow him, and he

was looked upon as Elijah come to life again.

"Hearken and come to me," he said. "I am only a humble messenger sent

by my Heavenly Father."

And thousands came. He cured the incurable, and consoled the

inconsolable. Once he was shut up in a mad-house, but emerged more

popular than ever. Then he went on a pilgrimage through the towns of

Mexico, preaching his "Father's" word among the adulterers of goods and

the Worshippers of the Golden Calf. An object of reverence and

admiration, he blessed the children and rained miracles upon the heads

of the sick, finally arriving at San Francisco in 1894. From there,

still on foot and bare-headed, he crossed the Mohave Desert, spent

several weeks at Flagstaff, and then continued his wanderings among the

Indian tribes. They recognised his saintliness and came out in crowds

to meet him, amazed at the power of the Lord as manifested by him. He

spent five days in the company of the chief of the Navajos, performing

many miracles, and filling with wonder the simple souls who crowded

round to touch his hands. After having traversed several other

districts, he stopped at Denver, which became his favourite residence.

In this paradise of the New World his most startling miracles took

place. It became known as his special town, and from all parts there

flocked to it believers and unbelievers, good, bad and indifferent,

attracted by the fame of the heavenly messenger. Women and men

followed in his train, expressing their admiration and gratitude; even

the reporters who came to interview him were impressed by his

simplicity, and described in glowing terms the miracles accomplished by

the "prophet of Denver."

The American journals which thus put themselves at his service throw a

strange light upon this twentieth-century saint. For Schlatter the

Silent, as some called him, only became eloquent when in the presence

of newspaper reporters. He took heed to "sin not with his tongue," as

the psalmist sings, and "kept his mouth with a bridle" and "held his

peace," as long as "the wicked" were before him; but when confronted by

reporters his thoughts became articulate, and it is only through them

that his simple "Gospel" has been handed down to us. "I am nothing,"

he would say to them. "My Father is all. Have faith in Him, and all

will be well." Or--"My Father can replace a pair of diseased lungs as

easily as He can cure rheumatism. He has only to will, and the sick

man becomes well or the healthy one ill. You ask me in what does my

power consist. It is nothing--it is His will that is everything."

One day when a crowd of several thousands was pressing round him,

Schlatter addressed a man in his vicinity.

"Depart!" he said to him, with a violence that startled all who heard.

"Depart from Denver; you are a murderer!"

The man fled, and the crowd applauded the "saint," remarking that "it

was not in his power to heal the wicked."

Faith in him spread even to the railway companies of New Mexico, for

one day there appeared a placard of the Union Pacific Railway stating

that those of the employees, or their families, who wished to consult

Schlatter would be given their permits and their regular holiday.

Following on this announcement, the _Omaha World Herald_ describes the

impressive spectacle of the thousands of men, women and children,

belonging to all grades of the railway administration, who went to the

holy man of Denver to ask pardon for their sins, or to be healed of

their diseases.

Thus did the transport systems, combined with the newspapers, pay

homage to the exploits of the new prophet.

And still the miracles continued. The blind saw, the deaf heard, and

the cripples walked. The lamp of faith lighted in New Mexico threw its

beams over the whole of America, and the remarkable charm of

Schlatter's personality influenced even the most incredulous.

The fame of his deeds reached Europe, and some of the English papers

told of cures so marvellous that New Mexico bade fair to become the

refuge of all the incurables in the world.

In the _Omaha World Herald_ a long article by General Test was

published, in which he said: "All those who approach him find

consolation and help. Dr. Keithley has been cured of deafness. . . .

I have used spectacles for many years, but a touch of his hand was

enough to make me have need of them no longer."

One of the officials of the Union Pacific Railway, a Mr. Sutherland,

after an accident, could neither walk nor move his limbs. He was taken

to Denver, and returned completely cured, not only of his inability to

walk, but also of deafness that had troubled him for fifteen years.

A Mr. Stewart, who had been deaf for twenty years, was also completely

cured by the saint. Nothing seemed able to resist his miraculous

powers. Blindness, diphtheria, phthisis, all disappeared like magic at

the touch of his hand; and gloves that he had worn proved equally


A Mrs. Snook, of North Denver, had suffered from cancer for some

months, when, worn out by pain, she sent to the holy man for the loan

of one of his gloves. He sent her two, saying that she would be

cured--and she was cured. The same thing happened with John Davidson

of 17th Street, Denver; with Colonel Powers of Georgetown; and a dozen

others, all of whom had suffered for years from more or less incurable


An engineer named Morris was cured of cataract instantaneously. A

totally blind wood-cutter was able to distinguish colours after being

touched by Schlatter. A Mrs. Holmes of Havelock, Nebraska, had tumours

under the eyes. She pressed them with a glove given her by the

prophet, and they disappeared. (This case is reported in the _Denver

News_ of November 12th, 1895.)

Gloves began to arrive from all parts, and lay in mountains on

Schlatter's doorstep. He touched them with his hand, and distributed

them to the crowd. _Faith_ being the sole cause of the cures, it was

unnecessary, he said, to lay hands on the sick. When he did so, it was

only in order to impress the souls of those who had need of this outer

sign in order to enjoy the benefits sent them by the Father through His

intermediary. This explains how Schlatter was able to treat from three

to five thousand people every day. He would stand with outstretched

hands blessing the crowds, who departed with peace in their souls.

And the "pearl of Colorado" rejoiced, seeing how the deaf heard, the

cripples walked, the blind saw, and all glorified the name of the Saint

of Denver.

His disinterestedness was above suspicion, and the contempt that he

showed for the "almighty dollar" filled all the believers with

astonishment and admiration.

"What should I do with money?" he said. "Does not my Heavenly Father

supply all my needs? There is no greater wealth than faith, and I have

supreme faith in my Father."

Gifts poured in upon him, but he refused them all with his customary

gentleness, so that at last people ceased to send him anything but

gloves. These, after having touched them with his hands, he

distributed among the sick and the unfortunate.

His fame increased with the ardour of his faith. Suspicion was

disarmed, and great and small paid him homage. Out of touch as he was

with modern thought, and reading nothing but the prophets, he attained

to a condition of ecstasy which at last led him to announce that he was

Christ come down from heaven to save his fellow-men. Having lived so

long on the footing of a son of God, he now was convinced of his direct

descent, and his hearers going still further, were filled with

expectation of some great event which should astonish all unbelievers.

Under the influence of this general excitement he proceeded to undergo

a forty days' fast. He announced this to his followers, who flocked to

see the miracle, preceded by the inevitable reporters; and while

fasting he still continued to heal the sick and give them his blessing,

attracting ever greater crowds by his haggard visage and his atmosphere

of religious exaltation.

Then, having spent forty days and forty nights in this manner, he sat

down at table to replenish his enfeebled forces, and the beholders gave

voice to enthusiastic expressions of faith in his divine mission.

But the famished Schlatter attacked the food laid before him with an

ardour that had in it nothing of the divine. The onlookers became

uneasy, and one of them went so far as to suggest that his health might

suffer from this abrupt transition.

"Have faith," replied Schlatter. "The Father who has permitted me to

live without nourishment for forty days, will not cease to watch over

His Son."

The town of Denver formed a little world apart. Miracles were in the

air, faith was the only subject of conversation, and everyone dreamed

of celestial joys and the grace of salvation. In this supernatural

atmosphere distinctions between the possible and the impossible were

lost sight of, and the inhabitants believed that the usual order of

nature had been overthrown.

For instance, James Eckman of Leadville, who had been blinded by an

explosion, recovered his sight immediately he arrived at Denver.

General Test declared that he had seen a legless cripple _walk_ when

the saint's gaze was bent upon him. A blind engineer named Stainthorp

became able to see daylight. A man named Dillon, bent and crippled by

an illness several decades before, recovered instantaneously. When the

saint touched him, he felt a warmth throughout his whole body; his

fingers, which he had not been able to use for years, suddenly

straightened themselves; he was conscious of a sensation of

inexpressible rapture, and rose up full of faith and joy. A man named

Welsh, of Colorado Springs, had a paralysed right hand which was

immediately cured when Schlatter touched it.

All New Mexico rejoiced in the heavenly blessing that had fallen upon

Denver. Special trains disgorged thousands of travellers, who were

caught up in the wave of religious enthusiasm directly they arrived.

The whole town was flooded with a sort of exaltation, and there was a

recrudescence of childishly superstitious beliefs, which broke out with

all the spontaneity and vigour that usually characterises the

manifestation of popular religious phenomena.

What would have been the end of it if Schlatter had not so decisively

and inexplicably disappeared?

It would be difficult to conceive of anything more extraordinary than

the exploits of this modern saint, which came near to revolutionising

the whole religious life of the New World. The fact that they took

place against a modern background, with the aid of newspaper interviews

and special trains, gives them a peculiar _cachet_. Indeed, the

spectacle of such child-like faith, allied to all the excesses of

civilisation, and backed up by the ground-work of prejudices from which

man has as yet by no means freed himself, is one to provide

considerable food for reflection for those who study the psychology of

crowds in general, and of religious mania in particular.

The case of Schlatter is not a difficult one to diagnose. He suffered

from "ambulatory automatism," the disease investigated by Professor

Pitres of Bordeaux, and was a wanderer from his childhood up.

Incapable of resisting the lure of vagabondage, he thought it should be

possible to perform miracles because it was "God his Father" who thus

forced him to wander from place to place. "All nature being directed

according to His Will," said Schlatter, "and nothing being accomplished

without Him, I am driven to warn the earth in order to fulfil His


Being simple-minded and highly impressionable, the first cure that he

succeeded in bringing about seemed to him a direct proof of his

alliance with God. As Diderot has said, it is sometimes only necessary

to be a little mad in order to prophesy and to enjoy poetic ecstasies;

and in the case of Schlatter the flower of altruism which often

blossoms in the hearts of such "madmen" was manifested in his complete

lack of self-seeking and in his compassion for the poor and suffering

which drew crowds around him. As to his miracles, we may--without

attempting to explain them--state decisively that they do not differ

from those accomplished by means of suggestion. The cases of blindness

treated by Schlatter have a remarkable resemblance to that of the girl

Marie described by Pierre Janet in his _Psychological Automatism_.

This patient was admitted to the hospital at Havre, suffering, among

other things, from blindness of the left eye which she said dated from

infancy. But when by means of hypnotism she was "transformed" into a

child of five years of age, it was found that she saw well with both

eyes. The blindness must therefore have begun at the age of six

years--but from what cause? She was made to repeat, while in the

somnambulistic state, all the principal scenes of her life at that

time, and it was found that the blindness had commenced some days after

she had been forced to sleep with a child of her own age who had a rash

all over the left side of her face. Marie developed a similar rash and

became blind in the left eye soon afterwards. Pierre Janet made her

re-live the event which had had so terrible an effect upon her, induced

her to believe that the child had no rash, and after two attempts

succeeded in making her caress her (imaginary) bedfellow. The sight of

the left eye returned, and Marie awoke--cured!

The saint of Denver could not, of course, make use of methods adopted

by doctors in the hospitals, but he had something much stronger and

more effective in his mysterious origin, his prophet-like appearance,

and his airs as of one illuminated by the spirit. Suggestion, when

acting upon those who are awake, spreads from one to another like an

attack of yawning or of infectious laughter. Crowds are credulous,

like children who look no further than their surface impressions.

The case of W. C. Dillon, who had been bent and crippled for years, but

was able to straighten his limbs at once under Schlatter's influence,

recalls that of the young sailor in the household of Dr. Pillet, who

for several weeks was bent forward in a most painful position. He had

received a severe blow at the base of the chest, after which he seemed

unable to stand upright again. He was put into a hypnotic sleep, and

asked if he could raise himself.

"Why not?" he replied.

"Then do so," said the doctor--and he rose from his bed completely


A remarkable thing with regard to Schlatter's cures is that they were

so frequently concerned with cases of paralysis. Now Charcot has

proved that such cases are usually found in hysterical subjects

suffering from amnesia or anaesthesia (general or partial loss of

sensation), and according to modern medical research paralysis and

anaesthesia are almost identical. We know, further, with what ease

hypnotic suggestion can either provoke or dispel partial or general

anaesthesia, and this applies equally to partial or general paralysis.

Paralysis is often, if not always, due to a simple

amnesia--forgetfulness to make use of certain muscles--which can be

overcome by suggestion. Schlatter, with his undeniable hypnotic power,

had consequently small difficulty in accomplishing "miracles"--that is

to say, in producing incomprehensible and inexplicable phenomena.

His custom of dealing with people in crowds gave him greater chances of

success than if he had merely treated individual cases. "Faith is the

only thing that cures," he declared--and, as if by magic, his hearers

became possessed of faith and intoxicated by the benefits obtained from

his divine intervention.

Truly the life of this impulse-ridden vagabond, so lacking in

self-interest, so devoted to the needs of the sick and poor, throws a

new light upon the souls of our contemporaries. There seems to exist

in every human being, no matter how deeply hidden, an inexhaustible

desire for contact with the Infinite. And this desire can be as easily

played upon by the tricks of impostors as by the holiness of saints, or

the divine grace of saviours.