BACK IN THE DAY

The Warwick couple, Washington, and the fortune teller

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On Jan. 1, 1862, Franklin Burlingame of Warwick exchanged wedding vows with Sarah Adaline Pearce. They settled down in Washington, D.C., where he worked as a treasury clerk before opening a newspaper stand located near the main entrance at the House of Representatives.

Sarah helped with the running of the newsstand as well as taking care of their four children, Frederick, Charles, Mary and William. But in 1881, Sarah filed for divorce. According to her legal complaint, she had been very ill several months earlier, and Franklin took that occasion to move all the furniture out of their Sherman’s Row home and relocate it to the home of a woman he was having an affair with.

Sarah claimed that Franklin had taken on some strange religious beliefs and began an affair with a fortune teller whom he allegedly suggested move into the marital home with them. Sarah stated that when she refused such an arrangement, he told her that during the years of their marriage her magnetism had been lost and he needed a new companion.

The complaint went on to state that Franklin had a history of abusing their children, who had now been sent to stay with neighbors as Sarah was unable to care for them. The neighbors, who called Franklin crazy, supported her statements. The family who took in the youngest child, William, reported that he was covered with bruises, welts and running sores as the result of beating or kicking.

Franklin, whose legal residence was still Warwick, disputed her claims. She had accused him of ferocious treatment when she attempted to protect the children from him. He argued they simply had different ideas about parental discipline. The children were prone to lying and stealing, he charged, and needed to be punished.

As for her claims that she was concerned about his religious beliefs, he said that both of them had abandoned the Christian church eight years earlier to become spiritualists and follow the doctrine of free love.

Franklin agreed with her claim that he often spoke in a blasphemous manner but stated that it wasn’t true he talked vulgarly. He also disputed that he took their money and funneled it into improper channels, which led to her becoming ill. Her spinal disease, he explained, was probably the result of her sitting at the newsstand within a current of heat all day and then going out into the cold.

As for him abandoning his wife, Franklin said they had planned to move but Sarah was confined to her bed, so he left her the good furniture, sent her food, and waited for her to be well enough to join him. He claimed that after a while, she refused the food and filed for divorce, asking for him to pay her legal fees and $50 per month child support. He agreed to pay her whatever she wanted as well as allow her to have his newsstand and custody of the children so long as she left him alone. He stated that she had ruined his reputation and destroyed his business, as well as causing utter humiliation to the fortune teller, Myra Hall.

Myra Hall was an older woman who tipped the scales at around 200 pounds. She was a spiritual medium the couple had met months before at a spiritualist meeting. Franklin said the three of them had decided to move into a new home together but the plan went awry when Sarah brought home a disgustingly dirty, pipe-smoking woman who was almost constantly under the effects of laudanum.

Franklin charged that Sarah wanted the woman to sleep in their bed, so he moved into another room. At night, he said, he could hear them talking as the woman convinced Sarah to leave her husband.

After Franklin moved out, he and Myra and several other spiritualists opened “The Thought Exchange,” a meetinghouse where those of like mind could come and hear lectures and discuss their beliefs for a five-cent admission price.

A few months later, Sarah withdrew her divorce petition and issued a public apology to her husband. She claimed that everything she had said against him was untrue and that she had been under the influence of evil-intentioned people when she accused him of abuse, neglect and desertion. She added that she and Myra were now friends and that she didn’t believe the psychic had ever had an affair with her husband. Sarah had now joined Franklin at the new home on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Franklin died at the age of 50 in December 1890. Sarah died in the summer of 1912, at the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C.

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