During the 1840s, a religion called “Spiritualism” began gaining popularity in the United States. Devoted to belief in the power of meditation, spirit guides, communication with the dead and the ability to foresee the future, followers often frequented the homes or offices of clairvoyants until Spiritualist societies were formed in their areas.
William Meadowcroft was one such clairvoyant who resided in Johnston. Born in England, he plied his trade from an office in Providence before joining with several others to organize the Spiritualist Society of Pawtucket Rhode Island on Nov. 11, 1906.
Besides Meadowcroft, the cooperation formed for religious teaching included the 49-year-old overseer of a printing company, Benjamin Birtwell; Aaron Brigham; Lillie Brackett; professional cook Waldo Chase; 38-year-old cotton mill weaver Abel Satchell; and 36-year-old Myrtle Mack, a card reader, palmist and clairvoyant who was known as “Madame Myrtle.”
The Society took out a two-year rental at St. George’s Hall in Pawtucket and began to hold worship services there several evenings per week. The very first service was opened by Lillie Bracket, welcoming the large turnout. Those gathered there sang the opening hymn before Meadowcroft read the invocation.
During that service, Abel Satchel, who would go on to become vice president of Providence’s New Thought Center Reading Room, presented a lecture entitled “Spiritualism Is A Common Sense Religion.” Madame Myrtle followed with her own talk on “The Growth of Spiritualism.” Voices rose once more to sing “Rock of Ages” before Meadowcroft displayed his abilities by providing inspirational flower readings to those in attendance.
Flower readings were a form of fortune-telling whereby someone would chose a flower from a vase based on which bloom seemed to be calling to them. The reader would depend on his or her knowledge of symbolism and flowers, paired with their intuitive abilities, to receive spiritual messages for the person who chose the flower. At that first gathering, the congregation was said to have been impressed by Meadowcroft’s ability in this type of reading. The service ended with all in attendance singing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” and the benediction.
During the many services which followed over the years, Meadowcroft offered attendees mediumistic tests in which psychic ability was measured and welcomed well-known mediums from other parts of the country to come and speak. Services were open to the public and anyone was welcome to attend.
“Reverend Meadowcroft” was also often a guest speaker at other churches. Just one year before his death, in 1934, he delivered the service and offered psychic messages to all attendees at Montgomery Street Spiritualist Church in Pawtucket. He passed away on Dec. 14, 1935, of heart disease and pleurisy and was buried in Walnut Hill Cemetery in Pawtucket.
Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.
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