Lottie Fowler: The Psychic Who Officially Went Insane

In 1881, a Spiritualist publication called The Medium and Daybreak included a note about famed psychic, Lottie Fowler, having been transported from “an omnibus in Oxford Street and deposited at the same circle, the effect on her being such as to nearly cost her her reason.” She held onto her reason during that stay in London, but in New York eighteen years later, she lost it. And ended up in the insane ward of Bellevue Hospital.

Headline about Lottie Fowler from the March 26, 1899 Bridgeport Herald.

Headline from the March 26, 1899, Bridgeport Herald.

Fowler, whose real name was Charlotte Connolly, was born in Boston in 1846. As a young woman she fancied herself a spirit medium, changed her name, and began conducting séances throughout New England.

Though most considered her a run-of-the-mill fortune teller, she gained fame after moving to Bridgeport in 1870. There, she predicted that within a week an explosion at the Union Metallic Cartridge company factory would cause damage to the property, injure several employees, and kill one person. Many workers avoided the factory that week. Sure enough, six days later there was an explosion in the factory’s chemical department. Property was destroyed. People were injured. And yes, one man was killed.

A short period of mourning was followed by anger and Fowler was arrested, with the belief she had orchestrated the explosion. Some were ready to burn her as a witch. No proof was found, but a judge strongly suggested she leave Bridgeport. Immediately.

Of course, news of her prediction traveled and with it came a fortune. She toured New England once again, making sensational predictions which reportedly came true. From there, she took her talents overseas to Europe, eventually settling in London.

Aside from being transported from Oxford Street to Oxford Circus, Fowler amazed many with her talents. One such story, recorded in the same 1881 edition of The Medium and Daybreak, demonstrated her ability to know personal details from the past and present and predict events to come:

A few years ago, a nephew of mine, of whom I was very fond, got accidentally drowned while bathing in the sea. He was a bright, intelligent boy, and had occasionally had sittings with me. I felt his loss acutely, and was very anxious to get a communication from him, through a medium not knowing the circumstances. I forthwith went to London and called upon Miss Fowler, without giving my name or address or object of my visit. I told her I wished to have a sitting. Her first words on passing into the trance were:—‘You have come on a mission, not for pleasure.’ She then told me many of the leading incidents of my life, described minutely my wife and other members of the household, my surroundings, business, etc. She accurately told me how many brothers and sisters I had living, how many I had dead. She said: ‘Your mother is dead; she died some years ago,’ and described her. ‘You have a brother in America;’ all of which was correct. She then gave an elaborate description of two recent funerals in my family, with incidents in connection with them. She also described and gave the name of a spirit guide, which was a corroboration of previous communications through other mediums. My past, present, and future business then came in for a share of description, with useful advice as to the future.

After sitting about half an hour, and just as I was beginning to fear that I should not get what I most ardently desired, she said to me: ‘I see behind you a little boy;’ described his appearance and disposition exactly, and even gave the name he was generally called by, which is an abbreviation of his real name; the whole of the circumstances in connection with the accident, finding of the body, etc., and imitated in her person the act of drowning. To prove it was not thought-reading, there were some incidents in connection with this sad case, that I did not know, described, but which were corroborated on my return home.

From beginning to the end of the séance it was one marvelous unravelling of my interior life and its associations. As a great deal of it related to family matters, I cannot give them here. Suffice it to say, that the séance was a great consolation and benefit to me, and is one of the most extraordinary events of my life. Let any one go to Miss Fowler, and request a sitting as I did without bias, and I feel sure that they will not come away disappointed.

Elsewhere, per spiritualist records, for what it’s worth, Fowler predicted that the Prince of Wales would be injured during a drive, and that his coachman would be killed. In St. Petersburg she predicted the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. Like the people of Bridgeport, the Russians were not exactly enamored with this spooky woman. Considering her dangerous, they made her leave.

Hopefully Lottie Fowler had spirits to help her stay at Bellevue be more pleasant. Image credit: Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. "The sick women in Bellevue Hospital, New York, overrun by rats" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860-05-05.

Hopefully Lottie had spirits to help her stay at Bellevue be more pleasant. Image credit: Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. “The sick women in Bellevue Hospital, New York, overrun by rats” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860-05-05.

Of course, for all her hits she had her share of misses. The March 27, 1874 issue of English Mechanic and World of Science printed an article from the North British Daily Mail with an account of a failed reading in Glasgow. The visitor shared his experience, during which time Fowler suffered from a cold “which necessitated very often the unromantic use of a pocket handkerchief.” He made a point to mention this because he noticed that while Fowler was in her “trance” she was “never so totally oblivious when she sneezed as to forget the necessity of the unromantic application of the aforesaid article.”

Before beginning the session, this visitor, who was skeptical to begin with, asked, “how it was that Spirits came and showed themselves, as in London, at the beck and call of any medium who chose to advertise séances at five shillings a head.” In response, Fowler said, “the spirits were specially commissioned to watch over these manifestors, and therefore it was as much a business with the spirits as it was with the proprietors.” Sensing this was all a bunch of twaddle, he wondered if there were “any regulations respecting fines in case of absence of the spirits or anything of that sort.”

He then grasped Fowler’s hand, watched her twitch in spasms, and listened to her tell him his father was dead and his mother had swollen feet. Neither claim was true. He was then told he had three brothers and a sister, which was also incorrect. “I suggested the possibility of my being right in that respect, and the spirit being wrong,” he wrote. Still, Fowler proceeded to offer details about his non-existent siblings’ names and ages.

Lastly, he reported that Fowler told him “that my wife was a little fat woman, and of a wretched temper—that this was the grief that was consuming me.” This left him feeling especially uncomfortable with the medium.

“Nearly everything that was told me was exactly the reverse of what was really the fact,” he wrote. “Some few things were certainly correct, but seemed to be as much the result of guess as intuition—in fact, I am quite sure the spirit asked far more questions of me about my affairs than I did of her.”

The successes, as with any medium, are louder than the many failures that fall between. Especially with those prone to believe spirits are speaking from beyond.

But eventually her success faded.

By the time Fowler returned to the United States later in 1881, she had been nearly forgotten. Perhaps the obscurity led to loneliness and her madness. Or perhaps between the time she returned and her trip to Bellevue her mind grew tortured from the spirit voices in her head—or from thinking of all the people she fooled.

Fowler died shortly after her interment at Bellevue, in July of 1899.