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
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
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
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
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.