People often ask me why I moved to Portland, Maine. I give them as honest (i.e., as complete) an answer as I feel the situation warrants. Sometimes, I say I've been studying Portland as it was in the 19th century, and felt as though I knew the place. Several people have recommended to me a local historian, Dr. Shettleworth, and I would dutifully take note of his name, giving some non-committal response about hoping I might run into him, or that I might try to look him up, someday.
Recently, I ran across his name, and his bio, in connection with the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association building, which I described visiting in yesterday's (second) entry. It turns out he's actually the state historian.
Now, you might think that if I have such a strong past-life case, with such good evidence, all I would have to do is to contact a few experts, and present it to them. But first you have to get these people to take you seriously; and I have never, yet, gotten past that first hurdle. If you have read this blog for any length of time, do you seriously think I am such a flake that I deserve this treatment? Or is it a kneejerk assumption on the part of the expert?
In other words, at least they could give me a chance; but if I show all my cards, they never do. A few are at least gentlemanly about it. Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, the paranormal investigator, wrote back a few hasty lines, for example. I don't want to give you the impression that I'm constantly knocking at the door of these "nabobs" (as I would have called them, when I was Mathew). But on occasion, I cast my bread on the waters, just to see what might happen.
I wrote Dr. Shettleworth yesterday, and it's still possible I might get a response. Generally, however, even busy people with official posts check their e-mail daily, and find time to give a cursory response. I doubt I'm going to hear from him. You will recognize, of course, that authors and salesmen have to get accustomed to rejection. But usually authors at least get a pink slip. This is a matter of being perceived as a joke by these people. Definitely, the joke will be on them, in the long run--even if it takes having their life review, after they die. Then, they will kick themselves: "I actually had a chance to talk with a historical figure, personally, and I blew him off."
It doesn't really matter, to me. I'm not just saying that (I think) to sound tough. I've developed a fairly thick skin about these things. I have enough confidence in what I'm doing, not to question my work at that profound level, anymore--meaning, "Am I entirely, completely wrong?" As I indicated in yesterday's first entry, I know I can be mistaken, but not about the entire premise of my study.
And make no mistake, these rejections proceed from the profound level which dismisses the entire premise of my study. So much so, that I am not even worth talking to.
It is dangerous to become the state-appointed anything. State poet, state priest, state historian, etc. You start to take yourself seriously. One thing I've learned, is that in my narrow little area, I know more than the historians do. If you study anything assiduously every day for nine years, you get pretty good at it. Obviously, once I am outside of Mathew Franklin Whittier's sphere, I'm a rank amateur as a historian. I know precisely those things which came up in my study of his life. But I can take any published historical description of him, and poke holes in it. I'm not talking just about past-life memory, I'm talking about scholarship. There are two primary historical authorities on Mathew's life: Samuel Pickard, his son-in-law and the official Whittier biographer; and a student, Lloyd W. Griffin, who was his sole biographer (not counting biographical sketches and obituaries). Griffin relied heavily on Pickard. But Pickard was, as I believe, a closet sociopath, who was profitting off his marriage to Whittier's niece; and who had for many years been antagonistic toward Mathew. He gave Mathew deliberate short-shrift, to pump up John Greeneleaf Whittier's legacy.
I digress... the point is, if you want to know anything about Mathew Franklin Whittier, I'm the world expert--credentials or no credentials. And Mathew was a significant behind-the-scenes influence in 19th century New England, and specifically in Portland, Maine. Dr. Shettleworth could learn a lot from me, if he could humble himself and be open-minded enough to respond, and to treat me with respect, rather than dissing me. Keep in mind that he may not have read beyond the first sentence--so I may have been wasting my breath with everything that followed. You can see that I tried to get my credentials in there quickly, but it may not have been quick enough.
Still, it's a little early to make that determination, because he may only be busy. For now, I will simply reproduce the e-mail I sent him, here. You will see that it is respectful, rational, and worthy of at least a response in kind, even if you don't personally believe in reincarnation.
Dear Dr. Shettleworth:
I will make this as brief as possible, because generally I am not taken seriously. I am convinced that I am the reincarnation of Mathew Franklin Whittier, younger brother of John Greenleaf Whittier. I am the producer of an independent film, "In Another Life: Reincarnation in America," which aired on one PBS station in Denver in 2003, and is offered for sale to colleges and universities by Films Media Group* (the media arm of Facts On File), and I have a master's in Counseling and Human Systems from Florida State University (1981).
I moved to Portland this past February, partly to give me the opportunity for on-site research, as MFW lived here from 1839 to 1861. One of the things I discovered, in the course of my roughly nine years of research, is that it was Mathew who wrote for the Mercantile Library Association's lecture series in the Portland "Transcript." The reviews, running from their inception in 1852, through at least 1875, are unsigned. There are some reviews which I attribute to him, in the "Transcript," that are even earlier. MFW was, in fact, a reporter, so this isn't much of a stretch. His reviews, as I have identified them, include such prominent figures as Lucy Stone, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Ward Beecher, John Gough, Charles Farrar Browne and Samuel Clemens.
There is, of course, a great deal more to my study. I have determined that MFW published as many as 1,200 pieces, including humorous sketches, editorials, essays, adventure stories, travelogues and poetry. (All of this, now, has been digitized.) He began his career at age 15, writing for the Boston-based "New-England Galaxy," then worked as the de facto junior editor for two successive New York City newspapers. The bulk of his work was written anonymously under dozens of different pseudonyms--only his "Ethan Spike" sketches were ever associated with him (and even that was not of his choosing). Writing excellent work anonymously, it's inevitable that his work would be plagiarized and imitated. I have taken great pains to prove, as much as is possible, that he was the real author behind works claimed by a number of authors, some of who achieved various degrees of fame, thereby. This aspect of my study would probably be as controversial, to historians, as my reincarnation claim.
Whether one takes that claim seriously or not, I am convinced that Mathew Franklin Whittier is a significant missing piece of 19th century literary history, as well as a behind-the-scenes force advocating social change. For example, I have concluded that in the early 1850's, he was working under cover for William Lloyd Garrison, using a travelogue to report his contacts (rather than the mails, which would have been cumbersome and dangerous).
If this piques your interest, I would love to meet with you at your convenience. The Gallup Poll consistently tells us that from 21-24% of the American population believes in reincarnation. Contrary to popular opinion, that percentage is not entirely comprised of flaky new-agers. I continue to hope that I might encounter a historian who falls within that group, and hence will not simply dismiss me out-of-hand.
Admittedly, I have a selfish reason for contacting you--I would hope that there is some trace of Mathew's reporting for the MLA's lecture series in the records of the Maine Charitable Mechanical Association, and that you might be able to help me find it. In addition to the published reviews, I have a copy of a letter from Mathew to his brother, John Greenleaf Whittier, indicating that, in 1856, he had given four Spiritualist sermons at "Mechanics' Hall," which would mean the building previous to the one now existing. That building, as I'm sure you know, was roughly where the Portland Public Library stands, today. According to the letter, the Spiritualist Association also used what Mathew jokingly referred to as "Piano Forte Hall," which I have identified as the Andrews & Robinson Piano-Forte Manufactory.
I was able to access the 1860-1870's portion of the diary of Edward Elwell, editor of the Portland "Transcript," at Brown Library. There is no mention of MFW in it; worse yet, Elwell mentions the engagement of Mathew's daughter to his associate editor, Samuel Pickard, remarking only that she may be the niece of the poet. But there is abundant evidence that Elwell knew MFW personally, in the pages of the Transcript, itself. I have come to the conclusion that Mathew swore all of his editors and close acquaintances to secrecy, in an attempt to suppress his own legacy. (There is abundant evidence for his commitment to secrecy and anonymity, which rises almost to the level of a compulsion, despite the fact that it was fully justified during the years he was actively working for the cause of Abolition.) Unfortunately, Elwell would have been my best source to identify the author of that lecture series. I saw no mention of the series, itself, in his diary.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*I provided this live link in the e-mail:
Music opening this page: "The Great Historical Bum," performed by the
Chad Mitchell Trio, from the album, "At The Bitter End"