Hidden History: Spiritualists reach final earthly destination at Ridgeway Cemetery

Hidden in Ridgeway Cemetery along the backroads of northern Osage County is a queer monument of stone. This grouping of stones is not any ordinary memorial, but rather a remembrance to a belief system held by former resident Hiram K. Reilly and other area individuals.

Hiram K. Reilly was born in 1839, the son of Hiram and Elizabeth Reilly. The entire family moved to the Ridgeway area around 1865. Hiram Sr. suffered from debilitating chronic asthma, which prompted his daughter to eventually reach out in 1871 for assistance from James R. Newton, a well-known spiritualist healer in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Dr. Newton wrote Hiram Sr. a magnetized letter, which Hiram Sr. credited with curing him. Magnetized letters were a method used by Spiritualists in which they would think about the disease and its location within the patient, which they believed infused the letter with spiritual magnetism and connect the healer to the patient. When the patient received this letter, they were instructed to wear it on the part of the body afflicted as long as the paper lasted to maintain a continuous connection between doctor and patient until their healing.

Hiram Sr. died in 1875, but believed that his nearly five years of healing was “a greater miracle than was ever performed by Jesus Christ.” Hiram Sr.’s story influenced nearly a dozen local people with his testimony of healing and promotion of spiritualism. Elizabeth Reilly died in 1891. Her stone in Ridgeway Cemetery reflects the family’s belief in spiritualism, depicting her spirit standing beside her physical body lying on her deathbed.

Elizabeth Reilly’s stone in Ridgeway Cemetery depicts her spirit standing beside her physical body lying on her deathbed.

Hiram K. Reilly followed closely the spiritual beliefs held by his parents. He and about 25 spiritualists in the Overbrook and Ridgeway organized a local society. These members included Hiram and his sister, Helen Perry, Cyrus Beard and his wife, Marie Rich, and Jacob and Rosemond Hey. Cyrus Beard at one time was on the board of directors of the Lawrence Spiritual Society, and Jacob Hey was the treasurer of the state convention of spiritualists. Rosemond Hey was noted as being subject to prophetic dreams.

In 1897, the Kaw Valley Spiritualist camp began having annual camp meetings in Ottawa, with local and notable spiritualist leaders drawing in many attendees from Osage County. That year, Isaac Farley, attorney and former mayor of Melvern, was the acting secretary of the Kaw Valley camp.

The Ottawa meeting featured speakers such as Will C. Hodge, who offered lectures on topics such as “The Effects of a False Education Upon Spirits and Mortals” and “Subject, Lights, and Shadows, or the Uses and Abuses of Mediumship” which called into scrutiny all the individuals practicing fraudulently.

Other speakers displaying their spiritualist talents at the meeting included Abby L. Lull, a local spiritualist minister who had started the first spiritualist temple in Topeka and went on to practice in Lawrence. Lull is quoted in Uriah Smith’s Modern Spiritualism (1895) as saying, “Spiritualism is the savior of humanity, because it is reaching out toward the criminal, and in its effort to lift humanity to a higher plane, it is laying the foundation for future generations … Spiritualism comes to cleanse out the dregs and wretchedness of humanity,” a message that was surely appealing to portions of the population.

For Hiram K. Reilly, this message and his father’s cure from chronic asthma was so pivotal that he created the tribute that stands, now broken, in Ridgeway Cemetery. The monument transcribes words from the book The Magic Staff, an autobiography written by Andrew Jackson Davis, aka “the Poughkeepsie Seer”, in 1858. Davis was influenced by early lectures on animal magnetism, or hypnotism, and later came to believe that he had the gift of clairvoyance. Reilly’s monument in Ridgeway Cemetery was erected in 1910, the year of Davis’ death. When Reilly died two years later, the monument was inscribed with the dates of Hiram’s own beginning and end on this spiritual plane.

For spiritualists, death was only a separation of the body from the spirit and taking another regular step towards the goal of perfect spiritual development.

Hiram K. Reilly created the tribute that stands, now broken, in Ridgeway Cemetery. The monument transcribes words from the book The Magic Staff, an autobiography written by Andrew Jackson Davis, aka “the Poughkeepsie Seer”. Photo by Wendi Bevitt.


wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She lived in Osage County for 20 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.


2 Responses to Hidden History: Spiritualists reach final earthly destination at Ridgeway Cemetery

  1. Wendi says:

    Hi, Connie! Those smaller markers are just text of The Magic Staff transcribed by Hiram, he never married or had children. You should go see the stones- they are really interesting! You can’t miss the monument, and Hiram’s mom’s stone that is pictured with this article, is just to the south of the monument 🙂 ~Wendi

  2. Connie says:

    Wendi Bevitt – I am hoping you can answer a question for me regarding this headstone/monument! The smaller ones (without looking again, I believe there are four) are they of the individual children born to her and Hiram Reilly?? And where is his gravesite if not next to hers?? Very very interesting article and I must get t there someday soon to view them!! Something my hubby and I enjoy doing!! TY for any response!

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