Archive for the ‘Webster Edgerly’ Category

1. Saw my first major league baseball game on Friday night.  The Braves crushed the Pirates.  Brian McCann hit two home runs (though I didn’t see the first one because we were ten minutes late) and Andruw Jones hit one.  Kind of a boring game actually, since it was a blowout, but a game is a game.

2. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” at least feels like a movie, unlike the last one which felt like all the important stuff was left on the cutting room floor.  It still didn’t do much for me – most Harry Potter films don’t – but if you’re a fan then you ought not be disappointed.  One criticism, though: I have always found it very troubling when films create characters who are villainous not only because they insufferably refuse to see the truth but also because they are actually, deep down, fascist people.  It seems to me that most of the time we are unwilling to separate, in our entertainment, characters who hold different / strongly opposing beliefs from characters who enjoy causing pain.  I find this a disturbingly ‘black vs white’ thing to include in a story that is aimed at children.  Even though the heart of the message is in the right place – i.e. that censorship only makes rebellion more likely.

3. For those who enjoy television and either don’t want a shelf full of dvds or aren’t able to purchase a series that they love due to unavailability (like “Strange Luck,” “Logan’s Run,” or “Blake’s 7”), I was just introduced to a great website today.  www.tv-links.co.uk.  It’s a site which collects links to full episodes of shows that stream online.  Including all episodes of Red Dwarf and Fawlty Towers.  Granted it’s largely just YouTube quality videos, but it’s nice to have a repository.  Just FYI.

4.  Research is consuming vast amounts of time right now.  Not much is changing in the Better Films Committee research other than minor tweaking to the knowledge.  I’m still waiting for another lightning bolt there.  Have also made some minor strides in the Edgerly research as well.  But nothing of enough importance or entertainment value to bother mentioning.

5.  One of the Edgerly books I purchased online recently – “Child Life” – included, as a bonus, an original Christmas card from 1897, at which time the Ralston Health Club apparently sent the book (to “Miss Emma F. Ginste”) free of charge.  A reproduction of the card is below.  I like ephemera.

Ralston Christmas Card - 1897

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Go over to Google and do a couple searches if you’d like to see something sort of impressive.

This humble little blog of mine is the tenth highest rated hit (out of 634) for the word “ralstonism.”

It is also the seventh highest hit (out of 24,600!) for the phrase “webster edgerly.” 

I’m frankly amazed.


While we’re on the topic.  Amazon has a listing for something that leaves my jaw on the floor:

Progression backward: An oration spoken by a High School Graduate on graduation day in the So. Com. M.E. Church on May 21st – 1870

For those who haven’t quite caught on…this is Albert W. Edgerly’s graduation speech. I had no idea such a thing was prominent enough to be published… I want it with white hot desperation…


One other little thing (or not so little), just because I ran across it right this second and want to save it.  Brainard Gardner Smith, in his 1891 text “Reading and Speaking,” cites an article called “How to Read Well” which he attributes to Edmund Shaftesbury.

The paragraph he quotes is this:

Edgerly paragraph

One of the things that I love most about this man is that I am not in any way opposed to the fact that he was a loon. I’m not obsessed with him to fulfil a desire for someone to make fun of.  In fact…his looniness walks a perpetual line between absurd and brilliant. I think this is quite an excellent idea on learning vocal control, and a nice form of thinking outside the box.

Essentially, he’s taking public speaking performance lessons into everyday life – read the paper and try to make someone think that you’re just talking spontaneously…

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As there’s little time right now for any ‘real’ updates (thanks to end of semester workloads), here’s a quickie on some things I’ve been doing.

1.  Things are going fine with Jennifer.  For anyone who’s wondering.  Though there’s little time to do anything particularly unpredictable or new.

2.  My research paper / first chapter of work on the Atlanta Better Films Committee is nearly finished, although I have recently discovered that there are ‘collections’ (not archives?) of information on Woman’s Clubs from across the state at the Atlanta History Center.  So research over the summer might alter the final version significantly.  However, it’s received good reviews from the few who’ve read it so far.

3.  Speaking of history, Jennifer’s research on 19th century comedy unearthed something kind of cool – laughing gas as a group recreational drug.  She showed me one advertisement in which people were invited to see what happens when Indians are subjected to laughing gas…after which, anyone who wishes may also partake of the gas.  It’s really interesting.  You’ll all have to read about it in 300 years when her dissertation finally gets published.

4.  We ‘interviewed’ and ‘road tested’ two applicants for the department (we’ve had two professors decide to leave next year…which sucks).  We can only hire one, and I think I know which it will be, but I just wanted to mention that the process had taken place.  Taking up much time over the last two weeks.  Maybe I’ll say more about the two candidates later when time permits.

5.  The baseball season has started.  My Cardinals are going to suck.  Alex Gordon currently sucks.  And I still believe (though I’m apparently the only one in the country) that Daisuke Matsuzaka is going to win 24 games; Japanese imports are always best in their first year (because hitters aren’t used to them) and the Red Sox offense is going to get him a lot of wins he wouldn’t normally get.  All these prediction of 14-16 wins are absurd, and slightly orientalist.

6.  Watched an old PBS (I think) three part ‘sci-fi’ drama last night from 1966 called “The Star Wagon,” starring Dustin Hoffman.  It was much too long, and played more like a stage play than a film, but it was quite good.  Hoffman gave a largely excellent performance (as did the others), and the concept was interesting.  It was about two people who invent a time machine, but it’s not really a time machine – it only allows you to change your position on your own timeline.  So they can go back to age 20 and try to take their lives a different way.   The unprobed idea of immortality (just repeatedly living your life in different ways) was promising and could make a fabulous story of its own, but this was quite good too.  Though it was a typical ‘the grass is not actually greener’ story, the element in which people actually found it really difficult to live their lives differently (the persistence of personality) was quite clever.

7.  Webster Edgerly news: Shaftesbury College in Baltimore was not fictional.  I have discovered an advertisement for it in the “Baltimore Sun.”  So, Edgerly was teaching at and operating two different colleges of expression at the same time…  This man is so much fun.

8.  I’m tired of being busy.  I want to read crappy old sci-fi (like a book I saw yesterday, titled “Gulliver of Mars: or Lieut. Gulliver Jones”).  I want to go antiquing.  I want to spend my time doing research on the Atlanta Better Films Committee.  I want to read no more David Bordwell…

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My Historiography paper topic was greeted with rapturous applause by my teacher.  He actually has been doing research on censorship and such in the early days of film in Atlanta, and this is an area he has yet to dig into.  So he’s quite excited that I’m going to be doing some work in the area.

The endless looking through old newspapers that I’ve been doing the last couple days has been fun.

This evening I ran across another online database for 19th century papers, so I did a quick check for Edgerly material.  Apparently 1896 was quite a watershed year for Ralstonism as a thing.  That was the year in which Edgerly began trying to set up a community at Ralston Heights.  (Which is something that I already knew.)  That same year, there was a quite vicious fight in the Denver Post over the merits of the movement.  (Remember, Edgerly is publishing in Washington at this point, so articles in Denver and Chicago indicate pretty far reaching influence.)  In March, a two page tirade against Edgerly was published as the first article on the front page of the Denver Post.  Three days later a large defense of Ralstonism was published on page five (which contains the unintentionally hilarious claim that Everett Ralson started the club, not Edgerly – the author is clearly unaware of [or concealing] the fact that Ralston and Edgerly are the same person).

It makes sense that the movement would have hit critical mass around this point.  Looking at publication dates on the books, I see nothing published prior to 1888.  And it wasn’t until 1891 that the philosophical book really started to dominate.  Most of his early books are centered on the oratory and expression courses he was teaching.  It makes sense, then, that Personal Magnetism, as far as Edgerly was concerned, began as a public speaking theory.  It then began to take on the health conscious attitudes as he developed a wider theory of the body.

That’s all hypothetical of course, but that’s how things are starting to look.  (This stands somewhat in conflict with Janet Six’s claim that he started the Ralston Health Club of America in 1876, the same year that he graduated with a law degree.  But I have found no corroborating evidence for her claim.)

Interesting that his progression towards ‘holy man’ coincides very closely with his job as a teacher, his second marriage, his rapid failure as a playwright, and the death of his sisters husband (and, presumably, Edgerly’s close friend)…

Too bad the semester is taking over my research time right now.  I really feel like I’m on the cusp of a good solid understanding of the man.


More new information. Huge moments come unexpectedly when reading old newspapers…


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Not that anyone cares, but there’s been a gigantic update to the Ralston Research list thanks to the 48 hours of research.

Nothing has been added to the biography because, frankly, it’s detailed enough; that will only expand when I go to write the actual book – if such a thing ever happens.

But the list of links to Google Book Search texts has become massive and split into three segments, and a whole new Edgerly book has appeared in the database!  Someone scanned and upload the “General Membership of the Ralston Health Club.”  So that makes four books now available via GBS.



Check it out. Someone thinks this old postcard of the Weltmer Institute is worth $200.

I respectfully disagree.

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For some reason, probably simply an over-active mind, I was unable to sleep much at all last night.  I believe I slept for two hours between seven and nine a.m.

So I’ve kept myself busy, over the last 24 hours, on a Webster Edgerly research binge of epic proportions, as it’s the only thing that keeps me from being painfully aware of how tired I am.

I’ve fleshed out my knowledge of his personal life more completely in the last 24 hours than I had managed to accomplish in the last two years.

– He was apparently quite the hound for the young ladies.  As I said before, he married Ella Glines when she was 18; Edgerly was 24.  He married his second wife, Edna Boyts, when she was 17; Edgerly was 39.  Methinks we’d have a bit of a problem with that nowadays; the times they have a-changed.

– His obsession with oratory and ‘mental control’ apparently started at an early age, as he was a founding member of The Everett Debating Society in Massachusetts when he graduated from high school.  Much like Edgerly’s pupils later at the Martyn College, they would give a yearly ‘public entertainment.’

– Janet Six’s article in the May/June 2004 article of Archaeology Magazine may well have rescued this man from obscurity.  (Though, of course, I can’t know that for sure – post hoc ergo propter hoc.)  Ms. Six apparently continued to do an archaeological study of the grounds of Ralston Heights; I have no idea if she left her work in any sort of ‘finished’ form, but I have tracked her to the University of Maui, and have a possible email address to contact her.  There was also, in a 2003 newsletter from NYU, a documentary filmmaker by the name of Brooke Nixon who was supposedly working on a documentary on Edgerly and Ralstonism called “Personal Magnetism.”  I have no idea how much research she did, or if the project is dead in the water.  There are also many little mentions of Edgerly scattered around the internet; a small following of independent ‘researchers’ has sprung up around the man.  However, my own work is far more complete, and far more intently focused, than anything else I can track down…

Still.  It would be interesting to ‘compare notes’ with some of these people.

I’m so deep into researching this man’s life, at this point, that it’s almost like personal family history.  I find myself wishing I could look at old pictures and put faces with the names…or perhaps flip through a diary.

It’s an odd feeling, actually, to be attached to 150 year old strangers (who have now been dead for longer than they lived) in ways that you’re not even attached to your own blood relatives.  There are people in my immediate family that I don’t know this well.

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I’m apparently getting relatively good at researching the history of this man.

This afternoon I managed to track his personal life back to Lynn, Massachusetts, as a young lawyer going by his first name, Albert W. Edgerly.   In 1881, he was embroiled in a rather infamous infidelity suit against his first wife, which apparently reached quite astonishing heights of town gossip, as the case received full write-ups in the Boston Globe.

In 1877 (apparently…my four articles seem to give conflicting years…and they’re blurry) he married an 18 year old girl named Ella F. Glines, and almost immediately accused her of infidelity.  He retracted his accusation relatively quickly as well, but by the end of 1880 had decided that she was indeed sleeping around quite freely and mounted a little sting operation against her.  He traced her to a hotel in Boston, and barged into the room with a detective, apparently catching her with another man (but only with her dress off; not in any flagrant activity).

This resulted in a libel suit in which Ella accused Albert of an elaborate conspiracy, insinuating that he even tried to pay the hotel owner $25 to skip town for a few days and not talk to the police.

I can’t find much on the case actually, as historical newspapers are hard to come by online in searchable forms (or at all…), and what is available is practically illegible.  I do know that he definitely divorced the woman, because he married a former student in either 1891 or 1892.  It also seems plausible that the notoriety from this case is what prompted his decision to use his middle name, Webster, and perhaps even the choice to publish his books under pseudonyms – Edmund Shaftesbury and Everett Ralston.

I’m so perversely interested in this man’s life I can’t even put it into words…


Other interesting Edgerly facts:

– Apparently in a publicity stunt, Martyn College of Elocution and Oratory (where he was teaching) was ‘challenged’ to a performance competition, in 1892, by the almost surely fictional ‘Shaftesbury College’ of Baltimore.  Unsurprisingly, Martyn College crushed the competition…  523 points to 32.

– In 1887, Francis Martyn (president of Martyn College and husband of Edgerly’s sister Lizzie) had fake money, that he was using to teach business courses, seized by the government.  Despite the fact that they were simply white pieces of paper, blank on one side, with “Martyn Commercial College Bank,” an eagle, and a denomination printed on one side, someone was apparently duped into accepting it as actual currency, causing seizure and destruction of the $200 worth of fake bills.  Professor Martyn was “consequently somewhat indignant over the matter.”

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