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News as first DRAFT – Clairvoyant Day lived and left mysteries

“News is only the first rough draft of history.” The originator of this phrase and others very similar is difficult to name with assured accuracy. Admittedly, it is flattering of journalists and perhaps disputed by most historians who desire to base their work on primary sources not the findings, presentation, and analyses of journalists that write 365 days of the year under pressures of deadlines. Nonetheless, we know newspapers archives are used by historians. We know that 42 years of The Alley pages have been and are used by researchers and historians. We know that Sue Hunter Weir, author of Tales of Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery uses newspaper archives extensively. As with newspaper news, newspaper columns, or history it is always imperative to note the sources for the reader to use in tempering their own conclusions and opinions.

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery
BY SUE HUNTER WEIR

159th in a Series

Today’s major local newspapers are not as interesting to read as those of 100 years ago. That is partly a good thing; privacy laws and policies keep some of the more sensational stories out of the public eye. The bad part is that we lose a lot of human-interest stories—stories of loss and love, births and deaths, and of achievements both big and small. We now rely on smaller, community-based newspapers to tell us that about which our neighbors are concerned and proud. We depend on them to celebrate the lives of those who have died as well as those who are still here. We rely on them to tell us stories.

Lester Day’s story is one that received six days of coverage in the Minneapolis Tribune but would most likely not appear in a newspaper today. He died on November 25, 1907, from illuminating gas poisoning. Cemetery records don’t specify whether his death was accidental or intentional but according to the Tribune there was never any question that he committed suicide. They speculated about his motives: an unhappy love affair, financial embarrassment, and, if neither of those applied, a fit of temporary insanity.

In the hours before he died, Day was reportedly in “the best of spirits,” but a little after one a.m. on November 25th he locked himself in his hotel room and turned on three gas jets. He wasn’t discovered until about twelve hours later when the smell of gas leaked out into the hallway and other residents raised the alarm.

Day was something of a mystery. He was a clairvoyant who traveled a great deal, mostly throughout the Midwest. The police believed that at the time of his death he lived in Indianapolis but he had also lived in Denver, Chicago, Toronto, and Peoria. He did business under several different names, among them Leslie R. Davis and Dr. Lee Davis and although there is some question about it, Dr. Kinsley. In cemetery and death records his name was recorded as Leslie Day.

The Tribune consistently referred to Day as “Dr.” although he may have adopted that title to appear more credible to his customers. Even though clairvoyants’ work was associated with spiritualism, it was not uncommon for them to claim that their business was rooted in science.

The year that Day died there were 17 clairvoyants listed in the Minneapolis City Directory, but classified ads in the Minneapolis Tribune suggest that “clairvoyant” was a catchall for a number of different services. One man promised to remove “evil influences,” cure “witchery,” drunkenness, and tobacco habits. Others claimed to have healing powers, but the most sought-after service appears to have been predicting the future, especially in matters of love and money. A few claimed the ability to “reunite the separated,” presumably the living and the dead. Clairvoyants read tarot cards and palms, went into trances, or practiced magnetic healing. Madame Boswell claimed to be the only person in the United States to hold a diploma from the Ancient Egyptian Academy of Palmistry. Rates ranged from 25 to 50 cents a session.

Day had a colorful work history. In England he had been educated for the priesthood. From England he went to Australia where his career as a prizefighter landed him in jail. Upon his release he sold patent medicines and became a medium. In Indianapolis he was a spiritualist and as the Tribune described him, a “master interpreter of all life’s mystery, etc.”

Day must have been successful as a clairvoyant. He had half-a-dozen customers on the afternoon before he died, and when he was found, he had about $1,000 worth of jewelry, $105 in cash, and a certificate of deposit worth another $1,000. This might explain why three women, two of whom said they were his wife, claimed his body. The third woman accused the other two of being imposters and said that Day had never married. The two supposed wives were reported to be on their way to Minneapolis to claim the body and the Tribune predicted, “a lively scene is expected.”

Only one Mrs. Day actually came (the other had her lawyer send a telegram from Beloit) offering two different marriage certificates as proof  that she had married Day not once but three times. The first time was in Canada but that marriage proved to be illegal because whatever crime Day committed in Australia put him “under the ban of British law.”  The couple  went to Spokane and were married there but that marriage was not valid because “the bishop who married them…had his credentials canceled two hours after the ceremony.”  They found someone else to perform a ceremony and the third time seems to have succeeded.

The Mrs. Day from Indianapolis appears to have convinced authorities that she was the “real” wife. No mention was made of what happened to his money but after several days of reporting and trying to sort out the facts, the Tribune announced that “Dr. L. Davis, man of mystery, deposed offspring of British peerage, clairvoyant and seer, reader of the stars and intest* suicide in Minneapolis rests in the quiet of Layman’s Cemetery.”  One of the cemetery’s most colorful characters, Mr. Day is buried in Lot 27, Block W, in the 21st grave from the south.

*[intest: probably an abbreviation of intestate meaning he didn’t leave a will]

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