Henry Mercer: Man of Mystery

Updated: Nov 19

One benefit of vibrational sound therapy is that it sharpens intuitive abilities. All people have latent intuitive gifts, which vary; mine is mediumship. I've seen people in Spirit since I was young, but it wasn't until becoming a sound therapist that I learned to hone my ability. Now, spirit communication is second nature. It's what led me from atheism to belief in God (a favorite subject of people in Spirit is the joy of God's Love, in which they all dwell).


I don't talk about spirit stories involving those with living loved ones, but I'm occasionally visited by historical figures. I think telling their stories is fair game. Validating what I receive from a person in Spirit is a hobby that sometimes turns into a quest; as in the case of Henry Chapman Mercer.


Let me first provide a simpler example of a historical spirit story. One day I was visited by a friend who shared photos of a trip to England. That evening, a person in Spirit showed up. He said, Christopher. He had short tousled brown hair, bad teeth, body odor, and a sleazy party boy vibe. He showed what appeared to be a house of prostitution in olden times. He reminded me of Austin Powers. He repeated Christopher and a bird name, like Christopher Robin... or Jay?.... no... Hawk?... no... Wren! Christopher Wren. And then he was gone.


Yeah, baby!

I looked up the name, which I'd heard before. Sir Christopher Wren was an English architect born in 1632. He designed some of the buildings my friend (an architect) had visited. He was a successful gentleman of dignified character, with nary a whiff of scandalous behavior in his life story. So... the image I'd seen in Spirit, and the image of the real man (below), did not match up.


Party like it's 1699.

I am always prepared to be wrong, and outside validation is key, so I did more research. I found a lecture by a professor who thought Wren's success was partly due to cronyism and shady dealings in royal Court. He was a close friend and courtier of the reigning monarch King Charles II, who was known as "the merry monarch." His court was notorious for wild parties and debauchery.


King Charles II fathered at least 12 illegitimate children.

A contemporary account of Charles II's court, written by S. Pepys in 1667:


"The King and Court were never in the world so bad as they are now for

gaming, swearing, whoring, and drinking, and the most abominable vices that ever were in the world; so that all must come to naught."


I'd found my Austin Powers! Wren was definitely at Court around 1667; Wikipedia places him in London right after the great fire of 1666, and in 1669 Charles appointed him King's Surveyor of Works. I realized that Wren had shown me his true appearance, without his wig. And an aspect of his true self, which apparently has been lost to history.


Which brings me to Henry Mercer. I'd never heard of him and was trying to take a nap when he came through. He didn't show his appearance, but instead a large dark space crammed with stuff. He gave a name I misheard as Henry Wessler, also the name Hal, and a sad, wistful feeling; he liked to play host to guests but sometimes wished he had a hostess, "like everyone else." This led to a flood of information: he had homosexual feelings but lived in a time when that wasn't okay. He said some people in his time knew or suspected he was "queer" (his word, not mine). He didn't seem to be about sex acts, as much as a strong, yearning, dear affection. An image of two men spreading documents out on a table, and when their fingers touch, a thrilling spark.


He showed me a fondness for throwing things into the fire. I got the impression of a life lived with longing, confusion and disappointment, and a wish to be fully known, even by his own self while he lived. Once people cross over, they see the big picture and are no longer bound by human constructs such as fear, judgment, hate, and conformity to social norms.


Henry's eyes convey the feeling he gave me.

Henry practically led me by the nose to drive an hour to Doylestown, PA where he built Mercer Museum (validation: a large dark space crammed with stuff) and Fonthill Castle. Henry was an archaeologist, collector, artist, writer, and ceramist. I took a tour of Fonthill, and the guide said Henry's childhood nickname was Hal, so I checked that off my list of validations. But there was no mention of the other things Henry had shown, except that he did like to host guests. They said he'd never married because he contracted gonorrhea in his youth, which was incurable at the time.


I went on a second tour; still nothing, but this guide said Henry had destroyed most of his private papers before death, and redacted passages in papers that survive. I thought of him throwing things into the fire and wondered if this might be evidence he was hiding something. I attended a virtual talk titled Henry Mercer's Private Life, yet... nothing. An attendee did ask if there was evidence that Henry was gay, but the host said "evidence shows the opposite" because Henry fathered an illegitimate child in Europe during his youth, and had a female friend (Frances Lurman) he may have been engaged to.


The Baltimore Historical Society described Frances as "an independent woman who remained single most of her life despite a legion of socially prominent suitors." (She married 3 years before her death, age 76.) She's quoted as saying, "The reason I never married before was because I was not the marrying kind. I always liked being Frances Lurman and never wanted to be Mrs. Anybody."


Frances Lurman (1869 - 1950)

Look, I'm a straight middle-aged church lady. I don't know much about the gay experience but I do know that gay/bi men have been married and fathered children before living their truth. I think in Henry's time, living his truth was never an option. So this to me does not smack of "evidence to the opposite" of possible homosexual leanings.


Henry hired an assistant, Frank Swain, when Frank was 20 and they remained lifelong companions. Frank married Henry's housekeeper Laura at the age of 49 (Laura was 40) and they all lived at Fonthill together.


Frank Swain (1876 - 1954)

I didn't get any particular feeling from Henry while at Fonthill, except for a swift kick in my gut when we got to a portrait of his mentor Edward Cope, which Henry had painted himself (adding a beautiful butterfly on Cope's lapel).


Photograph of Edward D. Cope (1840 - 1897)

While reflecting on the tours I'd attended, I fully understood the position of museum scholars who interpret Henry's life... they cannot put forward theories without evidence. I'll go ahead and assume they don't want to hear from kooky spirit mediums. They have great respect for Henry, and knowing the kind of man he was in life, they won't dabble in conjecture. However, I wondered if there might be gay historians who have an eye for the signs of a historical figure who was compelled to hide his/her sexuality?


A google search turned up a few mentions: in an article titled A Private Man on queerestplaces.com, author Paula Martinac wrote, "...my gaydar started going off," when she read about Henry, and she felt his life deserved further study by gay scholars. She also referenced a book called A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture by Will Fellows, in which Henry earned a mention. I also found a Tweet by a user named "historiancole," who said, "Henry Mercer was a quiet, creative, book-loving bachelor who never married. Gay. I'm saying he's gay. He built himself a gay castle in Doylestown and honestly -- iconic."


Fonthill interior (mercermuseum.org)

This journey has taught me that many in the LGBTQ+ community feel historical figures have been interpreted through a distinctly heterosexual lens, and that needs to be addressed. In one last effort to corroborate what Henry shared with me, I bought his fictional work November Night Tales, and a slim volume published by a historical society that shared tidbits about his life. Both yielded clues that might point to Henry being a closeted gay/bi man, but I am not a scholarly researcher so I don't know how to go about proving this theory.


However, I do know a bit about people in Spirit. Some are just passing through, like Christopher Wren. Some visit for an important reason, and they won't let up until you deliver the message they want. Henry is the latter, so that's where I'm at right now. It's like the movie Ghost, when Patrick Swayze (a person in Spirit) keeps Whoopi Goldberg (a medium) up all night singing an annoying song, until she agrees to deliver his message. That is exactly what it's like.


So please, some scholar of LGBTQ+ history out there, look into Henry's life and see if you think he has a story to tell. How wonderful would it be if his contributions to society were remembered alongside (potentially) a struggle to live in a time when he couldn't fully be himself? And an acknowledgment of how unfair that is. If Henry lived in Doylestown today, I think he would be the happiest man alive. He was (and still is) very special.


In Memoriam: Henry C. Mercer (1856 - 1930)

Wishing you sound spirit, sound mind, sound body.


Mary


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