The 19th-Century Attempt To Build A Mechanical Messiah

By Debra Kelly on Monday, March 7, 2016
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“The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival.” —Franz Kafka

In A Nutshell

When John Murray Spear started receiving messages from the spirit world, some of them were from a community called “The Electricizers.” Led by Benjamin Franklin, the spirits guided him in building a mechanical messiah that would come to life and produce all the free energy the world needed, ushering in a time of prosperity and paradise while putting an end to slavery. Spear hooked himself up to the messiah and a “New Mary” gave symbolic, spiritual birth to it, but it never came to life. Ultimately, the messiah was destroyed by a rampaging mob of non-believers or possibly by Spear himself.

The Whole Bushel

A lot of people are waiting for the Second Coming, and most are content to just hold on until someone shows up. In the late 19th century, a Boston minister decided to take matters into his own hands and build his own messiah.

In 1852, John Murray Spear began receiving some messages from the spirit world. They were from the man he had been named after, John Murray, the founder of the Universalism movement. That was pretty convenient for Spear, as he was a Universalist minister—until he got some different orders.

According to Spear, a group of spirits that called themselves the Association of Beneficents and included illustrious members like Socrates and Thomas Jefferson had gotten in touch with him and passed along their manifesto.

They outlined the changes they wanted made in different areas of society, from education and government to marriage and science. Spear had also been gifted some magical water from the Kiantone Creek region of Pennsylvania, which strengthened his spiritual connections and pointed him in the direction of the Kiantone Valley for his new religious settlement.

Followers came, and buildings started popping up in the new community. Everything—from blueprints to the organization of the community—came from messages through the spirit world.

Those directives included something odd for a utopian, religious community: the study of electricity and magnetism.

Spear claimed to have received a whole host of instructions from his science-minded spirit guides, including plans for a levitating ship run on electricity, a hands-free sewing machine, and a body suit that could amplify voices from the spirit world. (Interestingly, he also proposed a wireless network that would allow the relaying of messages to the farthest reaches of the world.)

The crowning glory was to be the New Motor, a perpetual energy machine described to him by Benjamin Franklin and a group of spirits called “The Electricizers” on behalf of a higher power.

Spear called it “God’s Last, Best Gift to Mankind.” It was going to be an infinite source of free energy.

But it was even more than that. Spear, a staunch abolitionist, was convinced that the development of the machine was going to get rid of slavery forever and usher in a new, socialist paradise.

They started building at High Rock Tower in Massachusetts, given access to the site by some of their supporters. Construction took nine months and cost $2,000.

Sadly, there are no surviving sketches of the contraption. We do know that once it was finished, Spear himself donned a suit made of copper and zinc, hooked himself up to the machine, and tried to jump-start it using his own life energy.

There were also attempts made to impart a human spirit into the machine in order to bring it to life. These involved simulating labor nearby, an act to be undertaken by a follower called “The New Mary.” It was that idea in particular that had the locals talking, and none of the talk was positive.

Sadly, Spear’s messiah never came to life, even though some of his followers swore they had seen the machine move under its own power.

When some of his supporters suggested that he had been either misdirected or misunderstood the spirits’ directions, he moved the machine to upstate New York in order to better harness the electrical and magnetic energies of the Earth. That didn’t work either.

From this point, the official story is that an angry mob broke into Spear’s barn and destroyed the messiah in anger.

However, it’s also been suggested that Spear destroyed the machine himself after it failed to animate and that he then focused his attention on something a little more standard for utopian communities—the free love movement.

Show Me The Proof

“God’s Last, Best Gift to Mankind: Gnostic Science and the Eschaton in the Vision of John Murray Spear”
The Remarkable Life of John Murray Spear, by John Benedict Buescher
“Utopian Theme with Variations,” by Russell Duino