When Hypnotism Doesn’t Go as Planned – A Dead Man with a Beating Heart?

Back in November of 1909, the New York Times Newspaper ran a very peculiar headline about a hypnotized man who was declared dead in the morgue with a still-beating heart. This man’s name was Robert Simpson, a piano mover and former streetcar conductor in Newark. At the age of thirty-five, Robert Simpson was working as a “leader” for Arthur Everton, a practicing hypnotist. On the night of November 10th, 1909, Robert Simpson was pronounced dead after a failed hypnotism and here is a recount of the tale.

What is a Leader & Why Was Simpson Working It?

According to the Weird Historian, a “leader” is someone who works with the man showman in their performance as a volunteer. This particular night, Robert Simpson was working with Arthur Everton as a leader, volunteering to be put under his spell and become hypnotized or placed into a cataleptic state. The performance was held in front of a live audience at the Somerville Opera House. The idea was to showcase Arthur Everton’s work as a successful hypnotist, hopefully roping others into wanting to be hypnotized as well.

What Did The New York Times Report?

According to the New York Times frontpage column, Robert Simpson was brought up on stage and was told that he would need to lay rigid across a set of chairs that were placed out by Everton’s attendants. Simpson’s feet were to rest on one chair while his head on another. The attendants stepped up onto Simpson’s stomach and then off again, while Everton instructed them to lift him to a standing posture. When Everton cried out, “Relax” Simpson’s body went to lax and he slipped out of the hands of Everton’s attendants, smacking his head on one of the chairs as he fell. He died in front of the audience that night.

Everton was charged with manslaughter and placed in jail. To avoid jail time, Everton proclaimed that Simpson may be in a cataleptic state and needed to be awakened. To back his claim, Everton pleaded to fellow hypnotists William Davenport and Professor Emeritus at Columbia University. They agreed that Robert Simpson could be in a suspended animation and Davenport tried to awaken him with phrases like “your heart begins to beat”.  To no surprise, the resuscitation attempts by Davenport failed.

Arthur Everton was eventually released as the autopsy report showed that Simpson died of a ruptured aorta and what caused the rupture could not be ascertained. Doctors stated that he died instantly, and natural causes were mostly to blame. A grand jury released Arthur Everton on bail and did not pursue prosecution.