Mary Scannell was born in Massachusetts in 1867. Her mother died when she was only three years old and she was raised by an aunt. It was 12 years after her mother’s death that Mary had her first spirit vision. That was followed by a seance during which a Native American girl named Bright Eyes spoke through Mary. Bright Eyes requested that Mary remain in the house and train as a medium for three months.
Mary was reluctant to train as a medium, declaring that she and her aunt should move from their home, but she eventually gave in to the spirit’s demand. Bright Eyes would speak through Mary for the next 34 years.
Mary spent her first 6 years holding private seances and tests as a medium. While married to her first husband, George Pepper, she worked with Abram H. Dailey to improve her grammar while under the spirit’s influence. After that time, she conducted public demonstrations in New England, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and at conventions of the National Spiritualists’ Association. She traveled extensively, including trips to Europe and Russia where she conducted “envelope readings.”
After divorcing George Pepper, Mary married Edward Ward Vanderbilt in 1907, despite the objections of his family who insisted Mary as an unscrupulous fraud. Edward apparently adored her and encouraged her to work as a medium.
Mary was president of Lake Pleasant Camp in Massachusetts for five years. A 1916 Banner of Life publication stated that people came “in carts, in wagons, in anything, the Lord only knows how they all get there” to listen to Mary. It was common to have over 5000 people attend her demonstrations at Camp Etna, a Spiritualists’ camp west of Bangor, Maine.
Mary continued to demonstrate her skills as a medium for 17 years at Camp Etna, and acted as its president the last 10 years of her life. After the 1918 summer season, Mary returned home and became ill. During her last address at the 71st anniversary of Modern Spiritualism, she declared her devotion to Spiritualism, urging all to be true to the cause. Her last words in public were, “I have found Spiritualism a good thing to live by, and I have come pretty close to finding it a good thing to die by.”
Her final bout with her illness passed quickly and she died April 27, 1919 in Boston. In accordance with her request, her ashes were interred at Camp Etna.
Reference: Mary. S. Vanderbilt: A Twentieth Century Seer, M.E. Cadwallader, Chicago, IL, 1921.