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On This Day in History, February 12: Brooklyn Woman Was Bedridden for Fifty Years

On Feb. 12, 1916, a Brooklyn woman who had lived through 50 years of being bedridden passed away. Her obituary in The New York Times was headlined: “Mollie Fancher, Fifty Years in Bed, Dies; Psychic Invalid Recently Celebrated Golden Jubilee of Her Imprisonment.”

As early as 1866, Miss Fancher’s story began to draw public attention. It was in that year that the Brooklyn Daily Eagle ran a story, without mentioning her name, headlined: “A Remarkable Case,” with these subtitles: “Terrible Condition of a Patient — The Nerves in Rebellion — A Continuous Trance — Persistent Muscular Rigidity — The Gift of Second Sight-Psychic Baffled — The Sufferer Lives Seven Weeks Without Food.”

In the ensuing years the claims of those who were convinced of her special powers appeared in various newspapers, often answered by skeptics. The New York Herald, in 1878, editorialized sympathetically, hoping that further inquiry would prove her powers genuine. Other papers, including the New York Sun, supported the theory that Miss Fancher was actually psychic.

Born in 1846, Mary J. Fancher moved to Brooklyn with her family when she was a child and was educated at the Brooklyn Heights Seminary. But a few weeks before her graduation, intestinal problems forced her to leave school. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of what became a lifetime of medical tribulations.

On May 10, 1864, Mollie was thrown by her horse and landed on her head. Knocked unconscious, it took her two months to recover from a concussion, double vision and two broken ribs. But that was nothing compared to what awaited her.

In early 1865, Mollie was engaged to be married to a man of wealth and social position. On June 8, 1865, she went to see her doctor, then was off to do some shopping. Boarding a Fulton Street streetcar, she was loaded down with packages. When the streetcar reached her stop she began to step down, but as she did so, the operator, who thought she had already gotten off, started the car forward. Mollie’s skirt snagged on the car, and she was dragged a block before frantic passersby were able to get the car to stop.

Again unconscious, with her ribs once more fractured, she also suffered severe injuries to her spine and brain.

On Feb. 3, 1866, Mollie, after months of treatment, was put into her bed at 160 Gates Ave., Brooklyn, never to leave it again for more than a few minutes at a time during the rest of her life.

While bedridden many more illnesses besieged the woman and her eyesight, hearing, speech, and sense of touch deserted her. Still she clung to life going from one trance to another. She was claimed to have special powers.

On the anniversary of her 50th year of bedridden existence, Mollie held a celebration on Feb. 3, 1916, of her ‘Golden Jubilee.’ Friends and relatives gathered at her bedside to share her triumph. But on Feb. 12, Mollie passed away. She lies at rest in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

On her monument is carved: “MOLLIE FANCHER knew the secret of life. Half a century in her bed, her dauntless spirit, cheerful patience and unfailing sympathy inspired many with courage to meet life’s problems. Forgetful of her own suffering, she carried the burdens of hosts of friends. Thru a life in industry, God granted her prayer: ‘Let me not lie with folded hands.’”


This article was written by Vernon Parker (1923-2004)

February 10, 2012 - 4:20pm


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