Following up on a July blog post from Marc Demarest, Prince Felix Nepomuk de Salm-Salm was the first person to be named as the original of Chevalier Louis de B-, in an 1876 review of Ghost Land. More details about these allegations will appear in the forthcoming edition. His Wikipedia biography reveals some obvious parallels with certain aspects of Chevalier Louis. But Louis was alleged by Emma to be alive in 1872, 1876, and 1892, while Salm-Salm was killed in battle during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. If anyone authorized Emma to use his likeness as a model for Ghost Land, it would have to be his widow. Agnes Joy de Salm-Salm has inspired several recent biographies, the two most recent of which, Soldier Princess, and the Prince and the Yankee, I have ordered and will soon read.
The obvious problem with Salm-Salm as a model for Louis, other than his death date, is his very minor interest in Spiritualism. In the fourth chapter of her memoir, set in 1863, Agnes describes her explorations in Spiritualism, under the guidance of Mrs. James Speirs:
Another lady from whom I received much kindness, and whom I remember with great pleasure, was Mrs. James Speirs, the wife of a wealthy broker. She was an English lady of very good family, and I became much attached to her. She was very lively, and at that time an enthusiastic spiritualist.
The spiritualistic epidemic was then commencing to rage in America. One heard of nothing but of spirits and of mediums. All tables and other furniture seemed to have become alive, and you could not sit down upon a chair without a spiritual suspicion.
When I became acquainted with Mrs. Speirs she was still in her first flush of enthusiasm, and most anxious to convert every one to her new creed, which upset our long-entertained notions, and was in direct contradiction with the teachings of my religion. I therefore treated spiritualism as heresy, and defended myself against its contagious power. The more I doubted, however, the more eager became Mrs. Speirs to convince me. Her husband being, like most brokers, more of a materialist than of a spiritual turn of mind, treated these new-fangled things as deception and humbug, but being also a well-trained husband he let Mrs. Speirs have her way, comforting himself with the hope, supported by experience, that this fashionable fancy would die out with time, and give place to some other less dangerous to the brain.
I have been told that spiritualism originated in Germany, like mesmerism, which has been connected with it. Though this belief seems to have died out in Germany, it is still in full bloom in America and in England, where spiritualism, in all its many different shades, counts its believers in thousands, in spite of common sense and religion.
It would be almost impossible, and lead me too far, to describe all the nuances of this sect, which includes mesmerism, somnambulism, free-love people, &c. The leading feature of this creed is, however, at least as I understand it, the belief that the spirits of the dead do not pass from this earth, but that they remain here amongst us unseen, occupying different spheres, and fulfilling more or less high duties according to their more or less virtuous life in the body. Some who did evil have become bad spirits and oppose the good ones. Which duties are allotted to all these spirits of the different spheres, I could not exactly make out, for I cannot think that making strange noises, causing tables to dance and performing all kinds of useless and childish tricks, should be their only occupation. Though I, as I said before, resisted this epidemic on the ground of religion and common sense, I could not help becoming interested in this strange aberration, and feeling tempted to witness some manifestations of spiritualism. The Prince, however, tried to dissuade me from such an attempt, as he was afraid that the excitement would act too strongly on my imagination. I therefore abstained from visiting some of those public exhibitions of professional spiritualists, but did not resist the entreaties of Mrs. Speirs to have some spiritual entertainment at home, against which good Salm had no objection….
We had several of such private spiritual entertainments, which amused me much. Though I did not believe in anything supernatural, I was puzzled as to how the things I had witnessed were produced, for what I had seen and heard was indeed surprising and wonderful, and well calculated to turn weak or imaginative brains.
Sometimes things would not go on in the regular way. The questions were answered all wrong, and the whole spiritual world seemed thrown into confusion. The mediums were not at a loss to explain this state of things. They ascribed it to the influence of the evil spirits who counteracted the doings of the good ones, and we were requested to assist the latter in their struggle with our magnetic influence. We succeeded; the evil spirits were driven from the places they had usurped, and things went on in the regular spiritual manner….
I tell the facts as I saw them. They are indeed strange, and I cannot explain them, but these knocking and noisy and sawing spirits are too absurd. When I soon afterwards went to Washington, Miss Sugden gave me a letter of introduction to a celebrated tipping medium, and once when Salm visited me there we invited that lady to entertain the company with her spiritnal performance. The lady sat down to play at a very heavy piano, which, after some time, commenced moving, two of its feet being lifted some inches from the ground. We were astonished, but the gentlemen present laughed, and Salm said that he was also a tipping medium, and could perform the same feat without the spirits. He sat down, and after having run over the keys the piano moved in the same manner as before. He had simply pressed his. knees under it, and lifted it on one side an inch or two. The detected medium received her five dollars, and retired somewhat confused.