Anyone heard of Jesse Shepard?
Anyone heard of Jesse Shepard?
Anyone heard of Jesse Shepard?
Jesse Shepard was born September 18, 1848, in Birkenhead, England, to Joseph Shepard and Emily Grierson Shepard. The family migrated soon afterward to the United States and by 1849, had settled in Sangamon County, Illinois.
In 1869, Shepard, convinced of his "intuitive" musical talent, left for Europe to seek fame and fortune. His search continued the remainder of his life, ending only with his death in Los Angles, in 1927.
Shepard's autobiographical sketch makes clear that he had superb self-confidence in his charm and talent, for he launched himself on his world travels without funds, letters of introduction, or prior reputation. Yet somehow he found his way into the salons of Paris, where his musical improvisations and singing of operatic selections charmed his audiences and resulted in a string of invitations. As Shepard's popularity grew, he traveled from one country to another, spending weeks, or even months, at the homes and estates of many noted men and women of wealth and influence. Here he developed a nomadic lifestyle, characterized by a dependence on the generous offers of patrons for his support. With little money of his own, Shepard sought to entertain such titled patrons throughout Europe, including the Czar of Russia, and England's Prince of Wales. Alexander Dumas, the great French novelist, was so impressed by Shepard that he told him: "With your gifts, you will find all doors open before you."
In 1871, Shepard went to St. Petersburg, where he played for the Czar. Here, he expanded his already growing interest in Eastern mysticism and received instruction in the art of conducting seances. When Shepard returned to the United States in 1874, he visited the celebrated medium, Madame Blavatsky, in Vermont. She was the founder of Theosophy, a mystical, intuitive philosophy of life that appealed to many artistic and sensitive people in the late nineteenth century.
Jesse Shepard lived in Chicago in 1880, and reputedly gave seances in the home of a prominent medium. He claimed to be in touch with ancient Egyptian spirits, and put on a remarkable musical performance which included singing "in two voices," made possible by his great vocal range.
Shepard's "spiritualism" was limited to his musical performances. He did not claim to materialize spirits from the other world, or to relay messages from departed souls through table-rapping, trumpets or disembodied voices. He sometimes claimed that the spirits of famous composers or pianists performed through him and he considered his musical talents to be the result of intuition rather than study and practice. Shepard's mother did note in a letter, however, that her son took music lessons in his early childhood, so not all his talent was derived from spiritual revelation. In any case, his concerts (which included popular operatic selections interspersed with his own compositions) were usually given in dimly-lighted rooms, and described as "mysterious and entirely unique."
Sometime in 1885, Shepard met Lawrence W. Tonner, a man some fifteen years younger than himself, who became Shepard's devoted secretary and companion for over forty years. When Shepard was down on his luck in later years, Tonner supported him by giving French lessons or by working in a tailoring shop. A self-effacing man, Tonner's name seldom appeared in articles by or about Shepard and he did not even rate a listing in the San Diego City Directory during the years that he and Shepard lived in the Villa Montezuma.
When Shepard returned to San Diego ten years later, it was no longer a "placid region," but a bustling city. He made San Diego his home for two eventful years, during which he built the remarkable Villa Montezuma and underwent a significant artistic and spiritual transformation.
In 1886, Shepard was deeply involved in spiritualism. Although some people regarded spiritualism as quackery, many solid, sober citizens viewed it as a kind of non-denominational religion, emphasizing man's relationship to the spiritual presence of God. There was a First Spiritualist Society in San Diego whose members included such prominent people as Mrs. Alonzo Horton, wife of the city "Father," and Mrs. Edward Bushyhead, wife of the County Sheriff.
Shepard's first contacts in San Diego were probably with Spiritualists. Just as he had visited the Eddy brother's farm in 1874, in Vermont (where he met Madame Blavatsky), so may Shepard have been drawn to Hulburd's Grove in San Diego County. Here, at a cottage named "Searchlight Bower," (because it was dedicated to the "search for truth") lived Ebenezer Hulburd and his friends, Dr. F.C. Myers and Justin Robinson. They were all Spiritualists, with Robinson acting as the medium, attempting to contact spirits of the dead. William and John High, wealthy ranchers who lived nearby, fell under the spell of the Spiritualist cult.
When the High brothers met Shepard, they were so fascinated by him and his musical performances that they persuaded him to settle in San Diego and offered to finance the construction of the Villa Montezuma, an elegant residence where he could have his own "salons."
The Villa provided an impressive background, indeed, for the lavish receptions that Shepard accorded visiting celebrities, including California Governor Robert Waterman, and Shepard's famous cousin, the Civil War hero, General Benjamin Grierson.
SHEPARD'S final years served as poignant testimony to his chronic financial difficulties. Now an elderly man, Shepard depended upon his friend, Tonner, for economic support and encouragement. A small band of expatriots also lent support sometimes holding Sunday afternoon salons at which Shepard presided. He was forced to sell all but a few of the treasured possessions he still owned, and shortly before his death, pawned a beloved gold watch given him by Edward VII. A benefit dinner given for Shepard on the evening of May 29, 1927, marked his final performance. Appropriately, Shepard's long-time companion and confidante, Lawrence Tonner, described this occasion.
It was Sunday evening... We had a number of people invited for a musical recital at our home — about thirty. A collection was to be taken up. Mr. Grierson had played a number of his marvelous instantaneous compositions on the piano and had given the company a talk on his experiences and impressions of France and Italy.
He turned to the instrument and announced that the next and last piece of the evening would be an Oriental improvisation, Egyptian in character.
The piece was long, and when it seemed to be finished he sat perfectly still as if resting after the ordeal of this tremendous composition. He often did that, but it lasted too long and I went up to him — he was gone!
His head was only slightly bent forward, as usual in playing, and his hands rested on the keys of the last chord he had touched.
There had not been the slightest warning. He had seemed in usual health...and he had been smiling and laughing with the company even a few moments before he passed away.
Jesse Shepard was dead at 79.
Brilliant Z and thanks very much for finding that.
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