San Francisco History

Haunted Soap Factory


It Is A Mystifying Attraction for All Classes of People.


What the Rev. Dr. W. S. Urmy Thinks About the "Manifestations."


One Hundred Dollars Will Be Forfeited if Fraud or Deceit Can Be Proven.

All's not well at the haunted soap factory.

Those playful spooks which have been having all kinds of fun during the past few days by aiming bars of half-dried soap at employees and visitors have either grown tired of the frolic or are after a raise of wages.

At all events, when called upon to "show off" yesterday, they responded with but one or two feeble offers at grease-tossing--efforts which, had they been essayed upon a baseball field, would have been the means of relegating the performers to the hospital for "crockery arms."

And worse than this, the few "manifestations" that were by dint of persistent incantations conjured into action were of such an off-colored variety as to send quite a number of the spectators away wearing smiles of credulity.

The hair-raising qualities of one of the most thrilling stories that emanated from the beleagured soap factory last Monday have vanished with the confession of one of the witnesses, Dr. Fitzgibbon of the Receiving Hospital. The doctor happened to be one of the favored few permitted to attend the seance of that day. It was on this occasion that Detective Dillon met his memorable advance into the "rackroom" while the soap-dance was in full blast, and was rewarded for his intrusion by being "soaked" between the shoulders with one of the heaviest of the mushy bars.

The experience had the effect of jarring Dillon's disbelief in ghosts and facilitating his exit from the place. Now, Dr. Fitz was relied upon as a valuable supporter of the spook theory, for he admitted that he plainly saw that identical bar of saop rise in the air, then descend and light upon Dillon's back. The doctor still sticks to it that he witnessed the flight of the soap. But that is not all he now confesses that he saw. He beheld the supposed spook who threw the soap, and that was rather a healthy apparition, indeed, for it was none other than that "nach'al born joker," Otto Heyneman of Chief Lees' office. Otto also confessed when cornered.

Whether occult forces are at work or not, the publication of the queer doings at that place served to make it the center of interested to great numbers of people all day yesterday, and all classes, from ministers of the gospel to street arabs, were there to see for themselves what was going on.

Naturally the attraction was greatest for believers in spiritualism and theosophy, and representatives of both these beliefs were out in force. Several mediums made their appearance and offered to give the true and only solution to the mystery, some even going so far as to say they could put a stop to the demonstration at once. The students of theosophy had less to say, but said they could readily understand how forces from higher places could do what was done.

It was proved that nearly every little country newspaper from Maine to the Pacific Ocean had representatives in this City, for dozens of people applied for admission, claiming that they represented newspapers all over the country. One wise man who said he knew all about the matter told how when certain soap reached a certain age it developed electricity and this would cause it to fly through the air. To a theosophist he said:

"I don't believe in any of your mummery of skullduggery. It's as plain as can be that there's no spirits about it. It is all electricity, and anybody that knows anything knows that."

C. L. Curtis, manager of the company, said last night, regarding the statement in an evening paper that he had deceived newspaper men and had obtained free advertising by fraud:

"Such a statement is absolutely false. I have given to the newspapers the fullest and freest opportunities to investigate this matter. The Bulletin had two men there this morning--a reporter and an artist. While the artist was sketching the two girls two cakes of soap came flying by them and they both ran from the room and declined to make any further investigation. The Examiner was telephoned to four times last Friday and Saturday to send a man up to investigate the matter, but they ignored me, and this morning when a man came from that paper I told him that I would give him the same treatment his paper gave me. I ignored him and refused to talk to him.

"I am willing to put my factory in the hands of a committee of newspaper men, detectives and ministers and let them try to solve this matter and I will deposit $100 in any bank to be forfeited to pay for the advertising if it can be proven that there has been any fraud or deceit on my part. I have told nothing that I have not seen, and am perfectly willing to go before a notary and make oath to this statement."

The statement referred to is the following:

"SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 18, 1897.

"I am the manager of the Yucca Root Soap Company at 1155-1157 Mission street, where the strange and unusual manifestations have taken place in broad daylight in the presence of scores of people. I am absolutely positive that no physical or known force has been used in these manifestations.

"More than 200 cakes of saop have ben thrown from the racks in the drying-room since Friday last. I have made the most careful investigation and am positive that neither trick nor fraud has been perpetrated. The soap has been thrown with great violence, striking many persons. It has not only been thrown in straight lines, but has performed various circles and gyrations utterly impossible to any known applied forces.

"I have seen dozens of cakes of saop rise perpendicularly from the rack eight or ten feet and then scatter in all directions. The article in THE CALL of the 18th was wholly true and not overdrawn in any respect. Whoever says that I have in any way procured free advertising from the newspapers by fraud or deceit tells something that is wholly false.

"The most full and open investigation has been allowed to all the newspapers, and if the understanding of the representatives of some of them has been too obtuse to grasp the situation it is the fault of the structure of their brain, for which I am in no way responsible."

C. L. Curtis [signature]

Rev. Dr. W. S. Urmy, pastor of the First Methodist Church, was present yesterday when some of the soap was thrown and said last night:

"While I did not see the soap in the air, I heard it fall and now have a cake in my possession which was thrown. I am positive from my knowledge of the situation of the people in the room that it was not thrown by any person, and I am sure that no human being caused the soap to fall or throw it. I have no explanation of the matter, but I am sure that it was some invisible force that threw it."

Fred Erie, who is employed in the drying-room, gave the following signed statement:

"I saw the soap flying around every day since last Friday. One piece came and spun around on the floor several seconds. I have been hit at least eight times. It was not done by any one in the room. I will swear to this statement."

Fred Erle [signature]

Annie O'Connor makes the following statement:

"I have seen many cakes of soap in the air flying, some almost as high as the ceiling. I have seen it every day since it first began on Friday. I have been hit four or five times by the soap. It hurt, as it struck me hard. I saw the three cakes of soap go from the front of the room through the back window."

Annie O Connor [signature]

Lillie Coombs makes the following statement:

"I saw the soap flying every day since Friday, and have been hit three times. One blow on the head hurt me very much. I saw three cakes of soap go from the front of the room through the back window. Some of the soap would circle around in the air. It was not thrown by any one in the room."

Lillie Coombs [signature]

Detective Dillon said last night:

"I went to the soap factory, 1155 Mission street, Monday afternoon about 3 o'clock, being detailed by Sergeant Colby to investigate a report made by W. C. Curtis, the manager, and ascertain if possible the cause of the disturbance.

I asked for Mr. Curtis and he was pointed out to me by the typewriter. I told him I had come from the office of the Chief of Police, and he said, "All right; come with me." He took me to a room where four little girls were working; the oldest 16 and the youngest 12.

Pointing to Lily Coombs he said: "This little girl will tell you what she saw in the drying room," a room to the rear of where the girls were working used for drying the soap before being sent out. Some had been there, Mr. Curtis said, for a year and some for two years.

Lily then told me about seeing the figure of a man in blue overalls and a chocked shirt floating in the air in the rear part of this drying-room, and about the cakes of soap jumping from the racks in all directions. The center aisle was strown with cakes of different kinds of soap.

Mr. Curtis said he wanted me to investigate the matter and stop the damage done to his drying-room, and as there was a door leading to the rear I made Mr. Curtis fasten the door thoroughly with a stick, so that no one could enter that way.

Mr. Curtis then took me to a place like a stairway where there was a lot of coarse hair used for packing soap and two figures of Mexicans, male and female, which used to be on exhibition in the window, on top of the hair. I turned the rubbish over, tramped on it and satisfied myself there was nobody there. Then I looked for wires or strings, but could not find any, and then I got a broom and swept all the cakes of soap on the floor together, and made the girls put them in their proper racks.

I sat down to await developments and soon heard a cake of soap fall on the floor. Lilly said, "There's one," and I went back and saw it lying in the aisle. I put it back in its place and again sat down. In a few minutes three or four fell in the side aisles followed by about a dozen in the center aisle. I carefully examined the room and satisfied myself there was no one there.

I opened the glass door communicating between the room where the girls were working and the office and talked to the typewriter, keeping my eyes fixed upon the girls in the other room. Soon I heard the noise of a lot of cakes of soap falling and ran into the drying-room and saw over a dozen cakes in the center aisle. I returned to talk to the typewriter and another lot fell--about fifteen altogether.

I saw with my own eyes cakes of soap jump from the racks and shoot diagonally several yards. I saw a large cake strike Lily Coombs with consderable force on the right leg near the heel. There were no cakes of the same kind as the one that struck her in the aisle where she was standing, and it must have come from some of the other aisles. There was no one behind her at the time, either, and, recollect, the only entrance from the rear was fastened with the stick.

I reported at the Chief's office what I had seen and returned again to the factory with Detective Crockett, and others and we all saw cakes of soap jumping from the racks. I was there again yesterday afternoon with Detective Egan and others and they all saw the same manifestations. Didn't one of the cakes nearly knock Egan's hat off?

I distinctly say that I saw cakes of soap jumping from the racks and flying in differnt directions. Some people may cry "fake," but I am simply telling what I saw with my own eyes.

I don't believe for a moment that the girls were coached by Curtis or any one else. I believe they are telling the truth.

Source: San Francisco Call, 19 August 1897, page 12.


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