The Original Portland Eccentric

A century before Portland became a capital of quirk, the unconventional wife of a congressman shook up Stumptown with her mystical quests and outrageous out-of-body experiences.

The Original Portland Eccentric

During Portland’s Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905, Lucy Rose Mallory’s soul purportedly left her body and floated around the conference hall. Mallory, sixty-one, had a history of psychic episodes. She had begun experimenting with astral projection — out-of-body experiences — as a child in southwestern Oregon in the 1850s, and the lifelong interest culminated in the incorporeal travel she described as “one remarkable experience” at the 1905 Exposition. When her soul and body separated, she claimed she was aware of both selves simultaneously. Her claim was grandiose, but Lucy Mallory wasn’t the only one who corroborated it.

After trying in vain to get anyone at the Exposition to notice her, Lucy’s spirit left that location and ended up with a woman in an unidentified local kitchen. “Can you see me?” Lucy cried. “I am here in spirit.” The woman didn’t notice. Spirit-Lucy mustered all her strength and tried again to get her attention, which apparently worked, since the woman dropped her dishes and fled the room.

Drifting into another room, Lucy found a man who was evidently unfazed by apparitions, because when her ghost asked, “Will you please tell me where I am?” he calmly pointed out the window. “That’s New Whatcom over there,” he said.

Amazed that her spirit had traveled to a town 250 miles north on the Puget Sound, she asked the man to send a letter to her Portland address. Lucy said the letter arrived the next day — still a possibility in those days of mail-by-rail — proving to her that her experience was real. To ensure his letter landed safely — and perhaps to make sure he wasn’t crazy — the man asked for a letter in return, and Lucy obliged. Although history has neither his nor her return letter as evidence, Mallory wrote about all this in a 1917 paper titled “A Remarkable Experience” and published in World’s Advance Thought. “We have had these experiences since memory serves us,” she wrote (not invoking the Royal We, but portraying her body and soul as distinct beings). “But this is the only time we ever made another person see us in the spirit form.”

A petite, bird-boned woman, Lucy was soft spoken and modest, preferring to write her thoughts rather than speak them aloud. As the daughter of a Kellogg — a well-known family of Adventist vegetarians — she didn’t eat meat or wear fur, believing both to be profanely cruel. But she wasn’t dour. She never wore black, insisting it was the unflattering color of death. She preferred uplifting bright colors: yellow for love, blue for peace, purple for strength. She let her delicate body move freely beneath colorful frocks, describing the corset as a “badge of slavery” and a “woman’s prison-house” twenty years before easygoing flapper fashion would edge out the constrictive undergarment. Lucy believed in the power of kindness and positivity to bring about universal peace. She was a creature of the New Age, way ahead of her time, and Portland was the city that nurtured her.

A century ago, Portland was a mossy terrarium of political progressivism and esoterica, still largely untethered from the rest of the country’s old-fashioned ways. Portland women had the right to vote eight years before the rest of the country, Spiritualism and the occult were popular hobbies of the middle and upper classes, and New Thought — the religion based on mental healing and the idea that God and Divinity were found in all things — was all the rage. In 1898, self-help guru and Portland native Elizabeth Towne launched her magazine, Nautilus, from her home in the Goose Hollow neighborhood. Nautilus went on to become the most widely distributed New Thought journal, gaining more than 50,000 readers worldwide.

Metaphysics and creative visualization — practicing the power of positive thinking — were familiar terrain to Lucy Mallory, who’d been espousing her own New Thought ideas for years before the launch of Towne’s popular magazine. In his 1904 Calendar of Wisdom, Leo Tolstoy quoted Lucy Mallory as writing:

“I can send my thoughts to many different people at once; they will cross the seas and they will go to different lands if there is God’s will, and the power of love and wisdom. My thoughts by themselves are a spiritual power; they can exist at the same time in thousands of places. My body, however, can only exist at one place at one time.”

On the twenty-seventh of each month, from noon to half-past noon, her thoughts and those of thousands of other New Thought practitioners traveled around the world during what they called monthly “soul-communion” sessions. Soul communions were Lucy’s way of focusing positive thoughts from around the world onto a singular goal that changed every month. She included timetables in her journal, with the intention that Spiritualists in Paris, Rome, Dublin and Detroit could all think the same happy thoughts simultaneously with “the object being to invoke, through co-operation of thought and unity in spiritual aspiration, the blessings or universal peace and higher spiritual light.”

Lucy’s out-of-body experience during the Expo showed her that the physical and spiritual selves were separate entities. From then on, she wrote in the first-person plural, but she still struggled to reconcile precisely what had happened, noticing that during the episode, her spiritual self seemingly had a physicality of its own, and her physical self couldn’t feel or see her spirit-self during the walkabout. It seemed to her that if her physical body moved at all during her spiritual walkabouts, her out-of-body experience would abruptly end. Her spirit-self spontaneously appeared with her own consciousness and free will, and then returned to her body seemingly at random. But the most important thing, she figured, was that the experience left her feeling spectacular: “[The episodes] leave a Glory that does not depart from us.” With her difficult upbringing, she deserved this glory.

Lucy’s mother, Minerva Kellogg Rose, died alone while giving birth to her. Her father Aaron Rose abruptly remarried a striking Maleficent-type named Sarah who subjected Lucy and her sister to numerous cruelties. Besides withholding love and being generally sadistic, Sarah once beat Lucy for feeding a pie to a starving cow. “If you children ever tell your pa,” Sarah often warned, “I’ll kill him.” Little Lucy didn’t consider Sarah the kidding type, so she kept quiet. In the spring of 1851, the two Mallory girls, their brutal stepmother and their unwitting father boarded a wagon in Coldwater, Michigan, and trekked across the country to settle in a part of southwestern Oregon that he named Roseburg.

Lucy’s frontier upbringing was difficult, but childhood suffering left less of an impression on her than the moments that were touched by magic. She befriended an Umpqua Indian boy named Solomon, whom she called a “mystic and a philosopher.” Her stepmother was happy to have her out of the way and turned a blind eye to Lucy’s friendship during a time when white Christians didn’t think it appropriate to mingle with Native peoples. Lucy found Solomon enlightening. He taught her about nature and mysticism and how to communicate with the flora and fauna. He told her that “even the animals and trees had personalities like people, and were pleased or grieved.” Free from the perils of her stepmother’s anger, Lucy whiled away her afternoons by chatting with downy woodpeckers and rufous-sided towhees.

One time, when the Umpqua men were away hunting, coarse frontiersmen got drunk at the saloon near the Mallory home and murdered Umpqua women and elders in their village. The tribe’s retaliation was bloody, and Solomon’s family, along with hundreds of his people, were forced onto the Grande Ronde Reservation. Solomon died there within a year, and Lucy mourned his death for the rest of her life.

Lucy’s tenth birthday fell on a warm September day in 1853. It was the crisp start of the school year, and just as Lucy arrived at the little clapboard classroom in the bleached savannah of Roseburg, she was struck with a blast of psychic energy. In one quick second, she felt herself transformed from an ordinary child into what she described as something like a perfect embodiment of sacred joy. She discovered that she’d mysteriously attained divinity, incapable of any sensation but pure bliss. When called upon in class to recite her lesson, she recited it effortlessly, even though she hadn’t studied it. That day, she wrote, even pain and sorrow felt like ecstasy, and in her self-described apotheosis, innate wisdom and peace permeated her every bodily atom, as though she had been miraculously transported to a state of nirvana. Six months later, her psychic perfection evaporated just as mysteriously as it had arrived, leaving her once again as an ordinary child, bereft of her deific powers.

Lucy continued to experience joyful — if increasingly dissociative — psychic episodes throughout her life. Although she was never diagnosed with any mental illness, many of her strange traits are consistent with Geschwind syndrome, a personality disorder seen in patients with a type of temporal lobe epilepsy, the symptoms of which intensify over time. Even without electrical storms in her brain, early childhood trauma at the hand of her brutal stepmother would likely have informed Lucy’s preference for dwelling outside her own flesh. She alluded to a general disinterest in the bland tangibility of the physical, and although she dutifully produced a son for her husband, it’s also possible that she was asexual and, in that era, would have been labeled “frigid.” In an essay she wrote in 1917, called “Chastity,” she called the bodily, physical self an unsatisfying husk, writing that “[t]here is a higher and purer sex relation for those who live above the physical generative plane…Not until we have grown beyond carnal pleasures can we realize Heaven. True Pleasure, true Love, true Life, are of the soul, not the body.”

Lucy married Rufus Mallory at only seventeen, while he was working as a low-wage schoolteacher at the school she attended in Roseburg. Perhaps Rufus Mallory’s political aims weren’t clear to her yet, or even to himself, but he turned out to be her ticket out of that tiny town. He finished law school, worked as a successful attorney for a few years, and got elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1862. Lucy suddenly found herself the nineteen-year-old wife of a state Congressman. After retiring from Congress two years later (he served only one term), Rufus and Lucy moved from the state capital in Salem, to Portland, where a series of wise investments made Rufus a millionaire. He was one of the incorporators of the Willamette Bridge Railway Company, which expedited Portland’s expansion on the east side of the river that divides the city in half. He was one of the founding members of the Oregon Bar Association. Eventually he acquired the property on which the glittering Railway Exchange Building — home of the popular Huber’s Restaurant — would be built, and commissioned his own hotel, named the Hotel Mallory (now Hotel deLuxe).

Soon after moving to Portland in the 1880s, Lucy began holding meetings in her spacious Hawthorne District home for fellow Spiritualists, vegetarians, free-thinkers and free-lovers. Some were curious strangers who wandered in off the street. Others, like herself, were members of the eccentric upper crust, bored with earthly delights and eager to extend their wealth to the ethereal realm. Gilded Age Portland was populated with affluent nonconformists. By the early 1890s, many of them joined together in Lucy’s parlor to form the Association of Artists and Authors, the nation’s first anarchist creative association. With no bylaws, constitution, officers or dues, their only object was to promote the advancement of art, which they accomplished by meeting monthly to discuss such topics as impressionism, literature and the best techniques for painting a silhouette. Fortunately for many of its members, money was no object.

But Lucy wasn’t a flashy society lady blowing cash on indulgences. She spent their money furthering myriad causes — and must have spent vast amounts on postage for her many international correspondences. As a member of the Library Association of Portland’s board of trustees, she filled both their and her own library with books.

“Worldly wealth, unsoulfully acquired, will surely prove a curse instead of a blessing,” she wrote in 1887. But being married to a millionaire lawyer and congressman certainly had its worldly blessings for Lucy, even if Rufus’s wealth wasn’t exactly soulfully earned. (He had played a significant role in the conviction and execution of more than one Oregonian.) Perhaps it was in retaliation that Lucy used his money to promote prison reform.

Lucy launched her own newspaper, The World’s Advance Thought, with money she’d earned while teaching in Salem and by selling subscriptions. In Portland, she set up her Progressive Publishing Company in a tidy downtown office and hired newspaperman Horatio N. Maguire to assist with editing. Maguire was a seasoned journalist whose vivid and descriptive writing in The Black Hills and American Wonderland made Calamity Jane a household name, but Lucy wrote the lion’s share of her journal herself. In fact, toiling away in her frenzied hypergraphia, she wrote all of the text for the first few years. The cosmopolitan journal tackled an impressive range of subjects: prison reform and opposition to the death penalty, vegetarianism and animal welfare, millennialism and feminism (the New Era for womankind), utopian socialism, spiritualism and a range of Eastern religious beliefs. Lucy thought of her writing as her contribution to making the world a more thoughtful place, and her efforts resonated with readers.

The World’s Advance Thought had thousands of subscribers. Legions of fans in India sent her gifts of jewelry and embroidered silks — “missives from the psychic savants who were impressed with her outlook on the mysteries of life,” wrote The Oregonian. Her most famous fan was Leo Tolstoy, who quoted her more than a hundred times in his books A Calendar of Wisdom and The Path of Life, and considered her among Kant and Lao Tzu as one of the world’s great thinkers. “While people in America write as she does,” Tolstoy gushed, “I know the salt has not yet lost its savor.” Although he admitted that he didn’t agree with her views on resurrection and séances with the dead, he admired her morality, her quests for universal brotherhood and self-improvement. Mallory and Tolstoy shared many worldviews that embraced the spiritual realm over the physical, and they agreed on other tenets of New Thought and Theosophy — a philosophy originating in the fifteenth century that seeks direct knowledge of what binds divinity and humanity.

Lucy was deeply respected by high-profile peers, the movers and shakers of the occult world, even when she was relatively unknown to the majority of Portlanders in her own time and ours. Among Lucy’s more pragmatic Portland colleagues, there was fellow suffragist, writer and newspaper editor Abigail Scott Duniway, who called The World’s Advance Thought “an able, aptly named literary and reform magazine, for which [Mallory] does all the work of desk and composing room herself and does it in first class style.” The poet (and cousin to the Armour meatpacking fortune) Nora Armour Armstrong called Lucy Portland’s “presiding genius.” Lucy was close friends with the prolific occult writer W. J. Colville, who’d gained renown in the late nineteenth century for his works on the meanings of different aura colors, his widely read spiritual science journal, The Gnostic, and his exploration of the mysticism of the Kabbalah.

In a city that thrived on gossip, her reputation traveled widely, even though local papers didn’t take much advantage of Congressman Mallory’s offbeat wife as a source of potential material. There was the time one paper questioned whether she was such an animal lover that she considered swatting a fly to be murder. (She was such an animal lover, in fact, that she’d written effusively about various “pet” spiders that had taken up residence in the corner of her parlor.) Another paper derided her altruism, of all things, printing that “she is entirely too good or too silly, or too something for [this world].” Another time she drew amused attention from newspaper correspondents around the state when she published a long-winded editorial on the Gold Standard, penned by her husband. Naturally, she couldn’t help but issue her rebuttal — “The Silver Question” — right alongside it. “It is not for me to say who gets the best of the argument,” the correspondent quipped, “but it is no favoritism to say that the wife ‘argufies’ pretty lively against ‘her august lord and master,’ as the queen speaks of the king.” When he died in 1914, Rufus Mallory was worth the modern equivalent of over $15 million.

By the turn of the twentieth century, meetings in her social circles became more focused on solving pressing problems facing modern society, like how to educate children in ethics and abolish compulsory vaccination. As time went on, a certain urgency seemed to accompany the meetings’ subjects. Gatherings of the State Spiritualist Association, one of the groups she hosted in her parlor, maintained its purpose of “soul culture and spiritual unfoldment” (so declared the group’s mission statement), but one meeting in particular held more startling weight. It seemed that the planet was due for a shift on its axis, which the Association’s members predicted would cause the end of civilization, and an opportunity for the dawning of a New Life. The Oregonian printed (with bemused incredulity) that a “world-cleansing storm,” prefaced by the Gulf Stream going 400 miles off course, was prophesied to be coming soon in this Year of Our Lord, one thousand nineteen hundred and six. Frank E. Coulter, a luthier and former United Brethren reverend, was quoted as reassuring the attendees that “…Portland is a great spiritual center, and will be a center of the new awakening, which must have its origin on the Pacific Coast, where the people are receptive and progressive.”

In the century’s tween years, the world hadn’t ended and been reborn as predicted, but the City of Roses was still a center of political and social progressivism. By the first decade of the twentieth century, Portland had put the nation’s first female police officer on duty; the city had also become a Socialist and anarchist hotbed. Lucy was still there through it all, and her thoughts kept filling her paper’s pages. “The atoms or air bubbles in a piece of iron shoot through one another— as suns and stars through space — held in the elastic ligature of Living Law,” she wrote in January 1912, apropos of nothing. “Laws are elastic; consciousness and conscience are elastic; time and space are elastic.”

Sadly, time is not so elastic for physical beings. In the twilight years of her periodical, Lucy began writing more about death, and she eventually ceased publication a few months after her son finally lost a long battle with illness in 1917. “We are now at a Parting of the Ways,” she wrote with grim acceptance. “The Old is going out and the New is coming in.” Her work as a philosopher, humanitarian, feminist and animal rights activist were not enough to save her from the distinct grief of losing her only child, but it helped her confront her own mortality.

In the last issue of The World’s Advance Thought, Lucy wrote a piece called “Preparing for Death.” In it she maintained that the only way for the spirit to ascend from its earthly confines was “have the mind in a harmonious, peaceful condition and to see all things as beautiful” — in other words, to think happy thoughts. A few pages later she suggested that the physical is merely the shadow of the spiritual, writing, “you can no more separate Spiritual Life from material life than you can separate the thing from its shadow.” Lucy died two years later, but she trusted that her soul would once again wander free.