Not many people read Frankenstein and think “Hey, what a swell idea! I should try that!”
But John Murray Spear was not an ordinary man. Nor did he think so small as to merely attempt to create a living creature with electricity. No, Spear thought much bigger than that.
He wanted to use electricity to build his own God.
Spear was a former Unitarian minister who had been driven out of more than one church for his strange ideas (oh those straight-laced Unitarians and their rigid dogmas!) who took a turn toward spiritualism right after the Fox sisters started toe-tapping shenanigans. In 1853, supposedly following the instructions of a cadre of spirit guides (including Benjamin Franklin) he called the “Electricizers,” Spear and his followers began construction of his his electrical messiah, dubbed “New Motive Power,” on a hilltop in Lynn, Massachusetts.
“From the center of the table rose two metallic uprights connected at the top by a revolving steel shaft. The shaft supported a transverse steel arm from whose extremities were suspended two large steel spheres enclosing magnets. Beneath the spheres there appeared [..] a very curiously constructed fixture, a sort of oval platform, formed of a peculiar combination of magnets and metals. Directly above this were suspended a number of zinc and copper plates, alternately arranged, and said to correspond with the brain as an electric reservoir. These were supplied with lofty metallic conductors, or attractors, reaching upward to an elevated stratum of atmosphere said to draw power directly from the atmosphere. In combination with these principal parts were adjusted various metallic bars, plates, wires, magnets, insulating substances, peculiar chemical compounds, etc… At certain points around the circumference of these structures, and connected with the center, small steel balls enclosing magnets were suspended. A metallic connection with the earth, both positive and negative, corresponding with the two lower limbs, right and left, of the body, was also provided.
Once it was given life, New Motive Power was supposed to usher in a new era of heaven on earth.
After 9 months, they tried to give it life. Let me spoil the suspense for you: Didn’t work, though Spear claimed it did twitch feebly for a few minutes. Later it was supposedly torn apart by a mob of enraged townspeople.
Spear spent the rest of his life promoting spiritualism, free love, and socialism. (Speaking of gods that failed…)
I wonder if anyone has written the steampunk horror story where Spear succeeded, only to discover that building an electrical god based on instructions received from spirits turns out to be a really bad idea…