The Mind Reader and the Anarchist

newman illustationWith the beginning of the United States’ involvement in World War I there came a general fear of sabotage and subversion from immigrants, pacifists and radicals. What came out of this paranoia was the American Protective League, an organization of “concerned citizens” whose purpose was to assure loyalty and patriotism in all sectors of the population. The League was created by Albert Briggs an Chicago advertising executive. In 1918 it entered into an official partnership with the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Investigation, the forerunner of the FBI. At that time the Bureau was understaffed and underfunded, so the additional resources provided by the APL was welcome. The APL investigated reports of enemy aliens, draft dodgers, food hording, disloyal utterances, union activities, saboteurs, radicals, and the like. They were known on occasion to resort to violence and sometimes worked outside the law. By the end of the war the organization had grown to over 250,000 members in hundreds of offices across the United States.
The records of the APL now reside in the National Achieves. These files present a rather scary picture of how paranoia during war time can lead to the subversion of the very laws and traditions the country is fighting to protect. It is a cautionary tale that has ramifications even today.

So this brings us to C. A. George Newmann (Christian Andres George Naeseth 1880 – 1952). Newmann performed as a mind reader and very successfully toured the Midwest for most of his life. He has been described as a true character. He had a wide range of interests and a true love for knowledge and literature. He also loved controversy and argument for augments sake.
His interest in literature got the attention of the APL, as can be seen in the following report:

Date: Oct. 1, 1918
From: A. F. Kearney
Place: St. Paul, Minn.
Title: C. A. George Newman Failure to register
At St. Paul. Minn: The following letter was received from the New York Office:
“Among the effects of the Mother Earth Publishing company, 4 Jones St., New York City, which organization was formerly run by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, anarchists, now serving in the Federal Prison in Missouri, a communication was found showing that one C. A. Newman of Kenyon, Minn., wanted a list of books which contained some of the most radical literature printed in the last ten years.
This letter indicates that this man is either an intellectual student or one whose name should be kept on your list constantly.”
The matter was referred to the Chief of the American Protective League, Red Wing, Minnesota, who furbished the following report:
“Replying to your letter of September 26th, the first subject, which is C. A. Newman of Kenyon, Minnesota, who has written to the Mother Earth Publishing Co., New York City for a number of books of a radical nature, would advise as follows:
A. C. George Newman was born in Holden Township, Goodhue County, thirty-three years ago. The birth records for that period being somewhat incomplete the exact date is not available. He is therefore a citizen of the United States. He travels as a magician and mind reader. He spends only a few hours in Kenyon this year and that was about two months ago, however, all of his mail of which there is considerable goes to him at Kenyon, Minn., and he has it reforwarded from there. His mailing address for the next few days is as follows:
Sept. 29th & 30th Barker, N.D.
Oct. 1st & 2nd Harlow, N.D.
Oct 3rd & 4th Devils Lake, N. D.
His mother, a Mrs. Hjermstead lives near Billings, Mont. and the subject of this letter has some of his mail forwarded to him at Billings, Mont. Some of his mail is also accumulated and then forwarded to him by express byAndrew Finstuen. No inquiry regarding this case ought to be made of Andrew Finstuen, as it would be quite likely to be unreliable. The subject is a single man. Mr. Finstuen gave out the impression just in an ordinary conversation to some of his friends on the street that the subject of this letter was registered at Sumbrota, but the facts are that his is not registered from Kenyon, Sumbrota, or any other place in Goodhue County. He is looked upon in the community which he calls his home as being a peculiar crank and from the impression gained by the writer who made a personal investigation of this matter, it would seem that this fellow is worth looking into besides just the fact that he may not have registered any place.
Trusting that this gives you satisfactory information and assuring you that I am pleased to have you command us at any time, we remain,
(Signed) F. E. Schornstein, Chief.”
A copy of this report is being sent to the New York office and also a copy to the Fargo office in order that subject may be apprehended.

So the chase was on for this potential radical.

Date: Oct. 11, 1918
From: James E. Daly
Place: Fargo, N. D.
Title: C. A. George Newman Failure to register
At Fargo, N. D. : Reference is to agent Kearney’s report for Oct. 1st.
The above mentioned report showed that Newman had arranged to receive this mail at Devils Lake Oct. 2rd and 4th, 1918. It was impracticable for an agent from this office to get to Devils Lake on either of these dates.
The Postmaster at Devils Lake today informs Agent that Newman left forwarding address to Kenyon, Minnesota, until October 30th.
It is not of course known that Newman has himself proceeded to Kenyon, Minnesota, and from Agent Kearney’sreport it appears that practically all of Newman’s mail goes to Kenyon and is forwarded from there to him.

The trail leads back to Minneola where an agent is dispatched to investigate.

Date: Nov. 12, 1918
From: R. L. Hewitt
Place: St. Paul, Minn.
Title: C. A. George Newman Failure to register
At Red Wing:
Referring to former reports in the above matter: Agent proceeded to Kenyon, Minnesota and called on Nora Goodfellow, Post-mistress at Kenyon, who sated that subject has left a forwarding address for his mail to be sent after October 10th to 1126 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Postmistress stated that all of the mail received by subject was of a theatrical nature.
Upon request from Agent she stated that she would notice very carefully for the next few weeks the kind of papers and literature which she was forwarding to the subject at his Minneapolis address.
On Agent’s return to Minneapolis tomorrow this case will be continued.

Finally, Newmann is located and the investigation reaches its final stage.

Date: Nov. 12, 1918
From: R. L. Hewitt
Place: Minneapolis, Minn.
Title: C. A. George Newman Failure to register
At Minneapolis:
Referring to Agent’s former report under date of November 8th, Agent called at 1126 Marquette Avenue, where the subject was rooming, and asked him for his Registration card, which he produced and showed that he had registered on September 13th with the local Board Division #8, 430 Shubert Building, St. Paul, Minnesota. Subject showed Agent about his room and explained his work, which he said, during his leisure time consisted of clipping pages from all magazines, and putting them in book form. The principal subjects covered were on Economics, Mind Reading, Phycological (sic) matter, and after these clippings were bound in book form, Subject stated he expected to give them to a University.
Agent looked carefully thru’ the books, papers, clippings and magazines in the room, and was unable to find any Socialist literature or Anarchistic papers or literature of any kind.
When conditions are good, the Subject has a theatrical act, consisting of Mind Reading, etc., which he plays in small towns throughout the Northwest. When he is not working at this, his time is employed as per statement above.
This case is closed unless further evidence is reported.

The investigation did not turn up any evidence of unpatriotic activities. However, it does show that throughout Newmann’s career he was compiling the notebooks he is so famously known for. Many of these volumes now reside in the Library of Congress. A fitting place for these works of a lifetime.

1. Federal Bureau of Investigation German Case Files, National Achieves, Washington, DC
2. Megan English, The New Everyman,
3. Emerson Hough, The Web, Reilly & Lee Co., Chicago 1919 (published by authority of the Directors of the American Protective League)
4. James Alfredson, Newmann – The Pioneer Mentalist, David Meyer Magic Books, Glenwood, Illinois, 1989

Enjoy and good hunting

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