Sylvain A. Lee, HypnotistI know that some of you, those truly fascinated by obscure history, have been tied up in knots over my previous post regarding the hypnotist, “LEE”. Who was this guy who, over 100 years ago, was hypnotizing people across telephone lines? Now the story can be told. (or at least another piece of it)
While this may not have been his real name, the full name used by our hypnotist was Sylvain A. Lee. I made this discovery upon locating a second poster, the fabulous art-nouveau lithograph shown at left. I also found that, besides his performing on stage, Lee was the author of at least one book, The Practice of Hypnotic Suggestion, in 1901.
Newspapers from the era have also been helpful, with more than one having made reference to Lee. (notice that I’ve dispensed with the all-caps now that Mr. Sylvain and I are better acquainted) A brief notice of a 3-night engagement in the April 30, 1896 edition of The Oswego Daily Palladium called Lee, “The greatest hypnotist of modern times.” Four years later, from the August 20th, 1900 edition of The San Francisco Call comes this description of an opening night:

“Lee the Hypnotist Mystifies Audience, Puts Some People to Sleep and Makes Others Perform Amusing Antics. Sylvain A. Lee, the hypnotist, opened his week at the California Theater last evening. He had a crowded house and a crowded stage, for subjects were numerous—and susceptible. There were a score or more who braved the invitation to come forward and for two hours they cut capers and played pranks at the word of the operator until the audience was in fits of laughter.”
And later in the same story:
“It was not all humorous work, however. One of the features was when Lee’s assistant was put to sleep and made rigid and four heavy men stood upon his body, supported under the shoulders and heels by chairs. Then Lee ran a hatpin through each of the man’s cheeks and another through his right arm, and with the pins sticking through his flesh the assistant went round through the audience for every one to see. It was done in illustration of the anesthetic possibilities of hypnotism.”

Unfortunately, there’s no mention of the telephone hypnotism act, due no doubt to the two-location aspect of that sort of performance. It’s even possible that the feat was only performed once, but that’s unlikely, as the posters of the day were typically used at multiple venues. So my posts about Lee A. Sylvain have been less about telephony and more about early stage shows, but that’s the way the blogging business goes sometimes. In fact, I’ll bet that Lee ran into the same thing, nights when the show its audience just didn’t mesh. One minute you dazzle them with hypnotic telephony, the next you’ve put them to sleep with pins through the cheeks.