Dragon Lady chapter 9 and the Secret Service

The previous chapter of The Dragon Lady of Stockbridge introduced Abigail Lane, practicing magician in the United States Secret Service, Office of Occult Affairs. In this new chapter, “Defender of the Nation,”which you can link to here, we get to see just who Abigail is, and why she is trying to recruit the dragon lady’s help.

As I said in my previous post, the reason why there are magicians in the Secret Service has to do with history, particularly the history of Tennessee Claflin (1845 – 1923), whose birthday coincidentally is today. Tennessee’s name is probably unfamiliar to you. You might recognize the name of her older sister, though: Victoria Claflin Woodhull, free love advocate and the first woman to run for the United States Presidency, in 1872!

Tennessee Claflin

To explain how the Secret Service and Tennessee Claflin crossed paths, I offer the following abridged quotation from The History of the Office of Occult Affairs, P. S. Hughes, ed. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931):

“The Secret Service began in 1865 as a collection of wild men. They were hunting counterfeiters, and they needed to be as tough and wily and ruthless as the criminals they hunted. The Service’s second chief, Hiram Whitley, was a former military officer who had personally fought rebels, bushwhackers, smugglers, rustlers, thieves, and other criminals. There was no question that he was tough. But he was also respectable, orderly, and methodical, and when he took control of the Secret Service in 1869, he was determined to impose order and respectability on the agency. The Service has wrestled with its divided nature ever since, part wild law men, part orderly enforcers of the law. Nowhere has this been such an acute and continuing problem as in the Service’s offshoot, the Office of Occult Affairs.

“The Secret Service had originally been chartered only to hunt counterfeiters. However, in 1868, Congress expanded its scope to cover other acts of fraud against the government. So when Fisk and Gould tried to corner the gold market in 1869, the Service decided to investigate. Insuring the stability of the nation’s currency was a logical extension of their mission. And their new headquarters at 63 Bleecker Street in New York City were conveniently located to the Exchange.

“The very first magician the Secret Service ever hired set a portentous precedent for the future of what became the Office of Occult Affairs. First of all, it was a woman. The Service proper was and is a man’s world; there has never been a female agent. [No longer true: the first female agents were hired in 1970. – B.] But to investigate the gold corner, the Service had to work with the one magician who was in so many ways central to the scheme: Tennessee Claflin. Tennessee had shown magical talents since the age of five. She could read minds, locate missing objects, and communicate with spirits, as well as with her sister Victoria. Although she had a checkered past that included allegations of prostitution and a charge of manslaughter, in 1869 she was a respected member of society.

“What led Whitley to her was that Tennessee was also the mistress of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and was connected by a web of relations to the major players in the gold corner. Whitley hired Tennessee, both for inside intelligence and for her abilities as a magician. The information she supplied to the Secret Service was critical to the decision by President Ulysses S. Grant and Treasury Secretary George S. Boutwell to intervene in the gold market and break the corner on Black Friday.

“Tennessee Claflin may be regarded as the beginning of the Office of Occult Affairs. But it was a tenuous beginning. Claflin was not an official agent, just a person who was regularly employed by the Service in its investigations. She remained on the Service’s payroll into 1871 before Whitley decided he had no further use for her. She had no further contact with the Secret Service, and in 1877 departed for England.

“The Secret Service’s use of magicians might have ended with Tennessee, had it not been for Campbell Fitzhugh. In 1870, this enigmatic magician approached Chief Whitley . . .”

Ah, but that’s another story for another day.


About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
This entry was posted in Dragon Lady, History, Writing fiction and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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