Called Back from the Borderland

Clues were forthcoming that presented an altogether frightening picture of a tormented soul

Nancy and I have received such positive response to our true story of Gail Nelson, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," that we are posting the story of Anne Neumark, a young woman who also overcame trauma, and with the help of Edgar Cayce, found new meaning in her life. This article, “Artist in the Asylum,” has been adapted and expanded upon from our book, True Tales from the Edgar Cayce Archives, Lives Touched and Lessons Learned, (A.R.E. Press, 2015)

  • Water-color painting by Anne Neumark, circa 1936

Anne Neumark: The Artist in the Asylum

By Sidney D. Kirkpatrick

Thirty-two-year-old Anne Neumark, strapped to a gurney at New York City's largest insane asylum, was a perplexing case. Her mental condition was considered hopeless and her physical state deteriorated to the point that she was having to be fed intravenously. How her twin sister, Sadie, found her way to Cayce and obtained help for Anne, was nothing short of a miracle.

Sadie Neumark discovered Edgar Cayce's work at a presentation by Cayce and three New York holistic health physicians whose patients routinely sought his council. The lecture was given on the evening of December 6, 1938, in the ballroom of the McAlpin Hotel, on the corner of Broadway and 34 Street in Midtown Manhattan, what is today New York's Herald Towers. Among the topics Cayce and the physicians discussed were alternative therapies for the mentally ill. At that time, mental illness was rarely discussed outside of medical school. A presentation open to the general public was even rarer.

  • The "Three physicians and a Psychic" lecture at the McAlpin hotel. (Edgar Cayce is seen seated on the stage at the far right.

Sadie had not intended to be at the McAlpin Hotel that evening. She knew nothing about Edgar Cayce or his holistic approach to mental health. Exhausted after a long day of work as a seamstress, Sadie had been walking home along Broadway to the Greenwich Village apartment she shared with her mother and younger sister. She was passing the McAlpin Hotel when she was caught in a sudden and thunderous downpour and ducked into an open service door for shelter. Once inside, she found herself standing at the back of a hotel ballroom where a lecture was already in progress. She might not otherwise have paid attention to what was being said on stage had it not been for the dramatic appearance of an unexpected visitor who was also standing at the back of the ballroom.

Speaking from the podium was osteopath Harry Dobbins who was sharing the story of a former New York postal employee who had been sent to an upstate mental institution. Physicians had diagnosed the postman as suffering from a stress-related mental illness but were unable to ascertain the cause of his condition. An otherwise normal and well-adjusted forty-six-year-old husband and father, he had returned home after work and exploded with sudden rage, beating his wife and nearly killing one of his three children. The police had been called in, and he was subsequently remanded to an insane asylum, placed in a padded cell, and could not be safely examined for several days without wearing a straitjacket.The postal worker's wife knew about Cayce from her sister, who was a nanny for the children of David Kahn, Edgar's best friend, and a long-time champion of the trance readings. With Kahn's help, she obtained a Cayce reading, and thanks to Dr. Dobbins, treatment for his condition. The reading identified the root of the problem as an accident in which the postman had slipped on a patch of ice in front of the post office and injured his spine. Dobbins administered the osteopathic treatments recommended in the reading and after fourteen sessions, the patient recovered completely.

Dobbins' words came as a revelation to those in the audience as it illustrated how instances of apparent mental illness could have physical causes. "Postal rage," at the time, had not yet been given a name.

As Dr. Dobbins recounted the story, he had no idea that his former patient, Thomas Scanlon, was in the audience. To everyone's great surprise, Scanlon, described as a giant of a man, stood up at the back of the room and announced: "I am that man, and everything that the doctor said was true!"

Scanlon had never before publicly identified himself.  Mental illness was one of those conditions that was generally only discussed in private among family members and physicians. Seriously mentally ill patients were simply locked away in asylums.

Scanlon chose to go public about his experience because he wanted to help others. He also wanted to meet and thank Edgar Cayce in person. He had been restrained in the hospital in New York when Cayce, in Virginia Beach, had diagnosed his condition and recommended a treatment. They had never met in person.

As Scanlon stepped up to the podium to shake Cayce's hand and tell his own story in his own words, Edgar began to cry, as did audience members. Among them was Neumark's twin-sister, standing in the back of the room.

  • Both Sadie Neumark and Tom Scanlon were both standing at the back of the ballroom when the lecture was given

Unbelievable as the story seemed to her, there was Scanlon himself, returned to his former position at the postal service, substantiating the treatment provided by Dobbins that had been recommended by Cayce, also on stage.

What Sadie didn't know, but something that would later prove crucial to her sister's recovery was that David Kahn, who had paid for Scanlon's osteopathic treatment, and Edgar's son Hugh Lynn Cayce, who had been instrumental in coordinating their efforts, sat in the audience. And joining Cayce and Dobbins on stage were Dr. Harold Reilly, considered by many to be the father of physiotherapy, and Dr. Henry Hardwicke, New York's pioneer nutritionist. By sheer coincidence—Divine intervention fans of the Cayce work would later say—the six people who would be necessary to save Anne Neumark's life were together in the same room.

No sooner had the lecture ended than Sadie rushed to the front of the stage and begged Cayce to listen to her sister's tragic story.

  • (left) Anne and Sadie Neumark and their younger sister (right) Goldie in their 1923 passport photo

Anne, a Boston art student, had moved with her mother and two sisters to New York with the dream of becoming a professional portrait painter. The first public showing of her work in the city, at a prestigious Manhattan gallery, had been extremely well received, and she was poised to gain a foothold in a difficult and highly competitive profession.

  • "Climbing the City," a drawing by Anne Neumark in 1930

Then, inexplicably, Anne began to act irrationally. She would suddenly burst into tears and become violent, and the next moment, laugh uproariously and fall into a stupor. She destroyed some of her own artwork and art supplies, injured herself, and then others. Physicians did not know how to help.

For her own sake and those around her, Anne was committed to the psychiatric hospital on Wards Island, what had formerly been known as Blackwell's Island, which is adjacent to Ellis Island, the Port of New York. "The island of the undesirables," as the property was referred to in the press, had a history of employing convicts from a nearby penitentiary as guards and orderlies, a practice that contributed to grim tales of madness, mistreated patients, wretched conditions, and wrongful confinement. "The insane asylum on Blackwell's Island is a human rat-trap," investigative reporter Nellie Bly wrote. "It is easy to get in, but once there, it is impossible to get out."

  • Nellie Bly’s expose on the Blackwell Island insane asylum

Not surprisingly, Anne's condition continued to deteriorate. After an episode in which she tore up her mattress with her fingernails, restraints had been put on her. Unable or unwilling to eat, her weight dropped to a mere 80 pounds and she was now being fed intravenously. She no longer recognized family members, nor could she communicate in any comprehensible manner.

Electroshock therapy proved ineffective, and she was now considered so weak from anemia that any sudden shocks to her system might result in her death. At the rate at which Anne was losing weight, Sadie and her other sister, Goldie, and their mother, Helena, believed that she might not live out the new year.

After hearing her story, Edgar took hold of his son Hugh Lynn's arm and told him to set up an emergency appointment for a medical reading. David Kahn, too, stepped in and volunteered to visit the asylum and consult with her physicians to ascertain the veracity of the story. He would eventually do much more by having his attorneys intercede on behalf of the indigent Neumark family to obtain Anne's release from the asylum.

Edgar was initially reluctant to give the unfortunate girl the attention she so desperately needed. This was not out of lack of empathy, but because her condition was so advanced. He already had a long waiting list of desperately ill people waiting for readings.

"Possibly should not have undertaken this reading for Anne Neumark," he confided to Kahn, "but have been so anxious that something be done for her—wanted to do what little we could, so tried it; and yet, have a lot on the waiting list that have been and are overanxious."

Kahn—the first member of the Cayce team to visit her at the hospital—was under no illusion as to her mental health. "Had you seen her the first day when I visited her, I believe you would have thought, as did the doctors, that she would never recover," he reported to Cayce in Virginia Beach. "She was absolutely a wild maniac." 

Edgar's friend was also made painfully aware of how difficult it would be to get her the help she needed at the hospital. There was "no treatment except mis-treatment," Kahn wrote. Subsequently, he and his attorneys succeeded in overcoming the monumental legal hurdles to remove her from state care. He rented her an apartment and hired a full-time caregiver who assisted Dobbins and the other physicians who treated her.

The first of six medical readings, conducted on January 13, 1939, suggested that her condition was indeed dire, but recovery was possible. Similar to the condition suffered by postal-worker Tom Scanlon, the cause of her mental illness was linked to a spinal injury in her lower back in the lumbar and coccyx area. Strangely, no explicit reference was made in the first reading to how she had suffered the injury. This was a curious thing considering the frequency with which commentary was provided in most other medical readings.

All that was said regarding the cause of her condition was that "unspeakable" advances had been made to her, which had caused both physical and emotional injury and resulted in her impaired mental state.

"The activities through which the entity passed have shattered its hopes, its aspirations—by the advances that were unspeakable to the entity, the MENTAL self, the higher self. And in the attempt to escape, and finding self trapped as it were, the physical exercise and activity in the attempt shattered the connection between the cerebrospinal and sympathetic system, especially in the coccyx and lumbar areas. Losing consciousness, the entity became a prey to those suggestive forces as were acted upon, and by the injection of outside forces to keep that hidden as attempted upon the body. Then, in its present environs, there have been only moments of rationality; and then NO one to respond brought greater and still greater depression to the better self."

Whatever the experience, Anne had become "prey" to the desires of another. To "escape," her higher-self or soul-forces had become detached from her earthly physical self. She had entered what Cayce called "the borderland," and he strongly recommended that great care needed to be taken as she was "so near possession." What exactly this meant was never made clear. However, in the months ahead, as more readings were given, clues were forthcoming that presented an altogether frightening picture of a tormented soul.

  • Anne Neumark’s application for membership in the Association for Research and Enlightement

Foremost on the list of Cayce's recommendations was to remove Anne from the hospital and place her in an environment Cayce described as one of "gentleness, of kindness, of patience." A full-time constant care attendant was necessary, someone who was physically able to control her, but also do so in a "loving, kind and patient manner." That person, Cayce said in her second reading, should be someone who acted "not merely for the money," but in "the Christian spirit." Further, Cayce said, "if those who are desirous of being of help will pray ABOUT it, they will receive direction!"

Malnutrition, not anemia, was at the root of her weight loss, a condition that could be remedied with plenty of nutritious whole foods. In addition to osteopathy, which would help repair her cerebrospinal system, she was to undergo treatments with a "wet-cell," a device frequently recommended by Cayce hospital which transmitted a mild electrical current through the body. In Anne's case, the appliance was to be used in conjunction with a solution of gold chloride, which would modify the current to a particular frequency that would supplement the body's ability to heal itself. Although any number of physicians could conduct the treatments, Dobbins was identified by name as being the most suitable.

In closing, Cayce encouraged everyone working with her to know that the results would be well worth their efforts: "The beauty of this soul, its abilities as a creative influence in the lives of those who may bring it back... from the very borderland, is worth all the effort, all the love, all the kindness one may give."

Kahn, who visited Anne several times before the reading was given, confirmed everything that had been conveyed by Cayce. Anne had the appearance of an anorexic, and her body was covered with black and blue marks from efforts the staff had made to restrain her. And this was putting a positive spin on what Kahn described as the brutal manner in which she was being treated in a hospital where a small staff of physicians, nurses, and orderlies were caring for a population of over three-thousand mental patients. The last "bout" with her caretakers had somehow resulted in the bones of one of Anne's feet being broken. It thus came as no surprise that the first recommendation that came through in the reading was to remove her from the hospital.

Kahn took the opportunity to conduct interviews with the hospital staff, Anne's mother, and her two sisters. His sleuthing, combined with the references in subsequent readings, suggested that there had indeed been some undisclosed physical as well as mental injury which had brought on her condition. Specifics would not be discovered for several weeks, but from what Kahn learned, immediately prior to her mental collapse, she had made an appointment with a man who claimed to be interested in buying her artwork and introducing her to the greater community of New York art patrons. Anne's mother and sisters did not know whether or not she had visited the man, but it seemed too great a coincidence that the scheduled appointment had coincided with her outbursts. Family members had not been able to query her on the matter because, by the time details were forthcoming, Anne couldn't be communicated with.  She had begun raging and was incomprehensible. Strangely, she would rant about a man carrying a black umbrella.

As Kahn continued to investigate this matter, and Dr. Dobbins began daily osteopathic treatments, another reading was conducted in Virginia Beach. The news was hopeful. Her condition was improving; treatments, as specified in the first reading, were to continue. Further, the legal hurdles had been overcome and arrangements made for Anne to be moved into private care. The most important determining factor was the care provided by the person hired to be with her.

"Willing for hire is one thing," Cayce cautioned. "Willing because of the love and the human element is another. Willing because of the physical, mental and spiritual experiences is still another."

Anne was moved into a private home in close proximity to Dr. Dobbins' Staten Island office so that he could more easily visit her. Here, she improved remarkably. She still couldn't communicate in any comprehensible way, and wasn't at the point of being able to feed herself, but the outbursts were fewer and farther between. A straitjacket was no longer necessary.

When Cayce conducted his fourth reading on May 4, 1939, there had been so much improvement that a full-time professional caregiver was no longer necessary. Her mother took over, aided by her two sisters. Anne was now able to communicate in full sentences. Though she couldn't remember events prior to her hospitalization, she hadn't lost her painting skills. Though there were periods when she merely stared blankly at her easel or wouldn't go near it at all, she gradually began sketching.

As Kahn would report: "On my visit... she was as quiet and demure and sane as any person you have ever met. The past is an entire blank to her. She does not understand how she is in her present surroundings except that, as I told her, it was for rest, quiet and proper care in a convalescent hospital for people who have had shocks."

The fifth reading in the series, conducted on July 26, confirmed what the family knew to be true: Anne continued to improve in just about every way. The only unusual aspect about this reading was a curious remark in which Cayce, in trance, revealed details of her mental condition that, the reading clearly stated, were not to be shared with the patient. She was too emotionally fragile; the injury which had led to her mental illness had left scars that were not physical, and still needed healing. This was indeed a most unusual thing to come through in a reading, and was repeated in a subsequent reading: "There's so much to withhold... This had best not be given just now. There are too many turmoils still within the experiences..."

Kahn, with the help of family members, the Cayce readings, and eventually Anne herself, ferreted out clues to what may have happened. Anne had been asked to bring samples of her artwork to the apartment of a potential customer. She did so, and was brutally attacked. In the struggle to free herself, she had injured her spine. The nervous shock coupled with the injury had brought on her insanity. No mention was made of the mysterious umbrella, but one could only imagine.

There might have been more than this alleged assault that triggered her mental condition. Anne's sister, Sadie, confirmed a reference in the readings to 1936, when the family was living in Boston, before coming to New York. Anne had received a commission to paint a portrait of a woman who had recently died. The woman's husband loved his wife dearly and wanted Anne, working from photographs, to capture her likeness exactly as he remembered her. Anne, who much preferred working from a living model, struggled with the portrait as never before. She would shutter herself up in her room for days at a time, obsessing over the painting and neglecting everything else.

Was the "possession" referenced in Cayce's first reading for Anne somehow related to her 1936 portrait commission? If David Kahn or Edgar Cayce discovered the truth or learned more about what had happened, there is no record of it in the Cayce archive or Kahn's personal papers.

Anne's physical healing, and then emotional healing, continued to improve as further readings were conducted. Though at this point Anne was not yet aware of the trance readings being used to treat her, or even who Edgar Cayce was, she knew something strange and unusual was taking place. A man named David Kahn gave her a job in his office, and some of his friends from faraway Virginia Beach were helping her family.

Kahn continued to note her daily improvement, as did Dobbins, who reported in July: "She looks perfectly marvelous, is much more active, laughs a great deal more, and I caught her singing several times. We try to find excuses for anything that is funny. I think there's nothing better than good hearty laughing to loosen one up."

Over time, she started asking who Edgar Cayce was. When she found out that he was the source of the medical help she was receiving, she wrote him a letter, and he, in turn, wrote her back, offering encouragement.

He then received a response back to his letter several days later. "Dear Mr. Cayce: Thank you very much for the letter. I appreciate your interest in me a lot. I too have heard so many nice things about you; it seems so strange to write to you and have you all [in Virginia Beach] like me without ever having seen me. I trust someday to be able to do something for you in my own work."

Her ongoing pen-pal relationship with Edgar would result in her obtaining what was called a Life Reading, which proved to be most revealing. In the incarnation before being born as Anne Neumark, she had been a woman named Mana Smyrth, who lived in Salem, Massachusetts, during the witch hunts, where she had suffered persecution and been brought "under submission" by being repeatedly dunked underwater. From this incarnation she had developed a fear of men, a condition exacerbated in the present. Her love of art and talent as a painter had been developed in an earlier incarnation, when she had been a student of Peter Paul Rubens, one of the greatest artists who ever lived.

"Hence in the present we find that the entity's activity should follow in this line [of artistic endeavor], whether in oil or in the watercolor," Cayce reported in her seventh reading, which was conducted in November 1939, nearly a year after Sadie happened into the McAlpin Hotel lecture.

Neumark followed the advice in the readings. She would go on to become a highly accomplished New York art teacher and portraitist, with paintings in several museum collections.  Today, after Neumark's passing, at age 91 in 1997, her reputation is still growing. The portrait she painted that Edgar personally prized was one she did of him when Edgar visited her in New York in 1940. He hung the portrait over his mantle in Virginia Beach, not only for the beauty he found in it but as a constant reminder of the good that could come from the readings.

  • 1940 portrait of Edgar Cayce by Anne Neumark

  • Gertrude and Edgar Cayce in their home with the Neumark portrait over the fireplace.

End Notes

The above account has been assembled from the online database of reports and readings in the Edgar Cayce Foundation in Virginia Beach; the Kahn family archives in Montauk, N.Y., the New York State Death Records 1935-2014, the American Journal of Psychiatry, 2007, 1933-1934 Yearbook for the Designers Art School, Fine and Applied Art, Boston, Massachusetts, the Wilmington, Delaware Evening Journal, and interviews with art dealer Leonard Davenport.