Practicing astrology and holding astrology conferences in New York City these days is no problem. No one will bother us, interrupt or disrupt the proceedings. But in the 19th century there was so much prejudice against astrology that even giving a lecture became impossible.
In 1866, Dr. Luke D. Broughton, a prominent homeopathic physician and astrologer, rented rooms at Broadway and 11th Street, now the site of a New York University building, in order to give lectures on astrology, phrenology and other metaphysical subjects. Broughton would often do impromptu horoscope readings to demonstrate astrology’s accuracy.
Before too long, however, the New York Herald, a conservative paper, began attacking Dr. Broughton in print, calling his lecture hall a “ghoul’s garret.” After a particularly heated newspaper report, a Police Sergeant from the Mercer Street Station visited undercover with a number of officers, planning to arrest all parties involved. Broughton’s lecture that night was on Natural Theology and the officers all enjoyed it and ended by congratulating the doctor for an uplifting evening.
Dr. Broughton’s landlord, however, was put off by the Herald reports and was determined to be rid of him. But Broughton had a two year lease. So the landlord, Alexander Eagleson, decided to steal the outside signs advertising Broughton’s lectures. A determined Taurus, Broughton replaced sign after sign, until Eagleson had taken about 20. At that point, Dr. Broughton made a complaint and had Eagleson arrested for theft. But he was immediately discharged and quickly began once again stealing signs! After the fourth one, the doctor tried to take it back. Eagleson punched him, knocking him flat. Once again, Dr. Broughton had Eagleson arrested, this time for theft, assault and battery. Eagleson spent the night in jail, and Dr. Broughton was told he’d be notified as a witness for the trial. Despite following-up with the court clerk regularly, the case went ahead without notifying Broughton, and was dismissed.
At this point, Eagleson’s son-in-law brought several men with him to the space above the lecture hall, banging and pounding on the floor to disrupt the lectures. Since this didn’t phase the indomitable astrologer, the rowdies then began insulting attendees in the passageway, and even turned off the water, stole Broughton’s lamp and letter-box, broke the gas brackets and took the doorbell cord as well.
One evening, police officers on the street overheard the commotion from above and arrested the disorderly men. W.H. Chaney, an astrologer who assisted Broughton with his lectures, followed them down to the stationhouse to lodge an official complaint.
Chaney had been a district attorney in Bangor, Maine, so he understood the workings of the law. But even he was astonished when the noisemakers were discharged the next morning and he, himself, was arrested for false imprisonment a few days later. This was during the regime of Boss Tweed, when New York City government corruption was widespread; judges and police officials were easily bribed.
Chaney ended up spending six months in jail. His trial was conducted without alerting him, so he was not present. The plaintiff was thus awarded $100 in damages and Chaney was finally released.
A conscientious Capricorn, W.H. Chaney made a plea for a new trial, and went to see the court clerk every day for six weeks. He was repeatedly told that the judge had not yet made a decision. Finally, he was informed that the judge had ruled against a new trial and that the period of a month that he had to appeal had already expired.
Chaney wrote and Broughton published an account of their experiences, and the landlord, Mr. Eagleson, sued Dr. Broughton for libel for $10,000, a princely sum in 1866. The trial dragged on for several years, and the court did eventually find in Eagleson’s favor. But they awarded him only six cents in damages and six cents in costs — indicating that his complaint had indeed been frivolous.
Dr. Broughton did prevail in the end, however. One of the editors of the Herald, the paper that had started the trouble, studied astrology and soon wrote his own astrology book and published astrology articles in the paper — including, of course, some by Dr. Broughton.