When and where was Baird T Spalding born? Part 1
Baird T Spalding had a long and colorful history, and anyone interested in his life will quickly find themselves knee deep in anecdotal tales. In order to separate fact from fiction, I believe it is critical to establish the key facts of Spalding’s background. Unfortunately very few sources agree on his biographical details, and the information provided by Spalding and his publisher has been inconsistent.
Spalding is often claimed to have been ninety or older at the time of his death in 1953, adding to the mystique around his writings on immortal masters. A Los Angeles Times obituary published on March 21st, 1953, demonstrates the typical claims.
Funeral services will be conducted at Tempe, Ariz tomorrow at 3pm for Baird T Spalding, 95, research engineer, world traveler and author who died in the Arizona city last Thursday.
A similarly inaccurate obituary was published a week later in the Logansport Pharos-Tribune of Indiana.
Rochester friends have received word of the death of Dr Baird Spaulding, age 107, noted scientist, author and world traveler, who was found dead in bed at Arona, Arizona, Thursday.
Neither obituary agrees on Spalding’s age or even the spelling of his surname. In addition to advancing his age over the century mark, the Logansport obituary adds a doctorate and scientific prowess to Spalding’s achievements.
Unlike reclusive authors such as Thomas Pynchon, one of the challenges in researching Spalding is that both the author and his publisher Douglas DeVorss did not correct this type of error or avoid discussions about Spalding’s personal history and background. On the contrary, Spalding and DeVorss appear to have used an unusual life story and long lifespan as a way to create and sustain interest in the Spalding books.
Many of the biographical details that contradict the historical record come directly from the books published by DeVorss. A contemporary example can be found listed with Spalding’s books on the DeVorss corporate website, and duplicated ad infinitum throughout the Internet.
Born in England, at age four he went to India. At age seventeen he finished the University and went to California were he stayed two years. He then traveled to Heidelberg, Germany and studied for eight years and then returned to California for post-graduate work in Archaeology at Berkeley and Stanford.
DeVorss claims an English heritage for Spalding, and adds a residence in Germany and India followed by graduate work at Berkeley and Stanford.
We will return to the topic of the correct spelling of Spalding’s name and his academic qualifications in a later post, but for this subject, consider the following conflicting information about Spalding’s date and place of birth, listed in rough order of each record.
|1880 US Census||1872-1873||New York|
|1911 California marriage certificate||1872-1873||England|
|1935 US passport application*||October 3, 1872||New York|
|1936 Seattle immigration record on return from India||October 3, 1872||New York|
|California and New Mexico drivers licenses||May 26, 1904||—|
|1953 death certificate||May 26, 1857||New York|
|Baird T Spalding As I Knew Him||May 26, 1872||New York|
|Dictionary of American Cult and Sect Leaders||May 26, 1872||New York|
|Life and Teaching Volume 6 (published 1996)||1857||England|
|Spalding biography on DeVorss web site||—||England|
Examining each of these documents in detail reveals the pattern of inconsistencies. Most official documents, and those that predate Spalding’s publishing career reflect a birthplace of 1872 in New York. Information propagated by DeVorss after their publication of Spalding’s books in 1935 show the earlier 1857 birth date, and a birthplace of England. For an interim period, Spalding used the correct 1872 birth date but claimed an English heritage.
The glaring contrary example is Spalding’s March 1953 Arizona death certificate, which lists Douglas DeVorss as the informant but contradicts the English birthplace claimed by the DeVorss publishing company. This suggests that when providing information for an official document, Douglas DeVorss knew that Spalding had been born in New York rather than England, but may not have known that Spalding had created a fictional 1857 birth date prior to his involvement with DeVorss.
In part 2 of this topic, I’ll write about David Bruton’s thoughts on Baird Spalding’s origins in Baird T Spalding As I Knew Him, the only independent biography published to date of Spalding, and pin down the exact details of Spalding’s birth.
*This article has been updated since it was first published to include the US passport records released in December 2009 by the Department of State