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.

Source Birthdate Location
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

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4 Responses to “When and where was Baird T Spalding born? Part 1”

  1. rogerscott says:

    Nice photo of Baird Spalding.

    It should be possible to date this photo by the dress, collar and cut of jacket.

    Looks like a cellulose collar, brass buttons and cotton (rather than linen or flax
    cloth) jacket.

    Cellulose collars began to be used between 1905 and up to the 30s:

    http://www.bookrags.com/research/1910s-fashion-bbbb-01/arrow-collar-man-bbbb-01.html

    Of course, even a man born in the 1850s who didn’t age much would wear what was available. Right?

    It would be nice if the provenance of the photo was given.

    Assuming he was born in the 1870s, according to norms of figure for people in those years,
    the receding hair-line and sunken eyes and perhaps signs of stroke by the sinking of the
    mouth on the right side: maybe typical of a 30 year oldish man.

    Not definitive and not conclusive, of course.

    Spalding is a man of mystery. No doubt.

    There’s lots of mystery around Bruton, too.

    He mentioned Spalding’s wife, but never named her.

    He treasured a book signed to Spalding directly, but never
    divulged the title of the book nor the author. Why not?

    Spalding’s ‘half brother’ is known to have worked on the
    highway projects in the South and Spalding claimed he
    also worked on ‘drainages in the Apache quarters’ of Paris
    where St. Germain’s ‘tomb’ was supposed to be.

    That should be researchable.

    The various direct claims at relations with Steinmetz, and indirect ones
    with Tesla, Plank, Theremin and Nemes found in the materials surrounding
    this man who felt it necessary to provide advisos about ‘fact or fiction’
    seems to be excellent fodder for speculation and also to have inspired
    many writers and researchers in science-fiction.

    Consider ‘O.B.I.T.’, an episode of the original ‘Outer Limits’.

    A story about a ‘peeping tom’ camera that could view anyone, anywhere
    in real-time on the basis that ‘people emit emanations at all times’ that
    could be correlated and reduced to image on a sensitive medium or screen.

    Spalding described once a screen that was basically a heterodyning system
    after the pattern of Theremin and Tesla and Drown.

    None of which, of course can in any way substantiate anything this genius
    may have ‘sifted’ and constructed into a popular format for metaphysical consumption.

    In many ways, he is akin to an ‘Allende’.

  2. todd says:

    Thanks for the comment Roger. I believe that photo of Spalding was taken around 1910 in California. Spalding’s wife was Stella M Stiles. I will be writing an article on her shortly. Baird and Stella were married in 1911 in Oakland.

    Which edition of the Bruton biography do you have? The 1980 second edition was edited by DeVorss & Co to omit some material that was critical of Doug DeVorss (as alluded to in the introduction of the revised edition). The original 1954 edition has an additional chapter of information about Spalding’s estate or lack thereof. I believe the signed book Bruton refers to is “The prince of India; or, Why Constantinople fell” by Lew Wallace, published in 1893.

    Could you share your source on the half brother story and St Germain material? I’m not sure why Baird would claim to have a half-brother, because his parents remained together their entire lives. I will be posting an article of his family history soon. Baird’s two brothers were Hiram and George, both New York farmers. Hiram lived in Cohocton until his death. Although I don’t have a death record for George, it’s not clear why either of them would be working in civil engineering late in life.

    My research into the claims that Spalding worked with scientists like Steinmetz have come up blank. Most of the scientists named have been covered extensively by biographers, and there are historical archives of their correspondence and diaries. Spalding isn’t mentioned in any of them I’ve found so far. In the case of Steinmetz, he died in in New York in 1923 before Spalding published his first book. For most of the time Steinmetz was in the US, Spalding lived thousands of miles away. “Charles Proteus Steinmetz: A Biography” written in 1924 by John Winthrop Hammond, is fairly exhaustive, and from a cursory scan Spalding does not appear in it. I believe the scientist stories are simply PR to boost book sales, like many of the other tall tales surrounding Spalding.

  3. Atlase says:

    I’m looking forward to getting more information about this topic, don’t worry about negative opinions.

  4. roger says:

    The story of the ‘half-brother’ was somewhere in volume 5, and was mentioned in a Q&A section.
    A ‘half-brother’ could indicate either parent was married before or an adopted sibling.

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