When and where was Baird T Spalding born? Part 2

In part 1 of this topic, I wrote about the conflicting tales around Baird T Spalding’s biography, and outlined the historical record.

Fellow mystic and DeVorss author David Bruton wrote about Spalding’s birth date in Baird T Spalding As I Knew Him, a self-published biography released in 1954. On May 26, 1952, Bruton attended a 95th birthday party for Spalding at the DeVorss offices in Los Angeles, and discussed the discrepancies in Spalding’s age with one of the guests. On writing the biography, Bruton noted the idiosyncrasies.

On two different occasions I asked him where he was born. The first time he told me in “upstate New York;” the second, “Spalding, England.” During one of his last public lectures a member of the audience asked where he was born and he answered, “In India.” He spoke with equal affection for the “old family home” in upstate New York, in Spalding, England and in Coconada, Madras Province, India.

As the executor of the Spalding estate, Bruton was given Spalding’s personal effects, including California and New Mexico drivers licenses, both bearing a birthdate of May 26, 1904. Bruton describes the reason for these as follows.

The story behind the story of his birthdate of May 26 1904 is that authorities refused to grant him a license to drive because of his age. The next time Spalding applied for a license, he removed that stumbling block. His New Mexico license was restricted to an an area within a few miles of his mining claims. He had little respect for restrictions of any kind and this one did not hamper him. He made many trips to Los Angeles driving on the restricted license and died in Arizona with it in his pocket.

Bruton concludes that Spalding was born in 1872 in upstate New York, but settles on the May 26th birth date, presumably due to the birthday party he attended on that date.

An article on Baird Spalding in J Gordon Melton’s Biographical Dictionary of American Cult and Sect Leaders notes the controversy as follows.

Although he claimed an age of ninety-five at the time of his death, thus setting a birthdate in the 1850s, more recent research has established that he was born in upstate New York in 1872. Spaulding hid much of his early life, even from his close friends, in an effort to add to the aura of mystery about his contacts with the “masters.”

My research has yet to yield a US passport record for Spalding, and birth certificates were not issued prior to 1880 in Steuben County, New York. However, the 1880 US Census and the 1936 immigration record stand as the most authoritative data so far, and add support to Bruton and Melton’s conclusions. The evidence points to Spalding being born Oct 3, 1872, in North Cohocton, New York.  By the time Life and Teaching of the Masters of the Far East was published by DeVorss in 1935, Spalding and DeVorss promoted an alternative biography for Spalding, perhaps as a promotional gimmick, or perhaps to obscure Spalding’s true life story. Other details about Spalding that have been overlooked will be explored in future posts.

For now, let the record be clear. When a sudden heart attack ended his life in an Arizona motel on March 18, 1953, Baird Spalding, a native of upstate New York, was eighty years old.


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15 Responses to “When and where was Baird T Spalding born? Part 2”

  1. ce says:

    Hi Todd, it’s been a while since you posted a new article. How’s that?
    Fantastic initiative, by the way.

  2. […] « Welcome to the Baird T Spalding discussion site When and where was Baird T Spalding born? Part 2 […]

  3. ce says:

    …I know, that is the article we’re posting on. I was Just wondering if you were writing an update. Maybe I could help?

  4. todd says:

    Thanks for the interest. I am working on an update. Research is slow because most of these documents are buried away in archives. Right now I’ve been waiting two months for the Department of State to send me some documents on Spalding’s passport application.

  5. ce says:

    Splendid! For sure not many people follow this kind of topic.
    That’s my foremost reason to let myself be noticed. Who knows what could come out of this.

    I was reading some of the comments on amazon, and I’m always drawn to people who have a tendency to denigrate, write off or ridicule…
    The link below has a particular review which differs from the rest, alas it has a 1 star rating. But none-the-less, it may be worth reading:

    By ‘A Customer’, “Another Perspective”
    May 26, 2001


    As I have not read all comments yet, for sure there could still be some extra, noteworthy material in these comments.

    Any thoughts?

  6. ce says:

    To make sure I expressed myself correctly, I’m not questioning the authenticity of the teachings. Only the fact that this person has a different perspective..

  7. todd says:

    I remember that review! They are essentially correct. Bruton’s biography undermines much of Spalding’s story (although it adds additional distortions which are also incorrect). Bruton wasn’t that dissimilar to Spalding in that he was living the life of a mystic, publishing books, and his Institute of Esoteric Philosophy had a 200 acre retreat in California etc. If anything Bruton was more committed. Unfortunately Bruton died in 1955 just as his plans were coming together.

    The book referenced is by retired British officer Major Alan W. Chadwick (1890-1962), later known as Sadhu Arunachala, titled “A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi”. It puts a big dent in the India Tour story and essentially paints Spalding as delusional. Here’s a quote:

    “He told me some fantastic tales which he certainly believed himself, so perhaps after all he was not to be blamed. For surely he would never have had the courage to lead such an expedition which could only end as a fiasco if he had not been slightly mad.”

    There is also a similar third party account by Paul Brunton who was a follower of Maharshi.

    The authenticity question is a good one. I am working my way through a ton of material on Spalding which has simply been forgotten over the decades. Let’s just say he was in and out of the newspapers for various legal and personal challenges. I have some correspondence from family members which goes even further. I think that is why he is such a fascinating subject to research.

  8. ce says:

    Fascinating indeed.

    Ah yes, authenticity..
    Some could get disappointed by reading such a comment…

    Still, that shouldn’t withhold anyone from reading the book.
    If one believes or if one does not, in both cases one is correct.

    What a privilege to be able look past the ‘tit for that’.
    Good luck with you research!

  9. elise says:

    Hello guys!

    Thank you very much for creating and running this site! I have always felt that something of this kind is neccessary.

    On this note: Could you please continue posting new and obectively correct information regarding the truth about Baird T. Spalding? I would be pleased.

    Many thanks in advance.

    -E. Mueller

  10. rob says:

    Bruton says Spalding inherited a journal from his Grandfather, does anyone know his G’fathers name & whether he actually ever went to India or anywhere in the East?

  11. todd says:

    That’s another Spalding ‘tall tale’ unfortunately. There are two variations. One says his grandfather was John Spalding, another says Baird Spalding I. Neither is true – his grandfather was Hiram, and his father was Stephen, and neither went to India or was a Hindu as claimed. I am writing a post on the topic but still waiting on one document that I need to complete it, and the Department of State is taking their sweet time about sending it.

  12. Greg says:

    Fascinating work. While Spalding’s books were entertaining, I never could find out anything about the man or his ‘team’. Not even a picture. Never one prone to blind faith, I had reached the conclusion the man AND story were all a work of fiction.
    Like Carlos Castanada’s don Juan.
    Thank you for providing some answers.

  13. todd says:

    Carlos Casteneda is a fine analogy. According to the Richard de Mille book Castaneda’s Journey, at the time Castaneda was supposedly meeting Don Juan in the desert, he was actually sitting in the library at Berkeley researching peyote rituals. I read Castaneda avidly as a teenager, but looking back on them today it’s obvious to see they are fictional pseudo-anthropology.

  14. willow78 says:

    Im curious, how is the research going, any updates on the passport app?

  15. madamebwolfe says:

    I’m just beginning to read these “journals” of Spalding’s and mental ‘red flags’ went up from the first page. It’s so f**king Vague. Like in 3 1/2 years he/unidentified they lived and learned from “masters”. WHO did all the necessary translations in all the varied cultures allegedly visited? These are not common languages and there are so many dialects. That obstacle alone tends to make me think the whole story made up. The question is WHY?

    I love that there are you guys out there researching in archives. Please do keep posting here.


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