John Murray Spear was always ahead of his time. As a 19th century Christian minister, he was zealously opposed to the death penalty, slavery, and gender inequality. But Spear wasn't just a progressive religiously; he was also a bit of an early tech adopter, merging those two interests by building a steampunk savior out of magnets and the energy of the dead.

No one would have ever criticized Spear as a man not to be taken seriously. He became well-known for his lectures on labor reform and women's rights and helped build the first leg of the Underground Railroad. But that kind of open-mindedness also earned him a lot of enemies. This came to a head in 1844 when he had his head bashed in by a mob of religious hooligans. After waking from a months-long coma, Spear was a changed man. He turned his back on his Universalist Church and became a devout Spiritualist, holding seances, speaking with the dead, and starting construction on a strange new ghost machine. Why? Because ghost Ben Franklin had told him.

Spear claimed that, during his coma, he was visited by the ghosts of such iconic American intellectuals as John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. These late luminaries called themselves "The Association of Electrizers," and shared with Spear "God's last, best gift to man": a self-replicating, sentient machine that would clean the streets of earthly corruption and turn the world back into a Utopian Eden like a Roman-Catholic RoboCop. This "New Motor" was to resemble a human being as much as Victorian tech would allow: a (un)holy combination of off table legs, magnetic limbs, and hair-like antennae that would pick up enough spiritual ether to power itself for eternity.

But since this machine was supposed to be a union of spiritualism and science, the new Messiah still had to be born. So one of Spear's followers, the appropriately last-named Sarah Newton, was chosen to be "The Mary of the New Dispensation," being attached with a synthetic umbilical cord to the New Motive Power to give 'birth' to it. At the same time, the rest of the cult performed rituals that were 'life-giving' -- which critics of the Frankensteinian scheme quickly condemned as sounding very sex-culty indeed.

Public Domain
What could possibly be sexual about hooking up a repressed woman to a Victorian steampunk machine with human-like appendages?

Sadly, when it was time to switch on the Synthetic Messiah, it was stillborn. Apart from some so-called twitches, the machine failed to boot up. Spear claimed it was only a hiccup and that the next attempt would work, but then (to come full circle) he claimed that the machine was destroyed by a band of religious hooligans and quietly returned to humanitarian preaching. And it's probably for the best that Spear's creation didn't work -- especially for Spear. Imagine being the pro-human rights abolitionist who tried to end inequality by creating a sentient race of synthetics slave to their superior humans. Not that we can blame him for accidentally stumbling into the most stereotypical of all sci-fi villains -- it's not like he could have read up on any Asimov in 1844.

For more weird tangents, do follow Cedric on Twitter.

Top Image: Public Domain, Billy Hathorn/Wiki Commons

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