THE SLEEPING PARSON.
Major Z. F. Wright
Tells A New York Times Reporter Of The Wonder.
The following; interview with Mr. Z. F. Wright was published in the New York Times of the 12th and will be read with interest:
Major Zachheus, F. Wright of Newberry, S. C., who is staying at the Hotel Manhattan, was telling some of his cotton milling friends in New York the other day the strange story of the Rev. Hezekiah Elijah Perry of Silver Street, Newberry county, S.C., the only negro parson on the face of the earth, according to Major Wright, who is illiterate while awake and highly educated when in a trance.
The parson is nothing more or less than a psychological wonder. He is known from the banks of the Saluda, where he has so long enthralled his hearers with his sleeping discourses, to the banks of the Congaree, fifty miles further south, as the "sleeping preacher of the Saluda hay fields.''
"For nearly a quarter of a century," said Major Wright, "this strange negro has been preaching his sleeping sermons. Although scores of people in Newberry and adjoining counties pronounce him an impostor, he is nothing of the kind. Old Hezekiah must now be well on the way to the three-score-and-ten mark, and although he has been examined by noted physicians and psychologists, who have applied every possible test to find out whether he was shamming, he has stood every test so far, and to my mind there is no doubt about the genuineness of the Silver Street wonder.
"When awake Hezekiah is just like any other ordinary South Carolina darkey. He is well behaved, courteous, and respectful, in fact the wide-awake Perry is a good specimen of what the old, before-the-war darkies were. But in a trance he is a different person. I have heard him preach and watched psychologists, physicians, and college professors try to solve the mystery of his sleeping power, but so far the answer to the puzzle is missing. In the meantime the parson goes on his way, preaching his sleeping sermons and thriving thereby.
"Here is how Hezekiah does it. Every Sunday morning he ascends his little pulpit at Silver Street, and the moment he mounts the rostrum he goes into a cataleptic state, from which he cannot be aroused until the benediction is pronounced. There he stands rigid as a pole, long, lean, and uncanny looking. It's the appearance of a mummy, and only the working of the mouth and the sound of the well measured voice indicates that the preacher is alive.
" First a hymn is announced by the sleeper, and then he leads the congregation joining in. 'In the Sweet Bye and Bye' and the various hallelujah combinations are his favorites, and those darkies almost lift the roof of that little chapel when Hezekiah starts them to singing. The singing of the first song over, Hezekiah dedecites the Lord's Prayer, the enunciation, being perfect, only the slew montonous song-song way of its recital indicating the catalectic state of the parson. The Lord's Prayer is followed with another of his own, and that prayer, as a rule, would do credit to a New York clergyman.
"Next comes the sermon, and there is where Hezekiah shines. Although without any literary trailing whatever, he reads passages in the Scriptures with his eyes closed, and not once does he make a mistake as to book, chapter, verse, or phraseology. Awake he could not do that to save his life. The nearest, for instance, that he can come to saying Nebuchadnezzar when he is awake is to mumble something that sounds like 'Nebudhad-a-razzer´, but in his trance he can rattle that word off like a professor in a theological seminary.
"Is this darky person an impostor? I think not. Instead he is a genuine instance of a psychological freak. Not so long ago Hezekiah was the subject of a long debate before the soda fountain in my good friend Weeks's drug store. The upshot of that discussion was that it was decided to bring Hezekiah to Newberry and give him a chance to make good in the city opera house. The plan went through and Hezekiah came, did not see, and conquered. The test was conclusive to my mind. My neighbors in Saluda say that the negroes have even tried the red-pepper test on him. The stuff was held before his nostrils and even rubbed into his mouth and eyes, but did Hezekiah respond to the test as an ordinary man would have? He did not. He didn't even sneeze, although there was enough pepper used to make everybody in Forty Seccond Street sneeze half a day.
"After ordinary tests had failed to awaken him the sleeping parson at the Newberry experiment somebody suggested a hot iron. The iron was made white hot and its point placed against old Hezekiah's ankle. It burned alright, but Hezekiah kept on preaching. It did not make him move a muscle. Next somebody stuck a pin almost through his hand, but that had no effect either, and Hezekiah kept on exhorting.
''Finally came the supreme test. That was nothing more nor loss than the extraction of a good tooth. Frank Wilson and Marcus Spearman, who saw that test applied, said afterward that it took all the strength of three men to get that molar out of old Hezekiah's jaw. But Hezekiah did not move an inch, and the sermon proceeded as if nothing unusual had happened.
''The tests more than half convinced many doubters that the old negro is a genuine phenomenon."
From “The Herald and News”, Newberry, South Carolina,
No 58, July 21, 1908, pg 5
Edited by Elof Granholm April 9, 2014
Another article on sleeping preacher Perry