Whatever happened to Jackie Merkle?

December 3rd, 2009 Posted in Letters to the Lab, People in Parapsychology

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While I was researching my book I constantly came across these former psychic superstars. For a time there’d be a flurry of activity around them, lots of press, letters, and public appearances to either demonstrate their talent or expose them as a fraud. Eventually someone would write the Parapsychology Lab and ask if they were looking into this person.

I researched a few of these individuals and wrote about what I found, but there were many more that I passed by. One of them was little Jackie Merkle. This letter to the lab about Jackie, however, is interesting because of the source—the New Yorker magazine—and because of what the writer says. I’m reproducing the letter here so you can see what I mean.

The thing I don’t understand is, the boy disappears completely a couple of years after this letter. What happened to him? Even if he was a fraud, he’s clearly a very good one and people a lot less skilled were able to make a living from their comparatively meager skills for a lifetime. Why not Jackie? And what did he ultimately do with his life? My searches so far (admittedly brief) haven’t turned up anything except for a few more articles from the 30′s marveling at his abilities.

It’s so sad about Jackie losing his mother at such a young age. I do wonder about him. And his father.

November 26, 1936

Dear. Prof. Rhine:

Since I began reading magazine and newspaper accounts of your experiments in telepathy and clairvoyance, I have wondered whether anyone ever tipped you off to an 8-year-old boy named Jackie Merkle, and whether you have ever put him through a conclusive test.

The boy baffled me and others who have tried to divine how he works. Of course, none of us testers was very well versed in the phenomena which seemed to be involved, but we gave him what seemed to us foolproof tests. I will relate them briefly and you can judge for yourself.

We tried the simple test of putting him in an adjoining room, writing words and sentences (or geometrical figures) on a piece of paper and asking him what had been written. He answered these easily. Next, without any writing, one of us would think of a name, or a word, or a combination of words and ask him to tell what it was we were thinking of. This took him a little longer but he got the answers. We worked this both in the same room with him, and by having the tester go to another room, fully out of sight of the boy. In this test, some of the testers would think of long medical words. The boy would stumble over pronouncing them, but he never missed.

Next, we sat him at one end of a long room. At the other end was a shelf of books. One of us would pick a book at random, open it at random and ask the boy to tell what was on the printed page. He was very slow and stumbling about this but accurate in his reading to a syllable. The bookshelf was unfamiliar to him and unfamiliar to us. None of us knew where any book would fall open. During much of this test, the boy was looking at a funny paper. He has a passion for comic strips and sometimes it is difficult to get him away from them long enough to perform.

Next, one of us, whose background he couldn’t have known, asked Jackie questions about his (the questioner’s) history. The boy told him how and where his mother died (in Dublin, of cancer), what her name was, where the tester’s father had been born, what his name was, and a number of other things of the same nature. A woman in the groups said: “I am thinking of the name of a dog I once owned. What is it?” The boy instantly gave it and it was some complicated name like Sir Ronald of Twyffort Fields.

Jackie is the son of a pair of acrobats. His mother was killed in a fall and his father, now a retired acrobat, lives off the child’s vaudeville performances, scooting along the thin ice of child labor laws as best he may. Jackie doesn’t perform much around New York because of strict enforcement but spends most of his time ranging around the country, mostly in the gaslight circuit, astounding the natives, as he astounded us here. One of his father’s favorite publicity stunts is to take Jackie into a local newspaper office where the boy stops reporters, stenographers, printers, et al, and tells them very intimate things about themselves, such as how many children they have and their names, their past occupations and their current ambitions. His talent is frankly being commercialized and I think he give a lot of phoney answers just to please the theatre customers. Many ask: “Who stole my diamond ring?” and he usually answers: “A domestic.” In this sort of thing, I believe he is a plain fake, but I simply cannot doubt his telepathic abilities.

If you are interested in this boy, I will be able to get in touch with him. May I request that if you decide to test him the New Yorker get whatever story there may be in it?

Jack Alexander

[I thought I copied Rhine's response to him, but I can't find it. I will continue looking.]

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  1. 23 Responses to “Whatever happened to Jackie Merkle?”

  2. By TheDeadMessenger on Dec 9, 2009

    Perhaps he was taken in by covert military intelligence to be tested and then used as a tool of the military machine. Given the history of the U.S. government, it seems quite probable.
    If this is indeed what happened, I wonder if he was compliant with their demands or did he have to be coerced of forced in some manner?

  3. By dillon on Dec 9, 2009

    the theosophists were aware of him and his performances. and as the time frame is close to when the theos. attempted to raise the adolescent krishnamurti to messiah status, they might have tried to contact jackie. at the least, the theos. archives might contain some information (which is not free – i guess there is still something higher than the truth!)

  4. By Notasecretagent on Dec 9, 2009

    He was probably eaten by show business. By the way you ding dong… the big bad government didn’t give two hoots about psychic research until the 1960′s. DON’T you think that if it were ANY different that information would be public by now??? Test your logic flaw and bias!

  5. By Stacy Horn on Dec 9, 2009

    Now, now.

  6. By Jim Edwards on Dec 9, 2009

    To Notasecretagent….
    First off, let’s not resort to “name calling”, it serves no purpose and sure doesn’t make people want to see things your way!!

    Second, do a little research my friend. The government was interested in the paranormal WAY BEFORE the 60s. Not just psychic abilities, but most aspects of the paranormal. I’m not going to go into details because I don’t want you to believe me!!! I want you to do some real research and find the truth for yourself. I don’t know where you have derived your logic and bias but, please don’t let Hollywood cloud your knowledge. I will give you a place to start, just Google…psychics and presidents…

    To Stacy,
    Very interesting article!!!! I hope you are able to find out more about this poor child.

  7. By Meatwad on Dec 9, 2009

    I hope there wasn’t a small band of U.S. mercenaries or any other group like what happened in the 1970s. Four U.S. servicemen from Germany went awol to fly to Florida in search of a reported messiah to kill. No they were not charged with being awol for some reason and I do not remember if they found anyone to sight in on. Source:M.M.O’Hair founder of The American Atheist news article.

    Could this be the messiah the jewish people have been hiding, since their prophecy states they must have his arrival before they can reclaim an israel? No I’m not kidding.

  8. By BC on Dec 9, 2009

    Meatwad, what you’re talking about is a very bizarre story but you have it somewhat wrong. They were known as the Gulf Breeze Six and they went awol in 1990. They became heavily involved with a ouija board. It’s weird that they ended up in Gulf Breeze, where Ed Walters was taking his famous UFO photographs. You can read a succinct retelling of what happened here:
    http://www.philipcoppens.com/gulfbreeze6.html
    Also, the ring leader wrote a book. I seem to recall some comments were left on Amazon about it- one from someone who knew them at the time. It’s certainly a bizarre story.

  9. By BC on Dec 9, 2009

    Anyway, this is fascinating and I hope you’re able to track down what became of him. After reading this I did a little research myself and came across an article from The Rosicrucian Digest (January 1933) about him. It ends, “He will appear at most of the theaters in the East in the next few months and if you have an opportunity of seeing Jackie Merkle in any place I would be glad to have you go and if you sit along the aisles of the theater the father will undoubtedly approach you and if you whisper to the father that you are a Rosicrucian he will be glad to meet you, for he is intensely interested in our work and wants all of our members to see what he has accomplished with this child.” It all sounds rather extraordinary. What happened to Little Jackie? I’ve gotta know!

  10. By BC on Dec 9, 2009

    Check out this picture from 1934 of Jackie and his Doberman. Very cute kid.
    Original caption: You might be embarrassed if you let Jackie Merkle, 6, read your mind, “Shall I marry soon?” one reporter asked the boy during a demonstration. “No,” said Jackie, “You’re married and you have a child.” The reporter who is, and has, admitted that he was defeated. When Jackie isn’t displaying his mental prowess, he’s just an ordinary, playful boy. He is shown here with his pet dog as they telephone some of their pals. Jackie’s father is Jacques Merkle, a former circus acrobat.
    http://www.corbis.co.in/info.php?imageuid={96e7425d-16a7-4f44-8ec2-a33e10043834}&s=Acrobat&rm=&rf=&mr=&loc=&col=&listRF=&orient=&view=&people=&pht=&max=1000&p=6

  11. By Night Shift Investigations on Dec 9, 2009

    Jackie Merkle
    Age: 68
    Hawesville, KY

    Not exactly sure if it’s the same person, but it’s a start and the age is about right.

  12. By Night Shift Investigations on Dec 9, 2009

    Nip that one. Jackie Merkle would be roughly 81. My error there. Oh well.

  13. By BC on Dec 9, 2009

    Jackie would be around 81 now- could always be a child of his though. Seeing as the father’s first name was French perhaps they moved to Europe?

  14. By Night Shift Investigations on Dec 9, 2009

    Considering the depression, they might not have been able to make much money to travel, even if he was good. I can see it happening maybe in their later years after the depression perhaps.

    My lists of “What If’s”

    He had a strong fascination with comic strips and might be an avid comic collector running a Mom & Pop Comic Shop.

    He might have changed his name not wanting to be bothered or to be put in the spot light or risk putting his family in danger by those who seek to exploit his gift.

    “He’s Dead Jim” and there nothing else to go on.

    But most likely is retired and living a quiet life as a Grandfather entertaining his grand children every year on Christmas with, “Guest what’s in my present, Grandpa?” when the parents aren’t around to scold him for telling the children what they got for Christmas. To me, that would be worth staying under the radar. To just enjoying my family with what little time I have left.

  15. By NB on Dec 10, 2009

    Perhaps some early form of promotion? We see a lot of fake things talked up like this now that are not real….

  16. By Searcher on Dec 10, 2009

    Suggest you check out Jackie Merkle in Orlando,Florida age 82 about right for a quoted age of 8 years in 1936 per article…

  17. By cosmic clarence on Dec 10, 2009

    Perhaps the grays got him. After all, to be accepted into the federation of planets you need to be telepathic and clairvoyant etc. They can’t have us evolving and stopping their masters gig on this planet. Probably gave him a shot of chlorine.

  18. By 24kgold on Dec 10, 2009

    Suggest you check out Jackie Merkle in Orlando, Florida age 82 fits well for a reported age of 8 in 1936 per article…

  19. By Sue on Dec 10, 2009

    The Lincoln Journal Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) 21Jan1934
    “Boy Wonder Shows Psychic Powers Here”
    snips from a large article….
    “…..Son of “Flying Merkels”
    Jackie started out as a minature acrobat, the profession of his father and mother, known as “The Flying Merkels.” His mother was killed in a fall when the baby was but seven months old.
    Accident discovered his gift. Out in Troutdale, when Jackie was but two and a half, his father mislaid something. The infant told him immediately where it was.
    He astonished Hollywood – Clive Brook, Helen Twelvetrees, Edward Robinson, George Bancroft all heard him answer questions accurately. ……….. At the Star the other day, a hopeful soul inquired when the new job would be coming forth. “In March.”
    “…..Will the reporter take it and why? – asked ****Pere Jacques Merkle**** a native Swiss.” This would be Jackie’s father.

  20. By Sue on Dec 10, 2009

    Yet another article found here-
    Ogden Standard Examiner (Ogden Utah) 27June1934
    In the article states J. B. Merkle, a former vaudeville acrobat, as the father. He is ‘of Jersey City’.

    Jackie Merkle (the child) “of Troutdale-in-the-Pines, Colorado”

    Yet another article states Jackie born in Chicago.

    Abilene Morning Reporter-News 1Dec1935 states the father as Jacques B. Merkle of Jersey City of the flying Merkles of vaudeville fame.

    Jackie Merkle & Company were performing in Manitoba Canada in 1939. He was age of 11.

    Jackie Merkle the mentalist (14 year old now)was still performing in 1942 (Ohio). In this article – Joseph Merkle is his father of the five-brother acrobatic act once famous in circuses and vaudeville.

    Jackie Merkle was appearing on stage in 1959 in Anderson, Indiana. By this time, he is 31 years old.

    Update/correction: Most likely the “Pere” was to give the article some European flavor.

  21. By Jim Edwards on Dec 10, 2009

    I think you might just have something there Night Shift. His name probably did change, I just wonder if it was voluntary. I think too much time has past, though, to find him. The way records were kept back then, I would think it would be almost impossible to find a name change or passage documents showing he and his father went back to Europe. I must say though that I have never attempted to do that kind of research so I don’t know exactly how difficult it would be.

    He may be dead but, I like the comic shop and Christmas with the grandkids idea better.

  22. By Patrick Crothers on Dec 10, 2009

    Stacy Horn,

    based on my own personal experience I have to ask, at what age did Jackie understand what he was capable of doing and others seemingly not?

    At what age did he become aware that he could have anything he wanted easily?

    What did Jackie want if anything?

    I would want to know what his personal life was like such as his bonding with parents and others.

    Prohibitions either told or learned and limitations set by himself or others would be good to know.

    This is similar to my father’s life who was born in 1913 and grew up on the streets of San Diego after his father dispatched his mom and threw him out at age 7.

    Good luck

    I hope Jackie has/had a wonderful life of HIS choosing.

  23. By AEBlackwell on Dec 10, 2009

    I think that ‘searcher’ is right. Via Zabasearch.com, ck out Orlando FL. The age right.

  24. By Stacy Horn on Dec 11, 2009

    Thank you all so much! I checked a range of ages, plus or minus a few years, since his age varies in the articles I found.

    Thank you 24kgold, searcher, Night Shift, BC and Sue for all the leads and Sue, you found the most recent one, I’m so impressed!!

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