About the Holiday
Today’s holiday was established in 2006 to honor Dr. Jack Gibson, an Irish hypnotherapist who used hypnosis extensively in his practice. Its purpose is to dispel the myths surrounding hypnosis as “mind control,” which is a popular misconception perpetuated by movies and other types of entertainment. To celebrate, learn more about hypnotism and check out local special events, including free hypnotherapy sessions.
Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France
Written by Mara Rockliff | Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno
During the colonists’ war with England, the rag-tag American army needed France’s help. Who better to send than Benjamin Franklin, the charming and experienced statesman? Ben hoped to convince King Louis the Sixteenth and Queen Marie Antoinette to send money and soldiers to America, “but it turned out that they needed Ben’s help too….” At the time, Paris was enthralled by Science. This “new” discipline was introducing new materials, new inventions, and new ideas into society.
One of these notions was Ben Franklin’s own—and when the people of Paris saw him “they went absolutely gaga over the American in the peculiar fur hat. Because everyone had heard about Ben Franklin’s famous kite experiment, which showed that lightning was the same as electricity.” Soon, however, even Ben couldn’t hold a candle to Dr. Mesmer—the “elegant and mysterious” man who wielded “an astonishing new force.” “Dr. Mesmer said this force streamed from the stars and flowed into his wand. When he stared into his patients’ eyes and waved the wand, things happened. Women swooned. Men sobbed. Children fell down in fits.”
Dr. Mesmer seemed to do the impossible. He could make the same glass of water taste like strawberries or vinegar just by telling his patient what to taste. He said he could use this force to help people who were sick, and indeed, after a session with Dr. Mesmer “in a room hidden behind heavy drapes covered with signs and symbols” many people emerged saying they had been cured. Those rich enough paid 100 gold louis to learn his secrets, and everyone considered Dr. Mesmer’s force the “most remarkable thing that science had discovered yet!”
Everyone that is, except the city’s doctors, who “griped, and groused, and fussed, and fumed” because their patients only wanted to be treated by Dr. Mesmer. The doctors went to the King to complain. They even suggested that Dr. Mesmer’s force didn’t exist at all. Louis didn’t know what to think, but he did know who to consult—Ben Franklin! Ben wanted to observe this force in action for himself. As he watched, Dr. Mesmer’s helper, Charles, made a group of patients gasp, groan, twitch, and tremble. Some even fainted.
When it came time for Ben Franklin’s turn, “He didn’t gasp and groan or twitch and tremble. And he didn’t faint. In fact…he didn’t feel a thing.” Dr. Mesmer said that Ben must be “special” and that’s why the force didn’t work on him. Ben hypothesized a different reason. He said that instead of the force being “in Dr. Mesmer’s wand…it was in the patient’s mind.” They acted and felt the way they did because they expected to.
To test his theory, Ben had Charles wave his fingers near a woman’s face. She screamed and “said she felt a burning flame.” Next Ben told Charles to perform the same routine, but with the woman blindfolded. This time when Charles waved his fingers near her stomach, “she said she felt the heat—IN HER EAR. When he “moved behind her back, the woman shrieked that she felt burning—IN HER LEG!” Ben brought in another patient, blindfolded him, and told him he was being mesmerized. He said he could feel it—even though “Charles was not even in the room.” When Charles came back and waved his fingers and wand, the patient felt nothing.
“Ben tested patient after patient, but it was always the same. If the patient believed something would happen, something did—even without the force! If the patient did not expect anything to happen, nothing did—even with the force!” He revealed his observations to the king, and soon all of Paris was talking—and laughing. And Dr. Mesmer? He took his wand and ran. Ben Franklin soon returned to America—with the help from France he had sought and to his scientific work.
The world benefited greatly from the meeting between Ben Franklin and Dr. Mesmer. Ben’s blind test is still used today when new medicines are being developed, and Dr. Mesmer’s force brought to light what we call the placebo effect and also the state of hypnosis, two powerful abilities of the brain that scientists are still studying.
Throughout Mesmerized Ben Franklin studies Dr. Mesmer and his force, using the scientific method. As Franklin observes, hypothesizes, tests, and finds his theory supported, each particular step of the scientific method applied appears highlighted and explained on the page. An extensive Author’s Note about the events of the story also follows the text
Mara Rockliff’s—dare I say it?—mesmerizing true tale of a meeting between two of the most fascinating figures of the late 1770s is the type of nonfiction that can get kids excited about science and history. Intrigue, mystery, charismatic personalities, wit, and a familiar topic are blended together to reveal the uses and steps of the scientific method and to highlight one event in time that still resonates today. Rockliff’s story crackles with fabulous vocbulary—doctors gripe, grouse, fume, are peeved; the king is in a quandary; patients twitch and tremble; plain Ben Franklin is an “apple pie” while elegant Dr. Mesmer a “layered torte.” Rockliff’s story flows at an enthralling pace, keeping readers riveted to discover Dr. Mesmer’s secret.
Iacopo Bruno’s sumptuous illustrations are nothing short of astounding. If the Oscars gave out awards to books, Bruno would certainly win for best costume and set. Every page is gilded with the opulence of the French court as gold buttons, collars, candle sticks, and drawing rooms glint with a polished sheen. Period dress is depicted in the women’s full flowing gowns of red, purple, and green, and in men’s top coats, breeches, lace cuffs, and high buckle shoes. Powdered wigs curl at men’s ears and climb high above women’s heads, festooned with flowers, ribbons, and pearls while Ben’s white, wavy locks fall naturally on his shoulders. In addition to setting the historical scene, Bruno depicts the effects of Dr. Mesmer’s force and the scientific methods Franklin used to debunk it with just the right amount of humor to entice kids and allow them to fully understand and appreciate Dr. Mesmer’s impact on society.
Ages 6 – 10
Candlewick, 2015 | ISBN 978-0763663513
To learn more about Mara Rockliff and her books, visit her website!
View a gallery of book jacket and other illustration work by Iacopo Bruno on his blog!
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