Mollie Fancher, aka “the Brooklyn Enigma,” was diagnosed with dyspepsia in 1864 when she was sixteen years old and just a few months shy of graduation from the Brooklyn Heights Seminary. Fancher’s dyspepsia symptoms, in addition to frequent fainting spells and a weakness of the chest, forced her to drop out of school.
Things only got worse from there. Later that year, Mollie was thrown from a horse, was knocked unconscious, and broke several ribs. A little more than a year later, her dress caught on the hook of a carriage, dragging her for a whole city block and once again knocking her unconscious and breaking several ribs.Mollie never really recovered. She was put to bed to heal; her engagement fell apart; and she began manifesting a bizarre series of symptoms, eventually losing the majority of her senses, including sight, touch, taste, and smell. Either because of her illness or in an attempt to recover, Mollie also stopped eating. She reportedly went a full sixteen years without consuming any food. Observers claimed that her stomach “collapsed, so that by placing the hand in the cavity her spinal column could be felt.”
While lying in a supine position with her arm drawn over her head, her legs twisted beneath her, and her eyes closed, Mollie also claimed to be able to read minds, read writing from a great distance, and offer prophecies. In a country bewitched by the spiritualist movement, she was an overnight sensation. Between 1866 and 1875, stories repeatedly surfaced in the press about the wondrous spiritual abilities of the Brooklyn Enigma, and the case of Mollie Fancher was much debated in medical and societal circles.
Sometime in the late 1880s or early 1890s, Mollie apparently began eating food again, and, in turn, her strange symptoms began to disappear. (Reversing starvation is really a wonderful cure.)
Mollie lived on, without further incident, until 1916.