Once an ordinary schoolgirl living in Clinton Hill in the late 19th century, Mollie soon became a Victorian celebrity—known for her supposed mystic powers and ability to survive without food for years.
It all started in 1865, when Mollie, 18—already frail (as Victorian-era young ladies were supposed to be)—was dragged by a streetcar on Fulton Street after her hoop skirt got caught on the back of the car.
Bedridden at her brownstone home at 160 Gates Avenue, Mollie began exhibiting bizarre behavior—blindness, spasms, and what’s described as a “nine-year trance.”
When she finally awoke, oddly in almost perfect health, she claimed to be a clairvoyant who could see through walls, read people’s thoughts, and was in touch with the afterlife. Molly also insisted she could exist without eating.
“By the late 1870s Fancher’s food abstinence was as allegedly as awesome as her clairvoyance,” writes Joan Jacobs Brumberg in Fasting Girls. “In one six-month period, her recorded intake was four teaspoons of milk punch, two teaspoons of wine, one small banana, and a piece of cracker.”
Newspapers gleefully reported Molly’s wild claims. Scientists and the public weighed in as well.
But since Mollie refused to be examined, her claims couldn’t be proven.
Was she a psychic or a fraud? A medical freak or anorexic? The truth went to the grave with Mollie when she died in 1916—after 50 years in her bed on Gates Avenue.