G. W. Cunningham:
mundane enthusiast and astrology teacher
– August 27, 2010

In ‘Astrological Pioneers of America’, James Herschel Holden and Robert A. Hughes note of the pioneer American astrologer George W. Cunningham (at least, I deduce that this must be who they mean under their entry W. Cunningham, even though they seem inadvertently to have missed out his first initial):

“A veteran astrologer who excelled in mundane prognoses and was recognized as an expert in predicting the outcome of elections”.

I was glad to see his inclusion in their book, having encountered him quite extensively in the pages of Star of the Magi. A conventional geocentric astrologer, he was nonetheless cited approvingly by staunch heliocentric advocate Willis F. Whitehead in the pages of the magazine when it came to Whitehead and Ernest S. Green predicting the outcome of the 1900 Presidential Election in the United States. Whitehead was quick to point out to Green, who used horary methods to anticipate a loss for McKinley, that Cunningham, like Whitehead himself, albeit using completely different methodologies, had predicted McKinley’s re-election, and that, furthermore, Cunningham had successfully predicted (on the record) McKinley’s original election victory.

When in the aftermath of McKinley’s second successive win Green resigned his position in the magazine amid relentless ‘I told you so’-type taunting and deprecation of his astrological methods by Whitehead, Cunningham was briefly appointed to replace him in the ‘Geocentric Department’ of the magazine, before he in turn quit, though apparently not through any ill-feeling.

Thus it was by successfully predicting both election victories for President McKinley that Cunningham first garnered the reputation to which Holden and Hughes refer in passing, though they imply that he ‘flourished around 1915’, suggesting perhaps that they were not aware of how far back in time he had acquired this reputation.

I decided to check out the only original copy of one of Cunningham’s two astrological books that was currently on the marketplace.

It is called ‘The ABC of Astrology’, and as the title might suggest, it’s a simple introduction to the subject, and does not do justice to the depth of Cunningham’s legendary election prediction savvy, but it is still historically interesting for a number of reasons.

The cover on my copy is in black faux-leather-finished flexible thin card, and bears a (rather faded) gilt illustration of the Sun shining its rays directly past a ringed planet and down into the earth’s cloudy atmosphere: a somewhat confused representation of Sun conjunct Saturn in astrology, I would think, in view of the fact that Saturn can never pass between the Sun and the Earth. But still, at least it gets one thinking astrologically.

The imprint is ‘Ransom Printing House, Chicago, 1899’, and a further pale blue stamp beneath this reads: ‘For Sale by Purdy Publishing Co., McVicker’s Theatre Bldg, 74-84 Madison St., Chicago, Ill.’.

Facing the title page is a monochrome photograph of the author, meticulously dressed in suit and bow tie, with a tidy medium-sized beard and a very intense look in his eyes!

At the back of the book, which is only 44 pages long until this point, we find the self-styled Prof. Cunningham appealing for his readers to organize local classes or societies for the study of Astronomy and Astrology,…

“with the view of establishing later a local branch, and becoming an intermediate Professor of The National College of Astronomy and Astrology, Chicago, Ill.”

Thus in effect he was trying to engineer the precipitation of organised astrological learning throughout the country, in 1899.

He also advertises another book of his, and…

“a reprint from an excellent work on Astrology which was first printed in 1647. Price $1.50 and about 10 cents for postage. This book contains tables of declination, right ascension, etc.”

The average reader will instantly be able to identify the work in question by the reference to its first date of printing. But is it not interesting that in late 19th century America, Lilly’s name was considered to mean nothing to the average beginner to astrology, to the point that it was not even worth mentioning? This could be Cunningham in particular of course, with his interest being limited to the practical value of the work rather than the history of who wrote it. It is hard to imagine that he had availed himself of any reprint other than the Zadkiel edition to offer his students, but at that time and in Chicago, perhaps that was the best that could be expected.

Cunningham also advertised his services of horoscope calculation and delineation, price on application:

“Those desiring a correctly calculated and properly delineated horoscope should address the undersigned with stamp for full particulars. When you are not certain your time of birth is quite accurate, you should have it corrected by the arc of some important event. Transits cannot be determined exact unless time of birth is accurate.”

How he expected someone insufficiently proficient in astrology to be able to calculate and delineate his or her own birth chart to be able to first have the time of birth ‘corrected by the arc of some important event’ puzzles me somewhat. But perhaps the implication was that this is another service he could offer to the willing enquirer.

On the final page, we find two extracts from ‘The Chicago Tribune’ dated 1896 and 1897, and one from each of ‘The Chicago Inter-Ocean’ of 1896, ‘The Household Realm’, Chiacgo, 1896, and the ‘National Democrat’, Chicago, 1897, all offering up supportive testimonials to Cunningham’s skill at election prediction and general activities in astrology. Clearly in Chicago at least, Cunningham was what his namesake Donna might today call a ‘local hero’ (a term she coined for certain regionally popular astrologers in her ‘Astrologers’ Memorial’ page, although I don’t believe he has an entry there yet).

The final press extract from 1897 records:

“Very few astronomers in the United States have gained greater distinction in the study than Prof. G. W. Cunningham, President of the National College of Astronomy and Astrology, Chicago. In the sister science he certainly ranks first among the noted astrologers of the century. We do not profess to know a great deal about the latter branch of heavenly studies, nor by what basis of calculations certain events are anticipated in the lives of nations and men, but we do know that Prof. Cunningham forecasts such events with as much accuracy as he tells of an approaching eclipse of the sun or moon, or the transit of a certain star. Most of his predictions are really startling. Like all scholars who are up in this science, he dislikes to have it in anyway connected with mystery. ‘There is no mystery about it,’ he says; ‘every event in a life is calculated by a scientific process, provided that the correct birth data are given’. Prof. Cunningham was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, 39 years ago. Some years ago he made a horoscope of McKinley, and later predicted that the Cantonian would surely become President of the United States.”

So evidently Cunningham was born around 1858, and was an astronomer who became an astrologer too. It is interesting historically to note the total faith in astrology as a ‘sister science’ to astrology, and one devoid of any mystery, that was prevalent in the day except among astrologers who were also members of secret societies.

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