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"First I saw the colonial flag, then I saw this woman in old fashioned clothes, with a petticoat, then I saw the Betsy Ross house, and I knew it was her," psychic medium Susan Lander explained. The author of Conversations with History: Inspiration, Reflections, and Advice from History-Makers and Celebrities on the Other Side, Lander is also a native of Philadelphia and says she had often visited the Betsy Ross house as a child. When Lander asked Ross why she contacted her, the American icon announced: "I am gay and I fly the flag of pride and liberty for all of us."
"Betsy blew me away," Lander said. "I didn't see that coming. She dropped that statement down in 10 minutes. She had it all ready. She said it over and over: 'I am gay, I am gay, I am gay.' It was amazing."
But why come out now? Lander asked, once she recovered. "I am speaking now as a revolutionary act," Ross explained, saying she no longer wanted to carry this secret. "I want history to accurately reflect who I was."
Ross told Lander she was part of an underground gay and lesbian community in Philadelphia in the late 1700s. Although she was married three times, her real passion was for women. "The heart wants what it wants," said Ross, who had a girlfriend. Lander thinks they met through Ross's involvement with the Quakers.
Betsy Ross is a widely credited with sewing the United States' first flag and is an iconic figure for school children when learning about the birth of the nation. In this psychic conversation with Lander, she explained that coming out at that time would have been dangerous. "It is so ironic. I was thought of as a revolutionary but I did not feel the freedom to be who I was," she confessed to Lander.
This incredible revelation from Betsy Ross is included in the 22 interviews in Conversations with History, due out in August from Hay House.
Lander currently lives in Manhattan and runs a group called Six Sensory New York. She enjoyed her career as a labor lawyer in Washington, D.C., until an exposure to toxic mold, over 10 years ago, destroyed her immune system. She became very ill, lost her career, and almost lost her life, twice.
In 2011, Lander was in a coma for a week, what she describes as a near-death experience. Her spirit guides asked if she wanted to live and promised a big surprise if she stayed. After making what her doctors called a miraculous recovery, the celebrity spirits started to appear--the first was Ben Franklin, whose daily calendar Lander had posted on her refrigerator.
Empathic her entire life, Lander worked as traditional medium prior to the book project, but chatting with famous people was new. As the design came into focus, Lander got psychic hits (songs on the radio, signs on the subway) about who to include. She started compiling lists.
"My spirit guides were like air traffic controllers," said Lander, noting that Eva Peron was so pushy about getting into the book; she knocked over other spirits who were waiting their turn. "She's a diva on the other side too."
While most of the spirits came to Lander, she went after a few herself. Sappho responded to a telepathic message requesting an interview. They spoke three times as the passionate poet radiated love and transmitted several new poems, (included in the book). "That took me out of my comfort zone," said Lander, who had never composed poetry. "But what an honor."
Sappho told Lander she is part of a community of women on the other side. Sappho has a soulmate but they are not exclusive. Amazed her verses have has lasted for centuries, the poet suggested, "They must touch a common chord."
This chapter rocks with sensuality as Sappho recalled life on earth and her intense attraction to women. "To lie next to another's creamy-white or honey tanned skin and to taste it. Salty sweet. Heavenly. Pure bliss. I wish I could experience that now," Sappho mused. "But I do not have a physical body anymore."
When I spoke with Lander, we were sitting outside in the West Village on a lovely spring afternoon drinking lemonade. I asked about her annotation that Sappho sent sultry feelings to the medium during their interviews. "I'm blushing," said Lander. "Sappho was vibrant, hot. I'm kind of a prude, and what she sent me was very explicit."
The 22 interviews in Conversations with History scan a wide range of time from ancient Greece to the modern period. "Andy Warhol was intriguing," Lander said. "He talked about how he carefully crafted himself and his art was a snapshot of him at the moment."
When Lander asked the Pop artist about his health problems, Warhol told her that fame is about growing the spirit. "What a brilliant comment," she said. "The book is fun and gossipy but these spirits came in to teach us... The overarching theme of the book is very relevant to the queer community--that your strength lies in being yourself. The key to success is accessing your authentic self. If you hide yourself, you stifle your creativity and stunt your soul's growth. That is a very gay message."
Kate Walter is a freelance writer living in Greenwich Village. Heliotrope Books will publish her memoir, Looking For a Kiss: Downtown Heartbreak and Healing in 2015.