Schrepfer and the Leipzig Lion Pharmacy pharmacist Johann Heinrich Linck

In front of the Leipzig fortress "Pleissenburg" about1800 (historic depiction), Picture credits Dr. Otto Werner Förster, 2011

Excerpts from Dr Otto Werner Förster: “The Death of a Spirit Seer”, Taurus Publishing, Leipzig, 2011

The crime story about the Leipzig coffee house owner Johann Georg Schrepfer from Nuremberg also deals with the involvement of the high nobility and secret societies of Dresden during the superficially enlightened 18th century, and has been, since Schrepfer’s “suicide” in 1774 in the Leipzig Rosenthal park, the subject of many magazine articles and books.

Moses Mendelssohn has addressed the matter, as well as Friedrich II., Goethe and Friedrich Nicolai, Schiller and Fontane. The case was never solved because the royal court of Dresden did not allow an investigation to take place.

For a while, there was an unusual connection between Johann Georg Schrepfer and the pharmacist Johann Heinrich Linck the Younger, who was the third-generation owner of the Leipzig Lion Pharmacy.

Lion Pharmacy of Leipzig (historic depiction), Picture credits Dr. Otto Werner Förster, 2011

His grandfather had created a natural history collection and a collection of curiosities which also contained physical instruments such as a large concave mirror and a laterna magica, a magic lantern. His widow continued working on the collection and completed it. The remarkable, extensive collection has been on display in the Waldenburg Museum since 1840.

Linck d. J. completed his apprenticeship as a pharmacist in Frankfurt/Main before studying medicine and pharmacy in Strasbourg until 1757. While there, he also joined the Freemasons, and was, immediately after his return to Leipzig, accepted as a member of the lodge “Minerva at the Circle” which, at least in part, merged with the “Strict Observance” Freemasonry system in 1766.

“Commercial Counsellor” Linck -- the title was awarded to him by the electors of Saxony in 1760 -- was also, in 1767, the first guest of the restructured, publicly accessible Saxony electoral assembly. Linck’s house, which included the thriving pharmacy, was in an excellent location on “Grimmischen Gasse”, in fact, at the very place where the side entrance to a big department store is today. Linck had enough time and creativity to undertake experiments in chemistry and physics in his garden building, which was right next door to the Grossbosischen Garden, today Seeburgstrasse 45. Linck was learned, scientifically interested, and open to the progressive thoughts of his time, and Schrepfer, the bird of paradise with his ominous lodge, would have quickly come to his attention.

Johann Georg Schrepfer, in turn, needed substances and raw materials that only a licensed pharmacist could provide. Thus, it is understandable when Wurmb writes to him “That which you sent me before your departure did not work. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding...” That would mean that Schrepfer was making medicaments, which is also documented elsewhere-he had given the Dresden “Knight of Templar” and chamberlain of Heinitz a remedy that apparently worked. Such things were also part of the repertoire of the members of the Golden Cross and the Rosicrucians. And Linck also knew how the optical and acoustical devices used for theatre magic worked, and where they could be obtained. However, this was a very expensive hobby.

Projector chest, Collection Linck, Museum Waldenburg, Picture credits Dr. Otto Werner Förster, 2011

In return, Linck became a regular visitor at Schrepfer’s lodge meetings, the dark side of the Renaissance, as it were. Schrepfer’s friendship with the Lion Pharmacist (Linck) was apparently important enough to him that he let Linck convince him to do something that was actually unthinkable for a member of the Freemasons. Linck’s second wife Dorothea was said to have nagged her husband for the same reason. Samuel Benedict Schlegel, in his "Diary", wrote the following:

»The 1st of July [1773], Master Schrepfer performed a ritual in which Ms L[inc]k was allowed to participate, dressed in a man’s clothing.... specifically a white coloured suit with ribbons... And he also allowed her to wear the signum, which he otherwise was the only one who wore on his breast, On the 31st of August, Brother Wi. came to me and said that Madame - had received the order of the 4th degree... Then there were some Masonic discussion during which, among other things, Schrepfer said that, according to the new English rules, it was also possible for women in men’s clothing to be accepted into the Order. I said to him quite openly, that I did not believe in his pretense about English rules, because women, even empresses and queens, have been excluded from the Order since the beginning of time. ...«

He is speaking of Schrepfer’s “Order” -- it cannot have been the official Freemasons or the Knights Templars. Johann Heinrich Linck also participated in Schrepfer’s famous spirit seances. Out of scientific curiosity, in all likelihood.

Shortly after Schrepfer’s death, enlightened periodicals were occupied with the subject for some time. Among those was the “Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek”, from the Berlin publisher and Freemason Friedrich Nicolai, which was one of the most interesting periodicals of the era and one of the most critical of the times. In 1775, Moses Mendelssohn, who, by the way, was the model for Lessing’s “Nathan” and the grandfather of the composer and Leipzig Gewandhaus conductor, had, in connection with a review of “Anmerkungen über einen schriftlichen Aufsatz, die Wunderthaten des berüchtigten Schröpfers betreffend” made some remarks about the technical background of the “spirit seances”.

»... He who trusts easily will be easily deceived. Fear makes deception all the easier. Something terrifying has, because of the idea of the sublime with which it is connected, a powerful attraction for human beings. We do not see that which is before us, but rather that which we fear. For my part, I believe that the whole business is a man-made deception. If all other facts agree, then I have a suspicion that a magic lantern was used to good effect in the proceedings. My suspicion of a magic lantern is reinforced by the following circumstances. The spirits seem to move without moving ´their feet, just floating along. By moving the picture in a magic lantern, it is possible to let the phenomenon float along, but this process does not allow the feet to move. For this very reason, the spirits will undoubtedly have their arms and hands positioned on their chests. They seem further away when the lighting conditions are different. The faces of the spirits looked like shaped mist, which can certainly be done by using smoke. Both mirrors, which he often looked into, give further support to this suspicion. The invoked star in the heavens can only have radiated such big, thick rays with the help of well-positioned lenses and mirrors. By using such mirrors, one can reflect a sound anywhere one wishes and create the illusion that an answer given by a hidden person comes from an image. The reflection makes the sound musty and hollow, just as Schrepfer has described the speech of the spirits. I have nothing against the metaphysical possibility that the emperor of China plays blind man’s buff with his mandarins in my children’s room. However, when 10 or 20 of the most credible witnesses come and want to tell me this, then I am convinced that they either have been fooled by an illusion of some sort, or that they wish to deceive me.«

Laterna Magica, Picture credits Dr. Otto Werner Förster, 2011

Moses Mendelssohn, a contemporary of Schrepfer, a thinking man. The “magic lantern” is called a slide projector today. However, it is, even today, not all that easy to project images on smoke, mist and steam. Modern artists and media craftsman have rediscovered this technique, but they are using far stronger light sources. So Schrepfer was, as far as that goes, a very gifted craftsman.

Linck’s garden, outside the city and in no danger of getting unwelcome guests, was often the meeting place of Schrepfer’s “society”. The friendly relationship between Linck and Schrepfer, ended abruptly in this very same garden.


Schrepfer's letter of 22. September 1773 to the mayor and council of the city of Leipzig:

» Honourable Magnificence, born of the high nobility, great, noble and superior Sirs, I must, stricken with sorrow and sadness, unfortunately! May God forgive me! announce that, without being at fault, I was, at 6.30 pm on the 17th of September of the current year, taken into custody, in a violent manner, from the garden of Commercial Counsellor Linck in the so-called Windmühlen Gasse near Peter’s Gate by the adjutant of the auditor of the regiment garrisoned here together with 8 non-commissioned officers. I was taken to the local police station and was subjected to mistreatment worse than the worst criminal normally gets. This has put me into a miserable state and has damaged my livelihood and my honour. [...]

Your most obedient servant, Joh. George Schrepfer.«

[One year after his arrest in Linck’s garden, Schrepfer died, on the 8th of October 1774, under mysterious circumstances. The cause of death was declared to be »suicide«, a pistol shot in the Leipzig Rosenthal park.]

End of excerpts from Dr Otto Werner Förster: “Death of a Spirit Seer”- Johann Georg Schrepfer: A hushed up affair of the State of Saxony, 1774. Taurus Verlag Leipzig, 2011, 112 pages, with images from the original documents)

Picture credits: Dr Otto Werner Forster, 2011

Text and images courtesy of Dr Otto Werner Forster Taurus Verlag Leipzig