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September 22, 2016

25 Haunting Photos of Séances From the Past

Spiritualism – the belief that living can communicate with the dead – flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It was believed that communication with the spirit world was possible with the help of a medium, a person who claimed to be able to speak to spirits. The medium delivered messages from the dearly departed verbally or through levitation, table tipping, ringing bells or by excreting ectoplasm.

Over time, mediums were generally found to be frauds and their methods nothing more than elaborate parlor tricks. This caused the spiritualist movement to decline, but it still exists in one form or another today.

Check out these haunting vintage photos of séances from the past.

1. Ectoplasm, ca. early 20th century.

Ectoplasm is a substance that seeps out of orifices on the medium's body. It allegedly makes it possible for the spirit to materialize and communicate with the living or perform feats of telekinesis.

In reality, the ectoplasm was made from from paper, cloth and egg white, muslin or other textiles smothered with potato starch. It was swallowed and regurgitated by the medium at the right moment, to show the spirit had "arrived."

2. Medium Jack Webber during one of his so-called trumpet speaking séances.

Welsh medium Jack Webber with ectoplasm and floating trumpets. The trumpets supposedly floated around in midair and pointed toward a person for whom a message was intended. However, close examination of Webber's trumpets revealed them to be held up by a rod covered in crepe paper.

3. Table levitates during Palladino's séance at home of astronomer Camille Flammarion, France, 25 November 1898.

Eusapia Palladino was a popular medium who was believed to have the ability to communicate with the dead, but in reality, she was a total fraud who was caught cheating in almost every country she visited. Her trickery was so clever, it was said that she "must have needed long practice to bring it to its present level of skill."

Palladino wasn't past using her sexual charms to seduce scientific investigators making claims against her.

4. Harry Houdini demonstrates how spiritualists ring bells with their toes.

Magician and skeptic Harry Houdini shows us how it's done – here he demonstrates how fake mediums make bells ring during a séance.

5. The last séance Bess held for Harry, 1936.

Bess Houdini tried to contact her late husband Harry in séances every year on the anniversary of his death. After several years and still no word from him, she finally gave up. She said, "Ten years was long enough to wait for any man."

6. Ghost hand photo by William Hope.

The ghost arm that's supporting the table is really just a double exposure in this photo taken by spirit photographer William Hope.

7. Mina Stinson Crandon during a séance.

Mina Stinson Crandon, a medium who was a favorite of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, became so popular that her prayers were read by the U.S. Army.

In 1924, Crandon was submitted as a candidate for a prize offered by Scientific American to any psychic would could successfully demonstrate telekinetic ability. Scientific American prize committee member Harry Houdini (yes, the famous magician) exposed the mechanics of her trickery during a séance. Regardless, she still received the $10,000 prize money!

8. Auguste Politi levitating a table.

Auguste Politi was an Italian watchmaker and medium who was known for once levitating a piano. Here he is blindfolded and levitating a table.

9. A table gets tricky during a séance in 1939.

A table levitates during a séance in this 1939 photo by Leon Isaacs. The photo was taken in complete darkness with an infra-red flashgun system.

10. Levitation of a chair, ca. 1940.

A chair levitating during a séance, taken by Danish photographer and medium Sven Türck. This photo is from his 1945 book called I Was Familiar With The Spirits which contained photos of furniture levitating without any physical aid.

11. Photograph of a 1928 séance revealing Duncan with dolls.

Helen Duncan, a Scottish medium was the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735.

A fraudulent medium, Duncan's ectoplasm was found to be made from cheesecloth mixed with egg whites and toilet paper. Her spirit guide "Peggy" was really a doll made from a painted papier-mache mask draped in an old sheet.

In 1944, Duncan was convicted of falsely claiming to procure spirits. She was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment. Upon her release, she promised to stop conducting séances, but she was arrested while conducting one in 1956.

12. Mary Marshall with fake ectoplasm in Winnipeg, Canada, 1929.

Canadian medium Mary Ann Marshall and her fake ectoplasm made from cloth, tissue, and magazine cut outs of people.

13. Medium Marthe Béraud with an ectoplasmatic structure on her head, 1912.

Here's a photograph of Béraud taken in 1912 by German parapsychological researcher Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, apparently showing a light manifestation between her hands and a materialization on her head. In 1922, scientists sat in on 15 of Beraud's séances, and thoroughly debunked her.

14. Houdini's "Margie Box".

Mediums had no greater opponent than magician Harry Houdini, who denounced them as frauds. In fact, he had almost a secondary career debunking the methods of famous mediums during séances and performing their tricks as part of his stage show. He even asked his wife to help him show how mediums pull off certain tricks.

In 1924, Houdini was part of a committee investigating Boston medium Mina "Margery" Crandon, the wife of a respected surgeon and Harvard faculty member. Crandon had entered herself in a contest of sorts, run by Scientific American, that offered a monetary prize to the medium able to produce a "visual psychic manifestation." Here, Houdini is shown in the "Margie Box," which was intended to limit the medium's physical movements within the séance room and contain her suspected manipulations; Houdini built the box himself. The committee sat in on 20 séances, and the debate about Crandon's abilities lasted for a year, but ultimately, Scientific American opted not to award her the money.

15. Medium Meurig Morris holding an onstage séance at the Fortune Theatre in London, 1931.

This photo, snapped September 10, 1931, shows medium Meurig Morris holding an onstage séance at the Fortune Theatre in London. Morris was more of a mental medium than a physical one: She would go into a trance and supposedly channel a spirit that called itself Power. Her body would stiffen, and her voice changed from soprano to baritone. She would preach on philosophical and religious matters for up to 45 minutes at a time. You can check out Morris in action here.

16. A medium caught in the act, 1950.

In séances, mediums often asked spirits to demonstrate their power by levitating or moving a table. But this medium, at a 1950 séance, got sloppy: a photographer caught her using her knee to tip the table, just one method mediums used to make things appear to move by ghostly hands.

17. A séance in 1952.

A group gather at a house in Michael's Hill, Bristol to take part in a séance in 1952.

18. Levitating instrument, 1920.

Could it be? An instrument mysteriously rises in the middle of a group holding a seance. Although most commonly known to scare, seances can also be part of a healing process for those who have lost loved ones and spiritually want to communicate with them.

19. A séance circa 1870.

A look of fear strikes the faces of these men as a table lifts during a seance in France. The medium (presumably the man blindfolded) continues to communicate with the spirits as they remain holding hands.

20. John Beattie during a séance in Bristol, 1872.

In an effort to contact spirits, this grainy photo from 1872 captures the focus of a group gathered while John Beattie conducted a séance in Bristol, England.

21. Séance at Baron von Erhardt's studio, Rome, 1909.

A séance from 1909 took place in the studio of Baron von Erhardt in Rome, who set up a test for a medium... and a few moments into the seance, a table flew across the room.

These photos appear in this New York Times article. The article states that the medium is a man named Eusapia Paladino, but Eusapia Palladino was actually a famous female medium; the lone woman of the group might be her.

22. Medium Marthe Beraud in action, 1910.

Medium Marthe Beraud (also known as Eva C. and Eva Carrière) show-stopping séance specialty was excreting ectoplasm. The material was said to be formed when mediums were in a trance state; it could only be created in near darkness (light, mediums said, would make it disintegrate), and it was emitted from orifices on the medium's body (Beraud's usually came from her mouth, nose or ears).

But rather than being some spiritual substance, the so-called ectoplasm was usually gauze, muslin, chiffon, or, in the case of Mina "Margery" Crandon, sheep's lung. Beraud was the first medium to perform the ectoplasm trick, and one of her outspoken supporters was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

23. Séance, circa 1910.

When mediums from all around were claiming to successfully communicate with spirits, many ordinary people attempted to do the same with home circles and table tipping.

24. Dr. Kreskin during a séance in 1968.

Extra Sensory Perception expert Dr. Kreskin demonstrates his powers on Toni Carrol (l.) and Carmella Condella (r.) during a séance in 1968.

25. Séance, circa 1961.

Another form of communicating with spirits is through a spirit board, also known as a talking board. The Ouija board has become one of the most popular, which groups use to receive messages through letters and words.

(via Oddee)


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