Spiritual Photographing

In answer to numerous inquiries and several threats of prosecution for

libel in consequence of what I have written in regard to impostors who

(for money) perform tricks of legerdemain and attribute them to the

spirits of deceased persons, I have only to say, I have no malice or

antipathies to gratify in these expositions. In undertaking to show up

the "Ancient and Modern Humbugs of the World," I am determined so far as

in me lies, to publish nothing but the truth. This I shall do, "with

good motives and for justifiable ends," and I shall do it fearlessly and

conscientiously. No threats will intimidate, no fawnings will flatter me

from publishing everything that is true which I think will contribute to

the information or to the amusement of my readers.

Some correspondents ask me if I believe that all pretensions to

intercourse with departed spirits are impositions. I reply, that if

people declare that they privately communicate with or are influenced to

write or speak by invisible spirits, I cannot prove that they are

deceived or are attempting to deceive me--although I believe that one or

the other of these propositions is true. But when they pretend to give

me communications from departed spirits, to tie or untie ropes--to read

sealed letters, or to answer test-questions through spiritual agencies,

I pronounce all such pretensions ridiculous impositions, and I stand

ready at any time to prove them so, or to forfeit five hundred dollars,

whenever these pretended mediums will succeed in producing their

"wonderful manifestations" in a room of my selecting, and with apparatus

of my providing; they not being permitted to handle the sealed letters

or folded ballots which they are to answer, nor to make conditions in

regard to the manner of rope tying, etc. If they can answer my

test-questions relevantly and truly, without touching the envelopes in

which they are sealed--or even when given to them by my word of mouth, I

will hand over the $500. If they can cause invisible agencies to perform

in open daylight many of the things which they pretend to accomplish by

spirits in the dark, I will promptly pay $500 for the sight. In the mean

time, I think I can reasonably account for and explain all pretended

spiritual gymnastic performances--throwings of hair-brushes--dancing

pianos--spirit-rapping--table-tipping--playing of musical instruments,

and flying through the air (in the dark,) and a thousand other

"wonderful manifestations" which, like most of the performances of

modern "magicians," are "passing strange" until explained, and then they

are as flat as dish-water. Dr. Von Vleck publicly produces all of these

pretended "manifestations" in open daylight, without claiming spiritual


Among the number of humbugs that owe their existence to various

combinations of circumstances and the extreme gullibility of the human

race, the following was related to me by a gentleman whose position and

character warrant me in announcing that it may be implicitly relied upon

as correct in every particular.

Some time before the Presidential election, a photographer residing in

one of our cities (an ingenious man and a scientific chemist,) was

engaged in making experiments with his camera, hoping to discover some

new combination whereby to increase the facility of "picturing the human

form divine," etc. One morning, his apparatus being in excellent order,

he determined to photograph himself. No sooner thought of, than he set

about making his arrangements. All being ready, he placed himself in a

position, remained a second or two, and then instantly closing his

camera, surveyed the result of his operation. On bringing the picture

out upon the plate, he was surprised to find a shadowy representation of

a human being, so remarkably ghostlike and supernatural, that he became

amused at the discovery he had made. The operation was repeated, until

he could produce similar pictures by a suitable arrangement of his

lenses and reflectors known to no other than himself. About this time he

became acquainted with one of the most famous spiritualist-writers, and

in conversation with him, showed him confidentially one of those

photographs, with also the shadow of another person, with the remark,

mysteriously whispered:

"I assure you, Sir, upon my word as a gentleman, and by all my hopes of

a hereafter, that this picture was produced upon the plate as you see

it, at a time when I had locked myself in my gallery, and no other

person was in the room. It appeared instantly, as you see it there; and

I have long wished to obtain the opinion of some man, like yourself, who

has investigated these mysteries."

The spiritualist listened attentively, looked upon the picture, heard

other explanations, examined other pictures, and sagely gave it as his

opinion that the inhabitants of the unknown sphere had taken this mode

of re-appearing to the view of mortal eyes, that this operator must be a

"medium" of especial power. The New York Herald of Progress, a

spiritualist paper, printed the first article upon this man's spiritual


The acquaintance thus begun was continued, and the photographer found it

very profitable to oblige his spiritual friend, by the reproduction of

ghost-like pictures, ad infinitum, at the rate of five dollars each.

Mothers came to the room of the artist, and gratefully retired with

ghostly representations of departed little ones. Widows came to purchase

the shades of their departed husbands. Husbands visited the photographer

and procured the spectral pictures of their dead wives. Parents wanted

the phantom-portraits of their deceased children. Friends wished to

look upon what they believed to be the lineaments of those who had long

since gone to the spirit-land. All who sought to look on those pictures

were satisfied with what had been shown them, and, by conversation on

the subject, increased the number of visitors. In short, every person

who heard about this mystery determined to verify the wonderful tales

related, by looking upon the ghostly lineaments of some person, who,

they believed, inhabited another sphere. And here I may as well mention

that one of the faithful obtained a "spirit" picture of a deceased

brother who had been dead more than five years, and said that he

recognized also the very pattern of his cravat as the same that he wore

in life. Can human credulity go further than to suppose that the

departed still appear in the old clo' of their earthly wardrobe? and the

fact that the appearance of "the shade" of a young lady in one of the

fashionable cut Zouave jackets of the hour did not disturb the faith of

the believers, fills us indeed with wonder.

The fame of the photographer spread throughout the "spiritual circles,"

and pilgrims to this spiritual Mecca came from remote parts of the land,

and before many months, caused no little excitement among some persons,

inclined to believe that the demonstrations were entirely produced by

human agency.

The demand for "spirit" pictures consequently increased, until the

operator was forced to raise his price to ten dollars, whenever

successful in obtaining a true "spirit-picture," or to be overwhelmed

with business that now interfered with his regular labors.

About this time the famous "Peace Conference" had been concluded by the

issue of Mr. Lincoln's celebrated letter, "To whom it may concern," and

William Cornell Jewett (with his head full of projects for restoring

peace to a suffering country) heard about the mysterious photographer,

and visited the operator.

"Sir," said he, "I must consult with the spirits of distinguished

statesmen. We need their counsel. This cruel war must stop. Brethren

slaying brethren, it is horrible, Sir. Can you show me John Adams? Can

you show me Daniel Webster? Let me look upon the features of Andrew

Jackson. I must see that noble, glorious, wise old statesman, Henry

Clay, whom I knew. Could you reproduce Stephen A. Douglas, with whom to

counsel at this crisis in our national affairs! I should like to meet

the great Napoleon. Such, here obtained, would increase my influence in

the political work that I have in hand."

In his own nervous, impetuous, excited way, Colorado Jewett continued to

urge upon the photographer the great importance of receiving such

communications, or some evidence that the spirits of our deceased

statesmen were watching over and counseling those who desire to re-unite

the two opposing forces, fighting against each other on the soil of a

common country.

With much caution, the photographer answered the questions presented.

Arranging the camera, he produced some indistinct figures, and then

concluded that the "conditions" were not sufficiently favorable to

attempt anything more before the next day. On the following morning,

Jewett appeared--nervous, garrulous, and excited at the prospect of

being in the presence of those great men, whose spirits he desired to

invoke. The apparatus was prepared; utter silence imposed, and for some

time the heart of the peace-seeker could almost be heard thumping within

the breast of him who sought supernatural aid, in his efforts to end our

cruel civil war. Then, overcome by his own thoughts, Jewett disturbed

the "conditions" by changing his position, and muttering short

invocations, addressed to the shades of those he wished to behold. The

operator finally declared he could not proceed, and postponed his

performance for that day. So, excuses were made, until the mental

condition of Mr. Jewett had reached that state which permitted the

photographer to expect the most complete success. Everything being

prepared, Jewett breathlessly awaited the expected presence. Quietly the

operator produced the spectral representation of the elder Adams. Jewett

scrutinized the plate, and expressed a silent wonder, accompanied, no

doubt, with some mental appeals addressed to the ancient statesman.

Then, writing the name of Webster upon a slip of paper, he passed it

over to the photographer, who gravely placed the scrap of writing upon

the camera, and presently drew therefrom the "ghost-like" but well

remembered features of the "Sage of Marshfield." Colorado Jewett was now

thoroughly impressed with the spiritual power producing these images;

and in ecstasy breathed a prayer that Andrew Jackson might appear to

lend his countenance to the conference he wished to hold with the mighty

dead. Jackson's well known features came out upon call, after due

manipulation of the proper instrument. "Glorious trio of departed

statesmen!" thought Jewett, "help us by your counsels in this the day of

our nation's great distress." Next Henry Clay's outline was faintly

shown from the tomb, and here the sitter remarked that he expected him.

After him came Stephen A. Douglas, and the whole affair was so entirely

satisfactory to Jewett, that, after paying fifty dollars for what he had

witnessed, he, the next day, implored the presence of George Washington,

offering fifty dollars more for a "spiritual" sight of the "Father of

our Country." This request smote upon the ear of the photographer like

an invitation to commit sacrilege. His reverence for the memory of

Washington was not to be disturbed by the tempting offer of so many

greenbacks. He could not allow the features of that great man to be used

in connection with an imposture perpetrated upon so deluded a fanatic as

Colorado Jewett. In short, the "conditions" were unfavorable for the

apparition of "General Washington;" and his visitor must remain

satisfied with the council of great men that had been called from the

spirit world to instill wisdom into the noddle of a foolish man on this

terrestrial planet. Having failed to obtain, by the agency of the

operator, a glimpse of Washington, Jewett clasped his hands together,

and sinking upon his knees, said, looking toward Heaven: "O spirit of

the immortal Washington! look down upon the warring elements that

convulse our country, and kindly let thy form appear, to lend its

influence toward re-uniting a nation convulsed with civil war!"

It is needless to say that this prayer was not answered. The spirit

would not come forth; and, although quieted by the explanations and half

promises of the photographer, the peace-messenger departed, convinced

that he had been in the presence of five great statesmen, and saddened

by the reflection that the shade of the immortal Washington had turned

away its face from those who had refused to follow the counsels he gave

while living.

Soon after this, Jewett ordered duplicates of these photographs to the

value of $20 more. I now have on exhibition in my Museum several of the

veritable portraits taken at this time, in which the well-known form and

face of Mr. Jewett are plainly depicted, and on one of which appears the

shade of Henry Clay, on another that of Napoleon the First, and on

others ladies supposed to represent deceased feminines of great

celebrity. It is said that Jewett sent one of the Napoleonic pictures to

the Emperor Louis Napoleon.

Not long after Colorado Jewett had beheld these wonderful pictures, and

worked himself up into the belief that he was surrounded by the great

and good statesmen of a former generation, a lady, without making

herself known, called upon the photographer. I am informed that she is

the wife of a distinguished official. She had heard of the success of

others, and came to verify their experience under her own bereavement.

Completely satisfied by the apparition exhibited, she asked for and

obtained a spectral photograph resembling her son, who, some months

previously, had gone to the spirit-land. It is said that the same lady

asked for and obtained a spiritual photograph of her brother, whom she

had recently heard was slain in battle; and when she returned home she

found him alive, and as well as could be expected under the

circumstances. But this did not shake her faith in the least. She simply

remarked that some evil spirit had assumed her brother's form in order

to deceive her. This is a very common method of spiritualists "digging

out" when the impositions of the "money-operators" are detected. This

same lady has recently given her personal influence in favor of the

"medium" Colchester, in Washington. One of these impressions bearing the

likeness of this distinguished lady was accidentally recognized by a

visitor. This capped the climax of the imposture and satisfied the

photographer that he was committing a grave injury upon society by

continuing to produce "spiritual pictures," and subsequently he refused

to lend himself to any more "manifestations" of this kind. He had

exhausted the fun.

I need only explain the modus operandi of effecting this illusion, to

make apparent to the most ignorant that no supernatural agency was

required to produce photographs bearing a resemblance to the persons

whose "apparition" was desired. The photographer always took the

precaution of inquiring about the deceased, his appearance and ordinary

mode of wearing the hair. Then, selecting from countless old "negatives"

the nearest resemblance, it was produced for the visitor, in dim,

ghostlike outline differing so much from anything of the kind ever

produced, that his customers seldom failed to recognize some lineament

the dead person possessed when living, especially if such relative had

deceased long since. The spectral illusions of Adams, Webster, Jackson,

Clay, and Douglas were readily obtained from excellent portraits of the

deceased statesmen, from which the scientific operator had prepared his

illusions for Colorado Jewett.

In placing before my readers this incident of "Spiritual Photography," I

can assure them that the facts are substantially as related; and I am

now in correspondence with gentlemen of wealth and position who have

signified their willingness to support this statement by affidavits and

other documents prepared for the purpose of opening the eyes of the

people to the delusions daily practised upon the ignorant and