Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Spirit Photography - For And Against

Twice Told Tuesday features a photography related article reprinted from
my collection of old photography books, magazines, and newspapers.

The witching hour approaches and Shades turns to the spirits in photography. For many years spirit photography ran rampant through the lives of believers and non-believers. This week Shades looks at two previously published articles, 1876 and 1911. One for those born every minute and one for the skeptics.

An account of the taking of a spirit photograph under the strictest test conditions, published in the Cincinnati Enquirer, directly after the event occurred:

[From the Cincinnati Enquirer. 1876]


[To the Editor of the Enquirer.]

"Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem."
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul,"

Seems indeed to be fully realized and proven in this wonderful age of startling discoveries. Spirit photography, it has been claimed, has solved this momentous question; and various persons, from time to time, have claimed the peculiar power of placing their hands upon the camera, by which means the instrument became "sensitized," so as to enable "spirit forms" to impress their image on the plate with the sitter. Among others, Mr. Jay J. Hartman has claimed this power, and has been producing" spirit pictures" at Teeple's gallery, No. 100 West Fourth Street. He has been bitterly denounced as a fraud and trickster by the skeptics and unbelievers, and lately one of the morning contemporaries gave three columns of sensational arguments and statements to prove that the whole matter was a delusion, and Hartman a miserable humbug.

Although he gave private test-sittings that seemed satisfactory, yet even many of his friends began to doubt him, until he, last week, published a card that on Saturday morning, December 25th, he would give a free public investigation, addressed to the public generally, and to photographers especially; stating that he would place all the arrangements in the hands of those taking part in the investigation; they to choose the room where the trial was to be held; bring their own marked plates; furnish their own camera, chemicals, in fact every thing; Hartman simply asking to manipulate the plates in the presence of practical photographers, to show that he used no fraud or trickery. Christmas morning came, bright and cheerful, and found sixteen gentlemen, five of them practical photographers of this city, assembled at" his rooms.

Putting the question to vote, it was decided to adjourn to the photograph gallery of Mr. V. Cutter, No. 28 West Fourth street, Mr. Cutter being an expert in detecting the "spirit-picture trickery," and, as Mr. Hartman had never been in his gallery, he would be at the double disadvantage of being in a strange room, surrounded by strong skeptics, and practical men quick to detect fraud. Mr. Hartman cheerfully accepted, exacting but one condition — that there should be no arguments, jesting, or unbecoming conduct, in speech or action, liable to produce discord, and disturb the harmony and quiet necessary to insure results.

An old woodcut of Dr Morrow, and psychic
picture of young lady, taken under test conditions
by Mr Jay J. Hartman, in Cutter's studio,
in Cincinnati, in March 1876.

As the offer was made by Mr. Hartman in a perfectly fair and gentlemanly manner, it was accepted in like good spirit, and the party adjourned to Mr. Vincent Cutter's rooms. Entering the operating room, the party were requested to seat themselves on each aide of the camera, and join hands. Mr, Hartman then desired to be searched and blindfolded, but the photographers waived this as, being unnecessary. Mr. Hartman then chose Mr. F. T. Moreland to represent him, and see that everything was; done fairly.

Then, selecting Mr. C. H. Murhman, a practical photographer and strong skeptic, the three entered the dark room, Mr. Murhman selecting his own plates. The plates prepared, they approached the camera, Mr. Murhman carrying the plate, and then sitting for a "picture." Amid breathless silence the plate was exposed and carried back to the dark room, Mr. Hartman following.

Soon came the cry, "No result." Skeptics somewhat jubilant. Another plate was ordered. Mr. Murhman again followed Mr. Hartman through. No result. Unbelief above par, and rising rapidly. Mr. Cutter, the proprietor of the gallery, a strong skeptic, and probably the best expert in the city, was now chosen to go through the workings.

Hartman seemed downcast, and, declining to enter the dark room, stood at the camera, seemingly absorbed in deep meditation or prayer. His friend Moreland and Mr. Cutter entered the dark room alone, Mr. Cutter preparing the plate. Coming out to the camera, and giving Hartman the "holder," he seemed so much abstracted as to be scarcely able to place it in position.

Calling to two gentleman to place their hands on the camera with him, the third plate was exposed with no result. Affairs looked gloomy, indeed, for poor Hartman and his friends. But he directed Mr. Cutter to prepare another plate, and dropped into a deeper state of abstraction than ever. Mr. Murhman sat close beside Hartman and the camera, closely watching every movement, as he is well calculated to do from his long experience in detecting " professional mediums." Mr. Cutter, having finished the preparation of the plate in the dark room in the presence of Mr. Moreland, brought the fourth in the "holder," and handed it to Mr. Hartman. Selecting Dr. Morrow as the "sitter," and a third person to place hands on the camera, the plate was again exposed amid intense, breathless silence. Hartman visibly trembled, and appeared to be engaged in deep, silent invocation. The hands of the persons resting on the camera likewise visibly trembled, showing the presence of some occult power.

A Psychic Lady

Finally Hartman ended the painful suspense by covering the camera, when Mr. Cutter took the plate, and, accompanied by Mr. Moreland, retired to the dark room to develop it, leaving Hartman standing at the camera with great beads of perspiration studding his brow, while the assembly looked like "grave and reverend seignors," awaiting a verdict that was to blast the fond hopes of the Spiritualist — and prove that "life is but an empty dream." But quickly came the joyful exclamation from Mr. Moreland, and the astounding cry from Mr. Cutter — a result! A ripple of quiet joy ran over Hartman's countenance, while his friends, scarcely believing the good news possible, crowded, with the skeptics and unbelievers, who doubted the evidence of their own senses, around Mr. Cutter, who held the glass plate up to the light; and there, sure enough, impinging on the head of Dr. Morrow, was the clearly denned face of a young lady, even clearer and more distinct than his own.

Every one was astonished at this unexpected result. Murhman looked at Cutter, and Cutter looked at Murhman in blank amazement, declaring that he didn't do it, as it was one of his own plates, and he knew there was nothing on it when it went into the camera. There was the picture! Hartman had never touched the plate, or entered the dark chamber during its manipulation. How it got there, he didn't know; there it was.

While skeptic and Spiritualist were equally astounded, the best of feeling prevailed, and, to the credit of all be it said, not a harsh, ungentlemanly word was dropped by any one during this great and conclusive trial. Conclusive, in that, while Messrs. Cutter, Murhman, et al., do not admit the "spiritual" origin of the form on the plate, yet they all agree that Mr. Hartman did not, and could not, under the circumstances of never touching the plate, or entering the dark room, produce the "spirit picture" by fraud or trickery.

There is the face of Dr. Morrow, with the face of a young lady, with something resembling a wreath arching over their heads. Whence came it? If it is not what it purports to be, a "spirit form," what is it? And how came it there? All finally agreed to sign the following certificate, as justly due to, and fairly earned by Mr. Hartman: "We the undersigned, having taken part in the public investigation of 'Spirit Photography' given by Mr. Jay J. Hartman, hereby certify that we have closely examined and watched the manipulations of our own marked plates, through all the various workings, in and out of the darkroom, and have been unable to discover any sign of fraud or trickery on the part of Mr. Hartman. And we further certify that during the last sitting when the result was obtained, Mr. Jay J. Hartman did not handle the plate, nor enter the dark room at any time.

"J. Slatter, C. W. Murhman, V. Cutter, I. P. Weekman, F. T. Moreland, T. Temple, (all practical photographers.) E. Saunders, Wm. Warrington, Joseph Kinsey, Benjamin E. Hopkins, G. A. Carnahan, Wm. Sullivan, James P. Geppert, D. V. Morrow, M. D., E. Hopkins, and Robert Leslie."

Mr. Murhman demurred to the first part of the certificate, not that he had discovered fraud, but that he was not in the dark room when the result was obtained, but cheerfully signed as to the last clause, and with the balance exclaims: " Thertfs the fact, who can explain it?"

I will also refer the reader to a pamphlet put forth by Mr. Mumler, of Boston, on his own experiences in Spirit-Photography. He gives many well attested cases of pictures taken by him, which have been unmistakably recognized by relatives and friends as the faces of those who are in the spirit world. Mr. Mumler is the gentleman who some twenty years since, more or less, underwent a public trial in New York city, and was triumphantly acquitted.


Shindler, Mary Dana. A Southerner Among the Spirits: A Record of Investigations Into the Spiritual Phenomena. Memphis, Tennessee: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1877. p. 49.


Blogger Lidian said...

What a fabulous treat to read this! Am bookmarking it immediately. I love the photos too. But I really don't know how they fooled anyone (unless they were drinking what Arthur Conan Doyle was having!)

October 29, 2008 at 6:01 PM  

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