Always at the cutting edge of news and entertainment I am going to start this July 2014 blog post with a hot off the press investigative ghost filming adventure…
…from 1922 :
Taking motion pictures of spirits is not going to be so simple a matter as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and some of his brother scientists seem to imagine.
They may know spirits, but they don’t know motion pictures.
If you have any doubts on the subject, you just ask Tony Pasquale. Tony is one of the crack Selznick cameramen and he lives in Chicago. At the solicitation of “Movie Weekly,” Tony, who is a religious man and doesn’t go in for spiritualism socially, consented to accompany me on a night adventure without knowing whither we were bound or what we were going to see.
If “Movie Weekly,” in spite of all that happened on that historic occasion, still insists on trying to take moving pictures of spooks, some other hand than Tony’s will turn the crank. With his right hand raised solemnly above his curly head, Tony announced that he is through.
In last week’s issue of the magazine there was published an interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in which he voiced the conviction that spirit motion pictures were a definite possibility. Furthermore, an eminent Austrian scientist had actually succeeded in filming a medium at full tilt and we reproduced sections of that reel showing ectoplasm flowing from her mouth.
It then occurred to us that we might get some movies of spirits ourselves.
Instantly, investigation was begun to find the most wonderful spirit medium in America. We were looking for one who could and would raise the sheeted dead from their graves, parade them before our startled eyes and make them register on our camera.
After an extensive search, reports began to drift in to us of the miracles being accomplished by two wonderful psychics in Chicago. If the stories that were told to us were to be believed, all the prophets in history, all the magicians from Cagliostro down to Houdini and Thurston were outclassed utterly by these twentieth century seers who dwelt on the saltless beaches of Lake Michigan.
With their own eyes a cloud of witnesses declared they had seen whole armies of ghosts; with their own lips they had been kissed by these grizzly specters of the tombs, and as for taking motion pictures – why all one had to do was to set up his camera and begin to crank.
“And if you ask me, that’s enough !” Tony Pasquale would remark at this particular junction.
So extraordinary were the stories related to us that we felt our search for the proper medium was ended. Without further delay I approached Mr. and Mrs. William Black – the medium in question – and made overtures for having our own seances. After considerable correspondence, everything was agreed upon, and one fine day I departed for Chicago, carrying with me as one of the most important of my traveling credentials a letter of introduction to that same Tony Pasquale.
In the last twenty years I have spent a great deal of my time investigating spiritualism and other phases of psychic phenomena. But this was my first attempt at trying to make spirit motion pictures. I believe it was an historic experiment — that is to say, I don’t believe any other attempt of its kind was ever made before in the United States. Whether my own or the subsequent endeavors of others will be more successful, no man can tell.
When I arrived in Chicago, I found myself hampered by a great many unexpected difficulties. To detail the adventures through which I passed in the merely getting in to see these phenomena would take more space than is placed at my disposal. The fact is that I did succeed in securing a private view under test conditions of these singular phantoms and, being satisfied that I could astonish the world if I could transfer such apparitions to motion pictures, I secured the consent of Dr. Black to bring a photographer to the public meeting scheduled for Sunday evening in one of the lodge rooms of Chicago’s Masonic Temple.
It was at this time that Tony Pasquale was called into conference. When I met him, Tony had no idea whatever of the scenes he was expected to shoot. When I told him that I wanted him to take moving pictures of the dead, he looked very puzzled.
“How can I take moving pictures of the dead?” he demanded. “The dead don’t move.”
“These dead do,” I assured him. “These are ghosts — spirits — phantoms — spooks.”
“Whew !” exclaimed Tony.
Very carefully I explained to Tony then the nature of my undertaking. He was to come to the lodge room with me, set up lights, prepare his camera and then sit quietly watching until Dr. Black gave permission for him to begin. Then he was to crank away with all his might. He looked very dubious, but Tony is the kind of a man who, once he has given his word, will go through Hell to keep it. If you ask him, he will probably tell you that he did just that.
I then explained a new detail to the bewildered Tony, which completely upset him. In order to convince everyone that there was no trickery employed, Mrs. Black the medium who sat in the cabinet from which the spirits emerged, not only insisted that the cabinet and its curtains be thoroughly examined, but that she herself be subjected to the closest scrutiny.
To make this effective, a committee of women was appointed from the audience, who retired to a dressing room with Mrs. Black. There the singular woman of mystery disrobed, stripped nude as the day she came into the world, permitting herself to be scrutinized by the committee. She then put on a kimono and slippers, both of which were minutely examined, and in this condition goes into the cabinet. By this means all opportunity for her to carry any mechanical ghosts upon her person is apparently removed.
I explained to Tony that in my capacity as an investigator, I wanted to have a representative on the committee, inasmuch as it was highly unlikely that I would be permitted to serve on it myself.
“I’ve got a wife,” he confessed, “but she’s never done anything like that before and I don’t know that she ever will.”
To make a long story short, I met Mr. and Mrs. Antonio Pasquale, a pretty and bright-eyed little woman, on La Salle Street corner at seven o’clock on Sunday evening, July 9th. His camera and lights and various other appurtenances were bundled into a taxi-cab. Together we motored to the Masonic Temple, where we repaired to Corinthian Hall and found Dr. Black, himself, the guardian of the door.
Dr. Black is a mild-voiced, gray-haired, smooth shaven, spectacled little man who looks like a subdued edition of Woodrow Wilson. His greeting was affable. He saw that we were seated on the front row where the camera would have an uninterrupted shot at the cabinet. He also agreed that Mrs. Pasquale should serve on the committee which would examine Mrs. Black.
The lodge room was well filled before the meeting began.
Darkness being an essential of the mysteries and this being an evening in early July, it was necessary to wait until the shadows of evening had closed over the city.
Through an open window of the lodge room I could watch the slender white tower of the new Wrigley Building with its revolving circlet of jewelled lights and the giant black arms of its clock.
To while away the tedium, some very indifferent musicians played and sang. After a while the performance began in earnest. A Protestant Episcopal minister preached an eloquent sermon, not one word of which I can remember. Then the Rev. Dr. Black rose and gave some psychic readings, picking out unfortunates here and there in the audience whose secret hopes and desires he proceeded to translate and to whom he offered advice that at times seemed altogether gratuitous.
But finally we proceeded with the materialization. Dr. Black called for two committees, one composed of six ladies, the other of six men. Mrs. Pasquale took her place with the former. They retired to disrobe and examine the high priestess of mysticism through whose ectoplasmic agency the living and the dead were to come face to face.
While they retired, the six members of the male committee, of which I was one, proceeded to examine the wooden cabinet with its curtains of green velvet trimmed with gold stars.
This cabinet was fashioned very much after the fashion of the cabinets used by magicians in their conjuring performances on the stage and, as a former professional magician, I examined it carefully. Fortified by years of practical experience in magic, I am ready to testify that the cabinet itself was free from preparation, secret doors, traps or other mechanism. It was simply a three-sided wooden affair with front curtains forming a fourth wall with a removable top. We practically took it to pieces. Our report to the audience was that the cabinet was unprepared.
A few moments later, Mrs. Black, accompanied by the six members of the committe, reappeared, and the ladies testified that they had stripped her and found her innocent of any preparations for fraud. Having rendered these reports, the committees were discharged to return to their seats. I took my place beside my friend Tony, who was very curious and kept looking over at his wife, his eyes big with questions.
A moment later the lights were lowered. The medium retired to the cabinet and sat down on a chair, the curtains being drawn so that she was entirely hidden from our view.
Now, I must ask the reader to remember, as Dr. Black asked the audience to remember, that Mrs. Black had gone into the cabinet wearing only a kimono and bathroom slippers and that the cabinet, had also been thoroughly examined. To all outward appearance, it was therefore impossible for her to have anything concealed about her person or to obtain any assistance from within the cabinet itself. In addition to this, Dr. Black took a seat in the audience, being nowhere near the curtains of the cabinet.
Suddenly a terrific shout came from within the cabinet – a heavy masculine voice, the swaggering, stentorwian voice of a man — or a spirit.
It was the voice of the Major, the “cabinet control,” as they call it. The best friend that the medium has on the other side of the graveyard, who is always present at these seances.
Slowly the curtains were parted and in the gloom behind them something white and filmy, something that floated and wavered like fog in the wind, appeared. As we watched it breathlessly, it assumed more tangible form and substance. It was about the height of an adult human figure and bore some resemblance to the human shape. More clearly we discerned it every moment as if it were solidifying into an actuality. In another moment we saw that it was the form of a woman — shining white, white as the snows of the Himalayas with flowing tapestries of mist about her.
Undoubtedly it had moved. Through the aperture of the curtain it passed as easily as if it were but a part of a night wind that blew from off the lake through the open windows. Out onto the platform it came gracefully, majestically and gliding silently. Its arms reached out with a spread of white suggesting the wings of an angel. Its face, which could only be dimly discerned, was looking directly at Tony Pasquale.
“I don’t know her. What’s she looking at me for?” demanded Tony in an offended whisper.
“Hush!” I rebuked him. “That’s probably the spirit of your mother-in-law.”
“Oh, my Gawd,” groaned Tony.
I would be permitted to turn on Tony’s lights, Tony would be permitted to turn the crank of his camera and take the picture. But since the seance started, Dr. Black had said nothing to me about the pictures whatever. I began to feel alarmed. At any moment the seance might be over and I might not get any pictures, and besides, the time for action, I felt sure, was at hand.
But an interruption occurred.
Dr. Black called me to the cabinet curtains to meet one of my spirit friends.
This was a unique experience. In the past I have frequently met spirits, or what masqueraded as spirits, face to face. But in all such materializations I have been destitute of thrills. The fraud was too apparent. They were too palpably muslin ghosts, or sometimes mosquito-netting ghosts, with a fat medium inside the “ectoplasm.” This was different, for the three figures which I beheld when I strode up to the cabinet, with Doctor Black holding my arms, were the most convincing spirits I have ever beheld.
Seen so closely — there was not more than six inches of space between the first phantom and myself — the effect was actually startling. The figure was gauzy, impalpable as air, with the darkness showing through its airy drapings. The face was that of a girl, not more than twenty years old, with brown hair and brown eyes — a face very different from that of the medium, Mrs. Black. As I approached, she gave a gasping kind of cry, and then smiled at me weirdly.
“Who is it?” I asked.
The figure whispered something indistinctly.
“Is it Isabelle?”
I do not know any Isabelle. I was trying to trick the spirit. But the figure shook its head drearily. It was not Isabelle.
“Is it Leanora?”
It happens that I lost Leanora – a beautiful girl cousin, who died some years ago.
As I pronounced her name, the phantom uttered a deep and yearning cry – as mournful a sound, as these mortal cars of mine have ever heard, and then she crumpled before my eyes – literally melting into invisibility as I watched her.
“Her strength was gone,” explained Doctor Black. “But here is someone else who wants to see you.”
I turned to behold another ghost. This was a strange and beautiful girl, utterly unknown to me. Her name I could not catch, though she spoke it twice. Never have I seen a more radiantly beautiful creature in the flesh or out of it. She smiled at me tenderly, bewilderingly – as if indeed she loved me. Then she leaned forward and murmured something in a tone of such sweet sadness that I trembled.
“She wishes to embrace you,” my faithful Doctor Black explained.
Who was I, that I should deny the yearning impulse of a beautiful girl spirit to take me into her cloud-like arms ?
Thus it happened that in the hush and silence of that lodge room, in the quiet and the gloom, I moved forward and the arms of that gracious and kindly phantom encircled me, and cold, but ardent lips were pressed against my cheek. Even as that kiss touched me, the figure collapsed and was gone.
It suddenly occurred to me that the seance must be nearing its close; that I was to catch the midnight train out of Chicago, and that if I did not get those pictures instantly, I was not likely to get them at all. Doctor Black was maintaining a strange and dignified silence on the subject of motion pictures.
I walked up to him and said:
“Doctor Black, we can’t wait any longer. The next time a spirit comes out of that cabinet, we are going to turn up our lights and start taking them.”
He smiled at me pleasantly.
“That is quite all right,” he agreed.
I went back to Tony and gave him his instructions. He was to wait until the ghost was fully out of the curtains, then switch on the portable lights and begin.
He gave me a worried look.
“This is a hell of a job,” he complained. “It’s all new to me . . . I’ll be glad when it’s all over.”
He turned away from me as if I were the author of his predicament, and began attending to his camera. I went back to Doctor Black. I could see Tony casting harried glances toward the cabinet, as if daring the spirit to come on out.
Then, suddenly, something happened that was not on the program
A frightful groan came from within the cabinet, there was the sound as of someone struggling, and then the medium pitched forward through the curtains and fell prostrate on her face across the floor.
At the same moment, a yell came from Tony, and he sprung the switch on his lights and began cranking wildly — but too late, and to no avail.
For some mysterious reason, the medium had fainted just when we were going to take the pictures!
I saw Tony outside and announced that I wanted to settle our little bill.
He glared at me.
“There ain’t nothing to settle.” he informed me, “except one thing — and that is that I don’t shoot no more spirits. Good night!”
The reader may be curious to know my opinion as to the nature of these ghostlike manifestations.
In conclusion I can say only this : that I am convinced there are no spirits of the dead present at such performances; that they are the results of very clever physical means, and that the medium at this particular seance fainted just at the psychological moment – for the camera might have recorded details which the eye missed and exposed the mystery.
The next time we will begin cranking without warning.