How To Play Chopin

pianoI would love to play the piano well.

I’ve always thought how useful it would be to be able to play a really good version of ‘happy birthday’ at a party or some other sing-along song. I probably could play something resembling it, but I would need to practice a lot first, and I wouldn’t play as well as I want to because I would love to play the piano well, really well.

How To Play Chopin (By Vladimir De Pachmann)

Of all the composers whose works are familiar to lovers of music not one is so generally popular or so widely appreciated as Chopin. Yet it is safe to say that the works of no other composer are, year in year out, so religiously – or, should I rather say, sacrilegiously – and horribly murdered by the amateur and the mediocre pianist. The works of any other composer suffer just the same proportionately at the same hands!

But yet, what would you have? Musical insight, with the true appreciation of all the beautiful feelings and emotions expressed upon the piano, is a possession of which few can boast in an active sense, although many possess it passively. With proper musical training it can be acquired to some extent, it is true, but real genius in this respect is God-given at birth; it is as a tiny speck of yeast, which grows and expands with the mind until the whole soul of the artiste is leavened. The passive appreciation, as I have already said, is a different matter. If one walks through an exquisite garden, full of rare and beautiful flowers, one cannot but admire and appreciate the work of the gardener. The arrangement of the beds, the size and perfect symmetry of the various blossoms, the strange and beautiful colours which surround one would be attractive to anyone, even though they had never been in a garden before. But what proportion of those walking through such a garden could as successfully perform the gardener’s task?

Thousands of people visit the Royal Academy each year. All can admire the paintings exhibited there. To some there are certain pictures more pleasing than others, but all will find beauties to appreciate, however individual his or her taste may be. Yet how many of those who see and admire them could paint any picture or depict upon canvas any one of the particular effects that appeal to their sense of the beautiful?

Music is both a garden and a picture gallery, and great artistes are the gardeners and the painters. The beauties of a garden appeal spontaneously to everyone alike. The sweet simplicity of the daisy, the brilliance of the sunflower, the elegance of the lily, and the fragrance of the rose are appreciated at sight by both the uncultured and the cultured mind. The very savage knows how beautiful is Nature’s work, although he cannot imitate it, however hard he may try. It is to the cultured mind, therefore, that my simile of the picture gallery is directed. For discrimination as to the comparative beauty of pictures, special education is essential. Yet even where this special education exists, it does not say that those who possess it would be able to paint the pictures they admire and criticise.

The beauties of music, when properly brought out, appeal just as spontaneously as the beauties of a garden. The uncultured mind appreciates them immediately and indiscriminately, the cultured mind appreciates them spontaneously and discriminately, yet the productive ability in both cases may be equally lacking. Thus it is that Chopin suffers at the hands of the thousands of pianists who attempt to play him, for, while they can appreciate his beauties when they are shown to them by others, they do not possess the ability to bring them out themselves. Indeed, Chopin is one of the most difficult composers to play well, and the artiste who attempts him must have a heart by nature, a brain by study, and technique by constant practice. His works contain countless beauties, but these must be read not only upon the music but between the lines, for to properly interpret the poetry and emotionalism of the composer it is necessary to mentally create the same atmosphere as that in which he lived and moved and had his being. For Chopin came into existence at a time of great political restlessness among his countrymen the Poles, and the surrounding influences of his time were reflected to an extraordinary extent in all his works. The very variety of his compositions speaks of his birth, for the characteristics of the Pole are a strange intermingling of gaiety and sadness, and sudden changes from triumph to dejection, caused by his utter inability to hold up his head in face of opposing circumstance. Thus Chopin’s music was impregnated with subtle romance, exuberant fancy, inconsequent gaiety, triumphant grandeur, and utter disconsolateness. In more than one of his compositions, these various moods succeed one another in quick succession, until the music reflects, like a mirror, the emotions that stirred the composer’s soul. Review, for a moment, the B Flat Minor Sonata with the Funeral March. As the piece progresses mood succeeds mood in the composer’s mind. The light-heartedness of youth, the romance of love, the triumph of manhood, the lust of battle, the intoxication of success, the anguish of defeat, the bitterness of death, and the mournful passing of the spirit follow one another with dramatic swiftness. Each successive mood of the composer must receive its own special interpretation at the hands of the pianist, yet the whole piece must present the ensemble of a finished picture.

To make a beautiful thing ugly is a very easy matter indeed, and in this respect most pianists who attempt Chopin are eminently successful. But to make an ugly thing beautiful is the most difficult of tasks. Yet it is a task that even Chopin occasionally demands. It is not to be supposed that all the work of any great man could possibly be of the same high standard, and Chopin is no exception to the rule. About one-third of his compositions are comparatively poor, and are, in consequence, not played at concerts. Personally, for public performance I pick out from his works only the gems, for the public will and must have the best of music as of everything else. For amateurs, however, there is no need to pick out and study special pieces in the same way. They have no large public to please, and their task is therefore an easier one, since, instead of being obliged to play what other people want, they need only interpret those pieces specially fitted to their own temperament.

This leads me to a point which I would specially urge upon all who play the piano, independently of whether they play Chopin or any other composer. Each should early discover which particular works appeal most readily to his or her temperament. These should then be carefully studied and mastered one by one. Each piece that is thoroughly understood will open up some new avenue of thought which will in turn make possible the interpretation of some fresh and more complicated work.

No piece can be mastered very quickly. Often it is a matter of years before one fully appreciates all the meaning and beauty of a passage. For my part, constant playing of Chopin’s works has made them so much part of myself that I see and appreciate many different aspects of beauty in them. Yet even now I am constantly finding fresh points of view with different meanings and new beauties.

Chopin-playing requires, above all else, an education amongst the works of other composers, not only because familiarity with other composers educates the musical understanding and cultivates a variety of temperament, but for technical reasons. The compositions of other composers may in some cases be more uniformly difficult than Chopin technically, but the works of no other composer combine such a variety of technical difficulties in individual pieces. To play Chopin, therefore, one must have thoroughly mastered all the means that every composer makes use of to obtain effect. And on top of the variety of technique required comes the special study of the true Chopin pianissimo. Of so delicate a nature are some of Chopin’s passages that to do them full justice, and to bring out all their beauties, careful and special study must be made of pianissimo effects. This is no easy matter, and can only be acquired by constant effort and practice, but it is absolutely indispensable for the renderings of the works of this master.

Another small technical point which the amateur must master is the ability to accentuate some particular note in a chord. It often happens that Chopin’s melody – the melody that lends meaning to the whole piece – lies in the top notes in a series of chords. If all the notes of those chords are played with an equal accent the melody is lost and the whole meaning of the passage destroyed. The melody, therefore, must be accentuated and brought out, while the other notes of the chord must be heard like an accompaniment. This is particularly beautiful in soft passages where the melody notes are themselves played pianissimo. The rest of the chord is so lightly struck as to resemble, more than anything else, the sighing of a breeze over the strings, so that they are only just stirred into sound. Often the same passage of chords is repeated several times in a given piece. Such passages should never be rendered in exactly the same way each time. The difference may be simply a matter of tone, but an even more striking effect may be sometimes obtained by neglecting the original melody and accentuating the second note of the chords, which will thus sound like an alto echo to a treble voice. Such effects as these are arrived at by careful thought and study, but they often transform passages that would otherwise be comparatively uninteresting into bars of great beauty and attractiveness. Chopin’s 20th Prelude is one in which these effects can be produced in many different ways.

Vladimir De Pachmann Playing Chopin’s 20th Prelude

The whole question of melody is of the utmost importance where Chopin is concerned, for many of his most beautiful pieces resemble songs which, alas! too often lose their beauty at the hands of second-rate pianists, through the voice being drowned by the accompaniment. Infinite delicacy and elegance are required for the playing of these songs on the piano, and much may be done to ensure perfection by listening to great singers, observing how they obtain their effects, and adapting their methods to the piano.

For me, Chopin’s great attractiveness lies in the fact that practically every piece he ever wrote tells a complete story in itself, or paints some picture easily comprehensible to the mind educated in music, and often quite intelligible, when interpreted by a great artiste, even to a mind uneducated in music, or comparatively so. The great Chopin-player is the man who not only sees the pictures that Chopin conjures up, but can show them to his audiences in such a way that they can see them too.

The necessary technique for playing Chopin could never be acquired by reading anything that I or another might write on the subject, but it is possible in an article like this to draw attention to noteworthy points in connection with specific pieces, and with this end in view I will run through a few of Chopin’s works that are most familiar to amateurs.

The mazurkas I will dismiss in a few words. In them Chopin displays some of his most changeable moods. When playing them one seems to be dancing with, so to speak, the tears in one’s eyes all the time, for there is often an underlying note of sadness throughout the theme. Occasionally they break off into utter gaiety and wild, inconsequent joy. Sadness and joy are, indeed, strangely mixed up in them.

The preludes are always popular both with players and with audiences, and this is not surprising, for, with the exception of one or two weak ones, they are all of them exceptionally beautiful, interesting, and characteristic. The first of them is in a style that reminds one very forcibly of Schumann. To play it is very refreshing, like a draught of cool spring water on a hot day, but the second is, I think, somewhat poor, and I remember that Liszt himself once told me he thought it a little weak. The third, though it has not a very high meaning, is a delightful little prelude. The melody is so smooth that it reminds me of oil floating upon water, while a sort of zither accompaniment is running. The fourth, though more poetical than the second, would have been more attractive if written in the shape of a song for a lady’s voice accompanied by a little harmonium. The fifth is one that is so difficult to properly interpret that one of the great pianists of the day once stated that he studied it for years before he ventured to play it in public. No. 6 could very well be played by a ‘cello and violin, but it is possible on the piano to get more effect than could be got with the ‘cello itself. A little curiosity is to be found in this prelude at the end of the fifth bar from the finish, when there comes a sort of trumpet call announcing the conclusion. The seventh is gay, the eighth an exercise, the ninth makes me think of returning after a funeral, and in the tenth Chopin seems to me to point at and imitate his master, Hummel.

No. 11 is a fine prelude. There is melody all the time, and at this point in the preludes we begin to get genuine Chopinism. But it should not be played vivace! It should be allegro moderato. Liszt thought this prelude was nonsense if played vivace. In the 12th Prelude, again, there is a mistake very commonly made as to the manner of its playing. Besides being a great tour de force, this prelude is also exceedingly poetical. Now, if it is played presto, all the beautiful poetical meaning is lost, and it becomes a tour de force only. If it is played poco presto, however, not only does it remain a tour de force, but all the poetry in it can be brought out.

I do not like the 13th Prelude. The 14th is all fun from beginning to end — a regular volcano of gaiety! The 15th is my favourite. It is the longest of the preludes, and reminds me of an impromptu. The 16th is my great favorite! It is la plus grande tour de force in Chopin. It is the most difficult of all the preludes technically, possibly excepting the 19th. In this case presto is not enough. It should be played prestissimo, or, better still, vivacissimo. No. 17 was the favourite of Mme. Schumann and Rubinstein. It is very majestic, and in it Chopin introduces harmonies not previously found in other composers. The 18th is really a cadenza. In it Chopin never repeats himself. From beginning to end it is brilliant and interesting. No. 19 is another one I am very fond of, but I think it the most difficult thing in the world to play.

Vladimir De Pachmann Playing Chopin’s 15th and 16th Preludes

The 20th Prelude is a very beautiful one, but with the 21st I find fault – musical fault. I am quite sure that when he started to write this he meant to make it a ballade for the orchestra. Apparently he failed to hit upon any second or third motive for succeeding movements, so he included it in the preludes. It is obviously written for first violin and two ‘cellos, and it is not piano music at all. It is most poetical, I grant, but, emphatically, it was not meant for the piano. This is no decision arrived at in a hurry, I assure you. I thought over this matter for thirty years before I dared to express this opinion!

In the 22nd Prelude Chopin created energetic modern octave play. It was the first prelude of its kind in the world. In the 23rd Prelude pretty well all editions indicate short legato passages. Chopin never played such passages. He sometimes introduced a long legato passage, but never short ones of a few notes only. In the 24th the amateur would do well to remember that the whole beauty of this prelude is generally spoilt by the left-hand notes being banged. They should be masqué the whole time and should never be allowed to drown the right hand.

So much for the preludes. They are very beautiful and are worthy of the closest study and pains, not with a view of perfecting any stereotyped manner of playing each one, but of discovering the various methods which may be employed to bring out their beauty. Half the attraction of a beautiful woman lies in the various dresses she wears. She may be in blue today, in grey tomorrow, and in pink the day after, and with every change she appears more beautiful. So it is with the preludes. Each has a large wardrobe of different dresses. Do not, then, always dress them in the same colours.

I have dealt at some length with the preludes because, while they are always popular with pianists, most players play them in an absolutely stereotyped and uninteresting manner which utterly hides all their beauties. The amateur, almost without exception, practises them through and through in order to become technically perfect as regards the actual playing of the written notes. He or she, as the case may be, thus produces an absolutely colourless study almost entirely without interest and quite devoid of meaning. We have all seen the outlined painting-books of which children are so fond. A drawing of some simple subject is given in outline, and the child, with its box of paints, sets to work to paint it. Chopin, and, indeed, all music, is one great painting-book full of outline drawings, and those who play the piano are the children who attempt to colour them. As with children, so with musicians, artistic instincts are lacking through want of training, or because the soul is entirely without the necessary germ of art. The result is that the pictures are seldom more than uninteresting daubs. The result may be symmetrical enough, but the colours do not blend, and offend instead of please. Some are merely sketches in sepia lacking all brightness and beauty, others are in the hard black and white of crude contrast. But the real artist can make a beautiful picture out of quite an uninteresting subject by the careful choice and blending of his colours; he can even surround his subject with some subtle atmosphere all its own, until his work stands out by itself in comparison with the crude paintings of his fellows.

Perhaps more than any other composer Chopin requires deep thought and study before any one of his outline drawings is attempted, for his nature was such that he created, quite naturally, particular effects of tone and colour arrived at by none of his predecessors. These effects cannot be merely copied from the works of anyone else, so that Chopin-playing becomes a special study in itself, requiring special training and special methods of interpretation. Of course, I do not mean to say that familiarity with the methods of other men is not of assistance. Indeed, it is of the most valuable assistance, and the finest Chopin-players are those who have mastered all the beauties of other composers, since only by having so done will they be able to fully see and understand all the new and unusual beauties that exist in Chopin, and the immense gulf which divides him from the rest.

Personally, although the public for some reason regard me purely as a Chopin-player, owing to the fact that his works figure so prominently on my programme through their being so popular with the public, I can play all composers equally well; and it is this very reason that makes Chopin’s works so dear to me, for, knowing full well all the beautiful thoughts expressed by the rest, I can appreciate how much, as a whole, Chopin’s works are more beautiful than those of other composers.

Practically every line he wrote is a line of perfect poetry. Even his most simple pieces are among the finest gems of our musical literature. Look at the études! Their worth does not lie in their merits from the point of view of musical construction, but in their immense poetical beauty. The very first one is among the harmonical wonders of the world. Yet this was written when he was but a youth of twenty! Whenever I play it, it always conjures up before my mind the picture of some exquisitely beautiful little child being bathed in a silver bath filled with milk and wine amid brightly-coloured, richly-scented flowers! And almost every one of them brings some similar picture before me.

Yet, with the études as with the preludes, each will be meaningless if improperly interpreted. Many of the most beautiful pieces of poetry in literature would seem uninteresting and flat if read by a bad reciter. In the same way, a good reciter will make attractive a poem whose beauties are not so apparent. A fine painter will light up each little beauty in his pictures until the smallest detail is attractive and strikes the eye. It is only the mediocrity whose work is characterized by sameness and lack of interest. There must be no mediocrity in the playing of Chopin.

Chopin was the father of modern piano technique. He called upon all the resources of his instrument, and, seeing that the piano of today is so immeasurably improved from what it was in his time, there is every reason why the player of today should be able to obtain the same effects, or even better ones than Chopin did, with much less difficulty. For instance, I referred just now to the accentuation of one note in a chord, the rest of the notes being played so lightly as to resemble the sighing of the breeze through the strings. This effect must have been very difficult on the old pianos, but it can he easily accomplished on, for instance, the Bechstein of today, which is the piano upon which I always play. Go to one of Godowsky’s recitals and you will see to what height modern technique has come, for Godowsky is the king of the piano in this respect, and is unquestionably the finest exponent of technique in the world today. He owes his extraordinary powers partly to Chopin, who first showed what could be done in this direction, and partly to the modern piano, which makes possible so much more than Chopin could accomplish.

Present-day pianists, therefore, have everything in their favour. They have the finest brushes and the most beautiful outline drawings; all that they need acquire, then, is the musical insight which shall show them how to mix the pigments upon their palette and apply them most attractively upon the canvas.

Sir Conan Doyle Predicts Spirit Moving Pictures

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.

spirit camera

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.