Turn-of-the Century Spiritualists Hoaxers

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle defended the authenticity of the 1917 fairies photo (above). He believed it to be genuine. Houdini vowed to get a message from the other side to his wife. After 10 years of trying to contact her husband during a séance every Halloween night (the anniversary of his death), she never got the coded message they had designed before he died.

Ectoplasm was touted by spiritualists and mediums to be the substance of which ghosts were made. During seances and in trances they would supposedly produce ectoplasm. This hoaxed material was often made from cheesecloth, egg whites, soap and gauze.

Other methods by which spiritualists hoaxed people were seances, ouija board sessions, automatic writing, table tilting and spirit photography. As you can imagine, nowadays we haven't gotten far from this practice of looking to these methods to prove communications with ghosts. You also might notice the correlations with extreme religions that also use practices such as hands on healing and dancing with snakes as other ways to snag gullible believers.

I have a million problems with spiritualism and ghost investigations being tied together and the majority have to do with belief. Spiritualism is no different than religion and one must believe without question anything fed to them by those considered to be leaders or specialists. So long as we refer to ghosts as spirits and look to spiritualists to be conduits for interactions, we are dealing with a belief system involving life and death and how the process works.

Decades from now we will laugh at the use of electrician's tools and IR cameras as ways to hunt ghosts and KII meters as conduits for conversation with the other side. Hell, I laugh at it now.

So, how do we get past the spiritual bend and the “tool-happy” methods to get to the heart of paranormal activity?

It will take a wide variety of specialties in the sciences and some meticulous documentation in a haunted site to really get a feeling for what elements are involved, what timing is involved, what might aggravate it and alleviate it and how humans manage to detect that which cameras and audio equipment cannot.

I'm thrilled we are not as ignorant as turn-of-the-century folks, but we still ooh and ahh over some of the ghost hunting tools used today that are absurdly ridiculous, like that EMF meter that captures so much random activity in unshielded environments that it is positively useless. People who don't understand the sciences can easily be hoodwinked by it. I'm just reminded of Steve and Brian trying to figure out how a Geiger counter works while on a ghost hunt.

It's not certain just what avenue ghost hunting will take next, but I'm in favor of controlled experiments and making equipment with the same parameters as human senses to capture what we see and hear. Sometimes, it's just the simplest of approaches that make the most sense.


  1. I would love to see "Fact of Faked" take a crack at phony ghost phenomena. For example, a tight shot on an emf detector with a switch. If the shot does not include the switch you can turn the unit on and off causing what appears to be spikes.

    However; I'm sure the Syfy channel wouldn't allow something

  2. Another great post! Syfy is airing Elf tonight, so my faith in their ability to do anything of quality in this matter is more than somewhat shaken. That said, the gizmos and gadgets give people a false sense of "doing something," just as orbs make people feel like they're really capturing something and not just wasting their time. You don't pop into a location for a night, wave a few gizmos around and declare haunted or not. It doesn't work like that. I admire those teams who stay at one location for months, if not years, meticulously documenting the goings-on. But GH sets a model of love 'em, then leave 'em that too many groups eagerly follow as they race to carve another notch in their paranormal headboard - even more so if it's a famous place. Ooh la la, we got to investigate the legendary such and such.

  3. Barry;
    Yeah, I'd like to see them try and use an EMF meter in a shielded part of the room. It's not going to do a damn thing.

    Yes, I would love to be part of a long-time study. Growing up in a haunted home, I know that these things have ebb and flow and finding out what might be aggravating and alleviating them can give us actual knowledge in the field. As well, places get used to the people who live in there and interact, so it may take a while before you get action. Just remember how uncomfortable you were the last time you had a house guest. It takes until around the time they're leaving for you to feel like they're a roommate.

  4. Hi there! I came over from Ghost Stories and Haunted Places. Looks like you have a new follower!

    I'm also in to trying to discern the real from the fake "psychics" and stories or lore and legend.

    I'm an avid "Ghost Hunters" fan myself, as are my kids.

  5. ProudMomof3;
    Welcome! This blog is all about getting people dialoguing and considering all kinds of possibilities in the world of the paranormal. You might enjoy this post in helping you learn more about who to trust and what to ask:

  6. Interesting post! I would also love to see a simultaneous "catch of both physical and spiritual evidence on a televised series; rather than just the devices going off.

    While I don't belong to an organized religion and am open to all beliefs; I have been invited by spiritual churches and communities to read and to speak. Regardless of however they go about it; they do believe there is communication with the spiritual.

  7. Brenda;
    I totally get where they're coming from because the spiritual is based within the person and doesn't need an intellectual filter, it's as instinctive as sense of smell given our anatomy. I kind of look at it like this. I can't freaking explain how electricity works, but to me it magically gives me what I need when I need it (lightning storms aside). If I learn how it works, it becomes a science. If I don't know how it works, I take it on faith. I don't think it hurts to take things out of the faith and into the inner workings because it actually makes it more miraculous. When you look at the human body, if you know nothing about it, it's a freaking weird thing, but when you understand how the components work and how amazing the odds are that an ear would be shell shaped to pick up sound waves, you now have more proof of the miraculous. So, education should generally make people more awe-inspired.

  8. I like the faked fairy picture, pretty awesome for it's time.

  9. Vapor;
    I can see why it totally impressed people. I still see it and smile. I want fairies to be real!

  10. I agree that most of the pictureas of this kind are hoaxes, but the authors most likely have been trying to caption some phenomena that their mind interpreted as fairies, elves and other things called paranormal to our normal set of sences. I guess they are hoaxes and not at the same time.

  11. Echo;
    Very true. I have a few friends in the GH world who still think orbs are spirits manifesting and proof of hauntings, even after I walked behind them and took shots of them kicking up dust and creating orbs. They were certain it was proof the spirits were dogging them. We see what we want to see. I think learning more actually makes it more exciting. When we discovered things on a microscopic level, our world suddenly had more depth and more life than we imagined. It doesn't hurt to gain knowledge and doesn't crush our dreams, it simply makes our dreams bigger and more complex.

  12. I still think that we are the best instruments for ghost hunting. I wonder if they will ever come up with something amazing for finding and documenting paranormal activity. I guess I will just have to wait and see.

  13. Hey Sis;
    Yes, they will, but they need to get back to basics and observe a place over time to see what sets things off and what quiets them. Then, we can begin to understand what principles it is commanded by. If we can see, hear, and smell it, it's using the principles of physics that exist in our world. It's that avenue by which it makes itself known to us that will leave its footprint to trace it back and perhaps even provoke it forward.

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  15. Some of those ectoplasm recipes are still in use in the adult film industry.

  16. SS;
    I believe that! Did you ever see the movie "La Bete"? That one seriously must have cornered the market on gelatin and I won't even hazard to guess what else...

  17. I was reading through all the comments this morning; and I have to say; I'm so disappointed. Here I thought those were real fairies. : )

  18. Brenda;
    Sure, honey, they're as real as you want them to be. Don't listen to the grinches.

  19. Oh aye the ones that make me laugh are GA ones that pick up the ghost manipulates emfs and makes some box of tricks say certain words thou thats more for entertainment value i suspect.in fact,i treat it with the same pinch of salt i keep for all the 'sensitives'and tarot card readers i've met over the years except the very few.One being my mum,its not often but if she says somewhere is negative or somethings gonna happen you listen,thou she says its just intuition but believe you listen,a once very good female friend who had same knack.The other was an ex squaddie who was told by doctor after his daughter was killed check out the spiritulist church,took to it like a natural and was truly uncanny,also unlike most of the ilk never tried to impress,if you didnt believe him couldnt care less

  20. theBADpenny; As a true and reluctant psychic, I appreciate the place for them in the scheme of investigations. I use my skills purely as a bloodhound to point at a spot and say--let's focus here and even to say "this is a good time to be ready, it's about to happen." I would never use what I get on my readings as proof, however. I know as a psychic that I read the dead and I have no reason to believe the dead are talking to me, I am simply reading all the things the living who knew them know about the dead. I agree about GA. Every Friday I put up a music video and a drinking game for the show because that's how I treat it. It is entertaining but it is definitely not ghost hunting. You are a wise old soul, but I bet you've been told that before.


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