William Eglinton (England, b. 1857)

Mary Burchett with Spirit of her School-Master

Albumen cabinet card, 3.5 x 4.5 inches. 1886

Inscribed on verso:

"Taken in my room with my own camera and plates by Mr. Eglinton and developed directly afterward in my presence Dec. 9th 1886. Mary Burchett" with the added inscription below in pencil, "I believe this to be a likeness of my old school master Mr. Wyand."

Eglinton was Britain's most prominent medium when the 20th century arrived. He turned to spiritualism around 1874 and by 1876 reportedly levitated himself during a seance. In addition to levitations, Eglinton produced mysterious spirit messages in chalk on slates and--it is claimed-- while entranced even managed to transport himself through the ceiling of a house and into the room above. He counted Prime Minister Gladstone among his believers, and held seances for the Czar of Russia.

Eglinton is seldom mentioned in conjunction with spirit photography; the actual photographer may have been someone else. Perhaps the initial or monogram on the lower right of the card recto is a clue.

The strange black dot on the man's head in this photograph may look like a bullet hole, but in fact is a spot on the paper. It contributes to the eerie effect of this image, created at least in part by the disturbed appearance of the ghost.

That the sitter provided plates and camera, and that she was present for the development of the negative suggest that this was an early test of the veracity of spirit photography. Such tests became more rigorous by the 1920s, when the illusionist Harry Houdini investigated spirit mediums in the U.S. and Europe.

Bibliography:
John S. Farmer, 'Twixt Two Worlds ( a biography of William Eglinton) London, 1886.
Cyril Permutt, Beyond the Spectrum, A Survey of Supernormal Photography (Cambridge: Patrick Stevens, Ltd., 1983). p. 10.

 

 

 

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