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October 20, 2016

But it looks so real! The parallel rise of photography and Spiritualism

Hablot Knight Browne, The London Stereoscopic Company; The Ghost in the stereoscope; 1856 - 1859. Image and original data provided by Rijksmuseum: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl

Hablot Knight Browne, The London Stereoscopic Company. The Ghost in the stereoscope, 1856 – 1859. Image and original data provided by Rijksmuseum: www.rijksmuseum.nl

In 1862, amateur photographer William H. Mumler of Boston took a self-portrait in his studio, unaware of a ghostly apparition lurking directly behind him. It wasn’t until he viewed the resulting image of a pellucid arm draped casually across his shoulder that he realized the camera must have exposed the lingering spirit of his deceased cousin. With this eerie, novel image, Mumler, a jewelry engraver by trade, became the first of many photographers to claim having photographed a spirit. Photographs like Mumler’s provided timely evidence that spirits of the deceased freely interacted with the world of the living–a discovery he would milk for profit within the framework of the Spiritualist movement.

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October 6, 2014

Holding dolls at arm’s length

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Byron Company, New York Association for the Blind, Two Children at Table, 1933. Museum of the City of New York

When I was a child in the mere single digits, my family sat down to a Twilight Zone marathon. It was my first time watching the show, and I was introduced to aliens, pig people, post-apocalyptic towns, and, most frightening of all, dolls that came to life.

It was the ventriloquist dummy and the chatty doll that gave me nightmares. Just remembering the line “My name is Talky Tina and I don’t think I like you” still gives me shivers. There’s something about those inanimate objects with their stiff movements, glassy eyes, and blank faces that creeps me out.

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