Thursday, 27 November 2014
The book of this blog is available now: Why the Victorians Saw Ghosts – An Illustrated Guide to 19th Century Spiritualism normally retails for US$2.99 in most online stores, but you can find details on the My Shout page of my website, Michael Gallagher Writes, which will allow you to download it for free.
Michael Gallagher is the author of The Bridge of Dead Things and The Scarab Heart.
Sunday, 1 June 2014
Why the Victorians saw ghosts: twelve
On the 23rd of September 2004 I was lucky enough to attend a recreation of a Victorian séance organized by the British psychologist Richard Wiseman at the Dana Center in London, a venue dedicated to encouraging ordinary people to think and talk about science. Approximately fifty of us sat around an enormous round table holding hands, and, as the lights dimmed, we were treated to an orchestrated evening of raps and knocks, and at one point a thump from the middle of the table which was so unexpected that many of us jumped in our seats. But the event was only ever partially successful because we all expected something to happen, and, armed with our noughties skepticism, nobody imagined for one instant that the sounds were produced by any supernatural agency. We were a particularly tough audience.
Twelve years prior to this in 1992, Wiseman had made a study of the last of the great Victorian mediums, Eusapia Palladino. Born of Italian peasant stock, her first husband was a conjurer, and the second a wine merchant. Yet it is the second husband who is fingered as her accomplice, entering the darkened séance room via a secret panel and assisting Palladino in her catalog of tricks: levitating tables, making objects appear to move, partial materializations of hands and faces, plus the normal gamut of ghostly pinching, touching and kicks.
Thursday, 1 May 2014
Why the Victorians saw ghosts: eleven
William Thomas Stead was born in 1849, the son of a Congregationalist minister and a campaigning reformist mother. At the unlikely age of twenty-two he was appointed as editor of the Northern Echo, a regional newspaper based in Darlington in the north of England. Seizing an opportunity afforded by the excellent railroad connections on offer at the local train station, he managed to expand the Echo's distribution to national levels. In 1880 he took a post in London as the assistant editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. Two years later he became its editor, and was responsible for many of the innovations—from simple things such as the use of maps to help illustrate a story's location, through to a number of rather questionable investigative techniques—that paved the way for the tabloids of today. He is probably best remembered now for the Eliza Armstrong case, the darkest scandal to hit London in 1885.