A Long History

Rise of Spiritualism

Industrial Revolution

Industrialism and Ghosts

Post-bellum America

Supernatural and Hope

Supernatural Restores Faith

Ghosts Build Communities

Comfort to Bereaved

Why the Supernatural was Entertaining

Transcending the Real

Ghosts and Mystery

Ghosts and Thrills

Entertainers Cash In

Laughing at Ghosts 

Anthony Hopper






















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Why Were Americans Interested in the Supernatural?

Entertainers Cash in on the Supernatural (con.)

Americans’ love of sensationalism grew exponentially as advances in science and technology demystified the environment in which they lived. It is no coincidence that “[o]ver the two decades from the mid 1850s, these ‘demonstrations’ of spirit presence and power became progressively more elaborate and ‘tricky’” (4). This phenomenon pointed more than anything else to the fact that spiritualism provided a needed diversion from everyday life for "Mumler's image of Moses Dow and spirit,sometimes said to be the first spirit photo" the image is located in Anne Harney and Leigh McCuen 'Beyond the Grave: A Brief History of Spirit Photography:' http://www.amphilsoc.org/library/exhibits/spirits/index.htm (accessed 7/28/04). many Americans. Mediums, at least some of them, were responding to the entertainment needs of their clientele. Spirit conjurers were popular enough that they set up a community at Lily Dale that resembled a modern tourist location complete with hotels and “…orgies rivalling pagan excesses…” Over five hundred thousand people a year visited this location in the late 1890s (5).

Mediums were not the only people whose connections, rather scurrilous or real, with the supernatural world provided a source of entertain for their audiences. Spirit photographers were also popular in this period. These people boasted of their ability to capture the dead with a camera (6). Many of their clients requested these pictures for personal reasons such as the desire to have one last portrait of their deceased relative. However, others saw these picture sessions as an opportunity to have some fun, as a New York Times article noted: “It is a foolish sort of fun, however, and a waste of money” (7). To these people, having their picture taken with a ghost was like opening a box of Cracker Jacks®, they could derive pleasure from trying to guess who would appear in the shot.






Last update 

September 8, 2004










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