12 Weird Vintage Pictures From Séances

Getty Images
Getty Images

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, spiritualism—a belief that the spirits of the dead can communicate with the living—was all the rage. There was no trendier activity than holding a séance led by a medium, who would mediate between the living and the dead. The medium not only delivered messages from the dearly departed, but also demonstrated the presence of spirits in the room by levitating objects, ringing bells, and producing a substance from her body known as ectoplasm.

Those were excellent tricks, but that's all they were—mediums were often shown to be frauds. “Exposures are of frequent occurrence, many of them highly sensational in character,” wrote the New York Times in a November 21, 1909 article titled “Notable Charlatans Exposed In The Past: A Weird History That Leaves Spiritualism Undaunted.” (You can view a PDF of the article here.) “Slate writing, spirit pictures, table tipping, rapping, and other features of Spiritualism have been exposed time and again. The exposures mount into the hundreds.”

With that in mind, here are 12 weird vintage pictures from séances—including one of magician Harry Houdini—and some explanations for what’s happening in them.

1. A group of people in France hold a séance, 1870.

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At these events, the medium (presumably the guy in the blindfold) would hold hands with the other participants to show that he could not be manipulating any objects himself. But mediums had other methods for making tables tip.

2. Paris, 1900.

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In a 1900 séance held in Paris, a table apparently moves on its own—but in actuality, the so-called medium was moving it, of course.

3. and 4. Rome, 1909.

These photos appear in the New York Times article noted above. The séance pictured took place in 1909 at the Rome, Italy studio of Baron von Erhardt, who set up a test for the medium (the article states that the medium is a man named Eusapia Paladino, but Eusapia Palladino was actually a famous female medium; the lone woman of the group might be her).

Whenever the medium was giving a demonstration, the Baron would press a button, which activated both the camera and the flashlight behind it, illuminating Paladino and snapping a picture. “Thus he pictures tables suspended in the air, the medium with his coat removed, apparently by ‘spirit’ hands, and flung against the screen of the cabinet, and a mandolin in the air,” the New York Times said. No word on whether or not the medium passed the test.

5. and 6. Marthe Beraud in action, 1910.


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Medium Marthe Beraud (also known as Eva C. and Eva Carrière) show-stopping séance specialty was excreting ectoplasm. The material was said to be formed when mediums were in a trance state; it could only be created in near darkness (light, mediums said, would make it disintegrate), and it was emitted from orifices on the medium's body (Beraud's usually came from her mouth, nose or ears).


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But rather than being some spiritual substance, the so-called ectoplasm was usually gauze, muslin, chiffon, or, in the case of Mina "Margery" Crandon, sheep's lung. Beraud was the first medium to perform the ectoplasm trick, and one of her outspoken supporters was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

7. Beraud, 1912.

Wikimedia Commons

Here's another photo of Beraud, this one taken in 1912, apparently showing a light manifestation between her hands and a materialization on her head. In 1922, scientists sat in on 15 of Beraud's séances, and thoroughly debunked her.

8. Levitating instrument, 1920.


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A musical instrument rises in the air at a séance, though it's not likely that ghostly hands are doing the lifting.

9. Ghost arm, 1920.


National Media Museum's Flickr Stream

This photo of a seance, snapped by renowned spirit photographer William Hope around 1920, supposedly shows a ghostly arm levitating the table. In reality, the arm was superimposed during a double exposure.

10. Houdini's "Margie Box"

Mediums had no greater opponent than magician Harry Houdini, who denounced them as frauds. In fact, he had almost a secondary career debunking the methods of famous mediums during séances and performing their tricks as part of his stage show. He even asked his wife to help him show how mediums pull off certain tricks.

In 1924, Houdini was part of a committee investigating Boston medium Mina "Margery" Crandon, the wife of a respected surgeon and Harvard faculty member. Crandon had entered herself in a contest of sorts, run by Scientific American, that offered a monetary prize to the medium able to produce a "visual psychic manifestation." Here, Houdini is shown in the "Margie Box," which was intended to limit the medium's physical movements within the séance room and contain her suspected manipulations; Houdini built the box himself. The committee sat in on 20 séances, and the debate about Crandon's abilities lasted for a year, but ultimately, Scientific American opted not to award her the money.

11. Meurig Morris, 1931


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This photo, snapped September 10, 1931, shows medium Meurig Morris holding an onstage séance at the Fortune Theatre in London. Morris was more of a mental medium than a physical one: She would go into a trance and supposedly channel a spirit that called itself Power. Her body would stiffen, and her voice changed from soprano to baritone. She would preach on philosophical and religious matters for up to 45 minutes at a time. You can check out Morris in action here.

12. A medium Caught in the Act, 1950.


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In séances, mediums often asked spirits to demonstrate their power by levitating or moving a table. But this medium, at a 1950 séance, got sloppy: a photographer caught her using her knee to tip the table, just one method mediums used to make things appear to move by ghostly hands.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

See What the Eye of Hurricane Dorian Looks Like From Space

NOAA, Getty Images
NOAA, Getty Images

Hurricane Dorian has already caused damage on the ground, leveling houses and killing at least five people in the Bahamas earlier this week. For people who haven't seen Dorian's power up close, these pictures captured from space put the magnitude of the storm into perspective.

As Live Science reports, the photographs below were taken by European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano aboard the International Space Station. They show the hurricane swirling over the Atlantic, its massive eye in clear view.

The storm has grown even more intense since it was photographed from space. According to a tweet from Parmitano on September 1, the pictures show Dorian as a tropical storm. By the time the system reached the Bahamas on Monday, September 2, it had upgraded to Category 5 hurricane with winds exceeding 185 mph. Dorian has since weakened to a Category 3, but that's still strong enough to cause significant destruction if it makes landfall over the U.S.

After preparing for a direct hit all week, it looks as though the southern U.S. may be spared from the worst of the storm. Projections now show Dorian hugging the Atlantic coast, starting off the coast of Florida and skimming Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The hurricane is still likely to drive powerful winds and storm surges along the east coast, so local governments are urging residents to take any necessary precautions and be prepared to evacuate if the order is given.

[h/t Live Science]

10 Illuminating Online Courses You Can Take in August

fizkes/iStock via Getty Images
fizkes/iStock via Getty Images

Back-to-school season isn't just for full-time students. August can be a great time to return to class for anyone with internet access and a hankering to learn something new. And in the age of online courses, your choices are no longer limited by classroom capacity, scheduling conflicts, or even tuition restrictions. Take a look below at the top 10 coolest course offerings for this month, from classes on mastering mindfulness to making macarons.

1. Hollywood: History, Industry, Art

Hollywood’s history is just as rich as its A-list actors. In this course presented by the University of Pennsylvania, you’ll learn about how the film industry evolved with technology and how it responded to American political crises throughout the 20th century. You’ll also study individual powerhouse studios like Paramount and Disney and legendary directors like George Lucas and Spike Lee.

Sign up on edX for free. The optional certificate costs $49.

2. Our Earth’s Future

If you’re not totally clear on what climate change means, and you feel like at this point it’s too late to ask, you’re not alone—and this course from the American Museum of Natural History is perfect for you. In it, you’ll hear from climatologists, anthropologists, Earth scientists, and others who will explain just how climate change affects us and our ways of life. By the end of the course, you’ll be able to summarize key principles, identify misconceptions, and be well-informed enough to partake in global and local discussions.

Sign up on Coursera for free. The optional certificate costs $49.

3. Photography Basics and Beyond: From Smartphone to DSLR Specialization

Learning how to snap a great photo is relevant to basically anybody with a smartphone and/or a social media account. That’s all you need for this course—a smartphone and an interest in understanding the fundamental principles of photography (though you can use an actual camera if you’d rather). Delve into composition, exposure, documentary elements, and more, and walk away after this class flaunting a final project of photographs you'll be eager to share on Instagram and beyond.

Sign up on Coursera for free with a seven-day trial. After that, access to the course is $49 per month.

4. Introduction to Classical Music

In this Yale course, you’ll learn about more than just the major players in classical music—you’ll also explore what music actually is, why it makes us feel such strong emotions, and how it’s made. You’ll waltz through an in-depth history of the evolution of classical music, which, of course, wasn’t always considered “classical.” By the end, you’ll have an extensive understanding of music that enriches your daily listening, be it Jonas Kaufmann or the Jonas Brothers.

Sign up on Coursera for free. The optional certificate costs $49.

5. De-Mystifying Mindfulness

In our fast-paced, uber-digital society, mindfulness has helped a lot of people stay grounded in the face of anxiety or stress, and it could probably help you, too. This free course will provide background on the psychology, philosophy, and politics of mindfulness, as well as teaching you the tools you need to harness its power to improve your own state of mind in a concrete, lasting way.

Sign up on Coursera for free. The optional certificate costs $30.

6. Miniature French Desserts: Macarons, Madeleines, and More

Even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with bringing chocolate chip cookies to every bake sale and potluck dinner you attend for the rest of your life, at some point, you might want to steal the show with a melt-in-your-mouth macaron. In this course, former Le Cordon Bleu instructor Colette Christian will lead you through every intricate step of baking formidable French delicacies including macarons, madeleines, tartlets, and opera cakes.

Sign up on Bluprint for $40.

7. Natural Dog Nutrition and Well-Being

Pet obesity is a national issue, and it contributes to a whole horrible host of other health problems for our four-legged friends. Since dogs can’t learn the risks and make lifestyle changes on their own, it’s on us to help them. This course will teach you how to ensure that your beloved sidekick is getting all the nutrition they need to live a longer, happier life with you. Lesson highlights include: The Truth About Commercial Dog Food, Healthy Homemade Treats, Hidden Household Hazards, and Foods for Common Health Issues.

Sign up on Udemy for $38.

8. The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Cyber Security

Learning how cyber security professionals combat hacking attempts—and how hackers hack in the first place—is a great way not only to insulate yourself from hacks, but also to prevent yourself from living in fear that you might get hacked. This 4.5-star-rated course breaks down popular hacking attacks and forms of malware, and it also teaches you about protection technologies like antiviruses, firewalls, encryption, biometrics, authentication methods, and more.

Sign up on Udemy for $25.

9. The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture

Avengers: Endgame’s recent record-setting box office performance is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our cultural obsession with superheroes. The late Stan Lee hosts parts of this Smithsonian course in conjunction with other experts, tackling subjects like the inception of superheroes in 1938 and their World War II “Golden Age,” the near-shutdown of the comic book industry during the McCarthy Era, the genre’s ebb and flow over the decades, and so much more.

Sign up on edX for free. The optional certificate costs $50.

10. Hand Lettering for Beginners

Whether you’re hoping to become the go-to sign-maker for all future bridal and baby showers or just looking for a bona fide way to relieve stress, hand-lettering can be a rewarding and practical skill. In this course, instructor and designer Adam Vicarel will show you how to break down a complicated-looking finished piece into a set of simple steps, using materials you probably already have around your house.

Sign up on Bluprint for $40.

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