Unboxing an Antique Ghost Show (Plus an Illustrated History of Spookological Fakery for Fun and Profit)

On the evening of November 16 (US time), Morbid Anatomy will be hosting a live Zoom presentation of the antique seance/ghost show props I inherited from my dad’s magic collection:

The eschatological crises of the First World War and the 1918 influenza pandemic sparked a massive revival of the practice of Spiritualist séances. Whereas some spirit mediums sincerely believed that it was possible to communicate with the dead, others were criminal con-artists playing the “ghost racket”; employing phantasmagoric magic tricks and mind-games to rip off the bereaved.

The Iowa-based Ghost Factory company manufactured and sold all manner of “spookology” effects throughout the early/mid-20th century. Some of their customers were fraudulent spirit mediums, while others were magicians seeking to out-do and expose the frauds. During the 1920s, Harry Houdini and his associate Rose Mackenberg – who led Houdini’s “secret service” of spook-busting private investigators – began a public crusade against the ghost racketeers that reached all the way to the White House.

Later, many of these effects were also used on the Midnight Ghost Show circuit, when magicians styling themselves as “mad scientists” would stage elaborately spooky haunted house-style performances for late-night horror movie screenings.

Tony will also discuss how he discovered a trunk full of Ghost Factory props in his dad’s collection and demonstrate a number of the effects, including the “talking skull”, the “rapping hand” and the “spirit lamp.” You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions during a talkback session at the end of the presentation.

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