Who has not been
scared and at the same time excited by a ghost story or the
unexplainable appearance of a seeming apparition. Fascination
with ghosts and the afterworld have griped audiences for
centuries. Our appetite for such titillation seems insatiable.
Ghost shows are nothing new. Writers, magicians, and
lanternists have long used a popular fascination with ghosts
and apparitions for their advantage. From its earliest
inception the magic lantern has employed ghost figures to
frighten and to entertain audiences. Some of the very earliest
magic lantern images in the last part of the 17th
century were of ghosts and demons. Calling forth such figures
reached a new height in the late 1700s and early 1800s largely
due to two showmen and their shows. The Fantasmagorie shows,
popularized by Belgian showman Ettiene-Gaspard Robertson and
the Phantasmagoria shows of magician Paul de Philipsthal,
called forth apparitions on the screen. Their shows
ingeniously employed rear projection. The lanternist was
hidden from the audience behind the screen. The images would
appear in a room darkened on the screen as from nowhere. By
moving the lantern, the figure could be made smaller or larger
so ghosts would appear and then menacingly approach the
Each time a new
illusion is created we are freshly mesmerized and entertained.
Pepper’s Ghost sits within a long tradition of showmen taking
advantage of popular fascination with the afterlife. Pepper’s
Ghost, named after the honorary director of London’s Royal
Polytechnic, John Henry Pepper, was an elaborate theatrical
illusion that gave the appearance of a ghost-like figure not
only appearing but also moving on a stage. Pepper’s Ghost was
first exhibited on Christmas Eve in 1862 during the staging of
Charles Dickens’s The Haunted House when, to great acclaim, a
ghost appeared on stage next to a man working at his desk. In
a period of fifteen months 250,000 people were entertained at
the Polytechnic by this show. The popularity of the illusion
was so great that imitators were soon employing it elsewhere.
Within a few years, the ghost shows had moved out of the
polytechnic and into fairgrounds across England. The illusion
is still employed today. Anyone who has taken the haunted
house ride in Disneyland and found themselves, mid-ride,
seated with a ghost have enjoyed Peppers Ghost.
What is Pepper’s
Ghost? Here are three prints from my collection, two small
woodcuts and a large lithograph visually illustrating how the
illusion is created. All three show the basic idea behind the
illusion: below the stage there is a lanternist with a magic
lantern (to provide a powerful light), and costumed actor. The
light against the actor is reflected in an enormous angled
mirror that the audience cannot see in the darkened theatre.
The reflection seems to appear on the stage.
are some differences in each of the prints, all show the
same basic “props”: hidden lantern, dressed actor, angled
mirror and the ghost on the stage. Interestingly, each of
the three prints shows a different scene on stage,
indicating that once perfected the illusion was used in a
number of different performances.
And what is the
history of Pepper’s Ghost? John Henry Pepper teamed up with
Henry Dircks, who had a well thought out idea for projecting
a ghost onto a stage to develop and stage the illusion. Soon
the pair had a falling out, each claiming the “invention” of
the Ghost show. History has attached the name of John Henry
Pepper to the illusion.
Finally here is
a broadside from my collection advertising “the real”
Pepper’s Ghost Show in 1870 given by James Matthews.
Matthews, who worked at the Royal Polytechnic as a magician,
proclaims his ties both with the Royal Polytechnic and with
Pepper. The broadside boldly announces the appearance of
PROFESSOR PEPPER”S MARVELOUS GHOST for two nights.
click on banner
If you have a question you would like
to submit email us at the
Back to Blow-Off Back
photos are the property of their respective owners whether titled or
"Sideshow WorldTM" is the sole property of John
Robinson © All rights reserved.
sideshowworld.com sideshowworld.org sideshowworld.net sideshowworld.biz sideshowworld.info
is the sole property of John Robinson © All rights reserved.
E-Mail Sideshow World