David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

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David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Mark74 on Wed Oct 17, 2012 10:47 pm

An excerpt from House of Mystery: The Magic Science of David P. Abbott Edited by Teller and Todd Karr.

David P. Abbott’s articles on spirit mediums in The Open Court magazine in 1905 and 1906 made him into an expert in the minds of many readers, who began writing him for advice, often concerned about relatives being bilked by fraudulent mediums. Several of these correspondents were particularly worried about a Chicago duo known as the Bangs Sisters commanding top dollar for their supposed materializations of portraits of loved ones painted by the spirits. A typical letter, dated January 26, 1907, begged Abbott to lend his expertise and expose these swindling siblings:

My Dear Mr. Abbott:
I am enclosing a letter from my uncle…You see by the letter he has faith in the Bangs Sisters, Chicago.... They sport autos, numerous diamonds, and are in clover generally; get three dollars per sitting and big prices for pictures and materializations…. Uncle A.W.F., however, is convinced there is no fraud in the spirit photo which he obtained of his little girl, as he and other members of his family saw the pictures gradually appear on a large canvas (picture is a large wall picture) which was placed in the window. “No possible chance for fraud,” he avers. Although Father has been shown conclusively that his own pet mediums are completely fraudulent, he still thinks there are some genuine phenomena and that the Bangs Sisters are OK.
It would be such a revelation to so many people if you would write up the Bangs Sisters’ methods, giving details. I think they would be readily entrapped. Can you not do this, Mr. Abbott?

Most sincerely yours,
B. H. Foreman

The sisters who had duped Foreman’s father, Lizzie and May Bangs, had honed their craft over several decades, offering an array of spirit-related services before eventually focusing on their novel, high-paying ghostly portraits.

Abbott’s moral side wanted to help these victims by exposing the secret of the Bangs’ spirit portraits. But he was probably just as intrigued with uncovering the method for what sounded like an almost perfect magic effect: the miraculous materialization of paintings in full view. Visual effects were rare enough in that age of cones, covers, and curtained cabinets, but a gradual unconcealed appearance was almost unheard of.

In their usual procedure, the Bangs Sisters began by sealing a photo of the client’s loved one between two slates, then sending the customer away until the next day when conditions would be better. When the victim returned, he climbed to an upstairs room in the sisters’ home and was seated facing a window. The sisters displayed two large canvases stretched onto wooden frames, placed them face to face, and positioned them vertically in front of the window. The bottom edges of the frames sat on a table just beneath the window.

The sunlight from the window glowed through the white fabric of the canvases. To block any stray light, the mediums draped curtains on the sides and top of the frames. The sisters then sat at the table on either side of the window, each with a hand on one side of the canvases.
After a dramatic wait of perhaps twenty minutes, the sitter began to see patches of darkness and color gradually materialize between the translucent canvases. The shapes gradually became sharper and more vivid until they formed a fully defined portrait of the sitter’s deceased beloved. The mediums then separated the canvases and displayed the result: an impressive painting the client could hang on his wall...once he had paid the Bangs’ hefty fee, of course.

The Bangs’ secret was a unique advance in magic. It sounded so astounding that magicians doubted the reports could be accurate. The effect, though, was indeed so magical that — once Abbott had unraveled the technique — inventive genius P. T. Selbit was able to tour Europe and America with just the Spirit Paintings as a stand-alone act, followed by several competing versions presented by various vaudeville performers. Later, Howard Thurston — then America’s top touring magician — arranged with Abbott to secure performance rights for his show.

The Bangs Family

The Bangs family moved to Chicago in 1861 from Atchison, Kansas (interestingly, also the hometown of another of Abbott’s fascinations, Wonder Girl psychic Gene Dennis). Their father Edward (born in Massachusetts around 1828) was a tinsmith and stove repairman; their mother Meroe was a medium herself and recruited her young children into the act. The eldest daughter, Elizabeth Snow Bangs — known as Lizzie — was born around 1860. Her sister Mary — later known as May — was born about 1864. They had two brothers, W. B. and Edward.

By 1872, the children could perform a variety of séance effects, as described in “An Evening with the Bangs Children” by Steven Sanborn Jones in the Religio-Philosophical Journal (August 3, 1872). Messages from the dead appeared on slates; chairs and furniture moved; when the children were tied with ropes and placed in a cabinet, a guitar inside was strummed and hands waved from within. At the conclusion, young May brought forth a “spirit kitten,” a hairless cat supposedly born in the afterworld.

The reporter, like countless other trusting believers of mediums, felt the children could not possibly be part of a swindle:

It must be remembered that these mediums are young children. There is not a particle of deception in their nature. Their hearts are free from guile, and in all their actions they exhibit the innocence of their nature. No one would accuse them of deception.

Not yet, anyhow. Nine years later, on August 23, 1881, the Atchison Little Globe stated that May Bangs and her mother, now reportedly living in Chicago, had been arrested “for doing business without a license.” The pair argued that they were evangelists and that such a charge could not be made against a minister.

By 1888, the sisters had become prominent Chicago mediums, performing lucrative cabinet séances, still assisted by their mother. The Washington Post (April 17, 1888) reported that “Lizzie and May Bangs, under the firm name of the Bangs Sisters, conduct the leading spiritualistic establishment in Chicago…. Their elegant parlors have been crowded by day as well as by night and money flowed into their coffers in large streams.”

One of their clients was Henry Jestram, a wealthy Chicago photographer. Shortly after Jestram became a regular attendee at their séances and spent much of his fortune paying vast sums to the sisters, he went insane and was committed to an asylum. Many newspapers blamed the mediums for Jestram’s death (see the Hornellsville [New York] Weekly Tribune, April 20, 1888).

In a spectacular arrest on April 2, 1888, two plainclothes detectives attended a Bangs séance and witnessed a series of spirit entities emerging from a cabinet. When a ghostly Russian princess in a regal gown made her appearance, the detectives seized her; she resisted furiously, throwing punches madly. One of the lawmen announced, “I have a warrant for you, May Bangs,” whereupon the princess’ mask fell off, revealing the medium. The sisters and their male attendants put up such a struggle that the policemen finally drew their guns to clear the room.

The Washington Post reported that “a search revealed a satchel filled with white muslin shrouds and the like, three sets of whiskers of various hues, five wigs, moustaches, and a great variety of make-up material….” The article concluded: “The cabinet, satchel, and the sisters were then loaded into a patrol wagon and taken to the station and locked up.”

Sadly, shortly after the arrest on charges of obtaining money under false pretenses, Lizzie Bangs’ seven-year-old daughter died. Newspapers reported that during the funeral service, the mother went into a trance and delivered a bizarre speech that blamed the child’s death “on account of the persecution I have received.” By now, newspapers were referring to the pair as “the notorious Bangs Sisters.”

Editors had a field day with the sisters’ marital dramas. Lizzie was married and divorced once; May married four times. In November 1890, May – already divorced from a first marriage – was granted a divorce from wealthy chemical manufacturer Henry H. Graham. Their brief, drama-filled liaison had begun during an 1887 séance in which Bangs told the newly widowed Graham that his dead wife had contacted her and said he should marry the medium, adding that his deceased infant had also sent a message: “Dear papa: I would like this lady for my new mamma” (Chicago Daily Tribune, April 17, 1890).

In 1907, May Bangs again married, this time to Jacob Lesher, a millionaire leather manufacturer. According to the New York Times (July 1, 1915), the medium “proposed to him three times before he was finally won over by the assurance that the spirit of Lesher’s mother was urging the match and that he himself would become 25 years younger and would never again be ill.”

Within two years, Lesher was penniless. “Business tips from the spirit world are blamed for the failure of Jacob H. Lesher, formerly rated a millionaire, and the husband of May Bangs, a ‘spirit painter,’” the Chicago Daily Tribune reported on July 16, 1909.

Notoriety in Chicago

In the early 1890s, a Chicago grand jury attempted to indict the Bangs Sisters but failed due to technicalities, according to the Chicago Daily Tribune (March 7, 1890). In 1891, a bill was passed by the Illinois Senate “prohibiting anyone from personating the spirits of the dead, commonly known as spirit-medium séances, on penalty of fine and imprisonment” (Chicago Daily Tribune, May 16, 1891). At least one Chicago spiritualist blamed the Bangs Sisters for this new law, saying that although “they were gifted with unearthly powers, their greed for gold had led them to abuse it” (“Spooks Go on a Strike,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 8, 1891).

In 1893, the pair produced spirit typewriting in sittings with G. W. N. Yost, the inventor of a typewriter, bringing forth typed spirit messages pecked out by the spirits of celebrities ranging from Moses to assassinated U.S. President James Garfield. The inventor sought more such messages from another medium, who soon left Yost broke (“A Ruined Man: Inventor Yost the Prey of Mediums,” Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1895).

Venturing out of Chicago to Massachusetts, the sisters again made headlines in 1894 by conducting a bizarre wedding in which they married a wealthy woman to the departed spirit of her dead fiancé (Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 10, 1894).

The Slate-Writing Exposure

From 1895 to 1899, the sisters continued to produce slate writing for their Chicago customers and conducted twice-weekly séances on Sundays and Wednesdays at their home, advertising their services in the Chicago Daily Tribune.

In 1900, an English investigator of psychic phenomena, Reverend Stanley L. Krebs, scheduled a sitting with the sisters, secretly intent on determining the method of their slate writing. His extraordinary exposé, “A Description of Some Trick Methods Used by Miss Bangs of Chicago,” was published in January 1901 in the British Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.

Following their standard procedure, the Bangs Sisters asked Krebs to bring with him a sealed envelope containing a letter he had written to a deceased friend, along with blank paper for a reply. To better detect any deception, Krebs brought a small mirror, which he positioned in his lap once he was seated at the séance table, giving him an excellent view of any trickery occurring below the tabletop.

Lizzie Bangs sandwiched Krebs’ letter between two slates and tied them with twine. But when she briefly turned her back, Krebs slyly examined the slates and found that the medium had quietly slid a small wedge between them, opening a slight gap between the slates. Moments later, Bangs turned back and Krebs, thanks to his mirror, saw her pick up the slates and allow his letter to drop into her lap.

As Bangs attempted to distract Krebs by making wild guesses about his dead friend’s name, he saw her bend down and place the letter onto a sort of small, dark-colored tray on a long handle, which was then drawn backward under the door behind the medium. Krebs later surmised that May Bangs was on the other side of the door, unsealing his envelope and reading the letter.

About ten minutes later, Krebs saw a piece of paper being slid back into the room from under the door. Under the pretense of shifting her position in the chair, Lizzie Bangs bent down, picked up the slip, placed it on her lap, and quickly read it. She immediately began reciting names which she said came from the spirit world, though obviously all this information was mentioned in Krebs’ letter and had been jotted down by May.
After several more minutes, he spied his envelope being secretly slid back into the room. The medium stooped to pick it up and, under cover of more distractions, secretly slipped it back between the slates and removed the wedge. She then allowed Krebs to untie the slates, open his sealed letter, and read the spirit messages on the papers, which of course had been written by the very alive May Bangs.

Unfortunately, the Chicago media seems to have paid no attention to Krebs’ essay and sitters continued to flock to the Bangs home. Krebs concluded his article by mentioning that “…after the whole was over, I arose and thanked Miss Bangs for the most interesting exhibition she had given me, whereupon she kindly offered still more, namely, to take me into her sister’s house and show me the ‘spirit portraits’ there.” Unfortunately, Krebs did not accept Lizzie Bangs’ offer, leaving the spirit paintings a mystery for several more years.

Early Spirit Paintings

The spirit portraits brought the Bangs Sisters more renown and income than any of their previous spirit specialties like slate writing. Spirit photographs had been popular items for years with many Spiritualist mediums, who could make a good living selling these double-exposed photographs, but as the Bangs Sisters discovered, they could charge truly exorbitant fees if they gave the sitter a large artwork he could display in his home as a treasured memento.

The mediums told their clients the paintings were created by the spirits through a mysterious process known as “precipitation.” Displays of “precipitated spirit portraits” created by the Bangs Sisters can still be seen on display at Spiritualist centers like Camp Chesterfield and Lily Dale.

Despite the notoriety of their spirit paintings, the Bangs Sisters were not the first to put phantom artists to work. In the 1870s, Scottish medium David Duguid (1832-1907) made spirit paintings appear during his darkened séances, as described by Nandor Fodor in These Mysterious People (1934): “In total darkness, on little cards which the sitters brought along and marked, while the medium was held or tightly bound, invisible entities executed small oil paintings, sometimes in as short a time as 35 seconds.” In 1876, a story supposedly dictated to Duguid by the spirits, illustrated with 45 of his spirit paintings, was published under the title Hafed, Prince of Persia: Being Spirit Communications Received Through Mr. David Duguid, The Glasgow Trance-Painting Medium. After a long career, Duguid’s method – simple substitution – was finally exposed. As Fodor reported:

In 1905, at the age of 73, after nearly 2000 séances, he was caught in deliberate fraud in Manchester. He brought the spirit paintings ready-made to the séance room and attempted to exchange them for the blank cards which the sitters provided. On being forcibly searched, the original cards were discovered in his trousers.

Around 1888, a corpulent female medium and frequently jailed con artist known as Ann O’Delia Dis Debar (among many other pseudonyms and spellings) made headlines in New York when she was tried and imprisoned for swindling wealthy lawyer Luther Marsh. Dis Debar had sold Marsh dozens of paintings supposedly created by the spirits of prominent artists, including one work called “The Circumcision” that she attributed to Rembrandt.
Dis Debar’s method was nothing like the Bangs’ later gradual visible appearances. In one account, she or her accomplice switched a blank canvas for a painting as she led her sitter out of the room; another visitor said he witnessed the switch when he happened to glance in a mirror in the séance room (New York Times, March 31, 1888).

Harry Kellar used the Dis Debar case as an opportunity for newspaper coverage in the Los Angeles Times, suggesting several possible methods (“Spiritualistic Fraud,” May 16, 1888). One of his outlandish proposals was that the medium used a trick easel with a painting on one side and a blank canvas on the other; a slide projector would gradually form the picture on the white canvas, then the real picture would pivot into view.

Kellar also suggested that an invisible picture could be painted with certain chemicals which would develop when brought into a hot room or wiped with a damp sponge. These farfetched theories are surprising given Kellar’s knowledge of magic methods, though in his defense his farfetched theories sound no more outlandish than some of those David P. Abbott proposed during his later search for the Bangs Sisters’ secret technique.

Alexander Herrmann chimed in a few weeks later during a benefit at New York’s Academy of Music, where he presented an exposé of Dis Debar that may have been the first onstage performance of a spirit-painting effect, though his version was a pretty crude forerunner. As the New York Times (May 28, 1888) reported: “The spook picture act of Mme. Dis Debar was performed in a way which deceived the whole audience until the method was shown. It was very simple. A prepared picture was covered with a thin and pliable sheet of paper, which was simply pulled off and palmed.”

Buatier de Kolta also inserted a painting materialization into his show around this period. At the Eden Musée in New York on December 22, 1891, De Kolta included “a very pretty drawing trick, the climax of which was the sudden appearance of a portrait of [New York congressman and governor] Roswell P. Flower in true Dis Debar style,” the New York Times review noted (“A New Magician,” December 23, 1891).

Another possible method used by Dis Debar was proposed years later at a sale of her paintings from the estate of bilked lawyer Luther Marsh. The auctioneer stated that Dis Debar had obtained over 100 paintings from an art collector to use in her swindle. “…powdering the pictures over with chalk, (she) would slowly erase it in a darkened room and tell Mr. Marsh that her hands were being guided by the great masters of painting, and had as her proof the works exposed to view when the lights were turned on” (“‘Spirit Paintings’ Sold,” New York Times, October 30, 1903).

This messy method of concealing the painting by covering the canvas with a white substance — such as whitewash or zinc oxide — has since been suggested many times in magic literature; this article on Dis Debar, may indicate that this seemingly impractical technique was actually put into practice.

The Bangs Sisters’ Spirit Portraits

As early as 1894, the Bangs Sisters were producing spirit paintings, according to a letter from May Bangs quoted in James Coates, Photographing the Invisible (1911). At that time, however, they were not yet using their visually astounding rear-lit technique. Instead, they sealed the blank canvas in a box; when opened a few days later, the painting had appeared on the canvas. In the sitter’s absence, of course, the mediums just unsealed the box, switched canvases, and resealed the case.

In Coates’ book, May Bangs herself admitted that this method was less than convincing:

It was necessary to curtain the canvas, and several sittings were required to finish one picture. Then locked boxes were used, but all these processes, where the canvases were out of the sight and control…of the visitors suggested the possibilities of fraudulent procedure and of changes made to that effect. Latterly, the pictures have been obtained in broad daylight and are finished in one sitting lasting about twenty to forty minutes.

Around 1898, another duo of mediums, known as the Campbell Brothers – actually two companions, Allan B. Campbell and Charles Shourds – made paintings appear in a style similar to the Bangs Sisters’ later backlighting method (cited in Joe Nickell’s article “Spirit Paintings” on csicop.org). The Campbells stood a large canvas on a table in front of a window in a dimmed room, the medium and a spectator sat at the table, and a silken curtain was drawn in front of the canvas. The veils were parted periodically to allow glimpses of the gradual materialization of the painting.

The Campbells’ presentation sounds so remarkably close to that used by the Bangs Sisters that it seems likely that the sisters learned of their colleagues’ method and adapted it for their own home séances, though perhaps both duos procured the same secret from some other source.

Increasing Notoriety

Whatever the origin of the sisters’ improved technique, their new version of the spirit paintings helped increase both their business and their notoriety. By 1905, a reporter from the Stevens Point (Indiana) Journal commented:

It has just come to general notice that two women, the Bangs Sisters, carry on a thriving trade in Spiritualism among people of high commercial and social standing; that “people you wouldn’t have believed it of” consult them as oracles, believe in their utterances, in the pictures they bestow upon those favored by the spirit artists….

Who buys them, or rather who pleads for them and, incidentally, pays for these medium’s troubles? Well, such as these: doctors, lawyers, and women, of course. What do they pay for these works of art? Anywhere from $15 to $150.

One prominent paying customer was the Reverend Dr. Isaac K. Funk of the dictionary publishers Funk and Wagnalls. Funk reportedly paid $1500 to the sisters for a number of paintings, as the Chicago Daily Tribune reported on February 25, 1905:

There he sat before a bare canvas in a darkened room...On one side was Mary Bangs and on the other, Elizabeth. Softly they communed with the spirits of “departed artists” until one consented to paint the picture, through the mediums, for the wealthy publisher. Slowly, a beautifully tinted portrait of a deceased relative of the minister was thrown upon the canvas.

The newspaper also noted that a Chicago judge, Joseph E. Gary, was a Bangs patron.

A group called the Chicago Spiritualist League complained that the sisters were harming the reputation of believers who followed Spiritualism as a religion. At one meeting, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported (February 27, 1905), its leader asked, “Are the ‘spirit paintings’ of the Bangs sisters frauds? Most emphatically yes. There is no such thing as a ‘spirit painting.’ These paintings are the work of human hands. Do you suppose a spirit is going to return to this earth…to paint pictures for the pecuniary gain of some medium?”

In 1905, the Illinois State Attorney stated in an article (“Bangs Sisters Interest Police,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 28, 1905) that fraudulent mediums could be prosecuted for obtaining money under false pretenses. The Bangs Sisters somehow managed to escape prosecution, except for a minor case years later in 1908, when the police arrested May for violating the city’s fortune-telling law; she was released after paying a $25 fine (Chicago Daily Tribune, July 30, 1909).

Early Explanations

The mediums’ success provoked explanations of how they made their portraits appear. As with the Dis Debar paintings, the suggestions were based almost exclusively on speculation, since no skeptic seems to have been willing to pay the fee to actually witness the painting process in person. In “How Ghosts Paint Spirit Portraits” (Chicago Daily Tribune, February 26, 1905), for example, a local printer proposed that the blank canvas was switched under one of the sisters’ skirts for a prepared painting wrapped in several layers of tissue that could be progressively removed to make the portrait gradually appear.

The article “Bangs Sisters Interest Police” (Chicago Daily Tribune, February 28, 1905) included a quote from one reader, who wisely pointed out that the sisters can’t produce a picture of a relative of the sitter without a photograph, no matter what they may say to the contrary. They have to obtain these photos either in an underhand manner or with the consent of the sitter. If they have no photo — well, it’s a case of “unfavorable conditions.”

The anonymous and apparently well-informed reader also stated that the finished paintings were actually enlargements of the sitter’s photograph that had been airbrushed over by an artist named Day.

This newspaper report is also significant since it quotes Philip H. Meyers, the inventor of the early Talking Teakettle, which he sent to Abbott as a gift in 1909; see the first section of Abbott’s Book of Mysteries for more about Meyers. The Daily Tribune article describes Meyers as a manufacturer of equipment for spiritualists. He claimed to possess the Bangs’ method for the spirit portraits but “would want several hundred dollars for the secret.”

The reader’s observations were the basic method for half of the Bangs’ procedure. The sitter had to bring along a photograph of the relative they wished to have painted. The sliding-letter switch under the séance-room door, described by Reverend Krebs in his 1901 slate-writing exposé, was used to smuggle the sitter’s photo out of the room, though other visitors reported being instructed to leave their photo in their coat in the hallway, where of course it could be easily pilfered.

The Bangs Sisters next insisted on continuing the séance another day, giving them time to take the photograph to an artist to prepare a larger version on canvas in time for the sitter’s next appointment. As a result, the portraits invariably mirrored whatever image the sitter brought along. If for some reason the sitter had no photograph, the mediums used a stock portrait with loved one’s basic age and gender, explaining away any inaccuracies with the excuse that the image showed how the relative now looked in the spirit world.

The sisters added two other convincing details that astounded the sitter even more. First, the customer could feel that the finished painting was apparently still wet, giving the impression that the work had been freshly painted by the spirits. Later investigators like Hereward Carrington suggested the effect could have been created simply by smearing linseed oil over the painting’s surface prior to the sitting. Carrington’s idea is supported by one report noting that the mediums placed two thin sheets of paper between the canvases before the painting appeared; if linseed oil was used, this paper would have prevented the oil and any potentially dampened paint from smudging onto the blank canvas; see W. Usborne Moore, Glimpses of the Next State (1911).

The second convincing nuance was that after the front canvas had been removed and the finished painting was revealed, the mediums used the power of suggestion to convince the sitter that the portrait was still being painted by the spirits before their very eyes, excitedly shouting that the face’s eyes were opening or that details were appearing on a locket or ring in the picture.

On other occasions, if a sitter commented on an inaccuracy in the painting, the mediums asked the client to allow the painting to develop while they took a break in another room. This would give the artist (or perhaps the mediums themselves) time to make minor changes to the painting. Upon resumption of the session, the alterations would be jubilantly pointed out to the sitter. With typically excited but fuzzy recollection, sitters would often claim that the changes had occurred right before their eyes or that they had merely mentally requested the alterations. One Bangs client reported:

At 7:30 p.m., I returned to the house and found the picture had undergone further improvements, especially in the sky and background. I mentally desired that the locket should be made larger, and that the monogram should be impressed upon it. My next visit was at 10:20 the following morning…I then found that the monogram had been imprinted on the locket…and the locket itself had been enlarged.
The likeness is not very good. The interest in this picture does not lie in its fidelity as a portrait, but in the various alterations that were made after it was taken away from the window, and especially in the monogram precipitated at my mental request when nobody was present. (W. Usborne Moore, Glimpses of the Next State)

All these fine points challenged the ingenuity of would-be exposers of the Bangs’ spirit paintings. The publisher of The Progressive Thinker even offered a $100 reward for an exposé of the Bangs Sisters’ method.

A Kansas City minister, A. T. Osborn, told the New York Times that an explanation for the Bangs’ portraits had come to him in a dream (“Solves ‘Spirit Paintings,’” July 9, 1908). Osborn’s theory was that “They made a magic-lantern slide…the portrait was thrown on a blank canvas by means of a stereopticon. A dissolving-view device caused the picture to fade from the blank. The painted enlargement was slipped on the trick table and a cover whisked off the moment the magic lantern view vanished.”

Confident that Osborn’s method was wrong, the Bangs Sisters promptly telegrammed the minister and offered him $1000 if he could correctly demonstrate the secret of their portraits. When Osborn accepted, they sent another telegram demanding that the reverend wager $1000 as well. The Washington Post (“Girls Seek Pastor’s Coin,” July 11, 1908) reported Osborn’s reaction: “Of course I can’t have anything to do with such a proposal. I can’t do any betting, and whoever heard of a minister with $1000?”

On the Road

One of the sisters’ devotees was Dr. Charles H. Carson, the wealthy Kansas City head of the Temple of Health, the Magnetic Mineral Springs, and the College of Psychic-Sarcology. In 1908, Carson included over a dozen Bangs Sisters paintings in a self-published book of writings supposedly composed by the spirit of his dead wife, entitled Through the Valley of the Shadow and Beyond.

“Dr. Carson was a believer in the Bangs Sisters and brought them to Kansas City at his own expense, renting apartments and furnishing them....” Abbott wrote to Paul Carus on July 18, 1908. “He is said to have parted with ten thousand dollars for spirit paintings, and one evening gave a reception to exhibit his spirit gallery.”

As their renown grew, the Bangs Sisters occasionally took their painting act to Spiritualist collectives like Lily Dale, materializing a sample portrait onstage to promote private sittings after the show. The controlled conditions of their Chicago home, however, proved elusive onstage. In a 1910 demonstration for the Kansas City Society of Spiritualists, the Washington Post reported, “something was the matter with the lights in the building, which situation prevented this part of the performance.” At another appearance, the lamp used to illuminate the canvases set fire to the sisters’ equipment.

On another occasion, a curious audience member asked the sisters, “Are you worth a million dollars?”
May snapped back, “If we are, it’s none of your business.”
The mediums mercifully took less time onstage to make their paintings appear than they did at their home, where the process could take almost an hour. During a 1909 Camp Chesterfield show, for example, they required only eight minutes to produce a painting (James Coates, Photographing the Invisible, 1911).

Abbott on the Trail

David P. Abbott pondered the secret of the Bangs Sisters’ paintings in correspondence with Open Court magazine readers, eventually collected in the journal as a series of letters on “Spirit Portraiture” and later in the appendix of Behind the Scenes with the Mediums in 1907.

To explain the paintings, Abbott needed to solve several major puzzles. How did the mediums obtain a photo of the sitter’s loved one? (Abbott had apparently missed Krebs’ account published in England.) How did the image gradually appear on the canvas? How was the blank canvas switched for the finished painting? And how did all this occur in the simplest of settings in a small room on an upper story of a neighborhood house?

In his first attempts to resolve these questions, Abbott proposed a variety of improbable methods that widely missed the Bangs’ simple procedure. Abbott suggested that the mediums could have copied the sitter’s photograph by having a hidden assistant in the room taking pictures through a telephoto lens. For the gradual development of the paintings, Abbott thought mechanisms hidden in the window sill might somehow spray invisible chemicals onto the canvas.

Abbott discussed the problem in his letters to his publisher Paul Carus, typing page after page as he considered complicated methods like concealed slide projectors and mechanical switching tables.

At one point, Abbott found out that one of his correspondents, C. F. Eldredge of Kansas City, editor of The Health Reporter, had actually witnessed the Bangs Sisters produce a painting. Eldredge, unfortunately, could still not fathom their method, but his detailed report helped Abbott narrow the possibilities of what the actual procedure could be. On July 18, 1908, for example, Abbott wrote to Carus that Eldredge wondered “why picture seemed between canvases when a lantern would unmistakably project it on back of rear canvas.”

Abbott was also exchanging letters with Dr. Isaac Funk, who, as mentioned earlier, had reportedly paid dearly for several Bangs portraits. In an April 1, 1907, letter, Funk offered to pay for a Bangs Sisters séance if Abbott could make a trip to Chicago:

I wish to tell you something wholly on the quiet: I have had a number of sittings with the famous Bangs Sisters of Chicago. I know, I think, all of the explanations that have been given by various persons…. I have made a large number of experiments with them and, notwithstanding all the exposures that have been made, I would like to have you — when in Chicago — to call upon them and make a test, that is, providing they have no means of recognizing you….

Have some wee mark on the frame facing you that you know of but nobody else knows of, and see to it that there is no substitution of frames. It would be absolutely necessary that you do not exhibit the slightest suspicion. Of course, let it be understood that you are investigating, perfectly willing to accept the truth, whatever the truth is. Do not mention — directly or indirectly — my name to them. Now, if some time you are in Chicago and do this, I will bear the expense of getting the picture from the mediums, which was $30 or so when I saw them last.

The time and expense of the trip undoubtedly deterred Abbott, who was in the midst of proofreading Behind the Scenes with the Mediums in addition to running his loan business. Abbott wrote Carus in 1908 that he was trying to convince Funk to take a magician with him on his next visit, perhaps Joseffy.

Dr. Funk eventually sent Abbott’s friend Hereward Carrington to visit the Bangs Sisters. Carrington — a prolific writer, psychic investigator, and one-time magician — detected the mediums cheating in their slate demonstrations and reported their fraudulent methods in the British Annals of Psychical Science (July-September 1910). The sisters, however, refused to demonstrate their paintings for Carrington.

Abbott’s Eureka Moment

In 1908, through an intermediary, Abbott contacted Philip H. Meyers, the inventor of the original Talking Teakettle who back in 1905 had claimed in the Chicago Daily Tribune to knew the secret of the Bangs portraits. Abbott had his Chicago friend Ralph W. Read try to negotiate a purchase. Meyers’ price for the secret of the paintings was too high for the men, but he sold them what he said was the Bangs’ slate-writing secret. To Abbott’s disappointment, it turned out to be just a common technique that Abbott already knew.

True to his financially prudent ways, Abbott decided to forego any further expense and instead experiment on his own. This money-saving move began a hands-on experimentation process that soon led Abbott to the long-sought secret.

On February 18, 1909, Abbott excitedly wrote Carus: “I really believe I have solved this secret by reason alone.” His joy was premature. His latest incorrect solution seems to have been a mechanism that would wind up layers of silk covering the painting, gradually allowing more light to penetrate the canvases as if the painting was gradually developing.

But this wrong turn was in fact the key that led Abbott to his “Eureka” moment when the correct answer suddenly came to him. Abbott wrote Carus on February 22, 1909:

I decided yesterday that while theories are all right and should precede experiment, that I should try out my theory in actual practice.

I built a quarter-sized model of a screen. I designed one that would roll up or unreel the silk rapidly or slowly. It was but 1/8-inch thick. I made three frames and tacked canvas on them. One was a picture, size nine by fourteen inches. I placed a table and the canvases in position, lowered the blinds, and pinned on the side blinds as per directions.

Now, all of this brought about an unexpected result. First, I arrived at the conclusion that no screen is used in actual practice, notwithstanding what Read says, or my own theories; and second, I made the discovery of a new principle which surely is the correct one.

It is so absurdly simple that at first sight one would give it little credence, but after two hours of actual experiment I cannot help but believe it is the right thing.

Simplicity is really in its favor. Mediums seldom use much paraphernalia, as they must always be prepared to “make a quick getaway.” So whatever is used, we must expect it to be something simple. In fact, the simple things have always produced the greatest effects.

Now, what I discovered is this: If two canvases be faced together and in position, and if there be upon the rear canvas a portrait in transparent colors (pastel, crayon, airbrush work, etc.), this — to be plainly visible — must be in actual contact with the surface of the front canvas. At a distance of 1/8-inch, the outlines begin to be indefinite — not sharp; at a quarter of inch, much more so, while at a half-inch (the) image is very confused in appearance and looks like a view from a lantern out of focus, a cloud of color, etc. At a distance of one inch, the image appears to be some confused shadows, and at two inches’ distance, all trace of the portrait has disappeared.

Now it is only necessary for the rear canvas to be slowly moved toward (or from) the front canvas to cause the picture to materialize or to fade out precisely as described. The motion must be slow and uniform, and is very difficult to control by hand….

I can best compare the effect produced to what one witnesses when viewing a lantern slide wholly out of focus, and then see it slowly brought into focus. First there is not even a shadow; finally some indistinct shadows appear; these soon seem to be an indistinct cloud consisting of some colors mingled together. These gradually change into the image but with quite indistinct outlines which become more and more sharp until the picture appears quite plain and sharply defined, yet it shows a slight smoky effect caused by looking at it through a canvas and viewing it by transmitted light.

All of this corresponds exactly with the descriptions I have received of the effect. It would appear just like a lantern image, only it would not be this, and the picture would really be in the window as is claimed.

Final Details

Carus wanted to publish Abbott’s explanation in The Open Court. But before publishing his findings, Abbott wanted to understand the Bangs’ entire procedure. Despite discovering the simple methods that produced the paintings, Abbott continued proposing complicated ideas to explain the remaining details of the Bangs’ technique.

In letters to Carus, Abbott suggested that the blank canvas was initially switched for the painted one using an elevator device built into the walls of the Bangs’ home, with a secret assistant below exchanging the paintings. To explain the post-appearance alterations — which the Bangs Sisters created through mere suggestion or by adding changes in the sitter’s absence — Abbott envisioned a complex systems of colored patches controlled by threads, or else areas on the canvas that could be individually developed with chemicals.

Carus was as fascinated by the quest as Abbott was, and in one 1909 letter, the dignified publisher made the astonishing suggestion that Abbott should determine matters definitively by arranging a séance and trying to catch the mediums red-handed, perhaps even breaking into the house:

I do not know how far you would go in testing your hypothesis, but assuming your solution to be the correct one, you could at the moment when everything is ready for a séance pounce on them, and have the artist as well as the Bangs Sisters arrested on a charge of obtaining money under false pretenses.

It would be necessary for you to have some friend go to the sisters and make arrangements for a sitting. He has to spy out where the window sill with the trap is, which window is used, so you can locate the place where the artists work underground.

You must make sure of the several accesses to that place, whether it is in the basement, and whether you could enter without breaking through doors, perhaps through the windows by breaking the window panes. You ought to speak with the sheriff through whose authority you could make an entrance, and take a search warrant out against the Bangs Sisters and their accomplice so as to be able to pounce on them at the moment when a séance is going on.

The arrest need not even be made, but only the utensils seized, the trap inspected, and the gauze material and whatever else there may be taken away. There is not even any necessity for carrying the matter before the court. You can drop proceedings as soon as they are at bay. It would certainly be a proof that your theory is right, which could not be contradicted by any believer.

Abbott’s Solution Escapes

As Abbott recounted in his story of the Spirit Portraits in The Book of Mysteries, English spiritualistic investigator William S. Marriott contacted Abbott in August 1909 to inquire about the Bangs Sisters’ paintings. Abbott innocently shared his findings, whereupon Marriott not only built the necessary equipment but also went on tour in England presenting the appearance of the paintings as a vaudeville act.

In England, Marriott became acquainted with one of the Bangs Sisters’ most devoted clients, the decorated but self-deceiving British Vice-Admiral W. Usborne Moore, mentioned earlier as the author of Glimpses of the Next State. In 1909 and 1910, Moore had visited the mediums to contact his spirit guides Iola, Hypatia, and Cleopatra and had purchased several portraits.

Typical of true believers, Moore discounted any reasonable explanations of the Bangs Sisters’ phenomena. Although Marriott showed him Abbott’s method for materializing the paintings, Moore steadfastly maintained that the sisters would never rely on such trickery and that their conditions at home were different from those of a stage performance.

Moore had recently read Hereward Carrington’s exposé of the Bangs Sisters in the Annals of Psychical Science and denounced him in an issue of the spiritualist magazine Light in 1911. Carrington (with whom Abbott had already shared the correct secret) responded in Light (May 13, 1911): “…Mr. David P. Abbott and myself worked together over this problem; but I was forced to stop at the time, owing to press of other matters, and Mr. Abbott continued his experiments alone. I think I am safe in saying that he has now succeeded in duplicating the Bangs Sisters’ portraits exactly — and by trickery.”

Admiral Moore responded in Light: “The Abbott-Marriott trick is well known in England. I have seen it often, and it surpasses in skill almost every conjuring trick I have ever witnessed. When my friends ask me how the Bangs’ pictures appear to come, I say, ‘Go and see Dr. Wilmar’s spirit paintings.’”

Moore also said that his friend Dr. Wilmar had taught him the secret of the paintings and claiming that Abbott was not the only discoverer of this method.“The method is known to me, and was known to me before I met Dr. Wilmar. It was found out by an exhibition of my own models, and by one of our best trance mediums…about the time it was discovered by Mr. David Abbott. I respect Mr. Abbott. He candidly owns that all his theories about the Bangs Sisters’ pictures previous to 1909 were entirely erroneous. I ask myself this plain question: Why has not this diligent conjurer been to sit with the Bangs Sisters? He lives within a reasonable distance. If he does sit with them, he will find his latest theory as rotten as his previous ones.”

By this time, Marriott had licensed P. T. Selbit to perform the Spirit Paintings act and in 1911, Abbott saw his own solution being presented by Selbit, billed as the creation of Dr. Wilmar. The gentlemanly Abbott accepted Selbit’s explanation gracefully.

That year, while Abbott was still attempting to clarify the final details of the mystery, two books were published discussing the Bangs Sisters: Moore’s 642-page Glimpses of the Next State and James Coates’ book Photographing the Invisible: Practical Studies in Spirit Photography, Spirit Portraiture, and other Rare but Allied Arts, which devoted an entire chapter to the Bangs Sisters. These works, which described the mediums’ séances in detail, may have supplied the pieces of the puzzle that Abbott needed.

A few years later, Abbott completed his long essay on the Spirit Portraits, which The Open Court magazine published in April 1913. Later in 1913, Carus also released the article as a separate booklet, The Spirit Portrait Mystery: Its Final Solution.

Popularity and Fade

Selbit’s tour allowed many magicians to see the effect, and because its secret was not overly difficult to unravel when seen in person, a number of performers began to present their own versions. Vaudeville magician William J. Nixon performed his Spirit Paintings in his stage shows. An Australian painter named Henry Clive, who later became a renowned illustrator, toured with his rendition in the 1920s.

Abbott’s hard-earned secret was soon common knowledge in the magic world. Nixon published the technique in his 1916 booklet, The Spirit Paintings. Will Goldston exposed the secret in his Annual of Magic 1915-1916. Alexander included the effect in his book The Life and Mysteries of the Celebrated Dr. Q in 1921. By the 1930s, Thayer’s Magic Company was selling a ready-made version in their catalogs.

Nonetheless, this very visual effect is today rarely seen. Like many magic effects, the Spirit Paintings can today be all too easily explained away by audiences as the result of electronics.

As for the Bangs Sisters, by the time The Open Court published Abbott’s exposé, the mediums had largely dropped from sight. The 1920 U.S. Census showed May still living in Chicago but does not mention Lizzie. My research has so far revealed no further record of either sister.

We do not know if Abbott’s revelations prevented the Bangs Sisters from duping more victims like A. W. Foreman, Charles Carson, or W. Usborne Moore. At the very least, however, it seems likely that once the Spirit Portraits hit the vaudeville stage, it would have been more difficult for any mediums, even the experienced Bangs Sisters, to convince a customer that their paintings came from the hands of spirits and not from their own.


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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Thu Oct 18, 2012 12:24 am

Thanks for that posting Mark, last week I downloaded all of Abbott's writings in Open Court. They followed on from research about another topic in that magazine.

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Thu Oct 18, 2012 12:55 am

David P Abbott puplished The spirit portrait mystery, its final solution in 1913. Through the Open Court Publishing Co. A 44 page pamphlet laying out his findings


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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Thu Oct 18, 2012 3:34 am




WE are greatly pleased to be able to make public a secret of mediumship
which has puzzled the world of believers and unbelievers in spiritualism
for many years. We are especially interested in its publication because we
have been a party, albeit in a passive character, to its gradual disclosure.
Mr. David P. Abbott of Omaha, Nebraska, a genius in mediumistic lore,
the author of the remarkable book Behind the Scenes with the Mediums, was
for a long time puzzled at the marvel of some well-known mediums, two
sisters, who made the pictures of dead relatives appear in colored painting
before the eyes of their sitters. We need not repeat reports of spiritualists
who were often overwhelmed at the spectacle, and even skeptics became convinced that here was true evidence of spirit life which would prove the immortality of the soul. From time to time Mr. Abbott communicated to us
the gradual progress of his work including his disappointments when his
theories proved incorrect, but he never lost the conviction that the mystery
could not be a miracle and that because the trick was so effective it must be
very simple.
Any one who is acquainted with Mr. Abbott's great work Behind the
Scenes with the Mediums will grant that there is no one more familiar than
he with the subtle methods of deception by which telling effects are produced
upon believers in spiritualism—effects which will frequently remain a puzzle
for the staunchest skeptics.
We may here mention that Mr. Abbott is also the inventor of a mystic
teakettle which can be carried all around the room in one's hand and is without
connection either by pipes or wires with any external object, and yet its
mysterious little spout will intelligently answer questions to the inquirer while
he holds it in his hands. The ghost whom he makes inhabit the teakettle
speaks in a tiny whisper, not unlike the voice of the famous nun of Liibeck
who has dwindled away to nothingness and is preserved in a bottle hung up
in the cathedral of her native city.
We congratulate Mr. Abbott on the great success he has achieved in solving
the great mediumistic mystery, although we regret that it was not he who
reaped the pecuniary rewards. P. C.

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Thu Oct 18, 2012 4:11 am

IT is now about four years since I made a discovery that finally
cleared up one of the greatest of mediumistic mysteries. For
about fifteen years the feat of producing spirit portraits has baffled
all of the investigators that have studied the problem. Through its
agency some of our most prominent men have been converted to
spiritualism, and conjurers have universally acknowledged it to be
the most miraculous phenomenon that ever confronted them. Meanwhile
two famous lady mediums of Chicago have continued to produce
these wonderful portraits as the work of the spirit world ; and
while some have disputed the genuineness of this claim without
being able to substantiate their view, the large majority that were
conversant with the subject have continued to be believers. Editor
Francis of The Progressive Thinker, a leading spiritualistic journal,
for years kept a standing cash offer to be given to any one who
could explain this wonder; but there were none who could do so,
and he finally died without any one claiming the reward.

Since the discovery of the secret of these productions, the illusion
has been presented from the theatrical stage as a magical creation.
The English conjurer Selbit, under authority of Dr. Wilmar
of London (to whom I had sent the secret), first toured England
and France with it, and then presented it on the Orpheura Circuit
in America at a large salary. The great American magician, Mr.
Howard Thurston, under direct authority from the writer, has now
presented it in his programs for two years, and is still doing so;
while Henry Clive, the English conjurer, and W. J. Nixon, known
as the "Master Mind of Modern Magic," both are now presenting
it in vaudeville houses in the east. I am informed that it is also
being presented in Australia. The Pittsburg Post of Jan, 1, 1913,
contained an offer of five hundred dollars made by Mr, Clive for any
chemist who would chemically analyze his canvases and find them
prepared in any way. These two last-named gentlemen have had a
controversy recently through Variety, as to who has the American
rights, etc., and it has developed in this that salaries as high as five
hundred dollars a week are now being paid in vaudeville for it. But
this amount is small when compared with the sums paid to mediums
for this work.
In the summer of 1908 the two Chicago mediums above mentioned
visited Kansas City, Mo., for a few months. It was said that
their expenses were paid by a noted "healer" of that city, who usually
had some fifty patients at his doors each morning awaiting the
"laying on of hands." He was said to have an income of five hundred
dollars daily, and was Kansas City's heaviest individual bank
Mr. C. F. Eldredge of Kansas City, Mo., in a letter speaking
of this healer and these mediums, said : "I hope you will expose this
work, for it is the greatest mystery in the world. One man of this
city spent perhaps ten thousand dollars with these people, and he is
to-day just as certain that his pictures were painted by spirit artists
as that he lives. He has just published a big book on the subject,(1.)
all full of these pictures, which he claims was written by his dead
wife through their mediumship. He is only one of hundreds who
are ready to stake their lives on this work."
Mr. Eldredge is a very intelligent man, and is teaching the
mysteries of the human mind, how to effect certain marvelous cures,
and how to perform other mental miracles—if I may be allowed
the word. It was through a description furnished by him that I
was able finally to work out the solution of this mystery, and to
settle definitely the extravagant claims of the mediums, besides
making the stage illusion possible. Mr. Eldredge had the privilege
of witnessing one of the Kansas City seances, and I here give his
"Having met by appointment at the residence of the mediums,
my doctor friend and myself were ushered into the studio where
the sitting took place. The object was to secure a portrait in colors
of the doctor's sister who was killed some six years ago in a runaway
"The doctor was requested by the mediums to select two can-

(1.) The book is entitled, Through the Valley of the Shadow and Beyond. It
has an introduction by "The Supreme Divine Ruler of the Spheres." Among
the psychic portraits reproduced in it are one of this dignitary, one of "The
Divine Jose," one of "Rose the Sunlight,—one who walked through the Valley
of the Shadow, etc.," one of "Emma the Starbeam" and others. See also the
book, Two Years in Heaven by "Rose the Sunlight."

I will copy the rest of this pamphlet over the weekend

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Mark74 on Thu Oct 18, 2012 11:31 am

Thanks for the response Jim. I must admit I was greatly saddened when I first read Abbott's report on the Bang sisters. I always thought there mediumship to be one of the finest spiritualism has ever produced. What has confused me ever since is the John Sharp (guide of Etta Wriedt) portrait, surely John Sharp should have known, and did he ever voice his concern regarding his portrait Shocked


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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:18 pm

Given the support the Bangs Sisters had received I had never really considered the aspect of fraud. It is only recently that I have come accross all this materil so I need to take a long hard look at it. I have just ordered Through the valley of the shadow and beyond Kissinger press have grabbed it through Google so its not downloadable. I have downloaded Two Years In Heaven intending to take a good look.

I am not going to give up on the Bangs yet although my memory suggests there is something else out there too which is suggestive of fraud. As to the fraudulent use of slates that is old hat and all to many of the communications were fraudulent.

Yes choosing which past mediums to stand behind as entirely genuine (even if at times as human beings not 100 % effective on all occasions), which were intermixing both real and fraudulent as Palladino appears to have done, or those who were just plain fraud. In the latter two categories some just moved away from any claims of Spirit intervention making their acts "mystery acts", having been exposed several times the Davenports changed to that and after her first two years Anna Eva Fay moved to pure Vaudeville.

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Mark74 on Fri Oct 19, 2012 4:19 pm

Very good point Jim, thanks.


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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Fri Oct 19, 2012 11:40 pm

Side issue before I get Back to this a full article about Selbit who went on to perform this as a magic trick is in the SanFrancisco Call April 23 1911

2 pages so you need to move onto the second page

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Fri Oct 19, 2012 11:46 pm

I knew there was something else now I will have to look at the Chicago Tribune Archive, from the The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser (Heathcote, Vic. : 1863 - 1918)(about) Previous issue Friday 29 June 1888 on NLA's Trove site
The Bangs sisters were arrested in Chicago on Sunday during a
"spiritualistic" seance. While , the "spirits" were displaying' themselves the officers seized one of the medium. A search revealed a satchel with white muslin shrouds and the like, three sets of whiskers of different hues, five wigs, moustaches, and a great variety of make-up material, such as is used by. actors. They also found that in the cabinet was a curtain that ran aill through the centre of it, making two compartments, and also a side entrance which admitted the "spirit" operator behind the curtain.
OK a more detailed report from an Ohio Newspaper The Stark County Democrat., April 05, 1888
Mediums Arrested.
Chicago, April 2 Special.
The mediums known as the Bangs sisters,
whose materialistic seances have been commented on a good deal lately, were arrested last night and locked up,
oharged with conducting an entertainment without a license and obtaining money under false pretense. The women,
who are young and good looking, claim to have been in the medium business since they were small children.
Recently they were brought prominently before public notice through the freaks of Henry Jestram, a wealthy
photographer of this city. Jestram was an old-time friend of August Spies, the anarchist, and since the
latter's execution he has claimed on several occasions to have received spirit communication from him through
the medium of the Bangs sisters, at whose seances he was a regular attendant.

His mind finally became afflicted by constant brooding over "spirit manifestations" and a week ago it was
found necessary to place him in a detention hospital for the insane. It appears that D. P. Trefny. of Engle
wood, who is a spiritualist, made a complaint to the police three weeks ago that the Bangs sisters' seances were
frauds, and a detective was detailed to attend them regularly and at the first good chance expose
and arrest them. Warrants have been sworn out, on the charges named above. The case of Jestram served to
hasten the exposure. Last night a detective, accompanied by a brother offcer, and the complainant, Trefny, were
on hand at the opening seance. After the usual introductory and examinationof the cabinet by two regular attendants,
the lights turned down low and several figures purporting to be spirits, made their appearance one after
another, and communicated with the audience. Finally there appeared the spirit of a Russian Princess, clad in
royal robes, the signal was given and Trefny sprang forward and siezed the spook by the arms. The two
detectives rushed to his aid and some one else lit the gas. The spook made a furious resistance, striking out right
and left and tried to throw off Its shroud and wig. "I have a warrant for you, May Bangs," said Detective
Tyrrall, and just then the light mask she wore fell off disclosing her well known features. A roll of some
thing concealed under the shroud fell to the floor and Mrs. Banks, mother of the sisters seized it and ran. Tyrrell
pursued her and caught her hiding it behind a window curtain. It was a roll of batting, used probably to make
wigs and beards in the cabinet. So threatening did the sisters and several male attendants of the seance become
that the officers were compelled to draw their revolvers the clear the room.

A search revealed a satchel filled withwhite muslin shrouds, and the like,three sets of whiskers of different hues,
five wigs, mustaches and a great varietyof make up material such as is used by actors. Tliey also found that in the
cabinet was a curtain that ran up, the center of it making two compartments and also a side entrance which admitted
the first operator behind the curtain, whereby all changes of costume were made. The cabinet satchel and
sisters were then loaded into a patrol wagon and taken to the station and locked up.
So clearly early in their career they were pulling the old dark seance tricks then were caught on slates later on. I admit it does not look good.


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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Oct 20, 2012 12:45 am

There is a sad part to this story from the SPRINGFIELD REPUBLIC WEDNESDAY EVENING APRIL" 18 1888
Maude, the seven-year-ol-d daughter of
Lizzie Bangs, of spiritualistic Bangs sisters,
now out on bail in Chicago on the charge
of fraud, died Friday and was buried Sunday
with Spiritualistic services. Mrs. Cora
L. V. Richmond going into a trance state
and delivering a discourse.

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Mark74 on Tue Oct 23, 2012 3:22 pm

Great posts Jim. Arthur Ford is another medium that comes to mind. Much suspicion surrounded him over the Houdini/Rosebelle message, and there were questions whether it was received by true psychic means, or just clever research. Ford did demonstrate outstanding clairaudience, especially in the presence of Conan-Doyle, when Mrs. St. Clair Stobart organised a series of lectures and demonstrations for him at London's Grotrian Hall in the late 1920's.


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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Mark74 on Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:24 pm

Reported by Conan Doyle in the Sunday Express, April 8, 1927.

One of the most amazing things which I have seen in my forty-one years' psychic experience was the first appearance of Arthur Ford at a Spiritualist service on Sunday, March 23rd.

He is the young pastor of the First Spiritualist Church, New York, and, like the teachers in the primitive Christian Churches, has the power to show as well as to explain the wonders of the Spirit World.

After my address he walked to the front of the platform facing the thousand or more people in the hall. He is young, clean-shaven, alert, with a modest boyish bearing which is pleasing.

''I am no clairvoyant,'' said he, ''but I hear, to give you what I am told by my old friend Fletcher, who has been my guide since he passed over.''

He inclined his head like one listening, and then said: ''Is Peter Armstrong in this hall?'' A rather astonished-looking gentleman raised his hand.

''There is a whole group here for you, your mother Mary, your sister Kate, two brothers, Robert and John, and your son Ned. Do you recognise them?''


''Well, they send greetings and love.

''Then I get another name, Sarah Edwards. Is she present? Please put up your hand! Your daughter is here, she says her name is Lucy. You are in trouble are you not?


''Well, she says hold on and all will be well. I give you that.''

''John Walker.'' Another hand went up.

''Your brother Willie is here. Passed over in the war. Is that right?''


''He says that this is your first visit to a Spiritualist church. Is that so?''


''Well, he hopes you will go on. I give you that.

''Pardon me, I didn't quite hear that?'' Any one here called Melton--Jane Melton?'' A hand went up. Your brother Albert is here,''

''No, I never had a brother Albert,''

''Oh yes, you had,''


''Think again.''

''Oh, I'm sorry. Of course, little Bertie who died young.''

''Yes, he is growing up nicely. He wanted to tell you so. And do not worry about your mother. She will be all right. I give you that.''

So he went on, without pause or mistake, for twenty minutes, as a thousand can testify. And yet this young man had landed in England forty-eight hours before, and there was not, outside the platform, one person in that audience whom he knew.


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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Tue Oct 23, 2012 11:32 pm

Great thanks Mark. Arthur Ford always interests me for some reason. For no particular reason, despite seeing a number of positive reports, I actually have a feeling he was genuine.

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:19 am

I did remember to get back to this pamphlet
vases from a dozen or more that were leaning against the wall.
This he did from near the middle of the pile, holding them up to the
light and rubbing his hand over them in order to determine if there
was any coating or film over them. I also examined them very carefully,
and was satisfied there was not. One of the mediums now
took the two framed canvases and placing them face to face, stood
them upon a small table in front of a window which looked out upon
the Paseo, one of the great boulevards of our city. The canvases
were leaned against the window which faced the south.
"One of the mediums stood upon a chair and pulled down the
blind to the top of the canvases, and then each of them drew a soft,
dark curtain from the side of the window to the frames, thus darkening
all of the window except where light came through the canvases,
"The light from the window passed directly through the canvases
and they appeared clear and white. My friend held a picture
of his dead sister in his hand, being requested to fix the expression
of her face in his mind. We were seated immediately in front of
the window, not more than three feet from the canvases while the
mediums stood at the two sides of the table holding them and talking
to us.
"After waiting possibly five minutes, one of the mediums said,
'You will observe how the canvases are drawing. They are being
sized.' The front canvas did seem to be stretching on the frame
making a slight noise, as if the thumb were being drawn upon the
side of the frame. Presently the noise stopped, and there appeared
on the outer edge of the canvases, or rather between the two, a slight
shadow. I did not notice it until our attention was called to it by the
mediums. It continued to darken while the center remained white
and clear. In a few minutes I noticed a pale pink, almost directly in
the center. It seemed like the glow of sunrise, but there was no
form. Next we noticed an outline. The face was forming. We
noticed two dark blurs that grew more distinct, and we saw that they
were eyebrows and eyelashes of closed eyes. The lines of the mouth
appeared, and the outlines of the head became visible, while the
shoulders were distinct; and then the eyes opened out, giving a
life-like effect to the portrait.
"Was I dreaming? I felt like pinching myself to see. A
woman's face was looking at us from between the canvases, beautiful
in form and feature.
"My friend had been told to suggest any changes he wanted
during the formation of the picture. He now said that he would

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:20 am

like the face turned a little more to the right giving more of a front
view. Almost immediately the picture began to fade from the canvas,
and it grew fainter until it lost every detail. The outlines of
the head became indistinct. The eyes went out into mere dark rings.
Presently we saw the face coming as before. The face seemed
turned a little this time, though I am not positive that it was. I
imagined that it was, and the doctor seemed better satisfied ; however,
the change was very slight if any. We were so carried away
with the marvel of the performance, that reason gave place to sentiment.
The very marvel was inspiring. This time the development
was more rapid. The eyes opened again as before.
"The doctor now asked that the eyes be made a little darker
blue, more of a gray ; and while he was speaking I noticed that the
eyes were changing to a blue gray, or else my imagination was playing
me false. He now suggested a slight change of the nose, which
was made, and the lines of the mouth were altered at his suggestion.
He now suggested that the face was a little too full, and it seemed
to narrow slightly. The picture seemed to follow the doctor's
thought. He was asked if he would have, as a hair ornament a
crescent, a star or crown. The doctor suggested a crescent, and immediately
a crescent of gold with gems of white appeared. Up to
this time the shoulders seemed bare. He was asked to choose
whether there should be a high or low collar. He suggested one of
medium height and it at once appeared. On looking at the photograph,
the doctor now saw a string of beads around the neck. Without
speaking, the beads came into view about the neck, one bead at
a time. They changed in color from white to amber then to gold.
He seemed to conjure the picture. As a dream follows the will,
so this pieture followed the doctor's thought. Meanwhile the background
had changed in color several times, from white to light
yellow, then to dark yellow or brown, and then to green with a tinge
of red, after which it mottled beautifully until the effect was superb.
The changes took place like waves of light passing upwards over the
whole picture. The two canvases were now laid flat on the table,
and a third canvas was then lifted from the floor and placed over
them for a cover. We were then asked to place our hands on this,
so as to 'set the colors.' Soon the portrait was uncovered, and I
found the paint was a kind of greasy substance, as I rubbed some of
it on my fingers.
"My friend had enclosed a photograph of his sister, together
with a letter to her spirit, between slates for a time, in the presence

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:24 am

of these mediums, some three days before this sitting. It was then
his appointment was made.
"I have heard of the Hindu magician who plants a seed and
grows a tree before your eyes, and of the turning of water into
wine, but here was a phenomenon even greater ; one that seemed to
contradict every known law of nature ; and now as I record this the
day after, I am more bewildered than when I saw the work done.
I do not believe the picture was painted before our eyes, for that
is beyond rational belief, and by no process of reasoning can such
an idea satisfy my mind. Where did the colors come from? How
did they get between the close fitting canvases, and by what miraculous
power were they intelligently spread over one of them?
"We compared the portrait with the photograph ; the psychics
asked to see it, claiming never to have seen it before. The likeness
was perfect. Any one could recognize it. There seemed to have
been no opportunity for trickery or fraud, and everything was open
and above-board. We could see all over the room at all times, under
the table in front of us, and everywhere. Yet the work was contrary
to natural law and all human experience.
"One of these mediums said to me when speaking of their
marvel, 'We are the only people in the world to-day, who positively
and absolutely prove immortality.'
"I expect to work out this problem somehow, somewhere, sometime.
But there is no hurry. It will be the result of patient effort.
"Another lady here had quite a large portrait made. It came
in about five minutes. She said it seemed like a rain-storm on the
canvas, the colors seemingly being pelted on in waves."
I also have a report from Thomas Grinshaw, the spiritualist
lecturer, and President of the Missouri State Association of Spiritualists.
He saw a portrait produced on a stage in the auditorium
at Camp Chesterfield. An attempt was made to produce a portrait
in the afternoon, but it resulted in an accident and nearly caused
a fire. The attempt was repeated in the evening with more success.
Clean canvases were selected by a committee and faced together,
and placed in front of an ordinary wooden soap-box.
The box was first placed on a little table near the front of the
stage. It had neither front nor back, and an ordinary kerosene lamp
was placed in the box to shine through the canvases. A black cloth
was then hung over the rear of the box so as to darken the room,
and cut oflf all light except what passed through the canvases. A
medium stood at each side of the box holding them. The portrait
gradually materialized, then dematerialized, after which it again re
appeared. He was particularly impressed by the making of the lace
work around the neck. A large audience witnessed this production,
and a large committee was on the stage and helped to select the clean
This is a very brief summary of his report. It will be seen that
all of the main features are about the same as described by Mr.
I also have a report from a gentleman by the name of Odell.
He saw a portrait produced in the center of a room with the canvases
held upright on a table, and an ordinary incandescent lamp
hung behind them to shine through and show the formation of the
likeness. Also in a report I have from Dr. Funk, a production is
described where the canvases were set on an easel, and he was permitted
to walk between them and the window while the picture was
coming and going.
These reports are of great length but I have given here in the
briefest possible manner such of their contents as I think will best
describe what I think it is safe to say is without exception the most
remarkable mediumistic performance ever given in the world.
After studying these reports, I decided to begin experimenting
to discover the secret of the process, always assuming that nothing
but natural means were employed.
Readers of my book Behind the Scenes with the Mediums,^
will remember some correspondence I had through The Open Court^
in regard to some spirit portraits produced by certain famous mediums.
At that time the descriptions of the act, as furnished me,
were very meager and incomplete ; and this fact misled me. Naturally,
1 thought of the old spray method of developing a prepared canvas,
and elaborated on the method, thinking that I surely had the principle
upon which the act was performed. However, as at a later
date, I was furnished the above accurate reports of this remarkable
performance, which showed entirely different conditions from those
the first reports conveyed to my mind, I soon discovered that the
spray method was impossible ; and I freely confess that the explanation
given in my book is not the correct one.
I now experimented with a graduated gauze screen, as there
were rumors that such was used. I soon found this impossible ; but
after a short time I made a most startling discovery of a subtle
principle by which I could cause a portrait to materialize between
canvases, and also again to dematerialize at will. This I worked in
Chicago, The Open Court Publishing Co., 1909.
* January and May, 1907.

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:25 am

pictures were finished. The miracle was repeated twice. There was
no switching of canvases, no tables, everything right before the eyes
of the committee on the stage. The canvases were handed out to be
examined by the audience. The man conducting the work here
offered five hundred dollars to any chemist who could tell what substance
the colors consisted of. He offered the same amount to any
one who could come on the stage and explain how the work was
done. This challenge was good all week. The work was exactly
like the spirit portrait work performed by the mediums I wrote you
about in every detail. There can be no question whatever that it is
the same thing as any one who has seen both must admit. If you
could solve this you could easily get one thousand dollars a week on
the legitimate stage. The mediums made ten times that amount
while here. This is certainly as claimed for it—'the riddle of the
He also enclosed a program which I here reproduce
Offering a Wierd and Wonderful European Sensation
Famous Paintings Reproduced by Spirit Artists in Full View of the Audience, Upon
Ordinary Canvasses Chosen by Themselves.
(Continued on Next Program Page.)
As soon as I saw the name "Wilmar," I felt assured that my
principle was the foundation of the illusion. My wife and I then
attended the Orpheum Theater, and, naturally being so familiar with
the act followed everything in minutest detail. Not a thing escaped
Sure enough it was my jDrinciple upon which the act was based,
and the whole illusion was built around it, and depended upon it
entirely, and was utterly impossible without it.
Later, Mr. Selbit called upon me with a letter of introduction
and proved a very fine gentleman indeed. Naturally, I told him how
the act was done and of my share in making it possible ; and he was
courteous enough to take me over to the theater where he worked it
for me a number of times at close range. He also presented me
with one of the portraits as a souvenir.
He told me that he had contracted with Dr. Wilmar to produce
it on the stage, and to pay for such rights enormous royalties. He
said that Dr. Wilmar claimed to be the originator of the idea, and
when I showed him the letters of this gentleman, stated that this
was his first knowledge of where the doctor had obtained the secret.
He asked me to keep the secret private for a time, as he had invested
heavily in the act, and as an exposure at that time would cause him
heavy financial loss. I promised him to do so. He continued to
produce the illusion in the name of Wilmar, and I have lately seen
a letter wherein he stated, that up to the time of its date, he had
paid over ten thousand dollars in royalties for the use of this illusion,
and which he said, according to his information, was the highest
price ever paid for a single illusion. Since the above date, Mr.
Selbit has visited me and he stated that the royalties he has paid,
now aggregate about twelve thousand dollars. He said he would
furnish me with the dates and amounts of his payments.
Spirit portraits can now be produced in vaudeville all over the
world, and will materialize between canvases that are selected from
a number of clean ones by the audience, just as has been done in the
private seance for a number of years by two of the greatest mediums
the world has known.
A number of large, clean, white, unprepared canvases are on
the stage. A genuine committee is invited up. They select the canvases
that are to be used. These are faced together before every
one, and placed in a nice gilt frame, which is then stood upon an
easel. The committee is allowed to pass all around this easel, at any
time before the frame is set upon it or afterwards during the materializing.
They are also permitted to examine it and the frame thoroughly.
The body of the easel is some two feet above the floor,
and the legs of the committeemen can be seen beneath it when they
pass behind. A large arc light is placed just back of the canvases,
and they are iluminated a most beautiful white. The performer
then places his arm and hand behind the canvases and they are distinctly
seen through them. The committee now selects the name of
the portrait desired from a list of some forty which are printed on
a screen.
Soon the shadows begin to appear around the margin, then
comes the rosy glow like sunrise in the center. Later, the eyes grad
ually appear as dark rings, and the outlines of the mouth, nose, and
head appear. The background is at the same time working in most
beautifully ; and, lastly, the eyes open, and lacework appears around
the neck,—if the portrait asked for requires it. The canvases are
now taken down, and the beautiful, finished picture, about forty by
fifty inches, is passed down the aisle. The act is then repeated, and
at any time one requests it, the light is turned ofT to show that the
picture develops independently of the light. The committeemen can
pass all around the canvases during the materialization, and can be
within two feet of them.
There surely could not be two principles in nature, that would
produce exactly the same results, in a case of this kind, although
those who do not understand the secret cannot of course fully realize
this as I do. For myself I am confident that the famous secret has
at last been discovered, and I feel gratified that I was able to work it
out from a mere description of the act without ever seeing the thing
Selbit related to me that the night King Edward died he was
producing a spirit portrait of him, and that the audience went wild
with enthusiasm, the orchestra played "God save the King," and the
demonstration lasted twenty minutes. This was in London.
I was refraining from publishing the secret of this act, at the
request of Dr. Wilmar, but as he put the act on the vaudeville stage
without notice to me, I feel released from further obligation to him
to keep the matter secret.
Mr. Selbit having long since finished his tour, and Mr. Thurston,
who holds his rights directly from me, having graciously consented,
I shall now proceed to relate the history of my discovery, and to
explain the long-sought secret.
It will be remembered that in my early reports but one canvas
was said to be used, and this was set in a window ; but as soon as
I learned that two canvases were used and faced together, I knew
that a spray developer could not be employed, and I began to search
for some other means. I first devised an elaborate system of projection
and window traps upwards and downwards, with concealed
assistants above and below, etc., by which the eflfects might be duplicated.
I had Mr. Eldredge examine the building used in Kansas
City, and he found it to be solid brick with no chance for window
traps and no chance for assistants above or below to give any help.
So I knew that this could not be the principle.

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:27 am

Mr. Rasgorshek, who has had much experience with mediums,
kept insisting that I would find it to be some simple thing that required
no apparatus, and that I surely would find a substitution
somewhere. He often said: "Abbott, mediums do not dare use
apparatus, for the danger is too great. It must be something so
simple that if a sitter 'grabs,' nothing can be found to use as evidence."
I also knew that in tricks every little thing is for a purpose,
and that nothing superfluous is used when the art. is perfect. I
analyzed and re-analyzed the problem, and I decided that there was
certainly a good reason for using two canvases. Why did the
mediums invariably use two faced together? Surely it would be
much more simple as well as conclusive if but one were used. Also,
if it were possible to produce a portrait when using but one, we
certainly would hear of their doing it that way sometimes. Yes,
there was a reason for using two canvases ; and it surely was merely
to have the front one conceal from the sitter what happened to the
one behind it. When both were in position in the window, and the
side and upper curtains drawn and pinned to the front frame, anything
could happen to the rear canvas and the sitter would know
nothing of it. Again, there must be a reason for laying the canvases
over on the table and covering them with a third canvas under
pretense of "setting the colors." What could be the real reason of
this? It will be seen later why this is. I was entirely satisfied that
a painting was made in advance; and that somewhere before delivery
of the portrait at the close of the seance, it was substituted or
introduced in some way. I knew that in magic, substitutions always
take place early in the performance—much earlier than one imagines
—and hence the real trick is always executed sooner than is thought.
Now, evidently the portrait was really produced on the rear
canvas, and it surely was in the window at the time the two were
laid over on the table. So it must have been substituted before
this time. Then it must really have been in the window during
the entire coming and going effects. Laying them over on the table
would bring it on top to be handed out first. How did it get in the
window, and above all, hoiv was it made to appear and disappear at
will? Window traps permitting substitutions being impossible, and
projection ideas and developers being out of the question, what subtle
principle could here be involved? The more I thought, the greater
the mystery became; and I finally decided that to take the advice
of my friend. Mr. Rasgorshek, and experiment, was the only thing
to do. I secured a portrait and a blank canvas, and as I had heard
rumors that a graduated silk gauze screen was secretly introduced
gradually between the canvases for screening off the portrait, T decided
to try this. I made a rectangular frame that was only oneeighth
of an inch thick and placed on it rollers and a windlass, so
that I could reel up many thicknesses of silk on it. This I placed
between the two canvases in the window and began reeling. I did
not decide where I would conceal my assistant, or how get rid of the
frame or substitute the portrait ; I simply wanted to discover how to
materialize and dematerialize the latter.
I found that by reeling up many thicknesses of silk the portrait
was gradually cut off : but that the canvases were at the same time
darkened so that their beautiful transparency was ruined. I saw
that this could not be the secret, for the light had to be entirely
screened out before the portrait utterly disappeared. As long as
there w^as any light the portrait was visible. I next unreeled the
silk and I found that the portrait was indistinct even when it was
all withdrawn—that it appeared "out of focus" as it were. I then
removed the frame from betw^een the canvases and crowded them
closer together ; and the portrait, viewed from the front through the
blank canvas, immediately became clear and sharp. I again moved
the portrait backward, viewing it through the front one. It grew
indistinct, more and more "out of focus," until it became an indistinct
cloud, then merely some dim shadows ; and finally it vanished
utterly leaving the canvas clear and white. I brought it forward
slowly, and it gradually made its appearance, the dark lines first
appearing, then the rosy glow at the center ; and finally the features
began to form ; and at last the eyes changed from dark shadowy
rings, to open, bright eyes.
I looked on in awe. Here was the very thing for \vhich I was
searching, and without screen of graduated gauze, or apparatus.
Here was the long-sought subtle principle, the famous secret that
had baffied scientists and the investigators of the world ; and it was
a thing so simple that it staggered me. When the canvases were
separated, the rays of light passing through the portrait began to
diverge and spread evenly over the blank canvas, until, as the distance
was sufficiently increased between them, the illumination became
evenly diffused over it. This distance was about three inches.
At the same time, as the canvases were separated, side light was
being admitted between them which helped to illuminate the front
canvas evenly, and to obscure the portrait. The greatest portion of
the effects were within a distance of a quarter of an inch, and nearly
all of them within a half-inch.
So, to precipitate a portrait and erase it, it was but necessary
for the two psychics at each side to move slowly—very slowly indeed—
the rear canvas forward and backward with the most steady
and slightest motion possible. This was easily done with the fingers
through the slit in the soft side curtains ; and were any one to violate
all rules and "grab," he would only find a portrait "just about finished
by the spirits." An ideal scheme, just such as mediums would
This principle, then, would account for the materializing and
dematerializing of the portrait at will ; but it necessitated a substitution
early in the sitting, just as most magic tricks require. Naturally
a substitution for professionals is an easy matter; but for non-performers
it seems a great difficulty. Now suppose the portrait really
made and finished in advance of the sitting, how was it gotten into
the window behind the blank? It will be remembered that after the
selection and thorough examination of the two blanks, they were
faced together and placed by a table near the window, from where
later on the third blank or cover canvas was lifted. Meanwhile one
of the two mediums removed the discarded blanks from the wall,
taking them out of the room.
Now the mediums undoubtedly use various means for making
this substitution, varying them to suit the occasion. But I think that
in most cases they have the finished portrait in the room all of the
time. It could be left standing on the far side of the table from
where the sitter enters the room, and could be leaned with its face
against the wall, or more probably facing into the room. If the soft
black side curtains reach the floor, one of them can cover the portrait
completely ; so that should the sitter happen to get in a position to
look on that side of the table, he could see nothing. In this case,
one of the mediums would take the two chosen canvases and carry
them over to that side of the table, and stand them on the floor in
front of the portrait. Now, while the other medium seats the sitter
at the end of the table in front of the window, the first one has but
to lift into position on the table, the front blank and the rear canvas
with portrait, leaving the discarded blank on the floor to be used for
the cover canvas later. I think this method, being the simplest, is
oftenest used ; but more complicated means may be employed at
times. For instance, the medium who carries out the discarded
blanks may bring the portrait back unobserved when she reenters.
Here is how I should do it if I were a lady medium. I should
wear a skirt that was really open in front but lapped over in a fold
; and I should suspend the portrait on a hanger between my legs under
my skirt. If I were quite large I could carry a good-sized portrait
here unobserved by all. Of course it would not have to be in this
particular position, and in fact could be hung on the outside of the
skirt, if the medium keeps that side away from the sitters. But
under the skirt would be much safer ; and I have always found that
female mediums do not hesitate to take advantage of their sex and
the sacredness of their skirts, to cover deception.
As the medium returns from carrying out the blanks and advances
to the window to lift up the two blanks and place them in
front of it, her person hides them from view and her back is toward
the sitter. She now has but to draw out in front, from under her
skirt, the real portrait; and this move is invisible to the sitter, as
will also be the act of bringing it behind one of the blanks ; and then
she visibly lifts both to the window while her person hides the discarded
blank that will later on be used for a cover canvas. Since
the portrait behind the blank is hidden by the latter from the view
of the sitter, the deception can not be discovered. The blanks have
been examined so thoroughly by the sitters that they are tired of
examining them, and are really ashamed to exhibit further incredulity.
So the psychics, acting simultaneously, pin the soft black curtains
at the side of the window to the front frame, and at the same
time allow the back canvas to tilt back out of focus. The top curtain,
still being very high, lets so much light into the room, that it
helps to obscure what comes through the canvases, when the two
are separated but an inch. But before the top curtain is drawn,
completely darkening the room, the portrait must be moved or tilted
further back. It must be remembered that the bottoms of the canvases
stand on a table end directly in front of a window, with a
psychic at each side holding the canvases and discoursing and gesticulating,
so as to take and direct the attention where desired. The
sitter sits in front of the end of the table facing the window and
canvases, and the person of one of the mediums is between him and
the third or discarded cover canvas on the floor near the window.
The sitter naturally thinks that his two chosen blanks are now in the
window, and he seems to be seeing right through them and they
appear clear and white. He does not dream that his portrait, all
finished, is already in the window behind the front canvas, but
merely moved back out of focus.
The psychics have previously watched with sharpest eyes for
any marking of canvases, and the one bringing in the portrait has
a chance when out of the room to duplicate the markings. Or, if
the portrait be already in the room, then one medium must divert

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:28 am

the sitter's attention by a slate test or otherwise, until the other
medium gets the portrait marked. As to the sitter buying his own
canvas, as often reported, it is remarkable that the ones so bought
correspond exactly with the ones furnished by the mediums, even to
the number of threads per inch in the cloth and the thickness of
same, etc. Queer, isn't it? Dr. Wilmar had the canvases of two
thoroughly examined in this manner. One was supplied by the
psychics and the other the sitter claimed to have bought down town
but they corresponded as above described.
Next, everything being in readiness, the psychics have but to
manipulate the rear canvas very slowly to get the effects. Meanwhile
they skilfully employ suggestion announcing in advance each
effect as it is to appear. The eyes seem to be dark blurs until the
tops of the canvases are crowded together very closely, whereupon
they appear to open. That is, the dark blurs dissolve into open
eyes, giving them the appearance of opening out. This is particularly
apparent when the eyes are colored a beautiful sky-blue. The
use of suggestion before this effect, by the psychics announcing that
"the eyes will now open," impresses this effect upon the sitter's mind.
By crowding together the top of the canvases first, the eyes open
when the shoulders are still indistinct enough to appear indefinite
or bare—that is, mere dark outlines. As the majority of the effects
appear the last quarter of an inch, and nearly all of them in the last
half-inch, if it be remembered that four or five minutes are used in
this amount of motion, one can realize how very slowly the rear
canvas must approach the front one. Also the use of so much time
greatly adds to the effect when a miracle is supposed to be in the
act of performance. The psychics seem to be trying so hard to hurry
it up, and the stress of desire is so great, that the slowness of production
produces the effect on the sitter's mind of great effort on
the part of the spirits.
After the eyes open, if one psychic crowds up the bottom of the
canvas on her side, the lace work will begin to form on her side
and the beads, etc., to appear. Then if the other psychic slowly
crowds up the bottom on her side, this causes the lace work to finish
and the beads to come one at a time. There is also an apparent
change of color as each object takes on clear-cut detail. Naturally
during this movement the background is working in most beautifully
like waves of light, etc. The changes of color are, however, to
a certain extent imagination ; and this occurs easily among so many
confusing details all coming at the same time. The hair ornament
can be made to appear by skilfully pulling off a patch on the back
of the portrait which has been stuck on with wax and with a thread
attached, but I hardly think this necessary. The choice is undoubtedly
"forced" by suggestion ; and if this occurs early in the
performance, before the ornament appears, the psychics can announce
its appearance when the right time arrives and thus produce
that effect. For instance, one psychic would say to the other, "She
ought to have a hair ornament. I think a crescent would be beautiful,
don't you? Or would a star, or crown, be better?" The other
would say, "Oh, it should be a crescent by all means ; for I think
a crown or star would be out of place and not at all artistic. Which
do you think would be best, Mr ?" Naturally he would choose
a crescent, and would afterwards think he had free choice. Should
he choose a crown or a star, it would only be necessary to explain
to him that a crescent is much more artistic, and he would be sure
to yield to "superior persons who wield supernatural powers."
The effects of narrowing the visage, or of slightly turning it,
or of altering the lines of the nose or mouth slightly, can be apparently
effected by a slight jostling of the rear canvas and the use
of suggestion at the time. Thus, if the sitter request the visage to
narrow, the psychic can say "all right," and at that instant cause
the portrait behind to move sidewise the slightest amount. The
sitter will see the portrait move, and construe it to be a slight narrowing,
for the vision being at the time concentrated on the point in
question, will see only its movement. The same will apply to the
lines of the nose or mouth. Also, at any time, a slightly tighter
crowding of the canvases so as to make any feature come out
brighter and clearer, coupled with suggestion, will carry the effect
of an alteration of the portrait in response to the sitter's request.
All of this is the real art of the performance, and what makes it
"strong." It is not what you do, but how you do it. The strong
way this has been dressed up and presented to believers, is the secret
of the marvel and has made it what it is. The principle alone was
not so much, but embellished with this incomparable art of presentation,
it has been one of the wonders of the world.
Any time that the sitter expresses dissatisfaction with a portrait,
the psychics say, "All right, the spirit artist will erase it," and
instantly it begins to fade from the canvas. They slowly recede the
rear canvas until every vestige of the portrait is gone, and then
again slowly materialize it.
From all I can learn, all of the objections offered by the sitters
are invariably at the psychics' request, which shows they are the
result of suggestion. Mr. Eldredge in a letter said : "The psychics
kept insisting that we ask for changes in the portrait, and seemed
very anxious to please us in every detail." The psychics cause the
sitters to think certain things should be changed, and then apparently
make the change. The sitter thus thinks every detail was altered
to suit his will. As an example : One fine portrait of a beautiful girl
was produced for a wealthy farmer of my acquaintance. It was
supposed to be his daughter, now twenty years old in the spirit
world, but who died when but two. He said: "When the portrait
started to come, the hair seemed to be 'done up on a rat' ; and I said,
'Hold on ! I don't want the hair like that,' and immediately it faded
out." Now I saw this portrait, and the hair was hanging over the
shoulders in the most beautiful and artistic golden ringlets and curls ;
but the top of the head with the hair thereon was much more deeply
colored, or rather covered with the paints ; as these portions of the
picture must be heaviest. As a result they appeared as dark shadows
before the curls were visible, and the mediums had but to say: "Do
you like the hair that way ? It seems to be coming done up on a rat
and naturally he would say "no." If not, they would advise him to
change it, but there would be no trouble in getting him to take the
suggestion ; and then the psychics would fade the portrait and cause
it to reappear, with the beautiful curls coming out as it progressed.
Naturally the old gentleman thinks the portrait was actually changed
at his request. Thus the reader can see how adroit are these psychics
at the art of suggestion. They always manage to change a portrait
to some form more beautiful and artistic, knowing a suggestion
will be readily taken that way. They never attempt, for instance,
to change beautiful ringlets and curls to an old-fashioned mode of
dressing the hair.
When the portrait is finished, naturally the extra canvas would
be discovered and would arouse suspicion. But if one of the mediums
lifts it for a cover, as if it had been there all along for this
especial purpose, its existence is thought nothing of, and hence it
does not have to be "got rid of." Of course every one could not
put this act on in so "strong" a manner; but ladies with plenty of
"nerve" and years of experience and practice, coupled with a natural
aptitude for such work, can do so. It must be remembered that suspicious
persons get no portrait. Witness Carrington who was sent
by Dr. Funk, and who tried for hours with no success. The ability
to choose whom to work for, is part of the art of the psychic. This
is why some of them are so successful for so many years. They are
so cunning at judging the dispositions and mental characteristics of
persons that they make no mistake, and only get results for persons
whom they are sure they can "handle."
Readers may doubt the possibility of this great effect by such
simple means. Let them try it with good light, and nicely colored
portraits on transparent canvases. If still in doubt, I will wager
that if anyone who is not under the ban of suspicion, goes for a
portrait and suddenly grabs the canvases as soon as placed in the
window, he will find the finished portrait in the rear, right on the
An observer trying to catch the psychics would doubtless (if he
took notice) see no third, or cover canvas, near the window before
the lifting of the two to the window by one of the mediums ; but
should they see him directing his attention there he would be under
the ban of suspicion at once, and might get no portrait. The psychics
control the situation, and their task is to see that the sitter does
right, and that his attention is constantly taken and concentrated
and they are both talking and gesticulating so as to take it. If they
observe that the sitter is not giving attention where they direct, but
looking elsewhere, "where he has no business to," then look out.
They will immediately be suspicious and something may happen.
Of course it is unnecessary to explain how the photograph can
be extracted from slates, or from pockets of coats which were left
out in the hall, etc., so as to enable the mediums to get a "snap shot"
of it. Any one reading the many slate tricks in my book will not
need further enlightenment on this point. Where a portrait conforms
to a photograph, an interval of a day or so is taken after the
first sitting, before the psychics will give the portrait sitting. If
forced to try for a portrait at once no results will be obtained, and it
will have to be tried again later. This gives them time to make the
Probably it might be well for me to give some extracts from
a very accurate report I have of a sitting which took place in the
year 1909, and which shows the nature of this part of their work
very well. The gentleman making this report seems very intelligent,
and the report is remarkably accurate for a non-performer. He
seems to have remembered a large portion of the details very well,
and to have forgotten but little which would at the time have seemed
to him to be unimportant. Here is part of this report.
"Jack went in first, and when he came out just before I went in,
he remarked to me that he would like to have a portrait. He said
that the artist had told him that it would be better for the party who

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:30 am

persons that they make no mistake, and only get results for persons
whom they are sure they can "handle."
Readers may doubt the possibility of this great effect by such
simple means. Let them try it with good light, and nicely colored
portraits on transparent canvases. If still in doubt, I will wager
that if anyone who is not under the ban of suspicion, goes for a
portrait and suddenly grabs the canvases as soon as placed in the
window, he will find the finished portrait in the rear, right on the
An observer trying to catch the psychics would doubtless (if he
took notice) see no third, or cover canvas, near the window before
the lifting of the two to the window by one of the mediums ; but
should they see him directing his attention there he would be under
the ban of suspicion at once, and might get no portrait. The psychics
control the situation, and their task is to see that the sitter does
right, and that his attention is constantly taken and concentrated
and they are both talking and gesticulating so as to take it. If they
observe that the sitter is not giving attention where they direct, but
looking elsewhere, "where he has no business to," then look out.
They will immediately be suspicious and something may happen.
Of course it is unnecessary to explain how the photograph can
be extracted from slates, or from pockets of coats which were left
out in the hall, etc., so as to enable the mediums to get a "snap shot"
of it. Any one reading the many slate tricks in my book will not
need further enlightenment on this point. Where a portrait conforms
to a photograph, an interval of a day or so is taken after the
first sitting, before the psychics will give the portrait sitting. If
forced to try for a portrait at once no results will be obtained, and it
will have to be tried again later. This gives them time to make the
Probably it might be well for me to give some extracts from
a very accurate report I have of a sitting which took place in the
year 1909, and which shows the nature of this part of their work
very well. The gentleman making this report seems very intelligent,
and the report is remarkably accurate for a non-performer. He
seems to have remembered a large portion of the details very well,
and to have forgotten but little which would at the time have seemed
to him to be unimportant. Here is part of this report.
"Jack went in first, and when he came out just before I went in,
he remarked to me that he would like to have a portrait. He said
that the artist had told him that it would be better for the party who
sat for the portrait to have a picture of the subject on his person*
and handed me his watch, on the lid of which was an etching of his
wife's face. I put it in my pocket and went into the room. After
I had received my letter from the slate, the artist remarked to me
that Jack wanted to have a picture made of Minnie, I said, 'Very
well, I will sit for it.' She asked me whether I had a picture of
Minnie on my person. I said, 'yes.' She called her sister, and they
produced two framed canvases, which they placed face to face and
set up before me, placing them on a table close to a window. They
pulled the window shade down to the top of the canvas and draped
the curtains along the two sides of the two canvases, and one sitting
on one side and the other on the other at the two ends of the table,
they held the canvases together while I in front of the table waited
for developments. Some shading presently appeared on the canvases
but nothing satisfactory resulted. While one of the artists left the
room for a few minutes, leaving the canvases in their positions on
the table, the artist who remained again said, 'You have a picture,
have you?' I said, 'Yes.' She said, 'What is it?' I said, 'It is an
etching on the lid of a watch.' She said, 'Let me see the watch.'
I handed it to her without opening it. She took it in her hands a
moment, but did not open it. She put it in an envelope, and sealed
the envelope, and placed the latter with the picture in it between the
slates; and she and I held the slates pressed together for a few
moments. Still nothing resulted on the canvas. We then opened the
slates and she handed me the envelope containing the watch which I
took from it and returned to my pocket. I do not see how it is
possible that she could have seen the etching, and it would be almost
impossible to convince me that the watch left the room even for a
moment. I sat a little while longer before the canvases, but nothing
resulted. I left the studio. When I reached the hotel that evening
I returned the watch to Jack. So much for the first day. I returned
to the studio the next afternoon, etc., etc."
This reminds me of a lady in South Omaha who a few years
ago allowed a medium to seal two thousand dollars of her money
in an envelope in her presence. He handed it to her without its
leaving her sight, and she wore it on her person for thirty days.
This woman insisted that nothing could convince her that this money
left her sight ; yet when friends induced her to open the envelope
nothing but pieces of paper were found in it. The police of Omaha
are still looking for the medium, but he has dematerialized. This
lady believed in the spiritualist philosophy that "like attracts like"
* Italics in all these reports are the author's.
and the medium had no trouble in convincing her that our wealthy
men possess "the money influence and that money is attracted to
them because of the vast sums they handle or carry on their persons."
She was to wear this money after the medium magnetized it in order
to obtain this "money influence."
Now in the case of the gentleman above, why did not these
mediums place the watch between the slates without sealing it in the
envelope? There could then have been no question but that it was
between the slates. What he saw was an envelope resembling the
one with the watch in it placed between them.
Here is how I would make the substitution if I were the lady
doing the trick. Just as I dampen the flap of the envelope and seal
it, I would leave it in my left hand and reach with my right for the
slates on the table. I would follow my right hand with my eyes.
This is called "misdirection." The sitter's eyes would involuntarily
follow mine, and my right hand ; and during this instant I would
allow my left to drop below the level of the table top, and leave the
envelope with the watch in my lap, and instantly withdraw from a
pocket in the fold of my dress, a duplicate envelope made up in advance
for the purpose. When the medium went out to call her sister
she could easily explain to her, and that sister could slip her the
"dummy" when she came in to do what in the language of the profession
is called the "stalling" with the canvases, wherein the rear
blank was slipped sidewise far enough for its solid frame to make
the shadow effects by the advancing and receding motions.
At the instant that the right hand grasps the slates, the left
comes forward with the "dummy" and inserts it in the slates. When
the time comes to take out the envelope I should remove it with my
right hand, and ask the sitter to "see if there is any writing on the
slates" ; and at the instant he is looking at the slates again drop the
hand and change the "dummy" for the watch envelope. During
the holding of the slates the canvases were evidently watched for
developments, which was simply "stalling for time." Now the other
sister could come in and hold the canvases for a short time, standing
close to her sister, and finally leave the room after secretly receiving
the watch from her hand. By coming in again after photographing
the etching, she could return it to her sister's lap in the same way.
Or they might have a small floor trap through which the second
lady opening it, could reach up and get the watch and return it
from below. In this case she would have overheard the conversation
about the watch, and would have prepared the dummy and handed it
up without any conference with her sister. Having this same work
to do SO much they must have a thorough understanding of the
method to be pursued in all cases. Of course many methods can
be used for these substitutions, and to tell the exact method used
I should have to see them done ; but the matter is very simple for
These mediums always, or nearly always, frame and pack a
portrait before delivery. At such times they very frequently retouch
it or add some new thing which the sitter afterwards reports as having
appeared on his way home. I quote some more of the above
gentleman's report, which illustrates some work of this character
"We spent a good deal of the forenoon sitting for my father's
picture without obtaining any result excepting some shading of the
canvases Nothing however resulted, as I have remarked, during
the forenoon interview ; so I retired for lunch and came back early
in the afternoon and went into the studio and went through the
same process as on previous occasions. In twenty minutes from the
beginning of the afternoon sitting, my father's face appeared upon
the canvas ; and it was indeed a most exact reproduction and conformed
more exactly to his face in life than even to the photograph.
During the first part of the afternoon sitting the face alone appeared
on the canvas without any background, neither did the first result
reproduce his clothing, simply his face and beard. They then in my
presence placed the picture in a dark closet that opened off the room,
left it there a few minutes and brought it out, at which time all the
background was completed, as well as the clothing. They then had
the portrait framed.
"I was so profoundly impressed with this result that I acceded
to their request to sit for a picture of my daughter which was made
in the course of fifteen or twenty minutes. They remarked to me
before framing and packing the portrait that the work would be
retouched by the mysterious artists who were doing the work, after
leaving the studio. The lady who accompanied me told me, in the
absence of the artists from the room, that she was making a very
careful study of the face so as to be able to detect any changes. The
picture was then framed and I carried the two with me to the hotel.
On opening, the lady remarked that there had been a change, viz.,
that the hair falling back over the shoulders had been curled. I could
not corroborate this point ; and if I could it zvould not be very satisfactory.
As you know, I had no picture of my daughter who died
in her early infancy. All I can say in regard to the picture is that
it sustains a close resemblance to her mother's family. I had it
inspected by a prominent scientist, who has lectured occasionally for

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:33 am

the purpose of exposing the work of mediums. When he first saw
it, he asked me instantly whether there was any pecuHarity about
the eyes of my child, calling my attention to the peculiarity referred
to. My wife, on being questioned by him, affirmed that such a
peculiarity marked the eyes of more than one member of her family.
"The purport of some messages my friend and I received was
that my daughter was very anxious to have me know that she did
this portrait work for me, or at least her teacher did with her help.
"I had at least half a dozen interviews with as many different
psychics in New York and Chicago, within a few months after the
painting of my daughter was made. It was utterly impossible that
I should have been known to these psychics or that any one of them
should have known that I had interviewed any other one. In every
case something was said to me about my daughter's painting."
It is quite evident that on the opposite side of the dark closet
is a second door which permitted the sister or an assistant to withdraw
the portrait on that side, fill in the background and clothes
and replace it. Professionals naturally fix their houses to suit the
work by which they make their livelihood.
I have known cases in Denver and elsewhere when a "rounder,'
as the mediums call a believer who visits various mediums, was, in
the language of the profession, "tipped off" by telephone to the
various brothers of the profession. Also, by adroit conversation his
interest was always aroused in some other medium before leaving
the home of a medium with whom he would be finishing a sitting.
This was professional courtesy on their part to their fellows. These
stories were related to me personally by mediums who took part in
the deception.
Some very large portraits have been made ; but from all I can
learn these are not made in a window, but are covered with a curtain
in some way. They are made evidently for the "dead-easies" only,
who have been thoroughly converted by small portrait production
in windows, and who now merely want a large portrait made and arc
willing to pay for it. Hence the psychics in such cases can use such
means as may be required in these larger productions. One of these
of which I heard was a very large portrait of the "guide" of the
sitter, who wanted his guide's portrait made large and was not
bothering about the method of production. An analysis of the paints
used proved them to be pastels mixed in a vegetable fat. The canvases
are thin and transparent. Some of them seem to have a coating
of thin paper and the base of some of the paintings is a solar
Readers may feel in doubt that such a marvelous performance as
these mediums gave is effected by such a simple principle as a moving
rear canvas which contains a portrait; but they need only remember
that this same principle enables magicians to give stage
performances at big salaries. If it is good enough for that, and
for critical theater audiences, it is also capable of the other use
when in the hands of expert mediums. Let no one dispute this
fact until he "grabs" the canvases at the instant the first shadows
appear ; and then let him say whether or not a finished portrait was
at that instant on the rear canvas. But the psychics take good care
that they are not grabbed at such a time ; for they particularly remarked
at the Eldredge sitting, "If you were to touch the canvases
now the picture would instantly fade out." This gave them a good
excuse to resist physically any attempt at touching or "grabbing."
A bolder investigator might grab and search the mediums' persons
and canvases just as they go to lift them up ; but there would be the
chance of this being a case where no portrait is to be produced.
For myself, I am confident that I have given the correct solution
of this mystery ; and although I have never seen the work personally,
I could hardly be more certain of anything than I am that I have
solved this mystery in its principal details.
The mode of substitution may be different, but substitution it
is, and that is certain ; and beyond any doubt the materializing and
dematerializing is produced on this principle of the moving rear portrait
canvas viewed through a blank canvas by transmitted light.
Readers who doubt, and sitters who assert that there is no substitution,
are cautioned to remember that in every magic performance
they have ever seen there were substitutions right before their eyes
which could not be detected. Remember how deftly the great performers
of the stage make their substitutions, and how impossible
they are to discover except by an expert. Did not Mr. Eldredge
assert in his letter to me about Selbit's performance, that there was
no substitution? Yet we know there was and I will further on
show just how it was made, but it escaped the eyes of that theater
audience. That was Selbit's business ; and unless he could make substitutions
that are indetectable, he could not successfully run the
I turned to my wife when I saw this performance and told her
when the substitution occurred, because I understood the trick ; but
I could not see it, for it took place in such a way that no one could.
I simply knew it because it was his only opportunity. I afterward
proved I was right. So let not the believer think substitutions which
he can not see are impossible in his presence. The thing is, to know
when and where to look for them.
But all believers in spiritualism are not ready to acknowledge
the work of their mediums to be trickery, even when the trick is
thoroughly explained to them. Frequently they will insist that the
conjurer uses one means and the medium another for producing
identically the same effect. They are not all so reasonable as is their
President, Dr. George B. Warne of the National Spiritualist Association.
I revealed this secret to him early enough to enable him to
witness a stage performance in Chicago, and to make it possible for
him to follow every move and trace the trickery. He said it had
been very educational to him, and had opened his eyes to possibilities
of which he had never before dreamed. He said that he felt it now
to be the duty of the mediums to admit the trickery, or else to give
a test sitting, under conditions that would positively disprove the
fact that they use the method I have discovered.
Now, in order to assist in making this conclusive, I make the
following offer to these mediums, good for one year, and I shall
faithfully keep my obligation: If these mediums will produce a
portrait under the conditions given below, I shall pay them the sum
of five hundred dollars for it, and shall publicly acknowledge that
they do not use the means I have published.
This portrait must be produced either for me or for any one
of three others chosen by myself. I offer this, so that if the spirit
artist shall refuse to paint for a skeptic like myself, there will be an
opportunity for him to paint for others w^ho are not so hard-headed.
This portrait must be produced in my home, or in a room or house
selected by myself, and prepared in advance under their directions
by myself, with a suitable table, window curtains, etc. I shall retain
the key to this room, or have my assistant remain in charge of it
until their arrival. This is to prevent the smuggling in of a portrait
in advance. On arrival of the mediums, they shall permit two ladies,
chosen by myself, to examine their persons and clothing for the
purpose of disproving that they bring any portrait or canvas with
them. This portrait shall be produced in the day-time on one of two
canvases faced together and stood in a window as previously described.
These canvases together with a third one shall be furnished
by myself. I shall keep them in my possession until time to stand them
in the window. I shall then stand them there myself ; or, if I allow
the mediums to do this, shall require the privilege of separating the
canvases when in the window, at the beginning of the sitting, so that
I can see that no portrait has been substituted. The third canvas
which I shall furnish must be used for the cover canvas, if any be
used for such purpose. The portrait is then to be materialized upon
one of the two canvases in the window, in my presence and in the
presence of at least two others selected by myself who shall have
been present during the preparation. I do not refuse the right of a
believer to be present, if he submit to the same conditions and examination
to which the mediums are to submit.
The portrait produced must be a reasonable likeness of a photograph
which I shall have with me at the time ; but which—if there
be a requirement to place it between slates, or to seal it in an envelope—
I shall have the privilege of sealing it myself and placing it
in the slates and helping to hold them. Or, if it be necessary for
the mediums to seal and place this photograph, I require the privilege
of occupying any position I desire, so that I may satisfy myself that
the photograph, envelope, or slates are not substituted. I require
both mediums to remain in the room during the entire sitting ; and
if a second sitting be necessary, I shall retain the photograph and
canvases myself meanwhile, and shall have the same privileges as
outlined for the first sitting. Of course I shall prepare the frames
with special tools, grooving them in certain ways impossible to
duplicate in a short space of time, and I shall stain the wood certain
tints so I can follow them easily. Also, I shall make upon the
canvases certain markings so that there can be no question of
In case the photograph must be sealed or placed between
slates, I shall furnish the envelope and slates myself, and shall mark
or stain them in any way I desire. If a second sitting is necessary
I shall require the privilege of changing slates, canvases, and envelope
for this sitting.
I shall select the house to be used in my own city, providing
my own be objected to, and the mediums must give the sitting there.
I make this offer in the friendliest spirit and assure the mediums
of the most courteous treatment if they will only respond. If I
can prove that natural means are not employed, I can well afford
to pay this sum ; and I shall be only too glad to do so, and to give
the public a statement of the facts that will be worth many times
more to the mediums. In view of the benefit this will be to science
and to an inquiring and longing world, I sincerely hope that these
mediums will accept my offer.
Nevertheless, I feel sure it will be ignored, even though I
double the price. I am so confident that my explanation is correct,
that I feel sure my readers will never have the pleasure of hearing

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:39 am

that the mediums have proven that they do not use this method. If
they ignore this fair and sincere offer, I feel that my readers will
be justified fn assuming that they dare not give a sitting under
these fair conditions, and that my explanation is tacitly admitted
to be the correct one.
Now the stage illusion. The difference between the mediumistic
and the stage production of this illusion is merely the difference
between hand-work and machine-work. In one case only the hands
are employed to execute the movement : while in the other a mechanism
is used.
Soon after my discovery, I designed a mechanical easel to use
in my parlors with electric light, intending to use a floor trap to
effect the substitution, but having but little use for it, I did not
build it. However, but little of this idea was original with me ; for
the use of an easel upon which to stand the canvases was suggested
to me by Dr. Funk's report of a seance where the mediums used one.
Only the idea of a floor trap was my own, but this has been in
general use in many illusions for many years.
Mr. Odell's report describing a seance where an electric light
was placed behind the canvases, suggested the use of the same for
an illusion on the stage, or in parlors when not using a window.
Thomas Grinshaw's report of the use of a box without front
or back, just behind the canvases, suggested to me the idea of using
a box-like affair without front or back, to be placed on the easel
just back of the canvases, for the purpose of concealing the motion
of the rear canvas. I designed a sliding affair to use in this, and to
move the portrait canvas backward and forward. After delaying
in building this mechanical easel, I decided to use a sliding mechanism
in my windows ; and I partly completed it, intending to use a
worm screw from my stereopticon light for executing the movement.
If this could not be concealed, I intended to use threads or wires
for the same purpose. These were secretly to pass through the
floor to an assistant.
On receipt of Dr. Wilmar's earnest inquiry, in August 1909,
thinking he was an investigator like myself making research for
the satisfaction of acquiring knowledge, and not knowing he was
interested in stage work for professional purposes, I sent him all of
these reports describing these things and ideas, together with a plain
explanation of the secret I had discovered. Also, I sent my various
ideas for making the substitution, including floor and window traps,
nested canvases, slitted skirt, etc. In the construction of the stage
easel, most of these ideas were utilized.
The first working model of this easel was built by Mr. Selbit,
after he secured the secret and information from Dr. Wilmar by
agreeing to pay this gentleman a royalty for its use.
Mr. Selbit was quite ingenious ; and he presented the illusion
very well indeed, but he only produced a portrait. He did not dematerialize
it, probably because he used cords instead of worm
screws and cog wheels for executing the movement. Also he did not
change the colors of any of the parts at request, as my original design
calls for.
It is evident that, if the rear or portrait canvas is to be mechan-

ically moved to and from the front one while the big gilt frame rests
on a kind of easel, this motion would be visible to parts of the theater
unless concealed by something. Accordingly this portrait has to
move backwards into a kind of hollow box without front or back.
This box is a mere skeleton frame covered with dark cloth, and is
larger than the canvas, but smaller than the big gilt frame ; so that
the latter can be attached to its open front end and so that the
portrait can be attached to a sliding carriage within it. This carriage
with the portrait can be slid backwards away from the front
canvas and gilt frame into the hollow box-like affair, which is also
open at the back to admit the powerful light.
Therefore the easel is really such a box-like affair set on suit

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:43 am

able legs to hold it some two feet above the stage floor. The skeleton
frame of the box-like affair is about one foot or more wide, and
has the sliding carriage within it. There are buttons for attaching
the rear canvas to this carriage when the big gilt frame containing
the canvases is buttoned on to the front of the easel.
The sliding carriage has strings or wires running over little
pulleys and down through the legs of the easel through the stage
floor to a drum under the stage which at the right time an assistant
slowly winds up. These strings then slowly draw the picture up to
the front canvas permitting it to gradually materialize. The performer
announces that the box-like contrivance on his easel is for
concentrating the light from an arc light on a stand which is directly
behind it; but he does not explain how black cloth and black paint
that do not reflect, can concentrate light.
His committee is genuine, and blanks clean. The blanks are
usually on the left side of the stage viewed from the audience. The
committee first thoroughly examine the easel and large gilt frame that
is to hold the blanks. The large gilt frame is made of quite wide
material. When it is set upon the easel front, it is buttoned to it
in some way. The cloth sides of the box part of the easel have a
slit so that the performer can introduce his arm in between the canvases
when the rear one has been slid backwards after the frame is
put up with the canvases in it.
The manner of presentation is like this. The curtain goes up
on a fully lighted stage with the easel in the center and an assistant
standing on each side of it. The performer now enters, and taking
a number of blank canvases, exhibits them and invites a committee
from the audience to examine them. The committee comes on the
stage, and selects three that they are sure are unprepared.
The easel being on castors is now shifted to the front of the
stage and turned all around so that all can see its simplicity. The
committee are invited to inspect it and they do so, walking all around
it. The arc light on a stand is also brought forward and shown.
These are now shifted to the rear of stage on the left and the big
gilt frame is taken down by the assistants and carried to the right
center of the stage where it is stood upon the floor facing the
audience, and supported by an assistant holding it at each side.
There is a narrow trap in the floor of the stage just behind the big
gilt frame, but it is concealed from view by the carpet. This however
is slitted and held in position by suitable springs. An assistant
is directly under this trap with the portrait that is to be produced
The performer now steps through the big frame from the front and
comes out from behind. This is apparently to show that there are
no mirrors, but it is also later on to convince any spectator who may
be thinking it over, that there was no floor trap behind the frame.
Of course when passing through this frame, he steps over the
The performer now hands one of the selected canvases over the
top of the big frame down into position behind it, and the assistants
instantly button it in. But just at that instant, the assistant under
the stage shoves up the portrait, and in reality both are buttoned in
at once. The audience sees the front canvas go down into position,
but can not see the portrait come up behind it immediately after for
the reason that the front canvas, the wide frame, and the assistants'
persons conceal from view what happens behind. Next, the performer
hands over the top of the frame the second selected canvas,
and the assistants make a pretense of buttoning it in ; but in reality
it goes on down under the stage in an assistant's hands which had
been shoved up through the trap waiting to grasp it.
The big frame, containing one blank and the portrait, is now
carried to the committee who puts marked stickers upon the edges
of the canvas frames to prevent substitution. As the painted side
of the portrait is next to the blank canvas, the committee thinks that
it is also a blank, and the one they have just selected and examined.
The easel is now shifted to the center of the stage with its
center leg directly over a small "pull trap" in the floor, and the big
frame is lifted upon the easel and apparently buttoned to it. During
this process the rear or portrait canvas is secretly released from the
big frame, and buttoned to the sliding carriage of the box-like contrivance
; and then it is slid backwards six or more inches, out of
Next the arc light is turned on, illuminating the canvases to
a beautiful transparent white; but the portrait, being back out of
focus, does not show. The performer now introduces his arm
through the slit in the side of the box-like contrivance on the easel,
and it can be seen through the front canvas by the audience, who
imagine they are looking through both canvases.
Next the committee chooses the portrait that they desire the
performer to produce. Inasmuch as the one that is to be produced
is already in the mechanism, this selection must be "forced." This
is done in different ways.
One performer exhibits about one hundred post cards of Paris
art subjects, and shows them to the audience, showing that they
are all different. These are now divided into two heaps and one
given to each of two committeemen to shuffle. When well mixed,
the performer takes them and states that he will lift off one card at
a time, and for some one to call out when they desire him to use
the picture at that time in his hand. This is done and the picture
in his hand is of course the one the mechanism is set for. He effects
this "force" as follows: In the first place all of the edges of the
cards are black and he has them on a little black tray. He takes
them up and shows them to be different, which they are, and has
them shuffled and returned. Now he has twenty cards all like the
one he desires to force, lying on the tray ; but the top one of this
pile has its top blackened just like the tray ; and when he lifts the tray
his thumb rests on this black pile and keeps the cards from scattering
about. Of course this pile is invisible at a slight distance ; and when
the shuffled cards are returned, he lays them on the tray, but directly
on top of this invisible pile. He now picks up the entire pile with
the twenty cards all alike underneath, and as quick as a flash, makes a
"pass" well known to magicians which brings about fifteen of these
to the top. Now he takes the cards off slowly one at a time, and
the impatience of the audience causes some one to choose long before
the fifteen are all taken off.
Another method used is a process of elimination. Fifty blocks,
all numbers from one to fifty are used. These are separated into
two piles and a committeeman asked to point to one of the piles.
If the committeeman points to the pile containing the desired number
(which corresponds to some numbered art subjects whose names
are on a large screen) he uses the pile pointed to ; and scrapes off of the
table the other pile, discarding them. But if he points to the other
pile the performer discards it just as if he had it selected for that
purpose. Next he separates the remaining blocks into two or more
piles, and asks the committeeman to point to one or two of these
piles. If he points to two that do not contain the desired block they
are scraped off and discarded ; but if he points to the piles containing
the desired block the performer discards the other pile. Next he
asks the committeeman to point to one of the remaining piles and
continues this method of elimination until only the desired block
remains on the table, or is pointed to directly.
The performer next commands the spirits to paint the chosen
portrait, and the confederate under the stage works either the winding
drum and wires (which he has secretly drawn through the pull
trap), or rods with cog wheels and worm screws, which causes the
portrait to advance slowly towards the blank canvas in front and
gradually to materialize. If requested by any one, the spirits will
erase this portrait ; or at least it is possible in my original design of
the illusion. The confederate under the stage has but to work the
mechanism that recedes the portrait, and it will gradually dematerialize
beautifully until every vestige of it disappears. The spirits can
now paint it over; and when it is finished the performer lifts down
the big frame, and unfastening the canvases, adroitly gives them a
half turn, so as to bring the portrait to the front ; then taking off the
front frame, he deliberately turns its face to the audience, and passes
it down for examination. A second portrait is now sometimes produced
with the remaining blank, and the extra one chosen ; but this is
of slight importance, so I shall here omit the explanation of the
means used in substituting this portrait from the wings.
It may be well to state that it is possible to change the color
of eyes, hair, flowers or tie, etc., at the second production of a
portrait. If some of the committee object to the color of these parts
of the picture, the performer can have the spirits erase it and paint
it over in the desired colors. Of course this committeeman must be
a confederate. Here the principle of compound colors must be
utilized. A thin piece of cloth, preferably white silk, can be dyed
or have the colors placed upon it and then be fastened on the back
of the portrait with conjurors' wax. In this case it might be necessary
to omit the affixing of the marked stickers, as, unless adroitly
held, the committee might see this. Now the light, on passing
through the double coloring for the first production would be compound.
For instance, if the tie is really red and the screen behind
is green, then the tie will appear brown ; as green and red make
brown. If the green screen extend over other parts of the picture
they too will appear in compound colors. Upon someone requesting
the performer to change the color of the tie to red, he simply has the
portrait faded out ; and then a cord running through the hollow leg
of the easel can be pulled and draw off the piece of colored silk to
which it must have been attached when affixing the big frame, and
this must then be drawn into the hollow leg of the easel. The next
materialization will show the tie red.
The same effect could be produced by a transparent co4ored
screen of small proportions being concealed in the arc light and
vwhich should be revolved at the right time into position. This could
be done by pulling a string running through its base and the stage.
This must afterwards at the right time be revolved out of the way.
The screen in the first place would have to be revolved into position
just as the colors begin to appear with cloud-like effect. This would
look like waves of color passing and changing on the canvas. Then
the portrait should be fully materialized under this colored light.
Now when upon request the spirits erase the painting, just as the
portrait becomes confused, indefinite, or cloud-like, the screen must
be revolved out of the light. The second materialization under white
light would then show the portrait in its true colors which are the
ones requested. I consider this method preferable to the other.
Colored glass or gelatine films can be used for this revolving screen
in the arc light.
For the canvases, stage performers use quite stiff white artists'
paper pasted on tarleton. This is so thin and transparent that the
arc light gives an unusually beautiful effect. The paints are pastels
pulverized and dissolved in sweet gin, or some good liquid fixative.
This is "the spiritual paint" that "defied the chemists of the world."
It works nicely on a paper surface, but can be put on in only one
coat like water colors. Pastels show beautiful tints under transmitted
light and are well suited for this particular work. In making
the canvas frames, their surfaces must be kept absolutely level and
true, for if warped the slightest they will not contact with each other
nicely, and will not show the portrait clear and sharp. This causes
performers more trouble than any part of the illusion. The front
surface of the sliding carriage must also be perfectly true, and the
portrait must be buttoned to it perfectly tight. The big frame must
also be held rigidly and perfectly parallel to the portrait, so that the
contact will be perfect.
When in Portland, Oregon, Selbit produced the portrait of a
lady's mother, who had died sixteen years before in Germany and
of whom no photograph existed ; the lady recognized the portrait.
Here is how this happened, according to Mr. Selbit who related
it to me. Representatives of the press challenged Mr. Selbit to
permit a physician to examine and mark two canvases and then to
produce a portrait that the latter should choose on one of them.
Selbit accepted the challenge. The physician did not want to use
Selbit's list of portraits, so Selbit took a list that had been published
in the Reviezv of Reznetvs, and the physician agreed to use this list.
Each portrait Mr. Selbit had would fit about three titles, and he
secretly arranged and numbered a list in advance to correspond.
Here is how the feat was accomplished. Instead of two blanks,
Selbit took six to the physician ; and he examined them and then
wrapped them, affixing a seal. This was Selbit's suggestion ; as he
said the audience would feel better if the two were selected and
marked in their presence. The physician and Mr. Selbit then deposited
these at the box office until evening. This was to prove

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Re: David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters

Post by Admin on Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:44 am

the physician from opening and secretly marking them in advance.
When the physician first came upon the stage, Selbit asked him if he
had chosen a portrait; and he drew out his Hst, and Selbit saw
which number was checked. Pretending not to have seen the number,
he requested the physician to keep the list until they were ready.
Meanwhile he secretly sent word to the assistant under the stage
what portrait to use, which was a subject that would fit the title
of the one selected.
Next the physician opened the canvases and selected one, permitting
the committee to select the other. Mr. Selbit suggested that
they omit affixing marked stickers in the usual way, but to use a
diflFerent means of marking these. He then had his assistants place
first one canvas in the big frame as usual, and then apparently place
the second one in. The assistants then brought the big frame to
the physician, who wrote his name on the frame of each canvas. Of
course the portrait was already in the frame.
This made such a stir in the press that a gentleman who seemed
to believe in spiritualism very strongly, wanted his mother-in-law's
portrait made. The next evening Mr. Selbit used the only old lady
picture he had ; and after its production, it was taken into the box
office to see if the gentleman's wife could identify it. The lady and
her relatives went in, and she denied its resemblance at first ; but her
husband and relatives insisted so strongly that it was correct that,
by taking a feature at a time and shading off the rest of the portrait,
they induced the lady to acknowledge that there was a resemblance
in each separate feature when viewed by itself. They then with
great emphasis insisted it was the lady's mother ; and the lady apparently
quite timid, reluctantly acquiesced. Then returning to
the theater it was announced from the stage that the lady had recognized
her mother's portrait. If a conjurer who lays no claim to
mediumship got this effect, what could a medium do?
When the reader remembers what a profound and absolute
mystery this illusion was, and then reflects what simple means are
employed for its production, it should be a lesson well remembered
when dealing with the mysterious performances of mediums.

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