Mumler built a brisk business taking spirit photos including a famous image of Mary Lincoln with her martyred husband, Abraham, standing behind her. Mumler did very well until he accidently included images of people still very much alive and walking around on the streets of Boston in some of his photographs and he was exposed as a fraud. In spite of Mumler’s fall from grace spirit photography had gained traction and continued to be a much debated topic throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Among the most ardent supporters was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle while one of the most strident critics was Harry Houdini.
|Henry Lane Wallace|
The woman who has magically appeared, Jno Nicholson, and Nethery are not well remembered, but in certain circles Frank Foster is still known. He was a renowned spiritualist from Grand Rapids, Michigan and he had a following of believers around the turn of the 20th century. In his book, Photographing the Invisible: Practical Studies in Spirit Photography, (1911) Phil Coates cites a number of spirit photos taken by Foster as well as “spirited” stories. By 1904, Foster had been traveling the country and producing spirit photos for approximately 40 years. In the Coates book there is a lengthy interview with Judge Levi Mock of Bluffton describing his experience with Foster.
Foster was at “the Chesterfield Camp” when Judge Mock approached him for a photography session. Foster charged $2.00 for a photo. Mock first sat for the picture, then Foster put his hand on the camera, Mock placed his fingers on top of Foster’s hand on the camera and after much “quivering” an electric shock passed between them. A few days later Mock received his picture with several images of people he did not know. Mock took the photo to a Mrs. Herbine who was a gifted “slate writer” and she related to Judge Mock that his father who was in the Summerland (he had passed away) wanted Mock to return to Foster for another sitting. In this new photograph by Foster, Mock recognized four of the spirit images. With his picture in hand, Mock returned to Mrs. Herbine with a series of questions for the spirits to answer to authenticate their images. Mock prepared what he believed to be a double blind approach to garnering answers and Mrs. Herbine was able to slate write the correct answers. Case closed for Judge Mock—he was a true believer.
The date of the Wallace spirit photo is not known, but it probably dates from about 1904, the same time that Judge Mock was having his experiences with Foster. While it would be interesting to know who the mystery woman is, it is perhaps more intriguing to wonder why Henry met with Frank Foster in the first place, how they came to set up a photography session at the Blancherne, and what did Henry think of the results of this session. When it came to spirit photography did he side with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Harry Houdini? If only Mrs. Herbine was still available!
The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum celebrates and renews belief in the power of the individual spirit to affect American history and culture.