Great Ghosts

Before I moved to Salem, Halloween was all about ghosts for me, not witches. I’m not sure how I became fixated on them as a little girl, but once I grew up I’m sure I made the connection because of the historical origins of Halloween:  the eve of All Hallows’ or All Saints’ Day (with earlier pre-Christian foundations), an evening when thoughts were on those who had passed.  So when I came to Salem and it was all about witches, I was actually a bit confused; I still don’t really grasp the connection between the 1692 Witch Trials and Halloween (besides commerce), but apparently I am the only person in this city who fails to do so. I have fulfilled my Halloween obligations by buying a bucketful of candy which I will hand out tonight, and in the mean time I can celebrate the holiday in my own way:  by focusing on ghosts.

Some favorite ghosts, starting with my very favorite historical person, Queen Elizabeth I, confronting Napoleon in 1803.  The British always call on Elizabeth when they are in trouble. Here she shows him an image of the burning Spanish Armada and proclaims look at that and tremble!!!  Elizabeth’s ghost is followed by that of another monarch, Louis XVI, protesting Napoleon’s theft of his throne.

Isaac Cruikshank satirical prints,1803-1804, British Museum, London.

In the later nineteenth century there was a spirited effort to catch ghosts on film, leading to the production of many “spirit photographs” as well as to any equally enthusiastic effort to prove that these images were faked with double exposure and other techniques. For some reason, several spirit photographs feature children, as in the one below, entitled Their Guardian Angel. From the same year, a “staged” photograph by Henry Ridgely Evans (who referred to himself consistently as “Dr.”), an amateur magician who investigated spiritualism at the turn of the last century.

Their Guardian Angel, C.H. Graves, publisher, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; spirit photograph by Henry Ridgley Evans, from his book Hours with the Ghosts or Nineteenth Century Witchcraft: Illustrated Investigations into the Phenomena of Spiritualism and Theosophy (1897).

And now for some “ghosts” from the world of art and design.  Philippe Starck’s “Ghost” chair is pretty familiar to me, but a more recent discovery is the even more whimsical Ghost Clock of Wendell Castle.  The possibilities seem unlimited for ghost furniture.

Kartell “Ghost Chair” by Philippe Starck, 2002, Philadelphia Museum of Art; “Ghost Clock” by Wendell Castle, 1985, Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

Looking forward to our next big holiday, a final “Thanksgiving Ghost” from the Victorian illustrator Oliver Herford:

Oliver Herford, A Thanksgiving Ghost, 1885.

2 responses to “Great Ghosts

  • Nikki

    Hi Donna! I find your blog so interesting and different. Like you, I’m a Salem-ite who doesn’t quite understand the big connection between the Salem witch hunts and modern-day Halloween…especially when you celebrate it with fried dough stands and a ferris wheel. However, I was a good participator and had my candy and jack o’ lantern, which was then promptly stolen…and then we were woken up by drunk kids at 2am…oh Halloween in Salem. 🙂 Thanks for your post.

  • daseger

    Thanks Nikki, glad to hear there’s someone of like mind out there, and sorry about your Halloween experience–the same things have happened to me once or twice! I’m sure we’re passing each other by on the street. I checked out your own blog, and it’s great–I plan to go back often.

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