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The Ghost in the Theatre: Pepper's Ghost effect


"The True History of the Ghost and all about Metempsychosis"

With this title,
Professor Pepper's little book explaines his clever Victorian theatrical effect, first published in 1890. Recently (1996), The Projection Box published a facsimili edition of this rare publication with a new additional introduction by Mervyn Heard, an authority on vintage Victorian optical entertainments.

The historical information on this page is based on Heard's recent researches, published in the above book and other sources. The illustrations where found in old magazines, projection manuals and other contemporary sources.

The famous
Pepper's Ghost theatre effect was a successor of the Phantasmagoria ghost show, explained on 12 Visual Media pages. According to Mervyn Heard, Pepper's ghost was also a key precursor of the cinema show.

The image on the right gives an idea on "what the public saw" created by this cumbersome vintage Victorian theatrical effect. Similar to the Phantasmagoria, the aim was creating ghost's for a public with the aid of optical trickery, this time in the theatre instead of
uncanny places as used by E. G.Robertson..

Lester Smith collection, London °


A theoretical start date of Phantom projection through history can be pointed at Giovanni da Fontana's (1420) Devil Projection.

In the tumultuous period round the
French Revolution the Phantasmagoria ghost show can be seen as the height of ghost effects created with the aid of opical trickery and projection.

At the end of the 19th. Century, the ever popular theme of death and ghost's was still seen in Henri Pepper's theatre Ghost's but also in the, often for real mentioned, spirit photographs.

Even at the dawn of the 20th. Century, a variant of Pepper's ghost can be seen in the world of the French cabaret. Most popular was the
Cabaret du Néant (Cabaret of Nothingness or Death) in Paris.

Left: Illustration from 'Magasin Pittoresque' 1869


On the left we see one of the rooms in the Cabaret du Néant, part of a series of postcards by an anonymous photographer, where this ghost show was performed. Mouse over to see how this was done.

In the image above, we see a fantascope used to illuminate the character in a Pepper's Ghost theatre. To avoid a misunderstanding, the fantascope is NOT projection the ghost but illuminating a real actor, dressed as a ghost. By reflection of the glassplate, the public sees the ghost but also, at the same time, the actor with sword through the glass.

The next image found in Molteni's "
Appareils des projections" also illustrate another Peppers' Ghost arrangment.



Click here to see use of artificial ghost's at war scenes during the tumultuous days of the French Revolution 
See the recurring theme of DEATH in Early Visual Media History

The origin of the Danse Macabre
Grande Danse Macabre Introduction
Grande Danse Macabre des Femmes
Grande Danse Macabre des Hommes

Followed by
Phantasmagorie Introduction part I
Phantasmagorie Introduction part II + 13 more Phantasmagoria pages

Pepper's Ghost (You are here)

Ghost Show Cabaret

The Choreutoscope precursor of 'Maltese-Cross' projecting devices

The Ghost in the Stereoscope
Death and Humour in Visual Media

Stereo-Diableries introduction
Stereo Diableries depicted in stereo + 5 more Diablerie pages pages

"The Last look" Post-Mortem Photography

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he online Media Archaeology Museum version (24) Jan 2017 to Dec 2018 - All rights are protected by SOFAM.be