Bring “Ghosts” to your Home for Winter Parties (Feb, 1933)

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Bring “Ghosts” to your Home for Winter Parties


The author’s adventures as a “ghost detective,” ferreting out the secrets of fraudulent mediums, led him to the discovery of the ingenious methods of creating phantoms which he describes in this article. Using these simple stunts, much fun can be had at house parties, and you can easily convince your guests that you are in private communication with the supernatural.

WHEN Eddie called me up from the “Times” office, and asked me to come along to Madame Y’s “Wednesday night circle,” of course I accepted the invitation. For over fifteen years I’ve been spook hunting, but with no material success. When spooks have rattled tin cans in a cabinet in imitation of a “Model T,” I’ve always found that the spooks had bone and muscle. When nebulous images have appeared on photographic plates, I have always found the foggy patches due to exposure to X-rays, radio-active salts, or maybe to a tiny pin-hole in the bellows of the camera.

Eddie is a reporter on the “Times.” Nosing around for copy, he had visited Madame Y’s the week before. What he had seen had him absolutely mystified, so he got in touch with me to see if I could dope it out. He declared that ghosts were all over the semi-lighted room; actually brushed against him, enfolded him!

We arrived at Madame Y’s. It was a big, gloomy, frame house out on Santa Monica boulevard. It was a few doors from a cemetery. I couldn’t help but think that “Madame” was a good business woman: she kept her ghosts close at hand to avoid cross-town taxi fares.

At the door we encountered the usual “spirit seance” atmosphere — a dark- skinned, loose-robed confederate, who admitted us and ushered us into a big room decorated after the motif of grandma’s crazy quilts. The ceiling met the walls in a sweeping curve. Both were painted, in a variety of sizes, with the three most common geometric figures: circles, triangles, and squares.

A fairly wide table about ten feet long, and covered with a green cloth, was located in the middle of the room. There were six straight-backed chairs at each side of the table, and two at one end. At the other end, on a slightly raised platform, was an armchair—the “Madame’s.” I noted particularly that the chairs, and all the woodwork about the room, were finished in dull green and offered no reflecting surface.

The lighting effect was very unusual. Above the table, and about two-thirds the way between the floor and the ceiling, was a long, green, neon light tube. A semi-circular shield above the tube cut off all the upward beams of light, but diffused the lower part of the room with a sickly, green glow. Before the actual “seance” started, several floor lamps about the room were alight with conventional white bulbs.

On a small table in a corner near the “Madame’s” chair, was what appeared to be a re-designed electric chafing-dish—I noted an electric cord leading to the device. It was emitting a spicy-smelling vapor. The atmosphere in the room was very humid, oppressive.

So much for the physical surroundings.

There were about ten persons in the room, mostly women. Also two half-baked-looking males. (Not including Ed and me).

Suddenly an awed silence. “Madame” swept into the room with ill-cultivated grace, and wedged her portly form into the armchair at the head of the table. The “circle” was called to order. The word “circle” struck me kinda funny. Why not call the meetings the “Wednesday night rectangle?”

After we all were seated, “Madame” went through a lot of superfluous palaver, lead- ing up to the sacrilegious suggestion that we bow our heads and ask the Holy Ghost to give us this night manifestations of contact between the quick and the dead.

Then she asked who wished the first “manifestation.” Eddie chirped up. He wanted “contact” with his first wife. Ed’s never been married. The “Madame” proceeded to induce “Mabel’s” ghost to pay him a visit. Ed was told to concentrate his thoughts on “Mabel,” while the rest of us were told to focus our eyes on his forehead, and center our thoughts upon the materialization of poor Eddie’s departed mate.

A tense, strained silence! No one seemed even to breathe. Suddenly I blinked my eyes. What was that filmy something emerging from the curtain of darkness above? A nebulous halo! Writhing, gently rolling, it settled down on Eddie’s head. It flowed down about his head and shoulders. Was it material substance … or what? Ed knew the moment of contact. I saw him shudder and catch his breath. And his face paled. The filmy “ghost” enfolded his body. Then it dispersed into nothingness.

During the demonstration “Madame” sat rigidly with eyes closed. Now she opened them. She brushed her hand across her brow. It came away damp. She, too, was perspiring freely.

“Did you receive the contact?” she asked. Ed nodded and “Madame” smiled triumphantly. “Who will be next?” she asked. I volunteered.

The same old rigamarole. I sat poised waiting for the ghost of my grandmother who had raised me from infancy. The fact of the matter is that my grandmother died long before I was born.

I kept looking at Eddie, across the table from me. By watching his eyes I could tell when the “ghost” was coming. Suddenly I saw his eyes focus to a point above my head. I knew “grandma” was descending.

The “ghost” came down! Feel it? I’ll say so. Like a draught when an ice-house door is opened. The perspiration on my forehead felt like sleet pellets. As the foggy substance settled down over my face, a haze came before my eyes. I sniffed, but could smell nothing. But my lungs tingled, and there was a slight acid taste in my mouth. I lowered my eyes and watched the “ghost” slip off my lap and dissipate in filmy streamers. Then “grandma” vanished entirely.

The next volunteer for a “manifestation” was an over-rouged, dreamy-eyed woman seated at the end of the table opposite “Madame.” She wished a visitation from the spirit of her dear, departed husband. “He” came down. But they must have bootleg gin even in spook-land. His spirit didn’t settle down nicely over her head. It came down at an angle and brushed against her bare arm. At the contact the woman let out a squeal and threw a faint—a synthetic one, I believed.

“Madame” clapped her hands. The dark-face, turban-headed butler rushed in. “The doors! The windows! Give us air! Fetch the smelling salts.” He did her bidding. Blasts of welcome fresh air entered the room. “Madame” unwedged herself from the chair and moved to the stricken woman. On the way I saw her switch off the electric chafing-dish!

The woman came out of her swoon. The seance was resumed.

We were now instructed to place one hand on the table with the other hand placed over it. In this position we were to ask questions, either outspoken or mentally, and our “affinity spirit” would answer them with a touch on the back of our hand. One touch meant “no”; two touches, “yes.”

When it came my turn I soliloquized the mental question: “How the devil does she do it?” A moment later I felt two clammy touches on the back of my hand. That meant “yes.” Were the spirits kidding me? In the green glow of the neon light I had watched my hand unblinkingly. The light was ample. Yet, when the touches came, I didn’t see a darned thing. It was uncanny.

The meeting came to a close after “Madame” had given us her private consultation hours.

On the way back to town, Eddie finally broke our mutual silence. “How the devil does she do it?”

“I don’t know—exactly. But I’ve got a hunch.

We’ll see in a day or two. As I say, it’s only a hunch, but …”

* * *
Can you blow smoke rings? Do smoke rings fascinate you? They always did me. When I was a little shaver I made smoke rings. No, I didn’t smoke—not then. I’d get an old card-board shoe-box, cut a circular hole about 1-1/2″ in diameter in the lid, and then get my dad to blow cigar smoke into the box. Then I’d give the lid a smart tap with my finger-tip, and out would pop a perfect smoke ring. In a still room it would rise to the ceiling without losing its form. Try this little trick yourself. It’s entertaining.

“Madame’s” descending, nebulous halos somehow brought to my mind my early experiments with smoke rings. I decided to do a little advanced experimenting along that line. So I made a little device which I call a gas ring pistol. A simple thing! Cost 15c: 10c for a pair of 4″ embroidery hoops, and 5c for a toy balloon. Note the sketch. A piece of stiff drawing paper is rolled into a funnel 4″ at the big end and 2-1/2″ at the small end. A pair of 4″ embroidery hoops holds the balloon rubber tautly across the big end. A wooden disk 1/8″ thick and with an l-1/4″ center hole is glued into the small end. The edge of the 1-1/4″ hole is faced with woolly material. A crude handle is glued to the truncated cone. The handle is hollowed out for reasons explained later.

There! We have a gas—or smoke—ring pistol. Blow several mouthfuls of smoke into the conical chamber. Then give the rubber diaphragm a smart tap with a finger-tip. Out pops a perfectly formed smoke ring. In a still room these rings will travel horizontally for ten feet or more before diffusing into the atmosphere. The nicety of these rings is probably due to the fuzzy nap on the woolly cloth which lines the hole. This serves well to retard the outer edge of the column of gas passing out the hole.

I reasoned: “If this pistol shoots smoke rings, why won’t it shoot other gaseous rings as well?” It will. Ammonia rings can be shot which, literally, will make a person gasp. Black rings can be shot by filling the chamber with smoke made by burning a mixture of kerosene and gum camphor. But the best stunt of all is to shoot rings of carbon dioxide gas. This gas is much heavier and denser than air. I reasoned that it would hold its ring shape better. It does. The most readily available source of carbon dioxide is from the evaporation of carbonic, or “dry” ice. This is made by the multiple compression and cooling of carbon dioxide gas, until it is finally solidified. It is intensely cold—110 degrees below zero. Obviously, the gas rising from it is very cold, too.

“Dry” ice is available in most cities. I obtained a piece, broke it into smaller pieces, and put them into the handle of the gas ring pistol. The vapor rising from the ice filled the chamber with chilly carbon dioxide gas. Playfully I shot a ring at the back of “the wife’s” neck—about ten feet away. I didn’t see a thing move through the air, but presently “the wife” gave a startled squeal and clapped her hand to her neck, proving conclusively that the rings carry their cold with them. “The wife” wasn’t half as enthused over the experiment as I. I got “one of those looks,” and beat it One of these pistols will afford a world of fun. A little perfume can be put in the chamber, and an “aroma ring” can be shot to any individual in a room. Another interesting stunt is to shoot out candles with the carbon dioxide gas. Since this gas will not support combustion, if the gaseous part of the ring passes through the flame, the candle is snuffed out. Another new game for winter entertainment—missileless target shooting!

Now, if a pistol with a 1-1/4″ opening functions O.K., why wouldn’t a “mortar” with an 8″ or 10″ opening function as well? It will. And pop out “halo” rings equal to “Madame’s”. In fact, I guess there is no limit to the size that gas rings can attain. Did you ever see a shifting engine in a freight yard shoot black, sooty rings a hundred feet or more in the air?

* * *
Next Wednesday night at “Madame’s”! The same crazy-quilt room. I studied the ceiling while the white lights were on. Just as I thought! The circular patches in the ceiling pattern were removable lids, lifted by a confederate in the room above. The faint scratches on the paint of the disks confirmed this. The seemingly disordered pattern of the ceiling was so laid out that there was a 12″ circular opening above each chair on both sides of the table. One opening served for both seats at the end of the table. That was why the ring sometimes came down slightly diagonally.

The chafing-dish steamed on the side table. Of course! The air in the room had to be moist so that the cold, descending carbon dioxide rings would form foggy halos, and afterward dissipate without leaving a trace.

“Madame” swished into the room and took her accustomed chair. The white lights were turned off; the neon on. Clever stunt—the neon light. The fact that there was no reflecting surface on the furniture and fittings, and the semicircular shield over the tube, kept the upper part of the room in complete, impenetrable darkness.

The show was on. Neither Eddie nor I was embraced by ghosts.

The meeting broke up. We donated a buck apiece. “Madame” didn’t even say “thank you.” Instead she gave me a wicked look. For she knew that I knew what she knew!

“Well, did you prove your theory?” Eddie asked when we were outside.

“Absolutely. The visible ‘halo rings’—the ‘ghost rings’—were popped out of a device just like the smoke ring pistol I showed you—only much bigger, of course. Probably about a foot in diameter. The carbon dioxide is much heavier than air. Naturally the rings settle down. The icy cold gas in contact with the damp air made the rings slightly visible—filmy, ghost-like. When the gas diffused in the air, all visibility was gone.

“Regarding the ‘spirit touches’ on the back of the hand, I could reproduce those with that little smoke ring pistol of mine, shooting them from port-holes in the ceiling. The fact of the matter is that the sensation of a light touch and of a change of temperature are almost the same. Momentarily both sensitize only the surface nerves of the skin.”

“How do you know they were rings, though?” Eddie asked.

“Well, you see I brought a little, fluffy feather with me and placed it on the back of my hand. When I got the ‘spooky touch,’ it whirled round and round a couple of times, and then floated off the table with a flow of gas. Carbon dioxide is much heavier than air, and flows almost like water until it diffuses in the air.

“The ‘Madame’ saw my little trick through her half-closed eyes. I saw her face twitch with anger. But she couldn’t say anything. However, I have a strong hunch we will not be welcome there again.”

So much for “Madame” Y’s spooks. I simply have no luck spook hunting. For fifteen years I’ve been hankering to meet a real, honest-to-goodness ghost. If any readers have the acquaintance of any ghost, spook, goblin, banshee will they please arrange an introduction for me? And if Madame Y— out on Santa Monica Boulevard reads this, will she please please accept my profound thanks for two very entertaining evenings. Best amusement I ever had for two bucks.

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