Phantasmagoria: The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern


Phantasmagoria: The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern
by Mervyn Heard

A full-blooded account of an extraordinary theatrical ghost-raising entertainment, and the true exploits of its mysterious inventor, Paul de Philipsthal.

Ghosts of the departed, and apparitions of distant friends, appeared as if by supernatural forces to those who attended the Phantasmagoria presentations at London's metamorphic Lyceum venue in 1801. The showman responsible was Paul de Philipsthal, who had developed the secret techniques many years earlier, under the pseudonym 'Philidor'.

In this new account of the history of ghostly projections, Mervyn Heard - himself a professional magic lanternist of international repute - provides a comprehensive history of such spectral appearances from ancient times to today, with a particular emphasis on the use of the magic lantern in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to project images of phantoms. These ambiguous presentations - ostensibly given as proof that there was nothing supernatural in such appearances, but often taken by audiences as visible evidence of the 'other side' - were popular in Europe and America for three decades, despite some of the practitioners' problems with the authorities.

The story includes a trip to Hades in AD161, coffee-shop proprietor Johann Schropfer ghost-raising in 1770s Leipzig, Philipsthal's rival Etienne Gaspard Robertson's fantasmagorie in revolutionary Paris, the evolution of the phantasmagoria lantern to warn against the very different horrors of alcohol abuse, the 1860s London theatrical ghost of Professor Pepper, and the cinema's adoption of similar spectral techniques.

Writing with humour appropriate to the subject - the protagonists were all engagingly eccentric and their effects often ridiculous as well as genuinely frightening - Dr. Heard has produced a rare addition to the very few published accounts of theatrical ghost-raising. The book is based on two decades of original research, much of which led to his PhD awarded by the University of Exeter in 2001.

      Dramatis personae
      1. Witchcraft
      2. Seance and seance-ability
      3. They seek him here
      4. Fantasmagorie
      5. No more ghosts
      6. Phantasmagoria-mania
      7. Phantasmagores galore!
      8. Dissolving views
      9. Fresh horrors
      10. Memento mori
      Appendix 1: Distant haunts
      Appendix 2: Codicils
      Colour plates

312 pages, including 16 pages of colour.

Published June 2006: STILL AVAILABLE direct from The Projection Box

Click here for prices and details of how to order.

CLICK HERE to see the booklet : SKETCH of the PERFORMANCES AT THE LARGE THEATRE, LYCEUM; and a Short Account of the Origin, History and Explanation of all the late Optical and Acoustic Discoveries, called the PHANTASMAGORIA, ERGASCOPIA, PHANTASCOPIA, MESOSCOPIA,

To learn more about the magic lantern, visit the website of
The Magic Lantern Society