hen ghosts first appeared on theater stages in the 1790s, many wondered if it was all 'smoke and mirrors'. Phantasmagoria showman manipulated magic lantern projection in such a way to "cheat the eye of man and make him believe he sees spirits of the dead".
Physicist Étienne-Gaspard Robert was among the first to host theatrical ghost shows and held performances from an abandoned crypt in Paris. Using a mobile magic lantern called the fantascope, horrific images were reflected through a concave mirror and onto clouds of smoke to produce life-like effects. At the beginning of each show Robertson promised to conjure "every species of phantom as they appeared throughout history". By the end of the illusion, spectators were left "raising their hands out of fear of ghosts dashing towards them".
Phantasmagoria shows were so authentic that newspapers questioned whether magic lantern operators had "burned drugs in the smoke-filled séance room to befuddle those present". The engravings featured in this post from the Macabre Museum archive demonstrate that ghost shows were not a result of magic, but rather strategic use of optical instruments.
Davies, Owen. The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts. (2007)
Evans, Henry Ridgely. The Old and the New Magic. (1906)