No. 424
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
March 21, 2019

The Sympsychograph.

January 8, 2013
...
...


Coming Soon!
Horseshoe Saloon circa 1900-1910 (Click image to enlarge) LOODY FIGHT IN A SALOON More details of the October 1, 1897 Horseshoe Saloon brawl. Up until this post, the details of this saloon free-for-all, what had actually occurred, and why, have been largely unknown. An article dated October 2, 1897 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gives a much better picture of the
More...
Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 3/21/2019


`
I’m not sure when the low-rise buildings at the southwest corner of Mulberry and Grand Streets were torn down. But if there’s any upside to the bulldozing of another old New York corner, it’s that we now have an amazing side view of the Federal-style house at 149 Mulberry. The view is almost a portal […]
More...
Ephemeral New York - 3/17/2019
The last executions in the Netherlands took place on this date in 1952: Dutch SS volunteer Andries Jan Pieters and German SS man Artur Albrecht, both condemned for war crimes committed during the Nazi occupation. Each was implicated in numerous incidents of torturing and executing prisoners. Both men were shot at Waalsdorpervlakte, outside The Hague. […]
More...
ExecutedToday.com - 3/21/2019


[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
More...
Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
Perry Harrington and his wife, Maria, were spending a quiet evening at their farmhouse in Geneva, Ohio, on December 18, 1884, when the door burst open, and a masked man boldly entered the house. He pointed a cocked revolver at Mr. Harrington and demanded his money or his life. Seeing that he and his wife were at the mercy of the intruder, Harrington went into an adjoining bedroom to get his
More...
Murder by Gaslight - 3/16/2019
via Newspapers.com This odd little--UFO?--tale appeared in the "Philadelphia Inquirer," September 27, 1950: South Philadelphia police officers had a new explanation last night for what happens to those flying saucers people are always seeing: They dissolve. That's what happened last night to the airborne object first seen about 10 PM. by Patrolmen John Collins and Joseph Keenan. The two
More...
Strange Company - 3/20/2019
So- did Lizzie have a sweetheart? It would seem one Curtis I. Piece had high but unrequited hopes of winning …

Continue reading

More...
Lizzie Borden : Warps & Wefts - 2/3/2019
Vive Le Sport! | The Sympsychograph.

The Sympsychograph.

Sympsychograph

In September 1896, Popular Science Monthly published this picture—a psychic photograph generated by seven men thinking about a cat. It was such an obvious hoax that the editors thought their readers would catch on right away. They didn’t.[more]

The article by David Starr Jordan, entitled “The Sympsychograph: A Study in Impressionist Physics” documents an experiment performed by the Astral Camera Club of Alcalde to create a photograph using “brain emanations, or odic forces.” The club, having learned of Prof. Rontgen’s work with x-rays, was anxious to try experiments in photography without visible light. Allegedly, an Englishman named Camreon Lee had captured a photographic image of a thought by staring into the lens of a camera in total darkness and intensely thinking of a cat. When the negative was developed it showed the enlarged pupil of the eye and in its center, the faint image of a cat.

Asa Marvin, president of the Astral Camera Club devised an elaborate experiment using a lens that he created with curved facets, similar to a fly’s eye. To each of the seven facets led an insulated tube containing an electric connection to transfer impulses from the brain of each observer and converge on a photographic plate.

Seven members of the club, “having the greatest animal magnetism and greatest power of mental concentration,” were chosen for the experiment. Connections were made from the eye of each observer to the corresponding parts of the lens, then in total darkness each man would think of a cat. They were not to think of any particular cat, but rather of the innate idea of a cat. The goal was to bring out the impression of ultimate feline reality. The seven ideals would be sympathetically combined and the true cat would be developed – sympsychography. The picture above was the purported result of the experiment.

The photograph was actually a composite made from several negatives of the same cat. Jordan peppered the article with scientific-sounding terminology as he explained, in detail, the methodology employed and the analyses of the result. But he also included several cues to inform scientific-minded readers that this is a bit of satire: the green light of their apparatus “provoked that uncanny feeling that always presages a great discovery in occult science;” the next step would be to photograph “the cat’s idea of a man;” and, of course, the experiment was performed on April 1.

But Jordan had underestimated the gullibility of his readers. He and the editors of Popular Science Monthly were amazed at the number of people who took the article seriously. Many welcomed the alleged discovery as proof of long held beliefs. One clergyman had even announced a series of six discourses on “The Lessons of the Sympsychograph.”

Jordan concluded that few people ever read a sensational story to the end and scarcely read beyond pictures and headlines. Though he vowed never again to try to be funny, he did document further proceedings of The Astral Club of Alcalde in “The Posthom Phantom: A study in the Spontaneous Activity of Shadows;” “The Teaching of Neminism,” an exposition of the thesis nihil nemini nocet, or “nothing hurts nobody;” “The Plane of Ether,” a theosophical analysis of the way to Nirvana; and “Rescue Work in History,” a contribution to the theory that time and space are relative. None of them generated the excitement of the Sympsychograph.

 


Sources:

  • Boese, Alex. The museum of hoaxes: a collection of pranks, stunts, deceptions, and other wonderful stories contrived for the public from the Middle Ages to the new millennium. New York, NY: Dutton, 2002.
  • Jordan, David Starr. "The Sympsychograph: A Study in Impressionist Physics." Appletons' Popular Science Monthly Sep. 1896: 601.
  • Jordan, David Starr. The days of a man: being memories of a naturalist, teacher, and minor prophet of democracy. Yonkers-on-Hudson, N.Y.: World Book Co., 1922.