Since it is, Mrs Daffodil is reliably informed, “National Ghost Hunting Day” in the United States, here is an encore presentation of a popular post on fashionable “spook parties” held in Paris.
An X Ray Diversion for the Paris Fashionables.
They Produce All Kinds of Fearful Shudders.
Curious Effects of the Roentgen Rays on Porcelain
And Crystal and Humans Coated With a Fluorescent Substance.
Paris, March. 30. Ghost parties are the latest diversion of fashionable folks who have money and brains in sufficient quantities to manage them. The Roetgen rays make these society functions possible, and their originators say that the amusement is only in its infancy. If this be true, it is difficult to picture what form the ghost parties will take when they are fully developed, for even in their present stage they are calculated to send every known variety of shiver and shudder and chill through the marrow of the spectator. Certainly new emotions of the shivery kind will have to be developed to keep pace with the growth of the ghost party.
The first essential of a spook function is a drawing-room of fair dimensions, containing a quantity of porcelain, glass, crystal and enamel bric-a-brac. Large vases should be numerous, and if the hostess is well supplied with diamonds, additional effect can be obtained if her faith in the integrity of her guests permits her to scatter the gems about in conspicuous places.
In a corner of the apartment should be the X ray apparatus, enveloped in black cloths. This machine only occupies as much space as the ordinary magic lantern, and as the lights in the room are extinguished before the guests enter, its presence is not apparent. An operator skilled in management of X rays should be engaged, also a couple of assistants, one of them a woman, to render various services.
The explanation of the need of the porcelain vases and bric-a-brac of various material rests in the fact that these articles being of fluorescent substance, become phosphorescent at a certain distance behind the X ray apparatus
At the first function of the kind held here the guests were greatly startled, and two or three of the women guests fainted from terror. No explanation of the mysteries were vouchsafed beforehand and the guests imagined that they were in the midst of the occult.
The host had secured form a maker of physical apparatus several glass hands, glass legs and other paraphernalia of the human body, and these, under the careful manipulation of the X ray operator and his assistants, were made to appear especially weird in the darkened room.
When the guests had assembled in the drawing-room the tinkling of a tiny bell sounded, and then appeared what seemed to be a human hand of dazzling brightness. It waved about and circled over the apartment and then disappeared. It was merely a glass hand, made phosphorescent by the action of the penetrating X rays, but it was ghostly enough to satisfy the cravings of the mightiest Mahatma in the love of theosophy.
Then a table in the corner of the room, loaded with dainty cups and saucers, suddenly blazed up out of the darkness. Only the cups and saucers were visible, they seeming to be resting on air. Then they faded away and a huge vase in an opposite corner loomed up with bewildering brilliancy. Next the scores of bits of porcelain in a cabinet were illuminated, each piece standing out separately in the darkness, all other objects and the cabinet itself being invisible.
A dazzling ball of fire then descended slowly from the ceiling, and swung back and forth over the heads of the guests. It was simply a glass sphere, which had been hung on wire prior to the coming of the guests; and was easily operated by one of the assistants standing in a corner of the apartment.
The most interesting and ghostly exhibition of them all came last, when the parting of a pair of portieres at the end of the room revealed a human form all in a blaze of light. The apparition moved slowly forward, and then it was seen that the figure was that of an unusually tall woman.
The phantom at first held her hands so that they shielded the face, and when they were lowered the sight of that face caused the men to move back nervously, nearly all of the women screamed, and two or three fainted. The face had a greenish pallor, and instead of eyes, there were two black holes. The mouth was closed and the hair streamed about, lit by phosphorescent flame. Every few seconds the spook raised her hands and seemed to scatter bouquets of flame about the room. Then when the bell tinkled the phantom receded slowly, and gradually faded from view.
This ended the party, the lights were turned on and the hostess explained how she had managed the mysteries. Everything was soon made clear, except the mystery of the human figure, and this, too, was easily explained. A clever figurante was engaged from a theatre and was concealed behind some draperies. She was enveloped in a veil which had been covered by a fluorescent substance, and her face and hair were glazed with a phosphorescent sulphate of zinc powder. This preparation, of course, could not be applied to the eyes, hence the black holes when the phantom appeared under the X rays.
Nannette du Bignon.
Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 11 April 1897: p. 22
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Like the radium given as Christmas gifts by the Smart Set, x-ray “spook parties” were all the rage. And although some scientists warned of the dangers of x-rays almost from the moment of their discovery in 1895, others pooh-poohed the scientists as alarmists. Ironically the lethal rays were discovered by Wilhelm Röntgen using the “Crookes tube.” This was invented by Sir William Crookes, a distinguished scientist and credulous Spiritualist who championed medium Florence Cook, materializer of the winsome spirit of “Katie King.” How strange that Sir William’s invention should come back to haunt by association at “spook parties.” One wonders if the “figurante” suffered any ill-effects from the phosphorescent sulphate of zinc powder or from those entertaining x-rays.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.