Sunday, 31 January 2010

Pepper's Ghost

Posts are likely to be somewhat irregular for the rest of the year, as the writing up of my ghost research is now underway. I won't be taking down the questionnaire opposite for a while yet, but if you'd still like to participate, now is the time.
I've spent most of the last month writing about the historical appearance of ghosts. Part of this has involved looking at popular representations of ghosts in woodcuts, on stage, in films and so on. For a splendid woodcut (used a great deal through the 17th century), check out the ballad 'a true and perfect Relation from the Faulcon at the Banke-side; of the strange and wonderful aperition of one Mr Powel a baker lately deceased' in the Bodleian collection.
Of course, I've been having a look at everybody's favourite 19th century theatrical effect, Pepper's Ghost. It was all done with mirrors, as seen below.
Pepper's Ghost was tricky to fit into existing stage mechanics, it seems, but thrived in dedicated fairground shows. It's still highly regarded - here's a design for a recent model.
I also enjoyed learning that it was so popular that it entered London slang. By the mid-1860s, London cabbies used the term 'Pepper's Ghost' to refer to passengers who ran off without paying their fare. I don't know how long this usage lasted. Is there an equivalent term in use today?

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