Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Maria Bash and The Spirit Hoax

This is a photograph of my husband's Great Great Grandmother Maria Bash taken in 1900. Maria had just suffered the loss of her sister Jerusha, Maria's daughter's namesake. In the photograph Maria is wearing a mourning broach containing a photograph of her sister taken on Jerusha's twentieth birthday.

Maria and Jerusha were only nineteen months apart and had been inseparable all their lives. When the two married they lived in the same town; in houses only a block apart. Every day one or the other would travel down the street to the sister's kitchen for morning coffee.

Jerusha's death had been very unexpected. She had died as the result of a buggy accident; an accident in which her own son was driving. It was said a cat had run across the path of the carriage causing the horse to bolt and Jerusha to be thrown, breaking her neck.

Maria was inconsolable. The doctor was called. He warned the family they must find a way to relieve her distress, as it was causing a great strain on an already weak heart.

Wally, a budding amateur photographer and Maria's grandson, approached his Grandfather Samuel with an idea. (Wally eventually became a professional earning a living in the field of photography - see photo at end of article.)

Wally had been reading in the magazines and newspapers about spirit photography. Mrs. Lincoln herself sat for a spirit photograph and it was said to bring her great comfort. Wally assured his Grandfather Samuel he could create such a photograph with Jerusha watching over his Grandmother. Samuel was a level headed Midwesterner and did not hold with what the magazines and newspapers also called a hoax; but if it had comforted the President's wife perhaps it would comfort his wife. Samuel reluctantly agreed.

The result is the photograph you see below. Yes, Wally was an obvious amateur! It looks as if he has cut Maria's image from another photograph pasted it on a surface with other bits of photographs; then taken a photograph of that composite to create the final spirit photograph. One look and you know his photography skills were not as sophisticated as the tricksters of the time.

It is easy to identify the spirit of Jerusha, and Lincoln (a nice touch), but the other spirits, known to the family at the time, are lost to memory and history.

Did Maria buy the hoax? The family is convinced she didn't; that she pretended to be amazed at the spirits that surrounded her for the sake of her grandson Wally, who had gone to such great lengths to comfort her.

Written on Recto
Grandma Coulter
Mother of Jerusha Suter
Grandmother of Olive Suter

Written on Verso
Maria Bash 1831 - 1915
Wife of Samuel Coulter 1825-1916
Married 1848
This spirit photo made around 1900
By Wallace Grayson Suter (Grandson)

Inset - Mourning Broach

Inset - Spirits

One of Wally's Professional Photographs
Ella Coulter Dillon

By W. G. Suter



Maria Bash Spirit Photograph.
Wallace Grayson Souter. Card Mounted Photograph. 1900. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2005.

Ella Coulter Dillon.
Wallace Grayson Souter. Cabinet Card. Unknown. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2005.



Blogger Bill West said...

Fascinating story, FtM.
I'm going to say fact!

October 14, 2008 at 11:02 PM  
Blogger wendy said...

fM - I'd forgotten about "spirit" photography! Love the broach!

October 15, 2008 at 4:54 AM  
Blogger Jasia said...

I've never heard of "spirit" photography. What a unique-for-its-time idea! Fascinating article, fM. This story sounds too real to be fiction. I'm going with fact!

October 15, 2008 at 1:33 PM  
Blogger Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I've never heard of "spirit" photography or mourning broaches. I'm guessing this one is true.

October 15, 2008 at 6:32 PM  
Blogger Terry Thornton said...

After thinking on this off and on for the past day, I've changed my mind from "fact" to "fiction." I think you've cut and pasted up some of your many images. The head of the woman looks as if you've pasted her in place; her broach is also a cut and paste job; the bodice of the dress looks like one from an earlier picture; and the spirits are, well, not what I expected. Lincoln throws it all out --- one of the spirits is obviously the same image as in the broach; the others are too vague to really be believed. That the face of the person reported to be Maria Bash Coulter in the photo is of a different print color makes me think the head was pasted in place. No, I think this entire post is a creation of the footnoteMaven's overactive imagination. I think I found Samuel and Maria Coulter on the census report living next door to a Bash family. So the names may be correct but the image is, in my opinion, a fake. Even the facial image for Maria seems "off" so I think there may be a fake within a fake. But what a fun post it was.

Terry Thornton
Fulton, MS

October 16, 2008 at 6:14 PM  
Blogger TK said...

Too close to the witching hour for me to be a disbeliever tonight. Good story!

October 18, 2008 at 10:54 PM  
Blogger my Heritage Happens said...

I think fM is telling Fact, not that I have any knowledge of spirit photography. But if there is such a thing, this is where you would find out about it!


October 19, 2008 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

O.K. Everyone -

Check Fact Or Fiction? for the answer.

Thanks for commenting!


October 19, 2008 at 10:23 PM  

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