Culture

Ghost Hunting in the 19th Century

Though science and investigations of the paranormal might seem incompatible, they were intertwined for a long time.

Episode 277 | July 6, 2021

The 19th century was a time of rapid technological leaps: the telegraph, the steam boat, the radio were invented during this century. But this era was also the peak of spiritualism: the belief that ghosts and spirits were real and could be communicated with after death. Seances were all the rage. People tried to talk to their dead loved ones using Ouija boards and automatic writing. Although it might seem contradictory, it’s not a coincidence that this was all happening at the same time.

There have always been questions about life after death, but in the 19th century people found new ways to investigate them using these new cutting-edge technological tools. And part of it was that some of these new tools felt supernatural in and of themselves. The radio, the telegraph, the phonograph: these allowed us to speak over inconceivable distances, communicate instantly from an ocean away, and even preserve human voices in time and after death. But something else was going on in the 19th century. The people who were trying to figure out if we could really talk to ghosts were not just on the fringes; many of them were scientists.

 

Credits  |   Resource List   |   Transcript

Credits

Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago
Senior Producer: Mariel Carr
Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: Jonathan Pfeffer

Music
“Lanterns Ascending” by Jerry Lacey
“Shapeshifter” by Martin Klem
“Behind that Door” by Farrell Wooten
“First Sign” by Mahlert
“Black Core” by Guy Copeland
“Maximum State” by Ethan Sloan
“String Quartet No. 3, Op. 41 Adagio Part 4” by Robert Schumann
“Chronicles of a Mystic Dream” by Grant Newman
“Deep Cellar” by Experia
“Shapeless Inside” by Cobby Costa
“Aquamarine” by Mahlert
“Decomposed” by Philip Ayers

Special thanks to Charley Levin and Lena Kidd-Nicolella for their portrayal of Maggie and Kate Fox.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Resource List

Ghostland: An American History in Hunted Places

Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication

Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death

Transcript

Please check back for this episode’s transcript.