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18th-century phantasmagoria

Phantasmagoria ( , also fantasmagorie, fantasmagoria) was a precinema projection ghost show invented in Francemarker in the late 18th century, which gained popularity through most of Europe (especially England) throughout the 19th century.

A modified type of magic lantern was used to project images onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection. The projector was mobile, allowing the projected image to move on the screen, and multiple projecting devices allowed for quick switching of different images. Frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts were projected.


In the mid-18th century, in Leipzigmarker, Germany, a coffee shop owner named Johann Schröpfer began offering séances in a converted billiards room which became so popular that by the 1760s he had transformed himself into a full-time showman, using elaborate effects including projections of ghosts to create a convincing spirit experience. In 1774, he committed suicide, apparently a victim of delusions of his own apparitions .

Versailles was home to several significant developments in this field. In the 1770s François Seraphin used magic lanterns to perform his "Ombres Chinoises" (Chinese shadows), a form of shadow play, and Edme-Gilles Guyot experimented with the projection of ghosts onto smoke.

Paul Philidor created what may have been the first true phantasmagoria show in 1789, a combination of séance parlor tricks and projection effects, his show saw success in Berlin, Vienna, and revolution-era Paris in 1793.

Etienne-Gaspard Robert, a Belgian inventor and physicist from Liègemarker, more commonly known by his stage name Etienne Robertson, was known for his phantasmagoria productions. In 1797 Robertson took his show to Paris. The macabre atmosphere in the post-revolutionary city was perfect for Robertson's elaborate creations. In the abandoned Refectory of a Capuchin convent in Paris, he staged hauntings, using several lanterns, special sound effects and the eerie atmosphere of the tomb, he terrified many audiences.

It was not long before Robertson was touring Russia and Spain, and the idea of the theatrical ghost show spread across Europe and to the U.S. He is buried with appropriately gothic statuary in the Père Lachaise Cemeterymarker in Paris.

In 1801 a phantasmagoria production by Paul Philidor (a stage name for Paul Philipsthal taken from the famous chess player Phildor) opened in London's Lyceum Theatremarker in the Strand, where it became a smash hit.

Many of the phantasmagoria showmen were a combination of scientists and magicians, many of them stressing that the effects that they produced, no matter how eerily convincing, were in fact the result of ingenious equipment and no small measure of skill, rather than any supernatural explanation. This even extended as far as the exhibitions at the Royal Polytechnic Institution demonstrating the "Pepper's ghost" effect in the 1860s.

Phantasmagoria is also the title of a poem in seven cantos by Lewis Carroll that was published by Macmillan & Sons in London in 1869.

Phantasmagoria in modern times

Walter Benjamin was fascinated by the phantasmagoria and used it as a term to describe the experience of the Arcades in Paris.

Walt Disney was influenced by the early ghost show men, and this can be seen in the practical and projection effects in the Haunted Mansion at Disneylandmarker and Disney Worldmarker, as well as Fantasmicmarker, the park's closing show, which features film clips projected onto smoke and water spray.

A few modern theatrical troupes in the U.S.marker and U.K.marker stage phantasmagoria projection shows, especially at Halloween.

From February 15 - May 1, 2006, the Tate Britainmarker staged "The Phantasmagoria" as a component of its show "Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination." It recreated the content of the 18th and 19th century presentations, and successfully evoked their tastes for horror and fantasy.

In the game Magician's Quest: Mysterious Times, there is a ghost of a young girl named Phantasm that can be summoned to tell you about your friends, enemies, or true love.

See also


  • Memoires Recreatifs, Scientifiques and Anedotiques of 1830-34 Etienne Robertson
  • Nouvelles Recréations Physiques et Mathématiques, Edme-Gilles Guyot, translated by Dr. W. Hooper in London (1st ed. 1755)

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