Contacting the dead might seem like something straight out of a horror movie, but for a while it was how a lot of people made their living. However, not everyone was convinced by these spiritualists’ promises of voices beyond the grave, and looking at this list it’s not hard to see why!
Most people have to save money if they want to go on vacation, but Mrs. Mary Williams had another idea. She took her show on the road and travelled all through Europe before she was outed as a fraud, and still managed to avoid arrest by hiding in England!
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Most spiritualists had helpers to make spooky noises and convince the customers, but one Spanish spiritualist decided to cut costs and use a parrot instead. However, they say never work with children or animals, and it wasn’t long before the parrot flew onto the séance table and ruined the illusion completely!
Dr Walter E. Reid had a pretty clever scam: customers would send questions for their deceased loved ones in a sealed envelope, and for a small fee he would send back their answers. However, his trick was so popular it eventually caught the attention of the postmaster, who wasted no time charging him for mail fraud!
A DRESS CAN HIDE A MULTITUDE OF SINS (OR FRUITS)
Frau Rothe’s séances were the most popular in Germany, because fruits and flowers were known to appear as “gifts from the spirits”. However, it was game over when a female detective booked a session, and found the flowers hidden in her petticoats!
TOUCH OF THE DEAD
Pinning your skirts to the floor seems like a pretty good way to convince your customers you’re not going anywhere, but one handshake put an end to the scam for good. In 1877, one spiritualist from Portland, Maine, performed an act where she pretended to be pinned to the floor, while spirits made an appearance, even grabbing the hands of the people that were present. One day, the medium did her act and slipped out of her skirt to grab a man’s hand who managed to hold on tight. People then turned on the lights and the entire act was ruined. Gotcha!
Elsie Reynolds made a good living pretending to be conjured spirits, until she was literally caught in the act. A policeman found her frilly white ghost costume under her dress, and that was enough to haul her off to court!
London was a hotspot for spiritualists, but that made it a target for police too. Mr. Chalmers was made to sign a confession that was printed in all the newspapers, after a detective used a flashlight and saw that the “spirit” that appeared was actually Chalmers with a handkerchief on his head.
STARING DOWN THE BARREL
Spiritualists would go pretty far to protect their secrets, but William Cox really took things to the extreme. When he was discovered dressing up as a customer’s deceased wife, he had his assistant hold a gun to the man’s head, and fled America before the police could get involved.
S.W. Fallis had a great gig using photographs for years, where he convinced customers they were seeing their family in the spirit world. However, when one woman went to get the photo blown up, she was told he had seen that same photo lots of times, ruining the illusion completely.
KISS AND TELL
People were accused of fraud for all sorts of reasons, but this might be one of the most ridiculous. A spiritualist in Detroit was found out when a customer grabbed his “kissing device”, which was actually just a paddle covered in material.