It's Hallowe'en, so it's time to wheel out the Ghostbusters in my family again...!
My two times great grandfather Edwin Graham was the Secretary of the Belfast Christian Spiritualist Association in Belfast in the 1920s. Edwin was a welder who married three times - first to Florence Halliday (my two times great grandmother), then briefly to Matilda Blair, and finally Sarah Stitt (with whom he is pictured from 1939). Sarah was said to be a 'gifted medium' from Liverpool.
In 1926 Edwin was involved in an extraordinary story in Belfast City Cemetery. Here's the story from the Irish Times:
Wednesday, July 28th 1926
Remarkable Service in Belfast Cemetery
Our Belfast correspondent states that unusual scenes were witnessed at a Service held yesterday at the City Cemetery under the auspices of the local Christian Spiritualists' Association. The Service took place around the grave of Mrs McDermott, mother of Mr John McDermott, medium of the Association, who died about three weeks ago. Upwards of a hundred spiritualists, some of them carrying cameras, wre present and during the singing photographs were taken. Mr McDermott conducted the Service, which consisted of prayer, singing and an address.
Mr. Edwin Graham, secretary of the Association, explained that the Service was purely evangelical, and that many photographs had been taken with the object of photographing the spirits of departed friends of persons present at the grave. "It is a very hard thing," he added "to obtain spirit photographs". He added that when the photographs were developed, in a day or two, they would know whether they had succeeded in their object. Mr Graham explained that a special Service for Mrs McDermott had been held previously in the Hall. She was a native of Glasgow but had been in Belfast for the past year.
The Northern Whig newspaper followed up the story on 18 AUG 1926:
CLAIM TO HAVING PHOTOGRAPHED THE DEAD
Strange Belfast Experiment
"I am perfectly satisfied that we have succeeded in taking photographs of those who have passed out of the body or who are what is commonly called dead."
This remarkable statement was made to a Northern Whig reporter yesterday by Mr John McDermaid, president of Ulster Christian Spirtualist Association.
The photographs on which the astonishing claim is based were taken recently by Mr Hugh Robinson as part of his investigation of Spiritualism in the Association's Hall, 63, Victoria Street, Belfast, and by the side of the grave of Mr McDermaid's mother in the City Cemetery.
Two of the prints were offered to the Northern Whig for publication, but were not suitable for reproduction. On the one of the graveside scene are three cloud-like effects, and on that showing the interior of the hall two similar effects.
Referring to the first print Mr McDermaid said:-"I can clearly identify my mother, and beside her is my little baby sister. There is also a vision of my father, Mr. Frank McDermaid, who passed out of the body 23 years ago. I can recognise their features with certainty. The other form on the print is a 'spirit cloud,' which comes as a spirit is beginning to manifest. If the exposure had been made a few moments later it is possible that the spirit form would have more completely developed and a more distinct impression would have been obtained. The three forms appear on the sky just above the heads of the people standing by the grave, and there must have been something there or nothing would have appeared on the photograph."
Mr. Edwin Graham, secretary of the Association, referring to the second print, declared:-"I am able to identify my brother, Thomas Graham, who passed out of the body 44 years ago. I recognise the hair, eyes and beard, and I have no doubt it is him."
Mr. McDermaid added that the taking of the photographs was simply an experiment, and he was much gratified that it had been successful. He regarded the results as furnishing additional proof of Spiritualism, and stated that he is prepared to allow any genuine investigator to see the photographs of (sic) make prints from the negatives.
This was not the only time that Edwin claimed to see his long-deceased brother. On October 15th 1932, Edwin wrote a letter to the Belfast Telegraph as part of an ongoing debate about the validity of spirit photography, in which he revealed his brother Thomas had again allegedly reappeared from beyond the grave in another photograph taken six years earlier:
VIEWPOINT OF READERS
LIKENESS OF LONG DEAD BROTHER.
Sir, Six years ago a floral service was held at our mission hall, 63 Victoria Street, Belfast, the platform of which was so tastefully decorated that three of our members volunteered to photograph it from different angles of the hall after the service. The results from two were fairly good, but the third (a 1/4 plate camera), to my astonishment, contained a very good likeness of my brother who "died" in 1882. Might I inform "Old Photographer" there was no "double exposures" or other fake methods used, as we merely tried to get the display of the beautiful decorations. Will "Old Photographer" please explain this occurrence, as there is no photo or painting of my brother in our possession. I would like to advise "Old Photographer" not to be so ready to rush into print regarding matters he knows nothing about, but try and investigate this wonderful mystery.
EDWIN GRAHAM, Belfast Christian Spiritualist Association.
I'm not a believer, but what was Edwin's motivation?. Did he see something genuine? Did he see what he wanted to see? Did he need to see something? Or was he simply spinning a yarn? Who knows what the camera may have picked up, but stories such as this certainly help to bring our ancestors back to life - it's one of the joys of genealogy.
Happy Hallowe'en - and to Thomas and Edwin, if there really is anything in this, I'm well up for a blether, and you know where to find me! :)
My next 5 week Scotland 1750-1850: Beyond the Old Parish Registers course starts November 2nd - see https://www.pharostutors.com/details.php?coursenumber=302. My book Tracing Your Scottish Family History on the Internet, at http://bit.ly/ChrisPaton-Scottish2 is now out, also available are Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet (2nd ed) at http://bit.ly/ChrisPaton-Irish1 and Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry Through Church and State Records at http://bit.ly/ChrisPaton-Scotland1. Further news published daily on The Scottish GENES Facebook page, and on Twitter @genesblog.