My most recent blog post, concerning the history of the Pepper-Dircks Ghost, was extremely long but didn’t even include all the fascinating aspects of its history. For instance: the ghost was such an incredibly effective illusion that it even drew celebrities of all types to see it. From Pepper’s own True History, for example, we have the following description from the May 20th, 1863 edition of The Times:
Yesterday morning, by special command. Professor Pepper had the honour of delivering his ghost lecture before their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the Prince and Princess Louis of Hesse, who were attended by the Countess of Macclesfield, Baroness Von Schenck, Major Teesdale, and Captain Westerweller. The distinguished party were received by Professor Pepper, and after being conducted round the galleries passed to the large theatre, where a commodious Royal box had been prepared for their reception. At the conclusion of the lecture, by the invitation of Professor Pepper, they went behind the scenes, and examined with much interest the machinery and appliances for producing the Polytechnic ‘ghost.’ At the conclusion, their Royal Highnesses graciously thanked the directors of the institution, and after shaking hands with Professor Pepper, retired.
The illusion also drew scientific luminaries to its presence, including one of my scientific heroes, Michael Faraday (1791-1867), who played a major role in demonstrating that light, electricity, and magnetism are all part of one single related phenomenon, electromagnetism. Faraday visited Pepper’s theater sometime before his death and, as Pepper recounts,
Very few persons could understand how the ghost was produced, although many persons wrote about and explained it; even the distinguished philosopher, Michael Faraday, when I took him behind the scenes, said, with his usual love of truth: “Do you know, Mr. Pepper, I really don’t understand it.” I then took his hand, and put it on one of the huge glass plates, when he said, ” Ah ! now I comprehend it; but your glasses are kept so well protected I could not see them even behind your scenes.”
This seems very like Faraday to me! He was a humble man and not particularly sophisticated when it came to abstract thought, but he could pick up quickly on experimental techniques.