Hope, William (1863-1933)

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Hope, William (1863-1933)

A carpenter of Crewe, England, and famous spirit photographer, whose abilities were discovered accidentally about 1905. Hope and a friend photographed each other on a Saturday afternoon. The plate that Hope exposed showed an extra figure, a transparent woman, behind whom a brick wall was visible. It was the sister of Hope's comrade, dead for many years. With the help of a Mr. Buxton, the organist at the Spiritualist Hall at Crewe, a circle of six friends was formed to sit for spirit photography.

Fearful of being accused by devout Catholics of being in league with the devil, the circle destroyed all the original negatives until Archdeacon Thomas Colley came on the scene. He tested Hope's powers, endorsed them, and gave him his first stand camera, which Hope refused to give up long after it had become old-fashioned, its box battered and its leg broken.

The first controversy about Hope and his psychic photographs arose in 1908 in connection with Colley's first sitting. He recognized his mother in the psychic "extra." Hope thought it was more like a picture he had copied two years earlier. A Mrs. Spencer, of Nantwich, recognized her grandmother in the image. Hope informed Colley of his mistake. Colley said it was madness to think that a man did not know his own mother and advertised in the Leamington paper asking all who remembered his mother to meet him at the rectory. Eighteen persons selected the photograph from a group of several others and testified in writing that the picture was a portrait of the late Mrs. Colley, who had never been photographed.

The second case of public controversy arose in 1922 and was, on the surface, damning for Hope. In a report published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 20, pp. 271-283), Hope was accused of imposture by Harry Price. The accusations were later published in a sixpenny pamphlet. The basis of the revelation was that Price, in a sitting at the British College of Psychic Science, caught Hope in the act of replacing the dark slide holding the exposed plates with another. Price also said that Hope handed him two negatives (one of which contained a psychic extra) that did not bear the secret mark of the Imperial Dry Plate Company (impressed on the packet of film by X-rays) and that were different in color and thickness from the original plates.

Subsequent investigation proved that the counteraccusation by Spiritualists claiming an organized conspiracy against Hope deserved examination. The wrapper of the packet was found, and it bore marks of tampering. Moreover, one of the original marked plates was returned anonymously and undeveloped to the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) a week after the experiment and three weeks before the revelation. On being developed, it showed an image. Since the packet of marked plates had been lying about for four weeks in the office of SPR it was open to tampering and substitution. It was also likely, in the view of the Hope apologists, that the missing plate was sent back out of pure mischief.

Immediately after the accusation of fraud Hope offered new sittings and declared his willingness to submit to stringent tests. The offer was refused. Harry Price, however, signed a statement to the effect that the test of February 24, 1922, "does not rule out the possibility that Hope has other than normal means."

Many prominent people supported Hope. For example, Sir William Crookes gave an authorized interview published in the Christian Commonwealth on December 4, 1918. On his own marked plates, under his own conditions, Crookes obtained a likeness of his wife different from any he possessed. Sir William Barrett claims to have received with Hope "indubitable evidence of supernormal photography" in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 34, 1924). After the exposure by Harry Price, Allerton F. Cushman of Washington also claimed to have obtained psychic extras on his own plates, similarly marked by the Imperial Dry Plate Company, and also on plates purchased before the sitting by Hereward Carrington.

Sir Oliver Lodge, however, was emphatic concerning a test of his own with a sealed packet sent to Hope: "I have not the slightest doubt that the envelope including the plates had been opened." The most signifcant charges of fraud were advanced by Fred Barlow and Major W. Rampling Rose in an article in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 41, 1933). Previously, on January 21, 1921, in Budget No. 58 of the Society for the Study of Supernormal Pictures, Barlow had asserted that he "got results with Mr. Hope here in my own home under conditions where fraud was absolutely impossible. I have loaded my dark slides in Birmingham and taken them to Crewe with my own camera and apparatus, have carried out the whole of the operation myself (even to the taking of the photograph) and have secured supernormal results."

Then, in 1923, Barlow had associated with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the publication of The Case for Spirit Photography (1923), a book written in answer to the Hope exposure. At that time, he says, he could not "get away from the fact that many of these photographic effects are produced by discarnate intelligences."

But in 1933 Barlow asserted that "a further ten years of careful continuous experimenting has enabled me to say quite definitely that I was mistaken. During the whole of this period no single instance has occurred, in my experience, that would in any way suggest that Hope has genuine gifts" (Light, April 14, 1933).

Hope never commercialized his gift. He charged about 50 cents for a dozen prints. This was calculated on the basis of his hourly earnings as a carpenter. He was very devoutalmost fanaticaland relied blindly on the advice of his spirit guides. "During all his career as a medium," writes David Gow in Light, March 17, 1933, "he had become so accustomed to accusation and abuse that he had grown case-hardened. His attitude seemed to be that, knowing himself to be honest, it did not matter how many people thought otherwise. I found, too, that in his almost cynical indifference, he was given to playing tricks on skeptical inquirers by pretending to cheat and then boasting that he had scored over his enemies in that way. Mr. Hope, in my view, was a genuine medium, but of a type of mentality which might easily lead to the opposite conclusion on the part of an unsympathetic observer."

During his lifetime Hope obtained more than 2,500 claimed spirit photographs. He died March 7, 1933.