Edward Wyllie (American; born India 1848, died London, 1911)

J. R. Mercer with Spirits of his First Wife and Mother, a Spirit Message and Flowers from the Other Side

Silver-gelatine cabinet card, 3.75 x 4.75 inches

circa 1897


Edward Wyllie was a farmer, a cartoonist, an auctioneer and a soldier in New Zealand before emigrating to the United States in 1886 and becoming a photographer in Los Angeles.

This photograph combines many of the most important themes of spiritualism: a message from beyond, an offering of flowers, and the physical appearance of deceased family members on the same plate as the likeness of a living person. The written message reads "am so glad thee have gotten the light at last and that thou are so happy. Elizabeth B. Mercer."

The sitter is 88-year old John R. Mercer of Pasadena, California. The image in the lower right is said to be that of Mercer's mother. The other "extra" represents Mercer's first wife, Rachel (d. 1851), and the flowers are said to be identical to those held by Mercer's second wife, Elizabeth, before her burial on Thanksgiving Day, 1897.

According to Fred Gettings, author of Ghosts in Photographs,

The important point about this picture is that, even though the lower face does suggest that it was based on a process image, probably a screened print, the likeness itself, which Mercer attested to, could not have been derived in such a way, as she had been buried for sixty-nine years, and no daguerreotype, painting, or screened block could have been made of her during her lifetime!

Presuming the Wyllie photograph was made in 1897, John R. Mercer's mother would have died a dozen years before the first photographic portraits were made. Even so, her image looks distinctly like a copy of a daguerreotype. To the believers, this was evidence that Wyllie's photograph had to be a supernormal work. To skeptics, it suggests the frailty of human memory-- for without the aid of a photograph or painting, it is possible to make a mistake identifying someone whose face has not been seen for 69 years.

Inscription on verso:
Case Nine.
The sitting of John Mercer which is described on page 20 of Dr. Reids book, but was not plated [illustrated] there because the negative was broken. I aftered [sic] got the pieces into possession, got them patched together--and after some failures finally obtained this pretty good copy for the London investigators.
H.A. Reid
March 14, 1902
[Reid was the author of Spirit Photographs, published by the Society for Psychical Research, London (No. SP 7) and Unseen Faces Photographed--A Condensed Report (1901) ]


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Fred Gettings, Ghosts in Photographs (New York: Harmony Books, 1978) p.76
James Coates, Photographing the Invisible (London: L. H. Fowler, 1912)

Cyril Permutt, Beyond the Spectrum, A Survey of Supernormal Photography (Cambridge: Patrick Stevens, Ltd., 1983). p. 94.

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