Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Levitation Secret Revealed (70 years ago)


“Some physical mediums claimed to have experienced levitations. One of the most famous is Colin Evans. The photograph was taken by infra-red light during a seance in 1938. – Comparison of several photos of this event shows that he remained in the air for some time!” [Antigravity Power]

Or was he? I never paid much attention to this photo, having seen it many times, as I simply assumed it was a crude hoax and the “medium” appeared to be suspended by an invisible string.

It turns out he accomplished the feat by another method. Can you guess how? Keep reading for more photos of his levitations that may help.


And what about this:


Notice how his feet seem to be vanishing in the air. Perhaps some sort of gravitational distortion? The photos taken from the side also reveal the awkward position of his body, and all of them (which record at least two different levitations) show some kind of cord in his left hand.

Got it?

“[The photograph] is nothing short of hilarious. It is a flash-illuminated picture of a séance held at Wortley Hall in Finsburg Park, London, showing the attendees holding hands and medium Colin Evans ‘levitating’. A cord leading from a device in Evan’s hand indicates it was he who triggered the flash-photograph – a critical act since the evidence of the photo itself reveals the mechanism of ‘levitation’ and thus indicates its momentary nature: Evan’s feet are a blur above the seat of his chair, his body is in a partially crouched position, and his hair is in disarray. If springing into the air from a crouched position is levitating[…]”, writes skeptic Joe Nickell in Camera Clues: A Handbook for Photographic Investigation.

And that’s it, those photographs merely depict Evans jumping into the air. His movement was freezed by the flash, which he himself activated with that cord, but not entirely, as his feet are blurred. The next question is then, how that packed crowd didn’t denounce the hoax?

In fact, ghost hunter Harry Price already knew the answer to that shortly after Evans’ presentations. One can read in “Fifty years of psychical research: a critical survey”, published in 1939:

“Another unsatisfactory séance was that held at … Regent’s Park, on May 27, 1938, with Mr. Colin Evans. This medium claims that, in complete darkness, he is ‘levitated.’ Mrs. A. Peel Goldney, Mrs. Henry Richards and others were convinced that at this particular test no levitation took place and the cheque paid to the medium was returned to the sitters. A photograph of an alleged psychic levitation of this medium was published in the Daily Mirror, June 13, 1938. See also Photography for January, 1939. How photographs can be obtained of a man assumed to be levitating, but in reality jumping, is graphically recorded (with illustrations) in Proc., SPR, Vol. XLV, Part 158, pp. 196-8.”

And that’s the whole it. Colin Evans managed to fill a room with a crowd, but he could only “levitate” in complete darkness! That’s why nobody is looking at him levitating, that is, jumping. They didn’t see a thing. The photos were captured with a momentary flash. The photos were all Evans wanted. Even so, sitters probably realized what was going on.

But the rest is history, or that is, so many people reproducing those images originally made famous by the Daily Mirror, which were in fact explained away as the hoax they were less than a year later. And this has been going on for 70 years now. Nickel criticizes the photo being presented as “incontrovertible proof that the pull of gravity can be defied” in Joyce Robins’s The World’s Greatest Mysteries (1989). The Internet didn’t make things that much better, but at least and long last you are now reading this exposé!


Some other Levitation Secrets

One may think Evans’ case is a particularly bad example, and remind of how a psychic investigator correctly noted the hoax immediately after the event, and that is very well true. Unfortunately, not that serious “investigators” and many other cases of crudely hoaxed levitations are everywhere to be found in popular resources.

For instance, a photo from the famous Enfield case (and several other photos of Poltergeist levitations) can be explained exactly the same as Evans’ hoax:

You can see that photo was also captured with the flash triggered. The Enfield case does not consist solely of that photo, but that photo alone hardly is evidence of anything out of the ordinary.

Not to mention centuries-old tricks originally from India being reason for some media buzz to this day:

Finally, when discussing human levitation claims, one has to mention D.D. Home and his alleged levitation through a window witnessed by four respectable men. To this day we don’t know how he did it, or even if he actually did it. One would assume he probably didn’t, but we can also concede it probably looked like he did.

So, how he did it? Among the many suggestions, one of the most interesting involves a Pepper’s Ghost effect, the same one used at the Haunted Mansion. Home would have appeared to be floating outside the window when in fact it was just his reflection. Imagine seeing something like this through your third story window:


This explanation does have its problems, and we will probably never know how Home did it. Or even if he did it. But it surely would beat the other tricks discussed here.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin

Popularity: 5% [?]

Posted in Paranormal,People,Skepticism | 22 comments

22 Comments so far

  1. Boing Boing September 2nd, 2009 7:22 pm

    Levitation secret revealed (70 years ago)…

    Forgetomori has a good blog post exposing jackasses through the ages who pretend to levitate as a way of bilking deluded suckers. Levitation Secret Revealed (70 years ago)……

  2. Alenônimo September 3rd, 2009 12:02 am

    Apareceu no Boing Boing de novo! Parabéns!

  3. 2fuf September 3rd, 2009 5:47 am

    About the D.D. Home effect, he probably prepared a video clip which he would playback on a LCD screen which is attached to the outside of the window. The multiple layers of glass reflecting room light and the fact its captured by camera hide the flat nature of the image, convincing the observer that they see actual 3D shapes moving around outside.

    Note the final body shape appearing in close up at the end of the clip, you can see the movements show the characteristic smoothness of CGI animation.

  4. Loren Coleman September 3rd, 2009 11:15 am

    Come on Forgetomori. You certainly know what this “cord” in Colin Evans’ hand is. It happens to be ectoplasm, and you are merely part of the international coverup of the paranormal realities that haunt you constantly. Just kidding. 😉

    Actually, yours is a worthy historical examination of the fact that responsible parapsychology investigators were aware of what was occurring back then, and exposed such things publicly. It also reinforces the ancient proverb that new nickels have a way of traveling around to the same old hands.


  5. Guernican September 3rd, 2009 11:15 am

    About DD Home… yes,. you’re probably right, 2fuf.

    Oh, wait. He died in the 19th century. So he probably didn’t prepare a video clip to playback on an LCD screen. Unless he’d invented time travel, which is loads more impressive than levitation.

  6. Dave Wagner September 3rd, 2009 3:28 pm

    I’d kind of like to know how David Blain does his little levitation trick in his street magic routine…

  7. craig york September 3rd, 2009 5:30 pm


    Home would have had to been more than a magician to accomplish his feat in the manner you suggset, as the
    ‘levitation’ occurred more than a century ago…

    Many claims were made for Home’s powers, none of which have
    been duplicated, or adequately confirmed. Interesting stories,
    but only stories in the end.

  8. 2fuf September 3rd, 2009 7:10 pm

    sure, and that youtube clip is 19th century too! it’s all hear-say i’m telling you! wake up sheeple

  9. Corvus Munnin September 3rd, 2009 8:37 pm

    Dave Wagner wonders: “I’d kind of like to know how David Blain does his little levitation trick in his street magic routine…”

    Perspective, in large part. He carefully controls the distance between himself and the onlookers, as well as the angle from which the trick is viewed. There are many pages on the internet which discuss this trick, as well as numerous others that he and various other magicians perform. It’s amazing when one realizes how far you can go with a bit of misdirection and controlled perspective.

  10. etcetera — On Levitation September 3rd, 2009 9:22 pm

    […] to break this to y’all but that Levitation thing? Does. Not. Exist. http://forgetomori.com/2009/skepticism/levitation-secret-revealed-70-years-ago/ (via […]

  11. monkey September 4th, 2009 1:09 am

    look at the “ghosts” in the last clip. it’s clearly images of fish in an aquarium seen from above possibly under black light or just processed to get the color effect. i think at least 2 of them are carp. you can also see the top and bottom cut off of the screen the images are being shown on. tsk tsk tsk.

  12. sci September 4th, 2009 6:30 am

    Oh come on! The explanation offered here is simply idiotic. If he was jumping, then he was also setting records! Spring-heeled Jack would be proud. To anyone who thinks that this somehow ‘explains’ the photos- try a little experiment yourself and jump by a chair, and see if you can get anywhere near as high (esp as photo 1 and 4)

    Whatever the real explanation may be, this sort of junk simply reinforces belief that some skeptics will grasp at any straw whatsoever in their pathological need to ‘explain’ things away.

    Re-read the leading clause of the last paragraph.

  13. 2fuf September 4th, 2009 11:07 am

    @sci: I think it’s quite clearly visible he’s jumping off the empty chair right behind him, that’s how he reaches so high.

    You can even see the lady next to the empty chair throw up her arm to protect her face. He must have made a lot of noise climbing on and jumping from that chair.

  14. Otto September 4th, 2009 6:21 pm

    @Sci: He’s clearly jumping from those chairs as 2fuf pointed out.

    When confronted with the real explanation, it’s their rejection of reality that simply reinforces belief that the woo-woos will grasp at any straw whatsoever in their pathological need to believe in fantasy.

  15. […] Levitation Secret Revealed (70 years ago) […]

  16. Tmara September 5th, 2009 10:43 am

    I know it’s an illusion using photography, but please explain how Cris angel does this on the street in broad daylight ?

  17. Mori September 5th, 2009 3:54 pm

    Tmara and all: as some folks have already noted, those “street magic” also made famous by David Blaine should be taken with giant lumps of salt because not rarely what you see is just acting, with fake spectators faking their fake surprise faces.

    On Blaine’s levitation without strings, for instance, apparently he did use the Balducci effect (which involves going up with one feet while hiding it with another) and that surprised some real people in the streets. That was filmed. But what was shown on TV also included a short take of Blaine being elevated around a few feet high, which was actually done with cables. Video editing put those things together.

    Those are not exactly hoaxes, as illusionism, mentalism and all have always involved the blurring of illusion and reality, though one can certainly question if what they do is ethical. I don’t think it’s a crime, but I much prefer Penn & Teller and their cynical/skeptical/humorous approach. Blaine and Criss Angel seem to take themselves too seriously.

  18. Mori September 5th, 2009 4:00 pm

    Indeed, Loren, I must admit I was surprised to find that a psi investigator of the time obviously knew what was going on, and that some sitters also seem to have realized it too.

  19. […] Source: Forgetomori […]

  20. […] Levitation? People were this gullible with things related to photography some 70 years ago. (0) […]

  21. tom September 19th, 2009 9:12 pm

    I know it’s an illusion using
    photography, but please explain how
    Cris angel does this on the street in
    broad daylight ?

    He doesn’t – not in the sense of just doing the trick in front of a group of people, and a camera happening to be there. His illusions require cameras, cutting, and paid actors, and he confirms this in interviews.

  22. Big Ups | Wondercabinet April 30th, 2012 11:29 am

    […] why this particular shot has so much “staying power” (if you’ll pardon the pun). Additional photos of the same feat make it much more obvious that he is in the act of leaping. A survey of […]

Leave a reply

Live Comment Preview