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Spiritualism Shot

 

Cartes de visite, above, by Wilson Bros. & Co. of Hartford, Conn., and, below, by Bundy and Williams of New Haven, Conn. Ronald S. Coddington collection.

Cartes de visite, above, by Wilson Bros. & Co. of Hartford, Conn., and, below, by Bundy and Williams of New Haven, Conn. Ronald S. Coddington collection.

Two portraits of John Huey Weeks suggest a storyline familiar to soldiers and loved ones separated during the Civil War. In the photo, left, Weeks feigns sleep as he rests his head on his left arm. The letter he holds may contain disturbing news from the home front, or perhaps words of inspiration from a belle. In the other image, Weeks strikes a similar pose as an ethereal young woman form watches over him.

Though her identity is not known, the wedding band on his ring finger suggests that she is Laura Piers, whom Weeks married in October 1865. A few months earlier, Weeks had concluded four years of war service as an officer in the 91st Pennsylvania Infantry and the Veteran Reserve Corps. He sits here wearing the light blue double-striped trousers of the V.R.C., and his cap lay beside him on the studio floor.

The portraits may represent his dreaming of Laura while they were apart, and though separated by war she was always with him in spirit. She was still with Weeks when he died in 1908, as were two of their three children.

Spirit photographs like the carte de visite, right, date from about 1860. The best-known spirit photographer, William H. Mumler of New York City, tapped into the growth of Spiritualism, a religious movement that traces its origins to the 1840s, and professed a belief that the soul can live outside the body.

Mumler was arrested in 1863 and charged with gross deception and swindling the public. Still, spirit photography continued undaunted into the early 20th century.

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