Four Things Supposedly Made By Famous Ghosts

Was it the specter of great art, or opportunistic grifters?
Four Things Supposedly Made By Famous Ghosts

Thanks to the unconventional lifestyles that tend to accompany artistic genius (see: pills and swills), we often lose our best artists much too young. Wouldn’t it be great if death didn’t have to be the end of creation? Hey, Tupac didn’t let it stop him. Plenty of people have claimed to assist the late and great, but instead of a network of producers with a backlog of master tapes, they insist that they’re working directly with the artist, giving a whole new meaning to the term “media.”

Emily Grant Hutchings Claimed Mark Twain ‘Wrote’ a Novel Via Ouija Board

In fact, as the New York Times review of Jap Herron: A Novel Written From the Ouija Board noted, it was only the latest of a literary fad of “Ouija board books,” but it was significant for being authored by hands-down the most famous ghost. In 1917, Emily Grant Hutchings insisted she spent two years painstakingly transcribing the dictations of Mark Twain, seven years dead at that point, though it sounds like she needn’t have bothered. The story, which “tells how a lad born to poverty and shiftlessness, by the help of a fine-souled and high-minded man and woman, grew into a noble and useful manhood and helped to regenerate his town,” didn’t exactly break any new Twain ground, and the reviewer suggested that “if this is the best that ‘Mark Twain’ can do by reaching across the barrier, the army of admirers that his works have won for him will all hope that he will hereafter respect that boundary.” Ghost burn.

If this was actually just a stunt to attract publicity for a book that otherwise wouldn’t warrant it, though we don’t know how anyone would get that idea, it backfired pretty hard. Twain’s estate sued Hutchings and her publisher to block the sale of the book, and the defendants soon found themselves in a jam. The court was willing to acknowledge Twain’s ghost as the novel’s possible author, but by doing so, Hutchings et al would have to surrender its royalties to the Twain estate. Rather than admit to the hoax or lose the money, they quietly pulled the book from circulation, although this does mean it’s now a rare book worth way more than some of Twain’s legitimate publications. He was a master of irony, after all.

Albert Houghton Pratt Published a Book of Short Stories By O. Henry’s Ghost

Another volume of the Ouija book fad was My Tussle With the Devil, and Other Stories, whose publishers were bold enough to print with the byline “O. Henry’s Ghost.” Unlike Hutchings, it took Albert Houghton Pratt less than a year to transcribe after first contacting O. Henry eight years after the author’s death. According to Pratt, the ghost soon became a fixture of his social scene, inviting himself to New Year’s Eve parties and entertaining guests with stories via Ouija, an obvious lie to anyone who knows how slow Ouija boards work.

Weirdly, Pratt anticipated that skeptics would claim the stories in My Tussle With the Devil didn’t sound like O. Henry. “I say at once, of course they are different!” he wrote in its introduction. “Where before his stories were written in the bold black and red of human passions, which belong to materiality, now, they must of necessity be pastel in hue and delicate gossamer things, for O. Henry’s Ghost is using finer material to mold his creations.” 

So that explains that! Pratt also asked O. Henry’s Ghost what he thought of his stories being adapted for them there moving pictures, to which he allegedly responded, “Foolish rehash of yesterday’s ignorance.” Man, O. Henry’s Ghost was really not a fan of O. Henry.

Valdelice Da Silva Dias Salum Paints the Art of the Greats

In 2015, an unassuming elderly Brazilian woman named Valdelice Da Silva Dias Salum came to the attention of the art world with an exhibition that was unusual for a few reasons. For one thing, it featured live painting by Salum, but its most attention-getting characteristic was Salum’s claim that her work was actually done by famous dead artists working through her, including Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh and Monet. On the spot, she painted a portrait that she signed “Renoir,” though Renoir probably wouldn’t have painted someone so… piggy.

He probably also would have taken longer than 18 minutes to do it, as Salum did, probably accounting for its pigginess. In fact, strangely, none of Salum’s work seems to stand up to their artists’ living catalog. To her credit, she was well aware of that, telling reporters, “It’s because of my lack of knowledge. They are using me as an instrument, but I am weak.” It’s unclear if Salum ever wondered why they wouldn’t have chosen a more skilled artist through whom to deliver their posthumous masterpieces or considered trying to get good.

Rosemary Brown Claimed to Be a Conduit for Every Famous Dead Composer

When Rosemary Brown was seven years old, the little English girl was visited by the ghost of Franz Listz, who told her that “when (she grew) up, he would give (her) music.” He was apparently one patient ghost, because he didn’t reappear to her until she was in her mid-40s, coincidentally just after she was left with two children and no job after the death of her husband. She became a new age sensation in the swinging ‘60s for claiming to transcribe brand-new songs for not only Liszt but also Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Shubert, Rachmaninoff and more, despite having had only a few years of piano lessons here and there.

In a refreshing twist, unlike most of the products of such claims, some experts in the field actually believed Brown. A surprising number of musicologists and renowned composers praised her songs as such impressive mimics that they themselves couldn’t have done it, and if they weren’t all masterpieces, some of them were at least pretty good. Meanwhile, Brown became a talk-show darling, regaling viewers and listeners with tales of going grocery shopping with Liszt, watching TV with Chopin and the reported lack of sex in the afterlife. 

Of course, not everybody bought her story — there was particularly some question about the true extent of her musical education — but at worst, she was an at least marginally talented and highly entertaining lady who found a unique way to support her family in their time of need. These days, that requires an OnlyFans.

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