Deane, Ada Emma (ca. 1930)
Well-known British exponent of spirit photography. In
June 1920 an extra face was discovered on a photograph taken
by her. Her subsequent psychic career was the subject of much
criticism and suspicion because of her strange habit of keeping
the plates for ‘‘magnetising.’’ This objection lessened as the
years passed, and after November 1924 Deane—in her sittings
at the W. T. Stead Borderland Library—never had the plates
in her possession or handled them in any way before the sitting.
It was, however, discovered even before that if the plates were
exchanged without her knowledge the supernormal effects still
The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research
(ASPR) reported in 1921 a remarkable sitting that Dr. Allerton
Cushman, director of the National Laboratories of Washington,
had with Deane. He obtained on his own plate a striking
portrait of his daughter, who had died the previous year.
In the following year the Occult Committee of the Magic
Circle published a report in which they claimed to have caught
Deane in fraud. Wide publicity was given in the Daily Press to
Deane’s experiment in taking a photograph on November 11,
1922, during the two-minute Armistice silence at the Cenotaph
in Whitehall, London. She was assisted by Estelle Stead. Many
spirit faces appeared on the plate. The experiment was repeated
during three successive years. In several cases people
claimed to recognize the faces.
A remarkable communication was received by H. Dennis
Bradley, apparently from the spirit of his brother-in-law, W. A.,
regarding the Armistice photograph taken in 1923. As told in
Bradley’s book Towards the Stars (1924), the communicator said
in the direct voice that he was in the right-hand side of the
photograph, near the top. On the following day Bradley obtained
a copy of the photograph. To his astonishment, among
the 50 spirit heads visible in the picture, he found one in the
position described, which, under a magnifying glass, looked
surprisingly like W. A.
The 1924 picture drew extraordinary revelations. The Topical
Press Agency declared that ‘‘the spirit extras’’ were reproductions
of the agency’s well-known photographs of living
sportsmen. The alleged exposure was published in the newspaper
Daily Sketch, but the story was never fully told. In Proceedings
of the SPR (vol. 41, 1933), Fred Barlow, in a report on psychic
photography, also charged Deane with fraud.
Stead, in her booklet Faces of the Living Dead, printed some
unpublished documents, among them Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle’s letter to the editor of the Daily Sketch. In it he states that
he submitted the two sets of faces published in the Daily Sketch
to Sir Arthur Keith, the greatest authority on anthropometric
matters. Keith replied, ‘‘Not one of the photographs reproduced
by the Daily Sketch is identical with any of the representations
or photos reproduced in the spirit photographs.’’ Stead
give the following testimony in her booklet
‘‘I have known Mrs. Deane and worked with her for the last
four years and have the highest regard for her honesty and integrity
of purpose. I know her cameras well, both inside and
out, having examined them so often—also the dark slides used
for these sittings. Both cameras and slides are continually left
in my studio for days together, and I and others have plenty of
opportunities to examine them at our leisure. The plates are
always developed in my darkroom, and I can assure those
doughty champions who explain so glibly how these are ‘faked’
that there are no developing dishes with transparent xylonite
bases let into the dark room table, nor any concealed electric
lights in my dark room. We use porcelain dishes, which are
washed out after every sitting.’’
Hereward Carrington writes in the Journal of the ASPR
(May 1925) of his experiences with Deane on September 5,
‘‘Upon six of my plates curious marks appeared. On two
plates these marks are mere smudges, which are not evidential,
though I think curious. On the next plate, however, the result
is quite striking. I had silently willed that a shaft of white light
should emerge from my right shoulder, and appear on the
plate. Sure enough, upon development, a column of white
light, surmounted by a sort of psychic cabbage, was distinctly
visible. It will be remembered that this was upon my own plate,
placed in the camera, and afterwards removed and developed
by myself. The odd thing to my mind is why I should have
willed so curious a thing what prompted me to wish for it Was
it a pure thought photograph Or did some external intelligence
first of all impress upon my mind this idea, and afterwards
produce the image upon the plate A very similar result
was obtained by a friend of mine, Miss M., the following year
at a sitting with Mrs. Deane. She was looking intently at her own
hand and thinking about it, during the exposure of the plate
(thinking of her new ring, as a matter of fact, which had just
been given to her) and when the plate was developed, a hand
appeared on the sitter’s head, surrounded by an ectoplasmic
cloud. The resemblance to her own hand is quite striking, and
it is certainly a feminine hand.’’
The following year Carrington obtained further curious results,
peculiar cometlike lights and a woman’s face on his own
plates. They were secretly marked by X-rays, but since Deane
had kept them for some time, he did not accept the pictures as
evidential. However, he notes
‘‘Nevertheless, I am inclined to regard these results with
considerable interest for two reasons. In the first place, if these
plates had been ‘doctored’ by Mrs. Deane in her own home, before
the sitting, she would almost certainly have imprinted
faces upon the plates instead of these bizarre lights, it seems to
me. Further, knowing that Cushman was to have a sitting, and
knowing of her own brilliant success in producing, at a previous
séance, under excellent conditions, a psychic extra recognised
by Cushman and members of his family as his daughter Agnes
(the case is a celebrated one) she would, I submit, have seen to
it that Agnes appeared. Again, these lights are intrinsically
striking, interesting, when studied closely.’’
Carrington, Hereward. The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism
Fraudulent and Genuine. Boston, 1907. Reprint, New York
Dodd, Mead, 1920.
Coates, James. Photographing the Invisible. London, 1911.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Case for Spirit Photography. London,
———. The History of Spiritualism. New York Charles H.
Doran, 1926. Reprint, New York Arno Press, 1975.