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  Portraits From Beyond: The Mediumship of the Bangs Sisters
N. Riley Heagerty

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Within the little known ‘Century of Wonders’ between 1848 and 1948 in America, the physical phenomena manifesting in the séance rooms of the great psychic mediums baffles description. Two of its most famous mediums and yet, most vilified by the conjurers and critics of that day, were the Bangs Sisters, May and Elizabeth, of Chicago.

In their presence spirits of the departed would manifest and precipitate directly on to a blank canvas in front of the astonished witnesses and, equally wondrous, spirit writing would manifest directly on to blank sheets of paper or slates.

The present work, by author and researcher N. Riley Heagerty, explores through rare source material and eyewitness accounts by people of unimpeachable character, the seemingly “ miraculous ” phenomena that was produced. In a fair and balanced manner, the writer also takes a close look at the most heated and public charges of fraud brought against these Chicago wonder workers.

This in depth, complete work, the first of its kind, unravels the truth of the great psychic mystery of the Bangs Sisters.

About the author

N. Riley Heagerty, has been involved non-stop in research involving Spiritualism and Physical Mediumship since 1985. 

He has, up to the present day, collected and read more than 600 books - mostly rare, on the subject, and has lectured extensively in England and America.  His first published book, The French Revelation, dealt exclusively with the Independent Voice mediumship of Mrs. Emily S. French, of Rochester, New York. 

Mr. Heagerty, considered one of the leading authorities on American Physical Mediumship in the United States has said, “The research of Mediumship and Spirit Communication is just as exciting and enthralling to me in the present day as it was during the first days of my research. It is an ongoing adventure that will never cease.  The subject is vast, marvelous and contains, in this researchers opinion, the most important truths we could ever know.  The heyday of Spiritualism, what I have termed the ‘Century of Wonders,’ existed between 1848 & 1948. Mrs. French along with May and Elizabeth Bangs are just three of the many that demonstrated their wondrous gifts within this time period and I am honored to write about them. “

Sample chapter


In the Christian Bible there are detailed accounts of communication with spirits by clairvoyance; seeing spirits in their minds and then describing what they had seen. The medium is the connection between the living and the dead.

Many methods were used to contact the spirit world. The most outstanding example was Moses receiving the Ten Commandments written by the fingers of God. This was a fine example of psychography or more commonly known as slate writing in spiritualist language. In the mid 19th century, spirits produced knocks or raps on walls, floors, tables and ceilings. This phenomenon was refined by the Fox Sisters, Kate and Maggie on March 31, 1848 when a system of two way communication was established from the spirit of Charles Rosna. This date is known as the advent of Modern Spiritualism. Later developments brought slate writing, automatic writing and artwork; all were a means of communicating with spirits.

The Bangs Sisters, Elizabeth and May, were two of the most well-known physical mediums of the later 19th century and early 20th centuries. The sister’s phenomena started when they were young girls quite unexpectedly when furniture would move and levitate and coal would appear in the room they were in from unseen forces. Later in their young lives they were caught up in the Spiritualist movement and began to experience and produce slate writing, automatic writing and art work—precipitated portraits that would appear on a blank canvas of the deceased during a séance. The portraits first appeared as a drab black and white image then, with practice, and as their powers increased, appeared in brilliant colors. The Bangs Sisters traveled from their home town of Chicago, Illinois to Chesterfield Indiana, and Lily Dale, New York across the United States to every major city and into the European Continent. The Bangs Sisters have been remembered most for their Precipitated Spirit Painting mediumship.

N. Riley Heagerty; spiritualist, author, researcher and friend, has compiled research from all known and obsolete journals, newspapers, books and archives across the United States and Europe to arrange all the available information concerning the Bangs Sisters that has ever been placed in one book. This work has been a work of obsession and love for the Religion of Spiritualism and the complete and fair evaluation of the Bangs Sisters. This book, the following pages, should be considered the definitive research book concerning the Bangs Sisters and related Spiritualist phenomena.

Ron Nagy, Historian,
Lily Dale, NY


Whatever the humblest men affirm from their own experience is always worth listening to, but what even the cleverest of men, in their ignorance deny, is never worth a moment’s attention. ~ Sir William Barrett

It is an honor to have written this book concerning the Bangs Sisters and their phenomena. They have been a part of my life for many a year. My first published work about them was a lengthy serialized article within the British publication of the late Noah’s Ark Society, The Newsletter, which ran in consecutive instalments from January to November, 1997, and also later on in 2006, a lengthy article I did on the Bangs was published by The Zerdin Buzzsheet, the premier publication concerning physical mediumship, also in England. On the complete cover of two of the issues of the Newsletter and the one Buzzsheet, which was 8 x 12, were color photos of spirit precipitated portraits by the Bangs Sisters. I was truly honored. I have lectured in both America and England on the Bangs phenomena and the reaction from the audience is always the same: complete wonder and astonishment at the phenomena itself, then an amazed confusion at how they could not have known about these seemingly miraculous events before and, of course, the automatic response from some that it must be fraud because it is far too incredible to be true; simply too much for them to comprehend.

Historic American Spiritualism, the heyday of which this researcher would place between 1848 and 1948, does not reside within the mainstream of contemporary thought but, if we were living in Chicago or, better yet, the famous Spiritualist towns of Camp Chesterfield, Indiana, or Lily Dale, New York, in the year say, 1909, we most certainly would have heard of the famous Bangs Sisters but alas, we are not. An in-depth look at the lives and phenomena of these two mediums was necessary. This is, in my opinion, the only way that a fair, intelligent and reasoned balance can be attained in understanding the authentic records of Modern Spiritualism and Mediumship. Just peeking below the surface with these matters is not enough. One must dive deep to find the pearls.

My first book, The French Revelation, was a rescue operation, saving from a certain march into obscurity and oblivion the séance records contained within the rare, out of print books and unpublished material of Edward C. Randall and his work with one of the greatest American independent voice mediums,  Emily S. French. That work was published as a complete edition. Mrs. French’s mediumship was without controversy, with the exception of a report filed by Dr. Isaac K. Funk   (1839-1912), and this was, in turn, recanted by himself when he, predeceasing Mrs. French by one year, manifested of all things, at one of her last séances, speaking in his own voice. The Bangs Sisters story, which is also a complete work, is more complicated and their phenomena of independent writing and most notably, their precipitated spirit portraits, were prone to attacks, some from individuals with names of distinction, such as Hereward Carrington (1880-1958)  the British psychic investigator and author, and David P. Abbott (1863-1934) the amateur magician, inventor and author.  One need only read the well-researched but amplified-article by Teller and Todd Karr: “ David P. Abbott and the Notorious Bangs Sisters” to understand how the press of the day, around 1905-1909, mainly the Chicago Daily Tribune and the Washington Post,  were openly hostile towards these mediums. Within my own research, I have found that the highly evidential reports of the Bangs phenomena, when looked at closely and balanced within the court of common sense, by far and away, outweigh the negative, jaundiced reports. The reports of fraud, were somewhat boisterous and rabid, but few—pale in comparison with eyewitness reports of individuals of unimpeachable character that crush those negative theories and accusations,  no matter how aggressive or intellectually elaborate they were, into dust. Scandalous character assassinations, just as much now as then, generate more headlines. David P. Abbott, early on, referred to the Bangs precipitated spirit portraits as: “The most remarkable mediumistic performance ever given to the world,” but naturally assumed, like most of the conjuring fraternity, of which he was an amateur, that if any form of physical phenomena manifesting in a séance could be duplicated by magic, then it conclusively proved fraud on the part of the mediums. These belligerent, crass assumptions, stated publicly—and which did, I am sure, unmask fraudulent mediums in certain cases, and all the better for it—were the standard mode of operation for the critics of the day. Like a terrorist who throws a rock, then runs like a coward, we have examples such as Mr. Abbott who wrote: The Spirit Portrait Mystery: Its Final Solution, but, did Mr. Abbott actually sit in the presence of the Bangs Sisters for a precipitated spirit portrait and actually witness what he said and what he based his theories on? We shall see. This has been examined in total within this work along with another “sensational expose” published in 1901   by an English investigator of psychic phenomena, Reverend Stanley L. Krebs, entitled: A Description of Some Trick Methods Used by Miss Bangs of Chicago. Also, the necessary reports of Hereward Carrington, mentioned above, have been included.

The book is illustrated, with numerous photographs of Bangs precipitated spirit portraits I have located, and many black and white photos of others from rare books. Many portraits and photos, knew what he witnessed with Mrs. French was highly evidential and genuine, but left loop holes in his findings. He stated at that séance (speaking from the spirit world) with Mrs. French after being told by Edward Randall that he had failed at the crucial moment to publish the truth which could have helped humanity: “I realize that now more than ever. It is a fact that I was afraid of the criticism of men of science. I now regret very much that I did not fully publish my conclusions. In my own mind there was no doubt.” unfortunately, had no written history with them to give us an idea of when or where they were precipitated, and for whom. There were, over the course of the Bangs career, hundreds and hundreds, better yet, thousands of precipitated portraits done. Many have been lost to the ages, or could be sitting in attics or basements, collecting dust and, I am sure, many have been unknowingly and sadly, consigned to the trash heap. In one astounding instance, which took place in January 1910, the Bangs Sisters had put on an exhibition in Kansas City of over one hundred precipitated spirit portraits and allegorical scenes of the spirit world. Dr. C. H. Carson, who arranged the announcement, said: “Nothing before seen can compare with the marvelous beauty of these psychic pictures and creations from an unseen world.” (See Chap.3) I am looking out the window as I write this, shaking my head in wonderment at where those portraits could be and trying to imagine what it must have been like to witness: the easels, a hundred of them situated throughout the hall; the colors of the event, and the turn of the century vernacular and dress. I have traveled far and have corresponded with experts to obtain photos, including England, California, Wisconsin, Indiana and New York. My friend, Ron Nagy, the historian and researcher at Lily Dale, New York, knows and understands the great mystery surrounding the whereabouts of Bangs portraits. His important work is discussed in the Appendices and is quoted at certain times throughout this book. As far as this work, I had to conclude my search so I could get the book published otherwise I could probably have spent the rest of my life searching for these elusive gems. For someone like myself who never likes to give up, this was tough, but necessary. Coincidentally, a beautiful Bangs Sisters spirit precipitated portrait turned up from Pennsylvania, while I was putting this book together. It was of James A. Stone and I am honored to include a photo of it. I would also like to say that I encourage everyone who reads this work to take the time to go and see for yourself the Bangs portraits at Lily Dale and at the Hett Memorial Art Museum at Camp Chesterfield. Knowing something of the history of them makes seeing them all the more incredible and you will know exactly what I mean when you see them up close.

I am compelled to do research on the great, early mediums because I feel that the modern world, thanks to outdated religious concepts and scientific bias, has been kept woefully unaware of phenomenal events that have happened within the great century between 1848 and 1948 which, in thousands of reported instances through mediumship, positively prove life after death and spirit communication. My so-called mission statement (if there ever was one) of why I do this research was instigated in many respects by the following facts. In certain instances involving reports of the Near Death Experience (NDE), the individual who has temporarily died and has gone to the world of spirits is met by a guide who, after hearing the plea by the person to continue in their new life in spirit rather than go back to the earth again, simply states to the individual, “Now that we have talked about your ongoing need to keep going here in this wondrous new life, tell me…” the guide now asks, “What have you done for mankind?” Many individuals do not know how to answer that simple but profound question and then decide that the only reasonable thing they can do is go back to earth and exact some kind of change, on whatever level, that aids to the moral or physical uplifting of humanity. This affected how I saw doing this research work and publishing the results. It is something, to me, that just might help humanity, however great or small, and possibly raise its spiritual consciousness. The world should be allowed to have access to the past records of what took place with so many of the great pioneer mediums. It is part of history and should not be consigned to the dark hole of obscurity. Truth always finds its way and, in this case, I don’t mind helping it do so.

By compiling this material, and editing it into one all-inclusive edition (everything available that I could find), it will make accessible to the reader an abundance of rare spirit precipitated portraits, all of which are more than 110-120 years old, and authentic eye-witness accounts and reports of one of the most stupendous events that has ever manifested within the records of Historic American Spiritualism: the phenomenal Bangs Sisters. What was once hidden in obscurity can now live again. The night brings forth the stars.

Publisher: White Crow Books
Published September 2016
238 pages
Size: 229 x 150 mm
ISBN 978-1-910121-65-8
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