Did the dead speak through the mysterious Spirit Trumpets?

Harry Houdini and Annie Benninghofen experiment with a Spirit Trumpet used by mediums in their seances.

When the spirit left the room, the trumpet fell abruptly to the floor in a great theatrical display.

I gazed at the book image of the lovely antique glass-front cabinet.  Soon, I was attracted to the collection placed on the shelves, inside. 

What in the world? 

The objects looked to be at least as old as the cabinet, itself.  They were large, narrow cones, silvery in tone, all different sizes—some as long as two or three feet.  Were they antiquated weather-prediction gadgets?  Were they farming implements—maybe grain funnels, if there is such a thing? 

If they were old musical instruments, I had no knowledge of anything like them ever in a combo or orchestra.  Were they hats?  Maybe they were from costumes of a bizarre theatrical production of long ago—or props.  Alien hats—that is what they looked like.  The cones had hand-written cards propped in front of them.  I assumed that on the cards were descriptions, but they were too small to read on the book page.  I decided I must read further down in the book to solve the nagging mystery.

The long, silver cones were none of the above.  They were Spirit Trumpets.  They were one of the later gadgets used in the séances of Victorian Times.  They fell in the company of table-tipping, spirit slates, and manifestation cabinets.  Mediums who exuded ectoplasm added another touch of drama.  It had to be dark in the séance room, or the ectoplasm was in danger of dissolving.  This was a well- known fact purported by the professionals running the shows.

One of the problems of communicating with spirits was that… well, they mumbled a lot.  They whispered, or slurred their words.  Their utterances were garbled and hard for the séance participants to understand.  Because of this, the mediums had been using rapping, slate-writing, pendulum and planchette maneuvering to transmit the spirit messages to those present. 

A man in Ohio thought he had the perfect solution to the talking situation.  He had his own elaborate séance salon in his home and had many followers, as a medium.  He discussed his idea with his son and they began making what they described as Spirit Trumpets. 

The first was made of paper and cardboard.  They were cones, somewhat like megaphones, but they were longer and more narrow.  Jonathan Koons, medium, introduced the first Spirit Trumpet on his farm in Athens County, Ohio in the late 19th Century.  His son, Nahum perfected the trumpet and produced more of them.  The shiny, metal cones revitalized séances in a huge way.  Some models had the ability to telescope for easy transport, and the deluxe models had glow in the dark rims.  Business picked up for the mediums using these gadgets.

There was a condition as to how they worked.  The psychic medium had to be the person using the spirit trumpet.  The participants were told that the spirit would come into the parlor and actually possess the vocal cords of the medium.  When the spirit talked through the voice of the medium, the sound was amplified by the cone—and eerily so—so that everyone could then hear and understand.  When the spirit left the room, the trumpet fell abruptly to the floor, in a great theatrical display.

As the novelty started to wear off a bit, the spirit trumpet would start up some extra activity.  It did floating.  It would levitate, make sound effects.  It would bop someone on the head.  The participants in the room were told it was being propelled by psychic energy.  The most sophisticated mediums were able to convince their clients that the Spirit Trumpet was talking all by itself.  This required a tricky maneuver with a rubber hose and an assistant hiding in a cupboard.

Spirit Trumpets were so popular that a man in Indiana, Everett Eckle started to manufacture them to sell to mediums and interested parties.

There are photographs of Harry Houdini trying out the Spirit Trumpet.  Some of the captions to the photos call his model a Spirit Trombone.  Was this during his debunking charlatans phase, or was he actually trying to use one, maybe put it in his act?  That is another mystery for another time.


Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Quite Curious, a collection of true short stories about the bizarre and unexplained. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.


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