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Within the darkness of Disney's Haunted Mansion, you watch the ghostly ballroom antics in amazement as questions swirl inside your head like the transparent dancers below. Could you duplicate this classic effect in your home haunt? Could you do it on you much less than Disney-esque budget?

The answer to both is yes.

What is commonly known as the "Pepper's Ghost Illusion," or PGI, is a stage illusion from the 1800s that can be simulated for a surprisingly reasonable cost with readily available materials.

The illusion is relatively simple by today's standards and involves principles we commonly experience but may not be aware of.

Clear glass, or plastic, allow you to see a reflected "ghost" image of something upon the clear surface, while viewing an entirely different scene behind the surface.

An example of this is when you have lights on inside your home and you look out a window at night. Often, you will see the interior of your house (and perhaps yourself) reflected in the glass.

The PGI simply refines this natural occurrence.

Imagine an "L" shaped room with a sheet of glass or plastic set across the elbow of the "L" at a forty-five degree angle. See figure 1. It is important to note that each segment of the "L" should be the same size.

The forty-five degree angle allows something that is properly lit and placed on side A to reflect on the panel and appear inside of B as a ghostly image.

Lighting is crucial to this effect. The "ghostly" object you wish to appear must be placed in front of a black, or light absorbing surface, and be brightly lit.

A constant light source will supply a constant ghost, where a light source that can fade in and out will supply a ghost that seems to appear and disappear.

There are excellent commercially available "ghost faders" which allow for preset appearances and disappearances. These items are reliable and automated, but, can be expensive. If you have one person available to run the effect (either on stage or behind the scenes), you can create the effect with a single, low cost dimmer switch. Dimmer switches can be purchased for a few dollars at your local hardware store.

My favorite cost saving advice came to me two years ago at the New England Home Haunter's convention in SpookyWorld, Massachusetts. There, Leonard Pickel generously gave advice on a variety of useful subjects. His suggestion for creating a cheap Pepper's Ghost was to use plastic weather sealer wrap for windows. This wrap is sold in a variety of hardware stores such as Lowe's and Home Depot throughout the North east. It is basically used to shrink-wrap and old windows and seal out drafts.

The downside to using heavy gauge plastic wrap is that the image is not as clear, but the benefit is that you don't have to worry about potential injury from breaking the panel. Anyone who decides not to use plastic should be extremely careful or, at the very least, use safety glass or plexiglass/lexan.

You can find more information about PGI's in almost every "haunted house how to" book on the market.

However, if you want to read the definitive work on the subject, you will have to search out Illusion Master Jim Steinmeyer's brilliant "Two Lectures on Theatrical Illusion." In it's first segment; "The Science Behind the Ghost," Jim traces the PGI's origins and permutations from the first known uses of the reflective principal to current usage by such entertainment giants as Disney, Universal Studios and Knott's Berry Farm. In the second half of the book; "Discovering Invisibility," you learn the details of another extremely useful magic principal known as "Black Art," which applies to many classic haunt effects.

Beast Wishes and Happy Haunting!

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