Mediums of History: The Bangs Sisters by Travis Sanders

Very few people had as special of a gift as May and Lizzie Bangs.


May, born 1853, and Elizabeth, born 1859, in Chicago, Illinois, were the daughters of Edward and Meroe Bangs. Known for their ability to produce a form of physical mediumship known as precipitation, even at a young age the girls were no stranger to psychic phenomena. As children, experiences frequently happened in the home, such as furniture moving of its own accord, and coal “raining” from the ceiling.

As they grew, so did their mediumship blossom and reveal its crowning achievement in Spirit Portrait Precipitation. Unlike automatic and other forms of psychic art, the portraits produced by the Bangs Sisters where not produced through the body of the medium, or by any human hands- but through their energy and disposition to physical mediumship phenomena. Images of the ‘deceased’ appeared almost as if the pigment condensed onto the canvas.


In a typical sitting two paper canvases where placed face to face and propped up in a window, with the bottom of the canvases resting on a table. Curtains were drawn to the edges of the canvas and an opaque shade was drawn over the canvases so that anything illuminated in the room, was the light that shown from the outside, through the fabric of the canvases.

Either the sisters would sit on either side of the canvas with the sitter (recipient of the portrait) sat in front of the table- or both sisters would sit to one side of the canvas, while the sitter sat on the other side with a hand on the frame of the canvas. During these sittings shadows and changes in light could be seen on the canvas through the light of the window, and sometimes in as little as minutes, full portraits would would be achieved. When the image stopped developing, much like a polaroid picture, the canvases would be separated to reveal stunning, color-filled, life-like images of the sitters loved ones (and sometimes spirit guides).


                                               Portrait depicting Emily Carson in 1894

As their gifts continued to develop, their portraits could be produced in full daylight, and often on stage, the pigments precipitating and stunning images appearing before the audiences eyes, as random attendees were selected to receive theses special forms of evidence of survival. Later, May and Lizzie also produced what many refer to as direct spirit writings that were examined and studied by the famed psychical researcher, Sir William Crookes. It is unclear however if the writings were precipitated directly onto paper, as the portraits were, or if it was directly written by solidly materialized spirit hands in seance conditions- I have yet to find out.


               Portrait depicting Dr John Sharp, spirit guide of Etta Wriedt (Detroit, MI)

I have been fortunate enough to view many of the Bangs Sister’ portraits first hand at the Hett Art Gallery on the grounds of Camp Chesterfield, in Chesterfield Indiana, were the Bangs sisters arrived in the early 1900’s and whose house today still stands and is occupied by a current registered Chesterfield medium. The portraits are breathtaking and lifelike, and no brushstrokes can be found. In fact researches who have examined these portraits and have stated that the pigmentation used to produce these airbrush-eque images are not a known substance, and often compared to the likeness of the dust on butterfly wings. Art experts who have studied these portraits have said that it would take a master artist many hours over extended days to produce such a quality portrait that the sisters allegedly produced in 1-2 hours or as little as 5 mins.

While being shown around the Hett Museum by a local resident of camp, it was revealed to me that if you examine the portraits closely, you will find that for some unknown reason, none of the people have eyelashes, despite being highly detailed otherwise. Details of the portraits were even known to change at sitters request in mid production, and often time images changed or other images appeared after the portraits were taken home.

While few others have produced Spirit Portrait Precipitation through history, none are as revered or admired as the Bangs Sisters. If you ever have the opportunity to see these great works of art, and evidences of survival, please don’t pass the opportunity up!



The Bangs Sisters & their Precipitated Spirit Portraits, Irene Swann

The Spirit Book, Raymond Buckland