Kasprak’s Spirit Camera

The practice of spirit photography originated in the spiritualist boom of the early 1900’s and continued on well into the 20th century. The belief that the camera was “better” than the human eye, that it could pick up details not detected by the photographer was first alleged by William H. Mumler. Even his exposure as a fraud did nothing to stem the tide of demand for spirit photography.  While most “ghost photos” were produced from the development of everyday film, one company set out to change all that by patenting the first spirit camera.

Kasprak Kamera(est. 1922) consisted of only 19 members, of which founder Elia Kasprak was one. Their first and only mission statement was to manufacture a marketable spirit camera. The prototype K-100 series, however, failed to perform even the duties of a normal camera. Productions was forced to halt at the onset of World War II, but resumed quickly afterwards with the addition of a new employee.

Lazlo Eberstein presented himself as a mechanical engineer and concentration camp survivor. He approached Kasprak with a patent for a “para-mechanical” process to trap spiritual manifest on common panchromatic film stock. His patent, currently on display at Chicago’s Odditorium, , calls for a 3-filter process to laminate the “apparition” to plain cardstock. Sort of a proto-polaroid, the K-400 produced its own prints, no darkroom required. Each photo was a one-of-a-kind. The very first photo from the completed model depicted Kasprak’s secretary/fiancée suppressing a smile while an aura of undetermined origin radiates about her.

The photos became known as “the Kasprak Dozen” and are the only photographs of their kind known to exist. The first five all feature members of Kasprak Kamera(now anglicized to Kas’s Kamera) in some fashion. The timeline is as follows:

KD-1(02/17/48): Kasprak’s secretary, smiling. Slight aura
KD-2(02/18/48): Kasprak’s senior assistant, Lars, standing with arms crossed, unsmiling. Slightly larger aura.
KD-3(02/21/48): [personal info redacted] having a cigarette. The smoke appears to have twisted into a large, complex shape.
KD-4(02/25/48): Kasprak in mid-sentence, apparently addressing someone above his immediate range of sight (Kasprak writes that this photo was taken by his secretary in the middle of dictating a letter.) Small apparition slightly out of focus, leaning its head into the wall. Slight motion blur.
KD-5(02/29/48):  Taken by assistant [personal info redacted] of a mirror. The mirror reflects a “picture in picture” effect. The photographer’s skeleton is partially evident as in an x-ray. The photographer’s features do not match the assistant’s at all.

The phenomena recorded in those first five photographs are relatively benign, but the events took a slightly sinister turn with the development of the sixth photo, taken on a whim of the street scene viewed from the east corner window of Kasprak offices. In the notes, the assistant who clicked the shutter described the scene as “peaceful, a trolley about to turn the corner, and a man waiting with his hands in his pockets.” KD-6 only barely resembles this description. There is a street, but rather than fading into the middle distance it seems to stretch out beyond a typical vanishing point. No vehicles are evident. There appears to be a slight malformation in the man’s appearance, his facial features have sunk until his mouth resembles a cavernous maw. His eyes appear to have tapetum lucidum, and there is no clear distinction between pupil, iris, and sclera.

This is the first photograph taken without Eberstein present, as the research assistants were finding him increasingly distant. One of the few interactions between them was the day an assistant attempted to assess damage to the camera following a four-foot fall from a countertop. The assistant noted that the camera’s inner workings did not conform to any format he had seen, and that he could not comprehend how the camera managed to operate. The assistant received a severe dressing-down from Eberstein, who was noted as remarking that he “was the only one who knew this sonovabitch worked.” Eberstein vehemently requested the assistant be fired, but Kasprak refused his request. In his eyes Eberstein had gotten “too full of himself…strutting around ordering [Kasprak’s] assistants like they were his.”

In fact this was but the first in a series of clashes between Eberstein and the rest of the company. He was temperamental, belligerent, and displayed sociopathic tendencies. According to head researcher James Arnett, “if you weren’t a boss of something, [he] didn’t want to see you.” This nearly resulted in Eberstein’s expulsion after insulting Kasprak’s secretary one too many times.  Kasprak laid down an ultimatum: either treat the staff with more respect, or leave. Eberstein had been almost fawning in his behavior towards Kasprak up until that point, but at the perceived subordination he quickly became abusive, threatening to leave the company and his prototype camera. When Kasprak pointed out that they already had possession of his diagram, Eberstein remarked that it didn’t matter, the camera didn’t work without him. Testing continued on a tenser note, which the latter photographs seem to reflect.

KD-6(03/01/48): The street scene. “Displacement” phenomena evident.
KD-7(03/19/48) Several staff at coffee break. “Cigarette burn” phenomena evident. No noticeable apparitions.
KD-8(04/05/48): Photograph of [personal info redacted]. Cigarette burn directly over subject’s mouth. Elongated, dark apparition behind subject. Facial features of subject register pain. Background unknown.

It was around this time the entire company began to display reluctance towards operating the camera, even Kasprak himself wrote that “if [cameras] are supposed to display the thing happening right in front of your face, what the hell is going on that we’re not seeing?” The staff began to categorize the phenomena, which showed up with increasing frequency:

  • Displacement: The appearance in the frame of an object or setting divergent from the one described by eye witnesses.
  • Cigarette burns: Like the similar holes in film stock, these blotches gave the appearance that someone had rested a live ember on the photograph .
  • Apparitions: Increasingly bizarre, these were the staff’s greatest source of discomfort. From the “owl man” of KD-6 to the “spaghetti mother” of KD-9, these often appeared to interact with the photographed subjects, though the subjects said they felt no change in sensation upon the shutter click.

Through the years Kasprak had seen many clients, both paying and non-paying, but this year marked the first “real” client the company had ever seen. Edward Wilmington was the inheritor of a respectably large estate and had a passion for spiritualism that had not waned with the confession of the Fox sisters. He got wind of the K-400 through a medium acquaintance and immediately penned a letter of introduction to the company, pledging enough money to get the company off the ground if the camera worked. The announcement was met gladly by all staff, even Eberstein, upon hearing the news, was said to have laughed out loud for a number of minutes.

The next letter sent the company into a flurry, as the septuagenarian had chartered a boat(“at [my] age, a man will have little truck with aeroplanes.”) and would be arriving at their company to test the new model.  Their understandable nervousness at meeting a prospective partner was tinged with fear as the camera had been “acting up” and they worried about the impression it would make. They availed upon Eberstein to repair the camera, which he refused, assuring them that the camera was working as it should.

Their client arrived at the offices sometime in July, the staff note his momentary disappointment on viewing their sparse operations, his umbrage upon greeting Eberstein, who promptly turned and shut himself in his own office. Kasprak tried to make Wilmington as comfortable as possible while presenting the camera. One assistant’s journal notes a “childlike delight” gracing the old man’s features as he studied the camera, and requested a picture taken of himself.  Upon production of the photograph, the old man “snatched it away before anyone else could see it. His face, all the joy behind it, drained away.” According to records, the old man got up, thanked the staff politely, and promptly left America forever.

The staff, in great distress, forced open the door to Eberstein’s office. Eberstein was nowhere to be found, and in fact never seen in person by the staff again. Record search of the name Eberstein turned up a civil engineer, who had died after four year’s internment in Dachau. Search of the home address he’d given payroll turned up a gas station, whose puzzled owner produced Eberstein’s unopened payroll envelopes for the staff. The man had disappeared completely.

The staff, understandably shaken by the turn of events, attempted to continue testing the camera.

KD-9(07/?/48): Edward Wilmington. So-called “spaghetti mother” image. Heavy apparition. No cigarette burns evident. No sign of subject.
KD-10(08/13/48): a tableau of hired models, told they were doing an advert shoot. Total background displacement. Unknown object in foreground, appears to be vibrating. Subjects appear to mold together as a single apparition.
KD-11(08/13/48): same models, different poses. Dubbed “the death horse” by one of the models. Total background displacement, major cigarette burns. Tapetum lucidum effect on the “eyes” of the apparition.

The models refused further work after viewing KD-11.

All this was taking its toll on the health of Elia Kasprak. He’d had his third heart-attack shortly before the “model” photo shoot, and many employees noted how he looked aged before his time. However, he did not give up his mission of manufacturing a true spirit camera until the night of September 3rd. Testing had all but halted on the K-400, and with no plans for a new camera many employees were left idle. Kasprak was alone in the office on that day at five o’clock, and on a whim he picked up the camera.

While he had been reluctant to divulge the subject he was photographing, Kasprak maintained that it contained no other human being besides him.

KD-12(09/03/48): subject unknown. Total background displacement, resembles earlier “street scene” photograph. The man known as Eberstein is in the foreground, poised as if caught in the midst of turning. The eye that is in view shows sign of tapetum lucidum. The background is slightly visible through his body.

Elia Kasprak died of his fourth and final heart attack in 1956. The whereabouts of the camera are unknown.


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