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Sylvanus W. Fallis

Lifespan: 1842 - 1908

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Studio: 219 Wells Street, Chicago, IL

Sylvanus Whitfield Fallis was a lesser-known photographer who made a name for himself in the late 19th century. Operating out of 219 Wells Street in Chicago, Fallis was known for his unique spirit photography. His photographs commonly featured multiple faces and as many as 20 individual spirits appeared.

Fallis gained recognition for capturing several spirit photographs which included Abraham Lincoln. One sitter described his technique as follows:

This plate was not exposed in a camera, but, suitably protected from the light, was held between the hands during ten consecutive sittings. It is a remarkable production and the finest specimen of this class I have seen.

Light – Mar. 13th, 1909

In 1905, Fallis was accused of fraud when he produced several spirit photographs that featured individuals who were still living. One of the sitters, who participated in the photograph session, described their experience as follows:

The joke of it all was that two of the spirits whose photographs were given to me are not at all spirits yet. They are my living sons-in-law. The fake picture also contained faces of old Puritans and an Indian.

The Inter Ocean – 1905

In addition to his work as a photographer, Fallis also operated the Tank Kee museum in Chicago. This museum was dedicated to showcasing Chinese history and culture and was a popular destination for those interested in learning about the history and art of China.

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