12 October 2020

Spooky SLC: Spiritualists Arnold & Dickson

Ghost Photography by Arnold-Dickson. James Dickson on the right and presumably
it is George Arnold under the "spirit robe." From SL Herald 1902-10-08.

In 1902 Spiritualist practitioners George J. Arnold and James J. Dickson came to SLC. They called themselves the Arnold-Dickson brothers and started conducting seances and manifesting ghosts of departed loved ones.

They were known for "materializing spirits" or making spirits appear and then taking photographs of them, what they called Ghost Photography. They became quite the sensation and decided to stay in SLC and built a very handsome flat. Built in 1904, the flat was located at 269 E 300 S, just west of what is now Current Fish and Oyster restaurant. The first floor contained seating for 200 people for the Spiritualist shows. The second floor was office and living space.

Seances and lectures were held every Sunday with physic readings and spirit encounters the rest of the week. Admission was charged, anywhere between 10 cents and $2 per person (up to $58 in today’s money).

In 1906 their shows were shown to be fraudulent when a 72-year-old widow seized the semi-luminous garment worn by a “ghost” and was revealed to be George Arnold, who then punched the woman in the face.

The SL Herald conducted an expose and showed how the show was faked. A phosphorus covered cheesecloth sheet was used to depict a ghostly figure, music was used to cover sounds of changing costumes, and a network of informants was used to know intricate details of client’s lives.

Arnold and Dickson were very clever drifters. Arnold was the “shrewd, scheming, designing, unscrupulous” one who was the brains of the operation; Dickson was labeled as a “freak” who was “frail and effeminate, with a thin, lisping voice” and was the trance medium.

Arnold and Dickson sold their SLC flat in 1906 and fled to California where they continued their shows for a few more years. Eventually Arnold retired from the business, but Dickson continued and became quite prominent; he also wrote the book “Daylight Materialization and Psychic Power.”

After Arnold and Dickson fled SLC, their flat was turned into an apartment building (Downing in 1909, St. Francis in 1913). It was demolished in the late 1970s. An office building constructed in 1980 now occupies the area.

Sources: SL Herald 1902-10-08; 1906-09-23

George Arnold (left) and James Dickson (right). Arnold, was born in Germany (but told everyone he was born in Ohio), is wearing the "American Party" emblem. The American Party was anti-Catholic and hostile to immigrants. From SL Herald 1906-09-23.

Arnold Dickson building in 1906 where seances were conducted, 269 E 300 S. From UDSH.

Arnold Dickson building as the St Francis Apartments in 1913, from UDSH.

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