Pediment from the Poplar Terrace House

An Experiment in Necromancy

Sometime during 1976, I came across an abandoned house. I learned it was called the Poplar Terrace house, a Palladian-influenced late 19th century structure (c. 1870s), which had sat abandoned in a field near Frederick Maryland for many decades. In its gradual decline, it had become the local ‘haunted house’, the site of teen-age escapades. until finally it was so dilapidated only animals prowled the interior. 

Finally, the Poplar Terrace House burned to the ground in the middle 1980s.

When I first saw the house I thought it might be ideal for an experiment in necromancy. My ambition was to attempt to capture on film the presence, if not the actual spirits, of the many people who lived there so I spent two or three days photographing the various rooms which in many cases, still contained furniture as if the inhabitants were about to return any day.

My working method was to set up a large 11x14 view camera ( how I acquired this formidable machine is a story for another day)  in the house whereupon I would remove the lens cap ( the lens had no shutter) and leave, in case the spirits were inhibited by my presence. I would return a few hours later to cap the lens. These long exposures, in most cases over an hour, were possible because I had loaded the large film holders with photographic paper instead of film, paper being many times less sensitive to light than film. 

The spirits of the dead apparently decided to ignore this experiment because when I developed the paper negatives all I had were photographs of ruined interiors. I contact printed  the paper negatives onto 11x14 paper in order to obtain a positive image but they were equally disappointing. Yes, I had ectoplasm but it was the result of my working method, not spirits.

If I had to do it over I would probably attempt a more straightforward document of a grand old Palladian-style house now only a few cinders and forgotten memories. But imagination got the better of me. 

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