Friday, March 1, 2013

Part 1: Bramwell's Ephemerozoa

Verifiable facts regarding the life and work of Thomas Atherton Bramwell are nigh nonexistent.  Any attempt at biography would be made up of mostly rumor, speculation and third hand information, but the contemporary interest in photographic anomalies such as "orbs" and "rods", plus Bramwell's links to the history of Springfield, Missouri and the recent appearance of ephemerozoic imagery in the street art of the Springfield area lead me to make an attempt at a reexamination of his efforts.

Thomas Atherton Bramwell
If one looks hard enough at the histories of the greatest technical minds of the Victorian era one may find, in the dusty margins, the name of one Thomas Atherton Bramwell, photographer, failed electrical engineer and self proclaimed expert in the field of Ephemerobiology.  Due to his secretive nature he wrote nothing of his own life - only a few letters and his drawings of perceived creatures and planned designs for electrical apparatus remain. We have no date of birth, and only the notion that he was born in Britain, perhaps Devonshire (though some say that he was an American who copped a British accent in a feeble attempt to impress his peers and hide his own background).

Strangely, the story of Bramwell and the Ephemerozoa begins with an event that would at first appear to be entirely unrelated but would have profound repercussions   On April 10, 1897 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a story reporting that a Mr. W. H. Hopkins (Kansas City resident and member of the Missouri Horticultural Society) encountered an airship and its occupants, thought to be from the planet Mars, about 20 feet in length and 8 feet in diameter near the outskirts of Springfield, Missouri.  Bramwell, at that time living in St. Louis and reading of the event, quickly began a correspondence with Hopkins in hopes of gaining some insight into the workings of the craft.  Bramwell suspected that certain invisible rays emanating from the vessel were responsible for its powers of levitation and flight, and he had already begun experiments with a machine patterned after Nikola Tesla's High-Intensity Discharge Lamp design of 1894 in hopes of creating such rays.  Eventually, Hopkins tired of Bramwell's confusingly technical questions (and perhaps sensed Bramwell's abrasive personality) and brusquely began ignoring his letters later that year. Undaunted, Bramwell speculated that the extraterrestrial visitors had some reason to visit Southwest Missouri and, perhaps, would return.  Packing his electrical equipment and a newly purchased camera, Bramwell moved to the little town of Springfield in January of 1898 in hopes of photographing the airship.  What he instead discovered were creatures that were, though terrestrial, far stranger!


No comments:

Post a Comment