We are recycling this post from 2015. Stay tuned for more blogposts about Houston history!
For the greater part of his life, Valdemar Bernhard, a Danish immigrant, worked for the City of Houston in the Street and Bridge Department, and was at one time the President of the Houston City-County Employees Union. He also wrote a small weekly column for the Houston Labor Journal under the heading of Life. Whether or not the column immediately began as an outlet for his interests in metaphysics is unknown, but it did become the focus.
Mr. Bernhard had “looked in” on spiritualist meetings and séances before that he detected as a fraud. Then, one Sunday, he writes, “I walked down Preston and in the middle of the block was a sign saying First Spiritualist Church. The pastor, Mr. Lewis, I had never seen before." After the sermon, Mr. Lewis delivered some messages, one to Mr. Bernhard. “He described a spirit woman he saw standing near me, and if ever I had a true word picture of mother I had it then. ‘She is hard to understand,’ he added, ‘for she passed out across the sea.’" Three weeks later, he went to First Spiritualist Church again. Mr. Lewis told him about Hans, a friend Mr. Berhnard had known. When he checked with Hans's family, he discovered that Hans had died three months before.
Mr. Bernhard visited several different spiritualist meetings and met others who spoke for the spirits. One woman, who served as a “control,” was “a little spirit lady by the name of Viola Hopkins. She has been in the spirit world about forty years. She is also very sweet and loveable. Mostly she is busy helping the spirits who want to materialize. The figures that appear are white and generally veiled, but occasionally every feature of the face can be seen. They talk and answer questions.” In his fascination with the spirit world, Mr. Bernhard experimented with photographing the spirits, and some of those photographs are kept at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center.
Mr. Bernhard donated his scrapbook, “Spirit Pictures,” as well as a variety of his other writings to the Houston Public Library. The scrapbook contains approximately 40 photographs in them of the spirit world, including a photograph of the spirit of Confucius and a photograph of a man surrounded by spirits. Additionally, there is a photograph of Valdemar Bernhard with his sister.
Happy Halloween from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and the Houston Public Library!
(All information taken from MSS 0026, The V. P. Bernhard Collection, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library)