On Carlos Mirabelli and Parini
I suspect that the last name of the famous Brazilian conjuror, Mirabelli, is fictitious. As a stage-name. “Mirabelli” contains connotations of the admirable and the miraculous. Miracles “wonderful to see” are concealed within that surname.
Carmine Mirabelli, as he was known as a boy, was born in 1889 in the small Brazilian village of Botacatu. His parents were Italian-speaking immigrants. Carmine’s father, Luigi, was a Lutheran pastor.
By all accounts, Carlos Mirabelli was an eccentric, friendly young man. He was stocky with short legs and impassive light blue eyes. Some found the young man’s vacant, steady gaze intimidating. Black and white photographs show Mirabelli’s eyes to be very light-colored, certainly an oddity in sub-tropical Brazil. From early youth, it was said that the boy had the power to levitate, rising three or four feet above the ground. Like many indolent young men, he had a startling ability to swiftly vanish when work was required.
Carlos Mirabelli encountered the great Italian poet Giuseppi Parini, as far as I can determine, at the Academia de Estudios Psychicho Cesar Lombroso in Sao Paolo in 1919. (Some sources suggest the meeting may have occurred as late as 1927). Assuming that the encounter happened in 1919, Mirabelli would have been about 30 years old; Giuseppi Parini was much older, about 190 years at the time of their meeting, having been born in Bosisio (now called Bosisio Parini in his honor) in 1729. Before Mirabelli materialized him in Cesar Lombroso Institute for Psychical Studies, Parini had been dead 120 years. The poet perished and was buried with notable obsequies in 1799.
These facts are known about Giuseppi Parini. The poet was born to humble parents on lakeside farm in Lombardy. Parini studied with the Barnabite Brothers in Milan and spent the balance of his life in that city. In 1752, he published a slender volume of Arcadian verse, extolling the life of simple shepherds, to reserved, but reasonably, enthusiastic praise. Another volume of odes, the Odi, in imitation of Horace followed in 1757. Parini tinkered with these odes revising them periodically for the next 38 years. He republished them in an improved version in 1795 at the end of his life. Parini took Holy Orders in 1754, but was supported by his patron the Austrian plenipotentiary Count Firmian. As part of this patronage, Parini initiated his magnum opus, a three-thousand line poem in unrhymed blank verse called Il Giorno. This poem is one of the chief monuments of Italian neo-classical verse. Il Giorno is a poetic essay, witty and ironic and similar to Alexander Pope’s various verse essays, for instance, his famous “Essay on Man”. In Il Giorno, Parini provides ironic instructions to a young nobleman as to how he should improves each part of the day by his studies, pleasures, and useful activities. The poem was the work of Parini’s lifetime and, not surprisingly, is divided into four parts: Il Giorno (the Morning) published 1763, Il Mezzogiorno, issued a few years later, and Il Vespro, with La Notte published posthumously.
Parini was a member of the Roman academy of literary and thespic arts as well as the Milanese Arcadian Academy. Other works from his pen are Dialogo sopra la Nobilita from 1757, a somewhat macabre debate between the corpse of a nobleman and the corpse of a poet on the nature of nobility and Ascanio in Alba. Ascanio in Alba, a short Arcadian masque, is best-known as affording the occasion for an operetta by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, written when the Salzburg composer was 15 years old.
Parini died in 1799 and was briefly brought back to life by Carlos Mirabelli, probably in 1919. During his brief appearance in the Sao Paolo Lombroso Institute, Parini is said to have shaken off his graveclothes, stood up to his full height, and sonorously declaimed a few verses of his poetry, before dematerializing into a foam of greyish-brown mist. Two photographs document the apparition.
Carlos Mirabelli can be considered in terms of his ostensible biography or, better, I think, on the basis of the documents that record his existence. I will take the latter course, confining my essay to the documentary evidence for Mirabelli’s works and deeds.
In August 1927, a booklet in Portuguese entitled O Medium Mirabelli found its way to the Zurich Zeitschrift fuer Parapsychologie. The editors of the Zeitschrift reviewed the booklet briefly in 1929 but asserted that the claims set forth in that writing were so marvelous as to defy. credence. The Brazilian brochure was said to be authored by one Amado Bueno. In the booklet, Bueno indicated that Mirabelli had worked for a time in a shoe-store in Sao Paolo. The shoe store became the location of poltergeist activity, with boxes and shoes whirling wildly around the shop. In 1919, according the shoe-clerk Mirabelli was confined in the Yutuqui Institute for the Insane where he was examined and found to be a powerful medium. Mirabelli demonstrated the power to move various objects telekinetically and, more disturbing, seemed to be a necromancer, capable of materializing the dead.
After his brief confinement in the insane asylum, a series of experiments were conducted at the Cesar Lombroso Insitute for Psychic Studies in Sao Paolo. These studies took place either in 1919 or, perhaps, in 1926 and 1927. More than 555 witnesses took part in these psychic experiments, among them more than 30 licensed physicians and seventy or eighty engineers with various licensures. According to O Medium Mirabell, Mirabelli created a vast number of raps and taps in closed rooms, levitated himself repeatedly four to five feet above the ground, caused bells and other instruments remote from where he was tied to a chair to sound and scribbled volumes of automatic writing in 28 languages, three of them said to be “dead” (Latin, Chaldean, and “unknown hieroglyphics”). Among the languages attested to be written accurately by Mirabelli were Syrian (texts by Haroun al Rashid), French (an essay by the deceased Camille Flammarion on the multitude of extra-terrestrial inhabited worlds), as well as Japanese, German, Slavonic (an essay by Johann Hus), Hebrew and a multitude of others. On some occasions, Mirabelli produced emanations of halo-like radiance around his body and was seen to glow both blue and golden. Most alarming, however, were Mirabelli’s materializations of the dead.
On one occasion, Mirabelli materialized the corpse of Dr. Ganymed Souza’s dead six-year old daughter. The little girl had recently died in the great influenza plague of 1919. At first, a glowing skull was seen to appear and, thereafter, a figure shrouded in grave-clothes appeared. This manifestation is said to have taken place in broad daylight. The little girl was recognized by her father, photographed – the pictures show an indistinct shrouded figure standing among men – and her pulse taken. Shortly, thereafter, she dematerialized. On another occasion, Mirabelli summoned the corpse of the eminent Dr. Jose de Commago Barros, an ecclesiastical gentleman who had drowned at sea. A smell of roses overpowered the onlookers and the dead man arose among the seance participants, materializing out of cloud of mist. He remained in the brightly lit sealed chambers for close to a half-hour while Mirabelli lay motionless “like a corpse himself” tied to a nearby chair. The dead man was completely palpable, exhibited a pulse, and sounds of “intestinal activity” and spoke to onlookers. When he began to dematerialize, one of the seance observers ran toward the reanimated corpse and seized its arm – the observer made a shrill cry and fell in a swoon to the floor. Awakening, he said the corpse’s arm had felt flabby and porous as if congealed from some kind of foam. Parini seems to have been summoned to one of these seances, appearing in broad daylight and consenting to be twice photographed.
These claims as set forth in O Medium Mirabelli created sufficient excitement in London and Zurich that several societies for psychic research proposed to send investigators to Sao Paolo to test these claims. It was difficult to raise funds for this quixotic venture, however, and it was not until 1930 that the first European paranormal investigator reached Sao Paolo. Hans Driesch, a German paranormal researcher, met with Carlos Mirabelli in that year and concluded that the claims advanced on behalf of the Brazilian were fraudulent. Driesch proclaimed Mirabelli to be a reasonably proficient sleight-of-hand conjuror but nothing else. Theodor Besterman, another German psychic researcher, interviewed Mirabelli in 1934. Mirabelli confessed that his psychic powers had gone into some sort of remission and that he was much diminished from his heyday in 1919. According to Besterman, Mirabelli spoke two languages fluently, Estonian and Italian, in addition to Portuguese but didn’t show any sign of any ability in any other languages. In a trance, Mirabelli wrote two short essays on the Holy Spirit, one of them in French and the other in German. The German investigator noted that the French diction and grammar was “tolerable” but waspishly complained that Mirabelli’s spirit-German was very poor. The hapless Mirabelli was unable to levitate, but did move a few small objects telekinetically on an table three or four feet from where he was tied to his chair. Besterman’s conclusion was that Mirabelli, perhaps, possessed some psychic powers but that they were much in decline when he investigated the medium’s abilities.
Mirabelli died outside his house in 1959 when he accidentally stepped in front of a speeding car. By all accounts, he was a kindly avuncular fellow, notably gentle with animals and a devotee of the opera. Upon his death, his modest fortune earned from magic performances and spirit-healing was paid to the Sao Luiz House of Charity. I am not aware that he has rematerialized anywhere since his demise.
In 1990, German researchers discovered many pictures allegedly taken in 1919 during the studies conducted at the Cesar Lombroso Institute in Sao Paolo. Most of these pictures how Mirabelli in some sort of trance with tissue-like gobs of ectoplasm unspooling from his nose, open mouth, and shirt-sleeves. In several of the pictures, veiled figures stand among people dressed in the conventional manner of 1919 Brazil – the participants seem genuinely amazed and, in some instances, terrified by the manifestations. In almost all cases, the figures are so deeply veiled in shadow that the features of the apparitions can not be made out – one corpse seems to be wearing glasses, we get a glint of frame and, perhaps, an oblong lens reflecting a tiny shard of light from inside the deep ghost’s deep cowl. A materialized “Hindoo” appears as a skinny man with brown skin incongruously draped in rough cloth. In one of the most famous pictures, broad, squat Maribelli spreads his arms in a benediction, floating about three feet off the ground. An expert in the analysis of period photographs has demonstrated that the picture was produced in the most banal way – originally, the image showed Mirabelli standing on a short foot-ladder. Someone has simply erased the foot-ladder from the image. But, if you look carefully, vestiges of the little ladder can be faintly seen as a sort of ghostly pentimento in the bottom of photograph.
Two pictures are known to me showing the macabre encounter between Giuseppi Parini and Carlos Mirabelli. Once seen, they are not easily forgotten. In the first and most famous picture, Mirabelli sits at a table where a sheet of paper lies. Mirabelli as a full soup-strainer beard and moustache and he is turned to the side toward the apparition to his left (our right) in the center of the photograph. Mirabelli is wearing a suit-jacket with what appears to be a stiff open white collar. His hand is outstretched on the table and he does not appear to be tied or confined in any way. Another man sets to the right of the central apparition. Like Mirabelli, he is turned or has rotated his body toward the materialization. This man is older than Mirabelli with grey or light brown beard neatly trimmed. Like Mirabelli, he wears a suitcoat. This man has raised his left arm as if to defend himself from the apparition that has materialized between the two seance participants. His right hand lies flat and inert on the table. The man’s face shows evidence of fear, or, at least, being amazement. He has drawn his face backward, as if in disgust away from the apparition and we can see the whites his eyes – he seems looking desparately away from the macabre revenant between him and Mirabelli. Mirabelli’s eyes are obviously various light-colored and show tiny pupils, gazing abstractedly into some vivid radiance. His face is fixed and masklike, tilted upward as if he is in a trance.
Appearing between the two men is a cadaver. The corpse is black with light reflecting from the flash of the camera on coins covering the dead man’s eyes. The cadaver has a tight helmet of bushy negroid hair. The revenant’s lips are thin and tightly closed and the camera’s flash also seems to glisten off the corpse’s cheeks and forehead. Although the body’s complexion is chalky greyish-black and, although the hair seems African, the cadaver’s features don’t seem otherwise negroid. The corpse has its arms tightly folded across his chest and is wearing a dark jacket. An unusual archaic-looking cravat of bright white linen, forming five distinct small tail-like folds – probably pleated frills on his blouse -- encloses the corpse’s throat. The effect is startling and more than a little frightening. The profile of the witness to the right of the corpse clearly shows someone who is extremely startled and, perhaps, terrified. The corpse itself seems entirely inert and motionless. This picture is quite well-known and often reproduced.
The pictures discovered by German researchers in 1990 are, if anything, more frightening. The photograph is dark and in poor focus, but still Mirabelli can be easily recognized. He is facing the camera in the right-center of the image. The picture is clearly related to the more famous image in that we can see quite clearly a pattern of wooden panels and wainscoting on the wall behind the figures that is evident in the other photograph. Mirabelli’s witness is seated directly beside the medium. From this vantage, with both men facing the camera directly, we can see that, in fact they are wearing ties, but that their collars, probably detachable celluloid, are open above the knots of their dark ties. The witness is the same long-faced, somewhat balding man with the greyish beard, a little taller than Mirabelli and wearing a stiff collar with the knot of his tie a good two or three inches below the collar’s split top. (These details are not visible in the three-quarter profile images of the men in the more famous picture). The witness reaches to his right and seems to be tightly gripping Mirabelli’s arm. Both men are seated on straightbacked chairs, side by side, and the witness has his hand free lifted, again as if in alarm.
The shocking aspect of this image is that directly between the two men, with its black orb of negroid hair forming the vertex of a pyramid of heads, something, figure is materializing. The figure’s face is blotted out, a deep cloud of darkness but at the edges of this abyss there appears to be a withered jaw and a mummified ear just faintly visible. Beneath the black globe of the corpse’s head, we can see the rather ornate, goblet-like cravat and the figure’s stiff, black shoulders. A flat board – perhaps a two by four -- appears behind the corpse, something not visible in the famous more brightly lit picture. Clearly, this image precedes the well-known more detailed picture. The portrait suggests that someone has tied a rotting, half-mummified corpse to a board and, then, photographed it in an improbably tight interstice between the two seated figures. The wash of the camera’s flash in the newly discovered picture is above the cadaver and two seated figures, higher on the wall and the table in front of the two frontally facing men is a pool of dense darkness.
A number of portraits of Giuseppi Parini have survived. When not wearing his wig, Parini appears as a man with slender, waspish, delicate features, a bit care-worn with a long face and aquiline nose. There is nothing Negroid in his appearance. The cadaver reanimated by Mirabelli seems to be that of a young man, perhaps, even a woman, with smooth grey skin and an exuberant bushy head of hair. Parini was seventy years old when he died. The dead man in the photograph looks like he is 25 or 30. The corpse Mirabelli summoned to that table at the Cesar Lombroso Academia Estudio de Psychico is not Parini. (Skin color, perhaps, is not a determinant – Caucasians turn black when they decompose; Africans decay into a fatty yellowish white color.) Curiously, the dead man’s collar, which seems composed of a number of pleated frills, is consistent with clothing styles during the Regency period – that is before 1820. By contrast, Mirabelli and the witness wear what appear to be stiffened detachable collars, a garment designed so that the collar could be washed independently of the shirt – thus, allowing the shirt to be worn considerably longer than the collar. This clothing is characteristic of the Victorian period – it would have been old-fashioned in the United States but was probably de riguer in Sao Paolo in 1919.
What was the Cesar Lombroso Academia in Sao Paolo. Lombroso, of course, was the Italian criminologist who asserted that social deviance could be deciphered from the shape and appearance of the malefactor’s skull. His studies were very influential in South America where there were many Italian-speaking immigrants and, in fact, formed an important basis for the science of criminology on that continent. Lombroso’s form of phrenology, along with the rest of that pseudo-science, has long been debunked. But it is clear Lombroso’s treatises and theories were well-known in South American in the early decades of the twentieth century. So what exactly was the institute where Mirabelli performed his disturbing miracles in 1919.
Curiously, no description of the Cesar Lombrose Academia in Sao Paolo seems to exist independent of accounts of Carlos Mirabelli’s adventures at that place. Commentators on Mirabelli suggest that the Academia existed at late as the 1930's but no evidence is provided for this assertion. Furthermore, all texts agree that the academy didn’t exist before 1919 and seems to have been founded in that year. In other words, it appears, that the Academia Cesar Lombroso, devoted to the study of psychic phenomena, was instituted primarily for the purpose of studying Carlos Mirabelli.
As far as can be determined, the Academia has only a single publication, the brochure that introduced Mirabelli to the world, O Medium Mirabelli. That booklet bears the author’s inscription, Amado Bueno. This name is not otherwise attested. In fact, “Amado Bueno” seems to be a pseudonym – “amado” is the Portuguese equivalent to “Amadeus”, meaning “blesssed by God”; “bueno”, of course, means “good”. Although Amado is a well-known family name in Brazil and Portugal – the famous Brazilian author Jorge Amado springs to mind – “Amado” would be unusual as a first name.
Probably, Amado Bueno is a pen-name for Carlos Mirabelli. And, as I have announced at the outset, I have doubts as to whether “Carlos Mirabelli” itself is a real name. All of this leads me to question whether, in fact, 555 learned witnesses observed Carlos Mirabelli, or someone claiming that name, actually materialize the dead in Sao Paolo in 1919.
But, then, there are those photographs...