What We're Working On: The Ghost of a Christmas Tree What We're Working On: The Ghost of a Christmas Tree

I don’t trust my chimney. I could invest in an inspection and repairs. I’m an advanced level DIYer, but fireplaces produce deadly gasses, flammable soot buildup and of course actual fire, so I feel like that’s a job left to a professional.

What We’re Working On, The Ghost of a Christmas Tree, Justin DiPego

Instead of going through all that I decided to use the empty space of the fireplace as a place to add a unique decorative element. I’d create the image of a floating, ghostly Christmas tree hovering in the dark interior, above the firewood.

Pepper’s Ghost

I didn’t invent the illusion. That was done in 15th century Italy. In the mid 1800’s it was revived as a theatrical special effect for creating ghosts on stage – that’s when it picked up the name. It’s the same technique that brought Tupac to Coachella back in 2012.

This is how it works: there’s an angled plate of glass between the audience and the stage. In an off stage area that the audience can’t see, a scene, an object, an actor (almost anything) is lit so its reflection shows up on the glass. To the audience, the reflection appears as a translucent image on the stage. If you’ve been to The Haunted Mansion at any Disney park, think of the ghostly banquet scene.

The Ghost in the Fireplace

For my purposes, the stage is the fireplace and the audience is in the living room. The off stage area is the chimney. The space inside the chimney is 12 inches deep, so the mini Christmas tree had to be smaller than that. I set a plate of glass on the fire grate and leaned against the back wall.

What We’re Working On, The Ghost of a Christmas Tree, Justin DiPego

The angle had to show a reflection of the inside of the chimney and none of the room in front of it. It took a bit of trial and error to find the right angle and I had to cut the glass to get it. This would have all been easier if I was building the whole thing from scratch. Whoever designed my fireplace didn’t have the imagination to consider this particular upgrade.

A got a blue LED spotlight (not a floodlight) and shined it on the tree from below. With black duct tape I closed off some of the lens to limit the light to just the tree and not the interior of the chimney.

What We’re Working On, The Ghost of a Christmas Tree, Justin DiPego

The Stagecraft

A piece of glass in the fireplace and a light on the floor would create the reflection, but not the illusion, because the “audience” would see all the tricks. To complete the illusion, I had to set the scene.

I placed firewood in the grate, on front of and behind the glass. I also built a frame around the mouth of the fireplace and dressed it up with molding. It looks like something that might actually have been built in, so it doesn’t stand out, but the bottom (vertical) molding hides the spotlight and the top molding (At a 45 degree angle) prevents you from getting too close to the fireplace and seeing your own reflection in the glass. I further hid the spotlight with a pile of firewood outside the fireplace.

The Effect

I secured the little Christmas tree to the inside of the fireplace with more black duct tape and lit it from below.

What We’re Working On, The Ghost of a Christmas Tree, Justin DiPego

Now, when you stand in the living room you see the ghostly tree floating in space. When the season is past, I’ll replace the tree with something else that will also capture the eye.

What We’re Working On, The Ghost of a Christmas Tree, Justin DiPego

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