Spirit Photography, Are ghosts real?

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Ghosts are real — a tale of ghost photography.

One in five Americans have stated that they’ve encountered an actual ghost. They’ve come face to face with a spirit, proving that ghosts are real. Science as a whole is still a bit on the fence when it comes to evidence of poltergeists and spirits from the beyond — nonetheless, through history, some proof of ghosts’ existence has managed to slip into the annals of fact. One of the biggest ones, and one that science has a bit of trouble dismissing, is ghost photographs. Many still images of the beyond have been taken over the years, proving proof that ghosts exist and that they are not just figments of our imagination. In this article, we’re going to dive into the phenomenon known as ghost photography and understand, beyond the lore, the tales, and the biased recollection, a bit more about the science of ghosts and Spirit photography.

Death is not the final frontier — Mumler and Spirit Photography

Death is so permanent, so relentless and cold, it seems. Sweeping souls far away from our world, never to be seen again. Or, can they be captured? Can a ghost truly be caught on film, especially the rudimentary film practices used in spirit photography of the 19th century?

In the post-Civil War era, most Americans were just reeling from the losses they had endured, the countless loved ones lost to the darkness of war. Enter a man named William Mumler, a pioneer in what is now known as ‘Spirit Photography.’

Mumler claimed he could capture ghosts on camera and offered these photographs as mementos, a sort of souvenir for a grieving family, a guarantee that their loved one was right there with them in the room.

Even over a century later, his eerie pictures hit hard — a photo of a mourning mother visited by the soul of her departed daughter, a young girl resting her hand on her mum’s lap… A widower, his head hanging in sorrow is seen with an unexplained glowing light, his wife, perhaps.

It’s easy to see why 19th-century people started to become enamored with the idea of Spiritualism — a movement that would soon take over social circles and give rise to the seance movement and other countercultural beliefs.

History of Spirit Photography

When spirit photography appeared in America in the 1860s, it was just as the torn and tattered country was coming out of the other end of the Civil War. The states were still licking their wounds after 620,000 lives were lost during the battles.

Deep in their sorrow, Americans were drawn to anyone who offered a connection, however fleeting, to the souls of their departed loved ones. Mediums began to offer seances, tarot card readers started to let the cards speak for them, and photographers like Mumler wanted to grant the wishes of widows and allow them to see their lost husbands, sons, and brothers.

Mumler was an amateur chemist and entrepreneur. He worked with silver engraving, and when he grew tired of his day job he decided to try his hand at photography, which was a new technology at the time — and a lucrative one, people would pay a dollar per portrait.

While he was taking self-portraits to practice and hone in his skills, one of his prints came back with something unusual. Although he was alone in the room, there appeared to be a figure of a girl made of light at his side.

Stunned, he showed the photo to a Spiritualist friend who confirmed that the girl in the photo was definitely a ghost.

Mumler cashed in on this happening — his photo was put into popular newspapers and people began to line up to his portrait studios to pay close to $10 to capture their dearly departed on film.

Now, there was no guarantee that a spirit would appear. Mumler did not command spirits to show themselves, they came and went as they pleased. Seems a bit coincidental, but who knows.

Skeptics Unite

Mumlers photos attracted countless skeptics from the very start. People thought he had just learned how to manipulate images and superimpose one on top of the other. People began to accuse Mumler of fraud — one photographer named J.W. Black thought he was a con artist and was determined to catch him in the act.

He arrived at Mumler’s studio and demanded a demonstration. He sat for a portrait and watched the process firsthand, including following Mumler into the red-lit dark room.

Black watched as his own outline appeared, but then another shape began to show next to him.

The shape slowly took the form of a ghostly man behind his shoulder. Black left immediately, but not before taking the print with him, clutched close to his racing heart.

Honest Abe on Camera

One of Mumler’s biggest feather in his cap was being hired by Mary Todd Lincoln and managing to the late woman’s husband – none other the Honest Abe – in 1872, years after the man’s assassination at Ford’s Theater.

Mary Todd’s resurfaced in January 2021.

Evidence Surfaces

Over time, the evidence against Mumler began to surface. Mumler created a photo for a woman who had lost her brother in the Civil War — she was elated, but even more so when her long lost kin arrived home alive later on. This made things pretty awkward.

A man later visited Mumler’s studio and recognized a ghost as his wife, who was not only alive and well but recently had her photo taken by Mumler — perhaps he was using old negatives and playing them off as spirits.

Later Inventions

After things got a bit dodgy in Boston for Mumler, he refocused his efforts into the chemistry of photo development and eventually invented a process called the ‘Mumler process,’ which allowed photos to be printed onto newspapers, changing the practice of journalism forever.

Examples of Spirit Photography — Evidence of ghosts.

Below is just one example of 19th-century spirit photography. One can see the detail in the image, which leads to a few more questions than answers if you ask us.

So, what do you think? Do you believe that Mumler’s photos are legitimate? Could he have just been scamming the public in their most tender time?

Regardless, these photos are an interesting part of the history of spiritualism; they show the lengths that folks will go to in order to make contact with the other side.

Real ghosts — Evidence of the afterlife

Mumler’s spirit photography is just one of the many examples of ghosts being caught on film. Are they evidence of the otherworldly, of an afterlife? Are ghosts trying to contact us through celluloid? And, even more important, given today’s digital fascination – where bits are now supplanting chemical development and Kodachrome is just vintage Hollywood claptrap – can ghost images be captured by Apple’s latest smartphone? Or is that art, that Moun Trap, a lost artifice of a lost time? Find out more on the science of ghosts as we at US Ghost Adventure go deep and dissect that age-old question, “are ghosts real.” Also, while you’re at it, why not put on your nightcap and pajama bottoms, and read up on the true story of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol 

Sources Cited:

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Seeing Ghosts: A Brief Look at the Curious Business of Spirit Photography