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Weird world of spirit photos

One of our Museum guests poses with Emily, the haunted skeleton. Alas! No ghosties.

When someone in the Museum seems to have an especially strong connection to Emily, our haunted skeleton, I always try to take a couple of photos of them standing next to her. I take two so that I can see any differences between them. If I was using a proper camera rather than my phone I’d use the automatic feature to take several frames. That way if there is any sort of anomaly such as an orb I have a better chance to catch it.

The idea of photographing ghosts is almost as old as the camera itself. The first reported ghost photo was taken by a man named W. Campbell in 1860. It was a picture of a chair which, when developed, was found to contain the ghostly figure of a boy. Early camera technology was primitive and very long exposures were required to get a good image. Everyone had to remain very still for a minute or so. Any movement or someone stepping in or out of the picture would create a ghostly apparition. Campbell maintained that this was not the case in his photo. (I looked but have not yet found a copy of this image to share.)

First spirit photo taken in 1872

Photo of Mary Todd Lincoln with the apparition of Abraham behind her

However, after the rise of spiritualism, people began trying to capture images of ghosts on camera. The original king of spirit photography is William H Mumler. His first spirit photo shows the apparition of his deceased wife. Mumler became the first one to do portraits of people that contain ghosts. His most famous one is probably the photo he took of Mary Todd Lincoln which shows her husband standing behind her in an apparent gesture of tenderness.

Remember that these were in the days before digital photography and enhancing photos with Photoshop (or the freely available GIMP). Everything had to be done on glass plates. If we assume the Lincoln photo is faked it still shows a remarkable amount of skill!

Others began to do spirit photos. William Hope started his own line of photos in 1905. Here are examples of his work.

A ghostly hand rises up to rap on the table during a seance.

This man appears to be surround by swirling mists of energy.

A ghostly photobomb?

A larger collection of Hope’s photos is available for study. Here is another excellent collection of spirit photos from various sources by photographers Jack and Beverly.

Of course, with all of these apparent fakes does that mean that there were no legitimate spirit photographs taken? Before you decide you might want to take a look at this photo gallery from the folks at These are the cream of the crop from many, many submissions that people receive.

We actually have a video, recently received from a guest that shows some unusual activity. We need to mask a child’s face for privacy reasons but the we will share it with you. If you have ghostly photos you have taken, please share them with us! You might be featured in a future blog!

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