Spirit photography

Photo: William Mumler
One of the chapters I'm working on for The Girls' Ghost Hunting Guide is the history of spiritualism and the fascinating realm of spirit photography of the mid-19th and early 20th century.

Infamous for his spirit portrait featuring the deceased Abraham Lincoln cozying up to his very-much-alive-but-slighty-wacky wife, William Mumler turned an amateur photograph of himself and a reportedly deceased young cousin into a media sensation in 1862.Turning a double exposure into a thriving business by capitalizing on the grief and deep pockets of others during and after the Civil War, Mumler continued to churn out hazy photographs of the living and their +1.

Mumler was eventually brought up on fraud charges in 1869 after it was discovered that some of his "ghosts" still had a pulse, though the charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence. The popularity of spirit photography continued past his death in 1884, however he never managed to pop up into any other photographs.

Image credit: Collection of National Media Museum
[note the hand creeping up the seance table]

Though we've moved out of that era and into newer, high-tech equipment to capture what we want to believe are ghosts (orbs, anyone?), we're still chasing after a curious spark. Look what I found running through my woods--


  1. Yikes. Did you really take that last photo?

  2. There's this picture of a staircase in England somewhere, with a hooded ghostly figure heading up, its hand on a banister.

    When my sister got married, there was some kind of light on some of the pictures, a sphere of white light that I could never account for.

  3. The Tulip Staircase! I know it well, it's one of my favorite modern photographs. I wrote about it years ago for the ghost blog if you'd like more information: http://weeghosties.blogspot.com/search?q=tulip+staircase

  4. I followed your signature link here from AW. I can't wait to read this book. I'm a skeptic, but I enjoy ghost tours and programs, and have had experiences I can't easily explain. The paranormal is an endlessly fascinating subject. Looking forward to it!

  5. That is a fantastic photo! You might want to do some research at the court house, to see who lived on your property, if you haven't already. They may still be there!

    I get orbs all the time in my photos. It really is cool stuff.

    When my hubby and I were on our honeymoon three years ago, we went to a Spiritualism Exhibit in Cape May. Not only did they have photos, but they also had diving rods and other tools of the trade.

  6. Amy, the property was held by the same family for over thirty years, then divided up into smaller lots. Before that, I believe it was owned by the BLM. It's also a 1/4 mile from where a plane crashed into the mountain in the 70s, killing nearly 250 people.

    I've used dowsing rods on many of my investigations in the past 20 years, they're a great tool! :) Orbs can be tricky things, most of them can be attributed to dust, pollen, mold spores that reflect light from the flash. If you're taking photos for paranormal purposes, take a few in succession to see if the orb is still present in the photos or if it was a one-time shot.

  7. I love the subject of spirit photography. The photo you took (whether a spirit or not) is really cool.