William Mumler and the First Ghost Pictures

Posted on September 11, 2009

In 1861 when a Boston photographer named William H. Mumler discovered that “extras” could appear in a photo if the glass plate were a recycled one with a residual image. Spiritualism by then being all the rage, Mumler began to produce “spirit photographs” for credulous sitters, including – after the assassination of her husband – Mary Todd Lincoln. Eventually Mumler was exposed when it was discovered that some of the alleged spirits in his photos were still-living Bostonians!

There were – and are – many ways to produce fake spirit photos in addition to double exposures. One technique was used in earlier times when long exposures were necessary. A suitably garbed assistant would slip from behind a curtain, stand briefly, then disappear again – this taking place behind the unaware sitter who was intent on remaining motionless. The result would be a faint, transparent “spirit” image beside the solid posed figure.

Mumler, was charged with fraud in New York City in 1869 for selling photographs that he claimed included images of ghosts or spirits. Eventually the judge dropped the charges against Mumler due to a lack of evidence. Unfortunately Mumler destroyed all of his negatives sometime before he died.

Many people do believe that Mumler’s photographs were “real” and according to some paranormal books his photos were never actually proven to be fakes. What do you think?

Here is one of Mumler’s most well known photos. Mary Todd Lincoln posed for a portrait and was shocked to see what appeared to be Abraham Lincoln behind her.

Abraham Lincoln's Ghost?

Abraham Lincoln's Ghost?

Here is another photo by William H. Mumler. Check out more of Mumler’s pictures in our MySpace photos. myspace.com/trueghosttales

William H. Mumler Ghost Picture

William H. Mumler Ghost Picture




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Comments

22 Responses to “William Mumler and the First Ghost Pictures”
  1. raven says:

    the first one is really startling because he appears to be kind happy around her. I was wondering if she has ever felt anything when it was taken? I don’t know about the second through.I kind of have my doubts.

  2. Karen M. says:

    OMG, I am really disappointed, I thought those were real!

    • Caretaker says:

      Karen – It depends upon what you read. According to the Weiser Field Guide to Ghosts the pictures were never proven to be fakes. Also the charges were dropped for lack of evidence. So who knows? Most likely they were faked but we may never know for sure without the negatives.

  3. Raul Davila Rivera says:

    I think the first picture is fake because remember there another picture of Abraham Lincoln were he behind a chair he standing the same way as he is in the picture i think it photoshop…..

    • Caretaker says:

      Raul – these photos were cretaed in the 1800s I do not think they had photoshop back then :) . They may not be real but I can assure you without any doubts whatsoever that these photos have been around long before computers were invented

  4. DarStarr says:

    They seem extremely fake to me. Look at Lincoln’s hands in the photo. If this were a “true” ghost, his hands on her shoulder’s would not be so stiff. I just don’t buy these at all.

    • Caretaker says:

      DarStarr
      Yeah, although they havent actually been proven to be fakes (according to what i have read) most people do assume that they are fakes. The interesting thing is that these were the first “ghost” pictures. Also, Mumler destroyed all the negatives and a lot of pictures

  5. DarStarr says:

    CT,
    That is interesting. If kind of reminds me of the “fairy” pictures that were taken in England.
    Oh, by the way, how is the new arrival doing???

  6. Jamie says:

    IW as thinking the same thing, DarStarr, about the fairy pics!

  7. DarStarr says:

    Jamie,
    Yes, the fairy pics are kind of laughable. Smart kids though! lol! These to me, don’t look much better. Perhaps Mrs. Lincoln got some comfort in her portrait with her “husband”, let’s hope so at least.

  8. Alexander says:

    In the 1st picture, it looks like there is someone standing beside Abraham.

  9. Anothercoginthewheel says:

    Alexander, you’re right. The Lincoln’s lost a son to desease during the former President’s terms of Office.
    I believe that Mumler thought of himself as a magician and destroied the negatives so as not to give away the how to s of his parlortricks. Which is another reason that the Judge dismissed the case againsed Mumler because it was determined to be a trick that some people at the time enjoied paying him for.

  10. VivixD says:

    i think they’re fake. those real people are on the picture are real and someone put those “ghosts” there to scare people… xD

  11. Anaran says:

    i think it’s totally fake because you could do that kind of stuff on the computer.

    • Caretaker says:

      Anaran – Did you notice that these pictures were all created in the 1800s? I dont think they had computers then :)

  12. LMC says:

    I think they are fake cause of the way the hands are on Mary’s shoulders and if that’s suppose to be thier son why isn’t he more presentable like his father? just like Darstarr said I hope she got some comfort from this photo too!

    computers are now adays, but it doesn’t mean someone in the past didn’t figure out how to make a fake. I think he gave comfort to people at the same time it isn’t nice to give people false hope. I don’t know, because giving a person a reason to stop grieving and understand that they will see thier loved ones again is also a good deed.

    In the end everybody was Happy people were comforted and Mumler was able to pay his bills lol! he also opened up the door way to ghost photos! So what if they were fake or not we have real ones here and there from when people were able to snap pictures!

    Have a blessed life!

  13. NimNod The She Goat. says:

    wow, they have been faking these for a long time now.

  14. high- low says:

    I belive these photos are real!!!!!!!!!

  15. anna says:

    If those photos are fake there pretty good fake.They look real.The second one looks more real then the first but like someone says well never know if there fake or not.Until then I think there real.

  16. NimNod... the She Goat.... says:

    These in no way appear real.

    • Caretaker says:

      NimNod ~ They are known fakes and are presented as such, and only for informational purposes. The Mumler photos are known as the first fake ghost pictures

      • NimNod... the She Goat.... says:

        Thank you for informing this bunch that was starting to believe they were real! lol
        I KNEW I wasnt crazy!

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