The Age of Spirit Photography

The Age of Spirit Photography

Right off the bat, let’s specify that spirit photography was, is and always will be bogus. It is simple trickery accomplished using double exposure. At least, that’s what William Mumler discovered in the 1860s when he accidentally used double exposure and placed another person in a photograph of himself. He quickly realized the potential value of his new technique and started promoting it as spirit photography which could be used to capture images of ghosts and other spirits.

Mumler and later spirit photographers like William Hope retained loyal followings even though it didn’t take long for skeptics to figure out and expose how spirit photography actually worked. Prominent doubters included P.T. Barnum and Harry Houdini, both of whom created their own spirit photographs to show exactly how it was done. It seemed as if each time one spirit photographer was exposed as a fraud, another one took his place so the practice remained popular for decades. However, just because these photographs don’t actually show us a glimpse into the spirit world does not detract from their historical value.

Mrs. French and "son" c. 1868

Mrs. French and “son” c. 1868

Waverler Magazine editor Moses Dow with the spirit of Mabel Warren, a deceased protege.

Waverler Magazine editor Moses Dow with the spirit of Mabel Warren, a deceased protege.

The spirit photo that made Mumler famous - Mary Todd Lincoln and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln

The spirit photo that made Mumler famous – Mary Todd Lincoln and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln

One of the biggest opponents of spirit photography was P.T. Barnum who created his own Lincoln photo to show how it's done.

One of the biggest opponents of spirit photography was P.T. Barnum who created his own Lincoln photo to show how it’s done.

Another spirit photo of Mumler featuring a young medium known as Master Herrod - c. 1868

Another spirit photo of Mumler featuring a young medium known as Master Herrod – c. 1868

Mumler was eventually taken to court for fraud and his career was over. He was soon replaced, though, by William Hope who staged more elaborate spirit photographs.

Mumler was eventually taken to court for fraud and his career was over. He was soon replaced, though, by William Hope who staged more elaborate spirit photographs.

spirit photo hope couple

spirit photo hope

Houdini made his own spirit photographs to expose frauds like Hope. Again, Lincoln proved a popular target.

Houdini made his own spirit photographs to expose frauds like Hope. Again, Lincoln proved a popular target.

Psychic researcher Harry Price exposed Hope as a fraud by showing that he replaced his photographic plates.

Psychic researcher Harry Price exposed Hope as a fraud by showing that he replaced his photographic plates.