News Article

News Article

The Chilling Spirit Photography of Yesteryear


One of the first things people did when photography was invented was figure out how to scare people. We have covered strange fads in Victorian photography before, like headless portraits and hidden mother photography. Now let's take a look at spirit photography, a form of trick photography that shows a ghost in the background of an otherwise normal portrait.

Like many of the coolest things, spirit photography was discovered by accident. The first spirit photograph is considered to be a self-portrait taken by amateur photographer William Mumler in the 1860s. When developed, Mumler saw what he believed to be the ghostly image of his deceased cousin hovering in the background. It turned out to be a simple double exposure, but Mumler realized there was a huge market for photos of deceased loved ones: the Civil War had ended not too long ago, and many families were mourning the loss of husbands and children. Mumler was actually put on trial for fraud because of his spirit photography, though he was acquitted.

While many charlatans of the latter half of the 19th century preyed on superstitious to make tidy livings out of allegedly "real" spirit photos (often teaming with a medium or spiritualist) most of these photos were sold purely as novelty. The fad died out in the 1920s.

Photo credits: Flickr