Skip to main content

Remembering William Mumler: The Pioneer of Ghost Photography



Most of us have seen photographs allegedly depicting ghostly apparitions, yet few of us are familiar with the name William H. Mumler. It was Mumler who is credited with the invention, and subsequent popularity, of spirit photography. While Mumler might not be a household name, you have perhaps encountered some of his work- such as the above picture which famously shows the "ghost" of Abraham Lincoln standing behind his widowed wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.

While Mumler's photographs have long been proven to be hoaxes, there is a certain ethereal beauty about his work. Unfortunately, his hoaxer reputation overshadowed his abilities as a photographer and has robbed him of the worldwide fame he enjoyed in the years following the Civil War, when he capitalized on the large number of Americans who had lost relatives in the conflict.



Mumler was a silversmith in Boston when he stumbled upon the process for creating spirit photographs. Despite having a minimal knowledge of the art, he quickly became one of the world's most famous photographers, sought out by politicians, captains of industry and the upper crust of society. In 1869, Mumler was brought before the court on charges of fraud (P.T. Barnum famously testified against him), but Mumler was acquitted. Nonetheless, the bad publicity ruined Mumler's business and he died penniless fifteen years later.



Today, there is a renewed interest in Mumler's work, even though there is nothing supernatural about it. Mumler may not have been the first person to photograph a genuine spirit, but he was the first to say he did, and for that reason there has been a resurgence in collecting and cataloging his work.



Popular posts from this blog

The Incest Capital of the World?

At the far eastern edge of Kentucky, nestled in Appalachia, resides Letcher County. In spite of its isolation and poverty (approximately 30% of the county's population lives below the poverty line), Letcher County has managed to grow at an impressive rate, from a population of just 9,172 in 1900 to a present-day population of nearly 25,000. However, even if Letcher County tripled or quadrupled its present population, there's still a pretty good chance that virtually all of the county's inhabitants would be related to each other-- thanks to one particularly fertile family whose astounding rate of reproduction can put even the friskiest rabbit to shame.

Around the year 1900, Letcher County was the home of a man by the name of Jason L. Webb, who made national headlines for having the one of the largest families in the world. According to newspaper reports of the era, Jason had 19 children, 175 grandchildren, and 100 great-grandchildren. Perhaps even more impressive was his b…

The Ticking Tombstone of Landenberg

If you look closely at a map of Pennsylvania, you'll see an anomalous semi-circular border at the extreme southeastern part of the state. This circle, known officially as the "Twelve Mile Circle", serves as the border between the Keystone State and Delaware. Much of the strange circle is surrounded by Chester County, one of the three original Pennsylvania counties created by William Penn in 1682. While there are many historical points of interest in Chester County, few are strange or as steeped in legend as the Ticking Tombstone.

Near the London Tract Meeting House in Landenberg is an old graveyard which contains a tombstone which is said to make eerie ticking noises, much like the ticking of a pocketwatch. Landenberg locals claim that the ticking is the result of two very famous surveyors who arrived in town during the 1760s- Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.  A young child supposedly swallowed a valuable pocketwatch owned by Mason and later died, and the boy's head…

Jenny Hanivers, Mermaids, Devil Fish, and Sea Monks

Three centuries before P.T. Barnum attracted flocks of crowds with his mummified Fiji Mermaid (which turned out to be a papier-mâché creation featuring a monkey's head and a fish's body), sailors around the world had already began manufacturing "mermaids".  Known as Jenny Hanivers, these creations were often sold to tourists and provided sailors with an additional source of income.  These mummified creatures were produced by drying, carving, and then varnishing the carcasses of fish belonging to the order rajiformes- a group of flattened cartilaginous fish related to the shark which includes stingrays and skates.  These preserved carcasses can be made to resemble mermaids, dragons, angels, demons, and other mythical creatures.


Jenny Hanivers became popular in the mid-16th century, when sailors around the Antwerp docks began selling the novelties to tourists.  This practice was so common  in the Belgian city that it may have influenced the name; it is widely believed …