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Was it really the spirit of President Lincoln?

Posted on 19 December 2016, 18:14

A recent Travel Channel program discussed the purported spirit photo taken by medium William Mumler sometime in 1871, showing what appears to be the spirit of Abraham Lincoln standing behind his widow Mary Lincoln, (below) his hands resting on her shoulders.

There is a very vague image of a second spirit believed to be that of Tad, the Lincolns’ deceased son, standing to the left of his father. The concluding remarks of the television commentator were to the effect that Mumler was likely a fraud, superimposing a negative of Lincoln onto the negative of Mary’s sitting. 


As might be expected, Wikipedia and several other web sites fully support the television commentator in making Mumler out to be a fraud or trickster.  Wikipedia calls upon Joe Nickell as an authority on the subject – a man not born until some 60 years after Mumler’s death.  Nickell and others offer some hearsay “evidence” in support of Mumler being a trickster, no doubt about it. 

I admit to being skeptical, but as I now see it, the evidence favoring Mumler is more credible and outweighs the testimony against him. “Of course, the many believed Mr. Mumler an impostor, but no evidence of this was ever adduced, and now, after a lapse of years, we cannot learn that any one who knows him personally can harbor a doubt of his honesty,” wrote Epes Sargent, one of the leading psychical researchers and authors of the nineteenth century.  He quotes William Guay, an experienced photographer from New York, who closely investigated Mumler, and observed the photographic process from beginning to end.  Guay had his own photo taken and was astonished when he saw two photos come out of the developing process, one of his wife and one of his father.  “It is impossible,” Guay is quoted, “for Mr. Mumler to have procured any pictures of my wife and father.  The likeness of my father is clear and perfect; that of my wife is not.”

According to Sargent, most of the spirits in Mumler’s photos were vague and not always recognized by the sitter.  Such imperfect photos led to the charges of fraud, but as anyone who has studied mediumship with an open mind knows, the quality of a phenomenon varies significantly and is usually due to the inability of the communicating spirit to effectively project his or her thought or image through the veil separating the earth vibration from the spirit world vibration, though at times it is due to the medium not being powerful enough support a spirit’s attempt to communicate or materialize.  In the materialization phenomenon, there were a few who could project near perfect likenesses of themselves into the ectoplasm produced by the medium and many others who failed badly, sometimes looking more like mannequins or carnival dolls than real people.  Many could not materialize at all. It follows that in spirit photography some would be of good quality and others of poor quality, probably most of poor quality. 

“I expressed a doubt of the genuineness of the spirit-photographs got through Mr. Mumler, of Boston,” Sargent wrote.  “My doubt was founded on words of his own, reported to me by hearers whose good faith I could not question.  When taunted with trickery he had replied without resentment in language that left the impression that he was not guiltless.  I am now convinced that the impression did him injustice.  He knew that serious denial would be of no avail, and so he parried the chaffing of skeptics with words that were misinterpreted.”  (Like, “Sure, it’s all a trick, if that is what you want to believe and if it makes you feel better.”) 

Sargent also reported that a photographer named Gurney followed Mumler step-by-step through the whole photographic and developing process and was likewise convinced that no trickery was involved. 

Dr. James Coates reported on a number of spirit photographers in his 1911 book, “Photographing the Invisible.”  He recorded that other reputable photographers were called in to observe Mumler and expose him, but none of them detected fraud. He also mentions that Mr. P.V. Hickey of the New York World attempted to expose Mumler as a fraud and succeeded in having him prosecuted, since the photo he received was “a dim, indistinct outline of a ghostly face staring out of one corner.”  Mumler identified it as the man’s father-in-law, but Hickey claimed it was neither his father-in-law nor anyone else he knew. 

One of many witnesses testifying on behalf of Mumler in the criminal action was John W. Edmonds, former chief justice of the New York State Supreme Court, who said he knew many people who had visited Mumler “with astonishing success in procuring spirit pictures of departed friends.”  Also testifying for Mumler was C. F. Livermore, a prominent lawyer, who said that he saw two spirit figures on a photograph taken of him, one of which he recognized and the other which he did not recognize.  Livermore had a number of other sittings with Mumler, some resulting in failures, some in shadowy backgrounds, but one which he clearly recognized.  Based on the testimony of Edmonds, Livermore and others, Mumler was exonerated.

Coates reports that Mrs. Lincoln went to Mumler anonymously and with a veil over her face, giving her name as Mrs. Tyndall (although it is otherwise reported she gave the name Lindall).  Mumler claims he did not know who she was and even when he showed the print to Mrs. Lincoln he did not recognize the spirit figure as President Lincoln.  But there are many unanswered questions regarding the Lincoln image, including: 

1. Did Mumler even know that Mary Lincoln was visiting Boston at the time?  Could someone have tipped him off to Mrs. Lincoln’s intended visit from her home in Springfield, Illinois, so that he could have somehow acquired a negative of President Lincoln? 

2. Can we assume that Mumler was truthful in saying he did not recognize Mary Lincoln?  Mumler apparently photographed her seven years earlier when she visited Boston while still living in the White House.  However, she understandably appears to have aged more than seven years and is more plump and homely in the 1971 photograph. It needs to be kept in mind that this was for the most part before photo journalism and we cannot assume that people were reminded daily of what a president’s wife looked like, as we are today by newspapers and television.  Portrait photography did not become popular until the 1850s and only a few portraits of Mary Lincoln existed at the time.   

3. Did Mumler have a negative of Abraham Lincoln available to superimpose on the negative with Mary Lincoln?  If so, where did he get it?  This was at a time when such negatives and photos were likely not readily available.  Should we assume that Mumler kept stock negatives and photos of many famous people in case relatives showed up for photographs?  It was reported that Mumler did not do his own developing at the time and Mary Lincoln returned three days later to pick up the photograph, certainly enough time for Mumler to have somehow come up with an image of the sixteenth president.  One must wonder why he did his own developing for William Guay and Gurney, but sent the plates out for developing to an independent contractor with Mrs. Lincoln. Perhaps his business had picked up so much by 1971 that it was more profitable to have others do the developing and printing for him, giving him time for more portraits.   

4.  Has a photo of Lincoln in that particular pose ever been identified?  As near as I can determine, none has.  An argument can be made that it is not clearly the former president and that Mumler had stock negatives of many people, including at least one of a person resembling Lincoln.  Then again, we know from the materialization phenomenon that spirits tend to project more idealized images of themselves and at times don’t recall exactly what they looked like when in the earth life and thus sometimes project images that are not recognized by living relatives.  Several spirit messages coming through credible mediums indicate that spirits had to return to their old homes to view photographs of themselves to remind themselves of what they looked like before being able to project their images into ectoplasm and thereby materialize.  Many people who lived before photography didn’t really have a fixed image of themselves to grab on to in projecting an image for materialization or for a photographic plate.  (Would you know what you looked like at age seven if you had never seen a photograph of yourself as a child?)

5. What about all the quality spirit photos produced by Mumler, as noted by Judge Edmonds and others?  How did Mumler acquire the photos of deceased relatives and friends?  Did he know the people were coming to his studio beforehand, then break into their homes and steal photos from the mantel?  Did he have a portable copying machine to reproduce the photo and return it to its frame so that the customer would not have been suspicious?  Again, this was during the 1860s and 1870s, long before copying machines existed?  (I first saw a copying machine in 1962, and that produced only wet copies that had to be hung up with clothes pins to dry.) 

The Wallace Spirit Photos

Should we also assume that Alfred Russel Wallace, the biologist who was co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory of evolution, was easily duped?  On March 14, 1874, Wallace visited a professional photographer in England with Mrs. Guppy, a medium and personal friend, in hopes of obtaining a spirit photo.  In the first photo, a half-figure of a man holding a sword appeared.  Wallace could not identify the man.  In the second photo, a full-length figure appeared looking down at him while holding a bunch of flowers. The third plate showed a female figure right in front of him. “I saw all the plates developed, and in each case the additional figure started out the moment the developing fluid was poured on, while my portrait did not become visible till, perhaps twenty seconds later,” Wallace reported. “I recognized none of these figures in the negatives, but the moment I got the proofs, the first glance showed me that the third plate contained an unmistakable portrait of my mother – like her in both features and expression, not such a likeness as a portrait taken during life, but a somewhat pensive, idealized likeness – yet still, to me, an unmistakable likeness.”

Wallace and Mother

Wallace still was unable to identify the swordsman in the first photo, but the second photo, while somewhat indistinct, also appeared to be his mother.  He showed the two photos to his sister and she agreed. “How these two figures, with these special peculiarities of a person totally unknown to [the photographer] could appear on his plates, I should be glad to have explained,” Wallace wrote.  “Even if he had by some means obtained possession of all the photographs ever taken of my mother, they would not have been of the slightest use to him in the manufacture of these pictures.  I see no escape from the conclusion that some spiritual being acquainted with my mother’s various aspects during life, produced these recognizable impressions on the plate.  That she herself still lives and produced these figures may not be proved; but it is a more simple and natural explanation to think that she did so, than to suppose that we are surrounded by beings who carry out an elaborate series of impostures for no apparent purpose than to dupe us into a belief in a continued existence after death.”  Wallace stressed that he was in the dark room when the plates were developed and saw the images take form.
What can we believe?  Can we even believe in evolution as advanced by Darwin and Wallace?  Take a look at Keith Parson’s latest you-tube before answering that one.  It can be found here.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.


Next blog post:  January 2

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Life After Death: If I could keep only 30 books

Posted on 05 December 2016, 9:34

After reading my last blog post about the mediumship and psychical research of yesteryear and why I value it so highly, a friend suggested that I recommend books from that era.  I started to make a list of my “Top 10” books before 1950 once before, but never quite finished it because I quickly realized that the books vary so much that I had to categorize them and come up with several lists.  There are those that offer evidence, those that offer afterlife experiences and some that provide a combination of both.  The most informative books are not always the most interesting books and the most interesting or entertaining book are not necessarily the most informative.  As I started making my lists, I realized that there was much overlap in the categories and wasn’t sure which list a particular book belonged on.  So I abandoned my attempt to come up with several lists.

Recently, however, my wife and I were thinking about downsizing from a house to a condominium.  It became obvious that storage in the condo would be a problem and that there would be no space for my thousand or more books.  That got me to thinking if I had to get rid of all my old books, maybe keeping just 30 of them from before 1950, enough to fill two shelves, which ones I would keep. For what it’s worth, here is my list in order of preference.  Many of these books are still available at such places as, and reproductions of several are available right here at White Crow, as indicated with an asterisk. 

1.  Glimpses of the Next State: The Education of an Agnostic, by William Usborne Moore (1911)*  – Moore a retired British Navy admiral, explores the world of mediumship in both Great Britain and the United States, witnessing some of the best mediums of his time.  He comes to understand why the non-believers don’t get it. 

2. Forty Years of Psychic Research by Hamlin Garland (1936) – It’s really a toss-up between this book and Moore’s book for number one. Garland, a Pulitzer Prize winner, witnessed mediums of all types, physical and mental, and a combination of both, and presents it all in a manner that is quite convincing.

3. The Voices by William Usborne Moore (1913)* – This is a sequel to number one above, focusing on the direct-voice mediumship of Etta Wriedt, possibly the best medium on record.  The person who can’t accept Moore’s accounts of Wriedt will never accept anything.

4.  The Mystery of the Buried Crosses by Hamlin Garland (1939)* – A mind-boggling search, as directed by spirits through a medium, for artifacts buried in California by Indians. 

5.  Psychic Adventures in New York by Neville Whymant (1931)* – The author, a skeptical professor of linguistics who speaks 30 languages, communicates with spirits in 14 different languages, including Chinese.  Short but powerful! 

6. The Case of Patience Worth by Walter Franklin Prince (1927) – This is a comprehensive report on the investigation of medium Pearl Curran and the entity calling herself Patience Worth, who dictated many books, poems, and aphorisms through Curran.

7.  On the Cosmic Relations by Henry Holt (1914)  – Two volumes with 988 pages covering the early research of the Society for Psychical Research, including the American branch, with much focus on the research involving Leonora Piper and the research of Richard Hodgson.

8. Raymond or Life and Death by Sir Oliver Lodge (1916) – A distinguished physicist tells of his many contacts with his son Raymond, who died on the WWI battlefield, through several mediums.  This was a best-seller in its day.

9. There is No Death by Florence Marryat (1891) – A renowned British author reports on her investigation of mediums, mostly physical mediums with many materializations of deceased loved ones. 

10.  Spiritualism by John Edmonds and George T. Dexter, M.D. (1853) – A New York Supreme Court judge and a physician investigate mediumship and become mediums themselves.  Much wisdom comes from the spirits of Emanuel Swedenborg and Francis Bacon in two volumes and more than a thousand pages.

11.  Life After Death: Problems of the Future Life and Its Nature, by James H. Hyslop, Ph.D., LL.D.  (1918) – Professor Hyslop was probably the most knowledgeable psychical researcher ever.  He discusses evidence and the obstacles to understanding and accepting the evidence.

12. The Spirits’ Book, by Allan Kardec (1857) – Much communication from the spirit world as to how things work on their side and how spirits interact with us.

13. Spirit Teachings, by William Stainton Moses (1883) and More Spirit Teachings (1892) – An Anglican priest reluctantly becomes a medium and gives us even more clues as to how things work on the Other Side.

14. The Widow’s Mite and Other Psychic Phenomena, by Isaac Funk (1904) – A famous publisher investigates mediumistic phenomena and turns up some startling evidence. 

15. Dawn of the Awakened Mind, by John S. King, M.D. (1920) – A Canadian physician witnesses some amazing phenomena. 

16. The Road to Immortality, by Geraldine Cummins (1932) – Frederic W. H. Myers, a pioneer of psychical research, communicates via automatic writing as to what he has experienced since his death in 1901.

17.  Experiments in Psychical Science, by W. J. Crawford, D.Sc. (1919) – This book and three others by Crawford explain what physical mediumship is all about. 

18. Science and a Future Life, by James H. Hyslop, Ph.D., LL.D. (1905) – Professor Hyslop’s first book tells of his earliest experiences in psychical research as well as those of Richard Hodgson.

19. Personality Survives Death, by Florence Barrett, M.D. (1937) – Sir William Barrett, one of the pioneers of psychical research communicates with his widow through the mediumship of Gladys Osborne Leonard, explaining the difficulties he has in communicating and what life on his side is like. 

20. The Betty Book, by Stewart Edward White (1937) – Betty White tells of her development as a medium between 1919 and 1936 and takes excursions into the world of other-consciousness. 

21.  The Unobstructed Universe, by Stewart Edward White (1940) – Betty White transitions and begins communicating from the Other Side. 

22.  Thirty Years of Psychical Research, by Charles Richet, Ph.D. (1923) – A Nobel Prize winner reports on his investigation of various mediums, including Eusapia Paladino.

23. Letters from a Living Dead Man, by Elsa Barker (1915)* – A deceased California judge reports on his new life on the Other Side.

24.  On the Edge of the Etheric, by Arthur Findlay (1931) – A British businessman investigates mediumship and discovers the key to what awaits all after physical death.

25.  From Matter to Spirit: The Result of Ten Years’ Experience in Spirit Manifestations by Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan (1863)  – The author and her husband, Augustus De Morgan, a world famous mathematician and logician, report on their investigation of mediumship and other psychic phenomena.

26.  The Book on Mediums, by Allan Kardec (1874) – Kardec provides much detail on how mediumship works.

27. Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestations, by Robert Hare (1855) – A University of Pennsylvania chemistry professor sets out to debunk mediums, only to discover many genuine mediums and become a medium himself.

28.  Perspectives in Psychical Research, by Alfred Russel Wallace (1875) – Wallace, co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory of evolution, investigates mediumship and discovers it is real.

29.  Towards the Stars, by H. Dennis Bradley (1924) – A popular British playwright investigates mediums and communicates with his deceased sister and many others.

30.  The Boy Who Saw True, by Cyril Scott (1953) – This one exceeds the 1950 cutoff date by three years, but it is close enough that I have to list it, since it is the most entertaining of them all. 

All that said, we decided against downsizing for now and so I get to keep all my books.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

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The Only Planet of Choice: Visitations – Many people use the word ‘Alien’ to describe a visitor from outer space. Extra terrestrial is another word, which is rather more user friendly. For the sake of the question and answer format, the word used by the questioner has been left, though even Tom questions our use of‘Alien’. Should we wish to foster openess between all beings of the Universe perhaps we should also look at our vocabulary? In a discussion between Andrew and Tom many years earlier, Andrew had asked Tom about UFOs and whether they were created manifestations. Tom had replied: “Many of the flying things that you call UFOs come from our place, but they come from other places also, and they do come in physical form. But many of them are not physical. They are like your movie screen”. Read here
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