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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



When I read your review of “Portraits from Beyond,”  I got the chills because of a possible explanation of how these sisters achieved these amazing portraits.  The answer may have come from The Other Side and appeared in R. M. Taylor’s “Evidence from Beyond.”

As you may recall, A.D. Mattson, the Lutheran minister (no less) channeled spiritual teachings through the trance mediumship of Margaret Flavell.  A.D. was later joined by Hal, Ruth Mattson Taylor’s husband, and Edward Flavell, Margaret’s husband.

According to Ruth, both Hal and Ed had a sense of humor while they were on Earth, and this trait continued to exist in the spirit world.  So, in order to let Ruth and Margaret know that they were still around, they decided to play some jokes.

Their first joke was the “painting” of black streaks on Hal’s newly-waxed station wagon that Ruth kept after her husband’s passing on.  (You can read the entire story on pp. 164 - 165.)  To say the least, Ruth was furious at such wanton “vandalism”, but as this story unfolded, the streaks later disappeared.

Ruth called this phenomenon “telekinitic manifestation.”  Perhaps we can call it “direct painting.”  Later Hal explained to Ruth via Margaret how he and Ed pulled this stunt off:

‘It took us two years of hard thinking to figure out exactly how we can manipulate the etheric forces to bring our visible matter on the astral plane into a more concrete form that you can see with your physical eyes,” Hal said…...“‘What you saw was a thought form, not an illusion.  We made black-tinted molecules of the pattern of black enamel paint.  Having created and deposited it, we could just as easily break it down, and - presto! - it went back into the ether as the molecules it was created from.  The energy produced by your anger actually helped us remove the particles.  We promise not to do this again.  Once is enough.  We’re sorry you were upset, but we hope you appreciate our efforts.”  (p. 165)

Therefore, Mike, when we apply Hal and Ed’s “process” to our spirit artist, we have this possible scenario:

      1) The spirit artist visiting our world agreed to send a desired portrait of a deceased loved one.
      2) The artist then created a thought form of the deceased loved one which, in turn, energized specific odic molecules to condense and coalesce to form a more concrete form of the requesed portrait on a blank canvas, a detailed portrait that people actually saw with their physical eyes.
      3) The portrait on the canvas remained permanent, I assume, because your review did not mention it disappearing as in the case of Hal and Ed’s “black streaks.”

Based on our limited understanding of how od actually works, we have to conclude, Mike, that the spirit artist used the available od emitted by the Bangs Sisters to “paint” these portraits.  The sisters’ extraordinary psychic abilities allowed ample amounts of od to be released in sufficient quantities for the artist to perform his or her work.

And if this spirit artist needed additional od to make these portraits permanent, then he or she could have tapped into the od of “the surviving friends and relatives” sitting around and observing “the image of a deceased loved one take shape on the canvas.”  In referring to the portrait’s permanence, Hal mentioned that these “molecules” could easily be “broken down.”  Therefore, we could tentatively conclude that a larger amount of od was necessary for
an “odic bonding” to take place that would ensure that the portrait would not fade over time.

Also, this spirit artist seemed to be in complete control of the “painting” process with the only requirement being the release of od in the necessary amount to make the odic “molecules” take shape and form the desired portrait.  All with incredible detail, colors and hues to the point of making the portrait life-like.  Hal said that he and Ed “made black - tinted molecules of the pattern of black enamel paint.”  Wow!  Can you imagine the exquisite variety of color - tinted
molecules that the spirit artist created or had access to on an “odic palette?”

Before reading your exciting review about the Bangs Sisters and “precipitated paintings,” I never knew that the spirit world was capable of such demonstrations.  Two questions appear: 1) Were the deceased relatives posing for these spiritual portraits in an “afterlife studio?”...and 2) Or were their images stored or etched on an “odic engraving plate” since the odic field contains all?
All in all, Mike, a truly amazing feat of odic manipulation.  It would be fascinating to learn how exactly this phenomenon was done.

      “Margaret and I still don’t understand exactly what happened or how they managed it.  Margaret has asked a number of parapsychologists for an
    explanation, but we haven’t gotten one.  Perhaps Hal’s explanation to us is as close as we’ll come.  Margaret says that in all her years of psychic work,
    she has never experienced anything quite like it.  We do know what we saw and what we didn’t see, and we’re sure Hal and Edward were responsible.
    (p. 165)

Robert Landro, Fri 27 Jan, 03:06

Here is another “For whatever it is worth…”

I am always suspicious of people who have titles like Grand Imperator of the Builders of the Adytum, the title given to Felix J. Frazer, the author of a book titled “Parallel Paths to the Unseen Worlds.”  Such suspicion may be why I had never really looked at this book in my library until today, when I was looking for another book that was alphabetically next to it.  I probably picked this book up at a used-book store many years ago, but never got around to opening it until now.  It was published in 1967.  Frazer is said to have been a law enforcement officer in a high position with the Federal services when he wasn’t exploring the paranormal in his off hours.  He lived most of his life in Los Angeles.

Frazer devotes a few pages to spirit photography, mentioning that he worked with a professional photographer named Arthur Von Salay for some 20 years.  Von Salay discovered “extras” appearing in his pictures, often small faces, some of known and recognized deceased people.  However, Von Salay saw this as a hindrance to his photography business, not an asset.  Von Salay contacted Frazer in an attempt to figure out what was going on.  In interviewing him, Frazer found out that Von Salay had had many psychic experiences during his lifetime but apparently gave them little heed. 

At some point, Von Salay discovered that he didn’t need to use a camera.  “His technique was to remove a sheet from its light-proof covering, hold it in his hand in ordinary light, and then immerse it in the developer. Extras continued to appear on many such sheets. These he called Skotographs. He has taken many thousands of them, many under rigid conditions and in the presence of competent observers.”

In one experiment, a young woman named Michela Kelly was placed in a “hypnotic sleep” and a sheet of sensitized paper was placed under her hands for a few moments and immediately developed.  The “extra” on the photo was recognized by Kelly as being her old nurse, Naddie, who had died about 14 years earlier.  Kelly claimed that she had not thought about Naddie in many months. Von Salay and others present claimed to have known nothing about Naddie.

According to Frazer, Von Salay never went into the business of spirit photography.  It was just a curiosity to experiment with, one that Frazer observed on many occasions.  Assuming that Frazer is a credible reporter—and there is no reason to believe he is not, in spite of his title—I can see no real motive for fraud in this case.  Also, producing the photo without a camera is consistent with the observation reported in the last comment regarding Robert Chaney.

Michael Tymn, Wed 4 Jan, 01:52

Not seeing “Adventures in Survival” on my list of 30 best books in last blog post. one reader suggested I get that book if I didn’t have it.  The book was authored by Belle Turner Daiches and was published in 1949. I did purchase it. The book tells of her experiences at Camp Chesterfield in Indiana over a seven-year period.

Chapter 13 has to do with spirit photography demonstrations by medium Robert G. Chaney.  According to Daiches, on August 10, 1946, the 60 participants were given 5 x 7 Eastman Kodachcromide E2 paper and instructed to hold with both hands to their solar plexus. No cameras were involved.  Under red light, Chaney would move from person to person placing his hands over the hands of the participants for several seconds each. The individual placed his or her name on the papers and the papers were then collected and placed in a developing pan.  Images developed on 57 of the 60 papers.  Some of them had two or more faces on them; some had good images, others were very vague. 

Daiches lists the names of 45 of the participants, their full street and city addresses and what they observed.  Nearly all of them recognized a deceased relative.  Some were certain, others not so certain as to the identity of the image. 

Daiches comes across as a very objective reporter who began as a skeptic and gradually became a Spiritualist.  For whatever it is worth…

Michael Tymn, Wed 28 Dec, 07:38


I agree with you relative to Patience Worth.  As we have previously discussed, I am more inclined to believe that Patience was a group soul rather than an individual soul.

As for live people materializing or appearing on photographs, I call upon the 1942 book, “Life Now and Forever” by Arthur J. Wills, Ph.D., president of the U.S. College of Psychic Science and Research.  Wills tells of an experiment carried out by Mary C. Viasek and Mrs. Z. J. Allyn, a materialization medium.

Mrs. Viasek, who had learned to travel out body, told Mrs. Allyn that she would attempt to visit her circle on September 28 while she was traveling by train from California to Toledo, Ohio.  At the time of the séance in Los Angeles, the train was in Utah.  After leaving her body, Viasek willed herself to Allyn’s circle in Los Angeles.  The circle was already in progress and Viasek entered the materialization cabinet, where she found Allyn entranced in a chair and a number of spirits waiting to materialize.  The “cabinet guide” told her that she was welcome to observe but because she was mortal she could not participate. The bottom line is that she did materialize, although, as I recall, without feet.  I think I wrote about this case before, although I don’t remember when.  If not, I will have to discuss it in a future blog.

Michael Tymn, Fri 23 Dec, 02:57

When I did some developing of photographs for my thesis on lichens, photography had advanced to commercial film so I did not have to prepare my own glass plates.  I simply placed the exposed film in the developing solution. There was no need to wash and reuse individual surfaces and coat them with any emulsion. I guess my distrust would be of photographers who did prepare each of their own plates and advertised themselves to be spirit photographers.  Especially those who worked without a medium.  It is difficult for me to understand how I could just walk into one of these studios and my mother or father would just happen to show up on a photo with me there.  Of course they may be following me around. (I hope not!)

Like much of the spirit stuff I continue to have an open mind knowing that there is much more to it than we know and that assuredly there were fakes and probably real spirit contacts.  So much remains questionable.  That’s why I believe that the Patience Worth story is one of the cleanest ones with very little evidence against it.  The evidence for it is there for anyone to see in the language usage of Patience Worth in her novels, plays, poems and conversations. I have found that very few people want to comment about the Patience Worth case because there is very little or nothing to seriously question.  The Patience Worth case takes effort however, effort to carefully read all of her works.  Most people don’t want to do that.  - AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Thu 22 Dec, 14:29

Thanks Michael for the additional information.  I agree that there is a lot we still don’t know about penetrating the ‘veil’.- AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Thu 22 Dec, 14:06


One more point to my last comment.  There were at least five or six experienced photographers who observed Mumler through the whole developing process.  The failure to wipe the plates clean was recognized by them and ruled out.

Michael Tymn, Thu 22 Dec, 03:37

Amos and Jack,

Although I took a photography class in college 60 years ago and did some developing, I don’t remember enough about it to understand exactly what was going on.  There are two books that I would suggest:  “The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer” by Louis Kaplan, published in 2008, and “Photographing the Invisible” by James Coates, published in 1911. 

Kaplan is an associate professor of history and theory of photography at the University of Toronto, and there are 50 or so illustrations in his book.  There are about as many in Coates’s book.  Some are very vague, while some are quite sharp.  Coates’s book has a chapter on Hudson. Kaplan’s book includes Mumler’s autobiography.

Most of the fraud charges seem to have come from negative results – nothing at all or very vague and indistinct images, but there were also some images of ghostly figures who were still alive.  The latter was taken as conclusive evidence that they were frauds, whereas it is otherwise hypothesized that these live people were asleep and out of body at the time, or maybe just sitting in front of the fireplace at home and in an altered state of consciousness with their etheric bodies elsewhere. A few of the materializations of Franek Kluski were found to be alive at the time, but the evidence favoring Kluski as a genuine medium is overwhelming. 

I tend to look at the best results – those where the image is clearly identifiable and where it is clear that the photographer had no access to such photos beforehand.  In some cases, the person had never been photographed while alive.  Some of these are accompanied by testimonials from very credible people.  The case of Charles Livermore, a prominent New York City lawyer is especially interesting.  Livermore went anonymously and got three failures before on one last attempt his deceased wife appeared on the negative, no doubt about it according to Livermore.  It may very well be that thoughtography (as with Ted Serios) was involved, but there seem to be enough credible cases where images of people appeared that were not being thought of at the time by the sitter. 

It seems to me that if they can produce genuine results in a few cases it is more likely that the failed cases are not fraud but some failure in the transmission process.  Of course, it is also possible that they turned to fraud in those cases where nothing was produced in order to justify charging the customer.  Or it may be that earthbound spirits got involved and were intentionally muddling up the process, perhaps projecting their own images when the image wasn’t recognized.  Such an explanation invites guffaws from the debunkers, but anyone who has really studied the subject will see it as a real possibility.  There is just too much about penetrating the veil that we don’t understand.

I definitely remain a skeptic and would say the evidence does not meet the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of our criminal courts, but I still hold that the evidence for exceeds the evidence against and therefore it meets the “preponderance” standard of our civil courts.  That does not suggest that there were no frauds, only that it seems likely that some were genuine.  And if some were genuine, I don’t think we should jump to the conclusion that the failures were all fraudulent.

Michael Tymn, Wed 21 Dec, 21:33

Wallace is quoted as saying,” “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.”
I believe that that would be exactly what would be seen if the glass plate were incompletely washed allowing a prior image to partially remain.  The vague image was already there and would appear to have developed first while the sitter’s image would appear later (20 seconds later according to Wallace.)

I have had some limited experience developing film negatives in the darkroom under red light.  In my experience the image developed, more or less,  all at one time, that is, part of the image did not appear 20 seconds after another part, although the entire image continued to darken as time in the developing solution went on. While Wallace and others may have watched the negative being developed, one has to remember that a print must be made from the negative and I believe that Wallace reportedly said that he didn’t see anything on the negative but only noticed it on the print.  During the making of a print multiple glass negatives,at least two, could be placed over each other and a print easily made from the layered negatives.  In some cases the print was not received by the sitter until after several days.  So, unless the sitter stayed and observed the print-making they would not have known about the multiple layered negatives.  Those negatives sent out for printing could have been the ones that had a partially washed image already on the glass plate prior to taking a picture of the sitter.  Those plates could not be examined in the light without ruining them so the imperfections on the unclean glass plate would only possibly have been seen by the developer when he took the plate out of the protective slide in red light just prior to placing it in the developing solution.  If the sitter was allowed to observe the developing process it is unlikely that the photographer would have suggested that the plate be examined closely in red light or in the dark by the sitter.  Most sitters would not have known enough to look for an image on an unclean plate in the dimly lighted darkroom prior to developing.

Spirit photographers were in the business of taking spirit photographs.  When sitters arrived on the scene it is not documented what kind of repartee transpired between the photographer and the sitter.  “Who did you hope to see today?” could have been one of the questions asked by the photographer.  (Some mediums today often ask a similar question.)  If the photographer had a stock collection of partially washed glass plates categorized as to sex, age, and dress he would just have to select the one that corresponded closest to the hopes of the sitter and if the image were unclear enough, as was often the case, the sitter’s imagination could have assigned an identity to it.  Apparently, often sitters did not recognize any of the spirit images.
I have to say, with no disrespect to anyone, that I think that nearly all—-certainly many—- of those old spirit photographs were contrived manipulated images and not photographs of real spirits.  (And that’s just my opinion, not based on any evidence.)  - AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Wed 21 Dec, 17:07

Excellent, clear observations and explanations regarding the information available on highly credible scientists and their investigation of this phenomena.

Yvonne Limoges, Tue 20 Dec, 21:12

Thanks for your take on these old photographs. The spirit photographer who took the photograph of Wallace was Frederick Hudson.

What do you think of the allegations of fraud against Hudson?

Jack, Tue 20 Dec, 17:04

I tend to be skeptical about these spirit photographs too.  Like you I can rationalize the authenticity of them by saying that the spirit could not transmit his image as others saw him but I recognize that many of them are probably fakes.  D.D. Home wrote a considerable amount of material about trickery by mediums and included several pages about spirit photography in his book “Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism” published in 1878. Home provides a condensed explanation by an un-named “professional photographer” which I found very informative, being a reasonable description of how photographic glass plates were inadequately washed and reused allowing a prior image on the glass plates to appear as a vague semitransparent image along with an image of a new sitter.  The un-named photographer provided other examples of ways in which a photographic plate could be manipulated to produce a ghostly image.  They all seemed like very reasonable explanations to me.  Since the prepared plates were encased in a protective slide to prevent exposure to light they could not be examined without ruining them and even if one watched the exposed plates being developed a faded prior image on the negative could not have been seen if they were quickly placed in the developer.
I believe that there are other examples where the sitters brought their own prepared plates so Home’s explanation may not hold true for them and there is the issue of how the spirit photographers found a likeness of the spirit when in some cases, no photographs existed of them or they did not know who the sitter was.  It could be of course that the sitter was sort of self- hypnotized to believe that the vague image was his relative. Wallace seemed to have had a difficult time recognizing the image of his mother apparently until he gained support from his sister in recognition.

I am more likely to believe that the photographs that were taken with the help of a medium were real, a kind of ‘thoughtography’ similar to that of Ted Serios who reportedly could project images onto film with his thoughts.  Another example may be the images projected onto a roll of film during the Scole experiments. Of course the portraits produced by the Bangs sisters could be considered a kind of thoughtography where images were precipitated onto a blank canvas instead of a glass plate or film.
There is a photograph of the spirit of Lincoln with Houdini on the internet which is similar in pose somewhat to the one with Mrs. Lincoln.  On close examination however of the one with Mrs. Lincoln when it was enlarged and placed side by side with the Houdini Lincoln which was probably a real photograph of Lincoln did not look like Lincoln but rather looked like any non-descript man with a beard.  There were differences in the shape of the ear, nose, the shape of the brow and hairline.

I would like to believe that some of these spirit photographs are the real thing but if any of them are photographs of spirits I think they are few and far between.  - AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 20 Dec, 05:19

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