Tuesday, April 28, 2015

William Mumler’s Spirit Photography

In another post the story of the British Spirit Photographer, William Hope is told here.

Mumler photo showing
Fanny Conant with the
ghost of her deceased
William Mumler was an American Spirit Photographer. He was a jeweler in Boston and an amateur photographer. One day as he was developing a self-portrait he spotted the shadowy figure of a young girl floating behind his image.

Mumler at first thought it was an accident, it was just a trace of an earlier negative made on the same plate. But he changed his mind when friends and family told him the young girl looked like his deceased cousin.

This photo came to the attention of the American spiritualist community and was proclaimed the first photo ever taken of a spirit.

Mumler didn’t disagree. Instead he became the world’s first spirit photographer. Expert photographers in Boston stated they believed these photos were not tampered with.

Mumler’s new business became a success, in part because it was just after the Civil War and many people were seeking proof their deceased relatives still existed in some form.

So Mumler’s was basically preying on their desperation.

His British counterpart William Hope acquired photos by telling his clients he needed them to communicate with the dead during his séances. In contrast, Mumler would just break into people’s homes to obtain them.

Later, his girlfriend, a medium, was able to acquire them for him.

Mumler became wealthy and moved to New York to continue his business. The spiritualist community supported him wholeheartedly while his critics accused him of fraud.

Once in New York it was discovered that several ghosts in Mumler’s photographs were actually people who were still living. In 1869, the New York police sent an undercover agent to investigate him. They then charged him with fraud.

At his trial expert witnesses were brought in to testified that Mumler had created his photos with the use of double exposures. The notorious showman P.T. Barnum even testified against him.

A photo taken of P.T. Barnum with the ghostly image of Abraham Lincoln floating in the background was introduced as evidence to show how easy it was to create fake photos.

Faked photo of P.T. Barnum
and ghost of Lincoln
used as evidence in trial.
Despite the condemning evidence presented, Mumler was acquitted. His defense team was able to bring in a large number of witnesses that stated the images in the photographs given to them by Mumler were real.

Mumler moved back to Boston and continued producing spirit photos. But his business was no longer lucrative. In 1871, a lady using the name “Mrs. Lindall” visited him.

Photo of Mary Todd
Lincoln  with the ghost of
Abe Lincoln that was
widely circulated.
She was actually Mary Todd Lincoln and Mumler took the now famous photo of her with Abraham Lincoln floating over her left shoulder. Mumler stated afterwards that he had no idea that Mrs. Lindall was the former first lady and wife of Lincoln.

Mumler’s faked photo is the last one taken of Mary Todd Lincoln before she died in 1882.

Mumler wrote an autobiography in 1875 but his career was in ruins by this time. He stopped producing spirit photos in 1879 and according to most accounts he died penniless.

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