Spooky Spirit Photos

Posted October 30, 2015 by Amanda | No Comment

Do you believe in the paranormal? During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, spirit photography became incredibly popular. Many came to believe that spirit photographers could capture images of a deceased loved one’s ghost or spirit within a photograph.


Taken by William H. Mumler, c.1871 / Wikimedia Commons

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, many people were still grieving the loss of family and friends. Seeing an opportunity for profit, spiritualists and mediums sprang up to claim that they could communicate with the dead and use photography to capture images of ghostly spirits.

One of the earliest and most famous spirit photographers was William H. Mumler. By accident, Mumler discovered that double exposure could create a ghostly image in a photo. Using this technique, Mumler began working as a medium and doctored photos to show visiting spirits. His spirit photographs became immensely popular until his fraudulent activities were discovered and he was tried in court. Circus showman P.T. Barnum was even called in to testify how the photographs were faked. Although Mumler was found not guilty, his career in photography was over.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle photographed with a “spirit,” 1922 / Wikimedia Commons

However, claims of fraud didn’t deter spiritualisms most avid supporters. Popular author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a firm believer in the mystical powers. Following numerous deaths in his family, Doyle sank into a depression. He found solace in spiritualism and its attempts to find proof beyond the grave.


Houdini demonstrates how a photographer could produce fake spirit photographs / Library of Congress

Just as there were believers, there were also skeptics set out to prove it was a fraud. Famous illusionist Harry Houdini was a prominent opponent of spiritualism and made it his mission to expose the frauds. A friend of Houdini, Doyle believed the illusionist was able to perform many of his stunts because he himself was a powerful medium. Houdini refuted his claims, but was unable to convince Doyle. Their dispute grew and the two friends became public enemies.

Although the popularity of the practice has waned over time, society’s fascination with ghosts and spirits still remains.

Check out more spirit photos below:


 National Media Museum / Flickr

A ghostly arm rises below the table at a seánce, c.1920.


 National Media Museum / Flickr

A figure appears behind the wheel of the car, c.1920.


 National Media Museum / Flickr

A woman’s face appears to float over the group, c.1920

Have you found any spirit photos in your family history research?

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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