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Do You Believe? A Ghostly Gallery from The American Museum of Photography

Do You Believe? A Ghostly Gallery from The American Museum of Photography




The Vanishing Lamplighter


The Ghost in the Stereoscope

The first ghosts in photographs were the result of accidents. During a long exposure–such as those required in photography’s infancy–a person who stood still would register as clearly as a building. But a person who moved out of camera range after only a portion of the exposure was completed would instead appear as a see-through blur. It happened with the lamplighter in this detail from a photograph by the London Stereoscopic Company.

To the right, another figure can be seen–a gawker who did not stay around long enough to be immortalized by the camera.


In his landmark 1856 book on 3-D photography, The Stereoscope, the optical scientist Sir David Brewster suggested:

For the purpose of amusement, the photographer may carry us even into the realms of the supernatural. His art enables him to give a spiritual appearance to one or more of his figures, and to exhibit them as “thin air” amid the solid realities of the stereoscopic picture.

The first firm to mass-market 3-D images, the London Stereoscopic Company, published views (like the one above), entitled “The Ghost in the Stereoscope.” Produced in the late 1850s, they often carry a printed acknowledgement of Brewster’s contribution.


While stereoscopic ghost images were technological marvels, they were intended (as Brewster suggested) as amusements. But in 1861, a Boston engraver named William H. Mumler claimed that he had taken actual photographic records of ghosts. This set off an international wave of spirit photography–and a scientific controversy that lasted well into the 20th century.


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Unidentified Photographer (U.S.)

Woman with Daisies and Spirit

Tintype, Sixth-plate ( 2.75 x 3.25 inches )

circa 1875

Phillips Bros. (Pontiac, Michigan)

Man Reading with Female Spirit Behind

Albumen carte de visite, 2.25 x 4 inches

circa 1870

Frederick A. Hudson (England)

Mr. Raby with the Spirits “Countess,” “James Lombard,” “Tommy,” and the Spirit of Mr. Wootton’s Mother.

Albumen Print, 3.5 x 4 inches

circa 1875

F. M. Parkes (England)

“Mrs. Collins & Her Husband’s Father, Recognized by Several.”

Albumen carte de visite, 2 x 3.8 inches


Frederick A. Hudson (England)

Lady Helena Newenham and the Spirit of Her Daughter

Albumen carte de visite, 2.25 x 4 inches

June 4, 1872

Among the first spirit photographs made in Britain.

Edouard Isidore Buguet (France, b. 1840)

Mons. Leymarie and Mons. C. with Spirit of Edouard Poiret

Carbon print or Woodburytype carte de visite

2.25 x 3.5 inches

circa 1874

Leymarie was the editor of La Revue Spirite, which circulated this image. Buguet and Leymarie were both sentenced to prison for fraud in 1875.

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Science vs. Seance
The Mumler Mystery

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