One Sunday afternoon, a man named William Mumler decided to take a self portrait. He said he was alone in the photography studio, but as the photograph developed he saw something very strange—the image of someone else, sitting beside him. Mumler’s “spirit photograph” was championed by advocates of Spiritualism, who saw it as evidence that the living could communicate with the dead. Mumler began to host portrait sessions in his studio, for a hefty fee. Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, visited Mumler to have her portrait taken with the hope of contacting her late son.
Louis Kaplan’s book is The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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In the early teens sixties, a man in Boston named William Butler started, getting interested in photography
One Sunday afternoon, he decided to take a self portrait. He was alone in the photography studio, so we set up the camera himself
and went to stand in front of it. He waited almost a full minute for his image to fix itself on the cameras prepared glass play
and when it was done, he took the plate to the darkroom as the photograph developed
He saw something very strange: it was the image
of some one else: a young girl sitting in a chair beside him. She was almost transparent. He later wrote. This photograph was taken of myself by myself on Sunday when there is not a living soul in the room beside me, so to speak
at first mummer gave a very conventional opinion in the sense that he thought that he made a mistake, author and art history, Professor Louis Kaplan. I he was an amateur,
I still only wasn't that adapt and what he must have done was used a plate glass plate that had a previously developed image.
And that, therefore, that second image was developed with the image that he took up himself. So you know that's the conventional explanation at first that he thought what was going on he later road. Did he then decided to have a little fun? He started showing
photograph, two friends as a prank with quote S, mysterious an heiress possible one
friend mumbo showed the photograph too was doktor. Hf gardener, a well known, spiritualist in Boston Spiritualism, was a growing movement of people who believed that it was possible to communicate with the dead,
doktor gardener looked at Mummers photograph with a lot of interest? He wrote the form
is that of a young girl. The outline of the upper portion of the body is clearly defined. The dim and shadowy the chair,
is distinctly seen through the body in arms. Also the table
on which one arm rests below the way
the form which apparently is clothed in a dress with low neck. In short, sleeves fades away into a dim mist which simply clouds the lower part of the picture. Member said he was not a spiritualist, but the more he talked to doktor gardener about the strange.
But a graph, the more open minded he became. He started to come around to the idea. Right is almost as if the gardener prodded him into thinking beyond the box and outside of the box that all well. Maybe this isn't just a mistake in the development process or of a double exposure,
but rather maybe, as the spirituous out. There are saying that this is a new phase of spiritual development,
and somehow I am the medium spiritualist
is generally considered to have originated almost fifteen years before Mummers photograph in a farmhouse in upstate New York too.
Sisters eleven and fourteen years old claimed
your strange knocking sounds in their house every night at bedtime neighbour
came to listen for themselves to the unmistakable
talks on the walls and furniture that seem to reply to requests and questions
said it was. The spirit of a man had been murdered in the farm house years before the sisters Margareta and Kate Fox.
Seem to people to summon spirits in other people's houses to intervention.
Became so well known that they started demonstrating their abilities and theatres.
By the early eighteen sixties around.
The time mummer took his photograph. The idea of spiritualism was taking the United States by storm
part because of what was going on in the country at the time families were
ending their sons and brothers and husbands to fight in the civil war and they weren't coming home
So we have, you might say, even a higher degree of a culture
Of mourning and bereavement than usual unusual times, attempts to communicate with people who died were becoming so common that even First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln
attended seances in Washington DC to try to communicate with her late son. Willie, who had died of typhoid fever in eighteen,
sixty two. He was eleven years old. It was said that the first lady found the sciences so comforting. She began to host them in the White House,
President Lincoln, but occasionally attend. So if you understand this idea from spiritualism that people believe that the dead were coming through and that it was possible to communicate with the dead
in this way through these sciences- and these are all means- you could say that
what were enabled through his practice was to move this communication with the dead to visual means and to be able to see, therefore have a glimpse of the dead.
Through their the camera mothers photograph was written up in spiritualist newspapers. He said
It was embarrassed by the publicity he wasn't, a professional photographer
and he wasn't spiritualist, so he said seeing him
Damon papers made him feel quote
considerably mortified. But he said when people started asking him to take their portraits in the hope that a spirit would appear
he reluctantly agreed month wrote that he took a number of other photographs in which no spirits appeared, and then he did see what he called a spirit form.
Wrote. I hardly knew what to say or how to act. The result of the last sitting was so entirely different from what I was expecting that I was fairly bewildered
I therefore concluded to take pictures two hours a day with the fact that there is this first sense of him. Thinking that it was
an accident. The lead you to believe that you wonder, like a cable. Why did why? And how did he changed his convictions so from the side of the belief,
You would say, oh well, after thinking it through and
and it happened more than once and talking it over with an spiritualist converts. He himself became converted, but from the side of the sceptic you would say something very different. You would pay
hopefully say that what happened there was. He talked to this spiritualist spirituous showed him that there was
this supernatural way of explaining
but he had done and he saw the possibilities of Spirit Photography
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With people that were going to monitor studio, did did word, spread quickly, wait a SEC
This man is taking photographs, were there could be pictures of your dead loved ones? Did that spread fast, and is that why people started coming to a studio and good numbers? Yeah I mean he definitely got good publicity, particularly in this,
spiritualist press and again it was either belief that.
This man had was somehow in touch with the afterlife
and then the world beyond, or it was more keeping the mind open right at some reports.
In Boston in eighteen, sixty two when it for sixty three, when first things were getting going well,
we don't know exactly how he does it, but we need to keep an open mind and therefore people were curious and if they could afford it, wanted to go there and
can try their luck to see if they could get into contact with thumb, loved ones who had passed away, whether they be
sons that had been killed in war in the civil war or whether it be it a child of info who was a victim of infant mortality before their time.
I am or whether it be a mother or father who had passed away. Everyone you know had some
grief and mourning in their lives that they were still somehow working through and
We wanted to see if my tumblr could help them in this. This was still new technology
it's not like. I could have been around that long yeah. I think that's a very important point to consider as well. The official red letter date that we talked about for the invention of photography is one thousand eight hundred and thirty.
I'm so we're talking now twenty years out from the invention. So it's
a relatively new technology. In its earliest days, photographs were pot
Hitler, primarily as a source of comfort to help families remember their loved ones, who would be photographed after they died. The post mortem portrait was often the first and the only photograph of someone
writing about these images at the time the poet illicit,
their browning said it is not merely the lead,
switch is precious
but the sense of nearness involved in the thing the person lying there fixed forever.
Its inventors called photography.
Natural magic, a little bit of magic realised through, of course, technological means very
explainable combination of optics in chemistry, Bud
for the layman. For the general public, there was
in that first generation of photographic production, something magical the ability to have one's image to be retained via the chemistry on
to a glass plate negative and then to be developed onto a film
and if something so magical was going on, that would capture the way
someone look to his living. Maybe it wasn't
So, while the leap to think that it could capture some one. Who was dead? Absolutely absolutely that was done.
Lee. What was in the air? This idea that photography could capture, though the living
but there was also this idea that photography could capture the invisible that perhaps the photographic camera could reach into areas, for instance, a fluorescent
or areas of ultra violet light that were hidden from
the naked eye, but that were able to be captured.
By the camera, if you just had the right medium, not only the technological medium but the photographic medium who was able to,
somehow bring down these extra of visible light rays, so that was the thinking we might call it now magical thinking of those who ascribed to spiritualism and who tried to construct what we might call and I'm putting this in quotation marks scientific arguments in order to explain of these phenom.
All of this new technology made it easier for people to believe in things they couldn't see or understand around nothing
I'm photography was invented. Samuel Morse introduced the telegraph
And by the time, mummer took a source.
Photograph people were being told that it was possible to communicate with someone all the way across the ocean. If that was possible, why wouldn't they be able to somehow reach some
they bossed, William Butler, only offered three or four sittings. A day he said,
doing too many drained his energy, making it less likely a spirit would appear he charged
a lot more than the going rate for a portrait session. I he joke that. Well, you know we have to keep the rabble out. The spirits don't like to associate dealt with so much with the rabble, but it makes us see that it was very much a class. This proposition
right that you really needed to be more of an upper middle class or of a celebrity to go and sit in mom was a studios numbers like Hannah,
would greet his customers as they came into the studio
such was a medium and he wrote that his wife had
wonderful, magnetic powers and called her a battery because she supplied the power to his work. Hannah modular was said to be present during many of the sessions and in one case ass. Her husband closed the camera aperture she told the sitter. Now you will have a picture
and a good one. Member never made any promises. He said that he and his wife would,
a favourable environment, but spirits only showed up when they wanted to. He was vague right. He would try to say things.
The person who you are most in sympathetic contact with at the time of my photograph will be the one that will appear to you as a spirit form in the developed
Many of the image Mamma had this thanks
Any ability to conjure image is
where a lot of time there's interaction between the deceased and the living. So a lot of times you see
The ghost behind the sitter, and sometimes there is a quality
Even a movement Michaela have the quality where the hands of the Spirit,
are reaching out to consult the mortar and touching them sort of on the back
or laying a reef over their heads to kind of almost like a semi transfer.
The reef or
or holding of flowers, invisible flowers for the sitter in order to comfort them. So that's what we
fascinating about mummers photographs, and- and this is also, I think, one of the reasons why people were so stunned and amazed and wanted desired these photographs, because he literally and figuratively, would put people back in touch with their dearly depart.
I'm in an interactive way, and there was almost this kind of contact that was being visualized between the living in the dead
One, a woman has her arms extended and her head bowed, and
insistent man standing behind her pudding
baby in her arms in another, a woman is holding a guitar with a faint image of a figure leaning over her and plucking. The guitar strings
Mother later wrote about a man who visited his studio, who requested
ITALY at the time his picture was being taken. That is.
Son would appear sitting on his knee and on developing.
The negative. There was the Spirit, son and the position mentally desired. Mister
on receiving? His pictures stated that it was an unmistakable likeness of his boy
and there was not enough money in this world to displace it.
A lot of times. You know people believe what they want to believe and particularly when people are grieving, particularly when people are in a state of mourning and that what
were tried to do, was he always or Hannah always got information on the one in which they were see
all right, how old what they look like and the idea here is. Then he had a stock of a variety of different portraits that he could that he could slip in right to do the trick, such that they would be classified
according to category right. So, if you said a while, the person that morning in the person and I'm looking for is my dead daughter of age, five, who you know who passed away
Bob LAW, then that would set him off on that category of stock. You might say Spirit imagery to place in and then
the people are thinking along those lines they kind of filled in the blanks, because a lot of times right. These images edgy as you ve seen spirit photographs, are quite
misty and vague in and faint rating- and I say about photography the famous doktor in Pellet Oliver Wendell HOMES, senior, said the faces and Spirit Photography looked like quote: foggy dumpling
When you look at members photographs, some of the figures faces are blurry, but others are distinct and clear. How do you think that he would
yet images of people that his sitters actually recognised, yeah. Well, the theirs
That's also a very contentious issue in terms of what he did. I mean, though,
joy and Robert hers actually believes that
Mama was not only a con man, he was also a thief and that somehow he must
figured out a way of rifling through people's photographs and us stealing images,
Daddy then got into his studio in order to be inexact complete match of the disease.
Now. I dont know that that's pretty extreme futile the talk
First visited modular studio to observe his process to try and figure out how he was doing it a famous fatigue.
Preferred named James Wallace, black bet mummer fifty dollars that if he sat for portrait and observe the process, no spirit would appear. Mummer took the bad mama wrote the James Black, examined his equipment and studio before the portrait was taken and afterwards accompanied him to the dark room where he watched the entire development process. According
muffler. Black first saw his own image and then slowly the outline of a man leaning on his shoulder. He said he couldn't figure out how much there did it, but then what happens is that a couple of cases occur where people are able to identify
these spirit extras that are appearing in his photographs as people who are still alive
Mama reportedly took a photograph of a woman who just found out that her brother had been.
Building a civil war. He showed up in the photograph standing
it behind her?
shortly after he showed up at home alive. So that's a problem for more
but the woman didn't accuse member of fraud. Instead, she
in the whole thing on an evil spirit that it embodies her brother another time some
who is visiting the studio recognised one of the Spirit and the photographs on display the Spirit
was his wife, who was alive
at her portrait, taken it monitors studio and from them
but the day. Well, because she said she had worn a hat, she didn't like,
William and Hannah Mumler decided to move to New York. They set up a gallery space at six hundred and thirty broadway and customers started flowing in his work, caught the attention of journalists and one a science journalist who is interested in photography
took particular offence at what Mamma was doing and submitted a complaint to the mayor's office.
The complaint was interesting enough that an investigator was assigned to the case. A man named Joseph took her Joseph took her decide
to visit modular studio, pretending to be interested in spiritualism
and when took her arrived. He basically said. Oh, I understand that you have these special powers to be in touch with the dead, and I have had a recent.
We D C stuff father in law. It would be really
wonderful. If you could get me back into contact with him through your mediumship. So that's the set up right,
and then Mumbler does his magic.
We took a returns, he sees the photograph and, of course he says I do not recognise this
send this person is not my father in law. You are making false claims and therefore you are
defrauding me, and it is on that account that they bring up these charges of fraud and larceny
and they basically throw mumbler in the slammer in the tombs prison in these early spring of eighteen,
sixty nine his trial began that a problem and it became
a celebrated case, not only because it involves this one claiming Spirit photographer, William Butler, but people
We saw it as a case where spiritual lesson
On trial, when you read the accounts, you are
We see a lot of you see a lot of times the headline spiritualism in court or spiritualism on trial.
Oh it's, this idea, where one individual case become
Almost a mixed economy. Right stands in for the whole
belief, system of spiritual,
so much is if member was defending the cause of spiritual.
In general, the New York World reported that the courtroom was crowded with people all deeply interested in a question which they believed could only be answered by one of two alternatives: a fraud or
Aragon, the New York Herald called the trial and unsubstantial pageant and ran,
headline the science of the world against spiritualist theory. A New York Times headline simply read a stupendous fraud.
Papers printed transcripts of the testimonies, the first witness
that members lawyers called was a photographer named William Sleigh who
visited Mummers New York studio and observed his process. He had his portrait taken several times and he testified. Spirits had appeared, member had even gone to slay studio and produce the effect away from home slave said that in his expert opinion, there is no evidence of fraud.
And then, of course, there were satisfied customers. There were a number of witnesses. Call that testified to having received true valid photographic proofs of their beloved deceased. A former New York State Judge testified that number had taken his photograph and spirits had appeared. A Wall Street banker named Charles Livermore testified that he'd received three portraits, remember where he could clearly identify the spirit of his late wife, a stout. He said she was unmistakable
and that the experience had provided immense consolation and solace, and he was there to defend Mamore ass, hard ass. He could in this trial and then from the prosecution side. It was done
unaided, mostly by professional photographers, who really were very outraged by muscular and felt that they his antics were giving the profession a very bad name, but we also saw on the prosecution side. Some celebrity witnesses as well and in particular the star celebrity way,
This was a pity Barnum. Pity Barnum is best known for founding the Bondman Bailey Circus, but before that
He had opened a museum on Broadway where he displayed taxidermy animals, fake artifacts, like the so called Fiji mermaid, which was a preserved monkeys head sown onto a fish tail wax figures live whales and a number of members spirit photographs. When he heard that Mamma is going to trial for fraud, they agree to testify for the prosecution- and, I guess,
must be that what really upset him was the way in which mumble are defended. Spirit photography from this supernatural perspective, which really bothered the way in which Barnum saw entertainments to be Barnum, never invoked, guide or the supernatural in terms of showing people a good time, and I think that that was something that
outraged him. The day before Barnum testified, TAT, went to a photography, studio and and the owner to figure out how to make it look like there was someone else in the photograph, and he said he. This is what we're going to do. You're gonna take a photograph of me and, let's said
so that the ghost of Abraham Lincoln is watching over
behind me and appearing surveying. The scene
and we're going to do it in a way whereby it's gonna look just like a spiritual, quorum quote photograph and we're gonna show people what a hoax
what a humbug this month,
there really is Barnum presented the photograph in court. He said
The Spirit on my photograph was that of the departed Abraham Lincoln. I didn't feel any spiritual presence he studied watch the photographer closely, but couldn't detective
fraud, even though he knew in this instance that it was fake. The photographer testified to how he had created the image, but no one could prove his technique was the same as
where's Barnum's photograph, doesn't look very much like mummers work in Barnum's. It's like two different photographs,
scented next to each other, without any overlap where members seem to be interactive with the Spirit figures, often touching or holding the shoulders of the living subjects,
The prosecution presented many different theories about how mummer could have done it.
A figure dressed in white could have briefly silently stood in the background. While he took the photographs, mummer could have used trick lenses. He could have print
the Spirit image onto paper and then use that same paper to print the new image, with the
sit on top of it. Some people who accused Mamore believed that he had different methods and that, depending on the sophistication of of the sitter or how much he was being
observe he would resort to a variety of different tricks up his sleeve. No one could prove anything before the judge delivered the verdict, Mama ready statement. He said I positively assert that in taking the pictures, I have never used any trick or device or availed myself of any deception or fraud. He said when he took that first self, portrait, newer spirit, appeared quote
I was a complete novice in the art of photography in their closing remarks, the prosecution said man is naturally superstitious and in all ages of the world, impostors and cheats have taken advantage of fellows less sharp than themselves in their closing the defence said. Men like these would have hung Galileo on May. Third, the judge delivered the verdict. Mummer was acquitted. The judge felt
remorse in the fact that he had to acquit mummer because he said that, even though we have the same
that you are defrauding the public. The prosecution could not show the exact means by which you performed the trick
and because there is no one to one correspondence between how you did it and what you produced
The prosecution does not really have a case, and I have to acquit you so what
The key of the judge saying I wish I didn't have to do this, but they had to acquit him because they couldn't figure out how he was doing this right. It was the so called what was sometimes called the anti evidentiary argument that won the day right, just because
The photograph showed a spirit didn't mean it was evidence of anything because you needed to show the process you needed to show exactly how the trick was executed in order to charge the defendant with the
after the trial, mumbo decided to return to Boston and resume his work there, and the thing that people don't sometimes realise is mummers. Most famous photograph comes from this second period of production in Boston
and that takes us to eighteen. Seventy two, when member was visited by Mary Todd Lincoln in his studio shortly after her son Tad, had passed away and when she was seeking solace and going to spirit mediums and going to this Spirit photographer in search of a spiritual photograph that could reunite her with her loved ones and women.
The thing about this visit is the member claims that she came dressed in black complete in mourning garb. She was where
the veil. He claims that he didn't
oh, that he had such an illustrious guest and that it was a did. She was
report Incognito and that it was
only when he was ready to take the portrait that she lifted her veil, she announced herself as a Missus Lynde. All so a pseudonym and then the account talks about how, in.
Rolled. She was and enable to see not only her recently deceased son but of course again, the ghost of honest Abe, Lincoln appearing behind
her and with his hands on her comforting. Her
William Butler died on May sixteenth eighteen
his obituary in the photographic times contained just one line about spirit, photography
the deceased at one time gained can,
terrible notoriety in connection with Spirit photographs LEO
cherry mostly emphasised is technical skills, his inventive genius and taste for experiment.
He develop, something called the monitoring process, which eventually allowed photographs to be more easily and cheaply. Reprinted in newspapers. Over the years people have pointed out,
the irony of a man why the accused of manipulating images playing a key role in the development of photo journalism
This is also really interesting, because it shows us that Mamore did have a lot of technical skill,
and was an ingenious photographer in relationship to the mechanism
and here he was for us.
Trial and many points in his life saying. I don't really know how this is done right. This is, I am in the hand,
of a higher being in a higher power. That is somehow guiding meat
true and guiding my wife Hannah through these spiritual developments. But yet then, when we see the later part of his life and we
read and learn about the inventions that he contributed to photography particular this member process. Then we start to think crew
the sea, so naive and so innocent ass. He claimed to be during the trial. What happened to spare photography well Spirit, photography did not die.
With William Butler Spirit. Photography had a number of further lives and din throughout a number.
Further generations, all the way, I would say until right off
world war. One and again, I think it's interesting to note that it was another great.
Your fee on the world stage
of a war that way
There was a lot of death and destruction that brought people again back to these keepsakes. These images that would consoled them one customer of members who saw the spirit of his wife beside him in his portrait,
once wrote. The picture assures me that we have our friends about us watching over us. At all times. We still don't know exam.
Come on, let's get it
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Transcript generated on 2021-03-16.