Investigation by Dr. Mality

As long as man has been able to reason and remember, there have been ghosts. Long before the invention of writing...probably even before fire itself was tamed...people have seen the images of those who have died. But until the mid-19th century, it was only word of mouth that could be given to prove the existence of the spectral dead. However, as science began to gain steam, new methods were conceived of to record "proof" that the dead move amongst the living.

It didn't take long for photography to adapt itself to the supernatural. In fact, some of the very earliest pictures ever taken were of ghosts.The first of the true "spirit photographers" was William Mumler, who took the first known ghost photograph in 1861. Mumler's photographs proved to be a huge sensation and soon many other spirit photographers were following in his wake.

These 19th century ghost pictures look extremely antiquainted and odd to our modern eyes. Many of them seem to be obvious fakes. And in fact, most of them are. Many spirit photographers during this period preyed upon people grieving the loss of a loved one and would use double exposures and other trickery to create images of the departed. One of the most famous of these photos shows a ghostly Abraham Lincoln trying to comfort his widow Mary Todd Lincoln, following his death. The picture is a fraud and yet it seems oddly comforting and sentimental.

The rush of fraudulent ghost photographers threatened to overwhelm those who seriously tried to get visual evidence of ghosts much like phony mediums overtook serious spiritualists. Yet there remain many photographs from this period that still baffle observers. Many of these pictures show bizarre characters materializing during seances held by mediums. In many cases, the negatives were available and showed no sign of tampering.

Many of the ghost photos judged authentic or at least not obviously fraudulent are quite strange to look at and do not resemble the traditional image of a ghost. Many of the specters appear solid and real, but are missing parts of their bodies or are in weird positions such as coming out of the ground or a solid building. One of the most notorious ghost photographs was one taken of the deceased Lord Combermere sitting in his library. The photo showed Combermere, who was being buried that very day several miles from his estate, sitting in a favorite chair in his well-appointed library. The picture is fairly clear and easily recognized as the deceased aristocrat. But the figure's legs are entirely missing! Combermere had died in accident where his legs were crushed.

There is no doubt that many ghost photographs are extremely dubious in nature. Especially the more recent ones. In this day of Photoshop and other such digital trickery, it is very difficult to prove the authenticity of just about ANY photo. The old fashioned chemical photos are much more impressive in terms of spirit photography, especially if an untampered negative is provided. Polaroid pictures in particular are very hard to fake. Most of the best ghost photos were done using the old style photography.

Now let's take a look at some of the most famous (and infamous) pictures of the dear departed:


This is the Mona Lisa of ghost photographs and surely the most famous ever taken. It has defied every attempt to prove it a fake since it was snapped in 1936. The scene was Raynham Hall, the venerable seat of government for Marquess Townshead in Norfolk, England. The photographers were the well-respected Indre Shira and his assistant, Captain Provnad. Shira was hired by the owners of the Hall to photograph the old mansion and had no intention of looking for anything supernatural. Nevertheless, when Shira spotted a hazy form on the staircase, he quickly instructed Provnad to take a picture. Provnad did not see the ghost himself and thought Shira was crazy. Yet when the photograph was developed, the misty figure was quite clear. When published in "Country Life" magazine, the photo became a sensation...it was the best ghost photograph taken to that time and has rarely been bettered today. The negatives were provided and several photography experts failed to detect tampering. Naturally, skeptics continue to claim it's a fake, though the bulk of their reasoning is just that "it couldn't possibly be real".



For my money, this is the one photo that proves the existence of life affer death. It has not been debunked by even the strictest of skeptics. It was taken in 1959 by Mrs. Mabel Chinnery some time after the death of her mother. Mrs. Chinnery had visited the cemetery to take pictures of her mother's gravestone and snapped this picture of her husband waiting for her in the car. When the photograph was developed, the Chinnerys were shocked to see the clear image of Mabel's bespectacled mother sitting in the back seat of the car. This phenomena of having a ghost appear only after a photo is developed is fairly typical. Photography experts claimed that the picture was absolutely untampered with and taken after the mother's death. The negative was also provided. In the never-ending search to prove life after death, this snapshot is one of the very strongest pieces of evidence.


Boot Hill was the infamous cemetery of Tombstone, Arizona, where many Old West outlaws were buried, including the victims of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Terry "Ike" Clanton, a descendant of the famous Clanton gang involved in the gunfight, was taking a promotional photograph of a local actor dressed up in Old West garb in the cemetery. When the photograph was developed, he noticed the bizarre image of a thin man in a hat seeming to come right out of the ground. Clanton and the picture subject swore that nobody else was in the graveyard. By the odd positioning of the figure, only two possibilties present themselves...the man was legless or else half buried in the ground. Could this be the actual photograph of a long dead outlaw...maybe even one of the original Clantons...trying to get some "face time"?


This is one of the more controversial ghost photographs. In the opinion of many ,it is "too good". The way the hooded figure seems to be looking directly at the camera, the straight and stable positioning of the body suggest to many that the photograph is a posed double exposure of some kind. Many photography experts could not find evidence of a double exposure, though. The picture was taken by Reverend K. F. Lord in Newby Church in 1963 and Reverend Lord was a man of unimpeachable character. Again, Rev. Lord did not see the figure when he snapped the photo...it only revealed itself upon being developed. It is one of the most grotesque of all ghost photos, as the features are clearly distorted and inhuman. Strangely enough, Newby Church had no history of ghosts prior to the picture being taken. Many call the figure "The Monk"...analysis of the photo shows it to be nine feet tall. If genuine, I wonder if the picture is actually of a human ghost...or perhaps some strange visitor from another dimension?


Although I have occasionally experienced some strong indigestion after eating there, the chain restaurant Godfather's Pizza would seem to be an unlikely spot for ghostly activity. Yet the Godfather's in Ogden, Utah was the site of many unexplained incidents in the late 1990's/early 2000's, including this photo of a misty figure not too dissimilar from the Brown Lady of Raynham. The odd events included a jukebox that came on by itself, floor tiles that would bulge and writhe as if something alive were beneath them, fluorescent light bulbs flying out of their fixtures and smashing themselves on the floor and the sightings of several spectral beings. Historical research revealed that the restaurant had been built over the site of a "potter's field"....a burial ground for the poor and obscure. Perhaps it was the spirit of one of these suffering souls that was caught on camera, angry that its rest was disturbed by something as frivolous as a fast food restaurant.


This is one of my favorite photographs. There is something eerie and dramatic about the image of a little girl staring out of a building engulfed in flames. The picture was taken in 1995 in Shropshire, England by local resident Tony O'Rahilly. The building was Wenn Hall, built in 1905, which caught fire due to natural causes and burned to the ground on November 19th. The fire was spectacular and many locals snapped photos of the event. When O'Rahilly examined his finished photos, he was amazed to see a young girl staring out from a burning doorway. From her position, she had to be in imminent danger of immolation if she was flesh and blood. Neither O'Rahilly or any one else including firemen could remember seeing the girl.

Examination of the photo revealed an untampered negative and all of O'Rahilly's other photos were authentic. A look back into the history of the area revealed that a terrible fire in 1677 was caused by a little girl who set fire to her cottage. Throughout the years, there had been reports of a girl ghost appearing in the vicinity. Perhaps the fiery disaster in 1995 was so reminiscent of the 1677 blaze that her spirit was pulled from the other side.


This sensational photo caused a huge buzz on the internet when it was publicized in March of 2009. It was submitted to Professor Richard Wiseman, an avowed ghost skeptic, for his collection of ghost photos. Wiseman had asked for the best ghost pictures so he could examine their authenticity. Of the 250 submitted, this one baffled him the most. Examination by a number of photography experts confirmed that no Photoshop or other trickery was used. Some still suspect that the picture is some kind of deliberate hoax, perhaps involving a cardboard cut-out, but it certainly seems to be 3-dimensional.

Tantallon Castle is a magnificent ruin on the Scottish Coast that was the site of a lot of history over the centuries and which remains a popular tourist destination. This eerie photo of a strange figure in what looks like 14th or 15th century dress looking from a high window has an unearthly look to it. The photographer Christopher Aitchison, as is so typical of many ghost photographs, did not see the face when he took the picture. Some have theorized that the face could even belong to King James V of Scotland.


Prior to the recent Tantallon Castle sighting, many reckoned this as the best ghost photo of the very recent past. The picture was taken from security camera footage at Hampton Court, one of England's most famous...and most haunted...buildings in 2003. An alarm had gone off at the building indicating one of the doors to the outside had been opened. Upon investigating, security personnel had found that the doors had been closed. The mysterious opening and closing of doors was a persistent problem but this time there was a twist. When camera footage was replayed, the doors were shown opening by themselves but then a strange figure wearing a long coat suddenly appeared to slam them shut. No guests were allowed in that part of Hampton Court and any guides and guards were eliminated as suspects.

Dr. Richard Wiseman, the expert on ghost photography (and frequent skeptic), commented, "It could be the best ghost sighting ever. I haven't seen anything that can match that at all."

These are just a few of the many thousands of ghost photographs floating around out there. As said before, many are easy to explain as hoaxes or misinterpretations. But there remain those few that can raise the hair on the back of your neck and make you wonder about the nature of life and death. Though it is visually one of the least interesting pictures, the "Mother Chinnery" picture of 1959 may be the "smoking gun" that proves the existence of ghosts.

So the next time you snap that picnic pic, be careful to do a head count and make sure there aren't any uninvited guests in the photo!

This is Dr. Abner Mality, turning out the lights.