Since its inception, photography has become one of humanity’s most persuasive artistic devices. Our history and culture is shaped and defined by photographs capturing moments that are then shared with the world. Photography has exposed the horrors of warfare, the power of humanity in times of crisis, and the wonders of life on Earth. A simple image can provoke uncountable emotions in the viewer. The lens creates icons out of politicians, rock stars and actors, as well as the common man.
Paranormalists have long attempted to use this technology to capture images of ghosts, the Holy Grail of evidence. Getting an authentic apparition on film is the investigator’s dream. Some have claimed to have done so, others express doubts. In the ten years since the pop culture Ghost Boom began, a flurry of proposed Grails have been unleashed upon the public, ranging from the intriguing to the mediocre to the downright laughable. As Photoshopped images of great white sharks attacking military helicopters near the Golden Gate Bridge have proven, a doctored image is easy to fake — so easy a fratboy and stoner can do it (as seen in the image above).
And this is nothing new. Early investigators attempted to “hack” film-based photography using double exposure, reflections off of unseen glass walls, and light trickery to dupe the public into believing that ghosts are real. These faked images of yesteryear stood the test of time and are still shared today, despite many of them having been denied anything approaching authenticity.
This week, I’ve decided to share with you some of the most iconic ghost images of all time, the ones that have become the paranormalist’s visual legacy. Some are easy to spot as fakes, others not so much. These are the images that can be found in nearly every supernatural themed book out there. They are controversial in nature, debated about by all lovers of the uncanny. These are the icons of the field.
“The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall”
Taken in 1936 in Norfolk, England’s Raynham Hall, this image may be the most famous photo out there. Many people feel this is the late Lady Dorothy Townshend, a woman whose husband accused her of infidelity. Legend has it she was locked in the basement until her death where she was buried nearby in 1726. The story goes that the photographer wanted to take a photo of a clock hanging on the wall when he heard the sound of a female voice, he turned and saw this figure moving down the staircase. Skeptics feel that this is a simple case of corrupted film, a blotch on the negative in the convenient shape of a female.
“The Return of Freddy Jackson”
A Royal Air Force mechanic during World War I, Frederick Jackson was killed on the HMS Daedulus when he accidentally found himself on the wrong end of a spinning propeller blade. This photo of his fellow mechanics and squadron pilots was taken following the accident. Skeptics claim this is either: A) a double exposure of the same man in front of the face, taken without his hat, or B) a forged farewell and tribute to a war comrade from his battlefield brethren.
“The Pesky Mother-In-Law”
Supposedly, this photo was taken by Mrs. Mable Chinnery in 1959. Mrs. Chinnery visited her mother’s grave to take some photos, upon returning to her car, she snapped this photo of her husband and was shocked to find the spooky image of her mother in the backseat when the film was developed. I love the fact that Mr. Chinnery felt it was unnecessary to join his wife visiting the grave and hung out in the car, even in the photo it looks like he is haranguing her for doing so (“Get your damn ass back in the car, Mable. The Dodgers game starts in ten minutes!”). Skeptics say this is obvious trickery, pointing out that the mother-in-law’s scarf goes over the metal divider separating the front and back seat window’s — a sign of obvious double exposure — and that the glowing white eyes are the product of too many horror movies. Others are not so sure.
“The Little Girl in the Blaze”
This may be one of the most haunting images out there. In 1995, Wem Town Hall in Shropshire, England erupted into flame. As firefighters tried to put the inferno out, local resident Tony O’Rahilly snapped photos and produced this shape of a little girl peering out of the blaze. In 1677, as local legend goes, a fire destroyed a residence in the same approximate area, killing a 14-year old girl. Could this be the conjured image of that girl? Mr. O’Rahilly gave the original photo as well as the original negative to skeptics, who attempted to debunk the image. Their response: a coincidental mixture of smoke and light causing an anomaly that appears similar to a human face, a phenomenon those in the field call “matrixing.” Psychologists claim that as children, our first self-sought knowledge was the human face and we are programmed to do so for the rest of our lives, seeing faces where faces are not. Closer images:
“Courtney and Meehan Return to the SS Watertown”
Another possible case of matrixing: the SS Watertown. Two sailors, James Courtney and Michael Meehan, both perished onboard the vessel, each given a ceremonial burial at sea. For days, sailors claimed to see the faces of their fellow sailors in the water below. Captain Tracy went to port, bought a camera, and began taking photos and captured these images. Skeptics: Matrixing. Or are all sailors completely bald with Herman Munster-esque sunken eye sockets and swollen brows?
“Grandpa’s Phantom Photobomb”
A recent photo from 1997. A woman takes a photo of her grandmother and, boom, popping out from behind like a Jersey Shore Douche Bag giving “The Shocker” hand sign, Grandpa makes an appearance. The family claims that it is, without a doubt, the deceased grandfather. Skeptics: Hmmmm. Interesting. Not chiming in on this one yet. Me: Don’t take photos at retirement homes where old people walk around like free-range chickens.You’re bound to capture Lester going on his daily post-oatmeal stroll.
“The Ghost Monk of Newby Church”
Reverend KF Lord snapped a photo of the altar of this North Yorkshire, England church and was shocked (SHOCKED!!!!) to find this frightening image of a monk standing conveniently in the shot. Skeptics: C’mon! Are you serious? Do all monks wear long, white, spooky fabric masks in front of their faces like that? (The paranormal investigator’s response: during the Plague they did.) And how awesome that the photo was taken off-center, capturing the in-focus monk! An obvious case of trickery — anyone who believes this image is authentic should leave their EMF detector at the door on his or her way out.