Victorian spirit photographs


Figure 1 – Photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln in widow’s weeds being consoled by the wraith of her husband, Abraham Lincoln. In the public domain.

I was going to write a detailed discussion about Victorian and Edwardian spirit photographs, but then I found this image of Mary Todd Lincoln in her widow’s weeds being consoled by the ghost of our old fudged friend Abraham Lincoln, which just about says it all.  I mean come on people: double exposures, photo-montage, and tricks of light.  Combine this with the Cottingly Fairies.  It’s all so amateurish that it’s embarrassing that people ever believed this stuff.

I’m saying this despite a long “history” of Lincoln’s ghost sightings in the White House.  Including a sighting by no less a luminary than Winston Churchill, who claimed to have seen Abe’s ghost in the Lincoln Bedroom (there’s a surprise) in the buff – (that was the Prime Minister not Lincoln in his birthday suit).

Mary Lincoln was a firm believer in the occult and is even said to have conducted a seance at the White House.  According to Lincoln biographer (Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln), Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln was not a believer.  She recounts how a neighbor asked Lincoln whether he believed in a future realm. “I’m afraid there isn’t,” he answered. “It isn’t a pleasant thing to think that when we die, that is the last of us.”

Is the lesson that people of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were stupider and more gullible?  I don’t think so.  I don’t think that such is the case.  I suspect that it’s just that technology and our exposure to it has led us to be more savvy and sophisticated.  We expect our frauds to be better done.  That’s all.


This entry was posted in History of Photography.