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Part 1 - The Birth Of Spirit Photography

Definition: Part 1 of a 7 part series about spirit photography.
Part 1 of a 7 part series about spirit photography.

On this tour, we going to go back to 1861. Here we see Mr. William Mumler working as a jewelry engraver in Boston. He leaves his post for the day and goes home for dinner. After dinner is over, he enters his make shift studio where he dabbles about with photography. Playing with this new medium is something that he enjoys very much, but it is not something he can do to pay the bills, yet.

He decided to develop a self-portrait he took just the day before, and as the picture began to come into focus, he noticed what appeared to be the shadowy figure of a young girl floating beside him as he sat and posed for the portrait. First assuming this was an accident, maybe a trace of an earlier negative made from the same plate, he discounted the mistake and moved onto other projects.

Later friends of his arrived who had a strong belief in spiritualism (spiritualism was a system of belief or religious practice based on supposed communication with the spirits of the dead, esp. through mediums. There was a large spiritualistic movement at the time with almost a third of Americans having belief in the practice and religion.), and he showed them some of his photographs. Remember, at the time, photography was a fairly new medium and new technology. It wasn't readily available to the masses as it is today. People didn't walk around with cameras in their personal phones, a photography sitting took almost a whole day at the time. One of the photographs that surfaced was the "mistake" that he made earlier.

A great discussion broke out over the picture. Mumler's friends insisted that the girl in the photograph resembled Mumler's dead cousin. Soon the unusual photo came to the attention of the spiritualist community, who proclaimed it to be the first photo ever taken of a spirit.

Mumler didn't argue with them. Instead he took advantage of the interest in the photograph to go into business as the world's first spirit photographer, thus spirit photography was born.

He grew wealthy producing spirit photos for grief-stricken clients who had lost relatives in the Civil War. People would line up to have their photograph taken by Mumler to see who would show up in their photographs. Most of his clients where distraught since they just got the news that their loved one was killed while under fire, or that they newborn child did not survive through child birth. Others would want to know what their spirit guide looked like or even how a long lost parent was doing in the afterlife.

One can just imagine Mumler's studio on Washington Street in Boston. His wife, Hannah, or an assistant greeted his clients on arrival, and after some preliminary chitchat, when the clients often-and helpfully-discussed the spirits they wished to appear, they went in for the sitting. Hannah had a reputation as a clairvoyant, and she often commented about the spirits that surrounded her husband's clients. For Mumler's part, he was as passive as a "vacuum tube," he explained, that glows when an electrical current is run through it-a force he then channeled into the camera. It was as simple as that.

Mumler had a very successful practice, sometimes charging upwards of $10 for a dozen photos. This was almost 5 times the going rate of other photographers, and there was no guarantee that a spirit would appear in the photograph. Often times the "spirits" did not appear, and clients would have to make repeated visits to Mulmer's studio until the spirits would reveal themselves. Of course, the clients would be charged with each sitting accordingly.

 

Collections:

William H. Mumler - Father of Spirit Photography

 

Related Categories:

| The Birth and Death of Spirit Photography | Spirit Photography Defined | Part 2 - Leaving Boston | Part 3 - New York City | Part 4 - The Arrest and Trial | Part 5 - Witnesses for the Prosecution | Part 6 - The Descision | Part 7 - Return to Boston | William H. Mumler and Spirit Photography | William H. Mumler and Spirit Photography - 2 | | Mumler's Spirit Photos | | Haunting Spirit Photography from the Age Before Photoshop | 15 Incredible Examples of Early Spirit Photography | HISTORY OF SPIRIT PHOTOGRAPHY | William H. Mumler, Spirit Photographs, Amazed Audiences With Ghostly Images | Of Spooks, Proofs, and Truths: Reflections on the Mumler Spirit Photograph Case - YouTube | The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer — University of Minnesota Press | Spirit Photography | The Mumler Mystery: A Gallery of Spirit Photography from The American Museum of Photography | The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer - Louis Kaplan - Google Books | A Ghostly Image: Spirit Photographs | Picture This: Library of Congress Prints & Photos | When Cameras Took Pictures of Ghosts - Megan Garber - The Atlantic | G is for ghosts... the birth and rise of spirit photography | National Media Museum blog | | The Ghost and Mr. Mumler |

Resources:

  external linkThe Birth and Death of Spirit Photography | Dark Shadow Ghost Tours

 

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