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Part 7 - Return to Boston

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

Even though Mumler had garnered a certain amount of fame from the case, he left New York immediately after the trial. He had accumulated thousands of dollars worth of legal fees and decided to return to Boston, where he opened another studio, this time in diminished circumstances in his mother-in-law's home at 170 W. Springfield St.

He continued his strange profession there, photographing believers and providing them with dubious jewels of consolation. Mumler understood that this belief is its own fact, its own vision. That insight, beyond whatever devices he employed in the dark room, was the most cunning tool in his trick-bag of deceptions.

One evening A woman of dark mystery appeared at William Mumler's Boston studio in 1871 to have her photograph taken. Attired in mourning, she gave the well-known photographer a false name and kept her faced concealed behind a black veil. "I requested her to be seated, went into my darkroom and coated a plate," Mumler said four years later in his autobiography. "When I came out I found her seated with her veil still over her face. I asked if she intended to have her picture taken with her veil. She replied, When you are ready, I will remove it.' " She was used to dealing with mediums and knew how to prevent their tricks. Her dead husband had appeared to her at a seance while she was in Boston , and now she wanted her picture with him. Mumler would later claim that he did not recognize her until the negative had been developed, which revealed Mary Todd Lincoln embraced by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.

Shattered by her husband's assassination and the loss of three of her four sons, dead before their 18th birthdays, Mary Lincoln cleaved to spiritualism, the belief that spirits of the dead can be contacted through mediums. She must have been satisfied, even consoled by the image, but to the objective eye, this photograph of Mary Lincoln is a touching, if sadly preposterous, fake. Nonetheless, it was Mumler's most famous portrait.

It is believed to be the last photo ever taken of Mrs. Lincoln, who died in 1882.

Mumler's Lincoln image is his most reproduced photograph, yet the former first lady's patronage was no mark of improvement in Mumler's fortunes. He died in 1884 holding patents on a number of brilliant photographic techniques, including Mumler's Process, which allowed publishers to directly reproduce photographic illustrations in newspapers, books and so forth. Indeed, his skill as a photographer rivaled his talents as a con artist, but he was somehow still poor. In spite of it all, he maintained to the end that he was "only a humble instrument" for the revelation of a "beautiful truth." Should there be any doubt, Mumler destroyed all of his negatives shortly before he died.

Mumler published an autobiography in 1875, but his career was in decline. He stopped producing spirit photos in 1879. When he died in 1884 he was, by most accounts, penniless.

 

Collections:

William H. Mumler - Father of Spirit Photography

 

Related Categories:

| The Birth and Death of Spirit Photography | Spirit Photography Defined | Part 1 - The Birth Of Spirit Photography | 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 | 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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