Spirit Photography Was A Scam To Fool Widows
Us modern folk with our fancy selfie machines often forget what a true miracle photography is. We can take the past and imprison it forever in a tiny box, or a bunch of albums our moms are always tries to whip out on every visit. But like any technology that feels more like magic than reality, it took about five whole minutes for someone to turn photography into yet another way to swindle people.
National Media Museum via BBCWhich is still four minutes longer than it took for it to become another medium for penises.
In the old days of photography, when every picture looked like its own illegal low-rez download, you couldn't take one without some weird smudge or shadow invading the frame. So of course, it didn't take long for people to start claiming that those smudges were in fact ghosts and/or other supernatural beasties photobombing you. Before long, spirit photography became the trend du jour of the late 19th century, though the reason was a bit more depressing than, say, why the selfie stick caught on. After the Civil War, there were plenty of grieving Americans wanting something to remember their fallen loved ones by. Spirit photography promised to connect the bereaved living to the probably annoyed dead in return for nothing except the satisfaction of knowing that they'd helped to cure someone's emotional pain ... and lots of money.
National Media Museum via The New Yorker"Sorry, your tears seemed to have smudged the ink on this check."
The most famous of these scam artists was amateur photographer William Mumler. In the 1860s, visitors to his studio often found themselves sharing the shot with a long-dead relative dropping in. Over time, he grew more infamous, somehow managing to survive several attempts by skeptics to debunk his photographs. At the height of his career, even Mary Todd Lincoln dropped by to see if she could have a picture with her husband, bringing Abraham Lincoln back for one last encore -- the irony of which was clearly lost on the poor grieving woman.
Lincoln Financial Foundation via Smithsonian"Wait, he doesn't have the top hat in heaven? Dealbreaker."