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The First Photo of a Ghost Taken 150 Years Ago Changed Everything

first photo of a ghost

The first photo of a ghost was taken in the early 1860s. No one realized it at the time, but it would start a century and a half of ghost hunting.

Ghost hunting is not a new phenomenon, far from it. There have been tales of ghosts going back millennia. Even the ability to capture ghosts using technology is nothing new. In fact, it goes back over 150 years.

The ability to capture images as photographs dates back to the early 1800s. The first existing photograph was taken in 1826 or 1827, although there were others before it. It took a few more decades for the technology to really catch on, but by the second half of the 19th century, cameras were somewhat common, at least among professionals.

In the early 1860s, a man named W. Campbell was experimenting with photography when he managed to capture something unusual in his studio. Campbell photographed an empty chair as a test of the equipment, but when he developed the image he discovered what appeared to be the ghostly image of a little boy.

It was the first recorded instance of a spirit caught on camera.

Campbell tried to recreate the results, but he was never able to. He eventually stopped trying, and the photo itself was lost over the years.

william_mumler_spirit_photograph_1-xlAround the same time, an engraver named William Mumler began experimenting with photography as a new potential career. He opened a studio, and while trying out new methods of development he discovered that a self-portrait he had taken of himself featured the image of a woman – specifically his cousin, who had died 12 years earlier (the image is on the right).

Mumler was shocked, but saw an opportunity. He managed to capture a few other genuine spirit photos, but he also began to fake them. He was eventually brought up on criminal charges for “swindling credulous persons by what he called spirit photographs.” Mumler was eventually acquitted of all charges, but his reputation was ruined.

In an almost prophetic example of what was to come, Mumler was both one of the first paranormal investigators and paranormal hoaxers, all in one.

Others came after Mumler, like the infamous William Hope, who claimed to capture over 2,500 paranormal images. Almost all of them – if not every single one of them – is likely fake. That hasn’t stopped spirit photography though. Far from it.

Photography exploded around the 1880s when a new method of developing film was introduced. By the early 20th century, photography was everywhere – and so too were unexplained photos.

The clip below, collected by Daily Paranormal, shows 10 of what it calls the “Creepiest Ghost Photos of All-Time.” It’s hard to argue with that.

Thanks for reading, and have a Happy Halloween! And if you find yourself in a creepy, abandoned old building for some reason, be sure to always watch your back. You never know what’s lurking in the shadows.



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Founder and DBP boss. Ryan likes the Kansas Jayhawks, long walks on the beach, and high fiving unsuspecting people.
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