In the 1860s, William H. Mumler became renowned for a bizarre reason: He took photographs of the dead.
He Seemed Legitimate
William H. Mumler’s most famous photograph of all was of the ghost of Abraham Lincoln next to his wife Mary Todd. At the time, even photography experts couldn’t wrap their heads around his eerie photos. There didn’t seem to be any evidence that Mumler was a phony—the work seemed legitimate.
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He Exploited His Customers
As a result, Mumler profited heavily off of the grieving families who’d suffered terrible losses during the American Civil War. However, not everyone was a believer. In fact, the celebrated showman P.T. Barnum thought Mumler was an exploitative fraud, along with others who’d started noticing that some of the “ghosts” weren’t actually dead people.
He Accidentally Discovered Double Exposure
So, in 1869, Mumler ended up in court—and P.T. Barnum showed up to testify against him. Barnum even went the extra mile by hiring a photographer to demonstrate just how simple it was to create a spirit photograph, and showed an image of himself with his own Abraham Lincoln ghost.
Though Mumler was acquitted, today, we know that his work resulted from the process of double exposure. Even so, his deceptive spirit photography was a notable aspect of the spiritualist movement.