Iconic Photos

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Lincoln’s Ghost

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In 1872, Mary Todd Lincoln went to a ‘spiritualist’ photographer who could show in a picture what she had always believed: that her late husband, President Lincoln never left her side. She liked the picture, and refused to believe that it was a fake. Three years she was committed to an insane asylum.

The spiritualist photographer was one Boston engraver named William Mumler who in 1861 took his own photograph and ‘discovered’ the image of a dead cousin in the photograph. What Mumler discovered perhaps was double-exposure, but he nonetheless became the go-to man when it comes to ghost photos. Lincoln photo made him very popular, and Mumler is now credited with launching the popularity of spirit photography. Mumler said Mary Todd Lincoln used an assumed name and a veil and he didn’t recognize her until he was developing the print.

Over the next few decades, many people who flock to spiritual photographers to have their pictures taken in the hope of seeing some long lost relative. Frederick Hudson in London and E. Buguet in Paris followed Mumler’s footsteps. In 1891, when the famous Combermere photo was taken, Alfred Russell Wallace, one of the fathers of the theory of evolution) reflected that spirit photography should be taken seriously. In 1911, James Coates published Photographing the Invisible, a treatise on spirit photography.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 30, 2010 at 12:00 am

Posted in Politics

Tagged with ,

4 Responses

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  1. The spiritualist photographer was one Boston engraver named William Mumler who in 1861 took his own photograph and ‘discovered’ the image of a dead cousin in the photograph. What Mumler discovered perhaps was double-exposure, but he nonetheless became the go-to man when it comes to ghost photos. Lincoln photo made him very popular, and Mumler is now credited with launching the popularity of spirit photography. Mumler said Mary Todd Lincoln used an assumed name and a veil and he didn’t recognize her until he was developing the print.

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    August 28, 2011 at 9:31 am

  2. its fake the pic is fake the photogropher did double photo its faint and the girl should have felt something he wasnt there

    Abraham Lincoln

    August 5, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    • how do you really know if is was fake you wernt there you only saw pic on the internet were people like to make fun of or assume things that are fake so m personaly if mary todd lincoln say she felt him there and took as far as gong t see mumler a spiritualist photographer then let it go it was along long time ago he was a great man and president

      julian isenberg

      November 21, 2012 at 4:15 am

  3. I’ve always had an interest in the Lincoln family. Like the Lincolns, I had four sons. Fairly recently, I had an experience that gives me more in common with Mary, that of burying a son. I only buried one of my four sons, though. Mary buried three of her four sons. Edward Lincoln died at age three. William died in the White House, at age 11. Thomas “Tad” Lincoln died at 18, six years after his father’s assassination. Knowing the pain of burying one child, I can certainly imagine how awful it would have been for Mary, having buried not only most of her children, but her husband, too. I think she was a very intelligent woman who, had she been born a century later, would have held political office, been a college professor, or an attorney, or some other occupation that was not open to women in her day.

    I don’t believe the ghost picture is real, but I don’t think it mattered. It comforted Mary and, the truth is, Abe may well have been with her at least some of the time, I have felt my son with me, especially shortly after his death. I first felt it as something warm enfolding me from around my back, like a hug. I felt it very strongly a couple days after his death. Since then, it has never been as intense, but has been a reminder of the first time.

    Mary Todd Lincoln most likely could have been helped to some extent with medication, were she around today. Nothing would make her lot easy, though. I just hope that she is in a much happier now, as I know my son is..

    Noelani

    October 4, 2013 at 7:31 am


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