Throwback Thursday- Spirit Photography

And now for little bit of Halloween fun …  with spirit photography!

This interior shot of the Shagwong Tavern from the Al Holden collection features a very happy threesome, one of whom is identified on the back of the photo as former Shagwong owner, Jimmy Hewitt.  However, people who believe in ghost photography would claim that a fourth entity also resides in this picture:  the almost 3-dimensional-looking “light tube” that splits the image down to the middle of the table.

Spirit photography has a long history, beginning in the 1860s when professional photographer William H. Mumler discovered that a double exposure could also double as a ghost.  He capitalized on this falsehood and the field of spirit photography was born.  Grieving victims believed that dearly departed loved ones were staring back at them from Mumler’s photographs.  Thanks to Photoshop, it is now easier than ever to “insert” a spirit into a picture.

In Lily Dale Assembly, a Spiritualist community located in upstate New York, the belief in spirits has been going strong since the 19th century.  This special site abounds with ghosts and present-day psychic mediums. Every summer thousands descend upon Lily Dale, hoping to get a psychic reading with a beloved departed.  A thick catalogue offered by the Assembly reveals a multitude of classes and experiences:  table-tipping, spoon bending, and attendance at a trumpet séance.  In spirit photography classes one learns about wisps, light tubes, and orbs. A true orb has a ridge around its exterior, with faces of those who have crossed over sometimes revealing themselves in the orb’s circular center. The best time to capture a spirit photograph is during the rain or fog.

In 2005, Gary Schwartz and Katherine Creath debunked orb photography in the Journal of Scientific Exploration (vol. 19, no. 3; pp. 343-358):  “Anomalous Orbic ‘Spirit’ Photographs? A Conventional Optical Explanation,” which certainly took the romance out of spirit photography!  No matter.  Point your camera phone into the Montauk mist and believe.  Believing is seeing, some mystics say.  And when a trumpet is free-flying over your head or you just bent three spoons into curlicues after only two seconds, seeing is believing, as well.


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