Tuesday, November 4, 2008

American Fraud - Mumler

Twice Told Tuesday features a photography related article reprinted from
my collection of old photography books, magazines, and newspapers.


American Fraud Which Has Made Its Way In The World
From The London Globe

n interesting account of “spirit photographs” has been given by M. Fourtier in a French Scientific journal. The discoverer, it seems, was an American engraver named Mumler, employed by Mr. Bigelow, a jeweler of Boston. His hobby was photography, and one day in 1861, while developing a plate, he was surprised to see a faint head beside that of the model. He announced the fact in journals, a “sensation” was the result, he gave up the graver, and took to the trade of “spirit photography” in New York.

The deception flourished, and in 1874 a new edition of the Bible, with authentic photographs of Abraham, Moses, David, and others was announced. The method was introduced into France, and a trade in spirit photographs established. The person desiring a photograph of some friend “gone before” had only to unite himself in thought with a “medium” in Paris, and in a few days received the photograph. Several misadventures, however, set the police on alert.
Photograph - Mumler

In one case a merchant of Montreuil wished a photograph of his daughter, who was three years old when she died, and received a picture of a woman of fifty. The police finally exposed the fraud on April 22, 1875, by discovering a dark chamber containing a lay figure draped in bluish tulle, with numerous photographic heads, which could be added to it, and other devices.

Particulars of the appearance of the person whose “spirit photograph” was required having been ingeniously gathered, the lay figure adjusted and rapidly photographed, then the medium, or sometimes the client, was photographed on the same plate with a longer exposure, and both subjects were developed together.

“Spirit photography” never raised its head again in France, but strange to say, it continued to flourish, and still flourishes in England. Even eminent British men of science have been fascinated by it. In America it thrives still more vigorously.

M. Fourtier gives directions for obtaining spirit photographs as follows:

First place the spectre before a dark background and photograph it, decentring the negative to make it float in air. The drapery should be a bluish white, and the exposure very short. Next photograph the living subject on the somber background, such as a library or a wall hung with ancient armor. The exposure should be long, so as to give strong definition. When the head of the spectre is also the head of the subject, an “astral photograph” is obtained.


“Origin Of Spirit Photographs.” The New York Times, 18 February 1894. Online archives. http://hngraphical.proquest.com/ : 2008.


Blogger Lidian said...

Fascinating stuff...My eye was also caught by the name Bigelow as my mother had cousins of that name who live in Boston. I will put it on my list to see if they are any relation to Bigelow the jeweler (when I have a little time that is!)

November 6, 2008 at 12:21 PM  

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