Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Photographs, Film, and Video

Boo! Don’t Look Now, But I See a Ghost

In the 1860s, an era fascinated with spiritualism—spirits, the supernatural, messages from the Great Beyond—a small-time engraver named William Mumler realized he could apply the latest technology of his day, photography, to create “spirit photographs.” Almost a visual séance, Mumler’s photographs claimed to reveal the ghosts of loved ones participating in a portrait session. These spirit photographs were highly popular, and Mumler made a small fortune before he was prosecuted for fraud in 1869.

For the full story on Mumler and his spooky images, I recommend reading The Strange Case of William Mumler by Louis Kaplan. Some of the Getty’s Mumler photographs are currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in their exhibition Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop.

Here are five from our collection.

Mrs. Chapin oil merchant & his spirit wife & babe recognized / William H. Mumler

Mrs. Chapin oil merchant & his spirit wife & babe recognized, 1862–1875, William H. Mumler. Albumen silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 84.XD.760.1.3

Robert Bonner / William H. Mumler

Robert Bonner, 1862–1875, William H. Mumler. Albumen silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 84.XD.760.1.1

Five spirits in background with a photograph at center of table with a doily / William H. Mumler

Five "spirits" in background with a photograph at center of table with a doily, 1862–1875, William H. Mumler. Albumen silver print.The J. Paul Getty Museum, 84.XD.760.1.13

Unidentified elderly woman seated, three spirits in the background / William H. Mumler

Unidentified elderly woman seated, three "spirits" in the background, 1862–1875, William H. Mumler. Albumen silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 84.XD.760.1.19

Female "spirit" standing next to a table with a photograph propped against a vase with flowers / William H. Mumler

Female "spirit" standing next to a table with a photograph propped against a vase with flowers, 1862–1875, William H. Mumler. Albumen silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 84.XD.760.1.33

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2 Comments

  1. Alan
    Posted October 31, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Now that is both intirguing and timely! Trick or treat! :)

  2. lenka
    Posted October 31, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    It’s funny that so many of the “ghosts” have wreaths on their heads…..just a tiny bit suspect.lol

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      It’s been 125 years since Van Gogh’s death, today we celebrate his life’s work.


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