The Spiritualist Church claimed it was the first photograph taken of a spirit, and before long, Mumler left his engraving job to become a full-time 'Spirit Photographer'. Within a year he was brought up on charges of fraud...
What happened at the trial to allow both sides to claim a victory?
The First 'Spirit' Photo
One day in 1862, while developing a self portrait, Mumler discovered what looked like a shadowy human figure standing at his side. Being quite familiar with the photographic process Mumler assumed it was a double exposure and thought nothing more of it. However, when Mumler showed family and friends this image they told him the figure resembled his dead cousin.
It was not long before the photo caught the attention of the spiritualist community who proclaimed it the first photo ever taken of a spirit. On this day spirit photography was born.
Mumler had come to the attention of the law when many began to notice that the spirits who appeared in the photos closely resembled those who had recently sat for Mumler and were still very much alive. Fellow photographers took offence to all this as they feared Mumler was giving a bad name to the profession
Both Sides Win
At the end the judge in the case reluctantly dropped the charges against Mumler stating “however he might believe that trick and deception had been practiced [by Mumler], yet, as he sat there in his capacity as magistrate, he was compelled to decide...the prosecution had failed to prove the case.”.
The prosecution celebrated as they had publicly exposed Mumler. Mumler celebrated as he had beaten the charges laid against him.
However Mumlers finances were near ruin. He continued to take spirit photographs until 1879 when he gave it up and died penniless five years later in 1884. Shortly before his death he destroyed all his negatives.
Mumlers Most Famous Photos
The story behind this image is interesting however. Mary Todd Lincoln had become involved in spiritualism after her sons death in 1862 of Typhoid. During this period of mourning she went to many seances in order to make contact with her deceased son.
It was during this time that as many as eight seances were held in the White House itself and it was during one session that Mary Todd Lincoln finally made contact with her son.
In 1865 Abraham Lincoln was Assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at the Ford Theatre Mary Todd Lincoln went into another period of mourning travelling around the country to meet with different spiritualist mediums.
On medium told Lincoln she should sit for Mumler and this she did.
Mary Todd arrived at Mumlers Studio in disguise and under an assumed name.
Whether Mumler was forewarned or somehow otherwise guessed the true identity of the person who sat for him that day will never be known. However when the photograph was developed Mary identified her husband standing at her side...
Today most people accept that Mumler's Spirit Photos are just double exposures though quite nicely done. Although considered a fraud Mumler did perfect the technique and for that some credit should be given.