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The Amazing Photographs of William Mumler

Updated on September 4, 2012
Mary Todd Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln
Self-Portrait of William Mumler with his cousin.
Self-Portrait of William Mumler with his cousin.

By Christine B.

This is the last photograph taken of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife/widow of President Abraham Lincoln. Mrs. Lincoln was so bereaved after the President’s death that she sought out relief from her Spiritualist beliefs. In 1869 she was told about the photographs of William Mumler so she scheduled a sitting with the famous photographer.

Was this photograph faked? It’s possible, but highly unlikely. Mumler would have had to find a negative of the late president looking down with his hand in this exact position with no background in order to have sandwiched the negatives to produce a fraudulent end photograph. Also, photography was a fairly new process at this point, so it is unlikely Mumler would have had the technical knowledge to pull it off. When Mrs. Lincoln booked the sitting, she used the name of Mrs. Tundall. Mumler reportedly didn’t know the true identity of this client until after the photograph was developed.

Faked or not, the photograph was a great comfort to Mrs. Lincoln. She had suffered the death of two sons and a husband. She needed all the comfort she could get.

The the first spirit photo taken by Mumler that showed a spirit in the background was the one at the right. (Second to the last photo.) It is a self-portrait and the spirit standing behind him is purported to be a departed cousin of the photographer. At the point when this photograph was taken, Mumler worked as a jeweler. He decided to quit his job and open a photography business full time. He took many photographs where spirits of deceased family members or friends showed up behind his live subjects. The subjects always recognized the spirits in the photos with them.

Here are more of Mumler’s spirit photos. He took hundreds during the 1860’s.

In 1869 P.T. Barnum took Mumler to court for fraud. Mumler was acquitted of all charges, however, as no proof of fraud was ever found against him. Even after Mumler’s death in 1884 nothing was ever discovered indicating that any of his photos were manipulated.


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    • Christine B. profile image

      Christine B. 5 years ago from Medina, Ohio

      Absolutely! :o)

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 5 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      Fascinating information. There is so much that we don't know.