Spirit photography: William Hope Cashed in on Grief

By Gretchen Mullen, Skeptic Review

Spirit photography, or photos claiming to document ghosts of loved ones, became popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as hope rose that photography could finally provide scientific proof of the afterlife.

The impetus behind the proliferation of these highly sought after photos was three-fold:

  1. The photographer mastering this technique could get rich quick, often hanging out with some of the upper echelon of society.
  2. Subjects were anxious to believe their dearly departed loved ones were now heavenly spirits. Too often, subjects photographed were in the throes of a recent loss and were easily exploited. Post-war eras were particularly fruitful.
  3. Cameras were viewed as documenting truth; public knowledge about photographic manipulation was limited.

As early as 1869, American William Mumler, spirit photographer to the stars–not the least of whom was Mary Todd Lincoln–was tried for fraud, but was ultimately acquitted because the prosecutor simply couldn’t quite figure out how the photographs were fraudulently made.

    • Mary Todd Lincoln and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln as photographed by William Mumler, ca.1869.

Enter English spirit photographer William Hope (1863-1933) who garnered a prestigious clientele including an enthusiastic endorsement from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Below is a mere sampling of spirit photos produced by William Hope courtesy National Science and Media Museum:


Despite being labeled a “common cheat” by Scientific American, support for Hope persisted. William Hope was also the subject of a sting operation conducted by “paranormal investigator” Harry Price (Harry Price merits his own story, to be discussed in a separate article coming soon).

Price’s investigation prompted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to publish The Case for Spirit Photography in 1922 “to show the overpowering weight of evidence which exists as to the reality of Mr. Hope’s most remarkable gift.”


Richard Feynman: Curiosity: Four minutes of wonder

Created by Reid Gower

MUSIC : Ludovico Einaudi – Primavera – https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/lu…
NARRATION: Richard Feynman – Take The World From Another Point Of View
BBC The Great Rift – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00mfldk
Koyaanisqatsi – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085809/
Microcosmos – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117040/
BBC Life – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_(BB…)
Chronos – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088919/
BBC Planet Earth – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planet_E…
BBC The Secret Life of Chaos – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pv1c3
Wonders of the Universe – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonders_…
Trinity and Beyond – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114728/

Copyright Tamiko Thiel 1984

Michael Shermer’s new book “Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia” to be released January 9, 2018

The highly anticipated Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia, is set to be released on January 9, 2018. Written by bestselling author and skeptic Michael Shermer, the book is described as a scientific exploration into humanity’s obsession with the afterlife and quest for immortality.

In his most ambitious work yet, Shermer sets out to discover what drives humans’ belief in life after death, focusing on recent scientific attempts to achieve immortality by radical life extentionists, extropians, transhumanists, cryonicists, and mind-uploaders, along with utopians who have attempted to create heaven on earth.

For millennia, religions have concocted numerous manifestations of heaven and the afterlife, the place where souls go after the death of the physical body. Religious leaders have toiled to make sense of this place that a surprising 74% of Americans believe exists, but from which no one has ever returned to report what it is really like.

Heavens on Earth concludes with an uplifting paean to purpose and progress and what we can do in the here-and-now, whether or not there is a hereafter.

Release date: January 9, 2018


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