Harry Price fancied himself to be one of the first scientific paranormal investigators in modern history. Although he had no formal scientific training, he aspired to create a reputation for himself as a debunker of paranormal fraud and hoped to become a legitimate investigator of scientific truth.
Price gained fame by exposing William Hope, spirit photographer extraordinaire, and an account of his investigation titled A CASE OF FRAUD WITH THE CREWE CIRCLE was published in 1922 in the Journal of Society for Psychical Research.
Read Spirit photography: William Hope Cashed in on Grief
But Harry Price walked a fine line between skepticism and belief. He seemed to debunk some, while letting others slide, especially if he could use them to further his own fame. (The case of the “mediumship” of Willi and Rudi Schneider will be discussed in another article).
To this end, Price created a laboratory where paranormal investigation could take place. Originally named the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, it was moved to the University of London and renamed the Council for Psychical Investigation, but was never an official project of the university itself.
In this 10-minute film, Harry Price reveals tricks of fraudulent mediums, clairvoyants and more. Price gives us a fascinating tour of his laboratory in 1936:
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:
The photographer mastering this technique could get rich quick, often hanging out with some of the upper echelon of society.
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.
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.”