Con-man and so-called pioneer of “spirit photography” William Hope made a tidy sum with his corny pictures of ghosts photo-bombing loved ones’ portraits.
Hope started his career in England as a carpenter, but in 1905 he quickly wised up to the potential fame and fortune that could be made from passing off double-exposed pictures as “genuine” images of ghosts. His photos achieved considerable acclaim with some notable fans including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who penned The Case for Spirit Photography in support of Hope’s work. Mind you, the creator of Sherlock Holmes was unfortunately someone who believed in fairies at the bottom of the garden.
Yet, the need of many to be reassured of life after death encouraged Hope to form the Crewe Circle—a group of like-minded spirit photographers, which included Archbishop Thomas Colley—to make money out of bereaved families after the slaughter of World War One.
Thankfully, Hope was eventually exposed as a fraud in 1922 by “psychic investigator” Harry Price, who marked Hope’s photographic plates, which when printed proved Hope was double exposing negatives to achieve his famed spirit portraits. Price wrote in his report:
William Hope has been found guilty of deliberately substituting his own plates for those of a sitter… It implies that the medium brings to the sitting a duplicate slide and faked plates for fraudulent purposes.
It’s easy to think our super-smart minds wouldn’t have been fooled by Hope’s fakes (ahem), but one need only turn on the television to witness a host of TV mediums claiming they can talk to the dead to appreciate we’re just as dumb.
Looking at these photos, it’s not the Scooby-Doo like phantoms that intrigues me, but the faces of the sitters, and their dress—heavy wool and Tweed clothes—which must have made the wearer uncomfortable and no doubt highly odorous.
Michael Jackson’s “ghost” was snapped by 14-year-old Reeva Saava at a theater in Bromley, Enland, last week.
Saava was attending the “Michael Jackson Live” tribute show at the Churchill Theater, where he photographed the spectral singer photobombing an autograph-signing session. But it was not until two days after the show that Reece noticed the ghostly singer in the picture, as Reece told News Shopper:
“I was looking through the photos with my friends that I saw it. My friend was like: ‘what is that in the corner, were there balloons?’ When I looked at it I was genuinely quite shocked, it was very distinct, not like other photos of you see of that sort of thing. I cannot say I believe in ghosts but it is very spooky.”
Reece’s mother Angela, who accompanied her son to the show, added:
“It is certainly very spooky to say the least. The image is so clear. Sometimes you can see these things in photos, it is an image of something but you are almost willing it to be something else. But you look at that and it is clearly a face and it does look like Michael Jackson. And the fact it was a Michael Jackson event and there he was makes it all the more eerie.”
Or more easily explained?
Michael Jackson’s ghost seems to be making quite a career for himself, as there have been several alleged sightings of his spectral figure since reportedly “appearing” in the background during an episode of Larry King Live! in July 2009. This turned out to be the shadow of a crew member passing in front of a light, however, this has not stopped the singer’s “ghost” appearing at his own memorial service; on a the hood of a car; on a tree stump; and even giving testimony in court.
These seemingly eerie events could all be a case of the afterlife copying art, as back in 1996, the singer starred in a short film co-written with Stephen King and directed by Stan Winston called Michael Jackson’s Ghosts, which is also a timely reminder that Jackson has a new single out.
I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’ll tell you of the time I saw one. It was summer, I was 18 and working in a 7/11.
Early one morning, at seven-thirty to be precise, I was awoken by someone pinching my toe. There, clearly at the foot of my bed, was my great aunt, dressed in a dark overcoat, as if she had somehow arrived to see me.
“I’ve come to say goodbye,” she said, but never opened her mouth.
We looked at each other for several moments. Then I rubbed my eyes, and she was gone.
Fifty miles away, in a hospital ward, my great aunt died at exactly seven-thirty in the morning. How to explain it, I can’t say, but there it is.
I’ve always had a fondness for ghosts stories, tales of horror and things unknown - they are fine entertainments. Of late, I’ve been collecting such stories recorded in journals and biographies, which often reveal a similarity in the haunting or, in the telling of the tale.
The following come from the journal of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the great writer of supernatural tales, Algernon Blackwood, a man whose stories chilled my schoolboy days. Like the tale of my great aunt, there is a similarity to these tales, of ghosts returning to visit the living.
IX. - Journal
Geneva, Sunday, 18th August, 1816
See Apollo’s Sexton,* who tells us many mysteries of his trade. We talk of Ghosts. Neither Lord Byron nor M.G. L. seem to believe in them; and they both agree, in the very face of reason, that none could believe in ghosts without believing in God. I do not think that all the persons who profess to discredit these visitations, really discredit them; or, if they do in the daylight, are not admonished, by the approach of loneliness and midnight, to think more respectfully of the world of shadows.
Lewis recited a poem, which he had composed at the request of the Princess of Wales. The Princess of Wales, he premised, was not only a believer in ghosts, but in magic and witchcraft, and asserted, that prophecies made in her youth had been accomplished since. The tale was of a lady in Germany.
This lady, Minna, had been exceedingly attached to her husband, and they had made a vow that the one who died first should return after death to visit the other as a ghost. She was sitting one day alone in her chamber, when she heard an unusual sound of footsteps on the stairs. The door opened, and her husband’s spectre, gashed with a deep wound across the forehead, an din military habiliments, entered. She appeared startled at the apparition; and the ghost told her, that when he should visit her in future, she would hear a passing bell toll, and these words distinctly uttered in her ear, “Minna, I am here.” On inquiry, it was found that her husband had fallen in battle on the very day she was visited by the vision. The intercourse between the ghost and the woman continued for some time, until the latter laid aside all terror, and indulged herself in the affection which she had felt for him while living. One evening she went to a ball, and permitted her thoughts to be alienated by the attentions of a Florentine gentleman, more witty, more graceful, and more gentle, as it appeared to her, than any person she had ever seen. As he was conducting her through the dance, a death-bell tolled. Minna lost in fascination of the Florentine’s attentions, disregarded, or did not hear the sound. A second peal, louder and more deep, startled the whole company, when Minna heard the ghost’s accustomed whisper, and raising her eyes, saw in an opposite mirror the reflection of the ghost, standing over her. She is said to have died of terror.
* Mr. G. Lewis, so named in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers - M. S.
The second story comes from Mike Ashley’s Starlight Man, the biography of the fantastic writer, Algernon Blackwood. In this extract, it is 1887 and the young Blackwood, just in his early twenties, has taken a keen interest in the Society of Psychical Research, an organization established by “some of the most notable men in the land and devoted to the series exploration of psychic phenomena.”
This group can be traced back to the Ghost Club, which was established at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1850. By 1882, this club had galvanized into the Society of Psychical Research (SPR), and conisted of “highly respected men - no charlatans. And early members to the SPR were of similar stature - Lord Tennyson, William James, John Ruskin, W. E. Gladstone, Mark twain and Charles L. Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) plus eight Fellows of the Royal Society, including the later Nobel Prize winner Joseph Thomson.”
Blackwood’s father Sir Arthur Blackwood was loosely involved with the group, but only as a debunker of spiritualism. Any evidence that the group provided to confirm Sir Arthur’s no-nonsense, rational view of life was to be commended. However, for Algernon, stories of ghosts, ghouls and things-that-went-bump-in-the-night proved far too attractive for the young man.
Of course, Algernon went on to become world famous for his chilling stories of the supernatural and the occult - as well as his more spiritual and esoteric tales, including the original book for Edward Elgar’s Starlight Express, which later formed the basis for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. In 1887, Algernon was interested in joining the SPR after reading one of the group’s books
This was Phantasms of the Living (1886) and it was a book that young Algernon found fascinating. It includes several cases that he adapted for his own stories. Perhaps the best known was a case reported by Lord Brougham (1778-1868) while at Edinburgh University in 1799. He had made a pact with a university friend that whoever died first should try to appear to the other. Brougham was one day relaxing in his bath when he saw his friend sitting on a nearby chair. The vision soon faded but he made a note of the occurrence. Soon afterwards he returned to Edinburgh, only to receive a letter to say hat his friend had died in India. The core of the story is the same as Blackwood’s “Keeping his Promise”, also set in Edinburgh, where a dead friend keeps an appointment.
Blackwood rarely mentioned his involvement with the SPR, though he touched upon the subject in his last television talk “How I Became Interested in Ghosts”, in which he discussed the investigation of a haunted house. Blackwood is a superb horror writer, and is better than H. P. Lovercraft, who once said of him:
“Of the quality of Mr. Blackwood’s genius there can be no dispute; for no one has even approached the skill, seriousness, and minute fidelity with which he records the overtones of strangeness in ordinary things and experiences..”
He lived a rich and full life, worked at dozens of jobs, including farmer, undercover spy during the First World War, adventurer, writer, and lastly as a regular presenter of the BBC in the 1940s. His stories of the supernatural and the unknown are amongst the greatest written. They have also provided episodes for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery and his classic tale “Ancient Sorceries” was more than an influence on Val Lewton’s The Cat People.
With Halloween coming these stories may provide some atmosphere to all that Trick and Treating.