Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Photographer Who Claimed to Capture Abraham Lincoln’s Ghost.

William Mumler was a 19th-century photographer known for capturing the images of one particular kind of subject: ghosts. Mumler was described as a "spirit photographer," who would take portrait photos of ghosts alongside their loved ones. His talents were widely known in post-Civil War America. 
Mumler's studio was located at
170 West Springfield Street in Boston, Massachusetts.
Mumler mostly retired from spirit photography because of legal suits in his final years, though he couldn’t resist one high-profile client: Mary Todd Lincoln. Initially pursuing mediums and spiritualists after the death of her son Willie Lincoln, Mary sought contact with the spirit of her dead husband.
Mary Todd Lincoln. Photograph by William H. Mumler, February of 1872.
Mumler’s grim portrait of the widowed First Lady depicted an ethereal Abe resting two comforting hands on her shoulders. The picture, ersatz but powerful, exemplifies the “peace and comfort to the weary soul” that Mumler trumpeted as his hallmark. 

Later, the image has been dismissed as a fraudulent double exposure. In 1869, Mumler had been put on trial in New York for fraudulently producing his spirit photographs. Because the prosecution could not prove exactly how he did it, he was ultimately acquitted. 

How can a 'spirit' photograph, seven years after the death of President Lincoln, be made with a double exposure?

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. So, being about four months later, this would be approximately what she had looked like when she was a witness to the Great Chicago Fire...

    1. Mary Ann Todd Lincoln and son Robert in the midst of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire.

  2. Fascinating! Thanks for this read and little known fact.


The Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™ is RATED PG-13. Please comment accordingly. Advertisements, spammers and scammers will be removed.