William Mumler's famous image of Mary Todd Lincoln
and her dead husband, Abraham.
"William Mumler's spirit photographs stand out as one of the grand hoaxes of the period. His misguided craft—the pretended ability to capture the shadows of the dead on photographic negatives—puts him in the same "Barnum's circus" arena as the other tricksters, hucksters and confidence men of mid-19th-century America. Over nearly three decades, Mumler's occult artistry made him wealthy and famous, and, as is the destiny of these affairs, it nearly destroyed him."
Mumler and friend
"Like many hoaxes, the story of spirit photography begins with an accident and a joke. In 1861 Mumler was a 29-year-old jewelry engraver living in Boston who enjoyed experimenting with the nascent science of photography. In his autobiography, The Personal Experiences of William H. Mumler in Spirit Photography, Mumler explained that one day, while developing a self-portrait, he noticed the mysterious form of a young girl on the negative. Mumler printed this curiosity and showed it around to friends, telling them it looked like a dead cousin. Being of "a jovial disposition, always ready for a joke," Mumler said, he decided to jest with a spiritualist friend and pretend that his picture was a genuine impression from the world beyond. The friend fell for the gag..."The Ghost and Mr. Mumler, from American History magazine>>