6 Paranormal Photo Hoaxes (Maybe)

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This year an alleged ghost photo taken at the Stanley Hotel by tourist Henry Yau went viral and, with programs such as Photoshop, people questioned its authenticity. Kevin Sampron of the SPIRIT Paranormal investigation team of Denver argues the photo is indeed the real deal and there is in fact another figure in the image. Kenny Biddle, researcher and podcaster at Geeks and Ghosts, believes the figure (and the second figure) is simply a glitch made from the panoramic feature of the iPhone used to capture the ghost:

Panoramic images are not taken in the same fraction of a second as a normal images are. They take several seconds, which would allow Yau to start taking his panoramic image at one end of the room, and another guest or two to hit the halfway point down the stairs, turn the corner, and begin the second set of stairs to the floor as Yau ends his panoramic image on the other side of the room.

With new technologies comes new ways of capturing paranormal phenomenon, but also new ways of faking it or mistakenly believing you did. In the following post, I share six interesting examples from history. Do you think they are real or fake?

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

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In September of 1936, a photographer from Country Life magazine captured the famous Brown Lady of Ryanham Hall in Norfolk, England. The Brown Lady is allegedly the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole (1686–1726). She was the second wife of Charles Townshend, a very angry man who, after finding out about his wife’s affair with Lord Wharton, locked her away in a room. She eventually died of small pox (or under mysterious circumstances). The story has multiple versions.

The photographer, Captain Hubert C. Provand, captured what seemed to be a spirit descending the main staircase. Harry Price, famous paranormal investigator (most famous case: Borley Rectory),  believed the negative was never tampered with and only collusion between Provand and his assistant would make this photo a hoax. Skeptics suggest the photogenic spectral was created by applying grease to the lens, double exposure, a woman wearing a white sheet, or a Virgin Mary statue.

The Cottingley Fairies

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In 1917, two young cousins named Elsie Wright (16) and Frances Griffiths (9) took photographs of frolicking fairies. The photographs were so convincing that they caught the attention of  Arthur Conan Doyle, spiritualist and author. General public perception was mixed. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Elsie and Frances admitted the photos were fake. They used images from a popular children’s book and cardboard cutouts. Both women still claim to have seen fairies.

Read more on The Museum of Hoaxes.

The Loch Ness Monster

The Loch Ness Monster  PICTURE TAKEN IN 1934 OF THE LOCH NESS MO

The famous “Surgeon’s Photograph” of the Loch Ness Monster (1934) was taken by a London gynecologist Robert Kenneth Wilson and published in the Daily Mail. This was the first photograph that captured the monster’s head and neck.  According to Wikipedia, this photograph was part of an elaborate (revenge) hoax.

The creature was reportedly a toy submarine built by Christian Spurling, the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell. Wetherell had been publicly ridiculed by his employer, the Daily Mail, after he found “Nessie footprints” which turned out to be a hoax. To get revenge on the Mail, Wetherell perpetrated his hoax with co-conspirators Spurling (sculpture specialist), Ian Wetherell (his son, who bought the material for the fake), and Maurice Chambers (an insurance agent).The toy submarine was bought from F. W. Woolworths, and its head and neck were made from wood putty. After testing it in a local pond the group went to Loch Ness, where Ian Wetherell took the photos near the Altsaigh Tea House. When they heard a water bailiff approaching, Duke Wetherell sank the model with his foot and it is “presumably still somewhere in Loch Ness.” Chambers gave the photographic plates to Wilson, a friend of his who enjoyed “a good practical joke.”

Eventually the fake photograph ended up in the Daily Mail. Many argue that this hoax does not disprove the monster’s existence. People still claim to have captured the monster through satellite images and video.

William Mumler’s Photo of Mary Todd Lincoln (and Abraham)

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American William Mumler worked as an  jewelry engraver, but enjoyed photography on the side. In 1861, he noticed that a transparent young girl was floating beside him in a self portrait. He believed it was a technical glitch, but friends pointed out the girl looked like his cousin. She died 12 years earlier. Spiritualists caught wind of the photograph and soon William Mumler because a photography sensation, taking pictures of those who lost their loved ones in the Civil War.

Mumler had many critics including showman P.T. Barnum, who claimed that Mumler was taking advantage of those grieving. Barnum even spoke out against Mumler when he was on trial for fraud. People argued that Mumler went as far as breaking into people’s houses to steal pictures of their loved ones. The photographs were simply a product of double exposure. Mumler was acquitted, but his career was never as successful. He still had one believer, Mary Todd Lincoln. Mumler captured her deceased husband, President Abraham Lincoln (see above). Mumler claimed he didn’t know she was a Lincoln when the photograph was taken.

That UFO Photo from that X-Files Poster

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A Plejaren // Public Domain // Wikipedia

In the fourth season of X-Files, production made a slight set change. The iconic “I Want to Believe” poster was updated with a different, but similar image. The first poster was the subject of an intellectual property lawsuit, since X-Files mistakenly used a UFO photograph taken by Billy Meier without permission. Billy Meier is a Swiss man known for producing photographs of UFOS and providing evidence of extraterrestrial life. He also claims to have contact with extraterrestrials called the Plejaren, which come from the planet Erra and fly around in “beamships.”

His photographs display shiny metal discs flying across the Swiss countryside. Did he want to believe like Mulder or is he a liar? Regardless, it would have made a great X-Files episode.

The Wem Ghost Girl

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During a fire at Wem Town Hall in 1995, a man named Tony O’Rahilly took photos and captured a young girl, but no one recalled a young girl being in the building. Town members believed it was Jane Churn, a young girl who died in a fire in 1677.  It’s been debated whether the picture was doctored or real, but a postcard from 1922 with the same girl revealed it was most likely a hoax. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

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