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While trying to decide which ghost photos are the “best” is largely an exercise in subjectivity, it’s difficult to know which ones are the best with any degree of objectivity. These are the photos I consider the most authentic “captures” of ghosts ever caught on film, but I leave it to you to decide for yourself how real they may be. Of course, I realize that almost any photo can be hoaxed, but many of these were taken many years or even decades before digital cameras and the advent of Photoshop and other photo manipulation software came on the scene, making them somewhat more difficult to fake than it would be today.
10. The Queensland Photo, 1946
Taken in 1946 in Queensland, Australia by a mother who was taking a picture of her teenage daughter’s grave. Nobody was in sight at the time, but when the picture was processed the image of a child appeared, apparently sitting on the grave. The mother does not recognize the child, thereby reducing (though not entirely eliminating) the possibility that it’s a double exposure.
9. The S.S. Watertown Faces, 1924
This famous photo taken in 1924 apparently shows the faces of two recently deceased crewmen appearing in the waves alongside the merchant ship S.S. Watertown. Normally I’m not a big fan of faces appearing in grainy photos due to the brain’s tendency to make order out of chaos (known as “matrixing”) but this case is different in that the faces were seen by numerous members of the crew for several days beforehand and were positively identified as those of two crewmen who suffocated while cleaning out an oil tank a few days earlier. The Burns Detective Agency analyzed the negative for fakery and found none.
8. The Wem Fire Apparition, 1995
This famous photo of a young girl looking out from a raging fire was taken during a 1995 structure fire at Wem town hall in Shropshire, England. Shot from across the street by a local photographer, nothing unusual was seen at the time but once the negative was developed he noticed what appeared to be a young girl standing in the doorway of the burning building. Firemen found the photo so disturbing that they sifted through the ashes afterwards searching for the remains of a body but found nothing, leaving everyone wondering who the girl may have been. Not surprisingly, there is a bit of local folklore which claims that a young girl named Jane Churm accidentally burned the town hall to the ground in 1677 when she dropped a candle, and her ghost has been reputed to haunt Wem town hall ever since. Once a firebug, always a firebug I guess.
7. Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, 1991
One of those “too-good-to-be-true” photos, this one actually has a pretty good pedigree because it was shot by a professional paranormal investigator (and notice it was also taken in broad daylight, as opposed to most cemetery investigations which are almost always shot at night). The picture was taken at the Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery in Illinois by the Ghost Research Society on August 10, 1991. Photographer Mari Huff was using high-speed monochromatic film in the area where their equipment had detected several electromagnetic anomalies, and captured this image of a woman in period costume—complete in a burial shroud of the era—sitting on a gravestone. Note that parts of her lower legs appear to be transparent. Looks staged, I know, but then what’s a real ghost supposed to look like?
6. The Corroboree Rock Spirit, 1959
Taken by Reverend R.S. Blance at Corroboree Rock near Alice Springs, Australia in 1959, this famous photo has been around for many years and defies explanation to this day. It wouldn’t be difficult to fake this photo with modern photo manipulation software (i.e. Photoshop) but it would have been nearly impossible to do in 1959.
5. HMS Daedalus Photo, 1919
Another classic and one of the better captures, this photograph from 1919, taken by retired RAF officer Sir Victor Goddard, shows his squadron from the Royal Navy vessel HMS Daedalus. Notice the transparent face peering around the man in the upper left corner of the photo. Several men from this squadron identified the face as belonging to mechanic Freddy Jackson, who had been killed two days earlier when he accidentally walked into a spinning propeller blade. His funeral had taken place earlier that day. Apparently, Freddy didn’t want to miss all the fun.
4. Toys-R-Us, 1978
This shot has one of the best pedigrees among spirit photos because it was shot under carefully controlled circumstances with numerous witnesses present, making fakery especially difficult. Taken in 1978 at a Sunnyvale, California Toys-R-Us store known for an inordinate amount of paranormal activity, the picture was shot by the crew from the TV program That’s Incredible! The infra-red film image of the young man leaning against the wall was NOT seen by any of the people present at the time, nor does he appear in the high speed footage shot from the same vantage point at the same time. There’s a story that in 1869 a young man died at the location where the store now stands from a accidentally self-inflicted axe wound, which might explain his unusual clothing.
3. The Lord Combermere Photo, 1891
This well known photo—and perhaps one of the oldest examples of a bonifide spirit photo—was taken in the Combermere Abbey Library in 1891 by Sybell Corbet. The exposure length was approximately one hour, and the figure of a man appears to be sitting in the armchair located in the foreground (it’s difficult to make out, but a head and arm can just be made out sitting in the chair). At the time this photograph was being taken, Lord Combermere (a top British cavalry commander) was being buried four miles away and the house was said to have been locked and empty at the time. Additionally, those who knew Lord Combermere claim the figure looks exactly like the man, so we have to wonder if the old gentleman wasn’t simply just visiting his old “haunt” one last time.
2. The Chinnery Photo, 1959
When visiting her mother’s grave in 1959, Mrs. Mabel Chinnery decided to finish off the roll of film by taking a picture of her husband seated in the car. When the roll was developed, a female figure appeared, sitting in the back seat. Mrs. Chinnery and several family members insist that the female figure is that of her mother, who appears to have taken her customary place in the back seat and is patiently waiting to be driven home. A photographic expert examined the print and declared it to be neither a reflection nor a double exposure. Notice that “mom” appears to be a pretty solid ghost, with no hint of transparency or light from the rear windows shining through her. Even her glasses appear to reflect light!
1. The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, 1936
Perhaps the most famous of all ghost photos, this highly controversial shot was taken in1936 by photographers sent by the London magazine Country Living to take some interior shots of Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England. What’s also interesting about this shot is that in contrast to most photos in which the figure is not seen until after the film is developed, the spectral figure of a woman descending the stairway was seen seconds before the gshutter was snapped. The negatives on this photo have been scrutinized by literally hundreds of experts (and no small number of skeptics) who can find no evidence of it being either a hoax or a double exposure. Still considered by many to be the best “capture” ever taken.
J. (Jeff) Allan Danelek, a resident of Lakewood, Colorado, has been a Fortean writer on a number of paranormal subjects since 2002. To see more spirit photos or to read articles on a range of curious subjects, visit Jeff’s website at www.ourcuriousworld.com.