The Stories Behind History’s Best Hoaxes

Published November 27, 2014
Updated June 23, 2016

Mumler’s Spirit Photography

Spirit photography was the Instagram of the late 19th century. Like the name suggests, it involves photography that supposedly captured the images of ghosts and other apparitions. Up until William Mumler turned spirit photography into a hot commodity, the “medium” was hit-and-miss. Mumler’s ability to always produce images with ghosts made him incredibly popular. In fact, Mumler’s most iconic photo is that of Mary Todd Lincoln posing with the ghost of her deceased husband, Abraham Lincoln.

Best Hoaxes Mary Todd

Mary Todd Lincoln with “Abraham” Source: Forensic Genealogy

Unsurprisingly, Mumler’s success also brought on a lot of critics, especially from within the spiritualist circle. A number of individuals raised suspicions regarding some of the “ghosts” in Mumler’s photographs. They were eventually proven correct when these “spirits” were found to still be alive, having posed for Mumler in the past.

William Mumler was taken to court for fraud. The nail in Mumler’s coffin came when P.T. Barnum, a fellow swindler who enjoyed a profitable career by working as a circus showman, produced a photograph of himself and the ghost of Honest Abe in order to show how easily these images could be forged.

Best Hoaxes Barnum

Apparently, Lincoln’s ghost really liked to pose for photographs Source: The Atlantic

Radu Alexander
Radu is a freelance writer who specializes in historical, scientific and offbeat topics.