"This book is an important contribution to the growing literature on spirit photography and gives the reader an intimate insight into the world of the Spiritualists and the occult power of the photograph in the 1860s. An extremely valuable resource." —Martyn Jolly, author of Faces of the Living Dead: The Belief in Spirit Photography
"No other book brings together in one source the testimonies of William Mumler and his critics, critical and historical analysis, and selections from the rich collections of extant Mumler photographs. An intriguing and valuable work." —Jennifer Tucker, author of Nature Exposed: Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science
"Kaplan’s book is particularly relevant because he asserts that spirit photographs bring to the surface our deep connection with photography itself. Thus, as digital photography continues to call into question faith in the truth of photographic evidence, and religious fundamentalism continues to play a central role in contemporary politics, spirit photographs have just as much to tell us about our contemporary experience as they do about one “strange case” from the nineteenth century." —Photography and Culture
In the 1860s, William Mumler photographed ghosts—or so he claimed. Faint images of the dearly departed lurked in the background with the living, like his well-known photo of the recently assassinated Abraham Lincoln comforting Mary Todd. The practice came to be known as spirit photography, and some believed Mumler was channeling the dead. Skeptics, however, called it a fraudulent trick on the gullible, taking advantage of the grieving at a time of suffering and loss. Mumler’s insistence that his work brought back the dead led to a sensational trial in 1869 that was the talk of the nation.
In The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer, Louis Kaplan brings together, for the first time, Mumler’s haunting images, his revealing memoir, and rich primary sources, including newspaper articles and P. T. Barnum’s famous indictment of Mumler in Humbugs of the World. Kaplan also contributes two extended essays, which offer a historical perspective of the Mumler phenomena and delve into the sociocultural and theoretical issues surrounding this vivid ghost story.
Mumler’s case was an early example of investigative journalism intersecting with a criminal trial that, at its essence, set science against religion. The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer is the definitive resource for this unique and fascinating moment in American history and provides insights into today’s ghosts in the machine.