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The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer (Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Books) Paperback – October 3, 2008


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The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer (Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Books) + The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult + Brought to Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)
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Product Details

  • Series: Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage Books
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (October 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816651574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816651573
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #677,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"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

Book Description

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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Everyone likes a good ghost story, and everyone has a curiosity about ghosts; some are ready to be astonished at accounts of visits from the spirit world, others to be astonished at the credulity of those who believe such accounts. William Mumler gave a good dose of astonishment for both sides. Mumler, who was active in the 1860s, photographed spirits for the benefit of the bereaved, and his photos fit into the Spiritualist thinking of the time. In _The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer_ (University of Minnesota Press), Louis Kaplan, an associate professor of history and theory of photography, has given the history of Mumler's work, and for the most part the history speaks for itself. He reprints Mumler's own account of his experiences with spirit photography, P. T. Barnum's thoughts on the issue, the argument of the counsel attempting to prosecute Mumler for fraud, and best of all the verbatim press reports about Mumler's career and trial. To read the original documents is to come to a close understanding of the largely American, largely 19th- century craze for communicating with the dead.

Kaplan points out that Mumler could not have flourished "without the intellectual and spiritual support and patronage of the religious movement known as Spiritualism." Mumler had worked as an engraver, and took photographs as a hobby. He claimed that he was completely surprised when shadow images showed up on his plates, hovering over the overt subjects of his portraits. He did believe in Spiritualism, and his wife was a medium. He was happy to have his photos stand as scientific evidence that family members who had crossed to the other side were still with us, and Spiritualist journals like _The Banner of Light_ tended to gush about his photographic successes. P. T.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Schneider on June 8, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a great book about William Mumler. It gives you insight into what he was doing, how he was attacked by the local prosecutor and is influence on the spiritualist movement. Not a quick read, but lots of good photos, and plenty of interesting content.
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By S. O'Toole on February 25, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This isn't an easy read but it contains so much rare material that it's worth the time to read carefully. The book examines the life, work and controversies surrounding one of the most fascinating characters in the world of the weird. Was Mumler a brilliant shyster (I argue yes) or a very gifted channeler of the dead? Read on and draw your own conclusions.
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By William on December 23, 2014
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The story of a charlatan
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful By ROROTOKO on August 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer" is on the ROROTOKO list of cutting-edge intellectual nonfiction. Professor Kaplan's book interview ran here as cover feature on February 27, 2009.
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