13 of History's Most Famous Ghost Photos

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In our “pics or it didn’t happen” era, photographic evidence is often considered to be proof that an event actually took place. This is not necessarily the case, however, with paranormal photography. Almost since the time photography was invented, people have been using the medium in attempts to provide visual proof of existence beyond death. For many, the jury is still out. Here are some of the more famous examples of ghosts supposedly captured by cameras.

1. THE BROWN LADY OF RAYNHAM HALL

Wikimedia // Fair use

The mysterious and perfectly composed photograph of the “Brown Lady” of Raynham Hall is arguably the most famous and well-regarded ghost photo ever taken. The image was shot in September 1936 by photographers documenting 17th-century Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England, for Country Life magazine. One account states that photographer Captain Hubert Provand had his head buried in the focusing cloth (a feature common on cameras at the time) when his assistant Indre Shira glimpsed a veiled form gliding down the house’s grand oak staircase and excitedly demanded that he take a picture. By the time Provand raised his head, the figure had vanished, leading Provand to suggest that Shira had imagined the incident. The development process, however, revealed something unsettling.

The ghost, thought to be that of Lady Dorothy Townshend, has been glimpsed several times since the early 1800s. Although Lady Townshend officially died of smallpox in 1726, more lurid legends later sprung up, including that she was locked in her bedroom by her husband for committing adultery. Witnesses describe the phantom as having an air of madness or menace about it. The specter has reportedly been seen intermittently about the hall since the photo was taken.

2. TULIP STAIRCASE GHOST

Ghost on the tulip staircase, Greenwich

As with many ghost photographs, the famous Tulip Staircase Ghost photo was taken by someone who had no idea they had captured anything unusual until the image was developed. Rev. Ralph Hardy, a retired clergyman from British Columbia, was visiting the Queen’s House at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, in 1966 when he snapped a picture of an interesting spiral staircase, known as the Tulip Staircase. Hardy returned home, had his pictures developed, and was showing them off when a friend asked who was on the staircase. Surprised, Hardy said that he had no idea, and that there had been no one when he took the picture. The image has been examined by experts, including some from Kodak, who have confirmed that it has not been tampered with. The identity of the ghost, if that’s indeed what it is, remains unclear, though some have speculated that it's a maid who supposedly died on the stairs 300 years ago.

3. LORD COMBERMERE

This photo supposedly depicts the ghost of a man who was being interred several miles away at the time it was taken. Lord Combermere had been struck and killed by a carriage in London in 1891, shortly before amateur photographer Sybell Corbet took a picture in the library of Combermere Abbey, the lord’s home. It took about an hour for Corbet to expose the image, and when it appeared on the plate it revealed a man resembling Combermere sitting in his favorite chair. Interestingly, the figure’s legs are missing, which is made all the more spooky given that Combermere’s legs were badly damaged in the carriage accident.

4. FREDDY JACKSON

Freddy Jackson

Some people, whether alive or dead, hate to miss a photo op. Freddie Jackson, a mechanic in the Royal Air Force during World War I, was killed by an airplane propeller around 1919. On the day of Jackson’s funeral, a group photo was taken of his squadron, which had served aboard the HMS Daedalus. Jackson, so the story goes, did not want to be left out of the photo, even after death, and his face can be glimpsed behind the fourth airman from the left in the back row. The photo was not made public until 1975, when it was revealed by retired RAF officer Victor Goddard, who had been in Jackson’s squadron. Many of the details of this much-repeated story, however, have been called into question, along with the photo’s legitimacy.

5. MADONNA OF BACHELOR’S GROVE

This paranormal photograph was taken by the Ghost Research Society of America during a visit to Bachelor’s Grove cemetery in Illinois. The group was visiting the small, abandoned cemetery in a suburb near Chicago in 1991 when inexplicable readings were observed on their equipment. Although no visible ghostly phenomena were observed at the time, a photo taken in the area later revealed a woman in white clothing, described as being “out of date,” sitting on a tombstone. Bachelor’s Grove is reputed to be one of the world’s most haunted cemeteries.

6. CORROBOREE ROCK GHOST

The Corroboree Rock Ghost, also known as “The Watcher,” is said to have been captured on film by Reverend R.S. Blance during a 1959 visit to the Corroboree Rock formation in Australia. Blance claims he was alone at the time he took the photo and only saw the figure after developing the image later. Interestingly, the figure, which appears in a long gown, suggests different things to different people, who have variously described it as a woman in a nightgown, an Aboriginal woman in traditional dress, or a priest. (The rock formation itself holds spiritual significance for local Aboriginal people.)

7. THE GHOST OF BOOTHILL CEMETERY

Terry Ike Clanton, an actor and “cowboy poet” who runs the website TombstoneArizona.com, shot this photo of a friend dressed in 1880s cowboy attire in Arizona’s Boothill Graveyard. Clanton says the unexpected appearance of a strange visitor in the background forever changed his opinions about ghost photos. The figure appears to be a man in a black hat, rising out of the ground in an odd way that suggests that he is either legless or kneeling. Clanton, who specifies that the image was shot on film rather than digitally, says he attempted to recreate the photograph with a person in the background, but the task proved impossible.

8. AMITYVILLE GHOST

This creepy image was allegedly captured in the infamous Amityville house during a 1976 investigation led by paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren. A camera was set up on the second floor landing to shoot black-and-white infrared film throughout the night. Every image was empty of unusual phenomena, save this one. George Lutz, the patriarch at the center of the Amityville Horror story, revealed the photo on The Merv Griffin Show in 1979 and suggested it may show the ghost of John deFeo, a young boy who was murdered in the house before the Lutz family moved in. The authenticity of the photo, along with the Amityville story, has been widely doubted, with some holding that the photo depicts Paul Bartz, who was part of the Warrens’ investigation team.

9. THE GIRL IN THE FIRE

ghostonfiregirl

A man named Tony O’Rahilly captured this image of a mysterious girl standing amid the flames as Wem Town Hall in Shropshire, England burned to the ground in 1995. The intense heat of the flames prompted some to argue that no living thing could stand so close and exhibit such composure, leading to the conclusion that the girl must be a supernatural entity. Some town residents assumed the ghost was that of Jane Churn (sometimes spelled Churm), a girl who in 1677 accidentally set fire to her home and much of the town and is believed to haunt the area. O’Rahilly submitted the photo to the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena, who in turn consulted the former head of the Royal Photographic Society, both of whom said it hadn't been tampered with. Others, however, have since debunked the photo as a hoax.

10. THE BOY ON A FARM

In 2008, photographer Neil Sandbach was taking shots at a farm in Hertfordshire, England, for a couple who planned to hold their wedding there. Examining his digital shots later, Sandbach was surprised to see the glowing, ghostly figure of a boy peeking around the corner of a building. The wedding couple later asked staff members at the farm if they had ever seen anything spooky or unusual on the premises and were told that some had, in fact, witnessed the figure of a young boy dressed in white night clothes.

11. WAVERLY HILLS SANATORIUM GHOST

Waverly Hills Sanatorium, an abandoned tuberculosis hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, saw its fair share of sickness and death during its years of operation in the first half of the 20th century. It has since gained a reputation as one of America’s most haunted sites and a destination for ghost-hunters. This image was captured in the sanatorium’s crumbling halls in 2006. Some say the figure resembles Mary Lee, a nurse who hung herself in the hospital after being impregnated by a doctor who later wanted nothing to do with her.

12. QUEENSLAND CEMETERY GHOST BABY

In the mid-1940s, a woman named Mrs. Andrews entered a cemetery in Queensland, Australia to visit the grave of her daughter, who had died in 1945 at age 17. Noticing nothing unusual, she snapped a photo of the plot and was later shocked to see a ghostly female child staring back at her. Researchers have said that the image is likely not a double exposure, as no pictures of children appear elsewhere on the roll of film. The graves of two female children were later found close by and it has been suggested that the photo shows one of their spirits.

13. THE PHANTOM MONK OF NEWBY

Wikimedia // Fair use

 
This strange apparition appeared in a photo taken by Rev. Kenneth Lord in 1963 at Skelton-cum-Newby Church of Christ the Consoler. No previous evidence of paranormal activity had been reported at the church. Especially unsettling characteristics include the figure’s drooping face, which has been interpreted variously as a mask or deformity, and its significant height, thought to be about 9 feet in comparison to the surrounding furniture. Experts have said the photo is not the result of a double exposure, though its veracity is still subject to debate.

16 Secrets of School Portrait Photographers

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iStock.com/HKPNC

One by one, they form a little conveyor belt—throngs of students lining up to sit in a chair, look into a camera lens, and smile. For millions of kids, picture day is a way to memorialize their appearance in a given year, although later the out-of-fashion clothes or cosmetic growing pains may be a way to memorialize pure awkwardness. For the photographers tasked with the job, however, picture day means corralling hundreds of children and establishing a comfort level without any time to waste.

“We get about 30 seconds per kid,” Kristin Boyer, a photographer in Atlanta, Georgia, who has been taking school portrait photos for eight years, tells Mental Floss. “And it’s amazing how much impact you can have. You want to make them feel like a million bucks—beautiful, awesome, and smart.”

To get a better sense of what goes into the job, we asked Boyer and two other school photographers to divulge some of the more interesting aspects of wrangling kids for posterity. Read on for some insight into uncooperative subjects, why mornings make for the the best shots, and the importance of booger patrol.

1. SCHOOLS GET A CUT OF THEIR FEE.

While deals can vary by school, photographers typically get paid when parents order photos. The school then takes a percentage of that fee.

To select a professional, schools will often take bids. "I make a presentation," Boyer says. "I'll explain what I do. Sometimes schools are looking for certain things." Boyer takes more dynamic shots with ambitious outdoor backgrounds; some larger schools herding 1500 or more kids, she says, may want to opt for a simple portrait to expedite the process.

As for what schools do with their portion of the revenue, it depends on the school. But many usually sink it back into student programs.

2. PARENTS TAKE PICTURE DAY VERY SERIOUSLY.

A child poses for a school photo
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“Parents are very passionate about their kids getting good school photos,” Courtney, a photographer based in Canada, tells Mental Floss. They might send along a note with their kid describing what they didn’t like about the previous year’s photo. “When I started, I didn’t expect the level of hostility with parents when a photo doesn’t go the way they want it to.”

Boyer has sometimes had parents ask to stand behind her while she shoots so they can take their own pictures. “I usually say no cell phone photos. If they take theirs, they won’t buy mine.”

3. THEY TRY TO TAKE PICTURES BEFORE LUNCHTIME.

For younger kids, mornings are better. After lunch, photographers are likely to need the help of photo-editing software. “One of my first-graders got spaghetti on them,” Boyer says. “You don’t want to let them start to get markers or food all over.” Boyer’s most unusual Photoshop request? “I edited out a cookie once. The kid would not sit down unless he had a cookie.”

4. KIDS ARE SOMETIMES TERRIFIED OF THEM.

A little girl in a yearbook portrait photo
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Portrait photographers typically work across a spectrum of ages, from kindergarteners to high school seniors. If a child is very young, it’s possible the entire idea of sitting for a portrait will scare them silly. “You always get one or two that are just terrified,” Grant, a portrait photographer who works on pre-K to 12th grade, tells Mental Floss. “I’m a big, beefy dude, and sometimes a kid will get in there and see me and go, ‘Oh, I’m not doing this.’” To placate the pensive pupils, Grant makes a big show of leaving by stomping his feet, then lets one of his less-threatening assistants take the pictures.

5. YOUNGER KIDS TAKE EVERYTHING LITERALLY.

Photographers need to be careful when giving instructions to kindergarteners and first graders, who tend to process things with little nuance. “Sometimes I’ll ask a kid to high-five me and I'll act like it hurts,” Grant says. “I’ll ask for a Band-Aid. Sometimes they’ll look very serious and say, ‘I don’t have one.’” Another time, Grant asked a kid to point his knees toward a nearby computer. “He came over and touched his knee to the laptop.”

6. SOME KIDS INSIST ON HAVING PROPS.

A student poses for a school photo with an electronic keyboard
iStock.com/RyanJLane

A lot of photographers are switching up the conventional portrait by snapping pictures of kids outdoors, in "action" poses like jumping, or against more eclectic backgrounds. Kids are getting more creative, too. Like prop comedians, they will sometimes arrive for picture day armed with accessories. “I’ve seen everything from Halloween costumes to dogs and other pets,” Courtney, says. “Or they want to wear hats or sunglasses.” If it’s within reason and OK with the school, she’ll take one traditional photo and then let the subject pose with their prop for the second.

7. SELFIES HAVE MADE THEIR JOB HARDER.

Posing for a professional portrait can be a strange experience for a kid who has spent considerable time on a cell phone. “Kids have gotten much more comfortable in front of the camera, but it’s bad selfie behavior,” Boyer says. “Doing duck lips, thrusting their arms out to make their shoulders straight. You kind of have to re-train them.” Boyer lets them know it doesn't look good, but "I say it in a nice way."

8. “ORANGE CHIN” IS A PROBLEM.

A child poses for a school photo
iStock.com/imagedepotpro

Sometimes, fashion can betray kids. “Fluorescent green and orange tops seem popular now and light tends to bounce off of it and on the chin,” Grant says. “The bottom of the chin tends to turn orange.” Unless they happen to have an extra shirt or request a photo retouch, they’re stuck with it.

9. THERE'S A REASON THEY ASK KIDS TO TILT THEIR HEAD.

Aside from some unfortunate fashion choices, one staple of school photos is the head tilt, with kids cocking their faces off to one side. According to a school photographer on Reddit, there's a good reason for that. "These photos are going to be used for the yearbook (more than likely) and everyone should have somewhat of the same head pose," they explain. "The way we stage our lights does not flatter the subject when they're looking straight at the camera. If you tilt your head you're more likely to also move your chin in that same direction, which makes for a more interesting highlight/shadow play and also has the added benefit of making the face look smaller (if you're a little overweight)."

10. THEY USE A SYSTEM TO TRACK EACH KID.

A child poses for a school photo
iStock.com/HKPNC

With hundreds of students at a given school, photographers need a reliable system of identifying kids and making sure their names match up to their portfolio. While systems vary, one of the most common is to collect school data and then print a unique ticket with a student’s name, grade, homeroom, and a number. “Those have a barcode,” Grant says. “So they come up, we scan the ticket, and pull up their record. It’s like scanning soup at a grocery store.”

It’s also error-free, unless some senior decides to trade tickets with a friend so their names get mixed up on their school identification cards. “They don’t seem to think it out, though, because the homeroom teachers pass the cards out and will notice the picture isn’t of them.”

11. THEY HAVE SOME SILLY STRATEGIES FOR MAKING A KID SMILE.

Photographers have less than a minute to relax a kid enough so they deliver a broad, genuine smile. To facilitate that, Grant says he keeps a laundry list of groaners at his disposal to provoke a laugh. “It’s like a script tree that a telemarketer would use,” he says. “If a kid says they play soccer, I’ll say, ‘Oh, so you like kicking people?’”

Photographers also rely on another age-old technique: embarrassment. “In grades four to six, if you ask girls to say ‘boys’ and boys to say ‘girls,’ it’s so scandalous,” Grant says. “For a second shot, you ask them to say, ‘cute boys’ or ‘cute girls.’ That typically works.” Grant can also provoke smiles by asking about pet names. Elementary kids react to being asked to say, “trick or treat, smell my feet.” If they remain stubborn, Grant will pull out all the stops and request they say “stinky feet.”

12. SOMEONE NEEDS TO BE ON BOOGER PATROL.

A child picks his nose
iStock.com/RichVintage

While photo-editing software can address rogue snot, no one really wants to spend the extra minutes digitally erasing boogers from photos. Boyer typically enlists volunteer parents to make sure faces are wiped clean or has assistants armed with tissues, combs, and other grooming products to make for a stylish and snot-free image. “We usually try to catch things like that before they get in front of the camera,” she says.

13. SOMETIMES THEY REGRET ASKING QUESTIONS.

To build rapport, photographers are always looking to get kids to talk about themselves. Once, one of Grant’s assistants asked if a child had any pets. “Yes,” the kid responded. “Rabbits. But we ate them last night.”

14. KIDS LIKE TO MESS WITH THEM ...

The older kids get, the more they tend to commit acts of subversion. “One kid came in with his jacket on, took it off, sat down, and was ready to go,” Grant says. “I knew something was going on. I looked at his shirt and it said ‘Student of the Month.’ Except he put masking tape over the ‘ent’ so it read ‘Stud of the Month.’” (After consulting with the principal, the kid was allowed to keep it on for the photo.)

Courtney had a kid sit down with what looked like a nice shirt with birds on it. “It was actually middle fingers,” she says.

15. ... AND SOME KIDS ARE JUST A PAIN.

While most kids are cooperative, Grant will sometimes see subjects who want to make their life as difficult as possible. "Seniors tend to fool around more and be difficult on purpose," he says. "Some of them are just perpetually in a bad mood or feel self-conscious." Sports teammates might egg each other on to not crack a smile. One school photographer who works for Lifetouch writes on Reddit that there are one or two "problem kids" per class: "You just have to remember they're just doing it for attention because they aren't getting it somewhere else."

16. ACCORDING TO THEM, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A BAD SCHOOL PICTURE.

A student poses for a school photo
iStock.com/RyanJLane

The internet is overflowing with awkward and embarrassing school photos, from unfortunate backgrounds to unfortunate hairstyles. But according to Grant, “bad school photo” is a misnomer that gives photographers a bad rap. “There’s a common idea school pictures are bad,” he says. “No. School pictures are like shooting fish in a barrel. Is a kid going to smile? Is a kid going to lean into it? Or is it going to be bad no matter what I do? If you think the picture is bad, well, no, that’s you. The picture was fine. The bad haircut wasn’t.”

'Killer Queen' Photography Exhibition Celebrates the Life of Freddie Mercury

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Freddie Mercury fans will have plenty of opportunities to celebrate the late icon in November. Following the release of the Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody on November 2, the Morrison Hotel Gallery is launching a photography exhibition celebrating the legacy of the singer and Queen at both its Los Angeles and New York City outposts.

Opening on November 2 in Los Angeles and November 5 in New York, "KILLER QUEEN" will showcase photographs taken by legendary British music photographer Mick Rock. Rock worked with the band during its heyday and produced some of its most memorable imagery, including the Queen II album cover.

"In the early days of my friendship with Freddie, he said to me, 'The most important thing is to have a fabulous life. As long as it's fabulous I don't care how long it is,'" Rock said of Mercury in a press release. "His is generally regarded as the greatest voice to be spawned by rock n roll."

Rock's more recognizable pictures of the band will be accompanied by prints that have never before been displayed to the public. The photographs will also be available to purchase.

If you're interested in viewing some historic Queen photography and potentially taking some of it home, you can visit the exhibit in either Los Angeles or New York through November 10, 2018.

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