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
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
As with many ghost photographs, the famous Tulip Staircase Ghost photo was taken by supposedly 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
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
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
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.