In October 1972 a photographer stood at the entrance to a wedding reception in Paisley, Scotland, snapping pictures of the guests who were arriving to celebrate. But arising from this seemingly everyday scene, something creepy was soon to materialize. Mind you, when a pair of couples posed for their snapshot, nothing seemed amiss – until, that is, the photographer developed the image, revealing a sight that still terrifies observers to this day.
If you’ve ever captured a photo featuring a floating translucent sphere, some believe you have snapped the unliving. But this claim naturally comes with little evidence to back it up. And on the website for Skeptoid – an award-winning, science-focused podcast – host Brian Dunning even tried to debunk the myth. He wrote, “The usual hypothesis presented by believers is that orbs represent spirits of dead people…”
However, Dunning explained, “There are no plausible hypotheses that describe the mechanism by which a person who dies will become a hovering ball of light that appears on film but is invisible to the eye.” And he continued, “There are lots of other things that a dead person might become, presumably.”
Dunning countered that an orb will simply appear when a piece of dust, drop of water or an insect floats into the frame just as the camera flashes. And if it’s close enough to the lens, the object will then appear bright yet blurry – a combination that creates the white, circular orb.
In fact, the practice of spotting – or even producing – ghosts in photos has been around for decades. And one of the most notorious peddlers of ghost photography was American William Mumler, a jewelry engraver who took pictures as a hobby. But it was a self-portrait that he developed in 1861 that presented a shocking result.
The photo, of course, showed Mumler in the forefront – but next to him hovered the form of a young woman. So the amateur photographer initially assumed that the female had transferred from an old negative. Yet others who viewed the image told Mumler that the woman looked like his cousin who had passed away. And then the spiritualist community caught wind of what Mumler had captured.
So when the spiritualists began spreading the word that Mumler had taken the first-ever picture of a spirit, he did nothing to sway their opinion. Instead, the photographer adopted the title and began shooting potentially vulnerable subjects. He apparently hoped that he could capture the spiritual silhouette of someone they had loved and lost.
Mumler also told people that he was a medium, claiming that he had the power to draw spirits into his photos. And he assured them that the camera would be able to capture spirits, even though they couldn’t be seen by the human eye. His marks then paid between $5 and $10 for a portrait, a hefty price at the time.
But not everyone believed Mumler’s claims. Indeed, Barnum & Bailey Circus founder – and promoter of hoaxes himself – P.T. Barnum stood as one of the photographer’s biggest detractors. And Barnum even testified when Mumler went to trial for fraud in 1869. During those proceedings, some accused Mumler of using live subjects to portray spirits in his photos, while others said that he had broken into their homes, collected photos of lost loved ones and used them in his work.
And to make his point against Mumler, Barnum hired photographer Abraham Bogardus to create a ghost photo. The resulting image showed the circus founder in the foreground with a very famous spirit in the background – then-recently assassinated president Abraham Lincoln. Other photographers testified, too. The individuals even proposed nine different tricks that Mumler could have used to create such photos, including combination printing and multiple exposure.
However, the court never convicted Mumler of fraud; it had insufficient evidence to do so. But the judge did say the photographer had likely used “trick and deception” in his business, according to The Atlantic. And though Mumler’s career tapered off after that, spirit photography continued to live on into the next century.
Indeed, people have continued to share photos that seem to show a figure from beyond, claiming that the pictures haven’t been doctored. For instance, Reddit user Njfurlong shared their own family portrait taken in New Zealand in the 1930s. And it may not be obvious at first, but an unknown figure stands among the relatives.
According to Njfurlong, this wasn’t the family’s first encounter with the particular specter, either. The Redditor wrote, “My aunt saw her a few times while growing up there in the 1960s [and] 70s beside or at the end of her bed. She wore a fitted white bodice style dress with a dark broach at her waist, dark hair up in a bun.”
Another creepy shot showed a nursing home corridor where Reddit user 13thSage’s mother worked. They wrote, “Prior to the photo being taken, members of the staff and other residents heard the sounds of a door opening and closing along with the appearance of a call light turning on and off, yet nobody was in the room.”
A resident snapped a photo during one of those unexplained episodes, 13thSage reported. And they continued, “From what I have been told this picture had been taken roughly 15 minutes after a patient in the facility had passed on.” The Reddit user then guessed that the blackish blur in the photo could be the person’s spirit or even the Grim Reaper.
Of course, not all photos boasting a potential ghost come from such dark circumstances. Take Virginia couple Kevin and Christina Denis and their scary snap as a prime example. Back in 2015, the pair decided to share pictures from their wedding day with Facebook friends.
But then Christina’s friend noticed something unusual in the background of the couple’s favorite picture. To the pal, it actually seemed as though someone stood between the smiling newlyweds, smirking at the camera. And terrifyingly, the happy couple did not recognize the person at all.
Kevin later shared the picture on Reddit, too, and he wrote, “We still don’t know who it was. [Christina’s] sister said it might be her, but that face looks absolutely nothing even close to it. That face looks like a baby face [in my opinion].” Meanwhile, fellow Redditors chimed in with their own theories – and jokes – about who had appeared in the picture.
Yes, one Redditor compared the face to that of Sméagol – also known as Gollum – from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books and films. Another wrote, “I think it might be a boy by the looks of it. Or Satan, I’m not sure.” And another user offered up the theory that it might not be a face at all, but rather a scarf with folds that happened to look ghostly.
Kevin’s Reddit post never yielded a solid answer as to who or what stood behind the couple on their wedding day. But they did fortunately get one positive outcome due to sharing their spooky picture. Indeed, someone photoshopped the face out of the background, making their special snap much less scary.
Meanwhile, a wedding in the fall of 1972 yielded a similar photo – which has yet to be explained by experts. The nuptials in question took place in Paisley, Scotland. At the time, a photographer stood at the ready to capture photos of guests as they arrived. And according to the man on the left of one resulting photo, his friend’s son was the groom in the wedding.
So this man, his wife – the woman in the hooded jacket – and another pair of friends paused for the requisite photo before entering the reception. At the time, nothing about the image seemed awry. But according to a post in the blog Science of Ghosts, as written by someone claiming to be the man on the far left of the photo, something was amiss. That’s right: in the negatives, the photographer could see a phenomenon he referred to as a “spirit extra.”
Indeed, a closer look reveals that there seems to be something behind the guy on the far right of the image. The man pictured on the left of the photo wrote, “[There] is a ‘spirit extra’ looking towards the camera and dressed in what appears to be open-toed sandals.” And, as previously mentioned, the photographer claimed to have no explanation for such an apparition.
“As far as he was aware, no one was behind the man when the photo was taken and no one was there when he moved away,” the man pictured on the left in the photo continued. “He said it would be impossible for anyone to crouch behind without the person being aware of their presence and indeed without their body being visible to the person’s left.”
And, as the photo shows, the woman second from the right wore gloves in the picture. The man on the far right doesn’t have his hands by his side as she does; his hands seem to be behind his back. The other man in the photo continued that his friend “would surely have felt someone behind him.”
Those who have witnessed the photo have plenty of ideas as to where the figure came from. Some, for instance, believed that the source of the specter was Photoshop. And photo-editing software could have perhaps added the young figure into the background. Others thought maybe the man on the right wore a watch, thus creating the illusion of a person behind him.
Soon after the image first caused a stir, though, an expert apparently confirmed that it hadn’t been tampered with. The man featured on the left in the photo wrote in Science of Ghosts, “Another friend… had the photograph examined by a police photographer, who said the [image] was genuine and not faked.”
Plus, the man said several mediums had given him confirmation of the image’s supernaturality. He wrote, “One Glasgow medium predicted that I would receive such a photo. Another well-known Glasgow medium was able to tell me without seeing the photo that it contained a ‘spirit extra.’”
In sharing the photo, the author of the Science of Ghosts blog post got plenty of opinions from readers. And one commenter Billy McCoy had an interesting idea. He theorized, “Just before the photo is taken, the lady on the right asks her husband to hold her shawl so that it doesn’t hide her new dress.”
“Being a gent, he holds it behind his back out of the way,” McCoy went on. “Note the gloves; a shawl would coordinate nicely with those. Then, there is the face… until I saw a face I saw a wrist with a watch strap. The majority of people wear a watch on their left hand, though. Could this be the man’s right hand with a ring on the first finger?”
Meanwhile, another anonymous commenter thought the figure was “probably a little boy peeping from behind a drink stand.” And they further theorized that the photographer had only argued that the figure was a spirit because he “want[ed] his money and didn’t want complaints made about his lack of detail.”
Adding to the debate, user Giles presented a third theory. He wrote, “There is some furniture behind the couple; if you follow the lower line of this item you will see that the ‘eye’ is actually scuffing where the wood has worn away.” And Giles contends that this produces “random flashes of bright color across the surface.”
User Reza then chimed in, saying they had a problem not with the main photo, but with the zoomed-in version. The variant is often shared to show the eye staring out from behind the couples. They wrote, “Is the second photo supposed to be an enhanced, zoomed-in section of the first photo? If so, there are some gross inconsistencies.”
“Now, assuming the two photos come from a different source – possibly a duplicate, better-kept photo – you can’t get that kind of digital clarity from a zoom without modifying image attributes,” Reza wrote. But with all the doubt swirling, yet another voice decided to chime in – that of the man claiming to be the wedding guest, who shared the photo in the first place.
“The original photo was returned to the professional photographer when I received it,” the man pictured on the left in the image wrote. “He produced the 35mm negative which clearly showed the ‘extra’ and he could not explain it.” Then, the individual attempted to negate many of the readers’ theories that they had shared.
And the wedding guest started by addressing the idea that the other man pictured on the far right held onto a woman’s accessory. He wrote, “I can assure you that the gentleman did not hold a shawl behind his back.” He then said that the figure was not that of an adolescent attendee. Yes, he asserted, “Although children attended the wedding, no one stood behind us when the photo was taken.”
The man pictured on the left then wrote about the enlargement of the image – and who had actually created it. “The police photographer who examined the original photo made an enlargement from the original [image] to enable the ‘extra’ to be seen more clearly,” he recalled. And the officer also used it to rule out that there was a child in the photo, too.
“He further advised that the dimensions of the eye and foot were such that they could not possibly be that of a child,” the wedding guest continued in the Science of Ghosts blog. Finally, he said that a psychic had later explained the spirit’s position in the picture. Apparently, you see, it was “in the process of building up.” And for many, that explanation was supposedly enough. Yes, they saw a ghost in the picture, too.
“I have the feeling that this is a child that is from the other side and is related to this man,” commenter Julie wrote. And another person simply stated how terrifying the photo was, regardless of whether or not it was an undoctored image. “That ghost… has just spooked the hell out of me,” the person admitted.
In the end, though, there’s really no right or wrong answer. After all, each viewer could potentially see a different aspect of each paranormal image. The theories cannot therefore be proven with complete certainty, and these debates will no doubt only continue. So, whether someone sees an orb, a strange silhouette or the figure of an unknown person in the background, the jury is out.
Yes, opinions are certainly divided when it comes to a particular photograph that surfaced online in 2016. And while the vintage snap – which was apparently captured in 1900 – may look harmless at first glance, a seemingly sinister detail in the background will send a shiver down your spine. But is it thanks to a paranormal presence or something far more mundane?
The photograph in question was published by Northern Irish news website Belfast Live as part of a series reflecting on the lives of workers from yesteryear. These images presented a variety of employees tending to their duties long ago. It was a charmingly insightful feature; yet this specific picture has since become famous for a chilling reason.
The photograph was shot back in 1900 and shows a group of ten young women at a linen mill, all of whom are dressed for work. At a glance, the photo represents a snapshot of what life was once like for these girls. But more rigorous investigation reveals something altogether more disturbing.
Staff at Belfast Live admitted that they had been oblivious to the photo’s creepy nature when they were putting the collection together. In fact, this was only realized after a relative of one of the photo’s subjects got in touch with the site. This was a woman named Lynda, the granddaughter of one of the girls pictured.
Lynda had written to Belfast Live to express elation that her grandmother – called Ellen Donnelly – featured in the picture. The original photograph, Lynda claimed, was still in her father’s possession; and it was something which she referred to as “a family ghost picture.”
In her letter to Belfast Live, Lynda pointed out where in the “ghost picture” specifically to look; and with that, the eerie nature of the photograph was revealed. So, the publication ran a new story pointing out to readers the terrifying presence that Lynda had highlighted, and soon the picture began spreading around the web.
The original story which included the creepy photograph was written by Mark McCreary and published on the Belfast Live website in April 2016. The feature opened with a point about how modern technology has changed the retail industry, and he used the rise of online shopping to illustrate that.
Elsewhere, McCreary highlighted how self-scan machines had taken away the human interaction of being served by a shopkeeper at the cash till. So, with that in mind, the author said that the publication “decided to take a dander back in time to when services came with a personal touch.”
Focused on the Northern Irish city of Belfast, the pictures present a way of life which is almost unrecognizable by today’s standards. McCreary continued, “Our gallery includes great old images of delivery men using a horse and cart – and their own broad shoulders – to bring milk, [potatoes] and coal to houses across Belfast.”
The photographs were taken across several decades, starting from the beginning of the 20th century right up to the 1950s. During the earlier part of this period, Belfast was known for producing ships. The most famous of these was the RMS Titanic, which tragically sank in 1912 with the deaths of over 1,500 passengers.
In addition to the significant shipbuilding sector in Belfast, the city was also home to numerous linen mills. According the National Archives of Ireland, in fact, Belfast once produced more linen than anywhere else on Earth. These served as the workplaces of a large number of women, and Ellen Donnelly was one of them.
But as well as the linen and ship-building sectors, other sorts of business grew throughout Belfast at the time as well. There were factories producing cars, tobacco and ginger ale, along with engineering works. And elsewhere, a variety of smaller firms and stores could be found throughout the city.
Examples of smaller businesses located throughout the city of Belfast included bakeries, grocery stores and launderettes. But as well as these, even more specialized enterprises were open for business around this period. For instance, one particular company was called Gribbon Bros. and it was involved in the making of handkerchiefs.
But all of this isn’t to suggest that the nature of enterprise in Belfast wasn’t without its darker side. In reality, children often took employment at points in their lives when they should’ve been committed to school. There were apparently some 2,000 kids employed in linen mills at the beginning of the 1900s, with others acting as deliverers and salespeople.
As we can see, the images published on Belfast Live in 2016 give a fascinating insight into the realities of that period time. In one photograph, for instance, young boys are being handed copies of a newspaper. Naturally, one might safely speculate that it’ll be down to these kids to deliver them around the city.
Another photo dating back to July 1932 shows female employees at work. They’re working at the Gallaher Factory, where they can be seen preparing boxes of cigarettes. And the sheer number of women packed onto this factory floor perhaps gives a sense of the operation’s scale.
Elsewhere in the collection, a shot from around 1915 shows a number of men digging up a road. Seen from the perspective of the present day, we might imagine how difficult the work must have been without the help of modern machinery.
In another picture, men can be seen rolling large barrels along the ground, preparing them for transport. This shot was taken at Dunville’s Distillery, which specialized in the production of whiskey. Yet again, the photo shows us how much more physically demanding work must have been without the help of modern technology.
All of the photographs in the gallery shed some light on the way things used to be for Belfast’s workers. But there was one shot in particular which would eventually go on to capture the imaginations of many people today. This, of course, is the image of Ellen Donnelly and her colleagues.
While the photograph functions as a window into the past, it became famous for another reason entirely. While at a glance, things in the picture seem to be normal, there’s actually something lurking behind Ellen Donnelly. That’s to say, there appears to be an additional, terrifying presence in the shot.
The notion of spirits or ghosts has been an enduring source of fascination across the ages. And even though there’s no scientific basis for their existence, many people in contemporary times still believe in them. In fact, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center study, 18 percent of people in the United States claimed they had encountered one.
Since the advent of photography, a number of images have emerged claiming to depict ghosts. One well-known example is a 1936 photo purported to have been taken by photographers from the publication Country Life magazine. It shows a supposed ghost standing on a staircase in Norfolk, England: the so-called Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.
The Brown Lady is thought to be the spirit of a woman named Lady Dorothy Walpole, whose brother was U.K. Prime Minister Robert Walpole. Born in 1686, she went on to marry a man called Charles Townshend, who was known for his brutal outbursts. Apparently, after discovering that his wife had cheated on him, Townshend locked her away in Raynham Hall, where she later died in 1726.
Over a century later, Lady Walpole’s spirit supposedly appeared to people during a Christmas gathering at Raynham Hall. According to one Lucia C. Stone, a pair of guests at the property claimed to have witnessed the figure dressed in brown en route to their bedrooms. The next day, the specter was apparently seen in more detail, with its hollow eyes being specifically noted.
In 1836 another claim of the ghost materializing was made. This time, the supposed witness was a man named Captain Frederick Marryat, whose daughter Florence later detailed her dad’s alleged encounter. She penned in 1891, “I have heard him describe how he watched her approaching nearer and nearer… [He] recognized the figure as the facsimile of the portrait of ‘The Brown Lady.’”
Captain Marryat’s daughter Florence continued the description of her father’s experience with the ghost. She wrote, “He had his finger on the trigger of his revolver, and was about to demand it to stop and give the reason for its presence there, when the figure halted of its own accord before the door behind which he stood, and holding the lighted lamp she carried to her features, grinned in a malicious and diabolical manner at him.”
Of course, the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is just one of countless ghosts claimed to have been captured on film. Many more photos have been widely circulated over the years, capturing quite a few people’s imaginations. And in 2016 Belfast Live unwittingly published yet another image which has added to the lore.
At a glance, there’s seemingly nothing particularly notable about the photograph of the female staff. Just like the other pictures in Belfast Live’s collection, it offers an insight into the life of 20th century workers in the city. As we mentioned, in this particular case the image focuses on women from a linen factory.
The photo was published along with 15 others as part of the Belfast Live feature, and as we explored earlier, no one at the website initially noticed anything odd. But when one of the site’s users wrote in to comment on the image, it would never again be seen in the same way.
A woman named Lynda contacted the site to explain that she was the granddaughter of someone in the photo. She wrote, “Great to see an old photo of my Granny… when she worked at the mill. She was Ellen Donnelly – née McKillop – and she is fourth on the right in the second row down.”
Lynda continued, “I don’t really believe in ghosts – but there have been a few odd going-ons around this photo, so I hope this doesn’t cause any more!” She added, “Did anyone spot the mysterious hand on the girl on the right’s shoulder?”
If one looks carefully, a mysterious hand seems to be draped over one of the women’s shoulders; but it doesn’t appear to be attached to anyone. In fact, everyone around the hand has their arms folded together, meaning it couldn’t belong to any of them. So, what’s really going on?
Predictably, internet users have been having their say on the ghoulish-looking hand in the photo. And while there were those that labelled the pic as “creepy,” others were more measured in their responses. Writing in the comments section of the Mirror website, for instance, one reader elaborated on their own theory.
“Photo manipulation existed before Photoshop,” the person wrote. “One of the most common types was composite photos – basically what would now be described as ‘Photoshopping someone in.’ There were various techniques for this, including double exposure, or making a pasted mock-up print to photograph and manipulate when printing that photo in the darkroom.”
This same internet commenter also pointed out that there was a problem with some shadows in the image. They wrote, “If you look at the image of the girl with the hand on her shoulder, the shadows on her in the image do not fall at exactly the same angle as those on the faces of the other people in the image.” This, the person implied, suggests that the image had been manipulated.
Elsewhere, another theory about the ghostly hand was put forth in the comments section of the Belfast Live article. These thoughts were somewhat similar to the ones about the photo having been altered. However, this other commenter suggested that the photo might not have resulted from a purposeful editing job.
This user wrote, “As late as the early 20th century, exposure times for portraits were often at least several seconds long. So, the subjects had to stand very still or a double exposure or blurring would result. One explanation might be that the woman [on the] top right had her hand on the other woman’s shoulder at the beginning of the exposure, and then she quickly moved to a folded-arms position when she realized the exposure had started, creating a double exposure.”
In addition to this, another person shared their thoughts on the Belfast Live website. Yet these particular musings differed from the others in that they had nothing to do with the integrity of the photograph itself. Instead, this person argued that the ghostly hand was little more than the result of the way some fabric was positioned.
As the skeptical commenter put it, “It’s just the dress on her shoulder. If you look at the ‘fingers,’ they are actually the dress material. It’s just the way it fell. If the lady behind her had moved her arm, it would be clearer. Sorry to burst your bubble. It has a natural explanation and not a supernatural one.”
It wouldn’t be the first time that photos allegedly depicting ghosts have been explained by other means. In fact, there have been many people over the years that’ve been outed as frauds for producing fake ghost pictures. Yet still, such photos still retain an appeal for many people.
As for the specific photo of the Belfast linen workers and the ghostly hand, one must reach their own conclusions. All in all, few would argue that the pic isn’t at the very least to be considered creepy. But is it really the result of the supernatural – or something much more mundane?