A story of faith and fraud in post–Civil War America, told through the lens of a photographer who claimed he could capture images of the dead In the early days of photography, in the death-strewn wake of the Civil War, one man seized America’s imagination. A “spirit photographer,” William Mumler took portrait photographs that featured the ghostly presence of a lost loved one alongside the living subject. Mumler was a sensation: The affluent and influential came calling, including Mary Todd Lincoln, who arrived at his studio in disguise amidst rumors of séances in the White House. Peter Manseau brilliantly captures a nation wracked with grief and hungry for proof of the existence of ghosts and for contact with their dead husbands and sons. It took a circus-like trial of Mumler on fraud charges, starring P. T. Barnum for the prosecution, to expose a fault line of doubt and manipulation. And even then, the judge sided with the defense—nobody ever solved the mystery of his spirit photography. This forgotten puzzle offers a vivid snapshot of America at a crossroads in its history, a nation in thrall to new technology while clinging desperately to belief.
The Apparitionists Review
- January 1, 1970Ron CharlesA fascinating examination of the curious intersection of Civil War grief, Spiritualism, and photographer technology. I interviewed Peter Manseau about his book here at The Washington Post:https://www.facebook.com/roncharles/p...
- January 1, 1970DeedeeDewey 133.92 FAY-PT
- January 1, 1970AnneThe first half of this book was fascinating to me, and I sped right through it. It was so informative, and I really enjoyed the author's writing style. But about half way through the book, I got really bogged down. I think there just got to be too much for me to process. Too many people. Too many little side stories. And I would have been interested to learn how a fraud of this type might have been perpetrated.more
- January 1, 1970BethThis was heading for a solid 4, maybe a 4.5, but the central mystery wasn't solved. There wasn't really even a conjecture! For another great book on photography, read Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan.
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