The Apparitionists
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 Details

TitleThe Apparitionists
ReleaseOct 10th, 2017
PublisherHoughton Mifflin Harcourt
GenreNonfiction, History, Biography, Historical, Fantasy, Paranormal, North American Hi..., American History

The Apparitionists Review

  • Ron Charles
    January 1, 1970
    A 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:
  • Deedee
    January 1, 1970
    Dewey 133.92 FAY-PT
  • Anne
    January 1, 1970
    The 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.
  • Beth
    January 1, 1970
    This 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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