I like ghosts. One of my favorite childhood cartoons was “Casper, the Friendly Ghost.” Who could not love a friendly ghost?
When it comes to Georgia photographers, some of them believed in ghosts and spirits, or the persons being photographed did, and in some cases, the newspapers reporting their existence did, or knew a good story when they heard it.
In 1886, the Cuthbert Enterprise & Appeal reprinted an item from the Morning News (possibly Savannah), entitled “Ghosts in a Picture,” in which a photographer shows a news reporter a cabinet card photograph of a young man. In the photograph were “three or four indistinct faces.”
That, said the photographer, is what some people call a spirit picture. The faces you see in the background are supposed to be those of three of the young man’s relatives who have gone hence. — The picture was brought here by the young man …..who believes implicitly in spirit photography. There never was a bigger piece of humbuggery, though, and any one with a disposition to look into the matter can see at once that is a fraud.
The photographer went on to discuss lighting, pointing out that all objects in a photograph are lighted from the same direction, which is true of two of the “spirit faces,” but not of the third.
The fact is the ‘spirit’ faces are taken on the plate before it is exposed for the man’s picture. In this case, the medium was not careful to select pictures with the same light.
He told the reporter how easy it is to mistake one face for another, that even photos of the deceased could be easily had, and the images combined in the dark room. He said he
took several ‘spirit’ photographs for the gentleman I speak of, just to show him how easy it was, but in spite of it all, he insisted that there is ‘something in it’ that he cannot understand.
In 1904, another Georgia newspaper recounted a true story, or not, involving “a remarkable Kodak group picure taken of four of the valiant boys in Gray.’ It turned out to be “General Lee’s Profile.”
The photographer was unnamed, but the four veterans were Captain B.C. Wall, Capt. Kent Bisell, Capt. W.T. Butt, and Mr. F.B. Orchard, who were “all well known, and highly respected veterans of the civil war.” It was Mr. B. C. Wall’s front porch where his fellow veterans gathered, and “a young man called, and having a Kodak [camera, they] decided to have their picture taken.”
The gentlemen formed a group on the porch, and the Kodak did the rest. Nothing was thought of the matter until the picture was developed.
The surprise of the four veterans can be imagined when they noticed that the peculiar light and the background of the picture ——- just back of the group the outlines of a head —- the outline face was closely examined. It is ornamented with a beard, and in the opinion of all familiar with the features of General Robert E. Lee, it is a good likeness —– the more the picture is studied, the plainer the features become.
The aritcle goes on to note that just before the photograph was taken, General Lee was the topic of conversation. “They believe General Lee’s spirit was on the scene and impressed itself on the picture.”
Speaking of the Civil War, I recently read a post by a fellow blogger I admire, M. B. Henry, called “A Ghost at Gettysburg: No Photographs Please…” In this post Henry recounts the battles fought there [the 11th Georgia was involved -see Wikipedia entry], and the tales surrounding Devil’s Den, “considered one of the most haunted locales in the city of Gettysburg.”
—– by the time Union and Confederate troops finished with the area, Devil’s Den had earned a place in the immortal grounds of history. [following other battles in the area, on July 2, 1863], Blue and gray crashed in a swath of now-infamous places like the Peach Orchard, the Wheat Field, and the rocky, dangerous area now known as the Devil’s Den. —– In such rocky, formidable terrain with its twists and turns, cracks and grooves, and narrow, dicey passageways, regiments battling it out there quickly broke down into disorganized chaos. —– All of the fields in and around Gettysburg became hollowed ground, but death reaped an especially bad harvest on Devil’s Den.
Henry recounts several stories involving photographers and Devil’s Den, and encounters with a “man with shaggy hair, ragged clothes, and a flop-hat like those worn by many rebel soldiers during the Civil War. ” Perhaps that he in the stereo view above!
One visting photographer made photos of Devil’s Den, and “Although the battlefield looked bare at the time —- when he developed the pictures at home — [there was] a blurry image of a man with shaggy hair, ragged clothes, and a floppy hat —– standing on the rocks in the right side of the picture.” Others posed with the man in the floppy hat, but the man was missing from the developed photos.
As cameras became more technically advanced, photographers in Devil’s Den found that the atmosphere, or maybe the “fellow,” played with their camera batteries, buttons, and screens. Batteries lost their charge, buttons would stick, and screens would freeze. Once out of Devil’s Den, everything worked fine. Even film crews had problems – systems went down, and footage was unusable.
If you like ghost stories, or photography, I highly recommend reading the entire post, you won’t be sorry. M.B. Henry not only is a fine writer, but a good photographer, and poet — I would say that’s a triple whammy, and I would be happy with just one of those three!
© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, without written permission from this blog’s author, is prohibited. With permission, excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.