Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 16: The Most Compelling Ghost Videos and Photographs

The Brown Lady. Photographed by Captain Provand/Indre Shira, Country Life Magazine (1936).  Image Source: About.com.

Even now, when almost anyone can doctor a photo or film, cameras and videos are still considered the most tangible proof of the supernatural.  Although paranormal experts use sensitive gadgets that measure sound and electro-magnetic frequencies and temperature and so on, people always want to see these things with their own eyes.  And here we are: the incredibly limited number of photos and videos that have stumped even the most sceptical sceptics.  I searched across the Web in several languages, and it comes down to these images.  Looking at some of them, maybe we should be thankful that the number is small!

The most famous ghost photo of all (above) is of the Brown Lady, taken in 1936 in Raynham Hall, Norfolk England.  This image is widely considered by sceptics and more credulous people in the field of paranormal investigations alike to be an authentic photograph.  From About.com:
This portrait of "The Brown Lady" ghost is arguably the most famous and well-regarded ghost photograph ever taken. The ghost is thought to be that of Lady Dorothy Townshend, wife of Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount of Raynham, residents of Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England in the early 1700s. It was rumored that Dorothy, before her marriage to Charles, had been the mistress of Lord Wharton. Charles suspected Dorothy of infidelity. Although according to legal records she died and was buried in 1726, it was suspected that the funeral was a sham and that Charles had locked his wife away in a remote corner of the house until her death many years later.

Dorothy's ghost is said to haunt the oak staircase and other areas of Raynham Hall. In the early 1800s, King George IV, while staying at Raynham, saw the figure of a woman in a brown dress standing beside his bed. She was seen again standing in the hall in 1835 by Colonel Loftus, who was visiting for the Christmas holidays. He saw her again a week later and described her as wearing a brown satin dress, her skin glowing with a pale luminescence. It also seemed to him that her eyes had been gouged out. A few years later, Captain Frederick Marryat and two friends saw "the Brown Lady" gliding along an upstairs hallway, carrying a lantern. As she passed, Marryat said, she grinned at the men in a "diabolical manner." Marryat fired a pistol at the apparition, but the bullet simply passed through.

This famous photo was taken in September, 1936 by Captain Provand and Indre Shira, two photographers who were assigned to photograph Raynham Hall for Country Life magazine. This is what happened, according to Shira:

"Captain Provand took one photograph while I flashed the light. He was focusing for another exposure; I was standing by his side just behind the camera with the flashlight pistol in my hand, looking directly up the staircase. All at once I detected an ethereal veiled form coming slowly down the stairs. Rather excitedly, I called out sharply: 'Quick, quick, there's something.' I pressed the trigger of the flashlight pistol. After the flash and on closing the shutter, Captain Provand removed the focusing cloth from his head and turning to me said: 'What's all the excitement about?'"

Upon developing the film, the image of The Brown Lady ghost was seen for the first time. It was published in the December 16, 1936 issue of Country Life. The ghost has been seen occasionally since.
Ghost girl in fire (1995). Photographed by Tony O'Rahilly. Image Source: Damn Cool Pictures.

Caption for the above photograph: Of all the ghost photos I've seen (well, except for that one that I can't show at the present time), this one is hands-down the most eerie. Probably the most disturbing too. I didn't know about this one until a few months ago. Almost ten years ago, on November 19th, 1995, Wem Town Hall in Shropshire, England was engulfed in flames and burned to the ground. As firefighters tried to stave off the inferno a town resident, Tony O'Rahilly, took pictures from across the street using a telephoto lens on his camera. There, rather clearly in one of the photos, is what looks very much to be a small girl standing in a doorway, with the brightness of the flames behind her. No one ever remembered there being a small girl present on scene, much less in that close a proximity to the fire. The photo and the original negative were turned over to a photo expert who decided that the picture was 100% authentic: "The negative is a straightforward piece of black-and-white work and shows no sign of having been tampered with." Okay, so what's a girl ghost doing in such a big fire? Well in 1677 a fire destroyed many of Wem’s wooden houses. The fire was said to have been caused by a 14-year old girl named Jane Churm, who had been careless with a candle. Churm died in the fire along with several others, and her ghost is said to still haunt the area. Whether there's such a thing as ghosts or not, it must be said: if this is just a trick, an illusion of smoke and fire that happened to be captured on film, it's a zillion-to-one coincidence that it just so happened to appear in the form of a girl who also died in a terrible fire at the same location. But hey, stranger things than that have happened in this world, right?

They have indeed.  This year, Dr. Fong's House of Mysteries picked up a debunking of the above photograph in the Shropshire Star (17 May 2010). A reader found a 1922 postcard of Wem in 1922 with a little girl (pictured below) who looks an awful lot like the Wem ghost (pictured above).

This is the picture of Wem in 1922 that revived interest in the ghost story. Note the girl on the left. Image Source: Shropshire Star.

From the Shropshire Star:
[Reader] Brian [Lear] spotted an eerie similarity between a girl standing in the street in a 1922 photo of Wem and the young girl whose fuzzy image was famously captured amid the flames as Wem Town Hall burned down in 1995.

That photograph taken by local amateur photographer Tony O’Rahilly created international headlines and sparked the legend of “The Wem Ghost”.

There was speculation that the girl was 14-year-old Jane Churm, who accidentally started the disastrous great fire of Wem in 1677 and was reputed to be haunting the town hall.

Wem folk enthusiastically embraced the story which put their town under the spotlight. A sign on the outskirts had a makeshift alteration to read “Ghost Town”, experts in paranormal activity visited, and there was even a scroll and a plaque to mark where the ghost was spotted.

But when Brian, from Shrewsbury, looked at a photo of Wem — a postcard franked in 1922 — in our Pictures From The Past slot the other day, his eye was drawn to a little girl standing in a doorway.

“I was intrigued to find that she bore a striking likeness to the little girl featured as the ‘Wem ghost’,” he said.

“Her dress and headgear appear to be identical.”

So we have blown up detail from that picture to compare with the “Wem ghost”. And, by jove, he’s right!
The Wem ghost.  Image Source: Shropshire Star.
The girl in the 1922 Wem picture.  Image Source: Shropshire Star.
This image was in one of my earlier posts: Ghost on Packhorse Bridge, Caergwrle, UK; courtesy of Cheshire Paranormal Society. Image Source CPS via BBC.

Caption for the above photograph: Ghost hunters from Cheshire Paranormal Society (CPS) took this photo during a vigil on the historic Packhorse Bridge in the village of Caergwrle, near Wrexham. At the time members hadn't realised what was apparently standing on the bridge in front of them, said John Millington from the group, but some group members had reported feeling uneasy. Also, other paranormal activity was also recorded, such as so-called orbs of light, one of which can also been seen in this photo. Through further study and assistance from members of Hope and Caergwrle Heritage Society, it's thought three ghosts haunt the bridge; a young girl and two women. CPS members believe this photo shows the ghost of Squire Yonge who, the history books say, was well known in the area 300 years ago.

Tantallon Castle Ghost (May 2008). Photographed by Christopher Aitchison. Image Source: Daily Mail.

Caption for the above photograph: In the ruins of a Scottish castle, an elderly woman apparently peers down from a window. She seems to be wearing centuries-old clothing, including a ruff. Even more bizarrely, according to the man behind the camera, no such figure was there when he took the picture - which was declared the winner of the contest. The image was captured by Christopher Aitchison at Tantallon Castle in North Berwick, East Lothian, in May last year. Detailed examinations have concluded the image has not been manipulated. Mr Aitchison said: 'I took the photograph at around 3pm. I was not aware of anyone or anything being present in my picture, only noticing the anomaly when I got home.' Staff have verified that there were no sinister dummies in period costume or historical re-enactments going on that day. 'I did not notice any nice old ladies in ruffs walking around the stairs.' The snap was judged the best of more than 250 submitted to a study being run as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. About a quarter of a million members of the public voted on the eerie images, and gave Mr Aitchison top spot, with 39 per cent believing it to show a ghost. Sceptics argued that the figure could simply have been an unnoticed visitor or have been formed by an unusual reflection of light against the wall and grille.

Blogs breathlessly reported that the above photo had been checked for tampering and 4 sceptical experts could detect no trickery. It doesn't look like a nice little old lady to me!  It looks like a V for Vendetta type.

French phantoms.  Video Source: Youtube.

Strange lights and figures moving high in the trees in the Gettysburg woods. Video Source: Youtube.

Caption for the above video: Taken at Gettysburg, Penn., considered one of the most haunted areas in the U.S. The video was shot at Triangular Field by Tom Underwood in 2001. Several strange figures can be seen moving among the trees.

TAPS investigation of Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA. Video Source: Youtube.

Ghost of little girl seen by entire neighbourhood, presumed a murder victim, Cúcuta, Colombia (2007). Video Source: Youtube via Unexplained Mysteries.

Video Source: Youtube.

Caption for the above video: Many people at a park in the Villa Camila district Columbia witnessed the ghost of a young girl nightly back in 2007. For proof, they brought cell phones and video cameras to catch the apparition. If you do not speak Spanish, do not worry, some of the witnesses testimony has been translated to English. This looks to be real and was witnessed nightly for several days by several people at the same time. This was originally broadcast on RCN news in June of 2007. Could be a hoax with some kind of projection on the wall? The accompanying noise, which is awful ,makes your hair stand on end. Thanks to HaNsEL091 for commenting with what he has heard that this was a prank pulled by some locals. If anybody knows the back story to this please comment. So we now believe that this was probably a hoax.  Please watch and see what you think and please add if you know more about this story. Thanks for watching.

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  1. I'm not a skeptic, per se, but I can't let rational thought be chased away by 'wishful thinking'. That image of the little girl in the fire and in the daylight doorway don't just look identical, they ARE identical. Every detail of shadow and light, pose and posture are identical—indicating to me that the source material for the image manipulation has been found.

    And I've got lots of pictures of 'globes of light', because when I use the camera flash on outside nighttime shots, particles of moisture in the air catch the light, but are out of focus as the lens focuses on the main subject.

    I want there to be ghosts or such in the world, proving that there is more to reality than we give credit for, but I want them to be real ghosts, not manipulations or hysteria :>)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Thomas. It's a very artful photoshop job isn't it? The little girl in the burning bldg is a famous 'unsolved' ghost photo that you will find all over the Web. It was sent in by a local, who obviously manipulated a historic local postcard. It was later debunked locally (I don't know if the fellow who did the photoshopping got into any trouble). But for some reason the debunking of the photo has not made it onto the Web at large.

    Perhaps the town wanted to keep the ghost alive?

    As for wanting ghosts to be real, I take your point, although I'm pretty fond of empirical reality. I love imagination and art, am willing to probe the gray areas. However, I'm not interested in actively confronting real spectres. The main thing I've found in running these posts is that ghosts and even demons are mainly symbols and metaphors for actual horrors that are much worse than anything the undead realm could produce: murder, violence, grief, disease, broken families, economic bankruptcy, despair, suicide, etc etc. Sometimes the paranormal is just a metaphor for that which we do not yet know, and that lack of knowledge can be terrifying. 99 per cent of the time, if not 100 per cent of the time, the supernatural channels either tragedy or ignorance. Peeling back the 'genuine' picture behind the legends (as with the Cambodian post I did earlier in this countdown) shows the reality behind the ghost. The ghosts are actually better ciphers, and maybe that's why Hallowe'en can be fun for people - a partial flirtation with the unspeakable, dressing up, eating some candy, watching a scary movie - but never facing the truth behind these symbols we toss around at this time of year.