The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost

The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost

by Peter Manseau


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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 lost loved ones alongside his living subjects. At a time when artists like Mathew Brady were remaking American culture with their cameras, Mumler was a sensation: the affluent and influential came calling, including Mary Todd Lincoln.

It took a circuslike 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’s stunning verdict suggested no one would ever solve the mystery of how Mumler did it. This forgotten puzzle offers a vivid snapshot of America at a crossroads in its history, a nation in thrall to new technology while grasping desperately for something to believe in.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328557063
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/09/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 508,233
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

PETER MANSEAU is the author of the nonfiction books Vows, Rag and Bone, and One Nation, Under Gods; and the novel Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter, a winner of the National Jewish Book Award. He is the first curator of religion at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland.


Charlottesville, Virginia

Date of Birth:

November 15, 1974

Place of Birth:

Washington, D.C.


B.A., University of Massachusetts, 1996

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Author's Note xiii

Prologue 1

Part I The Black Art

1 Procure the Remedy at Once and Be Well 13

2 Love and Painting Are Quarrelsome Companions 23

3 Ties Which Death Itself Could Not Loose 33

4 A Palace for the Sun 45

5 I Thought Nobody Would Be Damaged Much 53

6 A Lounging, Listless Madhouse 59

7 My God! Is It Possible? 69

8 She Really Is a Wonderful Whistler 81

9 No Shadow of Trickery 93

10 A Craving for Light 101

Part II Philosophical Instruments

11 The Message Department 113

12 A Big Head Full of Ideas 123

13 Chair and All 139

14 Did You Ever Dream of Some Lost Friend? 153

15 War Against Wrong 163

16 Whose Bones Lie Bleaching 171

Part III Humbugged

17 All Is Gone and Nothing Saved 183

18 A Favorite Haunt of Apparitions 197

19 The Spirits Do Not Like a Throng 209

20 The Tenderest Sympathies of Human Nature 215

21 Weep, Weep, My Eyes 223

22 Are You a Spiritualist in Any Degree? 235

23 An Old, Moth-Eaten Cloak 243

24 By Supernatural Means 251

25 Figura Vaporosa 259

26 They Paid Their Money, and They Had Their Choice 277

27 Those Mortals Gifted with the Power of Seeing 283

Part IV Image and Afterlife

28 Calm assurance of a Happy Future 295

29 The Mumler Process 305

Acknowledgments 311

Notes and Sources 313

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