The Trial of William Mumler Spirit Photography Engraving

Mumler – The Trial of William Mumler

The cover of the May 8th, 1969 edition of Harper’s Weekly featuring an engraving and article about the trial of William H. Mumler. The engraving features 9 images of spirit photography produced by Mumler. The article describes the trial against Mumler for allegedly producing false spirit photographs.


The case of the people against WILLIAM H. MUMLER of 630 Broadway, is one so remarka-ble and without prece-dent in the annals of criminal jurisprudence  that we devote this page to illustrations bearing upon it. The charge against Mr. MUM LEH is that, by means of what he terms spiritual photo-graphs, he has swindled many credulous persons, leading them to believe it possible to photograph the immaterial forms of their departed friends. The case has excited the profoundest interest, and, strange as it may seem, there are thou-sands of people who be-lieve that its develop-ment will justify the claims made by the spir-itual photographer. We shall not attempt to give an expression to our own opinions, but simply to follow the developments of the case through the testimony offered during the first few days of the trial. It is through the in-strumentality of Mar-shal JOSEPH IL Too K-ER that the case has been brought before the courts. Ile deposes that he was ordered by Mayor HALL to investigate the case, whiCh he did by assuming a false name, and by getting his pho-tograph taken by Mr. MU NI LER. After the taking of the picture the negative was shown him, with a dim, indis-tinct outline of a ghostly face staring out of one corner; and he was told that the picture repre-sented. the spirit of his father-in-law. He, how-ever, failed to recognize the worthy old gentle-man, and emphatically declared that the picture neither represented his father-in-law, nor any of his relations, nor yet any person whom he had ever seen or known. With this evidence the prosecution rested. The counsel for the de-fense have brought for-ward a number of wit-nesses who testify to the genuineness of spiritual photographs taken for them by Mr. MU MUHL WILLIAM P. SNEED, a photographer, of Pough-keepsie, testifies that Mu mt,u a succeeded in producing spiritual pho-tographs at his gallery in Poughkeepsie, and he was unable to discover how it was done. Judge EDMONDS, one of the most distinguished ad-ihtTooates of Spiritualism, “r deposed that he had two photographs taken by Mum ER ; the spirit form in one of them he thought he could recognize, but not the one in the other. He said : ” I believe that the camera can take a photograph of a spirit, and I believe also that spirits have materiality not that gross mate-riality that mortals pos-sess, but still they are material enough to be visible to the human eye, for I have seen them ; only a few days since I was in a court in Brook-lyn when a suit against a life assurance company for the amount claimed to be due on a certain policy was being heard. Looking toward that part of the court-room occu-pied by the jury, I saw the spirit of the man whose death was the ba-sis of the suit. The spir-it told me the circum-stances connected with the death ; said that the suit was groundless, that the claimant was not en-titled to recover from the company, and said that he (the man whose spirit was speaking) had com-mitted suicide under cer-tain circumstances ; I drew a diagram of the place at which his death Occurred, and on show-ing it to the counsel, was told that it was exact in every particular.” A large number of wit-nesses deposed that they recognized the forms of departed friends (i n some cases of those long dead) in the photographs taken for them by AIumLEn. The most striking case was that of a gentleman of ‘Wall Street, whose deceased wife’s features both he and his friends distinctly recognized in a photograph taken for him in this way. If there is .a trick in Mr. MuraLun’s process it has certainly not been detected as yet. To all appearances spiritual photography rests just where the rappings and table-turnings have rest-ed for someyears. Those who believe in it at all will respect no opposing arguments, and disber lievers will reject every fitvontble hypothesis or explanation. Mr. M u – LER has certainly been very fortunate. 1 Ie has been believed in, in the first place, by a large number of people. Ile has obtained, again, a good price for his pho-tographs ; for who mild expect spirits to be called ” from the vasty deep” for less than ten dollars per head? And, finally, he has been prosecuted, and thus extensively ad-vertised. Beyond this, the trial, like all legal prosecutions of this na-ture, will amount to no-thing. In addition to our il-lustrations of specimens of Mr. AluMLER’S spirit photographs, we give also representations of similar photographs tak-en by Mr. ROCKWOOD of this city. The latter were taken by natural means, but not so as to escape detection as to the trick resorted to to secure the result. Mr. 31ratLEn has certainly the advantage of a longer experience in the busi-ness.

Archive ID: 2020.13.583

Date: May 8, 1869

Publisher: Harper's Weekly

Courtesy of: Robert D. Fink Collection

Personal Collection: Yes

Dimensions: 16" x 10.5"

High Resolution Photograph:

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