Mumler, William (Howard)
- Louis Kaplan
(b Boston, MA, May 1832; d Boston, MA, May 16, 1884).
American engraver, spirit photographer, and inventor. Mumler worked first as an engraver in the jewellery firm of Bigelow, Kennard, and Co. before taking up photography. In 1862, he claimed to have developed a haunted photographic self-portrait that contained the ‘spirit’ of a deceased female cousin, even though a more naturalistic explanation viewed it as a double exposure produced on an already used plate. Working with his wife Hannah, who was a clairvoyant and medium, Mumler went into business producing such spirit photographs as cartes-de-visite for the bereaved and the curious on a full-time basis.
The success of Mumler’s spirit photography must be understood in relation to the growth of Spiritualism as a popular religious movement and the belief that communication with the dead was possible. For Spiritualist leaders such as Andrew Jackson Davis (1826–1910), Mumler’s images offered visible proof of a new medium for spirit communication and communion. However, Mumler left Boston amid scandal when a few of the spirits in his photographs were found to still be alive. Relocating to New York in the late 1860s, he opened a studio at 630 Broadway....