The Phenomenal Photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln

This photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln that was taken by William Mumler is included in The Strange Case of William Mumler Spirit Photographer (2008) and is from the archive of the College of Psychic Studies, London.  Forty other examples of the 'spirit photography' of William Mumler may be seen at The J. Paul Getty Museum website.

Perhaps the most famous portrait in the annals of 'spirit photography' (or 'psychic photography') was taken by William Mumler (1832-1884).  Mary Todd Lincoln is shown accompanied by a luminous image of her late husband Abraham Lincoln. 
An account of the circumstances involved with the photo is found in The Personal Experiences of William A. Mumler in Spirit-Photography: Written by Himself (1875).  The memoir was featured in seven issues of the weekly Spiritualist newspaper Banner of Light.  The entire memoir is included as a chapter of The Strange Case of William Mumler Spirit Photographer (2008) by Louis Kaplan.  The following excerpt is William Mumler's description of what happened when Mary Todd Lincoln was photographed by him in 1872.  He was residing in Boston and Mary Todd Lincoln was "widow of the late lamented President."
I had just finished taking a picture for a gentleman who resides in Canada, when the door-bell rang, and a lady dressed in black, wearing a crape veil, was ushered in.  The veil was so thick it was impossible to distinguish a single feature of her face.  Without raising her veil she spoke to the gentleman for whom I had just taken a picture, saying, "Have you had a picture taken, sir?"  He replied in the affirmative.  "Do you recognize it?" she asked.  He answered, "Well, I am not much used to looking at a negative, but I think I know who it is."  Then, turning to me, she said: "What do you charge for these pictures?"  I stated the price, and she decided to sit for one.  I requested her to be seated; would be ready for her in a moment.  I went into my dark room and coated a plate.  When I came out I found her seated, with her veil still over her face.  I asked if she intended to have her picture taken with the veil?  She replied, "When you are ready I will remove it."  I said I was ready, whereupon she removed the veil, and the picture was taken.  I then requested her name for the purpose of recording it in the engagement book.  "Mrs. Lindall" was given.  Mrs. L. asked when she could have the pictures; and was told, in about three days.  The negative, marked "Mrs. Lindall," was sent with the others to my printers.  The pictures were returned only a few moments before Mrs. Lincoln called, and laid on my desk, in envelopes, with the names on the outside that were on the negative—Mrs. Lindall's among the rest.  I was away at the time, and consequently had not seen the pictures, and did not recognize the form on her negative, as I had not the slightest idea that I had had such a distinguished sitter.
My wife was engaged in conversation with a lady-friend when the door-bell rang, and a lady was shown in.  She asked if her pictures were ready?  My wife asked, "What name?"  The lady replied, "Mrs. Lindall."  Mrs. M. then went to my desk, and looking over the packages of pictures, found one marked Mrs. Lindall, which she handed to her, and then continued the conversation with her friend, who by-the-way, being of an inquisitive turn of mind, asked Mrs. Lincoln (who was at the time examining her picture closely,) if she recognized the likeness?  Mrs. L. replied, hesitatingly, "Yes."  My wife was almost instantly entranced, and, turning to Mrs. L., said: "Mother, if you cannot recognize father, show the picture to Robert; he will recognize it."  "Yes—yes, dear," Mrs. Lincoln said; "I do recognize it; but who is now speaking?" she asked.  The control replied: "Thaddeus!"  A long conversation ensued.  Mr. Lincoln afterwards controlled and talked with her—so the lady-friend informed me who had thus unexpectedly been a witness of this excellent test.
When my wife resumed her normal condition, she found Mrs. L. weeping tears of joy that she had again found her loved ones, and apparently anxious to learn, if possible, how long before she could join them in their spirit home.  But this information of course could not be given.  Mrs. Lincoln then related how she left Springfield, Ill., for the sole purpose of visiting my studio, and having a picture taken as a test.  For that express purpose she traveled in cog.  When she arrived in Boston, she came directly to my house, before visiting a hotel, for fear that some one who knew her might see and recognize her, and thus defeat the object for which she had taken such a long journey.
The picture of Mr. Lincoln is an excellent one.  He is seen standing behind her, with his hands resting on her shoulders, and looking down, with a pleasant smile.
Louis Kaplan commented about the photographer's wife, Hannah, in his case study book and also about another woman who was a significant acquaintance, the trance medium Mrs. J. H. Conant: ". . . Hannah Mumler is described by her husband in The Personal Experiences as 'a natural clairvoyant for diagnosing and treating disease, and has been subject to this influence since her earliest recollection' and as someone with 'wonderful magnetic powers' . . . Clearly, Mumler's energetic and energized description of his wife (as a 'perfect battery') and her own abilities as a medium . . . shares much with the personal powers that were attributed to [manifest with] Andrew Jackson Davis.  Another important female figure in Mumler's life was Mrs. J. H. Conant, who served as the official medium for the Banner of Light and whose seances featuring spirit communications from the dead who sent 'messages of love to those who yet remain in the earth-sphere' were published in the newspaper on a regular basis.  Conant was a frequent sitter for Mumler, and one of these images shows her with her spirit-guide Vashti, who was said to be an outcast half-breed girl of a white mother and a Native American father.  The appearance of Native American spirit-guides such as Vashti or the image of the Indian chief Wapanaw with Luther Colby (who was Fanny Conant's boss at the Banner of Light) in another one of Mumler's images points to another type of spirit-photography subject quite different from the familial function of departed relatives."
When appraising the photographs of William Mumler, one should consider that the people who received the photos often recognized family members or friends who'd made the transition to the ascended realm of existence.  Some of the images and motifs found in the photos (including spirit arms and flowers) offer parallels with chronicled seance rooms occurrences.  Mumler's work as a photographer medium offers evidence of an omnipresent spiritual Force involved with this and other forms of 'supernormal phenomena' for the gradual accelerated spiritual understanding of all humanity. 
People skeptical of cases of 'paranormal' or 'supernormal' phenomena often have not taken the time to research such subjects as Spiritualism, the diverse manifestations chronicled to take place with human mediumship, nor published transcripts and anthologies of transcendental communication.  Numerous books have been published over the course of many decades that present transcripts of communication expressing the experiences and wisdom of human beings in the afterlife.  For example, the following excerpts of 'Silver Birch' speaking through the entranced medium (or 'channel') Maurice Barbanell are from The Silver Birch Book of Questions & Answers (1998).

Spirit is perfect in its origin, spirit possess intrinsically the creative forces of all life.  Spirit is not subject to age, infirmity, wastage or to any of the defects that affect the physical body.  The line of spirit evolution is from immaturity to maturity.  Part of its evolution is accomplished through a physical body, which it has created for that purpose.  Spirit is dominant, spirit is the king, spirit is the ruler.  But here comes the paradox.  There is an interaction between spirit, mind and body, and the body restricts the activity of the spirit on earth because the spirit can express itself on earth only through the body at its disposal.

The Great Spirit is the natural law of the universe: the creative force behind all life, whether registered in the plane of matter or in the plane of spirit.  The Great Spirit is perfect love and perfect wisdom.  The Great Spirit pervades all the universe, whether it is that tiny portion known to you or that larger part which, as yet, has not been revealed to earthly gaze.
The Great Spirit fills all life.  The Great Spirit is within all beings.  The Great Spirit is within all laws. The Great Spirit is the Great Spirit.  He is life.  He is love.  He is everything.  How can we, who are but the servants, describe the master?  How can we, whose conceptions are puny, describe that which is of immeasurable magnitude?

The Great Spirit is not a person.  The Great Spirit is not a deified individual.  The Great Spirit is beyond personality.  The Great Spirit is the epitome of law, love, wisdom, truth.  The Great Spirit is the law, the infinite intelligence operating ceaselessly in a mighty universe.

Love takes many forms, ranging from friendship founded on sympathetic attraction, and mutual interest to the supreme heights where, without thought of self, it seeks to serve wherever it can.

There is a great power in the universe which has never been subject to the analytical scrutiny of laboratories, which cannot be resolved by chemicals or scalpels, yet it is so real that it transcends all other forces which have been measured and weighed and dissected.  That love is deathless because it is part of the Great Spirit, the creative spirit of all life, part of the power that has fashioned life; it is indeed the very breath and the very essence of life.  And wherever life exists, sooner or later those who are united by its willing bonds will find one another again despite all the handicaps and obstacles and impediments that may be in the way.
First let us be clear: the real love is the love of selflessness, the love that seeks nothing for itself, and in its highest form embraces the whole of humanity.  You are not an evolved soul until you can say, because you believe it, "I love all mankind."

. . . live a life of service, forgetting self, try to help wherever you can to raise those who are fallen, drive out all iniquity, and by your own life prove that you are worthy of your divine heritage.

The motive is the all important qualification.  If patriotism means only love of one's country and the people who dwell in it, and there is no wish to extend that love to other countries and other people, then that is a form of selfishness.
The supreme guiding principle is love which expresses itself in service, compassion, humility, tolerance and co-operation, seeking harmony wherever it can.  Love is the greatest power in the universe.



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