But there have been a number of photos for which no evidence of fraud, trickery or mistakes can be discovered. The photos presented here all lay claim to being legitimate. In each case, the photographer claimed to be surprised by the end results of the photograph.
Some of these photos are very old, and it was never officially explained how "ghosts" appeared on them.
Here are the most famous ghosts from the history, and it's up to you to believe it or not...
The Brown LadyThis 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.
In September 1936, a photographer, Mr. Indre Shira, was commissioned by Lady Townsend of Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England to take a series of photographs of the house for “Country Life” magazine. Shira and his assistant were just setting up their equipment for shots of the grand staircase when the photographer saw what he described as “ a vapoury form which gradually assumed the shape of a woman in a veil.”
The figure slowly began to ascend the stairs and, very excited, Shira took a hasty photograph. The assistant however, was amused by his employer’s excitement, maintaining (even afterward) that he had seen nothing on the stairs. In fact, he admitted that he thought Shira was delusional.
He changed his mind after the plate was developed though and saw the phantom outline of a human figure on the stairs. Experts who examined the plate were puzzled and agreed that the image was not the result of any form of trickery.
Author and researcher Thurston Hopkins also studied the photo and he too declared it genuine. “It may well be the most genuine ghost photograph we possess,” he added, “and no study of the supernatural is complete without a reference to it.”
Tulip Staircase GhostRev. Ralph Hardy, a retired clergyman from White Rock, British Columbia, took this now-famous photograph in 1966. He intended merely to photograph the elegant spiral staircase (known as the "Tulip Staircase") in the Queen's House section of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. Upon development, however, the photo revealed a shrouded figure climbing the stairs, seeming to hold the railing with both hands. Experts, including some from Kodak, who examined the original negative concluded that it had not been tampered with. It's been said that unexplained figures have been seen on occasion in the vicinity of the staircase, and unexplained footsteps have also been heard.
The photo was part of an account by Miss Sybell Corbett who took the photograph in December 1891 while staying with her sister at Combermere Abbey in Cheshire, England. The photo was actually taken of the splendid library of the house and the camera was placed with a long exposure of about one hour, details of which were carefully noted in her photographic diary.
Although no one was in the room at the time of the exposure, the developed plate showed the head, body and arms of an older man, seated in a high-backed chair to the left side of the room. The photo was shown to a relative of Lord Combermere and she announced that if did resemble the man. However, not everyone agreed about this. Regardless, the features of the man are hard to distinguish.
The strangest thing about the photo was that, at the time it was taken, Lord Combermere was attending a funeral at the local churchyard in Wrenbury, a few miles away. The funeral was his own! Lord Combermere had been killed a few days earlier in a road accident in London.As mentioned, the photo caused quite a stir and attracted the attention of Sir William Barrett, an investigator for the Society of Psychical Research. He experimented with a similar photo process and then first dismissed this photograph as an unintentional mistake. He surmised that a servant had entered the room while the shutter of the camera was open, sat down in the chair and then left, leaving behind a faint, and rather “ghostly” image.
After further investigation though, Barrett reconsidered. He later learned that the image did not resemble any of the servants in the house and that all of the male servants had been away attending their master’s funeral anyway. He confessed to being perplexed and the photograph remains mysterious today.
Ghost in the Choir Loft
In 1982, photographer Chris Brackley took a photograph of the interior of London's St. Botolph's Church, but never expected what would appear on the film. High in the church's loft, seen in the upper right-hand corner of his photograph, is the transparent form of what looks like a woman. According to Brackley, to his knowledge there were only three people in the church at the time the photo was taken, and none of them were in that loft.
According to London Paranormal Database Records, "Mr. Brackley was later contacted by a builder who recognized the face of one that he had seen in a coffin in the church."
Specter of Newby ChurchThis photograph was taken in 1963 by Reverend K. F. Lord at Newby Church in North Yorkshire, England. It has been a controversial photo because it is just too good. The shrouded face and the way it is looking directly into the camera makes it look like it was posed a clever double exposure. Yet supposedly the photo has been scrutinized by photo experts who say the image is not the result of a double exposure.
The Reverend Lord has said of the photo that nothing was visible to the naked eye when he took the snapshot of his altar. Yet when the film was developed, standing there was this strange cowled figure.
The Newby Church was built in 1870 and, as far as anyone knows, did not have a history of ghosts, hauntings or other peculiar phenomena. Those why have carefully analyzed the proportions of the objects in the photo calculated that the specter is about nine feet tall!
Sefton Church GhostSefton Church is an ancient structure (started in the 12th century and finished in the early 16th century) in Merseyside, England, just north of Liverpool. This particular photograph was taken inside the church in September, 1999.
According to Brad Steiger's Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits and Haunted Places, where this photo was found, there was only one other photographer in the church beside the person who took this picture. Neither of them recalled seeing the ghost or any flesh-and-blood person standing there who could account for this image. Because the figure is all in black, it has been theorized that the apparition could be that of a church minister.
Reader Mark Tomlinson reports that a pub next door to the church, called the Punch Bowl, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a man in blue nautical garb, which has been reported there for many years.
Ghost of the Seven Gables
While touring the historic House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts, the birthplace of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lisa B. snapped this remarkable photo. The ghostly image of a small boy seems to be in the shrubbery, peering over the wooden fence.
The most amazing part of the story of this photograph is that she subsequently did some research about Hawthorne and the house. While looking through a library, she came across one of Hawthorne's books, Twenty Days with Julian & Little Bunny by Papa. On the cover of that book is a portrait of Hawthorne's five-year-old son, Julian. And as you'll see on the photo at left, the portrait of little Julian bears a striking resemblance to the ghost in Lisa's photograph.
Ghosts of the SS Watertown
James Courtney and Michael Meehan, crew members of the S.S. Watertown, were cleaning a cargo tank of the oil tanker as it sailed toward the Panama Canal from New York City in December of 1924. Through a freak accident, the two men were overcome by gas fumes and killed. As was the custom of the time, the sailors were buried at sea off the Mexican coast on December 4.
But this was not the last the remaining crew members were to see of their unfortunate shipmates. The next day, before dusk, the first mate reported seeing the faces of the two men in the waves off the port side of the ship. They remained in the water for 10 seconds, then faded. For several days thereafter, the phantom-like faces of the sailors were clearly seen by other members of the crew in the water following the ship.
On arrival in New Orleans, the ship's captain, Keith Tracy, reported the strange events to his employers, the Cities Service Company, who suggested he try to photograph the eerie faces. Captain Tracy purchased a camera for the continuing voyage. When the faces again appeared in the water, Captain Tracy took six photos, then locked the camera and film in the ship's safe. When the film was processed by a commercial developer in New York, five of the exposures showed nothing but sea foam. But the sixth showed the ghostly faces of the doomed seamen. The negative was checked for fakery by the Burns Detective Agency. After the ship's crew had been changed, there were no more reports of sightings.
Railroad Crossing GhostA strange legend surrounds a railroad crossing just south of San Antonio, Texas. The intersection of roadway and railroad track, so the story goes, was the site of a tragic accident in which several school-aged children were killed - but their ghosts linger at the spot and will push idled cars across the tracks, even though the path is uphill.
This photograph was made by daughter of Andy and Debi Chesney. She and some of her friends had been to the crossing to test the legend, and she took some photographs. Inexplicably, a strange, transparent figure turned up in one of the photos. "They had no idea that it was in the picture until the next day when I printed out the picture and showed them," said the Chesneys. "It was really freaky".
The Ghost of Boothill CemeteryTerry Ike Clanton took this photo of his friend at Boothill Graveyard. The photo was taken in black and white because he wanted Old West-looking pictures. Clanton took the film for developing and when he got it back was startled at what he saw. Among the gravestones, just to the right of his friend, is the image of what appears to be a thin man in a dark hat. By height, the man appears to be either legless, kneeling... or rising up out of the ground.
"I know there was no other person in this photograph when I shot it," Clanton insists. And he believes the small figure in the background is holding a knife. "We thought this was a tie at first, but after further review, it appears to be a knife," Clanton says. "The knife is in a vertical position; the tip is located just below the figure's right collar. If you're not convinced that something is weird here, look at my friend's shadow in the photo. It appears to be going back slightly to the right of him. The figure in the back should have the same shadow, but it doesn't!"
The Back Seat GhostMrs. Mabel Chinnery was visiting the grave of her mother one day in 1959. She had brought along her camera to take photographs of the gravesite. After snapping a few shots of her mother's gravestone, she took an impromptu photo of her husband, who was waiting alone in the car. At least the Chinnerys thought he was alone.
When the film was developed, the couple was more than surprised to see a figure wearing glasses sitting in the back seat of the car. Mrs. Chinnery immediately recognized the image of her mother ? the woman whose grave they had visited on that day. A photographic expert who examined the print determined that the image of the woman was neither a reflection nor a double exposure. "I stake my reputation on the fact that the picture is genuine," he testified.
This intriguing photo, taken in 1919, was first published in 1975 by Sir Victor Goddard, a retired R.A.F. officer. The photo is a group portrait of Goddard's squadron, which had served in World War I aboard the HMS Daedalus. An extra ghostly face appears in the photo. In back of the airman positioned on the top row, fourth from the left, can clearly be seen the face of another man. It is said to be the face of Freddy Jackson, an air mechanic who had been accidentally killed by an airplane propeller two days earlier. His funeral had taken place on the day this photograph was snapped. Members of the squadron easily recognized the face as Jackson's. It has been suggested that Jackson, unaware of his death, decided to show up for the group photo.
Madonna of Bachelor's GroveThis photo was taken during an investigation of Bachelor's Grove cemetery near Chicago by the Ghost Research Society (GRS). On August 10, 1991, several members of of the GRS were at the cemetery, a small, abandoned graveyard on the edge of the Rubio Woods Forest Preserve, near the suburb of Midlothian, Illinois. Reputed to be one of the most haunted cemeteries in the U.S., Bachelor's Grove has been the site of well over 100 different reports of strange phenomena, including apparitions, unexplained sights and sounds, and even glowing balls of light.
GRS member Mari Huff was taking black and white photos with a high-speed infrared camera in an area where the group had experienced some anomalies with their ghost-hunting equipment. The cemetery was empty, except for the GRS members. When developed, this image emerged: what looks like a lonely-looking young woman dressed in white sitting on a tombstone. Parts of her body are partially transparent and the style of the dress seems to be out of date.
Other ghosts reportedly seen in Bachelor's Grove include figures in monks' clothes and the spirit of a glowing yellow man.
Many ghosts roam the halls of this bed and breakfast, built in 1796 by General David Bradford. There have been ten murders in the house, plus at least one suicide. A frequent visitor is the ghost of Chloe, a former slave hung for murdering two little girls. General Bradford's son-in-law, Clarke Woodruff, cut off the black woman's ear for eavesdropping, and she took her revenge by mixing oleander into the children's birthday cake. Ghosts from the slave graveyard on the property still report for chores and the ghosts of the two children poisoned by Chloe play on the verandah. This photograph shows what many believe to be the ghost of Chloe seen standing between the two buildings.
Ghost in the Burning Building
On November 19, 1995, Wem Town Hall in Shropshire, England burned to the ground. Many spectators gathered to watch the old building, built in 1905, as it was being consumed by the flames. Tony O'Rahilly, a local resident, was one of those onlookers and took photos of the spectacle with a 200mm telephoto lens from across the street. One of those photos shows what looks like a small, partially transparent girl standing in the doorway. Nether O'Rahilly nor any of the other onlookers or firefighters recalled seeing the girl there.
O'Rahilly submitted the photo to the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena which, in turn, presented it for analysis to Dr. Vernon Harrison, a photographic expert and former president of the Royal Photographic Society. Harrison carefully examined both the print and the original negative, and concluded that it was genuine. "The negative is a straightforward piece of black-and-white work and shows no sign of having been tampered with," Harrison said.
Grandpa's GhostThis photo was received from Denise Russell. Her sister took this photo of their grandmother in 1997. She was shocked when, years after the development, the image of their grandfather appeared on the photo.
Hampton Court GhostThis remarkable image first appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times (12-21-03) and was apparently captured with a closed-circuit security camera at Hampton Court Palace in London, England. The palace was built in 1525 on the River Thames 10 miles west of central London and was one the the places that King Henry VIII lived. Jane Seymour, his third wife, died there giving birth to a son, and her ghost is said to walk through one of the cobbled courtyards carrying a candle. No one seems to know what this ghostly figure represents but according to security, it sure looks like a ghost.