Probably the single most (in)famous spirit photographer, William Mumler is a prime example of sheer American hucksterism. Born in 1832, he worked as a jewel engraver until 1861, when “spirits” began appearing in Mumler’s amateur photographs. Capitalizing on the nascent rage for Spiritualism and a powerful sentimentality engendered by the mass casualties of the American Civil War, Mumler set up shop as the nation’s chief spirit photographer. Mumler’s career skyrocketed until 1869, when a trial for fraud, initiated in New York City, made him notorious. One of the events of the season, Mumler’s trial represents a key moment in the history of photography, as for the first time the medium’s relationship to truth was being brought into the legal arena. The trial saw P. T. Barnum testify against Mumler, where Barnum (prophetically?) circulated a photograph of himself with the blurry head of Abraham Lincoln in the background as evidence that spirit photographs could be faked. Though William Mumler was found not guilty, the trial effectively ended the first portion of his career. After 1869, Mumler continued to circulate spirit photographs—including some of his most famous—but biographical information becomes much more scarce.
William Mumler’s most famous spirit photograph, shown above, captures a beatific, almost Christ-like Abraham Lincoln resting his transparent hands on the shoulders of Mary Todd Lincoln (harder to discern in all digital copies I’ve examined is the faint presence of Thaddeus Lincoln in the upper left-hand corner).
Its been a few years, but I previously posted about the use of so-called spirits in photographs used by ghost hunters and various purveyors of the supernatural. I liked this post because it zeroed in on both the exploitation of the national zeitgeist after the Civil War and on one huckster in particular. The photograph with Lincoln as a “ghost” shows up at the link, but as I write this the other examples are missing – stolen by puckish ghosts no doubt.
Thanks to a new law  privatizing public education in Louisiana, Bible-based curriculum can now indoctrinate young, pliant minds with the good news of the Lord—all on the state taxpayers’ dime.
According to this article a rape victim was denied a morning after pill by a prison guard, because said guard used their “Conscience clause” that would according to them potentially destroy a life. If this roller-coaster ride version of conscience is that expansive it should also apply to the citizens of Louisiana who do not want to support state sponsored propaganda. Just a couple of the things the state will be paying for as James Madison spins in his grave.
1. Dinosaurs and humans probably hung out: “Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years.”—Life Science , 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007
What a great mental image Mary Magdalen riding on a sauropod instead of a donkey.
3. “God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ.”—America: Land That I Love , Teacher ed., A Beka Book, 1994
President Andrew Jackson, instigator of the Trail of Tears, was indeed a Christian. He was also a mass murderer and thief. That anyone would let such a vile piece of human garbage get a pass because he had Christian intentions would not be the first time in a tradition on the far Right towards fantasyland revisionism.
Today in 1893: First American-made automobile, built by the Duryea Brothers, is displayed.
William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction No. 12. This conversation took place in New York City, early in 1956.
And your contemporaries?
All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy. Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide. I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.
Faulkner was full of himself and contradictions, he loved the Old Testament and his dream job was landlord of a brothel. In his concepts of man’s place in the universe his imagination was a bucky ball that could bounce around in the encyclopedia of knowledge he held in his head, referencing monotheism one minute and polytheism the next, commenting on mankind, “ His moral conscience is the curse he had to accept from the gods in order to gain from them the right to dream.”