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The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms,…

The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man… (edition 2017)

by Peter Manseau (Author)

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623281,066 (3.64)None
Title:The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost
Authors:Peter Manseau (Author)
Info:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2017), 357 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:non-fiction, history, forteana, library, book-club, biography, 2018

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The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost by Peter Manseau



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[b: The Apparitionists|30971741|The Apparitionists A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost|Peter Manseau|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1501811385s/30971741.jpg|51589481] is more than simply a book about spirit photography or the Spiritualism movement in America. Rather, it is a history of Civil War era America and the invention of photography itself - how it remolded the fabric of America and the way in which we interacted with death and the dead, and the question of belief itself. How could belief be put on trial? How might one contend with someone both capitalizing off of grief and offering a balm to those in mourning? It's a complicated question.

The story of Spirit Photography, or at least that that Mumler practiced, is a story that includes figures as disparate as Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, the then Mayor of New York City, P.T. Barnum, Mathew Brady, and Samuel Morse. It pulled people together and tore them apart, and revolutionized the process of fact-checking and what proof people demanded in order to believe stories told. It is the chief irony of ironies that the very man who may have been practicing photographic fraud was able to place upon the public a new burden of proof by manufacturing the very process that allowed newspapers to chiefly print photographs.

This was a fascinating book, although at times disorganized. It beautifully brought to life late 1800s society and how complex their beliefs were and how they grew over time. I devoured this book, and fully suspect many who pick it up will do the same.

Give it a try, see what you believe by the end. ( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
This turned out to be rather different from what I expected, but I found it interesting. The subtitle, “A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost,” suggests that the book is about William Mumler and his spirit photography, and that is, indeed, the spine that runs through the book and holds it together. The bulk of Manseau's work, though, is an exploration of the early days of American photography and its revolutionary impact on the culture. The Civil War, with its legacy of loss and grief on a vast scale, created an ideal market for a man offering to reveal a last glimpse of lost family members or friends, and the wonder of the recently invented telegraph machine and other advances in the use of electricity made the capture of other “invisible energies” seem more plausible.

The organization of the book feels a little random, but each topic visited is fun, and does help provide a context in which Mumler's spirit photographs, clearly fake as they appear now, might seem credible to the many people who found comfort in the photos purporting to show the spirits of dead loved ones. I found the sections on Alexander Gardner (who took many of the photos credited to Mathew Brady, a fellow whose marketing skills seem to have equaled his gifts as a photographer) and P.T. Barnum particularly enjoyable.

The story of Mumler himself was a little disappointing, in large part because Manseau can't tell us how he actually made the photographs, and there are no “secret” letters to his wife or friends in which he crows triumphantly about his fraud or complains, martyr-like, about the skepticism of his critics. No personal insights about him at all, really. We get the facts of his careers – as an engraver, an inventor of a dyspepsia remedy, a photographer, a spirit photographer, and, later in life, as inventor of a photographic process for printing photos in newspaper – but never much sense of the man himself. I assume this is due to a lack of information, as Manseau successfully conveys the personalities of other figures, but his central character remains rather an enigma.

I listened to the audio version of this, so I missed out on the illustrations, but Wikipedia offers a fine selection of Mumler's spirit photographs. Jefferson Mays was the reader on the recording, and it took me a while to get used to his accent, which struck me as “affected,” but eventually I did, and aside from that he did a fine job. ( )
  meandmybooks | Dec 2, 2017 |
In the prologue, William Mumler, in April 1869, is charged in New York with fraud by attempting to swindle the public with his Spirit Photography. The tale afterwards backtracks and presents the interesting details of the rest of the book's long title. It's organized, however, in such a way that it avoids being a jumble, intersecting the mid-19th century innovators and giving their roles in the then-new technology of photography. Appropriately, each chapter opens with a vintage photo, though not all are taken by the spirit photographer, William Mumler. It seems like a who's who of that century. Yet, it's all in the presentation that makes this a remarkable tale because the stories of those highlighted so complements the history of events that the reader gets to know, and understand, the personal motivations of people such as Daguerre, Samuel Morse, and the Civil War photographers, Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner. Throughout, there are specifics of the Spiritualism movement, from its beginnings with the Fox sisters to including their many followers. It shows how things connect to one another in an interesting and informative, and more importantly, insightful way. All that and its climax of a courtroom drama -- where even P. T. Barnum makes an appearance-- too. An integrated presentation makes APPARITIONISTS a very worthwhile read for any of those interested in any one of its many connected topics. ( )
1 vote PaperDollLady | Oct 26, 2017 |
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In the early days of photography, in the death-strewn wake of the Civil War, one man seized Americas imagination. A "spirit photographer," William Mumler took portrait photographs that featured the ghostly presence of a lost loved one alongside the living subject. Mumler was a sensation: The affluent and influential came calling. Peter Manseau brilliantly captures a nation wracked with grief and hungry for proof of the existence of ghosts and for contact with their dead husbands and sons.… (more)

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