The First Fake Photograph
A race to perfect the photographic process was unfolding in the 1830s when a man by the name of Hippolyte Bayard fell behind Louis Daguerre in success of his process. To show his feelings, he created the photo you see above — which purportedly shows his suicide — along with the following caption:
“The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with his discovery. The Government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life….! … He has been at the morgue for several days, and no-one has recognized or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you’d better pass along for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay.”
William Mumler’s Spirit Photos
William Mumler pathed the path for spirit photography. In 1861, he took a self-portrait and a shadowy woman appeared in the background. What Mumler labelled a mistake, his friends labelled as the first-ever photo of a ghost. He decided to capitalize on the “mistake” and start a trend! The above photo is of Abraham Lincoln’s widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, in 1871.
President Lincoln himself was the subject of a few photo hoaxes. Even one of his official presidential portraits was famously made by plopping his head onto the body of John Calhoun. After his assassination in 1865, a bevy of supposed photos of his death turned out to be fakes; there were actually no photos allowed of Lincoln’s body or casket, but there is one genuine one saved from destroyed plates and prints. The one you see above was one of the most widely circulated.
The Cottingley Fairies
A series of photos was created by two young girls in the 1920s while playing in the garden, which proved that fairies existed. Several experts declared the photos real and even Arthur Conan Doyle got on board. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the photos were effectively debunked.
Newspapers throughout England and the United States circulated the above photo in 1933, stating it was a baby photo of Adolf Hitler. Of course it wasn’t Hitler, but a doctored photo of a cute baby named John May Warren.
The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
Two photographers from Country Life magazine, Captain Provand and Indre Shira, were photographing the staircase of Raynham Hall in Norfolk in 1936 and captured one of the most famous paranormal photos of all time. According to records, as they were setting up their equipment they saw a ghostly figure come down the stairs, so they naturally tried for a photo. The myth of the Brown Lady had been around since 1835, but this account was the last on record.
The Surgeon’s Photo
Of all the photos of the Loch Ness monster, this is the most famous and also one of the first. What everyone took as proof of a monster swimming in the murky waters was actually a toy submarine with a little sea-monster head, taken in 1934 by British surgeon Colonel Robert Wilson.
Billy Meier’s UFOs
With one of his photos gracing Mulder’s wall in the X Files, Billy Meier can easily be called the most famous UFO hoaxer of all time. He’s created over 1,000 photos of UFOs in addition to film footage and sound recordings. Claiming to have personal contact with aliens, he presents all of these as proof of their existence.
I remember seeing this one make the rounds early in the internet days. The above photo supposedly shows the cat Snowball, owned by Rodger Degagne in Canada. Snowball’s real owner came forward in 2001, Cordell Hauglie, and explained that he made the image as a joke to send to a few friends, then it started getting passed around and out of control. He’s gone on to reach some cat fame, even being asked to attend cat shows as a “celebrity guest.”
The Accidental Tourist
This photo began circulating a few days after 9/11, claiming to be developed from a camera that was found in the debris of the World Trade Centre. It was debunked relatively quickly and started a trend of inserting the tourist into other historical scenes.