I’m a couple of months late on this, as even the Daily Mail exposed the case in mid-May, but here it is. As you may remember, we initially thought the intriguing British Wem ghost photo could be an impressive example of pareidolia, but then discovered that Will Stapp from the National Museum of Photography in Bradford, had concluded the face of the ghost had a series of horizontal lines, indicating that it was a hoax.
When confronted with the verdict, photographer Tony O’Rahilly nervously denied having tampered with the image. This was on 1996, just a year after the photo was taken, and it’s interesting that rather than the skeptical verdict and evidence by Stapp from the National Museum of Photography, the photo circulated instead for all these years along with the conclusion by Vernon Harrison, former president of the Royal Photographic Society, that it showed “no sign of having been tampered with”.
A decisive piece of evidence came up on April of this year, when the local paper “Shropshire Star” published a postcard in its nostalgia section:
"We’re in Wem today with a postcard which was franked on September 11, 1922. Shops visible include Mortons on the left, and Jarvis Ironmongers on the right. The message on the back of the postcard was: “11.9.22. Dear Shie (? – the writing is difficult to read), This will give you some idea of the quaintness of Wem. “There are heaps of ideal places to be snapped, but the sun is not too obliging. We are leaving this afternoon for the ‘Grange’. George’s sister telephoned me this morning. Love to all. Reg.” It was posted to Miss Sewell (? – again, difficult to read), 89 Maring (?) Road, Tooting Common, London. This postcard was published by F. Hiden, Wem. Picture: Ray Farlow."
If you have a keen eye as reader Brian Lear had, you will recognize the little girl on the left of the postcard. “Her dress and headgear appear to be identical”, he said. A blown up detail comparison confirms that this is no mere similarity or coincidence, it’s an exact match down to every detail.
If you are in still in doubt, check the interactive comparison by Richard Deeson. It’s amazing Lear managed to recognize the little girl from the original low-resolution image.
Unfortunately, photographer O’Rahilly passed away in 2005. But considering the exact match between his ghost photo and a postcard published by a local Wem company and the strange horizontal artifacts seen by Will Stapp in the original negatives, there’s little doubt the photo was hoaxed.
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[The credit goes to Brian Lear, the Shropshire Star, and thanks to Umbriel, José Ildefonso and others who suggested this solution]
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