When websites and media outlets outside of paranormal specialist interest write an article about ghosts or the supernatural it's often presented as "unexplainable" or "undebunkable". As this recent article published on the website "oxygen" demonstrates though, this is most commonly a result of the author's own naivety, ignorance or failure/unwillingness to do even a modicum of research. The article in question, published on September 14th, titled "5 Documented 'Ghost' Sightings That Are Too Convincing Not To Believe" by Sowmya Krishnamurthy (1) begins:
"There are countless stories of human interactions with spirits and those that have "crossed over" beyond the grave. From Marilyn Monroe to Abraham Lincoln -- these documented encounters are hard to deny as paranormal activity."So let's rise to that challenge and see we can do what Sowmya couldn't and find possible reasons to "deny" these five pieces of evidence provided is supernatural. Quotes describing the encounters or footage from Oxygen are in italics under the bold headings.
1. The Cleveland Museum "Claude Monet" ghost.
"In 2015, a special Claude Monet exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art was overshadowed when a mysterious figure who looks exactly like the late French Impressionist painter showed up in a photograph."
If you're thinking "that just looks like a person who looks like Monet" then that's exactly what I was thinking too. We should we assume this is "a ghost". It looks pretty clear that the figure is there in the environment as the light is interacting with the figure. Is it a stretch to imagine a Monet enthusiast may style themselves after the man? They may well also take an interest in the setting up of a Monet exhibit. There is another possibility. Could this have intentionally been set up by the museum? What better way to start off an exhibit with loads of free attention from the local press? The story appeared first on WYKC.com, a Cleaveland TV station's website on October 8th, two days after the image was allegedly taken, in a short story with a link to the museum's website but no quotes from an employee (2). It was then picked up by Cleaveland.com (3) and published in the arts section with links to the specific exhibit's website and quotes from an e-mail sent to them from the museums' director of communication, Caroline Guscot:
"Caroline Guscott, the museum's communications director, said Friday that Jeffrey Strean, the director of architecture and design, took the picture of the mysterious visitor and posted it on his Facebook page.The photo shows the bearded, hat-wearing visitor looking down into the lower lobby outside the museum's special exhibition galleries, where preparations for the exhibit "Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse" were being completed on Tuesday.The visitor bears an odd resemblance to a banner-sized photo of the bearded, hat-wearing Monet, also visible in Strean's shot. Strean's image was not retouched, Guscott said. "What are the chances someone looks like that and happens to be at the museum the day we are finishing installation?" she wrote in an email.The story was then picked up by various local news outlets and art related websites in turn-up up to Halloween (4) (5). Interestingly in these iterations of the story, the quotes remain the same as those given to Cleaveland.com by Guscot but this time are attributed to a lower ranking member of the communications team, Kelly Notaro.
""We thought it was such a coincidence that on the final day of installing Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, this man resembling Claude Monet was seen peering down into the lower lobby outside the special exhibition hall," Kelley Notaro, communications associate with the museum, told TODAY.com. "This snapshot taken by a staff member is not retouched or Photoshopped. And we have heard from others that they’ve seen the man, but there hasn’t been a confirmation in his identification! This is the first exhibition leading into our centennial year, so we are excited to start it off with something as cool as capturing a photo of this Monet look-a-like standing directly above an actual photo of the artist himself," said Notaro."You may be thinking now would a museum really resort to circulating a story like this just outside Halloween in order to get people in through the doors of an exhibit, after all, this isn't an English public house we're talking about? I thought the same thing, but the Cleaveland Museum has blogged about haunted paintings before and of the building itself being haunted by a former director (6) in a 2010 post encouraging families to visit for the Halloween weekend. Ultimately, I don't blame the museum for attempting to garner this type of gaudy publicity but I think it's a great shame that they feel they have to resort of this to get people to engage with art.
Is this unexplainable? Hardly. Moving on.
2. The Dinner Guest
Oxygen tells us this is the "photobombing ghost" of a transvestite who used to dine in the restaurant the image was taken in, I'm not making this up. They also attempt to divert possible objections by appealing that:
"It can't possibly be a reflecton because there are no windows or mirrors in the Begue Room."This would be more convincing was that the most likely explanation of this ghostly image. As it happens, I don't think this is a reflection as such. I just think it's an example of an image created by the slow shutter speed setting of the camera used to take the image. Artist Emilie Lauwes uses this photographic artefact directly (below) to create ghostly images for an opera publicity shot (7).
The article offers this rationale to point to indicate this is indeed a phantom crossdresser "If you look closely, the image even appears to be of a figure in women's clothing and accessories." The author doesn't seem to consider who else wears women's clothes and accessories, living female patrons of the restaurant. Heck, living transvestite patrons even. It's obvious to me that a fellow diner has wandered into the shot as the couple take their selfie. Once again, this goes from unexplainable to easily explainable with a tiny bit of research.
3. Ghostly Cemetry.
"This video is from a cemetary in Liverpool known for housing over 58,000 bodies, including one renowned sea captain. The captain was stabbed to death under mysterious circumstances. The shadowy figure caught on tape is seen swaying back and forth, which could very well be that captain, still tortured by his demise, or keeping watch over the cemetary grounds. Another theory is that the ghost could be the limping figure of William Huskisson MP. He has a mausoleum on the grounds after he was killed, when run over by a locomotive in 1830."This one is from my neck of the woods. The footage below was allegedly taken in St James cemetery, Liverpool and first appeared in the Liverpool Echo in August this year (8). The footage is actually much older than that. It was originally published on the YouTube channel "The Way I see Liverpool" back in May 2015.
Now I've had a few ideas other theories about this footage that Oxygen seemed to have neglected. It could be an artefact of video compression as suggested by a commenter on the original Echo article. There certainly is a lot of pixelation during the video, most notably at the top of the screen. Another possible explanation is some form of steam, smoke or water vapour rising from the pavement in a vague face-like shape and the pareidolia doing the extra work.
I've got another theory though. I think this is a rather clumsy fake. The clue is those silver fleks near the bottom of the screen (below). What are these fleks?
Looks to me like rainfall. The thing is, these fleks don't move during the video. As the steam or smoke forms the rough face then dissipates, the raindrops make no downward motion. There isn't any other motion anywhere else within the frame either. In fact, the smoke doesn't itself drift or slowly form, it moves and changes shape instantaneously. There's no transitional changing. There's no motion in the raindrops, but if you watch the whole screen, the frame itself shifts about several times. I think what we have here is a video that is composed of several versions of the same still shot, almost like an animated flip book. Obviously, some of these stills are doctored with photoshop of a brushes application to give us our ghostly face.
4. Marilyn Monroe in the Roosevelt Hotel.
"The Roosevelt Hotel is an iconic landmark in Hollywood and is known for its famous spirt inhabitants. One of its most famous guests, actress Marilyn Monroe, loved the hotel. She would stay for extended periods of time and died of an overdose while here. Since then, legend has it that the tortured actress never checked out."Let's start with a glaring and blatant inaccuracy. Monroe did not die at the Roosevelt Hotel! She died at her home in Brentwood Los Angeles (9). This one isn't specifically about one particular sighting, photo or video, but the various reports of encounters with the ghost of Marilyn Monroe in the Roosevelt hotel. There are various anomalous images and experiences collected at the Roosevelt all of which have been attributed of Monroe's "ghost". I'd say there's a great deal of suggestion involved here. I suspect many visitors to the Roosevelt over the past were well aware of Monroe's association with the hotel and we have to consider the psychological effect of suggestion here, also the desire to have a paranormal encounter of some kind, especially with such an iconic figure. It means that unremarkable images such as this one featured in the article, are ascribed to Monroe.
The featured image was taken in 2005 by Frontline Paranormal investigator John Cain, who believes that Marilyn's image can be seen above both inside and outside the mirror (10). Sorry John, but I don't see anything but a blur, I certainly don't see Marilyn or a figure at all. This is an example of the kind of suggestibility and shoehorning that occurs at sites of famous hauntings.
To read more about explanations for the Monroe ghost encounters at the Roosevelt including the most famous example Joe Nickell's column for CFI covers it well (11).
5. Abraham Lincoln and the Mumler image.
"Seven years after his assassination, an image of what appears to be the late President was spotted in a photo with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln. As USA Today shares, the photo was taken in 1872 by spirit photographer William H. Mumler. Critics at the time claimed that Mumler was a fraud, possibly using a technique like double exposure to create the image, and he was brought to trial. However, he was acquitted, and since then, paranormal fans are convinced the late President was communicating through the grave to his widow."Remarkably and with no sense of self-awareness it seems, our Oxygen author here explains their own "unexplainable" image.
Mumler was indeed brought to trial and acquitted, but he was also ruined professionally, a fact our Oxygen author neglects to mention of course. During the trial, PT Barnum demonstrated the double exposure effect which Mumler had used to scam Mary Todd and countless others who had lost relatives in the American civil war by faking an image of himself also with Abe Lincon (12). This image couldn't be easier to explain. Mumler used a previously imprinted glass plate in his camera. Far from being "unexplained" it was explained over a century ago.
This really exposes the Oxygen article as what it is, lazy, uninspired, insipid click-bait. Not only are the images featured far from "unexplainable" one was explained before anyone reading this was even born.
Next time you find an article that claims to be "unexplainable" on the internet, explain it, even if you just publish the explanation on your own social media. Let's start getting accurate information out on the net in the same volume as the click-bait bullshit.