The Apparitionists (Hardcover)

A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost

By Peter Manseau

Houghton Mifflin, 9780544745971, 352pp.

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

List Price: 27.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.


An NPR Best Book of 2017

"A rare work of historical nonfiction that is both studious and just plain entertaining."--Publishers Weekly, Top Ten Books of 2017
"An exceptional story"--Errol Morris, New York Times Book Review

A story of faith and fraud in post-Civil War America, told through the lens of a photographer who claimed he could capture images of the dead

In the early days of photography, in the death-strewn wake of the Civil War, one man seized America's 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, including Mary Todd Lincoln, who arrived at his studio in disguise amidst rumors of's ances in the White House.

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. It took a circus-like trial of Mumler on fraud charges, starring P. T. Barnum for the prosecution, to expose a fault line of doubt and manipulation. And even then, the judge sided with the defense--nobody ever solved the mystery of his spirit photography. This forgotten puzzle offers a vivid snapshot of America at a crossroads in its history, a nation in thrall to new technology while clinging desperately to belief.