The rising death toll of the American
Civil War helped spur a genre of posed portrait in the late 19th century: A living person would sit for a picture, and the photographer would later splice in a half-transparent still of a deceased spouse or child, showing the long-gone loved one hovering in the background. At first these productions were considered keepsakes, but they gave rise to elaborate forgeries that claimed to show real spectral visitations, supposedly captured thanks to newfangled camera technology. Nowadays we know better, but photographic trickery isn’t dead yet. Many ghost hunters claim that spirits appear on digital shots in the form of “orbs,” even though camera engineers say those are probably just specks of dust illuminated by the flash.