The camera never lies, they say. But what happens when a photograph or film inadvertently clashes with what we think of as reality or normality? For example, when someone who is seemingly from another place, time or plane of existence is inexplicably captured in the frame. Or when that person is never seen or heard from again. Here, then, we round up 20 of the most mysterious people ever to have had their pictures taken.
20. The Solway Firth Spaceman
A summer’s day in Cumbria, England in 1964. Jim Templeton and his wife Annie were taking their daughter Elizabeth on a trip to the Solway Firth. He took a picture of Elizabeth, but something strange appeared in the developed photograph – a mysterious figure, seemingly helmeted and white-suited. Photography firm Kodak offered a prize to any expert who could prove the image was a hoax, but no one could debunk the so-called Solway Firth Spaceman. However, some say it could be an overexposed and bleached-out Annie inadvertently walking into the shot.
19. The Babushka Lady
November 22, 1963 will forever be associated with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In the aftermath, FBI and CIA investigators appealed for anyone who had photographic evidence of the day. This is how the “Babushka Lady,” so-called because of her head-scarf, was found; she was pictured in many sources pointing what looks to be a camera toward the president’s car when the shots were fired. Her footage could be crucial, but the woman never made herself known.
18. The Time-Traveling Hipster
This photograph from 1941 was taken as South Fork Bridge in British Columbia, Canada was reopened. Not such a mysterious scene, you might think, but take a look at the man toward the right of the photo. With the guy sporting shades, a cool haircut and what looks like a modern-style T-shirt, it’s easy to see why he’s been called the “time-traveling hipster.”
17. Skeletor of Hampton Court
In the winter of 2003 at Hampton Court, England, security staff were given a freaky surprise when they went over some CCTV footage. They were called out to close a fire door, which for three days had been thrown open by an unknown force. On the second day, the security footage seemed to show this skeletal figure haunting the doorway. He was later dubbed Skeletor.
16. The Cooper Falling Body
When the Cooper family were snapped in their new home in Texas, there seemed to be an unexpected and highly disturbing photobomber in shot. It is said that, when developed, the photograph showed what appeared to be a human body, hanging or falling. Various reasons have been given for this – double exposure, negative enhancement, or a doll hanging in front of the camera – but the likeliest explanation seems to be some more recent Photoshoppery.
15. Goddard’s Squadron
In 1975 Sir Victor Goddard released this photograph of the squadron he commanded as an RAF officer. He said that in 1919, two days before the photo was taken, air mechanic Freddy Jackson was killed in an accident. But what was the face hovering close to another airman in the back row? The eerie, half-smiling person was, according to Goddard, recognized by members of the squadron as none other than Jackson.
14. Elisa Lam
On January 31, 2013, Canadian student Elisa Lam was due to check out of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. Just over two and a half weeks later, though, after guest complaints about discolored, smelly faucet water, her body was found in the water tank on the supposedly alarmed and locked roof of the hotel. This CCTV footage from the hotel is the last known recording of her alive. Disturbingly, it shows her seeming to hide, talk and gesture in the elevator, even though no one else can be seen. Some have put this behavior down to a mental episode or drug use, but many issues surrounding Lam’s death remain unexplained.
13. The Umbrella Man
There is more than one photographic mystery relating to the JFK assassination. Why would someone choose to open their umbrella on a day without rain? This was the questions put to Louie Steven Witt, a.k.a. Umbrella Man, by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978. His explanation that it was a “bad joke” has not convinced some conspiracy theorists, who have claimed that he was signaling, or even firing tranquilizer darts.
12. Tank Man of Tiananmen Square
Many people know the iconic image of the man who, in June 1989, courageously stood up to and halted a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square, China. Indeed, his fearlessness became a symbol of hope on a day that saw the military slaughter hundreds – or even thousands – of pro-reform protestors against the government. To this day, however, the identity and fate of “Tank Man” remains unknown.
11. Le Loyon
For more than ten years, around the start of the millennium, a strange figure haunted the woods of western Switzerland. It wore a military cape, heavy boots and a gas mask, concealing its identity, and this picture is the only known photographic evidence of the figure, named “Le Loyon” by the local people. The picture went viral in 2013, prompting the character to “commit suicide,” abandoning his garments in the forest with a note citing media attention for ruining the person’s “therapy of happiness;” the note also referenced masochism.
10. Mystery Death on Indian’s Head
On December 12, 2015, the body of a well-dressed man of around 70 was found near the summit on Indian’s Head in the Peak District, England. The pensioner had arrived by train before climbing 1,500 feet after dark and in poor weather. It looked like the man had merely laid down and died, but traces of strychnine were found in his body. Meanwhile, a surgical plate in his leg suggested that he had lived in Pakistan, and yet there was no documentation or other markings found on his body. Police, who are still unable to identify the man, traced his journey toward death using the CCTV footage of the train stations he’d visited that day.
9. The “Cell Phone User” of the 1920s
Ah, the Roaring Twenties: flapper dresses, jazz and… mobile phones? It kind of seems so when you look at this still from footage of a street scene outside the Hollywood premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus, released in 1928. A time-traveling cell phone user or an undiscovered inventor? Or perhaps a passerby using one of Siemens’ or Western Electric’s newfangled hearing aids?
8. The Specter of Newby Church
When Reverend K. F. Lord apparently captured this photograph in 1963, it seems that he thought he was taking a picture of his beloved altar at Newby Church in Yorkshire, England. After the film was developed, however, the snap seemed to show an eerie, hooded figure toward the right of the frame. Reportedly, Lord was hurt by accusations of the photograph being a fake, while the appearance of the figure has not been definitively explained.
7. The Tulip Staircase Ghost
What is it with clergymen and taking ghostly photographs? This image, seemingly showing a mournful figure clinging to the “Tulip Staircase” in the National Maritime Museum in England, was taken by Canadian Reverend Ralph Hardy in 1966. Experts from Kodak were brought in to test the veracity of the image, and they could find no evidence of its being a hoax.
6. The First Photographed Humans
When an unidentified person paused to get his shoes shined on the Boulevard du Temple in Paris in 1838, little did he know that he would be part of history. It all came about because Louis Daguerre invented the daguerreotype method of photography, which involved an exposure of seven minutes or so. The only people on the street that stayed still long enough during this exposure became the first humans to appear in a photograph, yet nothing is known of the patron.
5. Lord Combermere
This one-hour-exposure photograph was captured in 1891 by Sybell Corbet at the empty Combermere Abbey Library in Cheshire, England. When the photo was taken, Lord Combermere’s funeral was underway four miles away. Imagine Corbet’s surprise, then, when on her developing the photograph there appeared to be a person sat there in the late Lord’s favorite chair. Some said the image could have been created by a servant briefly sitting in the chair, but the household refuted this idea.
4. The White Lady of Worstead Church
In 1975 Peter Berthelot took his family to visit St. Mary’s church in Worstead, England. There he snapped what he thought would be a meditative photograph of his wife sitting down to pray, but on developing the photograph he was shocked at what seemed to be a person sitting behind her. Some suggested that it was the fabled White Lady of Worstead ghost, and Mrs. Berthelot went on to claim that the apparition had actually healed her.
3. Lars Mittank
Lars Mittank was due to fly home to Germany in June 2014, but he never made it onto the plane. Caught on CCTV running through Bulgaria’s Varna airport and into some nearby woods, he has not been seen or heard from since. His erratic behavior may have been due to a drug that he was prescribed earlier that week, and before he disappeared he contacted his mother to tell her that he felt frightened.
2. The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
Unlike the other ghostly images on our list, this photograph, from 1936, was taken by people who actually professed to have seen their apparition. The photographers, hired by Country Life magazine, were snapping a picture of the staircase at Raynham Hall. One of them apparently shouted that he could see something moving up the stairs, and they rushed to their equipment. The resulting photo purportedly shows the shadowy “Brown Lady of Raynham Hall.”
1. The Cemetery Baby
In 1946 a grieving Mrs. Andrews was paying a visit to the grave of her daughter, Joyce, who had died at 17 years of age a year previously. Andrews reported that there was nobody nearby when she took the photograph in Australia, yet in the developed image there seemed to be a small child sitting on the grave. Mrs. Andrews did not claim, though, that this was the ghost of her daughter, saying she did not recognize the face of the child in any way.