The Orbs Issue in One 1910 Photo

Orbs are a hotly contested topic. Are they ghost orbs… or something less interesting?

ghostly orbs at gilson road cemetery
One of my own orb photos

My message today is: In ghost hunting, the most reliable person is yourself.

When anyone (including me) assures you that something is true, verify it.

Most orb debates would resolve quickly if people routinely tested their own cameras to see what dust, pollen, rain, fog, reflections, breath, and insects look like in those photos.

Do this yourself. Test every camera you use for ghost hunting. Deliberately stage “false orb” conditions.

Then, analyze those photos. Could you confuse them with truly anomalous orbs?

When I stumbled onto this discovery, I was embarrassed by how simple it was. For nearly 10 years, I’d kept insisting that most orbs were caused by dust, pollen, insects, reflections, and so on.

Then, after a heated argument with a long-time friend who insisted that all orbs are ghosts, I was irked. I set out to prove my theory. I really wanted to show him that he was wrong.

But then…

I discovered that it’s more difficult to create convincing, fake orbs — with dust, pollen, smoke, insects, etc. — than I’d realized.

The key word is “convincing.” Until you know what you’re looking for, most orbs can look alike.

I’ll explain more about this in the future.

For now, I’ve stumbled onto a great, old photo that shows some easily identified issues, as well as orbs that might be ghostly.

The following is a photo of the Custer Battlefield National Cemetery. The picture was taken in 1910, when photography was very different from now. But, the issues remain the same.

Sunrise at Custer Battlefield Cemetery - orbs

I’ve enlarged some of the orbs to show what might be an anomaly — also called a “ghost orb” — and what’s probably a glitch in the photo.

Processing Mistakes

First, an obvious glitch. In the photo above, the following area is in the lower right part of the picture, to the left of the white writing.

chemical spatters

That photo was processed in a lab. Chemical splashes and spatters could happen. That’s the most likely explanation for those irregular, somewhat circular areas.

Even in the 1990s, when I was taking film photos at haunted sites, I still had to examine the negatives for splashes and lab errors.

False Orbs – Dust and Insects

The next enlargement shows what could be pollen and insects, as well as some possible anomalies. In the original photo, this area is in the lower half of the picture, and just left of the center.

Orb #1 includes a clear dot. In a color photo, it might be yellow or orange. When it is, the orb is almost always caused by pollen.

But, I see other similar, small dots nearby. So, the orb might be real and the dots might be a glitch from the developing or printing process, or damage to the print during storage.

Solution: When you’re taking photos, ask a friend to stand to one side and in front of you. He or she can tell you if anything in the air looked highlighted by your flash.

Orb #2 is an odd shape, and part of it is more solid looking. That’s often a flying insect.

Solution: When you’re ghost hunting outdoors, regularly look up at streetlights, or have a friend leave a flashlight on for several minutes. Many insects are attracted to light.

If you see bugs flying in front of a light, keep them in mind when you’re analyzing your photos, later.

Miscellaneous Items

The next enlargement is from the sky area in the Custer photo. It’s near the top and to the right of the middle.

Irregular shape #1 is probably damage to the print or something that spilled on the negative.

Shape #2 could be almost anything, including an insect or two, or a printing glitch.

Possible Ghost Orbs

After ruling out things that look like false anomalies, I still see several orbs I can’t explain. Not entirely, anyway. (I am mindful that sunlight may have been streaming directly towards the camera.)

I’ve indicated a few possible orbs from the sky area of the photo. But, a closer examination of the original photo may reveal more.

ghost orbs at custer battlefield cemetery

Of course, they could be processing errors from the darkroom. They could be insects or pollen, or something else that’s perfectly normal.

I have no idea and, frankly, no one can be sure whether anything I’ve said is accurate about this photo.

We’d need to test the camera the photographer used.

That’s my point.

For the past several years, I routinely test every new camera. I want to see how dust, pollen, moisture, breath, smoke, and other issues may affect my photos.

It’s a semi-scientific approach to ghost photography. More importantly, testing each camera is the only way we can tell whether our photos include possible anomalies… or probable dust, insects, and so on.

This is important, as well: Even after those tests, we’ll have unanswered questions.

Never to assume that the logical, normal explanation is the only explanation. Something that “looks like dust” could still be an anomaly.

And, even if it is dust, you may have another mystery: What causes dust in that area, but nowhere else at that location or nearby?

In other words, the orb may not be the anomaly. Maybe the weird dust is.

Gilson Road Cemetery – ‘Vampire’ Mist

Rising mist at Gilson Road Cemetery

If you’re looking for a real, scary ghost photo, this may be it.

When you’re studying ghosts and hauntings, and have taken thousands of cemetery pictures, orbs become routine.

So, when I see something like the eerie mist in this photograph, I get very excited about it.

Forget about the bell-shaped orbs; they’re just the fog when I took this photo. (That’s one reason I like this Canon camera. Its internal lenses refract light bouncing off moist air in a bell-shape that can be used to distinguish “fake anomalies” from the real ones.)

However, the mist coming up from this grave fascinates me. It reminds me of vampire movies. (Later note: This article was written long before the Twilight series was even written.)

I like the contrast between the rising mist -whatever it is – and the larger water droplets in the air, which photographed as “bells.”

I’m not claiming that this mist is an anomaly. I don’t know what it is, but it’s definitely rising up from one of the haunted graves where we get our strangest “ghost photos.”

This was taken at Gilson Road Cemetery, Nashua, NH, on 26 Nov 1999, at about 6 p.m. The grave belongs to Rufus Lawrence.

When we charted the non-orb anomalies we’ve captured on film at this cemetery, his grave is Ground Zero for many of them. For example, the purple-streaked photo featured elsewhere at this site, was take just to the right of Mr. Lawrence’s headstone.

Camera: Canon Snappy LXII, point-and-shoot
Film: Kodak Max 800 ASA

(Yes, this is a color photo, and no, I didn’t edit it with PhotoShop or any other program.)

Read more about Haunted Gilson Road Cemetery.