A photograph has the power of capturing the visual truth of a particular moment, so when a picture contains something that cannot be explained — such as what appears to be a ghost or an alien — the public is understandably excited by it. However, a good number of such mysterious photos turn out not to be as inexplicable as they may first seem. Some of them are revealed to be the unintended results of natural optical illusions, and yet others are later exposed as the products of malicious photographic trickery. Unfortunately, while the photos and their strange content are broadly circulated, the real stories about them aren’t as widely publicized.
Hopefully, the following discussion of ten supposedly mysterious photos that have actually been explained will raise awareness on the truths behind them:
10. The “Time Traveler” of 1941
In 1941, the South Fork Bridge in British Columbia was reopened. Many years later, an authentic photo from the event caught the interest of theorists who claimed that the image was proof of the reality of time travel. More specifically, some observers insisted that a man in the picture was clearly a visitor from the future as he was wearing a modern-printed shirt and dark glasses — both items still unavailable in the 1940s. Not true, though. Sunglasses actually first appeared in the 1920s. The man’s shirt, meanwhile, rather than being printed, actually seems to be one with a sewn-on graphic, a style commonly used in athletes’ clothing during the period.
9. The Hook Island “Sea Monster”
The story behind the photos goes that in 1964, Breton photographer Robert Le Serrec captured pictures of a 75 to 80 foot tadpole-like sea serpent while he was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef with his family and some friends. Because Photoshop didn’t exist in 1964, the images were believed by many to be authentic. However, some circumstances surrounding the photos and the people responsible for them raise serious questions on the images’ authenticity.
First, Le Serrec was found to have left several creditors in France unpaid and had been wanted by Interpol. This was probably the reason why he approached several members of the media to command the highest price for the images. Worse, Le Serrec was later discovered to have previously attempted to arrange a group for a “sea-serpent” expedition that he claimed would turn out to be “financially fruitful.” Secondly, on the images themselves, it has been observed that the positioning of the supposed creature’s eyes was suspect because most vertebrates had their eyes either on the sides of their head or near the snout. The prevailing theory of many experts today is that the images in Le Serrec’s photos are those of a monster-shaped sheet of plastic weighted down by sand.
8. The Cooper Family “Ghost”
Internet legend has it that this photo was taken sometime in the 1950s, the day that the Cooper family moved into a Texas home that had previously been owned. It was said that nothing unusual was noticed as the picture was being taken, but when the photo was developed, a falling/hanging body appeared in it. Granted, the picture truly is creepy, but there are serious reasons to doubt its authenticity. First, the image began circulating no earlier than in the year 2000, which leaves experts wondering why the image had remained hidden for so long. Secondly, hardly anything is known about the picture or its source, making it very possible that the picture was altered long after it was taken. Lastly, the shadow of the supposed body appears to its right, clearly inconsistent with the light source for the photo, which is also at the right side of the body. These are the reasons why most photo experts today are in agreement that the Cooper photo had been altered.
7. The “Ancient” Black Knight Satellite
In 1998, when space shuttle Endeavor traveled to the International Space Station, astronauts were able to capture several photos of a mysterious piece of space debris, which looked like some type of craft. The object eventually came to be called “Black Knight,” and ufologists were quick to associate the object to the then-inexplicable radio signals from outer space that Nikola Tesla had picked up in 1899. Today, however, it is widely accepted that the Tesla radio signals were in fact pulsars — radio signals that naturally occur in outer space and were unrelated to the Black Knight. Furthermore, in 1960, when the Discoverer satellites were being launched, then-Air Force Secretary Dudley Sharp explained to newspapers that the supposedly unidentified object was likely the second casing from a satellite that had been launched. In fact, this theory was later confirmed and even reported by TIME magazine.
6. The “Murderous Demon” in the Cave
The picture above has been circulated as early as the 1990s with the following story, or a variation, accompanying it:
This is a true story in Ras el Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. This picture has been released as a police report evidence in the UAE. The story is that a young man went in the caves in Ras el Khaimah to take pictures in caves known to be deserted, with a friend. He had been warned not to go. The person who had been with him called the police saying he had seen his friend’s flash go off and then his friend screamed. He called his friend but never got an answer and got scared that he’d fallen so went to the police. A few hours later they found the man in the cave dead and the single picture found in his camera is this one.
Interesting, yes, but a photo of an actual demon? No. The figure in the picture is actually a hard plastic sculpture that is part of the Crystal Quest tour of Cox’s Cave in Cheddar George, England. Here’s a much less intriguing picture of the sculpture:
5. The S.S. Watertown “Phantom Faces”
The story that accompanies this photo goes that in 1924, two members of the S.S. Watertown crew were killed by gas fumes in a freak accident on the ship and were buried at sea. After the incident, other crew members claimed to see the ghostly faces of their two deceased companions in the water. A certain Captain Keith Tracy then supposedly captured a photo of the apparitions, which has since been widely circulated as an authentic ghost photo. However, details in the original image, minus the intrusive arrows on the widely circulated version of the photo, give rise to suspicions of tampering.
The photo was said to have been snapped while the photographer was on the deck of the ship, the diagonal lines in the image being the safety railings. Strangely, the face on the left can be seen in between two railings that seem to be dangling, quite an obvious sign of photo editing. Furthermore, even if the faces had truly been in the water, they would’ve been at least ten feet tall each, a detail that surely would’ve been part of the story if true.
4. The “Humanoid Face” on Mars
On July 25, 1976, NASA/JPL released a photo of the Cydonia region on Mars as taken by the Viking 1 orbiter. A year later, it caught the attention of alien enthusiasts who pointed out what seemed to be a humanoid face in the image. However, Gerry Soffen, Viking’s chief scientist, quickly dismissed the face-like shape as a “trick of light and shadow.” Nevertheless, some commentators insisted that the face was evidence of a long-lost Martian civilization. The controversy was finally laid to rest 20 years after the Viking 1 images were captured when future space missions took clearer photos of the area and produced several high-resolution images, including the following [inset of the 1976 photo included for comparison]:
3. The Iconic “Loch Ness Monster” Photo of 1934
This photo, called “Surgeon’s Photograph,” is the most iconic image of the purported Loch Ness Monster that some believe to inhabit the Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. The picture was so named because a London doctor, Robert Kenneth Wilson, supposedly took the photo but refused to be associated with it. Alas, the photo was exposed as an elaborate hoax in 1993. Christian Spurling revealed that Marmaduke Wetherell, a Daily Mail employee, had asked him to build the fake monster out of a toy submarine. The scam was Wetherell’s revenge on The Daily Mail for publicly ridiculing him after he had been duped into thinking that obviously faked Nessie footprints were real.
2. The Wem “Ghost”
In November of 1995, a 90-year-old town hall building in Wem, England burned down. A sewage farm worker and avid photographer, Tony O’Rahilly, took a photo of the burning structure from across the road then later claimed that the developed photo mysteriously included a little girl standing in a doorway. For some time, the image was hailed as compelling evidence for the reality of ghosts, but in 2010, a 77-year-old pensioner pointed out that the little girl in the photo bore a striking likeness to a girl in the lower left-hand corner of the following 1922 Wem postcard:
True enough, when the girl in the postcard and the “ghost” in the photo are placed side by side, the similarity is undeniable, thus revealing the supposedly mysterious image to be a fraud.
1. The Solway Firth “Spaceman”
Jim Templeton’s 1964 photo is likely the most circulated image of what some claim to be proof of either time travel or alien life. The photographer claimed that he didn’t notice anyone else in the frame at the time he took the shot, but when the film was developed, a man who appears to be in a spacesuit was standing behind Templeton’s daughter. Furthermore, conspiracy theorists later connected the figure in the image to two men’s strange visit to Templeton and an aborted missile launch in Woomera, Australia. However, a closer look at the image reveals that the “spaceman” actually has his back turned to the photographer because his arm would’ve been bent at an impossible angle if he were facing forward; that would mean the spaceman was strangely wearing his helmet backwards. Furthermore, enhancing the contrast of the photo reveals a distinctive neckline and dress armholes, which many say prove that the “spaceman” is actually a whitewashed image of Templeton’s wife.