Fortean Photography: The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
In this series, I will probably never determine certainty on whether or not a photograph is a real ghost or not. However, I will share my opinion if I cannot explain the phenomena of the subject matter and the possibility that it could actually be real. Today, I am sharing one that I cannot explain, and is often referred to as the most famous ghost photo of all time.
This photograph dates back to 1936 and the misty figure in the image is supposedly a ghost known as The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall. The brown is a reference to the brown brocade dress she is typically seen wearing. As the story goes, the Hall was once resided in by Lady Dorothy Walpole (sister of Great Britain's first prime minister, Robert Walpole) and her husband Charles Townshend in Norfolk, England. Lady Dorothy was the second wife of Charles, and he was notorious for his violent temper. At one point, it is rumored that Lady Dorothy committed adultery with Lord Wharton and Charles punished her by locking her up in various rooms in the hall for extended periods of time. She lived at the hall until her death of Smallpox in 1726. There have been so many reports of sightings on this case, Raynham Hall is easily one of the most famous haunted places in England.
The photograph of the Lady was taken by a man named Hubert Provand. When he visited Raynham hall on this particular day, he was on assignment for Country Life magazine with his assistant, Indre Shira. The men claimed to have seen the vapory form in the stairwell before their decision to take the shot. Skeptics have ruled the image as a hoax or accident with light leaks, putting a greasy substance on the lens, or by manipulating the image through a means of double exposure. Provand and Shira strongly defended heir claim that the photograph was not hoaxed despite the critical reception, and the image of the Brown Lady appeared in Country Life magazine in January 1937.
Anytime I see a transparent figure in a photograph claimed to be paranormal, I automatically go ahead and try to figure out if it is a double-exposure or not. A double-exposure is the superimposition of two or more captures to create a single image. How this worked with analog film photography is the shutter was opened more than once to expose the film multiple times (often multiple images) to that particular shot.
The ideas that grease application to the lens or a light leak to me are out of the question. The figure is too clearly human for me to rule a light leak as the hoax. The fact that the ghost is so well defined also is one reason I doubt that a substance was used to modify the capture. Since the substance would have been applied to the lens, the "ghost" would not be in the foreground. The stairway is apparently dark, and if the material is on the lens there would be no way to illuminate it as the flash could not reach it.
If this image is a hoax, the only possibility I could point to as a method is that of a double-exposure. Honestly, though, I strongly doubt that this photograph is a double exposure. If you look to the bottom right corner of the image, you can see that the shine of the stairs is reflecting the light of the flashbulb. If you look at the bottom of the figure, she is reflecting the light as well. The light does not go past her feet, and if this were a double exposure, this trick with the light would not happen. In addition, a solid figure would not reflect light like that. I am also puzzled by the apparent floating of the entity. There is no trace of feet being planted to the steps.
Based on the copious reported sightings across the decades combined with my inability to debunk the photograph, I would say that the idea that this photograph is of a paranormal entity is a real possibility. There have been many other experts that have also studied this image and are unable to rule it as a hoax. This is why this photograph is perhaps the most convincing real ghost image of all time.