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His Dead Wife's Photograph

Scary Books: Indian Ghost Stories
: S. Mukerji

This story created a sensation when it was first told. It appeared in

the papers and many big Physicists and Natural Philosophers were, at

least so they thought, able to explain the phenomenon. I shall narrate

the event and also tell the reader what explanation was given, and let

him draw his own conclusions.

This was what happened.

A friend of mine, a clerk
n the same office as myself, was an amateur

photographer; let us call him Jones.

Jones had a half plate Sanderson camera with a Ross lens and a Thornton

Picard behind lens shutter, with pneumatic release. The plate in

question was a Wrattens ordinary, developed with Ilford Pyro Soda

developer prepared at home. All these particulars I give for the benefit

of the more technical reader.

Mr. Smith, another clerk in our office, invited Mr. Jones to take a

likeness of his wife and sister-in-law.

This sister-in-law was the wife of Mr. Smith's elder brother, who was

also a Government servant, then on leave. The idea of the photograph was

of the sister-in-law.

Jones was a keen photographer himself. He had photographed every body in

the office including the peons and sweepers, and had even supplied every

sitter of his with copies of his handiwork. So he most willingly

consented, and anxiously waited for the Sunday on which the photograph

was to be taken.

Early on Sunday morning, Jones went to the Smiths'. The arrangement of

light in the verandah was such that a photograph could only be taken

after midday; and so he stayed there to breakfast.

At about one in the afternoon all arrangements were complete and the two

ladies, Mrs. Smiths, were made to sit in two cane chairs and after long

and careful focussing, and moving the camera about for an hour, Jones

was satisfied at last and an exposure was made. Mr. Jones was sure that

the plate was all right; and so, a second plate was not exposed

although in the usual course of things this should have been done.

He wrapped up his things and went home promising to develop the plate

the same night and bring a copy of the photograph the next day to the


The next day, which was a Monday, Jones came to the office very early,

and I was the first person to meet him.

"Well, Mr. Photographer," I asked "what success?"

"I got the picture all right," said Jones, unwrapping an unmounted

picture and handing it over to me "most funny, don't you think so?" "No,

I don't ... I think it is all right, at any rate I did not expect

anything better from you ...", I said.

"No," said Jones "the funny thing is that only two ladies sat ..."

"Quite right," I said "the third stood in the middle."

"There was no third lady at all there ...", said Jones.

"Then you imagined she was there, and there we find her ..." "I tell

you, there were only two ladies there when I exposed" insisted Jones.

He was looking awfully worried.

"Do you want me to believe that there were only two persons when the

plate was exposed and three when it was developed?" I asked. "That is

exactly what has happened," said Jones.

"Then it must be the most wonderful developer you used, or was it that

this was the second exposure given to the same plate?"

"The developer is the one which I have been using for the last three

years, and the plate, the one I charged on Saturday night out of a new

box that I had purchased only on Saturday afternoon."

A number of other clerks had come up in the meantime, and were taking

great interest in the picture and in Jones' statement.

It is only right that a description of the picture be given here for the

benefit of the reader. I wish I could reproduce the original picture

too, but that for certain reasons is impossible.

When the plate was actually exposed there were only two ladies, both of

whom were sitting in cane chairs. When the plate was developed it was

found that there was in the picture a figure, that of a lady, standing

in the middle. She wore a broad-edged _dhoti_ (the reader should not

forget that all the characters are Indians), only the upper half of her

body being visible, the lower being covered up by the low backs of the

cane chairs. She was distinctly behind the chairs, and consequently

slightly out of focus. Still everything was quite clear. Even her long

necklace was visible through the little opening in the _dhoti_ near the

right shoulder. She was resting her hands on the backs of the chairs and

the fingers were nearly totally out of focus, but a ring on the right

ring-finger was clearly visible. She looked like a handsome young woman

of twenty-two, short and thin. One of the ear-rings was also clearly

visible, although the face itself was slightly out of focus. One thing,

and probably the funniest thing, that we overlooked then but observed

afterwards, was that immediately behind the three ladies was a barred

window. The two ladies, who were one on each side, covered up the bars

to a certain height from the bottom with their bodies, but the lady in

the middle was partly transparent because the bars of the window were

very faintly visible through her. This fact, however, as I have said

already, we did not observe then. We only laughed at Jones and tried to

assure him that he was either drunk or asleep. At this moment Smith of

our office walked in, removing the trouser clips from his legs.

Smith took the unmounted photograph, looked at it for a minute, turned

red and blue and green and finally very pale. Of course, we asked him

what the matter was and this was what he said:

"The third lady in the middle was my first wife, who has been dead these

eight years. Before her death she asked me a number of times to have her

photograph taken. She used to say that she had a presentiment that she

might die early. I did not believe in her presentiment myself, but I did

not object to the photograph. So one day I ordered the carriage and

asked her to dress up. We intended to go to a good professional. She

dressed up and the carriage was ready, but as we were going to start

news reached us that her mother was dangerously ill. So we went to see

her mother instead. The mother was very ill, and I had to leave her

there. Immediately afterwards I was sent away on duty to another station

and so could not bring her back. It was in fact after full three months

and a half that I returned and then though her mother was all right, my

wife was not. Within fifteen days of my return she died of puerperal

fever after child-birth and the child died too. A photograph of her was

never taken. When she dressed up for the last time on the day that she

left my home she had the necklace and the ear-rings on, as you see her

wearing in the photograph. My present wife has them now but she does not

generally put them on."

This was too big a pill for me to swallow. So I at once took French

leave from my office, bagged the photograph and rushed out on my

bicycle. I went to Mr. Smith's house and looked Mrs. Smith up. Of

course, she was much astonished to see a third lady in the picture but

could not guess who she was. This I had expected, as supposing Smith's

story to be true, this lady had never seen her husband's first wife. The

elder brother's wife, however, recognized the likeness at once and she

virtually repeated the story which Smith had told me earlier that day.

She even brought out the necklace and the ear-rings for my inspection

and conviction. They were the same as those in the photograph.

All the principal newspapers of that time got hold of the fact and

within a week there was any number of applications for the ghostly

photograph. But Mr. Jones refused to supply copies of it to anybody for

various reasons, the principal being that Smith would not allow it. I

am, however, the fortunate possessor of a copy which, for obvious

reasons, I am not allowed to show to anybody. One copy of the picture

was sent to America and another to England. I do not now remember

exactly to whom. My own copy I showed to the Rev. Father ---- M.A.,

D.SC., B.D., etc., and asked him to find out a scientific explanation of

the phenomenon. The following explanation was given by the gentleman. (I

am afraid I shall not be able to reproduce the learned Father's exact

words, but this is what he meant or at least what I understood him to


"The girl in question was dressed in this particular way on an occasion,

say 10 years ago. Her image was cast _on space_ and the reflection was

projected from one luminous body (one planet) on another till it made a

circuit of millions and millions of miles in space and then came back to

earth at the exact moment when our friend, Mr. Jones, was going to make

the exposure.

"Take for instance the case of a man who is taking the photograph of a

mirage. He is photographing place X from place Y, when X and Y are,

say, 200 miles apart, and it may be that his camera is facing east while

place X is actually towards the west of place Y."

In school I had read a little of Science and Chemistry and could make a

dry analysis of a salt; but this was an item too big for my limited


The fact, however, remains and I believe it, that Smith's first wife did

come back to this terrestrial globe of ours over eight years after her

death to give a sitting for a photograph in a form which, though it did

not affect the retina of our eye, did impress a sensitized plate; in a

form that did not affect the retina of the eye, I say, because Jones

must have been looking at his sitters at the time when he was pressing

the bulb of the pneumatic release of his time and instantaneous shutter.

The story is most wonderful but this is exactly what happened. Smith

says this is the first time he has ever seen, or heard from, his dead

wife. It is popularly believed in India that a dead wife gives a lot of

trouble, if she ever revisits this earth, but this is, thank God, not

the experience of my friend, Mr. Smith.

It is now over seven years since the event mentioned above happened;

and the dead girl has never appeared again. I would very much like to

have a photograph of the two ladies taken once more; but I have never

ventured to approach Smith with the proposal. In fact, I learnt

photography myself with a view to take the photograph of the two ladies,

but as I have said, I have never been able to speak to Smith about my

intention, and probably never shall. The L10, that I spent on my cheap

photographic outfit may be a waste. But I have learnt an art which

though rather costly for my limited means is nevertheless an art worth