1959, March 22: Mabel Chinnery’s Strange Photograph

On March 22, 1959, in the town of Ipswitch, Suffolk, England, Mrs. Mabel Chinnery and her husband drove to the graveyard in which her mother, Ellen Hammell, had been buried a week previous, to take pictures of Mrs. Hammell's grave. As Mrs. Chinnery returned to the car, she decided to use her last remaining shot to take a candid picture of her husband, waiting in the vehicle. When the pictures were developed, one of Mrs. Chinnery's friends pointed out that Mrs. Hammell appeared to be in the back seat of the car, behind Mrs. Chinnery's husband!

Enlarged, but alteredAn unexpected detail [Larger version here]

        According to Mrs. Chinnery, this is where her mother always sat when they went for drives. An unnamed photo expert was quoted as saying "The lady in back can't be the result of a double exposure. If it were, the door's upright wouldn't block off part of her face. And she can't be a reflection in the window, either."

        And that's all the original printing of the story tells us.

A Critical Check

        The history of this photo was checked in April 2015 by Blake Smith, a writer/contributor at the Skeptic website (link in sources); it was Smith who tracked down the 1959 Parade article of the story (well done!). Despite the 1959 proclamation above, Smith wanted to test the possibility of the photo being a double exposure, largely because of two known abnormalities in the photo. First, to the left of the figure in the backseat is a strange shape that seems to line up to be a shoulder, but is too far extended from where a body would be if an actual person was in the back: Smith speculated this could be part of an armchair the figure was sitting in, if a double exposure. Second, the white collar of the figure in the back seat appears to overlap the door frame that should be in front of it.

        There are problems with the double exposure theory, however. First, the picture was the last shot in the camera, taken a week after Mrs. Hammell died and after pictures of her grave were taken... so how would a picture of the buried woman turn up on a picture of the car after the fact? Second, if the white collar can partially overlap the door frame in a double exposure, then why doesn't it completely overlap? There is also no other overlapping of a second picture; it looks as if only the back seat in the photo recieved a double exposure. So if the picture is a double exposure, then it would likely have to be a intended one; and a very skillfully done one at that.

        Or perhaps a ghost inserting its image into a picture isn't so fussy about details. Oh, and because some people have worried about it: the photo of Mrs. Hammell below, though grainy, clearly shows her holding a pair of glasses... so the glasses in the photo above make sense for the person the image is said to be associated with (the image is from the brief 1959 Parade magazine article).

Mrs. Hammell

        It should also be noted that the image above is a screen shot taken from a TV show, chosen by Smith because it had better clarity. When compared to the photo below -- which is likely from the original Parade article, which stated it had an arrow pointed at the woman in the back seat -- it appears the photo above has had some air-brush work done to remove the black arrow. In fact, the door frame around the window is much smoother looking than the rest of the image, which shows a grainy texture that matches details in the photo below; so the frame itself may have been airbrushed directly in the very area being used to argue that the woman's collar is overlapping the frame.

        I hate to say it, but the only way to proceed further is to locate a better copy of the earliest image, either in an actual copy of the Parade magazine article (not a photocopy) or a copy of the same from a local Ipswitch newspaper.

First Photo