1968, December 24: The Hand on the TV
On Christmas Eve, 1968, a woman in southern Minnesota, USA, snapped a picture of her husband assembling toys -- and inadvertently preserved an unscheduled broadcast on her unplugged television set. The hand had appeared the year before, again at Christmas.
The short account above sums up about all that is generally stated or known about the picture of the hand on the TV. The image above is generally assumed to be a cropped version of a larger photo of the woman's husband... but no one has a copy of this theoretical larger image that I've ever seen or can find. The hand is also largely assumed to be of a ghostly origin.
Where, When, and Who, Exactly?
The earliest I can trace this story and image on the internet is a web page that was collected by the Internet Archives on November 3, 1999 [link here]; but I've no clue when it was first posted on the original site. As you can see from the legend above, very little actual information is ever given about the picture making it hard to come to any useful conclusions... I did manage to find a clue that may help in the long run, however.
On May 29, 2000, a user called indridcold posted a topic about this very picture in the forums of Snopes.com. According to indridcold, they had just bought an old copy of Occult magazine, from October 1975, which they state was a quarterly publication of CBS Publications, and it happened to include the details above with the photo in question. The article was written by Brad Steiger, an author well-known for both creating stories and bending facts; and the main focus of the article, weirdly, was what a palm reading of the hand could theoretically reveal about the owner! If confirmable, the 1975 article would show the photo existed before commercial photo altering software.
The magazine's version of the story, as told by indridcold, is that in 1968 a woman from a small town in southern Minnesota was taking pictures of her husband assembling toys on Christmas Eve, when she noticed the TV had the image of the hand just beginning to fade away; presumably the picture was one taken before she noticed the hand or it faded, which would make sense if the picture we're shown really is a small crop from a picture of her husband doing something. She stated that the TV was unplugged at the time the hand appeared. User indridcold then included a link to the 1999 website above to display the picture to the forum group, and mentioned that the 1999 website added that the hand had also been seen on the previous Christmas Eve, a detail that is definitely not in the Occult 1975 article.
So overall, it seems the base story and photo did in fact exist as early as 1975; Steiger's involvement in the matter, however, is a problem. In the forum, respondents automatically assumed the photo was a fake simply because Steiger was involved. This may not be a fair assessment. Given the odd focus of the article, it would seem to indicate that Steiger was not revealing a new picture for the first time but more likely throwing a spin on a known story to get an article out of it. Still, until I can confirm the existence of the 1975 Occult article and, hopefully, find an earlier print source for the picture and story that separates the initial report from Steiger, I'm marking this account as "Unreliable."