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2010, April 23: A Christmas Ghost

On April 23, 2010, the Ghost Theory website featured a post called "Retro Creeps: Scary Portraits from the Past." Most of the photos were just old and odd; but a few featured aspects that looked specifically ghostly. As far as I can currently tell, this April posting at Ghost Theory is the first appearance of the following spooky image, which has since been included in many websites, none of which says anything about the actual origins of the image.

A Christmas GhostA Christmas Ghost [Larger version here.]

So... I'm me. I dug a bit. And now I can tell you where this image came from, as well as who is in it. Curious?

Christmas Conundrums

        In 1919, Newton D. Baker [1871-1937] -- who was the United States Secretary of War between 1916 and 1921 -- posed for a Christmas picture with his wife Elizabeth, and his children, Jack, Betty, and Peggy. The image was taken using a process that produced a glass negative, which provided a finer quality image that lasted longer, but was vulnerable to just being broken, and to having the image degrade if the chemicals on the glass reacted with their environment... so it's not unusual for such an older image to have some visual oddities created by the chemicals. The picture of the Baker family with the Christmas tree eventually became part of the National Photo Company Collection, which is part of the Library of Congress collection.

        The United States was involved in World War I at the time the picture was taken, so it would not have been out of place for a Christmas photo of well-known public officials to be taken for publicity purposes. I have no proof that such was the fate of this photo in particular, but I do know that one very important thing can be determined by looking at the Library of Congress' original...

Christmas 1919A Baker Family Christmas, 1919 [Photo source here.]

There is no ghost.

        The ghost was likely added around 2010. Though the earliest I can find it is the April 2010 posting at Ghost Theory, it seems likely the photo was altered and posted by a different website earlier simply because the Ghost Theory website presents the ghost version of the photo with no caption and as part of a group of about fifty other photos... so there was no attempt to single the photo out. The person who posted the picture at Ghost Theory probably didn't know the image was of an identifiable US politician.

        BUT, while I have your attention, let me tell you two fun things about Secretary of War Newton D. Baker. First, he was sometimes criticized by military men of being a pacifist at heart... which led to his memorable statement "I'm so much of a pacifist, I'm willing to fight for it!"

        Secondly, looking through the photos at the Library of Congress revealed that Baker's son Jack got a lot more than just a radio set for Christmas in 1919:

Baker and son Jack

Jack got a whole WWI soldier kit, including the rifle. He's being shown here how to load the damn thing!

Baker and son Jack

So either Secretary Baker was the best dad ever, or the worst. Debate among yourselves.