2016, May 24: 100 Year Old Mystery Photo

The oddity was first reported on May 24, 2016; but it had apparently existed since around 1900, when the picture was taken. The image below, of linen workers in Ireland, appears to have been first posted to the internet in November 2015 as part of the Getty Images collection of pictures available for use by publishers as stock images. On April 30, 2016, it was included as part of a gallery of old pictures from Belfast, Ireland, on the BelfastLive website, which is when the oddity was first noticed by a reader... and on May 24, 2016, the same website officially announced the fact the oddity was in the picture. See it?

Irish Linen Girls, ca. 1900
Irish Linen Girls, ca. 1900 [Larger version here]

For those of you not finding the problem... look at the woman sitting farthest to the right. Notice: she has a hand on her shoulder that does not belong to the two people behind her!

        The reader who pointed out the extra hand stated that she was the granddaughter of one of the women in the photo (specifically the woman standing just behind the extra hand in the image); because of this relationship, the reader's father actually had a copy of this picture at his house, so the reader was very familiar with it, calling it "a family ghost picture".

        Mark McCreary, the author of the two articles in BelfastLive -- the first article featuring a collection of old Belfast pictures, and the second article pointing out the extra hand in the image -- stated that "we" (presumably the website's staff) tried to explain the strange object as a trick of the light, or possibly a ruffle on the woman's dress; because McCreary knew the photo was in fact over a hundred years old, it was clear that the hand had not been added by a someone using photo modification software. Past these observations, all the BelfastLive could do was ask readers for theories that could explain the possible 'ghost hand'; but the general opinion of the few respondents was that the image was a fake, created by BelfastLive to sell a false ghost story.

        The reason for this harsh consensus was BelfastLive's unwise decision to use a version of the photo at the top of their creepy hand article in which the website had used photo manipulation software to remove the top row of people from the image to make it more compact... which lead to the conclusion that the same manipulation had made the image to start with. However, given what can be traced about the photo's history, it seems clear that the extra hand on the woman's shoulder did in fact exist in the original photo, and this detail in the image had not been created by BelfastLive.

        Less clearly, however, the image had in fact been altered... and likely over 100 years ago.

Victorian Photoshop


        Look carefully at the close up of the woman with the hand on her shoulder above, and notice two things. First, it is actually a hand on her shoulder. Second, her other shoulder has an abnormally sharp curve to it down to the elbow.

        This sharp curve of her shoulder and elbow is a strong indicator of a classic Victorian photo manipulation technique... airbrushing details in a picture to either hide or add new parts. In this case, it appears an airbrusher removed a person that was once to the left side of the woman with the hand on her right shoulder. Possible reasons for removing someone could be that the person removed might not have been completely in the shot to begin with, and they were removed so there would not be half a person on the edge of the shot. Or perhaps the person removed was no longer part of the group, maybe having been fired before the picture was officially released.

        In any case, no matter what the reasons for the person's removal from the picture, the artist doing the airbrushing filled in the area that would have been another person by adding details extending the dress of the woman in the back downward, and creating the edge of the main subject's left shoulder and elbow. Likely the missing person was wearing something dark, which forced the airbrusher to decide how much of a dark line needed to stay by the elbow, creating the sharp edge.

        Given all the work needed to make a person invisible, it's rather humorous the artist forgot to also remove the extra hand on the subject's right shoulder... I have to wonder if that was intentional, just to see if anyone would notice!


        I just want to say thanks to Eric Stratford, who sent me a link to the original ghost hand article in the BelfastLive site; it always helps to have another set of eyes looking for interesting stuff!

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