occult photography spooky

Scary Dolls, Haunted Dolls

So I was listening to an episode of the loopholes podcast when they began discussing haunted dolls. Though I often find old photos of dolls creepy I never realised there was a whole sub-culture invested in haunted dolls. Indeed I was astonished to find a search for “haunted dolls” on Ebay came up with 1600 such dolls for sale. These dolls came with detailed histories of when and where they came from, what their powers were and so on. Cue a discussion with my wife about buying old dolls at car boot sales and making up stories for them before selling them on ebay.

This angry child from my cabinet card collection would be a good basis for a story. Now where can I find a doll that looks like hers?

This girl and her doll look particularly spooky don’t you think?

This doll has such powers it needs six girls to restrain it.

Now this photograph, and it is a photograph not a postcard, has real potential. The Ebay seller I bought this from suggested it could be a post mortem photograph, a “popular” thing to take in Victorian times and commanding high prices for good examples from collectors today.

Ultimately I don’t think this a PM photo even though the Girl’s eyes seem to have been painted on. The doll though – now that’s a different matter.

I don’t really believe in haunted dolls though, after watching a Youtube video of twenty haunted dolls, I noticed the comments were mostly people apologising to the dolls for looking at them without permission. I didn’t apologise so if you don’t hear from me again you’ll know why.

photography Social history spooky Victorian

The Book of the Dead

If something was called The Book of the Dead I’d expect to see something scary like this ventriloquist and his dummy. (If you’ve ever seen the film Dead of Night you’ll know why this scares me!)

What I wouldn’t expect is to see a Victorian photo album like this:

Photo albums, with or without themes, were very popular in Victorian time. This Tennyson themed album has lots of cut outs to contain CDVs and cabinet cards. This one’s rather charming I’d say.

I mention this because some time ago I attended a commercially organised “ghost hunt” which took place overnight. It was at the school I’d attended as a teenager so I was already familiar with the place and had not been aware of anything particularly spooky associated with it. As it turned out the whole event was rather silly with the facilitators trying hard to conjure up supernatural events, cold spots and the like. To put it kindly it was utter nonsense.

At one point in the night I found myself in a small room with several other participants trying to make contact with “spirits”. The organiser of this session gave out roles to each of us. She asked for a volunteer to sit with the “book of the dead.” As everyone else was wary I volunteered only to find that the book was actually a Victorian album full of cabinet cards and CDVs. I was delighted of course and could see nothing negative about sitting with this album. My frustration was that because we were operating in very dim lighting I couldn’t see the contents properly. No spirits were contacted or harmed during the seance.

For the most part I find nothing creepy about my interest in old photographs. I see the process of collecting and preserving these photos as a valuable and worthwhile activity, hopefully ensuring that other people can see and appreciate these wonderful social documents. I am perplexed when my partner or other people think there is something creepy about my hobby and refer to it as collecting photographs of dead people. I think those people should be remembered and celebrated not discarded and forgotten.

On the other hand there are some creepy items in my collection though I suspect what I find creepy is not what everyone finds creepy. The photo at the head of this blog for instance is creepy to me as are all  films and photos of ventriloquists and their dummies.

Dolls are another thing that can be disturbing. I know I share this with many other people from the feedback I get but sometimes I see a photo featuring a girl and a doll and think it’s creepy whereas others find it delightful. The massed dolls with at girl at the centre is a good example. Creepy or endearing? Only you can decide.

This on the other hand is definitely creepy.

Sometimes the subjects of photographs have a rather haunted look about them. This could be caused by the fact that early photographic techniques required the subjects to be still whilst the exposure was taken but sometimes the subjects look haunted anyway. Taken in Malta this military man and his daughter have a decidedly haunted look.

And sometimes there’s just something wrong or odd about a photograph that makes you wonder what was really going on.

Does the man behind the children look menacing to you?Haunted or cute?

Considering most of these photographs come from the early nineteenth century it is almost certain that the subjects are all now dead but I prefer to think of these old photographs not as items in “The Book of the Dead” but as a celebration of people’s lives.