Mystery of Wem "ghost" solved by an 88-year-old postcard and an eagled-eyed pensioner

For almost 15 years, the Wem photograph, which appears to show the ghost of a young girl standing amongst the flames of the Shropshire village's burning town hall, has been one of the most famous ghost photographs on the planet.

Taken in 1995, it has been hailed as compelling evidence of the existence of ghosts.

But now a man from the nearby city of Shrewsbury has come forward to say that he has evidence that the photo is, in fact, a fake.

Brian Lear, 77, says the "ghost" bears a striking resemblance to a girl standing in a doorway in a photograph of Wem taken in 1922.

The "ghost" image created international headlines in 1995, and there was local speculation that the girl was 14-year-old Jane Churm, who accidentally started a disastrous fire in Wem in 1677.

But it seems as though the girl in the "ghost" photo lived 250 years later and, to the disappointment of paranormal enthusiasts, the photo is almost certainly a fake.

Mystery of Wem ghost solved by an 88-year-old postcard and an eagled-eyed pensioner

By Andy Dolan
19th May 2010

It was an image hailed as compelling evidence for the existence of ghosts.

As a town hall was being destroyed by fire, an apparition of a little girl - standing behind a rail and surrounded by flames - was apparently captured on camera.

The picture was taken by Tony O'Rahilly, a sewage farm worker and keen photographer, as he stood across the road among a crowd watching the 90-year-old building in Wem, Shropshire, burn down in November 1995.

Mystery: The infamous photo of the 'Wem Ghost', showing a girl in the fire at Wem Town Hall in November 1995

The legend of the Wem Ghost was born.

But 15 years on, a pensioner has come forward to cast doubt on the spectre.

Brian Lear, 77, said the 'ghost' bears a distinct likeness to a girl standing in a doorway in a photo of Wem's high street.

This was used on a postcard dating from 1922.

Mr Lear, a retired engineer from Shrewsbury, spotted the image when it was reproduced last week as part of a nostalgia item in a local paper.

'I was intrigued to find that she bore a striking likeness to the little girl featured as the Wem Ghost,' he said.

'Her dress, bonnet and ribbon appear to be identical.'

In 1995 the 'ghost' image created international headlines. There was local speculation that the girl was 14-year-old Jane Churm, who accidentally started a disastrous fire in Wem in 1677. The cause of the 1995 fire remains a mystery. Mr O'Rahilly died of a heart attack in 2005.

Solved: A street scene postcard from the 1920s taken in Wem shows a similar looking girl to the one who appears in Mr O'Rahilly's photo

Local councillor Peggy Carson, who knew him, said she believed the stress caused by interest in his picture contributed to his death.

A close-up of the girl in the postcard

Local historian Tom Edwards, 69, said: 'He always maintained that the picture was genuine and I believe him.'

Photographic experts have suggested that the 'ghost' image was a trick of the light caused by the fire.

However, Greg Hobson, the curator of photographs at the National Media Museum in Bradford, said: 'The postcard offers pretty conclusive proof that this is a hoax.

'I think we can say the mystery has been solved.'

Mr Hobson said the technique used to produce the doctored photograph was probably similar to one used by Edwardian era mediums who purported to capture images of spirits with their relatives during the relatives' consultations as a way of boosting their credibility.

The mediums would first ask for a photograph of the deceased person, then take a picture of it in the back room. When the client returned later for a consultation, the image would already be partly exposed on to a glass plate.

Another picture would be taken of the client during the session and exposed on to the same plate, giving an image apparently showing the spirit of their relative visiting them during the seance.
Interesting...I'm always skeptical of definitive proof in photographs, but I did note that in the postcard, the girls head is tucked down a little, and in the Photo in question, she seems to be looking up, and the image is far more clear then the enlarged postcard image.

Food for thought.
Slim Chance
I don't think that they are the same picture.. Like you mentioned, there appears to be a fundamental difference in the girl's posture
Bar Sinister
What? A photograph of a ghost turns out to be a fake? Why did no one suspect this might be the case before? Human gullibility never fails to astound me.

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