Ghosts of the Aspen Art Museum

Posted by carrieh in Canary Ghosts

If you are looking for the ghosts of the Aspen Art Museum, you may not find them in the new building. Apparently, the spooky hauntings were reported in the previous building, an old electric plant the museum occupied for 35 years.


Colored photo of the new Aspen Art Museum Building home of spirit photography and ghosts of the past
New building for the spirits of the Aspen Art Museum
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Strange occurrences such as a phone ringing from an inside line when a security guard was alone in the building, only the line was dead when answered. Many experienced cold whisps of air rushing through a room closed uptight. It’s no wonder the ghost of the past employee still hangs around the old building as a quick and sudden death such as that could result in a person not realizing they have died. Or, maybe he returned to finish the task he was working on at the time of his tragic demise.

The art museum has since relocated. However, the ghostly hauntings stayed behind. Or so they think.

Modern Day Ghosts of the Aspen Art Museum

Founded in 1979, the Aspen Art Museum is a collection of contemporary art, including drawings, sketches, multi-media, and electronic media. However, all spooky ghost stories aside, the most popular and intriguing pieces of art are in the collection of “Spirit Photography.” Nearly 60 photos, with some dating back to the late 19th Century.

Follow along and judge for yourself. Are photos capturing spirits or ghosts real, or are they simply trickery by the photographer to gain popularity?

What is Spirit Photography?

Ghosts, or spirits, capture our attention by appearing in the earthly realm in various ways. Some cause sounds or disturbances, such as moving items we can see, some are felt by their energy, and some are apparitions we can see.

Spirit or Ghost Photography is a type of photography that focuses on capturing images of ghosts or other spiritual entities. The most common is in the actual cases of ghost hunting.

After the end of the American Civil War, spiritualism contributed enormously to the popularity of ghost photography.

Spiritualism and its beginning

Spiritualism is the belief the spirits of the dead exist and have both the ability and inclination to communicate with those still alive. These abilities lead the spiritualist to believe that spirits or ghosts are more advanced than humans. They are looked to by some as guides that can provide moral and ethical knowledge and teach us about the nature of God.

Enter spirit mediums, who provided believers with various means to communicate or seek guidance from spirits through trances and seances. The most prominent mediums were women, supporting causes such as abolishing slavery and women’s suffrage.

By the late 1880s, the movement declined to fraudulent practices performed by mediums. This is when formal spiritualistic organizations took hold and are even more prevalent in this day in age.

The History of Spirit Photography

In the early beginning of photography in 1839, daguerreotypes were used using an iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapor. With this process, spirits and ghosts were never captured. The first accounts of ghost photography started with photographers experimenting by using people that stood in front of or behind a plate of glass windows. Because of the long exposures required at the time, a transparent image would result if people or animals left the frame before it was complete many times.

In 1856 Sir David Brewster realized that these image effects could be used to deliberately create ghostly photos. Using Brewster’s idea, the London Stereoscopic Company created a series of photographs called “The Ghost in the Stereoscope.” However, it wasn’t until 1859, when glass plate negatives were used and made double images possible, that ghosts started appearing regularly in photographs.

The first known Spirit Photographer

In 1862 an amateur photographer William Mumler published a photograph of his cousin who had died 12 years earlier. The media grabbed the bull by the horns. Mumler decided to leave his jewelry engraving business to start his business as a “Spirit Photographic Medium” based in New York and Boston. Mumler took advantage of those looking for a supernatural connection to loved ones that died in the American Civil War.


Mumler's ghost photograph of himself and his deceased cousin
Photo: Wikipedia

His most famous image is a photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln. Standing behind her is her assassinated husband, Abraham Lincoln. However, it was found out that the supposed spirits captured in his photos were actually double exposures of previous clients from improperly cleaned photographic plates.

In 1869 Mumler was charged with fraud but acquitted surprisingly even though one of his so-called ghosts was still alive.

P.T. Barnum (Barnum and Bailey’s Circus) actually testified against Mumler as one of his most outspoken critics, saying Mumler took advantage of people’s grief. Interestingly, Barnum exploited people considered “freaks of nature” as well as animals for personal gain. Which one would you feel is the lesser of the two evils?

Britain’s First Spirit Photographer

In 1872 a photographer Fredrick Hudson produced the first known spirit photography in Britain. He worked with a spiritualist medium by the name of Georgiana Houghton. A fellow spiritualist, William Henry Harrison, exposed Hudson’s photographs as fraudulent, saying his trickery was double exposure and other means.

When Alfred Russell Wallace went to Hudson in 1874, a photograph was produced of Wallace with his deceased mother. Wallace himself declared the picture as genuine. His conclusion being some spiritual being acquainted with his mother’s characteristics throughout her life, caused recognizable impressions on the plate.

Hudson’s methods of trick photography varied throughout the years, including a trick camera sold to him by a craftsman of conjuring equipment. Hudson was also known to dress people up as spirits and use double exposure. Although accused of fraudulent spirit photography, Hudson was never arrested.

Modern-Day Ghost Photography

Although paranormal phenomena in photos have been around since the late 1800s, modern-day television shows such as Ghost Hunters from the 1990s claim the abnormalities as proof of the afterlife. Ghost investigator Ben Radford claims that most irregularities in photos and videos are caused by low-quality cameras or good-quality cameras sabotaged by low lighting. Radford believes that with technological advancements, especially with smartphones, the images should be sharper and clearer.

In Ben Radford’s book “Big-If True: Adventures in Oddity, Radford explains the phenomenon called pareidolia. This phenomenon is the tendency for people to see faces in things. This could be things like the clouds, a tree trunk, food, shadows, reflections, or basically anything you can make a shape out of. His belief is that anyone can see “faces” in just about anything, including photos.

Who are the Ghosts of the Aspen Art Museum?

The only paranormal activity reported at the Aspen Art Museum is from the old power plant building. Its possible that the man who lost his life after being electrocuted could be lingering in the afterlife, unable to cross over because he doesn’t know he died or what to do.

Although the Art Museum itself may not report any paranormal activity, the area surrounding Aspen certainly does. From hotels to ghost towns, cemeteries to old homes, stories abound from the Native Americans on. There were many lives lost and bloodshed with the massacres and wars, and it only makes sense that the energy of the souls resonates back to the places where they lived and died.

The Moving Ghost Town

An exciting and controversial display at the Aspen Art Museum was the Moving Ghost Town by artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The moving ghost town was actually 3 African sulcata tortoises named Big Bertha, Gracie Pink Star, and Whale Wanderer with two iPads each screwed into their shells. The iPads played videos taken by the tortoises themselves as they wandered around free-range through three area ghost towns.


Moving Ghost Town tortoise with attached ipad
Cai Guo Qiang Moving Ghost Town
Photo: Aspen Art Museum

The tortoises were brought back to the museum to roam around on the rooftop in a natural setting similar to grasslands. As they roamed around, their videos would play for spectators viewing and entertainment.

You can imagine the uproar from animal activists about the mistreatment of animals. However, the museum did not accept the proposal for the art exhibit without careful consideration of animal endangerment. AAM worked closely with veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Kremzier to ensure the health and wellbeing of the tortoises. The tortoises were relocated at the expert advice of Dr. Kremzier in August 2014 due to inclement weather.

You can read more about the 10 top haunted places in Aspen, Colorado, and see how the lives and stories are intertwined from the pioneer days to today. Take a look at other cities we cover in the United States. If you are ever in the area of one of our ghost tours, check them out! You can even book a virtual tour from the comfort of your own home if you are so inclined!



Aspen Art Museum – Wikipedia

Spirit photography – Wikipedia

It’s Aspen but is it art? – Mountain Town News

Aspen Times Weekly: Seeing the Unseen at the Aspen Art Museum |

The intriguing history of ghost photography – BBC Future