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This month's theme: Mysteries

Mysteries on the Personal Front


Jay Speyerer










































The spirit world and UFOs are two of life's many mysteries, but I've had first-hand experience with only one of them.

This must have been back in the 1980s when I attended some event or other. It was a clear summer night, and I was standing outside and talking with a group of people a fair distance from the building. I was idly looking up at all the stars, which were numerous since we were somewhere in the country and away from city lights. Then I noticed that one of the stars was moving.

From my perspective, it was moving slowly. It was the size of a star, but it wasn't twinkling. Instead, it gave off a steady, white light. The light was not a plane or helicopter; there were no landing lights nor were there red and green position lights. It wasn't the International Space Station, because that wasn't orbiting the Earth until 1998.

I simply figured it was some kind of aircraft until it did something odd. Without stopping or slowing, it made a 90-degree change in direction. Not an arc; a sharp, right-angled turn. I'm no expert, but I don't think we had anything then that could do that, and I doubt we do now.

I'm sorry that's all there is to the story. The object was flying and I couldn't identify it, so that was my UFO.

My other example – this one of the spirit realm – is completely bogus, but it takes a slightly better than average knowledge of photography to spot it.

The above image is not the bogus one. That's just a fun one I took of myself back in the 70s. I look like ghost, but it's not a double exposure, the method of choice of a lot of early charlatans. It's a time exposure. I put the camera on a tripod, locked the shutter open, walked over and leaned against the tree for 15 seconds, then walked back and closed the shutter. The total exposure time was 30 seconds, and my walking in and out of the frame doesn't show up because I wasn't in one place long enough and it was night.

I'm betting that most people looking at the shot have a pretty fair idea how it was done and that it's not a spirit photograph. The next example, however, relies on some fancy explaining and a lack of knowledge of photographic chemistry.

This image is from a book I won't name even though it came out way back in 1974. The author lays down a fast ramadoola about how someone was experimenting in the darkroom and managed to get – gasp! – spirit energy to manifest itself on the film in the form of white crescents.

It's not spirit energy; those white arcs are called crimp marks. You've seen a black and white negative, right? Everything in the scene that was light is dark and vice versa. That comes from developing chemicals darkening the silver halide salts in the film's emulsion that were hit by light coming through the lens during exposure. Enough of that; it's all you need to know. But– getting the roll of film onto the developer reel requires gently crowning or bending the strip of film. If you bend it too much, a dent or crimp will form. Developer pools and collects in that divot and darkens it more than the surrounding area. When you make a positive print, it comes out light. That's all it is and no more.

Back in the later 1800s and early 20th century, when photography was maturing, it didn't take long for its practitioners to start playing tricks with the first special effects: Double and multiple exposures for example. Because of the low sensitivity of wet and dry plates back then, photographers like Julia Margaret Cameron used multiple exposures on one plate to tell a conventional, i.e. non-ghost, story. However, some sneaky types made "spirit" images depicting ghosts, fairies, gnomes, and other non-corporeal beings. Many people believed that the fairies and sprites the photographs showed were real.

These believers even included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But as far as I know, he never saw a UFO.


Jay Speyerer has never seen a ghost. To his knowledge.



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