There’s a ghost in my grandparents’ wedding picture. I discovered her when I started restoring some of our old photos. As I was pulling and tweaking and adjusting Grandma and Grandpa’s wedding picture, I noticed some funny lights, shadows, and patterns that didn’t seem to fit. Uncle Wink (that’s Uncle Wink, standing behind Grandpa) had lines running through his jacket. Then I noticed what looked like pleats down around the bottom of his vest. I had never pictured Uncle Wink, who was a man’s man and a dairy farmer, as the type who would want a pleated flounce on his vest. And then I saw that the pleats continued onto Grandpa’s shoulder.
I followed the pleats, and started adjusting to make them as prominent as possible. And that’s when I saw the woman’s face. Do you see her, just to the left of Uncle Wink’s face? Her hair is curled and piled up on her head, and you can just see where the light catches her forehead, nose, and eye. And there Grandma and Grandpa sit. They have no clue that the woman is there, staring down at Grandma’s head.
When I spotted her I showed her to Patrick, who was as enthralled as I was. He wanted to take the picture to Show and Tell, so I blew it up to 24 x 30, printed out smaller color versions for each child in his class, and made Patrick a note sheet. I was helping out that day, so I got to see what happened.
Patrick walked to the front of the class. He held up the picture. He started reading the notes I’d pasted to the back of it. “This is my Grandma and Grandpa-Great’s wedding picture,” he started. “It has a ghost in it–”
As one the class surged out of their seats and jammed the front of the class. “Where? Where? Where…?”
Patrick pointed it out. “Oh! Oh! I see her! There she is! There she is! Where? Let me see…I don’t–Right there!” Small fingers jabbed emphatically at the blown-up image.
Order was finally restored and the students back in their seats, each with a picture of their own. Patrick finished reading his notes and sat down.
The next student stood up and started showing and telling. But he played to a distracted audience. “Oh! I see her!” kept erupting.
“I feel a little sorry for him,” the teacher whispered to me. “But you just never know what’ll be a hit.”
I felt a little sorry, too–what might otherwise have drawn interest and admiration had been overshadowed by the mysterious lady trailing her pleats and flounces over Grandpa and Uncle Wink. The ghost became the hit of the day.
I am as fascinated by her as Patrick’s classmates. She raises more questions than she answers. I tried to research the photographer’s archives (they’re with the Wisconsin Historical Society). The nice man there said the most likely explanation was that the glass plate had been stored next to the glass plate that the ghost lady inhabited, and transfer had occurred. But he didn’t recall a photo from the collection that looked like that. He then suggested that possibly the photographer had obtained some glass plates from somewhere else, and the lady had come with the plates. He suggested that possibly the plate hadn’t been cleaned well before Grandma and Grandpa turned up for their sitting.
But this raises more questions. Was this picture shot on a glass plate? I googled the history of photography and learned that roll film was available as early as 1888, though glass plate photography remained an important part of the photographic world well into the twentieth century. So maybe.
Certainly the woman seems to pre-date the wedding picture by a number of years; unless this is an actress in costume, the dress and hairstyles are both more typical of several decades before Grandma and Grandpa tied the knot in 1934. So maybe she’s the result of a dirty plate. What a very prosaic explanation for what seems mysterious and otherworldly. There’s a part of me that hopes it’s not the case.
Certainly she provides a wonderful metaphor for how things hidden can become visible when stressors are applied–and once, seen, they dominate and alter the picture forever. For me, this is no longer simply a lovely image of my grandparents as they began their lifelong partnership. It’s a question. Actually, it’s a whole bunch of questions. Who is this woman? What was she doing? How did she manage to stray into my grandparents’ wedding picture? She brings a touch of mystery to what otherwise seems simple, clear, and sweet. I really, really wish I knew who she was.
If you have any ideas, I’m all ears.