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Taking a Shot at the Boot Hill Ghost

Jan. 21, 2016 by | Comments (6)

In the online world of allegedly paranormal photos, you will find one referred to as the Boot Hill Ghost. In this modern photo (taken in 1996) a man in the foreground stands in Tombstone Arizona’s famous Boot Hill Cemetery adorned in classic cowboy gear, wearing a cowboy hat, holding a 6-shooter. But it isn’t his steely eyes or checkered kerchief that make the black & white photo so popular on the Internet. Like many alleged ghost photos, the mysterious element was allegedly not seen when the photo was taken. In this case, the strangeness is the clear and obvious form of a man’s torso rising from the soil behind and to the right of the cowboy. The photographer was Ike Clanton (yes, a descendant of the OK Corral Clantons) and the proprietor of a “haunted saloon” in modern Tombstone.

Here is the photo (shared here for the purpose of critical review):

The boot hill ghost photo — hosted at ClantonGang.com

The boot hill ghost photo. See it in context at ClantonGang.com

Here, Clanton and some friends discuss the photo on their video web series Haunted Saloon and attempt to recreate the photo:

Here is an excerpt from Discovery’s TV Show Ghost Lab interviewing Mr. Clanton about the photograph:

The photo was taken at a time when digital photographic manipulation was in its infancy and it doesn’t show any obvious sign of digital manipulation. When I first looked into the photo, I wondered if perhaps a third person, besides the main subject and the photographer, was standing in a hole. But on reflection, I don’t think digging a hole in an historic graveyard to fake a ghost photo would be prudent—especially for someone like Mr. Clanton, who seems to spend much of his time involved in entertainment based on the historic re-creation of events around the famous shootout at the OK Corral.

Herman-the-Mannequin

Then it occurred to me that since we only see half of the person—perhaps there is only half a person there? I began to search for torso mannequins that might look a bit like our mysterious friend rising from the grave.

Allow me to introduce you to Herman, the half-mannequin. Herman is a military torso mannequin and can be obtained on e-bay for about $200.

If you look at the two figures side by side, you may note that Herman’s sideburns, nose and chin bear a strong similarity to our mysterious figure in size and outline. Also, the slack sleeves on the side of the “ghost” figure could be explained by the lack of arms on a mannequin like Herman.Herman-and-Ghost

In this next photo I stripped the color from Herman and scaled him down to the same size as our alleged ghost. You may observe that the ears and chin of our “ghost” line up pretty well (but not exactly) with those on Herman. They might align better if Herman’s orientation were precisely the same as the hat-wearing half-man of Boot Hill.

Boot-Hill-comparison

Let be very clear—I am not alleging that the Boot Hill Ghost photo is absolutely explained by this solution. The photo was taken in 1996 and I’m not even sure if this particular model of mannequin was made back then. But these types of mannequins were made, and one similar to this could easily have been used to produce the photograph without any digital manipulation. It would simply mean finding a clothing mannequin to dress up, which seems like it would have been a trivial task in a town like Tombstone which probably has many mannequins displaying various western gear.

If this were how the photo was produced, then it would mean that showman and entertainer Clanton, whose “Haunted Saloon” web TV show can be found on his website www.clantongang.com, did not accidentally capture a ghost in this photograph. Clanton seems to love Tombstone and the old west and it doesn’t stretch my imagination to think hoaxing this photo for publicity purposes is a plausible explanation. I would love to go to Boot Hill to try to reproduce the shot with Herman. If you live nearby maybe you can try it and send me your results?

In conclusion, I wasn’t there when the photo was taken and I am not certain that my hypothesis is correct—but if it were… I’d be OK with it.

Blake Smith

Blake Smith is the producer and host of MonsterTalk, an official podcast of Skeptic magazine. He’s had a lifelong interest in science and the paranormal and enjoys researching the strange and unusual. By day he’s a computer consultant and by night he hunts monsters. He is married and has children. Puns are intentional; don’t bother alerting the management. Read Blake’s other posts on this blog.

6 responses to “Taking a Shot at the Boot Hill Ghost”

  1. Justin Case says:

    I especially liked the lady in the video, who starts out saying that she wanted to prove the thing a fake (though she worked for the perp), but within a minute, she was telling why she thought it was real, without a shred of evidence to that effect. We’re supposed to take it that she was a skeptic won over to the reality, but in fact, she had an agenda all along.

  2. Steve C says:

    I don’t know what’s more depressing: the fact that people fake these photos (like this one most certainly was) or the fact that people actually want to believe in ghosts. Frankly, it sounds like a horrible (though, thankfully, completely improbable) existence.

    The last thing I want is my late grandmother having to hang around unseen and unheard by anyone (except for the dingbats calling themselves “mediums”) for an eternity. Personally, I believe that when the electrical and chemical processes shut down in the brain that’s all she wrote and I just can’t get why people think that a person being forced to “haunt” something is anything less than a hellish existence.

    I’d always hoped that the Syfy show Ghosthunters might sway a few of the fence-sitters towards rationalism based upon the fact that they never, ever captured any provable footage (except for the stuff we know they faked) and the stuff they did “get” was marginal at best and probably easily explained away but nope.

    Perhaps because it’s a lot easier for people to understand the concept of “ghosts” than it is for them to spend a little time getting the basics of microbiology and quantum physics. Hooke built and looked into his microscopes and saw in one session more than the nincompoops (sorry Isaac Newton) who practiced Alchemy ever saw in a wasted lifetime. Humans always seem to want the easy path to the fantastic and it’s frakking sad.

  3. Francois Pineau says:

    Why not just an accomplice kneeling ? We cannot see his features anyway; he could have been a buddy of Mr Clanton’s.I think this explanation is closest to Occam’s razor…

  4. Blake Smith says:

    I was using PhotoShop in 96 too. I have been using digital photo manipulation since 1989 when I used a huge flatbed scanner and color Mac IIci with Pixel Paint. The software has evolved in complexity in a non-linear fashion.

    Photoshop 1.0 for the Mac was in 1990. There were versions before 1.0 – but I think I started using v4 in 1996 – might’ve been v3, but now I think it was 4. (I don’t trust my memory to that level of accuracy.)

    Because of the way that software grows in complexity exponentially and the hardware grows in speed exponentially, I don’t think it is accurate to assume that the infancy of a product has a direct correlation to the life of a human – or even that of a dog. I’m not sure what the right wording would be if we wanted to replace infancy – but “toddlerhood” seems awkward. The technology existed but was not ubiquitous. It was functional, but required much more skill to achieve effects that can now be accomplished with the click of a button. And it was very expensive back then – not that PS in particular is “cheap” now but it is certainly easier and less expensive and more widely understood by the general public these days.

    In 1996 the ratio of PCs to Mac was wildly in favor of the PC. I would definitely concur that it was THE photo manipulation software to use – though not the only one – but was also prohibitively expensive for the hobbyist. (That last bit is just my opinion, but is the opinion of someone who very much wanted to have a personal copy but couldn’t afford it for many years.)

    That being said, there still isn’t any obvious signs of digital manipulation in the photo. But I do love talking about old computers and old software. :) Thanks for taking the time to read the article.

  5. david says:

    1996 PhotoShopping in it’s infancy?? Are you kidding? Our record label was having cd covers done by Pen&Pixel who were already responsible for hundreds of photoshopped album covers, artwork and flyers when we began using their services in 1992.
    Then I personally began using PhotoShop for my own enjoyment and photo manipulation around 1995 and I was FARRRR from being one of the first. Everyone I knew was using PhotoShop by 1996. If you were to say “1986”, I’d say this story might be interesting but come on! In 1996, everybody was using PhotoShop.

  6. SocraticGadfly says:

    I thought it was a mannequin as soon as I saw the initial photo without your blowup.

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