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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.

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