Wem Ghost is fake; a town scrambles for new reasons for people to visit

As a photographer and paranormal researcher, I take great personal interest in the supposed phenomenon of catching a ghost in a picture. (Examples of previous posts are here, here, here, here, here, and here). While many theories abound, and many people are convinced certain photos are genuine, there is no photo that exists that has been proven beyond a doubt to be a photograph of a ghost.

Which is what makes this story so interesting. A photo taken in 1995 has been believed by many to be a true photo of a ghost – in fact it is considered one of the best examples of genuine ghost photography out there. But, as is inevitable with all photos of supposed ghosts, this story has recently been disproven.

One of Shropshire’s most sensational mysteries – the spooky riddle of “The Wem ghost” – may at last have been solved by eagle-eyed Shropshire Star reader Brian Lear.

The Wem ghost

Brian spotted an eerie similarity between a girl standing in the street in a 1922 photo of Wem and the young girl whose fuzzy image was famously captured amid the flames as Wem Town Hall burned down in 1995.

That photograph taken by local amateur photographer Tony O’Rahilly created international headlines and sparked the legend of “The Wem Ghost”.

There was speculation that the girl was 14-year-old Jane Churm, who accidentally started the disastrous great fire of Wem in 1677 and was reputed to be haunting the town hall.


Wem folk enthusiastically embraced the story which put their town under the spotlight. A sign on the outskirts had a makeshift alteration to read “Ghost Town”, experts in paranormal activity visited, and there was even a scroll and a plaque to mark where the ghost was spotted.

The girl in the 1922 Wem picture

But when Brian, from Shrewsbury, looked at a photo of Wem — a postcard franked in 1922 — in our Pictures From The Past slot the other day, his eye was drawn to a little girl standing in a doorway.

“I was intrigued to find that she bore a striking likeness to the little girl featured as the ‘Wem ghost’,” he said.

“Her dress and headgear appear to be identical.”

So we have blown up detail from that picture to compare with the “Wem ghost”. And, by jove, he’s right!

Look at the pictures and make your own minds up.

Photographer Tony O’Rahilly, who died in 2005, said at the time that he had discovered the ghost image when developing his snaps of the town hall fire.

Some time later the photo was examined by experts from the National Museum of Photography, who concluded it was a fake. But others were certain it was genuine.

If the actual presence of “ghosts” as we know them has not yet been proven scientifically, how can there be proven ghost photos? This is not to say there aren’t real ghosts out there, or real ghost photos, but nothing has been proven to be genuine. Some are shown to be fake (either through hoaxes or simple misunderstandings on the part of the photographer in terms of film, exposure, and the damage that can be rendered to film both before and after it is developed). Not ALL are. But that does NOT mean they are genuine. It just means they haven’t been proven to be fake. So take this as a lesson learned – it’s great to believe in the paranormal, but know that most things that seem paranormal that you will come across are actually not paranormal at all. Don’t believe everything you see, folks.

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