When Tony O’Rahilly took this photograph while shooting the Wem Town Hall fire in November of 1995 he claims there was no trick photography involved that could have caused the image depicted. What you are seeing is a little girl who appears to be standing in the midst of a fire raging behind her. The girl is staring out as the fire rages behind her with a look on her face that suggests she may have had something to do with the event. But now experts have suggested that this famous ghost photo may actually be a fake due to a recent discovery.
The little girl depicted in the photograph was thought to be 14 year old Jane Churm who set fire to the same building over two hundred years earlier. The girl’s clothes are clearly old fashioned, and many have dated them to the time of the original blaze. But what researchers discovered when looking over some old postcards while working on an unrelated case shocked them. The image depicted in the photograph is almost exactly the one shown in a postcard printed in the Shropshire Star’s Pictures from the Past series which shows a Shewsbury street from 1922 with a little girl standing at the lower left hand corner of the screen with the same iconic hat and the strange curious and completely neutral look on her face that could be interpreted as anything from sadness to malevolence.
Tony O’Rahilly died in 2005, before the discovery was made and denied up until his death having doctored the photograph in any way. He nicknamed the ghost he photographed the Wem Ghost and circulated copies of the photo as proof of existence beyond the living world, and the interaction of the two realms.
It was a moment of disappointment not only for the paranormal community, but for Wem itself which even temporarily renamed itself “Ghost Town” and offered ghost tours of the purportedly haunted Wem Town Hall. But is this conclusive evidence that Wem is not really haunted? The town’s reputation as a haunted location predated the 1995 photograph by several years. In fact, the attention brought to the town through the photograph actually not only helped out tourism, but spawned several of its own (thought to be) genuine ghost photographs years afterward.
Unfortunately, there are those who claim that just because this photograph was conclusively a hoax that there must be nothing to the claims of paranormal phenomena going on in the town of Wem at all. It’s just this sort of thinking that threatens to now damage Wem’s tourist industry and throw out the hundreds of other photographs that were taken of strange phenomena in the area after the Wem photograph came out in 1995. It’s been fifteen years that it has been making rounds and there are expected to still be a few who don’t realize the fake and unwittingly continue to propagate claims that it is genuine for years.
Of course this isn’t saying Brian Lear, who discovered the photographic fakery should not be congratulated. After all, if ghost hunting is supposed to be a scientific endeavor, the discoveries that disprove specific ghost photographs should be just as celebrated as the evidence that suggests there may be something more to it.