Taking a look at old photographs makes almost anyone feel wistful and nostalgic. The grain, the often austere facial expressions of the subjects, the faded exterior; it’s all a bit spooky — yet delightful. But when said photos seem to have mysterious figures lurking in the background, the nostalgia slowly changes into… something else.

When a certain photograph dating back to 1900 featuring a group of women working at a linen mill made its way around the internet, observant people noticed something funky about the near-ancient photo. They wondered, was it a trick of light? Or perhaps something more nefarious? Eventually, even experts had to weigh in.

Photography lets us to visualize how people from long ago once lived. So when Northern Irish news site Belfast Live released a collection of vintage photographs in 2016, which highlighted the town of Belfast’s history, it drew much attention.


The series of photos showcased the lives of laborers in the 1900s, beginning at the birth of the 20th century. Belfast was known for boasting factories that produced cars, tobacco, and ginger ale, as well as engineering firms, cutesy bakeries, and launderette shops.

Belfast Live

“Our gallery includes great old images of delivery men using a horse and cart – and their own broad shoulders – to bring milk, [potatoes] and coal to houses across Belfast,” read the piece, which was written by Mark McCreary.

Belfast Live

While some photographs focused on workers packaging liquor and dabbling in shipbuilding (fun fact: the RMS Titanic was built in Belfast), others focused on the strong women who operated machinery in Belfast’s numerous linen mills.

Trustees of National Museums Northern Ireland

The National Archives of Ireland reported that Belfast was once the world’s main production source of linen. So naturally, the 2016 photo series contained several images of women diligently working in these mills (they didn’t look too pleased if we’re being honest).

Trustees of National Museums Northern Ireland

While all of these photographs pose a brand of spookiness, one particular photo of these women had people doing double takes. It all began when a relative of one of said photo’s subjects reached out to Belfast Live

Belfast Live

The relative was a woman named Lynda, who claimed she was the granddaughter of linen mill worker Ellen Donnelly. She relayed that her father still had the original photograph in his custody, her kin proudly calling it “a family ghost picture.”

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

In Lynda’s letter to Belfast Live, she explained that there’s a visible presence skulking behind a girl’s shoulder in the cursed photograph. Belfast Live was shocked at Lynda’s revelation, as no one at the publication spotted the creepy Easter egg of sorts.

A Ghost Story

Belfast Live then released another article, this time solely showcasing Lynda’s coveted family ghost photo. Said ghost photo, which featured Ellen Donnelly and her linen mill peeps, would soon break the internet.

Ellen and her colleagues look fierce, some grinning, while others are clearly dedicated to the whole “tough girl” thing. Take a look at the girl on the right hand side, in the third row down. Notice anything spooky? It took us a second, too.


“Great to see an old photo of my Granny… when she worked at the mill. She was Ellen Donnelly – née McKillop – and she is fourth on the right in the second row down,” Lynda wrote to Belfast Live.

The Visit

If you haven’t yet spotted the phantom in question, don’t worry, Lynda will explain it. Let’s just say… there are some extra phalanges floating around unprompted.

The Sixth Sense

“I don’t really believe in ghosts – but there have been a few odd going-ons around this photo, so I hope this doesn’t cause any more! Did anyone spot the mysterious hand on the girl on the right’s shoulder?” Lynda continued.

A detached hand appears to be gripping the right shoulder of one of the women. Considering the surrounding women have their arms tightly crossed, it’s a mystery as to who the hand, along with its curling fingers, belongs to.

Since the photo went viral among internet users, many people had their own ideas as to what could’ve manifested the appearance of a severed hand. Was it really a ghost caught on camera, or were there master photo-manipulation hi-jinks to blame?

“Photo manipulation existed before Photoshop. One of the most common types was composite photos – basically what would now be described as ‘Photoshopping someone in,'” one person wrote in the comment section under a Mirror article that featured the photo.

Photo Art Shop

“There were various techniques for this, including double exposure, or making a pasted mock-up print to photograph and manipulate when printing that photo in the darkroom,” the user continued.

Stranger Things

This commenter wasn’t done yet. “If you look at the image of the girl with the hand on her shoulder, the shadows on her in the image do not fall at exactly the same angle as those on the faces of the other people in the image.”

Another commenter offered an analysis of the cryptic hand apparition in Belfast Live‘s comment section. “As late as the early 20th century, exposure times for portraits were often at least several seconds long. So, the subjects had to stand very still or a double exposure or blurring would result.”

This user suggested that another linen mill worker may have placed her hand on the chosen woman’s shoulder at the beginning of the exposure, only to quickly cross her arms in the midst of the process, thus creating a double exposure.

21 East Gallery

Sadly, there are no concrete answers to this 100-year-old mystery. You can choose what to believe, and what not to believe. Though dark room photo manipulation and botched exposure seem more probable, it’s more fun to believe that there was once a haunted linen mill in Northern Ireland.

Belfast Live

In fact, many choose to believe the latter. According to a Gallup poll, 37 percent of Americans believe ghosts inhabit houses. Others are firm skeptics; but with the booming tourism industry surrounding spooky spaces, and popular programs investigating the paranormal, it’s clear: people believe in ghosts.

Trolley Tours

One thing we can be sure of is that those people crying haunted house are experiencing some very real symptoms. Temperature changes, inexplicable shadows, pounding hearts — something triggers these physical reactions, but what?

Travel Channel

On a Halloween episode of the popular NPR program This American Life, they retold an ominous story documented in the American Journal of Ophthalmology. A medical journal doesn’t usually scream “scary story,” but this entry was goosebump-inducing.

Armchair Expert

The year was 1921. Mrs. H — that’s the only hint at her identity — and her family moved into a great old house on November 15th of that year. Fairly quickly, the family collectively felt the effects of an otherworldly presence lurking in their new home.

Shane Gorski / Flickr

All the components of a sinister-seeming property? This house had them. In its state of age and disrepair, electricity hadn’t been wired yet. The only source of light was the glimmer of eerie gas lamps. Carpet softened footsteps pacing the halls, leaving an overwhelming sense of total quiet.


Mrs. H’s physician detailed her account of the growing sense of unease living in the house: “Mr. H and I had not been in the house more than a couple of days when we felt very depressed.” That sense of dread worsened once strange things began happening.


Footsteps were heard pacing empty bedrooms, for example. After everyone was tucked into bed, the noises started — loud booming scrapes and thuds. All the members of the H family quaked in their covers, squeezing their eyes shut at the bloodcurdling wails.

Carla Smith / Flickr

Mrs. H recalled her 4-year-old son questioning who kept calling out his name and pounding on the walls when no one was nearby. Parents and children felt powerless as their beds shook without any visible cause. Even all their plants suddenly died. Mrs. H’s fear for her family’s safety was reaching its peak.

“One night I woke up and saw, sitting on the foot of my bed, a man and a woman. The woman was young, dark and slight and wore a large picture hat. I was paralyzed and could not move,” Mrs. H explained to her doctor. The family, weak and energy depleted, were certain spirits were to blame.

Alexis Snyder / Flickr

In January, after months of fear and torment, Mr. H’s brother visited the family in the home, and they filled him in on the ghostly goings-on. As he listened to their explanations, he thought all the different occurrences added up to only one possible conclusion.

Samara May Night / Flickr

The brother had read about another family plagued with similar problems, but they’d been suffering from gas poisoning. He urged them to get the house inspected immediately to assure they weren’t being driven mad by a preventable source before they summoned the Ghost Busters.

Of course, Mrs. H was ready to rid her family of this constant madness, even if it proved they’d been hoodwinked into blaming apparitions. They brought in professionals to check out the house.

Peter Wadsworth / Flickr

Low and behold, the furnace was leaking a dangerous amount of carbon monoxide into the home. For many, the gas is a vague low-priority threat that you trust some already installed detector to protect you from. But truly, the colorless, odorless gas can be fatal.


In short, the gas prevents oxygen from circulating throughout the body and eventually stops it from reaching the brain. The gas, with an apt nickname of “the silent killer,” acts quickly, leading to disorientation and death. It’s the same reason running a car in a closed garage is incredibly dangerous.

NY Times

Albert Donnay, toxicologist and environmental health engineer, explained on the radio program, “Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause all manner of hallucinations… people often report that they hear noises in their ears, bells ringing, rushing sounds.”

Postcard Life Stories

Similar cases have cropped up in various news outlets. In 2005, NBC News reported a story of a woman scared stiff in the shower after supposedly seeing a specter. It turned out her recently installed water heater was leaking carbon monoxide.


Routinely checking carbon monoxide detectors should be part of your yearly household responsibilities. It ensures safety from many dangers, not just the spooky. Plus, if you hear a bump in the night, you can rest assured you’re not poisoned into insanity, just dealing with an active haunting.

Good Houskeeping

Carbon monoxide can only account for a few documented counts of suspected paranormal activity. However, ghosts and even darker entities, pop up in homes new, old, and totally up to code. Sometimes the house, and the land it sits on hold onto the terrors of the past no matter what the homeowners try to do.


Stories of haunted houses usually stop short of anything truly frightening. Maybe the windows rattle or doors slam. In the case of former Pennsylvania councilman Bob Cranmer, however, the stories were a bit more unsettling…

Suzanne Stratford / Youtube

Just outside of Pittsburgh was a quaint home that Bob had been mesmerized by as a kid. After a long career in public service, he made an offer on the home. Strangely, it was accepted immediately, even though it was below asking price.

Suzanne Stratford / Youtube

Looking from the outside, you’d think Bob and his wife, Lisa, had pulled off quite the steal. With a well-kept lawn, fresh red paint, and a huge front porch, this seemed like the perfect place to settle down. But it would soon become the worst purchase Bob ever made…

20darkfall / Youtube

See, the house had a violent history. In the 1700s, a Native American tribe massacred a group of white settlers on the property. Then, in 1909, a disgruntled builder allegedly cursed the house. Yet these weren’t even the strangest parts of the house’s history.

Randy Jarosz / South Hills Record

Another theory was that an early 20th-century doctor allegedly rented a room in the house and performed over 100 then-illegal abortions. Put simply, some felt this house had a history of bad juju—and Bob and his family would eventually feel the brunt of it.

Suzanne Stratford / Youtube

From the moment Bob and his family stepped into their new home, something seemed off. As they did a walk-through of the home, the family lost track of one of their sons. Eventually, they found him crying on the staircase as if something horrific happened.

Ultimately, Bob and his family moved in but they could never quite get settled. For their first 10 years in the home, they experienced flickering lights and radio dials turning on by themselves. But then, in 2003, the intensity of the haunting escalated dramatically.

Suzanna Stratford / Youtube

In an interview with WJW Fox 8 News, Bob told the reporter: “We’d wake up on a regular basis with scratches and bite marks. This thing was out to hurt us.” What’s more, something ghostly would pound on the walls at night.

Suzanna Stratford / Youtube

Ryan Ruell, host of A&E’s Paranormal State, verified Bob’s claims. Ruell told People magazine that the house was his number one scariest encounter: metal crucifixes bent right before his eyes and a blood-like liquid dripped from the walls.

Suzanne Stratford / Youtube

Desperate to solve the ghost problem, Bob turned to an exorcist, who also felt something was strange about the home. Specifically, he was drawn to a single closet. “I [had a] really strong feeling there was something there,” demonologist and exorcist Adam Blai said.

Suzanna Stratford / Youtube

After he zeroed in on the closet, Adam cut through the plaster wall inside—a wall that had gone untouched since the house had been built. Inside, he found possessions from every person who had lived in the house since it was built. Still, the worst was yet to come.

Suzanna Stratford / Youtube

Included in the closet stash was a sketch of the home’s original owners from 1909, complete with some very cruel and almost evil things written about them on the back of it. This, Adam noted, was likely enough to invite the demon in, giving him power in the home.

Suzanna Stratford / Youtube

Eventually, when the strange happenings had reached critical mass, Bob claimed the demon revealed itself to his family. That part of the story unfolded in “The Blue Room,” so named due to the wallpaper inside. In Bob’s mind, it was the epicenter of the evil.

According to the book Bob eventually wrote documenting his experience, The Demon Of Brownsville, the demon manifested as a shadowy, foggy black figure that smelled like a must. And it drove his family mad.

Forward Boldly / Youtube

“My two sons were in a psychiatric hospital,” Bob told Fox 8 News. “My wife had spent several weeks in a psychiatric ward.” Bob and his family decided enough was enough. They needed to fight back—and fast.

Suzanne Stratford / Youtube

Bob fought the demon the only way he knew how: by staying up all night reading Bible verses. Still, he woke up each day with new scratches and bite marks. The family wore crosses too, but they would bend or end up broken on the other side of the room.

Suzanna Stratford / Youtube

Amazingly, around 2006, with the help of the exorcist—who performed any number of rituals over the course of two years—and Bob’s Bible reading, the demon supposedly fled the home. Finally, Bob was free.

Suzanna Stratford / Youtube

“If people don’t want to believe it… okay,” Bob said in his closing remarks to Fox 8 News. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It exists. That’s why I’m telling this story.” True or not, Bob’s experience far exceeds your normal house haunting story.

Suzanne Stratford / Youtube