Phantoms: Ghostly Apparitions or Painful Memories of the Lost?

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By: Sid Meyers

The Phantom is itself a phantom. It’s the all-encompassing and defining characteristic of the things that go bump in the night; it’s the darkness creeping along the perimeters of the soul, the malevolent presence that dissipates from the corner of your eye. 

It’s the illusory things that we no longer have or the thing that we once controlled. Now it’s gone, twitching in the darkness of time and memory. 

It’s the possessor of that which does not belong to it; a thief of bodies, souls, and dreams.

phantom in a hallway

How is a Phantom Truly Defined?

That’s just it. Phantoms are so many things, all of which are frightening, some of which are real. The reality is terrifying because of what is lost, while the ethereal dimensions, those of the moaning specter, frighten because they exist within the unknown.

The war-torn survivor, a veteran of multiple deployments, stares at the space that used to be their arm, lost to some improvised explosive device in a war-torn, alien land, from which the veteran doesn’t love, and will never understand.

The fingers still move, curl, twitch, and even feel. It’s the maddening, tangible, and frightening insistence that the phantom limb is still there. It’s still moving. It must be, for how else could this veteran still feel it, shifting under the cotton sheets of the bed, somewhere between the darkest point of the night, and the coming dawn?

Phantoms are also our memories, where people move, talk, joke, laugh, and scream, somewhere in the deep recesses of the brain, where such conjurings escape the rigid logic of science. 

For most, however, the mere mention of a phantom entreats images of dark forms in human shapes, graveyards and tombstones, and the cold granite of royal crypts. 

Hollywood has glamorized the Phantom, both its spectral form and the dark imaginings of creative and depraved minds.  Ultimately, the phantom is the ideal of the beholder. It can be both the dark form in the corner of a moonlit room or the haunting visage that arises from traumatic memories. 

general perception of a phantom

A History of Phantoms

Phantoms have haunted the imaginations of mankind for millennia. Phantom is another word for ghost, apparition, or specter.

The human mind has a way of taking movements or things that startle us and turn them into threats or fears of the unknown. It’s not hard to see how stories grow from the dancing shadows we see at night or the imagined view of a lost loved one we distinguish in the dark.

One of the first, ghost stories was written by Pliny the Younger in the first century C.E.

Anne Boleyn is the spectral phantom that haunts the Tower of London, which has its secrets; its phantoms buried within the walls. 

Abraham Lincoln is said to still walk outside of his old law offices and near the Capital building, the man who reportedly dreamed his death in a premonition.

There have been countless videos of alleged phantoms, especially in historical areas, such as Civil War battlefields. The more brutal or violent a memory is, the more likely the ghosts are to haunt these places.

Do Phantoms Exist?

However, its often difficult to ascertain the legitimacy of such evidence, especially considering the advancements in video editing technology. Despite all of the sightings in the world, it’s difficult to scientifically prove the existence of phantoms, ghosts, or any other kind of ethereal being. As far as the pure, physical evidence is determined, there is none or, at least there isn’t any yet.

And so the phantom remains the spooky afterthought of a grade B horror film, the tales told at the edge of the campfire light, and the subject of countless “ghost hunting” reality TV shows. 

The idea of phantoms and ethereal beings remains locked in the minds of millions of people, however. Because of that, phantoms will continue to haunt reality TV shows and movie cameras for decades to come. 

How Do We Explain Phantom Sightings?

That’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty. As aforementioned, there is no existing physical evidence, at least not anything that would pass scientific muster. However, there are thousands upon thousands of videos, full of purported evidence of such beings.

Even the most skeptical of people will tell you that they have experienced one or two happenings throughout their lives that were completely inexplicable in any rational sense. 

Phantoms walking up the stairs in the dead of night, only seeming to exist as spectral dreams, even though the witnesses will swear an oath that they were fully awake and alert. 

The internet is replete with haunting audio segments and apparitions fading in and out of obscurity in the darkest recesses, just beyond the edge of the camera’s night vision. 

phantom girl in hallway
Phantoms haunt the dark and dilapidated.

When stacked one upon the other, equaling thousands if not millions of hours of footage, its difficult to brush them all off, because if only 1% of all of those nearly countless recordings is genuine, then the existence of phantoms would be laid to rest on the side of reality. 

In terms of what defines a phantom on video, it’s anything ethereal, ghostly, disembodied, and immaterial. It’s something that can only be seen when your minds are tuned to that frequency and the cameras happen to be rolling in that direction.

As far as whether or not phantoms truly exist, the axiom revolves around the individual observers of such phenomena and is up to them to decide that has long been beyond the reach of science, in measurement, if not in ridicule. 

Fun Facts About Phantoms

Some believe that phantoms, ghosts, ghouls, and poltergeists don’t always appear in humanoid form. They are also known to show up as orbs, tiny and even large, spherical objects with a dim, ethereal glow. A lot of video evidence centers on these orbs and the way they move through the frame of a shot.

Many ghost hunters and believers think that phantoms only appear at nighttime because fewer electronic devices are running in the evening-time. The night also allows for shapes, shadows, and ghostly figures to dance within our minds, creating the phantoms that haunt us.

Most Haunted Place in the World
In America, the most haunted place in the country is supposedly the city of New Orleans, but there’s one place across the ocean that has it beat and that is Windsor Castle. The seat of the Queen of England, Windsor Castle is supposed to be the most haunted place in the world.

cartoon drawing of a phantom

Ghosts of the Past

Phantoms have been a part of the human imagination for time immemorial, and that is unlikely to change any time soon. Even as adults, we fear allowing our feet to get too close to the bottom of the bed, in the dark. 

Phantoms and ghosts, in general, will always conjure fear of the unknown, fear of those that we lost, and fear of the veil of darkness that comes with death.

Real or not, phantoms are here to stay, whether they live in our dreams, our memories, or in the darkest corner of the bedroom, waiting for the closing flick of the light. 


Mary Pope Osborne's Classroom Adventures Program
Tucker-Smith, O. (October 29, 2020). Why I Believe in Ghosts — and Why You Should Too
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