This image has been knocking around the internet for a few years, often as part of collections like "top ten unexplained ghost photos", with stories like:
It appears to be a digital composite of an old family photo and another image, possibly a ballerina (suggested by @deirdre, here). The original posting of the image is unclear. The earliest known version is in 2009, by Thomas Ligotti. A likely origin is the thread that spawned the "Slender Man" meme: "Create Paranormal Images" on somethingawful.com, dating back to 2009 (tracked down by @Ray Von Geezer, here).
The images in that thread are largely broken as they were hosted on the now-defunt site waffleimages.com,, but many exist in the Internet Archive version, showing how people would create "ghost" photos from old family photos. For example:
The images created were deliberately subtle as the intent was trolling (posting hoax photos to get a reaction). In the above there is an ectoplasmic ghost face above the children on the left. Often the images were also supplied with a fake backstory.
The origin of the "Cooper family" background photo was revealed when one of the boys in the photo, Robert Copper, commented here:
Robert kindly had an old slide scanned which shows that it is indeed him and and brother in the photo.When my older brother sent me this link I was floored. We are the two boys in the picture. Well we were back in 1959. I have many picture like this one, but not this one. My mother had a habit of throwing away pictures that she didn't like. Eventually the ones she kept were passed along to me. What annoys me is that somebody got hold of a family photograph. The story is almost entirely fiction. Our last name is Copper, not Cooper. Does anybody know who did this?
Other features in the photo match:
- The drapes
- A small portion of the tablecloth pattern
- The candlesticks (only two, presumably to match the cake)
- mug with gold rim
[Note this is a summary thread from the discussion below, so the following posts may repeat information]