A thing that went crash in the night: mysterious CCTV footage from Brighton Museum

Why did a cup suddenly fall and crash in Brighton Museum one night when no one was nearby? And why does the CCTV footage show a mysterious flash of light before it fell? Digital Manager Kevin Bacon wonders whether Brighton Museum has a ghost in the house or if this is all just a storm in a teacup.

Our security team monitors the Royal Pavilion Estate 24 hours a day. This is to provide permanent protection to the city’s collections and buildings.

A little after 3am on Wednesday 10 July, one of our team was startled to hear a crash in the foyer of Brighton Museum. When he walked over to investigate, he found a cup from our retail display had fallen to the floor and smashed.

Given that no one was near the display when it fell, there was no ready explanation. But when a colleague checked the CCTV footage the following day, what he found was even more puzzling.

You can watch a ten second clip of the original CCTV footage on our YouTube channel, or watch the video below which shows the incident in close up and slow motion.

The event is a small detail in pixellated footage captured in low lighting, so I would recommend viewing this in full screen.

For those who are unfamiliar with the space, the CCTV camera looks across the foyer and retail area of the museum towards the front door. The photo below was taken in daylight just below the camera.

Brighton Museum retail area

Any explanations?

The video has caused a great deal of puzzlement. The flash of light could be a glitch in the recording; the falling cup could be due to unfelt vibrations in the room. But the two together make it hard to explain, and much more eerie. Theories range from ghostly activity to a burst of static electricity, but a convincing explanation has yet to emerge.

If you have a theory about what might have happened, please leave a comment below.

 

My own take on this is that the video says a lot about how we tend to see the uncanny in the unexplained. Although I don’t believe in ghosts or anything that might be labelled supernatural, I have a long-standing interest in how myths become woven into modern media. Back when I was a curator I researched a small collection of spirit photographs we hold, and they provide an interesting comparison to this video.

Mysteries & Media

Spirit photograph, early 20th century

Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, spirit photographs were dramatic images of ghostly forms, and the skills of the medium-photographers who created these images were celebrated by spiritualists. Few people nowadays find these photographs convincing, as we know much more about how these images can be faked, and they simply look too contrived. But people are still fascinated by the accidental capture of apparently supernatural phenomena, whether a ghostly face in the margins of a photograph, or an unaccounted voice on an audio recording. We are now much more more likely to be intrigued by mysterious images when there is a lack of human intervention.

On the face of it, this video fits the bill. It was taken by constantly running CCTV, and having seen the original recording on the camera system, I can assert that it wasn’t faked. But do people really find this video spooky simply because of the objective way in which it was created?

One way of questioning this is to think about the effect of changing the circumstances of the video. What if this footage had been taken in a souvenir shop rather than a museum? What if the incident had been recorded at 3pm rather than 3am? What if it had been captured in colour rather than monochrome?

Would it still seem as eerie? I suspect that all of these factors would have diminished the impact of the video, even if the flash of the light and falling cup were still visible.

Regardless of whether you believe this might be a ghost or not (and it’s really not my role to try and steer you one way or another) it’s an example of how our expectations and assumptions change what we see. As museum professionals we are well aware of this when we create exhibitions or tell stories about our collections and buildings, including this small mystery about Brighton Museum.

Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager

 

 

 

 

7 Responses

  1. E

    The flash of light looks like a spirit orb to me (a very clear and bright one too) which are often captured on camera.

  2. Madeline Peasgood

    Might it have been that a mouse was looking around the shelving?

  3. Bella

    Electrostatic spark? You’re lucky it didn’t cause a fire. Might want to get your electrics checked or get a specialist in to do an electrostatic hazard assessment.

  4. Jason

    The space is lit and other reflections in the room have the same brightness intensity as the flash. The flash is caused by light reflecting off the object itself as it falls and spins, first from the top shelf then further down onto the floor. Objects on shelves can have tiny imbalances and pressures that cause them to fall over time. For example I was in Waterstones the other day and a paperback appeared to spring off a high shelf onto the floor, startling customers nearby. It’s just a natural thing that happens sometimes, things fall off shelves.

  5. Mary (Marette) Hickford

    If there is an air conditioning system that is used over night, perhaps the vibration caused by the flash combined with the draught caused the cup to fall? If the cup had been on the edge of the shelf as well, Its position also allowed the vibration to tip it over.

    Alternatively, does the cup design feature any gilding or metallic paints. Perhaps the flash caused an unexpected reaction?

  6. Mark

    Something moves just above and to the right of the flash.
    Mice knocked it off and catches light as falling.

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