Ghost stories “reveal the contours of our anxieties, the nature of our collective fears and desires, the things we can’t talk about in any other way.” What do accounts of haunting, local legends and eerie tales tell us about our surroundings, our history, and ourselves? How do stories of haunted places help us to make sense of the past? Ghostland: An American History of Haunted Places, despite its title, is not a book that will instill chills and shivers. Instead, author Colin Dickey delves into both lore and the historical facts behind select locations traditionally considered “haunted” and the possible reasons for the genesis and development of the “haunted” reputation.
Exploring locations familiar to devotees of the paranormal such as the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis, Missouri, the LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans, the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, and the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, Dickey compares legend with facts and endeavors to account for the differences. He also treats us to detailed descriptions of lesser-known paranormal entities like the Red Dwarf who has haunted Detroit, Michigan for centuries, to why massive insane asylums in the late 18th and early 20th century were designed the way they were, to intriguing ruminations on why places “feel” haunted and to theories such as that stories about hauntings will be less prevalent since the increase of information due to technology. The book suggests that ghosts and hauntings fill particular needs in our lives and society. Of particular interest to me was the author’s choice of subjects and his contrast of actual historical fact with the details of the associated legends.